Review: Tom the Tamer by Tjibbe Veldkamp

tom the tamer

Tom the Tamer by Tjibbe Veldkamp, illustrated by Philip Hopman

Tom may be able to train snails to jump on a trampoline and squirrels to swing from trapezes in the trees, but he can’t convince his father to go outdoors.  His dad is too frightened of all of the animals out there.  So Tom sets out with a plan to bring the animals in to his father.  He starts by heading to the local pet store and buying a polar bear.  He trains the polar bear in the park and by that evening, the polar bear is pretending to be their new furry white chair in the house.  Tom’s father loves the new chair and never notices that it is actually a polar bear.  The next day, Tom heads out and gets even more animals from the pet store, training them all to act like different pieces of furniture.  Soon the entire living room is filled with animals, and Tom’s father loves all of the new “furniture” too.  But what will happen when he finds out that Tom got all of these new things at the pet store?

Veldkamp has created a broad comedy that stretches the imagination in a most wonderful way.  It also takes the parent/child relationship and merrily turns it on its head.  Tom is a very creative young man, seeing the world in his own unique way and definitely not in the way that his father does. 

Hopman’s illustrations add to the fun, from the crowded shelves of the pet store to the graceful curve and smile of a polar bear chair.  The illustrations have a certain wildness but also a friendly style that makes sure that everyone knows this is pure fun.

An exuberant book that is full of zany fun, this Dutch import would be a great addition to an animal story time.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Lemniscaat.

Review: Dragonswood by Janet Lee Carey


Dragonswood by Janet Lee Carey

After the death of the king, the royal treasure was stolen and has not been recovered.  Tess lives in a small village and has troubles of her own, including an abusive stepfather and the recent death of her infant brother.  When the witch hunter comes to town, Tess is accused of being a witch.  Tess is able to see the future in fire sometimes and loves going into the wilds of Dragonswood even though it is forbidden.  When she is tortured, she breaks and gives up the names of her best friends as also going into Dragonswood with her.  Sent to trial, Tess escapes with the aid of a dragon and flees her home along with her two friends.  The three of them must survive in the wilds, disguised as lepers and never revealing their identities.  But when one of their husbands is tortured too , the situation changes and they must risk their own safety to save him.  As the story continues, more of the magic of Dragonswood is revealed along with who took the royal treasure.  This is one amazing read, filled with fey and dragons.

Carey writes with the confidence of a long-time storyteller.  Here, she weaves 12th century England and its witch-hunting into a story filled with ancient magic.  The setting of Wilde Island and Dragonswood is particularly effective, itself filled with creatures of magic and the dangers as well.  The story’s pacing is well done too, gripping and fast-paced in the beginning, it slows a bit in the middle to allow the story to develop, and then picks up the speed again in the end as all of the pieces fit together at last. 

The characterization is also particularly well done.  Tess lacks self-confidence from her years of abuse and seems unlikely to become the heroine of the story.  When she breaks under torture, it is written particularly well, and shows the violence of torture and the coldness and calculating nature of it as a tool.  The other characters are also well-rendered, with secondary characters returning later in the story and becoming more fully developed. 

This book sparkles with magic, dragons and fey, but also is striking because of its human characters living in fear and darkness.  Beautiful writing and a remarkable setting lift this fantasy on dragon wings.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.