Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"Unnatural Selections"

by Wallace Edwards
ISBN No. 978-1-4598-0555-2

We're warned right upfront: "Readers of this book, behold! Beasts from an imagined age." Those beasts come from the imagination of Professor I.B. Doodling, a "traveling artist who visits schoolchildren and takes their create fantastical hybrid animals." The results are elegant illustrations and nonsensical poems about everything from the "Whalephant" ("Everyone who gets to see him, secretly would like to be him") to the "Leofroat" (a mashup of leopard, frog and goat).
The book encourages children to spot and identify the different animals in the pictures, but it's also an unwitting introduction to the environmental ills of our rapidly (de?)evolving planet. Being "a fantastical collection of unnatural selections!" also means the book might be an empowering or emasculating read for children with emerging gender issues. Whew... Thats a LOT of forehead crunching for a children's book. This isn't a bad thing if it gets parents and children talking about stuff like "natural" selection, the implications of GMO agriculture or - considering how fast kids grow up these days - the unnatural selections in books like Margaret Atwood's dystopian "Oryx and Crake" trilogy, where glowing rabbits - a failed experiment in bioluminescence - run freely in the countryside.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

“Bike Thief”

by Rita Feutl
ISBN No. 978-1-4598-0569-9

In 1948 it was a movie called “The Bicycle Thief”, which is memorable for being both an affecting neo-realist examination of Italy’s working class and - according to Mia Farrow - the only movie that ever made Woody Allen cry. This year it’s a book simply called “Bike Thief” and it updates, westernizes, and youthenizes the concept of bike theft for the internet, foster home, and fixed-gear bicycle age. When stalwart Nick visits the local pawn shop to replace the TV his sister broke (hopefully before their foster parents find out) he’s coerced by the store owner to steal bikes to pay for the TV. What happens next is the moral quandary of every tween trying to do the right thing – but with some surprisingly evocative, millennial and grown-up touches. When the pawn shop owner asks after Nick’s younger sister his how-is-she “smells of sex – or drugs.” Bike chains in a chop shop “spill from an old box like a mess of snakes trying to escape.” When Nick doubles a girl he likes home on his bike he thinks: “Good thing she’s facing forward. She can’t see the grin on my face.” Eventually the clever touches – which both adults and kids can appreciate – elevate “Bike Thief” above the genre of youth lit.