Karl Reviews: The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

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Dear readers, I am simply bubbling like a bog with excitement, brimming like a bursting volcano! How delighted I am to be reviewing Kelly Barnhill‘s magnificent novel The Girl Who Drank the Moon.

Few would accuse me of diluting my praise, and it is true that I am often effusive in my reviews, yet you must not suppose that because I often verge on hyperbole my praise of this work is any the less sincere. When I tell you that I have enjoyed this book as much as any I have ever read, I mean every word. For as the Poet says:

Praise for books, like muffins,
lies not like hidden treasure in a lair
but rather is ingested and gives heat,
for readers’ love is fuel that readers share.

“But of course you would love this book!” a reader might interject. “I believe the whole story was written specifically to please you. It’s practically pandering to its critic!” And yes, I do recognize that several of the characters do seem uncannily familiar, especially Glerk the many-armed aquatic monster who enjoys literary allusions, who is best friends with an enthusiastically outgoing dragon. But I am sure that any influence Daisy and I had on the author was accidental, or at most subconscious. One would be hard pressed, after all, to find any fantasy author today who has not felt the influence of Daisy’s prodigious oeuvre.

Allusions to reality aside, the book is a fantastically original work of literature. It is a masterpiece of worldbuilding, portraying with an uncomfortable intimacy a society built on seductive falsehoods. There are plenty of villains in this world, yet even the most despicable of these characters feels grounded in reality. The boy Antain, an apprentice to the Elders of the Protectorate, is an especially complex character. His growth over the course of the book is brilliantly written, showing his struggle to come to terms with the corruption of his society as he comes of age within it. We completely understand his heroic act of rebellion towards the end of the book, even though we the readers know that it is wrongheaded and doomed to failure.

The complex story of Antain is but a side-plot to that of Luna, a girl abandoned as a baby in the woods as part of the Elders’ sacrifice to an evil witch. But Luna is saved from her doom by Xan, a very decidedly not-evil witch who takes Luna in and feeds her with moonlight, instilling in her great magical powers. By accident Luna gains far more power than any child can handle, and Xan must stifle her magic until she comes of age.

Any reader will surely delight in spending time with Luna’s curious adoptive family: Xan, Glerk the bog monster, and Fyrian the Perfectly Tiny yet Simply Enormous Dragon. Each of these characters is distinctly and beautifully written, and they are all instantly lovable.  Every page of this book is as radiant and as full of magic as its protagonist.

But if I have not yet convinced you to go and read this magnificent book at once, let me once again refer to the words of the Poet, who says:

A kraken’s word is eight times true,
for he swears by every hand.
A dragon’s oath burns clear as fire
across an ashen land.
So when a dragon and a kraken
both recommend a book,
as we advise, it would be wise

to come and take a look.

Yours enchantedly,

Karl the Kraken

 

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Karl Reviews: Stacy McAnulty and Zora and Me

Avast and ahoy!

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Many thanks to Daisy for covering the announcement of Summer Reading authors who are coming to the festival. I was unable to contribute to that post myself, as I was on vacation at the littoral zone (like the beach, but on the other side of the water and consequently much more interesting than a big field of sand). But now I have returned, damp and refreshed, and I will be giving my reviews of selected Summer Reading books over the next several months. I’ll begin with two delightful books by Stacy McAnulty, as well as the mysterious and touching Zora and Me, whose co-author T. R. Simon will be attending the festival.

McAn_9780553510232_jkt_all_r2.indd Stacy McAnulty‘s stories are wonderfully sympathetic to the plight of non-human animals in an anthropocentric world. Excellent Ed tells of a dog who feels insecure when faced with the excellent skills of his human siblings. Such is the peril of always measuring oneself by a human standard. Oh, how well I can relate! When I first came ashore I was afraid my tentacles would stand in the way of my seeking employment, as I could not find work-appropriate clothing for eight appendages. But now I have learned that I can get by on my natural good looks, and that humans can eventually come to appreciate my uniquely aquatic taste in literature.

Max Explains Everything: Grocery Store Expert similarly occupies a wide niche of books explaining basic human customs to those unfamiliar with them. Grocery stores have long been sources of confusion and anxiety for me, as no such establishments exist in the Kraken Cove. Down there we obtain our food directly from the kelp groves without any need of carts or cash registers. But with Max as my guide, I now know the correct procedure for selecting a cart and buying cookies (which is to buy all of them). I am also practicing sneaking candy onto a conveyor belt, which seems to me a vital human skill. I was especially pleased to see that this book confirms my impression that one is supposed to converse at length with the lobsters at the grocery store, though I have been given funny looks for doing so in the past.

