One-Minute Book Reviews

October 20, 2009

Late Night With Jan Harayda – Why John Mortimer, Creator of Rumpole, Liked Representing Murderers Better Than People Who Were Divorcing

Emily Mortimer has a charming essay on her doting father John, the novelist who created Rumpole of the Bailey, in the October issue of Tatler. She says in part:

“I was brought up by a man who knew a lot of murderers and who considered many of them to be decent people. It is an education I am proud of. He always said that, in his days as a defense barrister, murderers were his favorite clients. This was partly because, unlike divorcing couples who were always ringing him up in the middle of the night and accusing each other of taking the toaster, murder suspects found it more difficult to get to a telephone. Also, he said, they had often got rid of the one person on earth who was really making their life hell, and a kind of peace had descended over them.”

May 28, 2009

A Traveler Without a Compass – Tamar Yellin’s ‘Tales of the Ten Lost Tribes’

Filed under: Short Stories — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:14 pm
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An English novelist who has won international awards maps the life of a “perpetual foreigner” in the world

Tales of the Ten Lost Tribes. By Tamar Yellin. Toby Press, 156 pp., $22.95.

By Janice Harayda

You can tell a lot about God’s sense of humor by the people he gives money to, an old joke says. Literary awards suggest that heaven has a lot of whoopee cushions. So what are we to make of the news that the Tamar Yellin won the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, worth $100,000, for her first novel, The Genizah at the House of Shepher?

Perhaps that God has put away one of the whoppee cushions. I haven’t read Yellin’s first novel, but Tales of the Ten Lost Tribes is a wonderful book. This collection of ten linked short stories deals with characters who are displaced – geographically, psychologically, linguistically – in unnamed but slightly exotic lands. You can read it as a study in modern alienation from the self, a portrait of a world full of perpetual travelers without a compass, who may come from any faith.

But Tales of the Ten Lost Tribes also works as an allegory for the Jewish diaspora in the 21st century, a meditation on a people often unable to find the Messiah within as they wait for the Messiah from without. In the story “Asher” an old man lives alone in an urban apartment building of faded splendor, where he obsessively checks his mail, reads the papers, and listens to the radio, waiting for a report that never comes. Once in a while, he says, “it would be nice to hear some good news”: “We interrupt this bulletin to announce the coming of the Messiah.” That the old man lives on a street named for Simon Peter, the first pope, suggests that Yellin intends specifically to show the plight of Jews adrift in a Christian world.

Tales of the Ten Lost Tribes unfolds as a series of chronological episodes in the life of a wandering narrator, a “perpetual foreigner” whose name and sex are never given – a character we meet as a 9-year-old in thrall to a ruthless nomadic uncle and last see as an old traveler facing death alone in a distant land. Each story works as part of the whole and as a stand-alone parable about the cost of rootlessness, including a misplaced trust in people or talismanic objects used like New-Age crystals. The magical realist story “Issachar” may nod to Jewish mysticism and the Kabbalah with its tale of a student named Genie who may be invisible, an apparition, or a hallucination.

Yellin writes about complex ideas in an appealingly direct and engaging prose style. There is nothing pretentious or stuffy about her stories, which would make for fine reading aloud. The tales have their roots in the ancient idea of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel but require no familiarity with it to be enjoyable. The stories often have a mystery at their heart, which adds to the suspense, and a twist or half-turn at the end. Yellin was born and lives in the north of England, and it is heartening that a writer of her skill has won major international honors. It is also startling that she has never made the shortlist for Man Booker Prize, given some of the trifles that have appeared on it. That neglect may support, however obliquely, some of the ideas about the place of Jews in the world that Yellin develops in this book.

Best line: “I thought that at last I was beginning to be cured of restlessness, though perhaps I was merely beginning to be cured of youth.”

Worst line: “There are birds, the albatross for example, that spend their entire lives in the air.” This is a good metaphor for the narrator and other characters in this book who, figuratively speaking, spend their lives in the air. But the line isn’t strictly true – albatrosses nest on land and rest on ocean waves – and for that reason slightly confusing, particularly given that it appears on the first page. You aren’t sure whether the author is taking creative license or trying to establish the narrator as unreliable.

