The Day My Butt Went Psycho! by Andy Griffiths

The Day My Butt Went Psycho coverOriginally published in 2001 by Pan MacMillan in Australia as The Day My Bum When Psycho, this book is well-known and loved and has become a humour classic. It was recommended to me by a high school student who described it as his favourite book; I am so glad he did. Otherwise I would have completely missed out on the delights of Andy Griffiths’ writing.

In case you hadn’t guessed by the title, this book is built around toilet humour. Adults might groan, but kids will laugh out loud. The story centers on twelve year old Zack Freeman and his butt, which has been secretly detaching itself from Zack at night and running around recruiting other butts for the butt revolution. When Zack follows his butt one night, he discovers the enormity of the butt revolution and meets a crack squad of butt-hunters, Silas Sterne and his daughter Eleanor, plus Kicker, Smacker and Kisser, skilled in various schools of butt-combat. The story follows Zack through a series of smelly events in the Brown Forest, the Great Windy Desert, and eventually to the enormous buttcano and a battle against the massive butt army of The Great White Butt.

Scholastic lists the reading level as 3.9 and recommends this book for grades 2 to 5, but I think readers of all ages who thoroughly enjoy a gross-out story will enjoy it. 150 pages of butt puns and fart jokes were a little too much for me, but I did enjoy the book. I have not yet read the sequels, Zombie Butts from Uranus and Butt Wars: the Final Conflict (originally Bumageddon: the Final Pongflict in Australia).

Check out the Andy Griffiths website on Scholastic, or read a short review from Awesome Bookclub. The review from The Bookbag includes excerpts and recommendations for similar reading.

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Ten: On a Mission

The legends of King Arthur’s knights are inseparable from the idea of questing: to slay or capture or rescue. In this week’s Ten, we share some other stories centred on a mission. The quests below vary from the weighty — a quest to save a life, or answer an important question — to the silly, and even the every day. The stories demonstrate that approaching a task as a mission can help to turn fear to determination, tedium to adventure, and entertainment to challenge. May we all do more questing!

Running out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Jessie’s quiet life in a frontier village takes a surreal turn when she is sent out alone to obtain medicine for local children dying of diphtheria, and finds that nearly everything she thought true about her life is an illusion. Continue reading

Facing the Mountain by Wendy Orr

Facing the Mountain coverRaven is all alone. When she and Lily set out with Scott this morning, the plan was for the girls’ new stepfather to show them the mountains that he loved — you know, bond a bit. But when Raven reached the top first, her happy dance started a small avalanche that changed the face of the mountain and trapped Lily and Scott behind a huge pile of rocks. It’s up to Raven — with a filter bottle and a can of bear spray, and without her glasses — to find her way down the mountain to get help.

Raven’s journey is a tough one, to be sure. Over the course of two days (the novel is told in time-stamped chapters that do a great job of maintaining the sense of urgency), Raven finds and loses paths, goes over a waterfall, breaks into a house, and develops a cautious understanding with a mother bear. But the search for help is only half the story. Along the way, readers share Raven’s loneliness and courage, discover with her how much she loves Lily and Scott, and watch her begin to find the self that until now has nestled quietly in the shadows of the bolder personalities around her.

Orr’s writing has a richness of detail and emotional complexity that draws the reader right into her stories. Facing the Mountain is a small book — less than 150 pages — but the experience is a memorable one. Highly recommended for any reader looking for a believable adventure/survival story with solid character development.

Check out other reviews from CM Magazine and Ruby Rainbow Review (under the book’s Australian title, Raven’s Mountain).

Read an interview with Wendy Orr at A Tapestry of Words, or a guest post at Moonlight Gleam’s Bookshelf in which Orr talks about how Facing the Mountain came to be.

A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix

A Confusion of Princes coverKhemri knows his place in the galaxy. Selected as a toddler, augmented and groomed for Princedom in the years since, Khemri embarks on his career not only prepared to join 9,999,999 other Princes as co-ruler of the Empire, but convinced that he is the best and brightest of the pack. After a few years of doing what he pleases and, of course, demonstrating his superiority, he expects to be selected as the next Emperor: the powerful mind that oversees all of the Princes and everything they command. The current Imperial Mind does indeed have something special planned for Prince Khemri. However, the road meant to take him there also reveals, bit by bit, the flaws in Khemri’s understanding of the role for which he has been remade.

