Callum, like a modern-day Mowgli, is a boy raised by wolves. He lives with Mom (a wolf), Aunt Trudy (another wolf), Dad (a wolf who wants to eat him, but pees on him to mark him with his scent when he’s in a good mood), Uncle Rick (a wolf) and Grampa (yes, another wolf), in the western US. Callum was found crawling in the woods and, as they’d all just had a good meal, adopted by the pack due his proper display of submissive behaviour, rolling on his back with his paws in the air. He’s since learned to understand his family, more or less, though they don’t always understand him. All this ends, though, when the pack decides he’s getting too old, as a young male, to be part of the pack any more, and as battling Dad for dominance is right out, he’s dropped off near a hiking trail dressed in stolen clothes, where a managing sort of woman finds him, thinks he’s a confused and lost foreigner due to his strange, half-remembered English, and (after having him de-loused by a barber) sweeps him back to civilization. Since his stolen clothes are a school uniform from the Hargrove Academy for the Gifted, Bright, and Perceptive Child, he ends up there, trying to figure out how to fit into human society, giving good advice to the stray dogs in the neighbourhood, bonding with homeless old men he thinks of as like his wolf Grampa, and making friends with Lila, who has the same shade of red hair as he does himself. As you’d expect, he finds his real family and manages to help the wolves, whose territory is threatened by human encroachment, find a sanctuary as well, but the fun is in the journey. Power does a wonderful job of combining off the cuff humour with realistic wolf behaviours, making gentle fun of human society along the way.
Our book for May is Mark Haddon’s Boom! At the start, you might think this is going to be just another family drama story. Jimbo’s father has lost his job and is sunk deep in depression, his older sister’s dating a thug Jimbo calls Craterface, his best friend Charlie is grounded for deciding to borrow his mother’s car and teach himself to drive, and their teachers are out to get them.
In fact, two of their teachers really are out to get them, at least after Charlie and Jimbo do some electronic eavesdropping and hear the teachers speaking an alien language. Not merely a foreign language – a not-from-this-earth alien one. Their subsequent investigations get them into big trouble, revealing a conspiracy of alien abductions. When Charlie disappears, Jimbo knows he’s the only one who can save him. Along the way, Jimbo finds his sister to be an unexpected friend and, short of actual armed police, the best ally he could have in his quest to rescue Charlie. The two steal her boyfriend’s motorbike (not that Becky has a licence) and set off for Scotland and the secret alien transport beam. Charlie’s only 70,000 light years away, somewhere in the vicinity of the Large Magellanic Cloud. Unfortunately, Jimbo’s rescue attempt ends up annoying the aliens so much they decide to destroy the earth, meaning that Jimbo, Charlie, and Becky, armed only with a big stick and a few oddments accidentally borrowed from Craterface along with his motorbike, have to save the world – and they only have a few minutes to do so before it all goes Boom.
This science fiction comedy adventure for older kids and younger teens is a fast-paced read with a very British sense of humour.
Who Wants to be a Poodle? I Don’t, by Lauren Child
You may know Lauren Child best as the author and illustrator of the very funny Clarice Bean series of early chapter books, but Child is also a distinguished picture book creator. One of Ook’s favourites by her is Who Wants to be a Poodle? I Don’t. This is a great story to sit down and read slowly, taking time to savour the art. The text itself becomes part of the design, wriggling and swirling across the page as appropriate. The story is about a pampered poodle named Trixie Twinkle Toes, whose owner cossets and coddles her until the poor dog falls into a deep depression. Trixie wants to be a REAL dog. “I am just not cut out for a life of poodlery, I want to step in puddles.” In fact, Trixie wants to run around the park with other dogs and be DANGEROUS and DARING. Her owner takes her to vets, psychiatrists and psychics, trying to figure out the source of her dog’s decline, but it is Trixie’s own unexpected heroism one rainy day that finally opens her owner’s eyes to her poodle’s true, puddle-loving nature.
Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series for adults has been read by many teens, but he has written some Discworld books for older children or teens too, including the Carnegie Medal-winning The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents. (He’s also done a Discworld picture book called Where’s My Cow?, a companion-piece to his adult novel Thud.) This past autumn, Pratchett finished off a series of four Discworld books for YA readers about the young witch Tiffany Aching. Our library has all four of these. Pratchett’s children’s or teen books are really for adults as well. In fact, Ook has noticed that it’s mostly adults signing out the Tiffany Aching series.
The Wee Free Men
This story introduced nine-year-old Tiffany Aching, a farmer’s daughter on the Chalk, an area of the Discworld that’s a bit like the Sussex Downs in England. Tiffany, whose main talent is making good cheese, is the sort of girl who looks at things and wonders why, and notices what’s really there. When her sticky little brother is carried off by the fairy queen to a land of deadly illusion, she sets out, armed with an iron frying pan (elves can’t stand iron). She also has the help of the Feegles, the Wee Free Men or Pictsies, tiny blue-tattooed men who live for fightin’ and thievin’ and speak with heavy Scots accents. (Their Big Man is named Rob Anybody.) Along the way, she rescues the baron’s son, Roland, who was also kidnapped by the fairy queen, and discovers that she is a witch. As there are no witches on the Chalk, and a harmless, slightly dotty old lady was not too long before turned out to die in the cold after a mob burned her house, believing her to be a witch, this is a bit of a problem.
A Hat Full of Sky
In this one, a slightly older Tiffany (accompanied by the Feegles) goes up into the mountains, where witches are an accepted and important part of the culture, to be a witch’s apprentice. This seems to involve a lot of travelling around, cutting old people’s toenails and generally providing nursing and counselling services, and not much magic. She has trouble fitting in with the other apprentice witches, who think there should be more mystic symbols and wand-waving involved. With an ancient, dangerous, soul-devouring entity, the hiver, stuck in her head, Tiffany has some serious witching to do, to save herself.
In the third book, a teenage Tiffany rashly jumps into a Morris Dance done at the turn of winter and attracts the romantic attention of the Wintersmith himself. Winter, in love with a human girl, sets out to impress her, and an endless winter descends on the Discworld. Tiffany faces up to one of the stern tenants of witchcraft: her mess, she’d better clean it up. All the Tiffany books are excellent, but this one is outstanding among them, a very powerful book. All four of the Tiffany books feature at least brief appearances by some of Ook’s favourite Discworld characters, the witches Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg. (His very favourite character, of course, is the Librarian, who is a sort of cousin of his, being an orangutan.)
I Shall Wear Midnight
The final instalment of Tiffany’s story finds her back home as the witch of the Chalk, aged sixteen. The intended readership of the Tiffany books matures along with the character. In this, Tiffany has to deal with some serious non-magical community problems: a pregnant girl of thirteen beaten by her father, the father’s attempted suicide. While making hard decisions about how and whom to help, Tiffany also finds the temper of the times turning against witches, with the return to the world of the ghost of a vicious, mad Omnian witch-hunter from the bad old days of the fundamentalist Omnian religion (which was reformed in the book Small Gods and now merely annoys people with pamphlets, rather than burning them at the stake). On top of that, Roland, who was her friend and then boyfriend, is now engaged to be married to a blonde, beautiful aristocrat, and having realized that she and Roland weren’t really in love anyway doesn’t make Tiffany feel any better about this.