Chu’s Day by Neil Gaiman

Published: January 2013Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 HarperCollins Children’s
Illustrator: Adam Rex
Pages: 30
Format: Hardcover Picture Book
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Chu is a little panda with a big sneeze.
When Chu sneezes, bad things happen.
In dusty library, diner pepper, circus tent,
Will Chu sneeze today?

This may be the shortest review I’ve done yet, even for a picture book. I just don’t have much to say about it. After seeing Gaiman talk about writing and publishing this book for so long I was excited to find it at the library. Having now finished it, I have to say I’m a little disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, it was cute. But I also kind of expected more.

The layout is nice, it’s suspenseful in how Rex and Gaiman have set out the text and the illustrations, but there is just something missing. I don’t even think I know what it is, but I finished and kind of went, is that it? I’ll give it credit, it’s cute, the story I can see would appeal to some people, but I found it a tad anti-climactic unfortunately.

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Top Five of 2014

Top 5 2014After a little searching and hard decisions I have created the new list for Top Five books of 2014. The books read last year were a mix of review requests, book club books, and personal choices. Something from all three categories made it into the list this time around and I included a few honourable mentions as well that were pretty spectacular reads as well but just missed the cut.

In the past some books have stood out from the start. They are immediate choices and they have been books that had a strong impact on me in some form or another, they were amazing reads that blew my mind while I was, and when I had finished, reading them. This time I picked books again that stayed with me in some way or that were really wonderful to read but 2014 did not have many books that truly stood out like the past. But I am a strong believer in that not all 5 star books are the same, and the reason for giving one book five starts can and often is totally different than the reason you gave them to another.

Many of the books on the list (both lists really) I think were very profound. They demonstrated so many remarkable things about its characters that say so much about people in general and each of these authors told a brilliant story. Superbly written each of these books were a joy to read, and while not always overly exciting or adventurous, they offered instead a wonderfully told story that astounds you in the writer’s capabilities and results in a complete admiration for their ability to tell such a story that you very rarely were expecting when you picked up the book.

1. The Weight of a Human Heart by Ryan O’Neill

This is the book of short stories that resulted in me tweeting the author after the reading the first two stories to tell him how much his book had already changed my life. These are not your usual stories; O’Neill tells his brilliant stories in so many unique ways. He tells many of his stories with graphs, diagrams, and peculiar layouts BUT IT WORKS! And once you adore him and are astounded by his creativity of making such a strange writing system make sense, you have to admire him for the truly heartbreaking and heart-warming and gorgeous stories that he tells with so few (sometimes barely any) words. He is a master at challenging how a short story, or any story really, needs to be presented.

2. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The reason this book made it on to the list this year is because it is such a beautiful story. It is simple but it is astonishingly gorgeous in how Gaiman presents it. He uses Bod beautifully as a character and the characters tell this story as much as the narrative does. There is such honesty and simplicity, and such love and sincerity that even when the everyday is happening it remains a wonderful story.

3. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

I was not sure what to expect from this book but it was not long before I realised just how magical this book is. What Haddon has done in a magnificent fashion, is that he has managed to explain and describe what it is like to be a person who has behavioural difficulties. But this is in no way the focus of the book, set as a mystery Haddon explores how 15 year old Christopher sees and explores the world while trying to solve the mystery about the curious incident of the dog in the night-time. It is a beautiful book and one that needs to be read because it opens your eyes but also gives you a fantastic story with a mystery, humour, and compelling characters.

4. Tears of the River by Gordon Rottman

This was one of the books I was asked to review and I was amazed and captivated early on and in love with it by the end. Rottman tells an amazing story, one that is real and unforgiving at times, and demonstrates the power of determination and just what humans are capable when they have no other choice. It is filled with adventure, the unknown, and drama that comes from being in impossible situations, with language barriers, and no one but your wit and your knowledge to rely on to make sure everyone comes out the other side.

5. Siren’s Song by Heather McCollum

What I loved about this book is a combination of the characters, the story, and the way McCollum writes. The characters are complete and determined, and fascinating in their own way, and the balance and expression of the real and the paranormal is ideal and they interact really well. The story grips you and you cannot put the book down once you start, always wanting to find out what is going to happen, eager and excited to see where the story could possible go next. It is a story filled with suspense, secrets, and a bit of magic for good measure.

