43 Old Cemetery Road Series by Kate and Sarah Klise

On a friend’s recommendation, I read two of this series back to back and found them to be great fun. I have two more signed out of the local library now and look forward to learning where they will take the story. Much of the story is told through letters and notes from which the reader can deduce most of the information needed to understand the story. Other information comes through clippings from The Ghastly Times newspaper.

It begins with a letter from Ignatius B. Grumply (an author specializing in mysteries, mayhem & the macabre) to a real estate office in California. Mr. Grumply is searching for a “quiet place to rent this summer while I finish writing my next children’s book” which he has not yet started.

Dying to Meet You (1)In a return letter from a real estate agent, Anita Sale, Mr. Grumply receives a brochure showing six possible places which might interest him. One is the house at  43 Old Cemetery Road, a 32 1/2 room house in Ghastly, Illinois. (The Klise sisters were born in Peoria, Illinois.) You can see the house on the book cover to the left of these words.

Anita Sale tells Mr. Grumply that she would not recommend that particular house for him and she sends him some other recommendations.

Mr. Grumply particulary wants a house which will “sit at a comfortable distance from all schools, parks, and other places where children gather. I happen to write books for children. That doesn’t mean that I want to see or hear the little monsters when I am trying to work.”

Ms. Sale’s return letters do not get to Mr. Grumply in time and his agent signs a rental contract as he has been instructed to do by Mr. Grumply. And so, to make a long story shorter, Mr. Grumply goes to Ghastly and moves into the house at 43 Old Cemetery Road. It isn’t long before he sends a letter of complaint to Ms. Anita Sale in which he writes: “There is a serious problem with the house I’ve rented. A young boy is living on the third floor.” And then this: “Also, there is a cat in the house. I am highly allergic to cats. The cat must be removed, too.”

Ms. Sale responds by siting one of the clauses in the rental agreement:

“CLAUSE 102  (a): Seymour Hope will be allowed to remain at 43 Old Cemetery Road. Whoever rents the property will care for Seymour and his cat, Shadow, for the duration of the rental agreement, and return them both in healthy condition to Les and Diane Hope, if they so request.”

How will it all turn out? It’s great fun finding out.

The adventure continues in the second book, Over My Dead Body. Whose dead body you ask?

AOver My Dead Body (2) villain enters the picture in this book: a villain named Dick Tater who is the director of the International Movement for the Safety & Protection of Our Kids & Youth(IMSPOOKY) who has ordered an investigation into the safety of Seymour Hope.

On his weekly radio and television broadcast, Tater says “It’s a scam, a hoax, and an outrage! Thank goodness I’m on the case.” He claims that Grumply is forcing Seymour to draw pictures for a book which a ghost is helping him to write.

Things go from bad to worse and Mr. Grumply and Seymour are both taken away: Mr. Grumply to the Illinois Home for the Deranged and Seymour to the Ghastly Orphanage. Will they ever get out? If so, how?

The second book begins with a very good summary of what happened in Book One which would be very helpful to anyone who hadn’t realized there was a book before this one and even helps readers of Book One to recall quickly the details of what happened in Book Two. It is also fun to try and figure out whose dead body is being referred to in the title.

Book Three is called Till Death Do Us Bark and the barking it seems is done by a dog named Secret who follows Seymour home from the library.  Book Four is The Phantom of the Post Office and it has a new character whose name is Wy Fye who is a phantom expert and whose actual name is Wynonna Fye! I love the names in this book: it’s such fun to make up more of one’s own! The whole series addresses the roles of technology and of books and of writing good old fashioned letters.

Highly recommended for grannies and grandchildren who like mysteries, ghost stories, cats and old Victorian mansions.

The illustrator of this series is M. Sarah Klise, the author’s sister. To learn more about the sisters, go here. To check on the entire series go here.

 

 

JacobTwo-Two Series by Mordecai Richler

From Wikipedia:

“Jacob Two-Two is the central character in a series of children’s books, Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang (1975), Jacob Two-Two and the Dinosaur (1987) and Jacob Two-Two’s First Spy Case (1995) written by Mordecai Richler, and Jacob Two-Two on the High Seas (2009) written by Cary Fagan.

Jacob is the youngest child of five and has to say things twice because people do not hear him the first time. Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang has twice been filmed, in 1978 and in 1999, the latter film starring Gary Busey. The titles by Mordecai Richler have inspired an animated TV series produced by Nelvana, and seen in Canada on YTV (English) and VRAK.TV (French), and in the United States on Qubo.

The character is said to have been inspired by Jacob Richler, the author’s youngest son. Every character in Jacob’s family has the same name as their counterpart in the real Richler family. However, despite the names, Richler stated that the characters were not based on his family.

