No theme today. Just a few books that I’ve been meaning to write about but haven’t yet.
First up is this fabulous book by Chris Van Dusen. Our Five in a Row book last week was Mirette on the High Wire . We read a lot of books about circuses (and ended the week with a circus planned by the boys and performed for my parents). Of all the circus books we read, this was definitely our favorite. Van Dusen was inspired by the story of a real circus ship that sunk at sea to write this book about what happens after the shipwrecked animals come ashore. At first the people aren’t very happy with “a tiger in the tulips, a lion on the lawn, a python in the pantry…it goes on and on”. But after the tiger saves one little girl from a burning building, they realize the animals are friendly and resolve to keep the greedy circus owner from recapturing them. The whole book is just pure fun, with rhyming but not sing-songy text and Van Dusen’s trademark brightly colored illustrations. However, by far our favorite part of the book was the two page seek and find spread where all fifteen animals hide “in plain sight”. All three kids really loved this one, but David demanded it be read over and over.
I loved Jenny Offill and Nancy Carpenter’s first book, 17 Things I’m Not Allowed to Do Anymore, so when I saw this one on the Cybils list I knew I had to get it.
I loved this one even more. And more importantly, my boys really liked it. The concept is simple, but brilliant. Each page outlines a different experiment that the heroine attempts. I love that each lists a hypothesis, methods, and observations. Hypothesis: “People can survive on only ketchup and snow for the winter.” The humor in these is more for upper elementary kids. My 8 yr old though it was really funny. My 5 yr old liked it too but I think mostly he just went along with our giggling.
I really really wanted to love this book. It’s such a fantastic idea. The title comes from a game reportedly created by Surrealists where each person in a group would add to a drawing or story or collage as a piece of paper is passed around a room. It’s a great idea for a chapter book. The twenty authors include Susan Cooper, Jon Scieszka, Lemony Snicket and Katherine Patterson and are the best of the best.
It just didn’t work as a novel. It reads like a interesting project but as a book it’s just too crazy and too much. The authors seem more interested in competing to see who can pull in the wackiest plot elements and leave the biggest cliffhanger to really form a plot thread that makes sense or to have any kind of character development. I can’t really summarize the plot as I kept getting confused about what was going on and why but basically it involves two orphans named Nancy and Joe (or are they really named Nancy and Joe?) who have escaped from the circus and have to piece together a robot to save their parents from a different dimension. On the way they encounter talking pigs, evil clowns, good and bad talking elephants, a mystic woman, a good pirate named Angel, and a band of sentient alien eggy creatures. Various characters are good, then bad or bad, then good. And I never really understood why they needed to piece together the robot in the first place. The authors also frequently inserted inside jokes that most kids won’t get, for example a character named Orlando is being sought by a wolf named Virginia. I got the jokes but it annoyed me that they were there.
To be fair, I will say John liked it better than me. He just told me he’d give it 5 stars out of 10. For comparison, books that would get 10 stars in his rating system are Eragon or the Narnia books. He’s give a solid 6-7 stars to Harry Potter and The Hobbit. He describes the kind of books he likes as “books where a lot of stuff happens”. A lot does happen in The Exquisite Corpse Adventure.
The one thing about The Exquisite Corpse Adventure that did work well for me was that each chapter was illustrated by a different illustrator (a similarly impressive list of names as the authors). The foreword explains that although the authors received all the chapters before writing their parts, the illustrators did not see any of the other illustrations or read the other chapters when they did their work. This results in the various characters being depicted differently in each chapter. Sometimes the same scene is illustrated differently in subsequent chapters. I thought it was really interesting to see how different artists saw the same story.
One more warning, if you do choose to read this book, it does not make a good bedtime book. I should have realized that ahead of time, but having each chapter end with a cliffhanger makes for a lot of “one more chapter pleeeeeeeease” nights.
Be sure to check out Read Aloud Thursday at Hope is the Word for more great suggestions. Probably none of which have sentient eggy creatures.