Honourable Mentions

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

Nocturnes by John Connolly

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

The Sunshine Series by Nikki Rae

 

World Poetry Day with Jack Prelutsky and Lewis Carroll

Today is World Poetry Day and I wasn’t going to post something, but I’ve been inspired by Allvce over at What I Like…& Why You Should Too who posted her favourite Emily Dickinson poem on her Facebook page so I’ve decided to share with you two of my favourite poems. I don’t read a lot of poetry so I am sure there are much grander poems out there, but these are the ones I love.

The first is Today is Very Boring by Jack Prelutsky. I first heard this poem in a 1997 episode of Arthur. In the episode called “I’m A Poet“, Fern challenges everyone to enter a poetry contest judged by poet Jack Prelutsky, and anyone who doesn’t win has to join the Poetry Club for a whole year. Being 9 I hadn’t heard of Jack Prelutsky, being 9 I couldn’t pronounce Jack Prelutsky, but I loved his poem. I can’t find the full episode but here is the clip of him reading the poem on Arthur. Arthur often has famous people on the show, Neil Gaiman was there (who could forget the grand line “Neil Gaiman what are you doing in my falafel), as well Art Garfunkel and many others (check out the buzzfeed list), but I always remembered this poem from Prelutsky, even if I have never looked up any more of his work since, may need to change that.


Today is very boring.

it’s a very boring day,
there is nothing to much to look at,
there is nothing much to say,
there’s a peacock on my sneakers,
there’s a penguin on my head,
there’s a dormouse on my doorstep,
I am going back to bed.

 Today is very boring,
it is boring through and through,
there is absolutely nothing
that I think I want to do,
I see giants riding rhinos,
and an ogre with a sword,
there’s a dragon blowing smoke rings,
I am positively bored.

 Today is very boring,
I can hardly help but yawn,
there’s a flying saucer landing
in the middle of my lawn,
a volcano just erupted
less than half a mile away,
and I think I felt an earthquake,
it’s a very boring day.

My favourite favourite poem has to be The Walrus and the Carpenter by Lewis Carroll. I mentioned in my Through the Looking Glass review that I fell in love with this through the Harriet the Spy movie as a kid and I have only grown to love it more and more.

The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright–
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.

The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done–
“It’s very rude of him,” she said,
“To come and spoil the fun!”

The sea was wet as wet could be,
The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud, because
No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead–
There were no birds to fly.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand;
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
“If this were only cleared away,”
They said, “it would be grand!”

“If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year.
Do you suppose,” the Walrus said,
“That they could get it clear?”
“I doubt it,” said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear.

“O Oysters, come and walk with us!”
The Walrus did beseech.
“A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
To give a hand to each.”

The eldest Oyster looked at him,
But never a word he said:
The eldest Oyster winked his eye,
And shook his heavy head–
Meaning to say he did not choose
To leave the oyster-bed.

But four young Oysters hurried up,
All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
Their shoes were clean and neat–
And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn’t any feet.

Four other Oysters followed them,
And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
And more, and more, and more–
All hopping through the frothy waves,
And scrambling to the shore.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
Conveniently low:
And all the little Oysters stood
And waited in a row.

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”

“But wait a bit,” the Oysters cried,
“Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
And all of us are fat!”
“No hurry!” said the Carpenter.
They thanked him much for that.

“A loaf of bread,” the Walrus said,
“Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed–
Now if you’re ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed.”

“But not on us!” the Oysters cried,
Turning a little blue.
“After such kindness, that would be
A dismal thing to do!”
“The night is fine,” the Walrus said.
“Do you admire the view?

“It was so kind of you to come!
And you are very nice!”
The Carpenter said nothing but
“Cut us another slice:
I wish you were not quite so deaf–
I’ve had to ask you twice!”

“It seems a shame,” the Walrus said,
“To play them such a trick,
After we’ve brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!”
The Carpenter said nothing but
“The butter’s spread too thick!”

“I weep for you,” the Walrus said:
“I deeply sympathize.”
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.

“O Oysters,” said the Carpenter,
“You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?’
But answer came there none–
And this was scarcely odd, because
They’d eaten every one.

So they’re my favourite poems, enjoy World Poetry Day and read something spectacular!

Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman

Published: May 14th 2013
Goodreads badgePublisher: William Morrow
Pages: 80
Format: Book
Genre: Non Fiction/Inspirational
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

This book is for anybody looking around and thinking, now what?

 In May 2012, bestselling author Neil Gaiman stood at a podium at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts to deliver the commencement address. For the next nineteen minutes he shared his thoughts about creativity, bravery, and strength: he encouraged the students before him to break rule and think outside the box. Most of all, he encouraged the fledgling painters, musicians, writers, and dreamers to make good art.

Make Good Art is a book representation of the commencement address Neil Gaiman made in 2012. It is his advice and experience in a short book that he gave to the students at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts. There is so much I love in this book, the message for certain, but I also love the way it is presented. The design and layout of this book is done by Chip Kidd, a graphic designer and writer, and while it may be unconventional, I believe it is just the right way to express the message Gaiman is trying to put across in his speech.

People talk about it being a pain and how it makes this book lose its message a bit, but I think how Kidd has converted this is wonderful. I understand the early pages can be hard as the words move about the page, but this settles down as you progress, while maintaining the colour and design. The way this book is presented I think only adds to the message Gaiman is making. All art is Art. His words are reinforced by how Kidd has presented them and shows there are no rules in getting your message out.

I know some people may feel that there are enough motivational speakers and people should just know what to do or do what they want, but having someone reinforce your own ideas and desires, especially someone you admire and idolise reaffirming and assuring you it is going to be ok is sometimes the right thing a person needs to hear. And when they are discussing something you’re passionate about is much better, everyone offers something new and different based on their own experiences and history.

Gaiman talks in his speech about his own journey and his own learned lessons in his career. He talks about how the world is changing, about how art is art regardless, and how there should always be a time for making art, whether your cat has exploded or not. There are so many lessons and inspiring messages that can be taken from this speech, one I think that will benefit even those who are not involved in creating art. Anything you strive to do, anything you dream about doing Gaiman tells you you can make it happen if you want it, you just need to find the right way of doing it.

I will never tire of hearing commencement speeches. I adored the two I was able to hear at my own graduations, as well as at friends graduations, not to mention the ones other people have done like Tim Minchin, and now Neil Gaiman. I watched the video of this speech when it was first released and the effect it had on me then was the same one evoked from reading the words. You can still watch the video here if you have 19 minutes 54 seconds to spare, you won’t regret it. There is something wonderful though about also reading the speech, there are many wonderful snippets that can be great inspirational quotes just when you need them to reassure you or to motivate you. It is a quick read, but it manages to capture to feeling of his speech so well.

One message is that “People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. They’ll forgive the lateness of work if it’s good, and they like you. And you don’t always have to be as good as the others if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.” This does not apply to art alone, and while it is directed and focused on the arts, it is a great speech about succeeding in life as well. And there are so many others to inspire people to create and find their place and voice in the world, no matter what format.

What is certain that the message you are left with when you finish is to leave the world more interesting for your being here.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Published: September 30th 2008
Goodreads badgePublisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 289
Format: Book
Genre: Junior Fiction/Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars 

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts.

There are dangers and adventures for Bod in the graveyard. But it is in the land of the living that real danger lurks for it is there that the man Jack lives and he has already killed Bod’s family.

Sometimes there are five star books that change your world and make you cry and move you so much you think nothing could ever be compared to it. Then there are other five star books like this that are just so so well written, not always complicated or deep, but just with such beauty and honesty and with characters that are so amazing and sincere and complicated that you fall in love with them immediately. You get absorbed into their story and their life and while there aren’t life changing moments or anything too grand that makes you get overly excited, you just get attached in the beauty of the basics and a good, proper, well written story. And if that experience is going to happen to you then it is definitely going to happen with one of Neil Gaiman’s. This type of reaction isn’t limited to Gaiman or The Graveyard Book, there have been many books that have such complex simplicities that they are just wonderful reads without needing to be grand, but it is especially wonderful when it is compacted into a supposedly simple “children’s book”.

The Graveyard Book opens with a few different perspectives given; including a very clever second person point of view from the baby which blends back into third person seamlessly, and it is also a rather dark start but one that doesn’t address or dwell too much on the darker elements. We start almost in the middle of a scene with the man Jack, one we get almost no explanation for and as story unfolds we are thrust into this strange set of circumstances and we are introduced to the graveyard and a few residents through the events that unfold.