In September 2009 Tundra Books, the publisher of the Jacob Two-Two series, released a new fourth book titled Jacob Two-Two on the High Seas. Mordecai Richler had always planned to write new adventures and had started a fourth book before he died in 2001. With the full support of the Richler family, the new book was written by Canadian author Cary Fagan. It is the prequel to the first three books with the family sailing back to Canada from England after Jacob’s father writes an important novel.”

Jacob Two-Two has his own website which is associated with the television series based on the books and it describes all the episodes in detail and lists and identifies the main characters along with a picture gallery and downloads which include printable colouring pages.

I had no idea there was such a wide Jacob Two-Two world.  I read the books because I thought I should be more familiar with them because they were written by a major Canadian author! What is more I read the first three all in one day and I was rewarded several times over by the sheer delight (much of which derives from the clever manipulation of language) and humour found in these adventures.

 

J Two-Two Meets the Hooded FangIn Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang, we are introduced to Jacob: “He was two plus two plus two years old. He had two ears and two eyes and two arms and two feet and two shoes. He also had two older sisters, Emma and Marfa, and two older brothers, Daniel and Noah. ” He very much wanted to do things his older siblings did but things were getting better gradually. “Only two years ago, when he was a mere two times two years old, Jacob Two-Two didn’t even know what a day was, where yesterday had gone, and when tomorrow would come. Waking up one morning, he had asked his mother, “Is this tomorrow? Is this tomorrow?”

He got so upset one day when  “his brothers and sisters didn’t want him. His mother didn’t need him” that he went to find his father and asked to run an errand and when his father said he was too small, he burst into tears. So his father sent him to Mr. Cooper, the green grocer and told him to get two pounds of firm, red tomatoes. He was a little frightened but he set off for Mr. Cooper’s shop. His encounter with Mr. Cooper did not go well for a number of reasons. This is when Jacob meets the hooded fang and characters such as Louis Loser and Mr. Justice Rough and ends up going to children’s prison on a marshy island where the sun never shines. The warden was known as The Hooded Fang. The prison is very Dickensian but Jacob poses serious problems for the warden who concludes that Jacob is a stinker and was “brought up not to believe everything he reads” and who confused The Hooded Fang by not admitting his age always saying that he was two plus two years old and not answering his cell door unless The HF knocked two times!J Two-Two and the Dinosaur

In Jacob Two-Two Meets the Dinosaur, Jacob’s Aunt Good-For-You comes to care for the children while their parents went to Kenya for two week on safari. She took the children to the Museum of Fine Arts and Jacob learned about dinosaurs. I think this was my favourite of the trio because it includes Professor Wacko Kilowatt and Prime Minister Perry Pleaser who wanted “all the people to love him at least as much as he loved himself”. The prime minister had “three yes men and three yes women”.  “Yes people are highly recommended. It is the duty of yes people to say yes to everything you suggest, no matter how foolish. So when Perry Pleaser arrived at his office each morning and broke into his famous smile and sang out, “Don’t you think I’m absolutely, totally, one hundred percent wonderful?” Yes, would say the yes men, and the yes women would call out yes, too.” Early lessons in understanding politics perhaps?

J Two-Two's First Spy CaseIn Jacob Two-Two’s First Spy Case, Jacob attends school at Privilege House where the much-loved headmaster is replaced by Mr. I. M. Greedyguts who is, as his name implies, always stuffing food into his mouth. The students, as might be expected, do not get the same food that the headmaster is served. Their lunches are prepared by Perfectly Loathsome Leo Louse who lives with his mum: he two of them prepare meals that are guaranteed to be “tasteless, horrible, or downright disgusting.” The exciting part of this story is Jacob’s new neighbour, Mr. X Barnaby Dinglebat, Master Spy. He introduces himself this way:

“I am a world traveller. A man who has done many astounding things. I have had a bath in Turkey and eaten turkey in a city called Bath. I once gobbled a sandwich in the town of Rainy River and later waded in a rainy river in the Sandwich Islands. You are looking at a chap who once went out with a fair maiden called Florence in the city of Adelaide, and then kept company with another, called Adelaide, in the city of Florence. I have, in my time, gorged myself on Toulouse sausages in the Canary Islands and kept a canary in a city called Toulouse. Long ago, in my days as a struggling young man, I went hungry in the city of Hamburg,but, by Jove, I lived to eat hamburgers in Hungary,” he said, and then he handed Jacob Two-Two his card.”

Jacob Two-Two on the High SeasAnd this is just the beginning of Jacob and Barnaby’s adventure addressing and ending the injustices at Jacob’s school and using Barnaby’s skills as a spy including some superb disguises.

The fourth Jacob Two-Two book is my next read. It was written after Richler’s death in 2001 (see opening paragraphs above from Wikipedia). It is a prequel and goes back to the time before The Hooded Fang when Jacob’s family moves from England to Canada and travels in the SS Spring-a-Leak with Captain Sparkletooth. After my recent experience with the first three books I am really looking forward to this one!

