“The Marvels” by Brian Selznick (Scholastic Press, 2015)


Brian Selznick’s two previous works of incredible illustrated historical fiction (The Inventory of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck) revealed his talent for creating this new genre and art form, as indicated by their bestsellerdom and garnered awards. In The Marvels, he does the same thing again, making the reader anxious to get to the end to find what is fact and what is fiction, and what is the whole story behind everything . . . But at the same time they want to savor every page and never want it to end.

The Marvels is a book of two stories. The first is told almost completely in continuous imagery, a flickering movie-like effect of the boy Billy Marvel in 1766 who survives a devastating shipwreck and begins work at a London theatre. Then the reader gets to enjoy the Marvel family through the generations and the many great actors that are spawned until young Leontes Marvel who wants nothing to do with the stage.

In the other story, nearly a century later, Joseph Jervis has run away from school and home and is looking for his uncle in London to stay with for a while and get away from everything. When he finds his uncle, he convinces him to let him stay in the wonderfully unusual house of Albert Nightingale which is kind of a combination of Hearst Castle and Winchester Mystery house, filled with wonders and delights, along with some spooky artifacts that all tell of the great history of the Marvel family.

If The Invention of Hugo Cabret was a tale of history, and Wonderstruck was a tale of love, then The Marvels is a thrilling mystery tale that you won’t be able to put down.

Originally written on January 17, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Marvels from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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“The Last Unicorn” by Peter S. Beagle (Roc, 2011)

Last Unicorn
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Every once in a while a book will come along and get written and be released to the world and become something so special and unique that it will stand the tests of time, whether it was published last year, or fifty years ago, or a hundred years ago.  In the magical fairytale style of The Princess Bride, The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle is certainly one of those ethereal books that generation after generation will read and enjoy for years to come.

“The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone. She was very old, though she did not know it, and she was no longer the careless color of sea foam but rather the color of snow falling on a moonlit night.”  What she doesn’t know, but eventually discovers is that she is the last unicorn on earth.  These magical beasts once roamed free and helped and healed those around them, but now she is the only one left.  And even though she is old, she is not very wise and soon finds herself a member of Mummy Fortuna’s Midnight Carnival with no chance of escape.  But then a most unique individual comes along, named Schmendrick the Magician, whose magical powers work most infrequently, and only when he really needs them to; and he frees the last unicorn.  Molly Grue also joins the unusual travelers, who still has faith in fables and believes in legends, even though she has met a suspicious Robin Hood character and his band of overly-merry men.  They journey far and wide across the lands, have many adventures in search of the other unicorns, and end up at the withered castle of King Haggard, where the Red Bull lies in wait for the last unicorn.

Many complimentary words can be said about this book, but still they will not do it complete justice, as it just transcends so many levels and ages, making us all, perhaps just for a moment, believe in these wondrous beasts.  For the new anniversary edition, a quote on the front of the book from Patrick Rothfuss, author of The Name of the Wind, says it best: “The Last Unicorn is the best book I have ever read.  You need to read it.  If you’ve already read it, you need to read it again.”

Originally written on February 13, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Last Unicorn from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Nursery Rhyme Comics” edited by Chris Duffy (First Second, 2011)

Nursery Rhyme Comics
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Everyone knows what a nursery rhyme is; many of us can still remember a number of them, or at least what they were about; and still a few more of us can recall certain nursery rhymes word for word; but ask any of us what they mean or how they got made up, and you’ll be greeted with a look of dumbfoundedness.  What exactly is the deal with an egg falling off the wall, or two kids falling down a hill, or even a cow jumping over a moon?

In Nursery Rhyme Comics, the artists explore these familiar nursery rhymes with detailed illustrations, exploring the nuances and possible meanings behind various nursery rhymes.  The book features great original and entertaining illustrations from many known comics’ artists and cartoonists, including Craig Thompson, Scott Campbell, Mike Mignola, Kate Beaton and many, many more.  50 well-known nursery rhymes are explored and elucidated upon by the skillful hands of 50 cartoonists, revealing these strange short stories to be the bizarre, confusing, and yet entertaining and unforgettable tales that they are.

You may not find all the answers in Nursery Rhyme Comics, or the reasoning behind each of these nursery rhymes, but you will certainly be laughing out loud and enjoying yourself as you read them, and perhaps showing them to your kids, if you have any!

