BooksOfTheMoon

The World of Poo (Discworld, #39.5)

By Terry Pratchett

Rating: 3 stars

A pleasant little book that’s much more interesting (and less scatological) than I feared it might be, given its subject. It’s got lots of small nods to other Discworld books, and its humour is gentle. An adult can read it in probably not more than an hour or so.

I kept expecting there to be some of Pratchett’s trademark sharpness and thoughtfulness, but it’s really not that kind of book. It really is just about a boy who’s visiting Ankh-Morpork and wants to collect all sorts of poo for his collection and the gentle adventures that he has, with help from his (very understanding!) grand-mama. En route, you learn about the history of toilets and the people who collected waste and what sorts of things get done with it.

The illustrations are lovely and fit the style very well. It’s a great book to give to a child (probably a boy) of just the right age, who can be entertained and learn a thing or two without realising it.

Book details

ISBN: 9780857521217
Publisher: Doubleday
Year of publication: 2012

Hilda and the Black Hound

By Luke Pearson

Rating: 5 stars

In another delightful slice of whimsy, this time Hilda befriends Tontu, a house spirit who’s down on his luck and she has to find out what’s causing havoc in the town of Trolberg and if it’s related to the sightings of the mysterious creature stalking the streets.

This volume does have David and Frida from the animated TV series in it, but more in passing than as characters in their own right, which is a bit of a shame, but that does allow the spotlight to remain on our favourite blue-haired adventurer herself. With her trademark sense of adventure, and moral compass pointing firmly at ‘kindness’, Hilda is a wonderful character and Pearson tells a delightful and heart-warming tale. Sure to delight children of all ages (including this forty-something).

Book details

ISBN: 9781911171072
Publisher: Flying Eye Books
Year of publication: 2017

The High King (The Chronicles of Prydain #5)

By Lloyd Alexander

Rating: 4 stars

The last book of the Prydain Chronicles seems to go full circle. With The Book of Three I complained that it all felt a bit Tolkien-light. This also feels in many ways like The Lord of the Rings, but in a different way. We have the confrontation with the Dark Lord, the end of the days of magic and the passing into the West the Summer Country of the great heroes.

Prince Gwydion was ambushed and the magic sword Dyrnwyn taken from him. The companions of old must now gather their forces and ready themselves for the final battle against the Death Lord.

Taran is now unrecognisable from the lad who wanted nothing more than to go adventuring at the start of The Book of Three. He’s grown and tempered and now has to return to the friends he made in the previous book to raise an army to assault Arawn. The death toll of named characters is pretty high, with several not making it to the final chapters. We also get closure for characters who appeared previously – the former giant, Glew; the steward Magg; and the witch-queen Achren. Some get redemption, some get a noble death and some get what’s coming to them.

The final chapters are the most Lord of the Rings-like to me, as everyone suddenly packs up and leaves for the Summer Country, which I’m not sure has been mentioned before, or if it was, then only in passing several books ago. That sort of came from nowhere, unlike LotR, where it was foreshadowed from very early on. It does sort of fit with the style of story being told, so I’m willing to let it go.

In the end, I think that this was a satisfying conclusion to Taran’s story. We finally get to find out why The Book of Three is called that; Princess Eilonwy finally gets to be active and take part in things; and Dallben gets to show off some of his magic. A bittersweet but appropriate end to a series that started off wobbly but which has improved throughout.

Book details

ISBN: 9780006714996
Publisher: Armada Lions
Year of publication: 1979

Hilda and the Bird Parade

By Luke Pearson

Rating: 4 stars

The third volume of Hilda’s adventures sees her and her mother move from the wilderness to the city of Trolberg, where her mother freaks out a bit and keeps her from the outdoor explorations and freedom that she’s used to. She does get out, with kids from her new school, but doesn’t find their games to her taste. So she befriends a talking raven, runs away from a rat king and gets lost.

This is just as sweet and fun as the previous volumes with some great visual gags. Recommended for all ages (along with the Netflix animated TV series of the same name).

Book details

ISBN: 9781911171027
Publisher: Flying Eye Books
Year of publication: 2016

Taran Wanderer (The Chronicles of Prydain #4)

By Lloyd Alexander

Rating: 4 stars

I marvel a little at how far this series has come. It started as a somewhat poor Tolkien clone, but has very much found its feet since then, and Taran Wanderer is an action-light, but substantial piece of work. Here, Taran is restless to know about his heritage, and feels that before he can ask Princess Eilonwy to marry him, he has to find out if he is of noble blood. I mean, I could have have told him that it really doesn’t matter (and, indeed, several characters do tell him that), but he has to go on his journey and discover that for himself.

