Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Spud by John Van de Ruit

This best-seller in South Africa about a boy’s life at boarding school and his eccentric family is set as a diary, which picks you up immediately and keeps you engrossed throughout. John Van de Ruit, the author, has written a sequel to the book and sold the film rights to the first. (The film will use Van de Ruit’s own boarding school as its setting). The hero is called Spud by his classmates, because he hasn’t hit puberty yet and consequently his ‘equipment’ is small, relatively speaking. The book’s tone is light and rollicking, depicting the pranks and grossness which perhaps only growing boys are capable of imagining and putting into practice. (One boy, who loves to eat, is devoted to breaking his own record for extended farting) Despite the larks, Van de Ruit engages our interest by presenting Spud in all his different moods – being afraid, being shy and feeling stirred by girls, a teacher, and by the love of reading and performing. (He takes the part of Oliver in a school performance.) Most important, he finds loyalty to friends, and the courage to stand up for them. It shows us a culture that still seems to leave youth to form their own society, which has its hazards in regard to excessive cruelty, but also has the benefit of a ‘baptism by fire’ kind of growing-up.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Based on a book...

Howl's Moving Castle

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki

Original Book by Diana Wynne Jones

Howl's Moving Castle (released in 2004) has become a popular DVD in our library. And with good reason. For those of you new to Anime, Miyazaki is an amazing director and storyteller. He was also responsible for the animated classics Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away (for which he won the Oscar), and one of my favorites, NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind. Howl's Moving Castle was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Animated Feature Film category.

For the English translation, some of Hollywood's best actors and actresses give voice to the lively characters. Christian Bale does a wonderful job capturing the wizard, Howl, in both his petulance and selfless courage. Lauren Bacall plays the Witch of the Waste, and Emily Mortimer and Jean Simmons share the task of bringin the heroine, Sophie to life. Billy Crystal is perfect as the fire demon, Calcifer. The art and scope of the animation is beautiful. The way all the various parts of the castle move and then slump down when they come to a stop is amazing. I really can't say enough good things about this movie, and our patrons obviously agree since the DVD is seldom on the shelf. However, when I stop and talk to people about this wonderful movie, they almost never know that the movie was actually based on an equally wonderful book.

Howl's Moving Castle, written by Diana Wynne Jones, was originally published in 1986. Sophie is the oldest of three sisters. Sophie knows from all the old stories that the eldest sister seldom does well in life, and so she expects very little. Day in and day out she creates hats in her family's shop. When her younger sisters are apprenticed, one to a bakery and the other to a witch, Sophie stays behind putting all of her suppressed feelings into the hats that she makes. Then one evening as she is about to close, a woman enters the shop demanding the perfect hat. The woman turns out to be the Witch of the Waste, and for no reason that Sophie can understand, the witch turns Sophie into an old woman. Part of the curse is that Sophie can't tell anyone what has happened to her, and so realizing that she no longer has anything to lose, Sophie goes out into the world. After some effort she finds the moving castle of the land's most famous wizard, Howl. While Howl is still gone, Sophie hires herself as his housekeeper and sets to work. Life is never the same for either of them again.

While both the movie and the book begin the same, about half-way through, the movie's plot/events change quite a bit making the two endings somewhat different. Naturally, the book has a lot more detail, especially about Sophie's family life, and extra characters, which make many of the details and events in the movie more clear. Sophie is a fun and plucky old woman. Seeing her boss everyone around, including Howl, is definitely the high light of both the book and the movie.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Sea Trolls by Nancy Farmer

Nancy Farmer’s story tries to show how people actually lived in Viking times. The chief character, Jack, is an eleven-year old boy who lives in a Saxon Village (part of modern England), and is apprenticed to a wise man who begins teaching him magic. While monks have brought Christianity to the village, the old religions are still very much in practice, with the villagers believing in elves and reincarnation. Jack and his little sister are taken as hostages by the Vikings after their raid on the village. Farmer presents the mythology of the Norsemen as real, and one of the Viking kings has married a half-troll– a sister of Grendel’s mother, who was killed in the tale of Beowulf. Trolls are mythical Norse creatures, who can either be dwarfs or giants. The fantastical parts of the story make the medieval beliefs seem reasonable, since they are actually happening in the story. Whether the characters are authentic representations of their time is not as clear, since Jack seems like any boy that you might meet today. The adventure and events do keep the reader’s interest and make for stimulating reading.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil

Written and Illustrated by Jeff Smith


The book, Shazam, was created by Jeff Smith, the author and illustrator of the popular Bone (YP FIC SMITH) series of graphic novels. In Shazam, Smith has brought back a classic superhero, Mr. Marvel, leaving in some of the kitsch elements but also creating a very human story.

Billy Baston is an orphaned child living alone on the streets of New York City. One night he sees a man who reminds him of his father. By following the man, Billy meets the Wizard. It is the Wizard that connects Billy to Mr. Marvel making it possible for one to turn into the other using the magic word "Shazam!" Mr. Marvel's first task is to defend Billy from a thug who'd steal Billy's money. Later a visit to the wizard brings both good news (Billy has a sister) and trouble when Billy climbs up to a forbidden place. Mr. Marvel, Billy and Mary all have to work together to defeat the new enemy Billy let in.

Billy and Mary are easy to relate to and cheer for. In fact, Mary is my new favorite superhero! I loved how she zipped around everywhere once she had her powers. The plot wasn't very deep--mostly banging heads together and Billy learning to trust himself and those around him. However, since the first book in a series, which I assume this is, has to flesh out all the characters and set-up future stories, I think it was quite well done. The art is luminescent and very clear. The action was easy to see and follow, and the character's faces were full of emotion and personality. All in all, I would say this is a very fun book to read.