Reading group guide: Available on the Toby Press site.

Published: September 2008

Read an excerpt from Tales of the Ten Lost Tribes.

Furthermore: A review in the Sept. 1, 2008, issue of Library Journal said that this book is “recommended for all libraries.

About the cover: Tales of the Ten Lost Tribes will appear soon in the “Rating the Book Covers” series on this site. In the meantime, a question: Does this “A” book have an “A” cover?

The review of Clara’s War that was scheduled to appear this week will be posted in early June.

Janice Harayda is a novelist and award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book critic for the Plain Dealer in Cleveland, and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com and www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

November 10, 2008

‘Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day’ – Winifred Watson’s Rediscovered Classic

Filed under: Classics,Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:23 am
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A meek and virginal 40-year-old governess stumbles into a glamorous 1930s world of cocktails and evening gowns

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. By Winifred Watson. Illustrations by Mary Thomson. Foreword by Henrietta Twycross-Martin. Persephone Classics, 234 pp., $15, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

This sparkling comedy is something rare: an intelligent fairy tale. Henrietta Twycross-Martin rightly compares it to a Fred Astaire movie. But Guinevere Pettigrew hardly resembles the heroines of those films. She’s no gamine Audrey Hepburn, seduced by Astaire’s sophistication, in Funny Face: She’s a virginal 40-year-old curate’s daughter, without family or friends, who gets so little work as a governess that she is facing eviction for nonpayment of rent.

Then her employment agency sends her, mistakenly, to the home of a nightclub singer instead of family of untamed children. Over the next 24 hours her life changes in ways that are near-magical yet believable.

Winifred Watson describes the upheavals on an hour-by-hour basis that invests her novel with a voyeuristic allure-by-proxy: Reading Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is like reading a diary kept not by its owner by an amused and lighthearted observer. That structure works partly Guinevere’s character remains solidly drawn through all the changes: She is meek but open-hearted, susceptible to change but not a fool, and free of self-pity yet touchingly grateful for her good fortune.

Like all good fairy-tale heroines, Guinevere can think on her feet. She is hardly knows what to say when she arrives at the home of singer Delysia LaFosse and finds her wearing “the kind of foamy robe, no mere dressing gown, worn by the most famous of stars in seduction scenes in the films.” Yet she finds the right words, telling Miss LaFosse shyly: “You look so lovely in that … that article of clothing.”

Dazzled as she is, Guinevere helps her new acquaintance sort through romantic entanglements that have elements of a classic bedroom farce. Miss LaFosse repays her by showing her a world of cocktails, evening gowns and men who never knew her as a failed governess. Miss Pettigrew, though sheltered and naïve, never comes across as vapid or ridiculous. Without being stuffy, she has self-respect.

All of this alone might set this novel apart from much of the more recent fiction aimed at women. But Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day also has sparkling repartee, bright scenes of London nightlife, and whimsical pen-and-ink drawings retained from the first edition. In 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, Meg Jensen writes aptly that this novel reminds us that “it is never too late to live.” It doesn’t hurt that this book lacks a stereotypical pink cover, either.

Best line: “Terrified, aghast, thrilled, Miss Pettigrew stared at the innocent-looking white powder. Drugs, the White Slave trade, wicked dives of iniquity, typified in Miss Pettigrew’s mind by red plush and gilt and men with sinister black moustaches, roamed in wild array through her mind. What dangerous den of vice had she discovered? She must fly before she had lost her virtue. Then her common sense reminded her that no one, now, would care to deprive her of that possession.

Worst line:” ‘And yes,’ thought Miss Pettigrew; ‘somewhere in his ancestry there had been a Jew.’”

Recommendation? Manna for book clubs. Smart, funny, short enough that everybody can finish it.

Published: 1938 (first edition), 2008 (Persephone Classics edition).

Movie link: For more on the 2008 movie version, visit www.imdb.com/title/tt0970468/.

Furthermore: Watson’s obituary in the Independent is posted at www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/winifred-watson-640426.html.