He’s accompanied on his journey by the always faithful Gurgi (who always has a rhyme or two to hand) and they run into the king who would be bard (or is it bard who would be king?) Fflewddur Fflam. The dwarf Doli turns for a bit, but Eilonwy is conspicuous by her absence. She’s a great character and the book is all the more dreary for her absence.

This is a slow, thoughtful book. There are no big battles, and the main antagonists are a bunch of mercenaries, who are the sort of common evil who just take because they can and are more powerful than the people around them. Not Dark Lords, just unpleasant people.

Taran has to go the long way around to find himself. In the process, he discovers his own capacity for, if not cruelty, then the thoughts of it. But the difference between him and the brigand Dorath, is that he is ashamed of these feelings and strives to become a better person.

I have no idea what I would have made of this if I’d encountered it as a child. As it is, I’m glad to have read it now, when I can appreciate some of its more complex thoughts and feelings.

Book details

ISBN: 9780006714989
Publisher: Armada Lions
Year of publication: 1979

The Castle of Llyr (The Chronicles of Prydain #3)

By Lloyd Alexander

Rating: 4 stars

Princess Eilonwy is sent away from her adopted home at Caer Dallben to go and live with another royal family to try and teach her how to be a Young Lady. However, she barely arrives at the Isle of Mona, before she’s in danger, and it’s up to Taran, assistant pig-keeper, to ride to her rescue.

I had hoped that we’d get more of the active and feisty Eilonwy that we had in the first book here, but alas, she’s spirited away early on and the rest of the book is a quest to save her. It’s a shame that Eilonwy didn’t get more to do here. If the book was written today, she would almost certainly have rescued herself, but this is very much a book of its time.

By now, Taran is a far more mature character than he was back in The Book of Three, and even when he realises the depth of his own feelings for Eilonwy, he’s willing to put them aside for the greater good. It’s fairly clear that Taran is going to turn out to be more than just an assistant pig-keeper. Raised by an enchanter, befriended by a prince, and doesn’t know who his parents were? Please.

The core cast of the previous books joins Taran – Fflewddur Flam and Gurgi, and they’re also joined by Prince Rhun, the somewhat feckless, but good-natured, son of the royal couple that Eilonwy has been sent to live with. They have the usual adventures and everyone Learns A Lesson. I think that while the previous couple of books have been very much standalone, this feels like it’s setting things up for the future.

Eilonwy’s magical background is bought back here – she was introduced as being in training to be an enchantress back in book one, and that was hardly mentioned again until now, but it’s important here, and there are themes of what we choose to give up.

I’m enjoying the series and the characters – Fflewddur and Gurgi in particular are firm favourites – and look forward to Taran’s next adventure.

Book details

Year of publication: 1985

Kiki’s Delivery Service

By Eiko Kadono

Rating: 4 stars

Like many people, my first encounter with Kiki’s Delivery Service was the wonderful Studio Ghibli film, which I’m very fond of. I only found out about the book fairly recently and was curious to see what it was like. In overall plot, it’s much like the film – thirteen year old Kiki has to leave home as she comes of age and ends up opening a delivery service in a town by the sea.

The book adds several additional adventures for Kiki but doesn’t have the final setpiece of Kiki rescuing Tombo from a failing airship. It also doesn’t have Kiki losing her powers, although such events are referenced when she was younger, which may have provided Ghibli with the inspiration.

Of the additional stories, not in the film, I think my favourites were when Kiki delivered new year, and when she delivered spring. The idea of delivering abstract concepts is delightfully whimsical and really appealed to me.

There are some delightful illustrations, by Joe Todd Stanton peppered throughout the book. The text is quite plain, without much in the way of flourishes. I’m not sure if that’s an artefact of the author, given the age that it’s aimed at, or the translation. Speaking of the translation, I’d like to tell you who the translator is, but despite proudly stating on the back cover that it’s a “brand new translation”, there’s no sign of the translator anywhere – even the copyright page only saying that it’s “Translation copyright © Penguin Random House LLC”. Not cool, Random Penguin, not cool.

Much of the charm of the film for me comes in Ghibli’s visuals. Stanton’s illustrations are pretty, but don’t really provide the same sort of immersion. But taking it on its own merits, it’s charming in its own way, and a lot of fun.

