Review: The Fate of Fausto by Oliver Jeffers

The Fate of Fausto by Oliver Jeffers

The Fate of Fausto by Oliver Jeffers (9780008357917)

A picture book fable, it tells the story of a man, Fausto, who believed that he owned everything. He set out to survey all he owned. He owned the flower, he owned the sheep, and he owned the tree. He claimed ownership of a field, a forest and lake. When he tried to claim a mountain, the mountain refused until Fausto put up an amazing fight and showed the mountain who was boss. The mountain reluctantly agreed that he belonged to Fausto. Fausto then headed onto a boat and out into the sea. He told the sea that it belonged to him. At first the sea did not answer, but when it did it disagreed. Perhaps one of Fausto’s fits would help, or will it?

Jeffers has written a fable about greed and an endless hunger for ownership of nature, land and water. It is a story about having enough, about having limits, and about even if you are as greedy as Fausto discovering those limits (hopefully before it’s too late!) There is a great pacing here where page turns are effectively used to show length of time and length of refusal to belong to Fausto. The text is incredibly simple and effective. Jeffers’ illustrations very cleverly use whiteness to convey things like silence and space. He has several pages that are blank except for the words on them, hanging in space. It’s a beautiful effect.

Another winner from a master author/illustrator. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Philomel.

Review: The King and the Magician by Jorge Bucay

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The King and the Magician by Jorge Bucay, illustrated by Gusti

There once was a powerful king who asked his subjects who the most powerful man in the kingdom was, and they replied that he was, of course.  The one day, the King heard about a man who had a different power than he had, a humble magician who had the power to predict the future.  Even worse, the King discovered that the magician was well respected and beloved.  So the King called the Magician before him after devising an evil plan.  He would ask the Magician if he could really tell the future.  If the Magician answered “No” then he proved he had no power.  If he answered “Yes” then the King would ask him to predict his own death.  Either way, the King would immediately kill him.  But then a strange thing happened and the Magician declared that he could see the future and that he would die at the same time as the King.  Suddenly, the King’s plan meant nothing.  He could not kill the Magician without hurting himself.  So instead he started protecting the Magician.  Still, the Magician had much more to teach him, if the King would listen.

Bucay has created a picture book that has depths to it.  It is a fairy tale of a king and a magician but it is also about creating one’s fate, listening to wisdom and being willing to change.  It is a book that continues even after some may have ended it with the Magician ensconced in luxury and being protected by the King.  Happily, it doesn’t end there, because the more profound part of the story follows when the relationship between the two men burgeons into friendship and deep caring for one another.  It is a story of how enemies become friends, how power can be used for good.  In a word, it’s exceptional.

Gusti’s illustrations add to that feeling of a very rich and amazing read.  Using paint and collage, the illustrations have a still regal bearing.  There is a strength and solidity to them that grounds this story, making it more realistic.  There are also touches of whimsy, like the teddy bear that accompanies the powerful king everywhere. 

Strong, enchanting and profound, this picture book will start discussions about power, enemies and truth.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Give and Take by Chris Raschka

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Give and Take by Chris Raschka

A farmer who grows apples discovers a strange little man out in his orchard just as his apples are ready to pick.  The little man is named Take and he encourages the farmer to listen to him so that he can have a fine life.  Though the farmer already has a fine life, Take promises to make it better.  So the farmer goes through his day taking everything.  He takes all of his neighbors pumpkins when she offers him some.  He takes her advice to make pumpkin soup, and he takes a long hike.  Left wishing he had some apples to eat, he kicks out Take the next morning.  Then when he visits his orchard that morning, he meets another little man named Give.  Give promises to make his life sweeter, so once again the farmer tries.  He gives everything away, including his apples and all of his opinions.  He is left hungry another night and kicks Give out.  But in the morning, he discovers the two little men fighting with one another.  Can a farmer outwit these two battling forces?