About Persephone Books: Persephone publishes “neglected fiction and non-fiction by women, for women and about women” that are “neither too literary nor too commercial.” www.persephonebooks.co.uk

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

September 30, 2008

A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to Kate Summerscale’s ‘The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher’

10 Discussion Questions for Book Clubs and Others
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective
By Kate Summerscale
Source: One-Minute Book Reviews
http://www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com

This guide for reading groups and others was not authorized or approved by the author, publisher or agent for the book. It is copyrighted by Janice Harayda and is only for your personal use. Its sale or reproduction is illegal except by public libraries, which may make copies for use in their in-house reading programs. Other reading groups that wish to use this guide should link to it or check the “Contact” page on One-Minute Book Reviews to learn how to request permission to reproduce it.

Anyone who has slogged through some of the grimmer winners of the Man Booker Prize for fiction may look more kindly on British judges after reading this admirable recipient of the U.K.’s highest award for nonfiction. In The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, Kate Summerscale uses the conventions of the detective novel to tell the true story of the murder of a three-year-old boy whose body turned up in the servants’ privy of an English country house in the summer of 1860. The case stymied the Wiltshire police, and Scotland Yard sent Detective-Inspector Jonathan “Jack” Whicher to Road Hill House to help with the investigation. Whicher quickly became convinced that he knew who killed young Saville Kent. But in trying to prove it, he faced obstacles that included public scorn for his work, rooted partly Victorian notions of privacy and the sanctity of the family home. Five years later, the killer confessed, vindicating Whicher without answering all of the questions raised by one of the most notorious murders of its day.

Questions for Discussion:

1. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher won the 2008 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction from the BBC www.thesamueljohnsonprize.co.uk/, Britain’s most prestigious nonfiction award. Was it worthy of a prize?

2. In this book, Kate Summerscale tells a true crime story structured like a detective novel that includes a startling twist in the last pages. How well does that technique work? Was the book more or less effective or than the best mysteries you’ve read?

3. Would you have believed the story in The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher if the book had been labeled “fiction”? What does your response tell you about the different requirements of fiction and nonfiction?

4. “Like any novelist, Summerscale follows her storytelling instincts in making the detective the hero of her book,” Marilyn Stasio wrote in the New York Times Book Review. “While her efforts to humanize his sketchy character are limited at best, she does far better at illustrating how he was fictionally transformed, both in the mysteries of his day and in subsequent permutations of the genre.” [“True-Lit-Hist-Myst,” The New York Times Book Review, July 20, 2008, page 19.] Do you agree or disagree with Stasio?

5. Good detective novelists avoid the use of obvious red herrings, narrative devices intended to mislead or distract you from more important facts. Many authors try to avoid even subtle red herrings, which some readers see as cheating. Did Summerscale’s book have red herrings, whether blatant or discreet? If so, how did they affect the story?

6. Some of the Amazon.com reviewers fault Summerscale for what they see as a just-the-facts approach, a literary style similar to that of Agatha Christie and other mid-20th-century mystery novelists. What did you think of that style? How appropriate was it?

7. Summerscale quotes the mystery novelist Raymond Chandler as saying: “The detective story is a tragedy with a happy ending.” [Pages 303–304] How, if at all, does that comment apply to The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher? Does the book have a happy ending?

8. Have you read any other nonfiction books about 19th-century crimes, such as the bestselling Manhunt? How did they compare to The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher?

9. The publisher of The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher has revived the practice, little used in the U.S. today, of including floor plans and similar art in a crime story. What did the illustrations add to the book? Would you like to see other publishers revive the practice?

10. After reading the book, what did you think of the use of the small photograph in the oval on the cover of the American edition? Was this fair in book that uses detective-novel techniques? Would this picture have appeared of a work on fiction?

Vital statistics:
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective. By Kate Summerscale. Illustrated. Walker, 360 pp., $24.95. Published: April 2008 (first American edition) www.mrwhicher.com.

Summerscale is a former literary editor of the Daily Telegraph.

A review of The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews on Sept. 30, 2008 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/09/30. You can find an interview with Kate Summerscale on Bookslut www.bookslut.com/features/2008_09_013387.php.

Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com is a novelist and award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle www.bookcritics.org.

One-Minute Book Reviews does not accept free books from editors, publishers or authors, and all reviews and guides offer an independent evaluation of books that is not influenced by marketing concerns. Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides appear frequently but not on a regular schedule. To avoid missing them, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com/twitter

September 26, 2008

John Burningham’s ‘John Patrick Norman McHennessy — the boy who was always late’ — A Great Picture Book Returns in Hardcover in Time for Holiday Gift-Giving

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:52 pm
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A teacher doesn’t believe a boy’s fanciful stories about why he can’t get to class on time

John Patrick Norman McHennessy — the boy who was always late. By John Burningham. Knopf, 40 pp., $16.99. Ages 3 and up.

By Janice Harayda

The Man Booker Prize judges snub Netherland. The Secret outsells Pride and Prejudice on Amazon. Oprah picks another book with woo-woo elements – this time, sentient dogs. A Long Way Gone appears on nonfiction lists even though its publisher has never produced any evidence that Ishmael Beah was a child soldier for so much as one day. The tanking economy won’t help any of this.

The publishing industry is a font of bad news, but sometimes it works as it should: John Burningham’s John Patrick Norman McHennessy — the boy who was always late, one of the great picture books of the 1990s, is back in American stores in the handsome hardcover edition it deserves. A boy gets the last word on a teacher who doesn’t believe his explanations for why he is late for class in this exceptionally imaginative and entertaining book, which has a fine subtext about the degree to which schools penalize creative children. And its large format and exciting pictures make it ideal for story hours, reading aloud, and holiday gift-giving.

Best line/picture: All.

Worst line/picture: None.

Published: 1999 (first American edition) and July 2008 (new hardcover edition).

Furthermore: Burningham won the Kate Greenaway medal, Britain’s Caldecott, for Borka: The Adventures of a Goose With No Feathers and Mr. Gumpy’s Outing. He earned other raves for John Patrick Norman McHennessy, some of which you can read here www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780375852206. The book doesn’t ascribe a nationality to its young hero, but the name “John Patrick Norman McHennesy” might delight families who are proud of their Irish heritage.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

December 12, 2007

Pitcairn Island After Travel Writer Dea Birkett’s Harrowing Memoir, ‘Serpent in Paradise’

No more bounty on a mutineers’ island ripped apart by the discovery that rape and child molestation were a way of life for generations

By Janice Harayda

How has Pitcairn Island changed since Dea Birkett wrote about her spooky visit to the refuge of the Bounty mutineers in her memoir, Serpent in Paradise?

Vanity Fair www.vanityfair.com gives a chilling update in its January 2008 issue. In “Trouble in Paradise” William Prochnau and Laura Parker investigate the long-buried shame of Pitcairn: generations of rape and child molestation that led to a series of shocking trials that sent eight of its men to prison. Their report is far more shocking than anything in The Almost Moon, Alice Sebold’s grim novel about a woman who murders her mother and stuffs her in a freezer.

Book clubs may want to read the Vanity Fair article along with Serpent in Paradise (Anchor, $12.95), reviewed on One-Minute Book Reviews on May 7, 2007, with a reading group guide posted separately the same day www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/05/07/. Birkett www.deabirkett.com took photographs of the island that would make excellent visuals for a meeting. One is shown here, and others appear on the page for her book on the Anchor Books site http://www.randomhouse.com/boldtype/1097/birkett/scrapbook.html.

Photo of the Pitcairn landing: (c) 1997 Dea Birkett

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

December 11, 2007

Gifts for Readers — Hobbit Poster From the Bodleian Library at Oxford

[I’m tossing in a few extra posts this week with suggested gifts for readers. Again, no kickbacks from their sellers. These are just gifts that I like and help to support libraries or other friends of books. Today’s review appears in the post below this one.]