Two criticisms have been pretty consistently levelled against A Confusion of Princes (though most reviewers quite like it just the same): 1) the pacing of the novel doesn’t leave much space for the development of its deeper themes, especially toward the end, and 2) Khemri’s relationship with Raine is too quick and too influential to be believable. I’m going to go out on a limb and disagree – at least to some extent – with both, for basically the same reason. It’s true that Nix spends a lot of time on world building early in the novel, and then packs the majority of the story’s events, and Khemri’s development, into the relatively small space remaining. However, that early world building lays the necessary groundwork to make the rest of the story both believable and meaningful. And while the majority of the novel moves quickly, there are plenty of signs throughout that Khemri not only can, but has already started to diverge from the norm. Raine is a contributor to Khemri’s change, but only that.

Read the book? What did you think of Nix’s choices?

A Confusion of Princes has been compared to a lot of past science fiction that I’m woefully behind on reading for myself, so I’ve linked extra reviews to give you better coverage of that aspect of the book. Enjoy!
Check out School Library Journal, Tor, io9, and The Book Smugglers.

Take a look at the online game created to go with the book: Imperial Galaxy

Read an interview with Garth Nix about A Confusion of Princes and his varied work in the book world.

Ten: Moody Books

Along with all their other powers, stories can have considerable influence on our moods. Whether you’re looking for something that reflects your current mood, or something that will change it, sometimes a good story is just the thing. The challenge is in knowing what book to pull off the shelf. You probably have a few reliable favourites for such purposes — I know I do! This week’s Ten focuses on picture books for their simplicity of focus, but I think most will appeal to readers of any age.

When you’re feeling disgusted by injustice
The Paper Bag Princess written by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Michael Martchenko
When a dragon burns down Princess Elizabeth’s castle and kidnaps the prince she was supposed to marry, she picks herself up, puts on the only thing left to wear (a paper bag), and sets off to correct the dragon and retrieve her prince. Whether Prince Ronald is worth keeping around post-rescue does nothing to diminish the value of Princess Elizabeth’s take-charge heroism. Continue reading

The Red Tree written and illustrated by Shaun Tan

“sometimes the day begins with nothing to look forward to…”

The Red Tree by Shaun Tan (also the writer of Tales from Outer Suburbia and The Arrival), is a picture book that has the potential to catch the attention of a wide range of readers, regardless of age. Image

Opening the book and seeing the gray background and a single leaf of a similar colour suggests the book is going to be about something dark and depressing. Such suspicions are confirmed when we see a small girl in her bedroom with black leaves falling from the ceiling, and her seemingly aimless wandering in the next few pages. In one picture, a monstrous fish clouds over her. In another, we see her behind locked glass windows looking at great and wonderful things flying past. The girl searches for answers but it seems as if all hope is gone. She waits and wonders what her purpose in the world is, and what she is supposed to do. After a day of such trials, she returns to her room where a scrap of colour — a small red leaf sprouting from the floor — is waiting for her. Soon enough, a bright red tree, a symbol of hope, full of comforting light, grows and spreads out.

On the journey to discovering who or what we mean in the world, sometimes it is hard to find evidence to support hope. This story beautifully captures these hard to express feelings. Life can be tough: people seem to be too busy, we feel like we are not heard, and while we may continue to wait and wait, great things seem to pass us by. Closing the book, we notice that the endpaper that was gray in the beginning of the book is now red. The book reminds us that thankfully, even after the worst of days, we can take comfort in the knowledge that dullness will pass and hope will once again be present.

Learn about The Red Tree on Shaun Tan’s Webpage as well as through the Publisher’s Weekly Children’s Review.

See a YouTube video version of The Red Tree:

Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan

Tales from Outer Suburbia coverThe first story in Tales from Outer Suburbia is one page long. Two, if you count the illustration. It tells about a water buffalo who used to live in a vacant lot near the narrator’s home. If someone asked the water buffalo a question, he would point in the direction of the answer. Some followed the buffalo’s direction, and were always pleased with what they found, but most quickly talked themselves out of the attempt, noting that the buffalo couldn’t tell them where to go, or how far, or what they’d find. Eventually, people stopped asking altogether, and then the buffalo himself left. The end.

None of the other works in the collection are quite this short, but most have a similar feel. Rather than telling stories, per se, with a problem, climax and resolution or even, most of the time, with memorable individual characters, each creates a reality, drawing on the familiar and the bizarre to hint at possibilities–perhaps truths–that the reader is left to sort out and judge on his or her own. Many of the stories challenge the reader, both in form and content, making Tales from Outer Suburbia an excellent introduction to picture books intended for older readers.

Read the Guardian review, or one from Graphic Novel Reporter.

See what the author has to say about his book (and get a sneak peek at some of the illustrations!)