Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade

In Arthur Slade's The Hunchback Assignments, Modo, a "monster child" has been raised to function in Victorian society and as a spy by an enigmatic man, Socrates, who suddenly drops the boy off on the streets of London to survive on his own. Modo manages to surivive, using his shape-shifting skills to disguise his deformities, and takes detective assignments by mail to earn his keep. When he runs into Octavia Milkweed after being kidnapped and almost killed, he finds out that Socrates has an entire organization of spies that is working to counteract a dastardly plot to overthrow the government by harnessing the power of children-- unfortunately, by hideously disfiguring them into "wolf children". Octavia and Modo work together to save Prince Albert, who is one of these children, and keep London from being destroyed. This took me a while to get into, but I had to finish it before I left for work this morning. Slightly reminiscent of Monstrumologist and Montmorency, once the students get hooked on the Steampunk movement (Is this more of a college thing? My students have never heard of it.), they'll adore this book, and it feels open to a sequel.

My apologies to Leonard Marcus (whose Funny Business, I reviewed yesterday rather lukewarmly). I spent most of my evening reading his Golden Legacy:How Golden Books Won Children's Heart, Changed Publishing Forever, and Became an American Icon Along the Way. Fascinating. Quoted huge sections out loud to children. This is a very complete discussion of anything anyone could want to know about Little Golden Books: directors of the company, artists, impact, stories, covers, and on and on. Even though I dislike picture books, I LOVE Little Golden Books. This is coffee table sized, marvelously well illustrated. Sigh. Can I find an excuse to purchase it for my library, or will I just have to buy my own?

The disappointment of the evening was Julia Keller's Back Home. I wanted to like this book, because a lot of my boys have devoured Myers' Sunrise Over Fallujah and even McCormick's Purple Heart, which still makes me a bit uneasy (language). My biggest reservation (that I have voiced frequently) is that in general, girls do not want to read books about war. Boys want to read about the actual fighting, not about what happens at home. Purple Heart discusses an injury, but in a different setting. This is a problem novel, and just not what my students are wanting. There are a lot of people who really liked this one, however.
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Have to admit that last night my daughter and I sat around with Adam Selzer's I Put a Spell on You and tried to sing the songs in the back. Good stuff. Maybe I just can't remember, but I really need the tune to "I'm High on Self-Esteem" so I can break into an operatic rendering of it next week when my principal observes me. I'd launch into "It's Cool to Stay in School", but the "Now I'm a homeless junkie and I'm dumber than a mule" line-- well, not the impression I'm hoping to create.


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