(written and illustrated by) William Joyce
MoonBot Book, A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016
From the book jacket: “In the secret realm of toys there are many mysteries. There is the Code of the Toys, which is as ancient as childhood. There’s also the magic of becoming a child’s favorite, the highest honor in the Toy World. Billy’s mother made Ollie by hand. He was a toy who would matter. He becomes Billy’s best friend, confidant, pal, and yes, Billy’s “favorite.” But there are villains in the Toy World, and Zozo, the clown king, is the most feared. He and his toy henchmen (the Creeps) have sworn to steal and imprison favorite toys until they forget their children and become forever lost. When Ollie is toynapped, Billy must rescue his beloved favorite from Zozo’s subterranean lair in the Dark Carnival Place, past the park, through the woods, and into the night. Never has a journey of ten blocks been more epic.”
Sounds awesome, right? Well, it was! I wasn’t sure at first because the story is told mainly through Ollie’s point of view and I will admit, even with my vivid imagination it was a little hard to get it into my head that toys think, talk, and move on their own. But after the first couple of chapters I could hardly put it down. Billy, who is around 6 years old, is very brave (and very naughty) for going out on his own in the middle of the night to find his lost Ollie. All the while, Ollie is desperately trying to get back to him and rescue all the other lost toys.
Written for the early reader set, this 295-page book will take them a while to get through but it is well worth it. It would also make for good reading to children at bedtime, a one or two chapters a night to savor the “A-venture” Ollie goes on. There is sadness along the way and Zozois mean and does mean things to other toys (but not too mean). There is also love, hope and friendship as well. The illustrations are both poignant and sweet. We recommend this book for any kitten (or grown-up) who has a favorite toy and will cherish it forever. (Mom still has her favorite teddy bear from when she was a child- see it below.)
My well-loved teddy bear – Favorite Toy
Egg & Spoon
Candlewick Press, 2014
Do you remember reading Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper? Well this fantasy novel is a take on that theme – a poor Russian peasant girl trades places with a girl of privilege on her way to be introduced to the Tsar.
Elena Rudina lives in a dying town where her father lies in an unmarked grave, her mother lies dying of illness and starvation and her brothers taken, one by a rich landlord and the other by the Russian Army. She and the town are starving slowly because there is no food and no one to harvest it if it were growing. Into this impoverished life comes Ekaterina “Cat” de Robichaux, who knows nothing of the constant pang of hunger or of a life without possibility. Through a series of accidents they end up switching places – but not by choice. Elena goes on to meet the Tsar and Cat meets the Russian witch, Baba Yaga and her Dumb Doma, or her house perched on chicken legs. In St Petersburg the two girls are reunited and join Baba Yaga on a journey to find out why the magic has gone out of the world. Through this journey both girls learn life lessons about generosity of spirit, the dangers of neediness and selfishness, and the joy of giving.
I did enjoy this book way more than the previous Maguire book I read (After Alice). It was still kind of fantastical and crazy but toned down for the youth audience it was written for. The author shows his skills here – I could feel the haunting cold and hopelessness Elena felt and was angered along with her when Cat ate only half an apple and threw the rest away and bragged about leaving almost all her food on her plate. What cruel things to say to a starving person standing not 3 feet from you! It was harder to identify with Cat, or feel for her because she was so arrogant and snooty; but the mighty do fall and fall she did. But, as it is a youth book, the fall was only so far!
By combining the rich man/poor man switcharoo scheme with the Baba Yaga folklore, Maguire has written a book that is fun to read and like life, just a little crazy!