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Okay, now I know this will probably seem like a children's book - and in some respects it is - but Mary Poppins Opens the Door by P. L. Travers most definitely has some hidden wisdom and thoughtful words well beyond child-like comprehension. Here's the cover art:




The story chronicles one of Mary Poppins many stays at Cherry Tree Lane, caring for Jane and Michael Banks. The story is full of the kind of adventures only Mary Poppins could provide - playing in the park with Neleus the marble statue boy, flying peppermint candy cane horses, concerts under the ocean with a plethora of fish, and my most favorite after all these years: a quite insightful and haughty china cat who visits a king.

I love that particular story so much I think in part because the cat in the story is perfect - as haughty and self-centered as real cats are (no offense meant, I love cats and have two myself, but cats ARE very self important by nature). In this story-within-a-story, the King of a far away kingdom wants to know everything - including things like "Why are cheeks pink and cabbages green?" and "What if teeth are really pearls?" His obsession with knowledge causes him to grow old before his time and strains his relationships with everyone from his wife, to his subjects, to the Prime Minister, to the little boy who fills the king's ink wells. And then, on that fateful day, the china cat (from the mantlepiece in Jane and Michael's bedroom) comes and the king has a most extraordinary revelation...

Favorite quote: " 'If a dozen men, working eight hours a day, had to dig a hole ten-and-a-half miles deep - how long long would it be, including Sundays, before they put down their spades?'

The King's eyes shone with a cunning sparkle. He gazed at the Cat with a look of triumph. But the cat had its answer ready.

'Two seconds,' it said quickly, with a little flick of its tail.

'Two seconds! Are you mad? The answer's in years!' The King rubbed his hands together with glee at the thought of the Cat's mistake.

'I repeat,' said the Cat. 'It would take them two seconds. To dig such a hole would be utterly foolish. Ten miles deep? they would say. Why what on earth for?'

'That isn't the point,' the King said angrily.

'But every question must have a point. A point is exactly what questions are for.' "

Final rating: The "classic" looking illustrations only add to Mary Poppins' charm, the content is suitable for both children and adults alike, and the stories are whimsical but teach great lessons. P. L. Travers is a genius! Five out of five!
I feel that I would be remiss in my duties as a book reviewer if I didn't include some children's books. True, they are juvenile, but that's the point - and quite frankly, we all need something simple to read. So, I decided the best way to start a kid's book review would be with the book "If You Give a Moose a Muffin" by Laura Numeroff. Here's the cute cover art:




This book, full of excellent illustrations by Felicia Bond, show us exactly what crazy turns of events can take place if you should EVER make a mistake so foolish as to offer a moose a muffin...(Trust me, don't do it - it's a REALLY bad idea!)

Favorite quote: "Then he'll ask you to help make the scenery. When the scenery is finished, he'll get behind the couch. But his antlers will stick out."

Final score: The illustrations are darling, the sort of stream of consciousness thoughts and requests of the moose are endearing and oddly quirky, and the book never ceases to loose its charm no matter how many times you read it - five out of five!

Sonny's Blues by James Baldwin

This time, it's not a novel that I'm reviewing, but a short story. This story actually comes from a whole book of short stories that I'll be reviewing. The Art of the Short Story by Dana Gioia and R. S. Gwynn was a book required for an Introduction to Short Fiction class that I took at Rutgers University in the Fall 2007 semester. I loved the class and I loved the book even more - so much so that I kept it. This 926 page tome contains 63 short stories as well as a sort of "conversation with the author" after each story and an explanation in the back of the book of the different aspects of short stories (ex. plot, characterization, point of view). I don't recall what I paid for this book, but it was well worth the price. Here's the cover art:



The story I'm focusing on this time is Sonny's Blues by James Baldwin. (For those of you interested, that's the esteemed Mr. Baldwin in the lower left hand corner of the book cover.) As short stories go, Sonny's Blues is really rather long, stretching from pages 27-52, however, it's well worth the read.

The story chronicles the unnamed speaker's struggles with his brother Sonny. Sonny is unable to settle down in life it seems and for awhile has been too much a free spirit for the speaker's liking. Since a rift has grown between the two brothers over the years, the speaker attempts a reconciliation by meeting with his brother Sonny. It is only then does he realize Sonny's true problems. Sonny is an artist - more specifically a musician - who believes that you need to suffer to create good art.

The story is full of dark imagery and musical reference, however it is also full of wonderful quotes that could easily fill up several LJ pages. While it does involve some dark themes (and at one point a tale related about a gory death), it is, on the whole, an excellent read.

Favorite quote: "I said: 'But there's no way not to suffer - is there Sonny?'
' I believe not,' he said and smiled, 'but that's never stopped anyone from trying.' He looked at me. 'Has it?' I realized, with this mocking look, that there stood between us, forever, beyond the power of time or forgiveness, the fact that I had held silence - so long! - when he had needed human speech to help him. He turned back to the window. 'No, there's no way not to suffer. But you try all kinds of ways to keep from drowning in it, to keep on top of it, and to make it seem - well, like you. Like you did something, all right, and now you're suffering for it. You know?' I said nothing. 'Well you know,' he said, impatiently, 'why do people suffer? Maybe it's better to do something to give it a reason, any reason.'
'But we just agreed,' I said, 'that there's no way not to suffer. Isn't it better, then, just to - take it?'
'But nobody just takes it,' Sonny cried, 'thta's what I'm telling you! Everybody tries not to. You're just hung up on the way some people try - it's not your way!'"

Final score: Out of five stars, this story receives five stars. The story is engaging and memorable, full of excellent imagery and quotes that stay with you long beyond the story as a whole.

Waifs and Strays by Charles DeLint

Since I read all the time, I figured that I could be of some service by reviewing books/short stories for the masses. What better way to kick it off than with the excellent British author Charles DeLint. He writes collections of the most amazing short stories. The collection I chose is called Waifs and Strays. While it is not only full of awesome stories, it also has some bangin' cover art:



In my opinion, that cover art is very reminiscent of the cover art on Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood. At any rate, it has sixteen stories in it ranging from only a few pages to a mini-novel. My favorite story in the novel however, is "Merlin Dreams in the Mondream Wood". It is full of excellent allusions to the tales of Merlin, mythology, and the general interconnectedness of myths and stories the world over. The story follows Sara growing up with her uncle Jamie in their sprawling house known as Tamson House where some quite magical events happen for young Sara...

Other stories that are excellent: While all the stories in the book are amazing, I also highly recommend: Fairy Dust, A Wish Named Arnold, The Graceless Child, and May This Be Your Last Sorrow.

Favorite Quote: "Memories flooded Sarah. She remembered a hundred afternoons of warm companionship. All those hours of quiet conversation and games. The peace that came from her night fears. If she said yes, then he'd go away. She'd lose her friend. And the night fears...Who'd be there to make the terrors go away? Only he had been able to help her. Not Jamie nor anyone else who lived in the house, though they'd all tried. "You'll go away...won't you?" she said. He nodded. An old man's nod. But the eyes were still young. Young and old, wise and silly, all at the same time. Her red-haired boy's eyes."

Final Rating: Out of five stars this scores a five. The stories transport you away, the cover art is gorgeous, and the collection of stories are different enough to satisfy any kind of mood.