Raschka has written this picture book with the tone of a fable.  Readers will immediately see Take as a selfish force and then think that Give is the angelic voice.  But Raschka’s take is more nuanced than that, showing the harm in being too giving with everything in your life and how it can turn toxic and harmful too.  He then goes about having his farmer propose a balance of giving and taking in life.  The result is a book that has balance, a folkloric rhythm and tone, and is a great read aloud and opportunity for discussion.

Raschka’s illustrations are his trademark flowing and free style.  He uses watercolors contained with thick black lines.  The bright red of the farmer’s nose and the apples pop on the page along with the pink pig and the orange pumpkins.  As always, his book is art, changing with each turn of the page as the story is told.

Perfect for discussions about balance, generosity and greed, this picture book is a great balance of art and folklore itself.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum.

Review: The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

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The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

A book sure to create some shivers, this is a thrilling gothic horror book for children.  Molly and Kip are two Irish children abandoned by their parents as their family fled to England due to the Great Irish Potato Famine.  No one will hire Molly as a servant until a man hires them to work for his family at their isolated and decrepit mansion.  It quickly becomes apparent that things are not what they seem in this family.  Molly finds a painting done of the family a year earlier, and they have changed considerably with their hair turning black and dull to their skin losing all color.  Perhaps it has something to do with the locked green door in the house, a door that Molly yearns to find out what is behind.   But opening that door unleashes a terrible force, one that answers your wants but destroys you in the process.  How can two children stand up to a centuries old curse?

Auxier’s storytelling skill is incredible.  He weaves a world of darkness, creeping misery and despair so cleverly that readers will feel the chill on their skin before it reaches their thoughts.  The children are steadily drawn into the strangeness surrounding the house and family, succumbing to the temptation of safety, the illusion of a home, and not seeing the proof around them of what is happening.  For the reader, this is a book that steadily builds and builds as the tension mounts and the nights get more frightening.  It is a wonderfully creepy read, one that simply can’t be put down.

The themes of the book are beautifully crafted.  The book speaks to the importance of love and family, but even more so it is about what happens when greed becomes consuming, literally.  It also is about the power of storytelling and stories, the way that they can teach, terrify and soothe.  And finally about the terror when a story comes to life right in front of you. 

An extraordinary horror novel for children, this book will be enjoyed by young readers but maybe not right before bed.  Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from ARC received from Amulet.

Sivu’s Six Wishes: A Modern, Traditional Tale

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Sivu’s Six Wishes by Jude Daly

A retelling of an old Taoist tale, this is the story of Sivu, a stonecarver.  Sivu could make amazing things from stone but despite his skill, he never made a lot of money and turned bitter.  One day, when carving a statue for a wealthy man, Sivu dreamed of how great that man’s life must be.  Suddenly, Sivu was the wealthy man.  He had plenty of power and wealth, but everyone despised him.  Then Sivu was stopped by the mayor’s procession and he dreamed of being the mayor with all of his power.  Suddenly, Sivu was the mayor.  But again, everyone hated him.  Sivu looked out over the gardens and saw the sun.  He wished he could be the sun, and he was.  He shone down, far too fiercely, and created a drought.  Then a storm cloud came over the sky and Sivu the sun could not move it.  He wished he could be the powerful rain cloud, and he was.  Now he rained too harshly and caused a flood.  Eventually, the wind blew him out to sea.  Sivu wished he was the wind, and he was.  He blew and blew, until one day he came across something that he could not move.  He wished he could become that, and he did.  He was a huge rock, completely unmovable until one day…

This is a story that makes the themes of power, wealth, and desire come alive.  Daly has created a very readable text that moves briskly from wish to wish, examining each one and then going on.  She has set the story in the present day, making it all the more accessible to modern children.  This is both an old story and a new one, vibrant across time.   Daly has illustrated the book with modern illustrations that are bright colored and busy.  They convey both the hustle of the modern day and the timelessness of the story with ease. 

Recommended as a way to get children talking about envy and contentment, need, wealth and power, this book leaves nothing to wish for.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans.