Saturday, March 13, 2010


By Sarah N. Harvey
ISBN No. 978-1-55469-252-1

“Bear Market”
By Michele Martin Bossley
ISBN No. 978-1-55469-220-0

Both available at

Those of you disheartened by the seemingly endless downward trajectory that is tween/teen magazines can take your heads out of the oven now. Judging from two new books for kids you may be raising Noam Chomskys instead of Paris Hiltons after all. “Plastic” is the more topical of the two books. When Leah announces she wants some plastic surgery for her 16th birthday her best friend Jack tries to talk her out of it. What follows is a dramatization of every alarmist newspaper headline you’ve read in the past couple of years about young girls wanting nicer cheekbones and bigger breasts. The difference here is that Jack’s case for a modest B-Cup is fuelled by some Hardy Boys-style investigating that flushes out a couple of corner-cutting plastic surgeons. Even better, this revelation leads to a public protest – which, in turn, leads to a violent splinter group taking up Jack’s cause without his approval. While the book milks the mediagenic outrage of a culture obsessed with physical perfection, it also illustrates the embryonic fanaticism that’s borne of – seemingly - every societal protest; be it a global summit on climate change or the Winter Olympics. Forty years ago a businessman in “The Graduate” summed up the future to the younger generation with the word “plastics,” and so it has come to pass. The strongest word for tweens and teens today is a word you hardly ever hear them say: “no.” In our hyperkinetic, disposable culture, the book “Plastic” is that rarity: a readable cautionary tale about responsible activism.
As usual, “Bear Market”, about the poaching of bears for their gall bladders, is arguably the more important yet less palpable of the two books. And it’s to Bossley’s credit that her book is just grisly enough to get young minds thinking about taking up the cause, but not so much that you have to stop reading because you’re disgusted with your fellow humankind. She presents the poachers’ side with a kind of polite, cultural respect (which is more than they deserved. See? There’s my disgust for my fellow humankind) and has her three lead characters succinctly address the moral quandaries of correcting the destructive, exploitive beliefs of other cultures. Socio-politics aside, her book is a really catchy read. Sure, there’s the suspense element, but just reading the nuts and bolts about how her characters talk is oddly fascinating. Maybe it’s a backlash against all the vague “highbrow” fiction I’ve read (or just a complete disgust for the Bret Easton Ellis humankind) but the joy of “Bear Market” is just how forthright and sincere a read it is. The book captures the tween/teen energies of today’s kids in a way I hadn’t read before.

Friday, March 12, 2010

“The Wild Things”

By Dave Eggers
ISBN No. 978-0-307-39904-5

It’s official: Maurice Sendak’s children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are” is now a cottage industry. First it was a rudimentary bedtime story that parents read to their kids. Then the book became a movie – and then a book again in the form of a shaggy hair tome by Dave Eggers (who wrote the movie’s screenplay). And now the book-turned movie-turned concept book has turned into something closer to its original form: a paperback. In a way this makes perfect sense. In an era of Twihard Grandmothers and middle-aged PotterHeads, a 284-page novelization of the movie adaptation of one of the most enduring – and controversial – children’s books ever written is arriving right on time. No trilogies or series of books here; “Where the Wild Things Are” has gone through so many transformations it IS the series of books. And why not? Eggers clearly has affection for the story of a naughty boy’s time out that turns into a celebration of the id in every kid. In its own trendy way (looking inside instead of out) “The Wild Things” is very much an epic of the “David Copperfield” tradition; one in which a young man has a great, maturing, heroic adventure. True, it’s an adventure overly friendly to today’s Gamers but there’s still plenty here for the geezer generation to enjoy. Even better, Eggers’ descriptions and plot twists make so much sense that you can read this book aloud without feeling like an idiot (hey, that means something these days!). “The beasts took off in seven different directions,” Eggers writes. “Then, one by one, they turned to see where Carol was running, and they changed directions to follow him.” See? Dignity intact; intellect stimulated. And if it works that well read out loud then it works equally well read to yourself or to your child.

“What Do You Want?”

By Lars Klinting
ISBN No. 978-0-88899-988-7

There’s a kind of children’s book that I call the “piece together” genre. It’s probably the most common kind of kid’s book; the kindergarten-starter book that shows how something fits with something else. “What Do You Want?” is a new addition to the “piece together” genre – but with a twist. But first a little background. Normally, I just leaf through these kinds of books to see how easily their lessons in pairing can be absorbed by a child’s eyes. But as I was reading “What Do You Want?” my mind wandered away from the etiquette lesson for newborns (i.e. chairs have to go with tables) and started to wonder about the very nature of wanting and pairing in a world where nothing is guaranteed anymore. For instance, on one page of the book is a picture of a bumblebee. The next page shows what it wants: a flower. The text says as much: “The bumble wants…[turn the page] its flower.” There. Done. But in that example arise all sorts of messy philosophical wanderings about instinct, desire, fate, and free will. Sigh… On a brighter note, of course everything in the book makes sense and is beautifully rendered in daydreamy watercolours. But as you read about all this wanting in a world of increasingly limited resources you begin to realize the book is more than just a lesson in pairing alike things. There’s a poignancy to the simplicity of this book. Read through it a couple of times and you’ll learn something important; you’ll slowly realize that contentment – real achievable contentment – already exists all around us.