Most book posters are artless enough to appeal only to fans of the titles they promote. Not this handsome poster published by the Bodleian Library at Oxford University for an exhibit marking the 50th anniversary of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit in 1987. The poster shows one of Tolkien’s drawings for the first edition of the novel, depicting the scene “Bilbo Comes to the Huts of the Raft-elves.” It has the dates of the exhibit and sells for 5.95 pounds (about $12) at Bodleian Library Shop Online shop.bodley.ox.ac.uk/acatalog/index.html. The shop has other Hobbit posters and literary gifts, including cards imprinted with quotations from Shakespeare or reproductions of the covers of Victorian gardening books owned by the library. A related gift: The Hobbit: 70th Anniversary Edition (Houghton Mifflin, $25) www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com, just published in the U.S., which has Tolkien’s original drawings and an introduction by Christopher Tolkien.

Drawing: (c) The Trustees of the Tolkien Estate 2005.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

December 10, 2007

Isobel English’s Elegant Novel, ‘Every Eye,’ Makes Its American Debut

A slender classic follows a couple from England to Ibiza on a belated honeymoon

Every Eye. By Isobel English. Introduction by Neville Braybrooke. David R. Godine/Black Sparrow, 192 pp., $23.

By Janice Harayda

This elegant novel might sound like the literary godmother of Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach. Like that Man Booker Prize finalist, Every Eye is a slender book about an English couple on a honeymoon – in this case, belated – near the ocean. And like On Chesil Beach, it comes from a distinguished British author who writes about how early misunderstandings can reverberate for a lifetime.

Yet Every Eye is everything that On Chesil Beach is not – subtle, persuasive and rich in insight. Hatty, the narrator, is a piano teacher who was born with a “lazy eye” that affects her view of herself long after surgery has corrected the problem. She marries late, well into her 30s, and recalls her awkward early years on a honeymoon trip through France and Spain to Ibiza with her intelligent young husband. And her apparently successful marriage suggests that her strains have eased. But a final, startling discovery awaits her when the parallel narratives of the novel, which glide between past and present, converge brilliantly during a visit to an abandoned hermitage on Ibiza. The last pages of the book do what all great endings should do but few achieve: They open up the novel and make you want to go back to the beginning and read it again.

Every Eve has equally fine observations on place and character. Hatty finds a wry comfort in learning that an acquaintance with whom she has little in common will attend a family party. “At least we had the barren fields of our incompatibility between us, which made us better than strangers,” she reflects in a phrase that might have come from Elinor Dashwood. When she begins to date men at last, Hatty feels a slight thrill at “the almost human expression of the hard blocked toe-caps of their shoes” with their requisite perforations.

Critics have compared English to Muriel Spark and Anita Brookner – both of whom admired her work – but she is less austere than Spark and takes more risks than Brookner. English has a voice all her own, and it is more interesting than that of many better-known writers. At this writing On Chesil Beach ranks #184 on Amazon www.amazon.com, and Every Eye #864,564. If the bestseller lists were a meritocracy, those numbers would be revered.

Best line: Hatty’s husband, Stephen, says, “People sometimes go though their whole lives without reaching the moment when they are exactly the person they want to be.”

Worst line: One of the few off-key phrases is “she said managingly to me.”

Recommendation? An excellent choice for reading groups that enjoy mid- to late-20th-century British female authors but have run through many of the stalwarts, such as Spark, Brookner and Penelope Fitzgerald.

Published: Every Eye was first published in England in 1956. The Black Sparrow www.blacksparrowbooks.com edition is its American debut. The novel is the second by English (1920-1994), the pen name of June Braybrooke. who wrote two others, Four Voices and The Key That Rusts, and the short story collection, Life After All, winner of the PEN/Katherine Mansfield Prize.

Furthermore: English’s husband, Neville Braybooke, has written a wondeful introduction to Every Eve. It includes this arresting passage: “Never did I read a complete manuscript [by English] until it was ready to be professional typed. Then, after it was returned, June wrapped it in a silk scarf, as was her custom, and delivered it hy hand to her publishers — in this case the firm of André Deutsch. All four of her books were delivered in this manner and the scarves sent back in the stamped, addressed envelopes that she had enclosed.”