Originally written on November 20, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Nursery Rhyme Comics from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Chronicles of Harris Burdick” edited by Chris Van Allsburg (Houghton Mifflin, 2011)

Chronicles of Harris Burdick
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Many readers, no matter what age they might be, are familiar with Chris Van Allsburg’s unforgettable, award-winning classic, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, presenting fourteen unique and incredible illustrations that spark the mind and begin moving the gears of the imagination.  The illustrations have gone on to serve as great starting points for many schoolkids around the world looking to engage and develop their storytelling and writing abilities; a number of them still have those original stories they created when they were kids (my wife is one of them).

Now, over twenty-five years after the publication of The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, fourteen renowned and well-known authors put their own minds to the task of creating original stories from these iconic works of art.  The likes of Louis Sachar, Sherman Alexie, Kate DiCamillo, Cory Doctorow, Lois Lowry, and even Chris Van Allsburg himself, create their own moving and special stories, most of them published here for the first time.  Stephen King also takes on the story of the house launching itself into the sky, originally published in his Nightmares & Dreamscapes short story collection, it is reprinted here.  The Chronicles of Harris Burdick also features an introduction from Lemony Snicket, with some of his thoughts on where these illustrations might have come from.

 The book is a keeper, to be added next to one’s own copy of The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, and to be picked up and read, as well as read aloud to others, over and over again.

Originally written on November 20, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Chronicles of Harris Burdick from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Island” by Armin Greder (Allen & Unwin, 2008)

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Originally published in 2002 in German, and winner of multiple German and French book awards, Armin Greder’s The Island is now available in English. While this picture book might be disturbing for the very young, it is an allegory that can be appreciated by all ages (the publisher indicates 8-18). It only takes a few minutes to read, but leaves you contemplating its implications and greater meanings.

This is the story of an island where some big, angry, racist people live simple, everyday lives, loving the routine and normalcy of it. When a strange looking man arrives in a shoddy raft, the natives see that he is different from them and immediately despise him, trapping him in a goat pen, hiding him away and ignoring him, going back to their lives. Then one day he comes to them, asking for food, and they are shocked and horrified. They think about who should take care of him, but no one wants him, thinking that he will destroy whatever he touches. Eventually he is put back on his shoddy raft and sent out to sea. They build a giant wall around the island, protecting them from the outside world and people who aren’t the same, as well as killing any birds that come to the island, so that it will never be discovered by anyone else.

On the surface it is an unusual short story, but it would be little more to an alien who knows nothing of the history of humanity. For all of us who were born on this planet, this story of hate for anyone different is an all too familiar one that has had many horrific chapters in our history. It is also sadly a reality that continues in our world today. With hard, charcoal-colored, sharp-edged images that evoke Edvard Munch’s The Scream as well as the music video to Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall,” The Island is a story that will be read and reread, as a commentary on humanity’s failings.

Originally written on April 25th, 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.

“From the Dust Returned” by Ray Bradbury (William Morrow, 2001)

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Ray Bradbury’s “other” Halloween book, From the Dust Returned, is over some fifty years in the making, beginning as a spark from a single story in his early twenties that he would continue to add on to throughout his career.  This spark of a first story, “Homecoming,” was originally published in Mademoiselle magazine and featured unique artwork (which is here reproduced on the cover of the book) by a then relatively unknown artist by the name of Charles Addams.

In the style of his Martian Chronicles, this book feels very much like a collection of stories that are linked together through the characters, as well as specific chapters that provide the cement, binding them all together.  From the Dust Returned consists of a most unique haunted house where the dead that unite and meet there are of all the same family, with exotic and incredible names like Cecy, Uncle Einar, and A Thousand Times Great Grandmére.  Cecy is a unique corpse of a woman who spends her times in the dust dunes in the attic, sending her soul and spirit out into the world to occupy and experience anything and everything, whether it be a drop of rainwater on a rock, a young lover’s heart, or a giant eagle flying across the sky.  Uncle Einar is a special uncle with thin veiny wings that allow him to take flight like a giant bird and travel wherever he pleases.  And A Thousand Times Great Grandmére, who has existed in her decrepit state for many thousands of years has stories and experiences to tell that make everything else seem short lived and mundane.  And then there are many more brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, nephews and nieces from all over the world who come to visit.

The main character, a young boy called Timothy, is also unique compared to the family for he is an ordinary human boy who is left as a babe in a basket on the doorstep of this doomed mansion, and is raised in this very strange family.  But with his humanity, he has a different viewpoint, and his job is to record the stories and experiences of these most strange and unusual family members.

While From the Dust Returned seems to unravel a little sometimes, with some stories going on tangents that never quite return to the coherent plot, there are gems in this book that are unlike any other I have read.  Along with The Halloween Tree, it is a perfect book to be read, and to read aloud, around and during Halloween.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on October 23rd 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.