While the beginning is slightly dark and strange and…not confusing but with a few omissions that make you feel like you’re missing something, it actually fills in nicely as it starts to fall into place. What was great about this story is that we are shown not told in many instances and scenes and characters are brought to life (no pun intended) allowing you to capture each character and who they are not just from how their described, but how they are portrayed in their actions. Gaiman tells us a lot about his characters through their actions and how others see them which in turn reflect how they are seen by us.

Adopted baby Bod’s life in the graveyard is aided by his new ghost parents Mr and Mrs Owens as well as Bod’s guardian, Silas, who looks out for Bod and provides for him where the other ghosts cannot. Bod loves his parents certainly, but Silas is someone he looks up to and reveres. The admiration small children can have for an adult is truly wonderful and Gaiman captures it well. Silas is someone who Bod admires for his skills, his knowledge, his secrets, and he is someone in Bod’s life that he never wants to let down or disappoint. Their relationship is one of the highlights in the story, and while Bod’s view shifts as he gets older, it never strays far from the wonder and admiration he had a child.

So much of Bod’s story is written beautifully, not just the events he experiences but as a person. As a character he is very confident, he speaks his mind, and he speaks wisdom far above his age. He is a smart kid considering how he has been raised, he has a great manner and he deals with people and conflict well. He offers lessons to readers as well as those around him, and he isn’t afraid to stand up for what he feels is right or what he wants.

Bod grows up through the chapters and often as they change we have moved forward in time. The story does move away from Bod’s life on occasion and we’re shown other events away from the graveyard. These extras allow for story progression and occasionally provide additional information but we mainly follow Bod through his life. You see his life in the graveyard and you see the adventurous and amazing experiences he has there as well as watching him learn about the world around him and the ways of the graveyard. You also see his occasional struggle as he desires to escape and venture into the world beyond the graveyard gates. These moments are when we see the great character in Bod and how even when things are not going well, his emotions and nature shines through excellently.

As a human he does well in his constricted world. There is a point at the start where you think there shall be limitations but Gaiman works it through wonderfully. We do not get the full history of Bod’s circumstances straight away but that isn’t a problem. As you read you get involved in what is happening that you forget that there is a reason Bod is living in the graveyard, you get caught up in his little life and you forget that someone is hunting him.

In terms of the “threat” I have read some criticism about the man Jack and his reason for hunting Bod, and without giving anything away I think that the reasoning suits the story and intended audience well, it is actually rather clever and very well done. When it is revealed, Gaiman writes about it and surrounding events brilliantly, it is clever and mysterious and you have no idea what is going to happen and it is a great moment of suspense to read. That is not the problem though, the issue I think people see is the overall reason why it happened, whether they feel it is too basic, perhaps, but given the intended audience it is ample. Besides a lot is implied through other aspects to warrant the reader to figure out what the man Jack is part of and who he is. But what I take from this is that we are not there to necessarily follow the man Jack, we are there for Bod and Bod’s life. Yes his life is as a result of the man Jack and it is an ongoing problem, but we aren’t pulled along by the mystery of the man Jack, we are pulled along by Bod and really it is all you need. I think that even if we knew the reason from the first page I believe we could have the same story and it would be just as exquisite.

It took me a couple of chapters to realise that Bod has appeared before. Last year I read M is for Magic by Gaiman and it was an excellent book, ten short stories that were all wonderful and sad and haunting. As I read The Graveyard Book and I realises that our dear Bod is none other than the delightful Bod who appeared in one of those short stories. I remember how much that short story unsettled me and was just so sweet but eerie, and now that it has been turned into a complete book made the whole experience better and it is a truly amazing story. The ending alone is wonderful, and probably works so well because it has been built up brilliantly beforehand with each of the characters and their lives.

The way Gaiman ends this story is wonderful, absolutely heartbreaking and beautiful and just perfect, it was the right way to finish the story I think. There are different avenues Gaiman could have taken but he didn’t, and there is an excellent feeling as you finish the book of sadness and happiness and hope. In a way it is almost a sense of ambivalence, but it is also rather bittersweet and it stays with you even after you’ve finished. All the excellent things books should make you feel.

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