Children's Book ReviewsThe Internet Writing Journal, December 1999 Page One of Two
A Midsummer Night's Faery Tale by Wendy Froud & Terry WindlingSimon and Schuster, October 1999.
Hardcover, 48 pages
Reading Level: Ages 8 to Adult
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"This is a faery story. It doesn't begin 'once upon a time' or 'in a land far, far away'… it begins here in the world we know, in a forest called Old Oak Wood." So begins A Midsummer Night's Faery Tale, a marvelous new story from doll and puppetmaker Wendy Froud (best known for creating Yoda of Star Wars fame) and award-winning author and editor Terry Windling (best known for her collaboration with Ellen Datlow on the Year's Best Horror and Fantasy anthologies.) In the Old Oak Wood it will soon be Midsummer Night and all the faeries are busy with preparations for the event which honors the King and Queen of the faeries, Oberon and Titania. A small, young faery only two hundred years old named Sneezle is longing to take part in the celebration, but he keeps getting in the way. Sneezle feels like he can't do anything right, and is quite discouraged. But when someone puts an evil sleeping spell on Queen Titania and plots to steal her crown, Sneezle is the unlikely hero chosen to journey into the dark of the woods to find the Midsummer crown in time for the celebration that evening. On his quest, Sneezle finds some unlikely allies, a magical sword and a traitor who must be stopped.
Terri Windling takes a fairly standard fantasy storyline, the inexperienced youth setting off on a quest which could make him a hero, and turns it on its head in this charming fantasy fable. Wendy Froud's creations -- faeries, piskies, trolls, sylphs and the like -- are beautiful and imaginative, as are the photographs by Brian Froud; doll collectors will be in heaven. Children will no doubt find Sneezle adorable, and adults will find the story entertaining and the illustrations enchanting. An unusual and captivating book which would make a perfect Christmas gift for faery lovers of any age.
The Reptile Room (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Part 2) by Lemony Snicket, Brett Hilquist, IllustratorHarperTrophy, August, 1999.
Hardcover, 192 pages
Reading Level: Ages 9 - Adult
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In Book 1 ( The Bad Beginning) we saw the unfortunate Baudelaire children experience the death of their beloved parents and a series of horrific events as their new guardian, the smarmy Count Olaf, treated them in a despicable manner and tried to steal their fortune. The authorities finally intervened. Now, in Book 2 the courageous children are sent to yet another relative -- Montgomery Montgomery, the noted herpetologist. When they arrive at their new home (with snake-shaped hedges) they wonder, "Would Dr. Montgomery be a kind person?...Would he at least be better than Count Olaf? Could he possibly be worse?" But Dr. Montgomery has a twinkle in his eye and kindly invites them in for some fresh-baked coconut cream pie. Then, after informing them that they will soon be leaving for an exciting trip to Peru to collect more reptiles, he gives each child his own room, and invites them into the reptile room to see his fascinating exhibits. Violet, Klaus and the baby, Sunny, cannot believe their good fortune -- and, of course, they really shouldn't, given the way their luck has been running.
This second installment in the series of unfortunate events of the courageous Baudelaire children is laugh out loud funny, as well as being somewhat alarming. The author and narrator, Lemony Snicket, is as mysterious and mournful as ever, although we get tantalizing glimpses of his lifestyle once in awhile. He apologizes to the reader for leaving him hanging at the end of the previous chapter, but explains that he was late for a formal dinner party given by his good friend, Madam diLustro, "an excellent detective, and a fine cook, but she flies into a rage if you arrive even five minutes later than her invitation states..." But we still have no clue as to what Mr. Snicket's relationship to the Baudelaires is. Surely, in time, all will be revealed. In the meantime, lovers of witty prose and sly humor will be spellbound by this wickedly wonderful series. Highly Recommended.
--Claire E. White
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