Children’s book blog – book picks for May: The Dark by Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen, Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers and Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor
At the start of each month, I pick out three of the best children’s book I’ve been reading recently, from picture books to Young Adult novels, old classics to new favourites. My recommendations for May are The Dark by Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen, Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers, and Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor.
Countless picture books have been written about fear of the dark, but few of them are as pretty or witty as this one. Which perhaps isn’t all that surprising, given it’s the work of Lemony Snicket, the mysterious author of the Series of Unfortunate Events books, and Jon Klassen, the prodigiously talented creator of such gems as I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat.
Both author and illustrator have displayed a rather wicked sense of humour in the past, and their genii combine deliciously in this story about a little boy called Laszlo, who receives an unwelcome visit from ‘The Dark’ one night and reluctantly follows it into the basement.
Almost architectural in their linearity, Klassen’s illustrations are bathed in an enticing, rust-coloured glow… until the lights go out and the pages turn black except for the beam of Laszlo’s torch. From this moment on, the pictures and the words get darker and darker, ratcheting up the tension until The Dark makes an unexpected revelation – one which may actually help young readers learn to conquer their fears come bedtime.
I must have watched the film of Mary Poppins at least a dozen times, but for some reason the book had completely passed me by. That is until I watched Saving Mr. Banks the other day and was inspired to pick up P.L. Travers’s most famous novel for the first time.
It wasn’t at all what I had expected. Or, rather, the first chapter was exactly as I had expected, as the film follows it almost line by line. As for the rest, it’s a much more mythic and unsettling beast that Disney’s interpretation.
Episodic to the point of being a collection of short stories, fans of the film will recognise a handful of the protagonists and their adventures: the Banks children, the Bird Woman, the daytrip inside a chalk pavement sketch. But beneath every tale lies a lingering sense of melancholy. The book leaves you with an unshakeable nostalgic pang that all good things must come to an end, whether it’s having a tea party on the ceiling, being lucky enough to have a magical nanny or even childhood itself.
Another big surprise was the character of Mary Poppins. Travers’s version is at once more human and more otherworldly than Disney’s. She’s vain, short-tempered and surprisingly flirtatious. But she also commands great power, of the primal sort one suspects could be used for anything from sliding up a banister to turning the world inside out. In fact, what Mary Poppins reminded me of the most were the witchy-fairy folk who often crop up in Neil Gaiman stories – fans of his work will no doubt spot echoes of Poppins in members of the Hempstock clan.
I have been squirming for this book to come out ever since reading chapter one of the first novel in Laini Taylor’s of Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. In this third and final instalment, we are reunited with blue-haired art student Karou who, as we learned in the first book, is not all she appears to be.
I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone who hasn’t read the first two books yet, but I will say that, as far as lavish fantasy finales go, it doesn’t disappoint. The tone hovers somewhere between the atheistic scrutiny of His Dark Materials and the hormone-fuelled yearnings of Twilight. And it’s utterly compelling.
Visceral, inter-world battles follow hot on the heels of collar-warming trysts between angels and ‘demons’ – which could all get a bit trite, if it weren’t for Taylor’s frankly envy-inducing way with words. Her metaphors are stunning, her dialogue, pitch-perfect. And thanks to a host of likeable characters from a variety of different universes, there’s just the right amount levity to balance out all that sexual tension.
Rebecca Davies is a journalist and author and is currently working on a YA novel set in Hackney. You can read more of her children’s book blogs here
Follow Rebecca on Twitter @RebeccaDavies__Tagged in: Dreams of Gods and Monsters, Laini Taylor, Lemony Snicket, Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers, The Dark
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