Snow White and The Seven Robots: A Graphic Novel by Louise Simonson

Now here’s a Snow White we feminists can get behind! There is not one mention of Snow White’s beauty in this entire “Far Out Fairy Tale,” a new series of children’s graphic novels from Stone Arch Books, a Capstone Publishing imprint.  Instead, this girl’s threat to the queen is her intelligence. On a planet called Techworld, scientists create a future successor to their queen, only the selfish queen messes with their potions, which makes the child’s skin a pale white–did I mention that everyone’s skin is green on Techworld?  Snow White is born.

  
As Snow White grows up, she turns out to be a quick study and soon becomes smarter than the queen, at which point the queen banishes her to live in Lowtown and apprentice to the trash robot. Snow makes friends with another human, Doc, and while he tends to people, she uses her intelligence to learn to fix robots. She also builds a rocketship with spare parts that she uses to save herself during one of the queen’s attempts on her life. 

The seven robots of the title are a motley assortment who finish each other’s sentences, but we never know their names and they are important in the story only as far as they are the ones who send out a plea for help after Snow is poisoned. With less time spent on the robots, there’s more space for Snow’s character development and adventures. Kindness and friendship are the main themes, and it’s a fun adventure in an attractive format for kids.

Is there anything missing in this retelling?  Oh yes, no prince. Prince absent. Prince, in a word, unnecessary. 

Next in the “Far Out Fairy Tales” series that we’ll be reading: Ninjarella. Bring it. 

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The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens

The banners on this blog show my various bookshelves, and one of them contains the book The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens. I bought it at last year’s Twin Cities Book Festival, and actually met the author and had him sign my copy.  I was looking for new mysteries, possibly for my Mystery Book Club.  Eskens was very unassuming, approachable, and taking some flak for his quiet demeanor from a fellow mystery writer who was hawking her wares like a pro.  

  
I finally read it, and it was a page-turner.  I finished it off in two days, and it was, in a word, transporting.  It’s one of those books that makes you forget what’s going on around you.  There are two story lines, one in the past, and one in the present, and each is fraught with injustice, misunderstandings, and most importantly, characters you want to win against life’s crazy odds.

Joe, a college student, is trying to complete an assignment for his English class.  Sounds simple enough.  He has to find a stranger and interview that person and write their biography in brief.  His idea is to find someone at a nursing home to talk to, but the person he ends up meeting is not at all what he bargained for.  Carl Iverson is a convicted murderer who’s been in jail for thiry years, but has just been released to the nursing home because he’s dying of cancer. 

But Joe is committed to finishing the assignment.  It took all he had just to leave home and start college. And his mother keeps calling, needing him.  She’s an alcoholic and Joe’s been the parent of the household for a long time, putting his own life on hold.  Then his mother calls from jail, and Joe has no choice but to go back home, not for his mother, but to take care of his older brother Jeremy, who is autistic.  

Jeremy is a sweet kid, and Joe is stunned when Lila, the girl in the apartment next to his, who he’s been trying to chat up for weeks, warms up to Jeremy immediately. After Joe convinces Lila to come to dinner with him and Jeremy, she finds out about the interview and clashes with Joe over the idea. The argument ultimately causes the two of them to investigate the murder further, partly because Carl isn’t talking about it.   Joe doesn’t mind, as it’s more time he gets to spend with Lila, but it’s suddenly a lot to juggle–taking care of his brother, attending college, working a part-time job, trying to keep away from his toxic mother, and maybe having a girlfriend. 

Eskens’ writing is solid, and there were several passages that had me on the edge on my seat.  At one point, Joe upsets some people who don’t want him investigating Carl’s history, and he’s attacked and then stranded in the woods in a Minnesota snowstorm. How he survives is brilliant fun, a cross between one of writer Gary Paulsen’s wilderness survival tales for kids and Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne.

The Life We Bury is a fabulous debut for Eskens. The characters are flawed and likeable, the setting is a beautiful, unpredictable character of its own–Minnesota in winter–and the action builds to a nail-biting crescendo.  Mystery/thriller readers will love it, but I suspect it will gain a wider audience.  Joe is just trying to break away from his family and figure out how to be his own person, and who can’t relate to that?

Darwin for Kids

One Beetle Too Many, by Kathryn Lasky with illustrations by Matthew Trueman, is a fabulous introduction to Charles Darwin for children.  Published by Candlewick, known for putting out gorgeous all-ages picture books, this is evidently one of about a dozen Candlewick Biographies, “Portraits of People Making History and Shaping the Future,” and I will definitely be checking out other books in the series.

   
Beetle is a relatively short chapter book at forty-three pages, yet each chapter distinguishes itself with the kind of detail a child delights in, like the fact that one time Darwin ran out of places to hold the beetles he was collecting, so he popped one in his mouth! The book is loaded with richly colored, detailed illustrations that reward close study and feel like an integral part of the story. With titles like “Butterflies and Gauchos” and “Seashells on Mountaintops,” each chapter is its own adventure, propelling the reader along further.

As a homeschooler, I couldn’t help but be delighted to learn that Darwin was a rotten student and hated school.  He was an excellent observer, and had his own methods of study that didn’t fit with the education his father tried to force on him. Lasky shows how important Darwin’s early curiosity was in his development as a scientist, and describes how difficult it was for Darwin to put his ideas about evolution out into the world, which felt like an important facet of his life to share with children, that sometimes the most important ideas you have can give you a stomachache, and that’s okay.  Highly recommended.

Podcasts and Bookmarks

  
Today I spent most of the day finishing making about seventy-five (physical) bookmarks I’m intending to sell at the Friends of the Nokomis Library book sale next weekend, to raise money for my very deserving library.  I used pages from a falling-apart copy of The Hobbit to cover one side, and the other side is some doodly art I had previously created.  Then I have scads of artsy yarn that is shit to knit with but looks really great in other arty projects like this! I was going to color all the bookmarks on the doodly side, until I colored about three and realized that it would take me about a year.  Then i realized that i should  leave them uncolored because, duh, adult coloring books, a thing now, so let the people color their own bookmarks!

While i was working I was listening to episode after episode of one of Book Riot’s fab podcasts.  I just discovered this one, it’s called Reading Lives, hosted by Jeff O’Neal, and it’s an interview format where he talks to one person for the whole hour, all about how they developed as a reader, who/what books were their influences, seminal reading moments, etc.  It’s heaven for reading junkies like me.  And you! Check it out.