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Zora and Me by Victoria Bond and T. R. Simon tells a story of the great writer Zora Neale Hurston when she was a fourth-grade girl in Eatonville, Florida. T. R. Simon is an anthropologist by training, and she brings a skill of perfect observation of human behavior to this novel. The story centers on the ways in which humans come up with stories, even fantastical ones, to give the world a semblance of order. Zora’s imagination and insightfulness lead her  to suspect that one of her neighbors is a murderous half-alligator. The reality, it turns out, is even stranger and darker than her flights of fancy. In this brilliant coming-of-age story, Bond and Simon force Zora and her friends to leave the realm of childhood fantasies and face the world outside idyllic Eatonville, where racial prejudices rule instead of gator kings, and where choices are hard and justice is hard-won.

Zora and Me is a captivating book that weaves together historical fiction and biography with a well-plotted mystery. I am eagerly anticipating its sequel, Zora and Me: The Cursed Ground, to be published this September. Daisy and I both hope to learn more about Ghost, the morally ambiguous gator who makes a violent appearance at the beginning of the book and then, as befits his name, disappears without a trace. Ghost’s fate and his motivation in biting off a boy’s arm remain an unresolved mystery. The authors’ sensitivity to their characters makes us believe that they would not portray large reptilians and aquatic monsters as simply bloodthirsty by nature. We are sure Ghost has a compelling backstory to be told in the next installment. Perhaps the gator, too, will go to New York and become a famous novelist? Daisy is prepared to write her own reptilian fanfiction if necessary.

Yours enthusiastically,

Karl the Kraken

 

Summer Reading with Daisy

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Greetings, dearest readers!

There is no time of year quite so exciting to a dragon as the beginning of summer, and not only because we cold-blooded reptilians prefer warm weather. It is also the time when we turn to our mountainous to-be-read piles not with a feeling of intimidation, but with a sense of fiery optimism. We know we have three wide-open months in which to burn through volume after volume of fantasy; to lounge in the grass with the sun glinting off our scales, a freshly printed mystery novel or popular alchemical treatise between our claws; to curl up poolside with an intriguing biography; or to attempt a valiant feat of self-instruction with the help of Teach Yourself Old Krakonic: The Baltic Dialects.

Now you, too, my lovely readers, can share in the dragonian pleasures of summer reading. For the young hatchlings among you, Bookmarks has a fantastic Summer Reading program in which participants can win a free book at this year’s festival, a gift card to Bookmarks, $500 worth of books for your school’s library, invaluable knowledge, a treasure hoard of experiences that you will cherish for life, and, yes, a signed first edition of my forthcoming novel, The Queens of Dragoria, whenever it is published. (I have told my editor that I expect to be finished at some point in the next five to eight years, so long as I do not introduce more than three new sub-plots per month.)

But best of all (yes, even better than the autograph of Daisy the Dragon), you will have the chance to meet many of the authors featured on the Summer Reading list in person at the festival in September. What a fantastic array of writers and illustrators will be in attendance! They span many genres, backgrounds, and age groups, from poetry to biography and from fledgling to first-flyer.

I must highlight a few of the names on the list I found especially exciting, though I am sure I will have to omit many wonderful authors for lack of space. Hopefully my and Karl’s subsequent posts will fill in some of the gaps.

coverI am thrilled to see how many of these authors celebrate the dragonian virtues of adventure and exploration, which make perfect topics for summer reading. Jennifer Thermes’s Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail shows us how anyone with enough determination can become a great adventurer. Stacy McAnulty takes us on a tour of the wonders of the world with EARTH! My First 4.5 Billion Years, while her new novel, The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl, promises to sail into the wild and uncharted waters of Middle School. Makiia Lucier’s new duology blends the strangeness of fantasy with the uncanny realities of the age of exploration. If I had to pick a favorite on this list, Isle of Blood and Stone might be it. After all, it has a dragon on the cover and sea monsters on its map.

Other authors on the list also take on historical settings, writing through the pains and the triumphs of the past. Carole Boston Weatherford has told the stories of important historical figures from Harriet Tubman to Dorothea Lange to Fannie Lou Hammer. In her latest book she traces the history of a song: Amazing Grace. T. R. Simon’s work also celebrates a great figure in American history, telling a fictionalized tale of the childhood of Zora Neale Hurston. Joyce Moyer Hostetter, rather than focusing on famous icons from the past, has her characters deal with the reverberations of historical events on a local level in their personal lives. Blue, Comfort, and Aim are all set in rural North Carolina during World War II and the polio epidemic.

2643And of course, we should not forget the dragon in the room: Dav Pilkey, an author of such accomplishment and renown that he will be giving the first-ever Bookmarks Kids’ Keynote address. There is something in this great author’s oeuvre for practically every species, from dogs to cats to gooses, gargoyles, bunnies, robots, pigs, sentient underpants, and, of course, dragons.

Now if only he would write a book about a kraken…

 

Happy Summer Reading!