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

November 27, 2007

‘Sex in Ian McEwan’s Novel Is Not Bad Enough to Impress Judges’ of 2007 Bad Sex in Fiction Awards, Times of London Reports — Here’s the Shortlist

[Note: A post with the name of the winner follows in five minutes.]

Ian McEwan is safe — at least until One-Minute Book Reviews considers the candidates for its next Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books, the winner of which will be announced on the Ides of March. The online edition of the Times of London reports that McEwan’s longlisted On Chesil Beach didn’t make the shortlist for the 2007 Bad Sex in Fiction Award.

The newspaper says that the finalists who swept past McEwan are: Jeanette Winterson’s The Stone Gods, Richard Milward’s Apples, Ali Smith’s Girl Meets Boy, David Thewlis’s The Late Hector Kipling, the late Norman Mailer’s The Castle in the Forest, Gary Shteyngart’s Absurdistan, Christopher Rush’s Will and Clare Clark’s The Nature of Monsters. The winner will be announced today after the offending passages are read aloud by actresses. Read the Times post, headlined “Ses in Ian McEwan’s Novel Is Not Bad Enough to Impress Judges.”

www.entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article2951176.ece

November 17, 2007

John Burningham’s ‘Edwardo: The Horriblest Boy in the Whole Wide World’ – More Fun for Preschoolers From One of England’s Best Author-Illustrators

Edwardo: The Horriblest Boy in the Whole Wide World. By John Burningham. Knopf, 32 pp., $12.29. Ages 2 and up. [Note: I'm having computer problems that keep me from showing a better image of the cover of Edwardo, which is much more attractive than it looks here. Jan]

By Janice Harayda

John Burningham is an ideal author-illustrator for preschoolers who are delightful nonconformists. His career began more than 40 years ago when he won the Kate Greenaway Medal, England’s Caldecott, for his first book, Borka: The Adventures of a Goose With No Feathers. Since then his book have won honors as wide-ranging as the German Youth Literature Prize and a Best Book Award from School Library Journal.

Like his countryman Quentin Blake, Burningham has a distinctively witty style of drawing that allows him to find humor in ordinary circumstances. He appeals to the latent anarchist in every preschooler, partly because he tends to depict — and give the last word to — boys and girls who are slightly out-of-step with others. He makes clear that children have vibrant inner lives that adults often misunderstand. But he doesn’t moralize. He dramatizes amusing stories in which young children can see themselves.

Burningham’s latest picture book gives an amusing twist to the theme that children become what adults expect them to be. Edwardo is seen by his elders as loud, rude, mean and dirty – “the horriblest boy in the whole wide world” – until he kicks over a flower pot. A bystander gives him praise instead of the criticism he’s used to hearing. “I see you are starting a little garden, Edwardo,” the man says. “It looks lovely. You should get some more plants.” Edwardo finds that he has a green thumb and, as other adults also begin to treat him more kindly, more talents.

Edwardo: The Horriblest Boy in the Whole Wide World isn’t as effective as some of Burningham’s earlier books, including the wonderful John Patrick Norman McHennessey: The Boy Who Was Always Late. But even the second-tier books from this gifted author are better than most of what you’ll find at bookstores this season. And because Burningham has a deservedly high reputation, many libraries have his books. So here’s a suggestion: If you know preschooler whose motto might as well be, “Why Can’t Everybody Be More Like Me?,” head for the “B” shelves in the picture-book section of your bookstore or library. Leaf through any books you can find by Burningham, and see if they don’t capture something of that child’s spirit.

Best line/picture: Before he reforms, Edwardo dresses has comically spiky hair. This suggests aptly that he’s so bad, he makes even his own hair stand on end.

Worst line: The title. Atypically for Burningham, Edwardo: The Horriblest Boy in the Whole Wide World is more cute than funny. Compare that title with that of John Patrick Norman McHennesseu: The Boy Who Was Always Late, which has a stronger rhythm and is more suggestive. And isn’t clear why Burningham used the nonstandard spelling of Eduardo, which isn’t quite funny enough to be funny. Edwardo seems to deserve either a weirder name or one that, like John Patrick Norman McHennessey’s, carries more weight.

Published: April 2007 www.randomhouse.com/kids

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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