Book details

ISBN: 9780241449486
Publisher: Puffin
Year of publication: 2020

The Black Cauldron (The Chronicles of Prydain #2)

By Lloyd Alexander

Rating: 4 stars

From fairly early on, this book seems more assured than its predecessor. The Book of Three felt very Tolkien-by-numbers, while this feels more unique, like the author has found his rhythm and his own style. We start on a fairly standard quest, but I was expecting the quest to capture the Black Cauldron from the dark lord Arawn to be the main plot of the book, but that quickly falls by the wayside, and the search for the Cauldron takes a different turn.

Taran has matured in this book. He’s still hot-headed and quick to temper, but he’s no longer the whiny brat of the first book. That role is taken by Prince Ellidyr, who’s got arrogance and temper aplenty, but is hiding a deep emptiness within. Of the new characters, I liked Adaon the best, the bard with a deepset melancholy about him, something I wouldn’t necessarily expect in a children’s book like this.

The three enchantresses were intriguing. The blurb had set them up to be villains, plotting to use the Cauldron for evil purposes, and turning people into toads, but what we encounter are something possibly more like the three Fates of Greek mythology (they even have even a loom).

There’s a lot to enjoy here, although the book is substantially darker than its predecessor, so if you’re thinking of getting it for a child, you’d be best reading it through first to judge if it’s suitable (it’s not like it’ll take long). I’m enjoying seeing Taran maturing, and look forward to more of his adventures. It was disappointing to see Eilonwy get very little to do here – especially as she’s the only female character in the book, after how feisty she was in the last one. I believe the next book focuses more on her though, so hopefully that will balance things out.

Book details

Publisher: Fontana Lions
Year of publication: 1985

Raging Robots and Unruly Uncles

By Margaret Mahy

Rating: 4 stars

Finding this in a pile of books that my cousin was about to throw away over Christmas, I was hit with a wave of pure nostalgic pleasure, so I had to grab it to read again before he did so. It was with a certain amount of trepidation that I did so, though, since books that one loves as a child don’t necessarily hold up the cold light of adult inspection. Thankfully, that’s not the case for this one, and other than an assumption that girls won’t be accepted as electronic engineers, and a rather unfortunate episode of brownface, as the the two robot-haunted brothers try to escape their pursuers using boot polish to disguise themselves as “Middle-Eastern gentlemen”, it holds up very well.

There’s so much clever wordplay and puns that it’s a joy to read, and, I’d imagine, great fun to read out loud. It has a strong central message of following your own dreams, and working hard to achieve them, despite what those around you want, and even has time for a short digression on the free will of humans versus that of our creations.

A wonderful children’s book, with some really inventive child-friendly swearing and over the top characters.

Book details

ISBN: 9780140318173

The Book of Three (The Chronicles of Prydain #1)

By Lloyd Alexander

Rating: 3 stars

Taran is an assistant pig-keeper in Caer Dallben, which he doesn’t find very interesting, even if the (singular) pig he looks after is oracular (it’s completely unrelated, but I couldn’t help comparing Hen-Wen to the Empress of Blandings, and the various scrapes the latter gets into). Soon enough, Taran gets his wish to go adventuring and, as you’d expect, finds it less pleasant than he’d expected. He soon gathers a little group around him (although, frankly, I still don’t really understand why the others followed such an inexperienced youth, other than for Plot Reasons) and tries to take news of the coming of the evil Horned King to the ruler.

I’ve owned The Black Cauldron since I was a child, but had never read it. On a recent visit to my parents, I pulled the book down, intending to read it when I got home, before I realised that it wasn’t the first in the series, which led me to picking up this so that I could read the series in order.

It feels very Hero’s Journey, and you can all but tick off the stages of Taran’s development. To be honest, Taran isn’t a hugely interesting character, and can be oblivious and arrogant. His companions are interesting and more fun: the king turned bard Fflewddur Fflam, whose harp strings snap when he lies, and the princess Eilonwy, not to mention the marvellous Gurgi, with his crunchings and munchings and other rhyming.

It’s impossible to read this without comparing it to Tolkien. At times, it does feel quite “Lord of the Rings for children”, with many of the same tropes emerging, including a Dark Lord with powerful supernatural minions, a fellowship on a quest and a mentor who falls into darkness. But, at least, the Welsh-inspired setting gives it a distinctive flavour.

It’s an entertaining book though and the language is evocative. I’ll definitely read the next one.

Book details

ISBN: 9780006705925
Publisher: Armada Lions
Year of publication: 1973

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