Daisy the Dragon

A Kraken Among Llamas

Avast and ahoy!

Dear reader, I am sure you know how much I enjoy meeting other animals with cultivated literary sensibilities, be they amphibian or hominin. Rarely, however, do I get the opportunity to meet a creature who not only enjoys books, but who has been the subject of one.

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Such was my pleasure on Saturday, when I was fortunate to meet Inca and Carlos, two lliterary llamas under the care of Katy Torney, who has included them in her llovely picture book What Do Llamas Do? 

I had never met a llama before this weekend, as terrestrial llamas rarely venture into the Kraken Cove and the Giant Sea-Llama went extinct some 5.5 million years ago. I might have thought such strange creatures were llegendary or accidents of Llamarckian evolution. But I soon discovered that llamas are some of the nicest, most intelligent animals I have ever met.

I found llamas’ lliterary and artistic taste quite llaudable. They both expressed an enthusiasm for the works of Wolfgang Llamadeus Mozart and Cervantes’s Don Quixote of Llamancha. We also share an admiration of Mantegna’s painting of the Llamentation, as well as Ovid’s Ars Llamatoria.

I could go on and on about our conversations, but I think the photos of the event say enough on their own.

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Yours llovingly,

Karl the Kraken

 

(Special thanks to Llisa for photography!)

Angelica, Eliza…and Karl

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(DAISY’S NOTE: Karl has been listening to the Hamilton soundtrack non-stop for the past week, and I fear some of the lyrics may have worked their way into his writing. I’m sure the shift in his normally unimpeachable prose style is only temporary.)

Avast and ahoy!

There is, of course, nothing a bibliophile loves more than going downtown to their favorite bookstore. Therefore, dear reader, please share this post with your friends and family to remind them of their love of literary pursuits, and tell them to come to Bookmarks on Sunday, April 15th at 3:00 for a very special event.

y450-293How can a bookish, purple-clawed dragon and an octopod sufficiently applaud an author’s efforts to put a neglected figure back into the narrative of history? That is precisely the revolutionary task that L. M. Elliott has undertaken in her new book Hamilton and Peggy. This novel delves into the life of Peggy Schuyler, a figure not only written out of history but sidelined even in the musical Hamilton. Though the musical’s Peggy spends much of her time waiting in the wings, Elliott’s has an enviable front-row seat to the historical action.

How lucky you are, dear reader, to be alive right now! As a paralarva in the Kraken Cove I wished for a store, but book sales there were poor: I knew the only thing to do was swim up to the shore. I took up a collection for my passage to the mainland (though in the end most of it was funded solely by my wealthy uncle Kasterborous), and arrived last summer, another octopod swimming up from the bottom. Back then Bookmarks was in a hurricane of preparation before its July opening, its children’s section but a yellow wall. Look at where we are now, and look at where we started. To be selling books successfully would be enough, but Bookmarks will never be satisfied with that alone. Rather, the store continues passionately smashing every expectation, hosting non-stop events for young and old.

Great events are happening at Bookmarks, and should you happen to have the time to take a break on April 15, then you simply must meet us inside the store for a celebration of Hamilton, Peggy, and Hamilton and Peggy. It will be quite the meeting, for we’ve arranged the menu, the venue, the seating, and we are certain that the room where it happens will be spacious enough for a revel full of rebels.

And if you simply cannot wait for it, we advise you to buy up every book you can get your hands on about Hamilton and the Schuyler sisters, but most of all to read Ms. Elliott’s astute historical novel.

Your obedient servant,

K. Krak

Springtime Selections: New Poems by Daisy the Dragon

 

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A Springtime Sonnet

As springtime opens flowers, I turn leaves,
Inhaling all the scents that issue forth,
The inky perfumes printed paper breathes,
My eyes move down the lines as birds fly north.
Warm, watercolored pages are now worth
Far more than winter’s pictures’ monochrome:
Their time to open now, like buds from earth,
And dust the frost and cobwebs off their tomes.
So pull them from their hibernating-homes,
From perilous piles and shelves and towering stacks.
A cover shut tight is so drearisome,
But opened, it yields lilies and lilacs.
When reading, sniffing’s worth a thousand looks;
They say to smell the flowers–I smell books!

On the Dangers of Pollen

Be careful when you crack a window
what might through it float:
the dragon’s nose is sensitive
to every mite and mote.

You would not wish to perturbate
the passage of her breath;
a single speck of pollen can
mean smoke and certain death!

For if a roguish molecule
lands lazily in her nostril,
she’ll rear her head and shut her eyes,
and sneeze out something awful.

The trail of fire her nose emits
no Kleenex can withhold,
but shall destroy all in its path,
most fearful to behold!

It burns the piles of papers that are
lying all around,
and spares no inch of store, but quickly
chars the nearby ground.

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And so in springtime dragons are
disasters soon to happen–
to think some flower’s fume
could leave entire bookstores blackened!

Three Haikus

Krakonic haikus, I’m told, go
eight, then five, and then
one more line of eight tentacles.

Dragon meter, though,
is a classic haiku style:
five, seven, and five.

Which one is better?
I say a mix is always best:
happy medium.

To a Bookstore

We dragons like to hoard things in our caves:
Gold, goblets, emeralds, frozen peas,
Books most of all, the ones that move and please,
All things that dragon hearts are wont to crave.
But hidden treasures are nothing to public good,
And they give little pleasure, truth be told;
Better to let our books be bought and sold,
Held dearer and ever wider understood.
The bookstore is the loveliest cave of all,
For it is warm and friends are found within,
Of every genus, furred and fanged and finned,
Each answering alike the readers’ call:
“Whatever your species, color, kingdom, age,
Surrender all yourself unto the page.”

 

Karl Reviews: The Footnote Menu

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Avast and ahoy!

As I’m sure you have noticed if you have stopped by Bookmarks lately, the new cafe Footnote has opened next door! I hope you have all gotten a chance to sample the snack and beverage options at Footnote, but if you have lacked the time, or if you have sampled only one or two of the items on the extensive menu and feel you have not gotten a representative taste of the full range of delicacies, fear not! For I, Karl the Kraken, have taken it upon myself to stop by Footnote every several hours for the past week, each time ordering a different menu item and recording my impressions of it for your benefit.

I am quite aware that kraken gastronomy is somewhat different from that of humans. Yet I should venture to say that my culinary taste is nearly as impeccable as my literary, and I hope that my descriptions of the foods at Footnote, though washed with a certain saltwater sensibility, will be fresh enough to wet your appetite and entice you to pay a visit and taste these treats for yourself.

footnote-homeNow, the first time I entered Footnote and ordered my favorite beverage, I was distressed to find that they did not carry it. However, Daisy helpfully explained that kelp kombucha is not nearly so popular on land as it is in the Kraken Cove, so I supposed the omission was pardonable.

I settled for ordering an earl grey tea, which was served with a miniature hourglass timer. This also caused me not-inconsiderable distress me until Daisy explained the intentions behind it. — You see, if one has spent any significant interval at sea with companions of a piratical description, one is liable to interpret having an hourglass placed on the table before one as a threat to one’s life, akin to receiving a black spot on a piece of paper or a badly drawn caricature of oneself caught in a brig and forced to cook barnacle bourguignon for a band of bantering buccaneers (both of which have been served to me in other cafes on multiple occasions). But Daisy was quick to assure me that no such message had been intended, and that the tiny device set before me was in fact a useful novelty meant to spare one the distress of overly strong tea.

It is a testament to the deliciousness of Footnote’s offerings that I quickly forgot the distress of these first few misunderstandings. A mere sip of tea and bite of muffin were enough to win me over. Of course, it is well known that among baked goods, muffins have the most soothing effect on the constitution. (After all, it is quite impossible to eat muffins in an agitated manner!) But one must not think that any old muffin could have produced the same pleasure that I experienced on that occasion, for I say truly, dear reader, that this tea and this muffin were far superior to any tea and any muffin I had tasted up to that point, whether on land or in the sea.

So delighted was I with this small snack that I returned immediately to sample more of the cafe’s items. After a few seconds’ deliberation, I decided upon a cappuccino and a cookie. I must confess that even after the revelation of the my first course, I could not imagine every item on the Footnote menu could be of such high culinary quality. Picture my surprise, then, when my first bite of cookie transported me, like the very highest of literary achievements, into another world of yet-unrealized and previously unarticulated perfections of the very essence of cookieness! It was a revelatory experience akin almost to my first time looking into Conchshell’s translation of Homer.

Need I repeat such extravagant praises for every item on the menu? Oh, but reader, how easily I could! I could spend an age extolling the comitragic balance of sweetness and spice in the chai latte, exploring the savory subplots of the sandwiches, pausing to ponder the philosophical quandaries so poignantly expressed in the macchiato, and reveling in the Hemingwayesque brevity and punch of the straight espresso. But I fear my words would fail me.

I believe many humans have acknowledged the failures of their language in describing taste. Even in my native Krakonic, though we have special words for the tang of spaghetti submarinese and the sensation of chewing algae alla carbonara, I should find myself hard-pressed to describe the infinite delights of Footnote’s pastry case.

Lest I should make your patience stale and dry by drawing out my review too long, I shall leave you only with this final word: swim, slither, sprint, or swoop as quickly as you can to Footnote, and you might stand some chance of having a snack before Daisy and I polish off the entire stock!

Bon appétit!

Karl the Kraken