Have you read any of these, maybe back in the seventies or eighties? Do take time to revisit them: you will find they have definitely stood the test of time with much to offer readers of all ages.  Happy reading!

Word Nerd, Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen and Dear George Clooney by Susin Nielsen

This is a delightful trio about which I cannot say enough good things. In fact I will let the narrator of Word Nerd start this off:

Word Nerd“I knew that feeling. It had been eight long years, but I still knew. I peeled back the bread on top of my sandwich and, sure enough, there it was.
A peanut. Well, to be accurate: half a peanut. The other half was in my digestive tract, and I was going into anaphylactic shock. All the mucous membranes in my throat were swelling up and I could hardly breathe. I reached for my Epipen then I remembered it wasn’t with me. It was in a fanny pack in my locker, where I hid it most mornings, even though my mom would kill me if she knew. When I wore the fanny pack, the Three Stooges called me a fag because it was hot pink – a free sample my mom got at a shopping mall in Kelowna, where we’d lived until two months ago.”

Every chapter begins with letters like this in Chapter 1:

LGRYALE and below this a list of words that can be made from the letters (early, ale, all, gall, gel,real,gear,largely, lag, gale) and below the list in capitals again : ALLERGY. How many did you get?

Ambrose and his mom moved to Vancouver two months ago and Ambrose goes to Cypress Elementary and is in seventh grade. He reads! He read The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke! How amazing is that!? Ambrose is a wonderful narrator and his version of his life is entertaining and, I believe, likely quite accurate. His dad died of an “aneurism (seminar, surname, armies, marines, manure, remains)in his brain, a little blood vessel that had been slowly swelling like a balloon. That day it just burst.”

You’ve got to meet Ambrose, his mom, the Economopouloses (the landlady and landlord) and their son Cosmo and all Ambrose’s Scrabble buddies! You will love them!

Having met Ambrose, you will want to meet Henry K. Larsen too. It says right on the title page Reluctant Journalthat Henry “is only writing this (journal) because his therapist said he had to, which stinks.”

Henry got sent to the psychologist because of Robot-Voice. When he had problems with his Mom at Christmas, his “furies came back” and he started to speak “in Robot 24/7” and continued to do so “through the move to Vancouver”. “The thing about speaking  Robot is, it strips the emotion out of everything. “It. Is All. Monotone.”” “It helps me. But by the eighth day of Robot-Henry, it was freaking everyone else out, so Dad made my first appointment. And he made me keep it, even after I’d gone back to being plain old Henry.”

Cecil, the therapist, gave Henry the notebook and when he got home Henry threw it in the garbage. He got it out later, “but only because he was bored.”

On his first day at a new school, Trafalgar Secondary,in January, Henry meets Farley Wong: “He’s the nerdiest -looking kid I have ever seen…looks like that nerd action figure you can buy in novelty stores…being seen with Farley could be like committing social hari-kari.”

Farley takes Henry to the Reach for the Top team meeting. Henry says its the kind of team that “attracts nerds the way dog poop attracts flies.” There he meets a “boy named Ambrose” who “wore a ratty-looking multicolored toque, with a pom-pom on top. Indoors. He also wore neon-green socks.” So Henry Larsen meets Ambrose from Word Nerd.

Now you have to meet Karen Vargas and Mr. AtaPattu from apartment 213 and you need to find out about Henry’s brother Jesse and Scott Martin.

Lastly, you need to meet Violet and her sister Rosie. Violet has twin step-sisters in Los Angeles and their names are Lola and Lucy. Her stepmother is Jennica. Violet says everything about the Los Angeles Christmas was phony including Jennica’s boobs. The gifts were not phoney Dear George Clooneyand included an iPod Touch and two new pairs of Converse high tops. Her dad had bought a new house in Los Angeles and as Violet says “It was nothing like our house in Vancouver.” There was a backyard bigger than the front and it had a swing set, a playground-sized sandbox and a kidney-shaped pool surrounded by a fence. Violet and Rosie’s house in Vancouver had “a rusted trampoline with a broken leg and mud.” They played with the twins in the sandbox and Violet thinks “I would have loved them with all my heart if I hadn’t hated them so much.” After dinner Violet’s dad asked her to go out and put the lid on the sandbox because both of the neighbours have cats. Violet said she would but she didn’t. In the morning, the twins went out to play in the sandbox. Dad and Jennica stayed inside drinking lattes. Violet and Rosie followed the twins outside. Lola pointed out a big cat turd in the sandbox and and asked “What dat?” Violet said “It’s chocolate…Santa must have left it. Look, one for each of you.”

“We were back in Vancouver in time for dinner. Fake Christmas had lasted just over twenty-four hours.” You can check into how things go for Violet when she gets home.

One thing leads to another and Violet thinks her mom should ask her dad for more money because he has way more than he had when he split from her mom. When her mom explains that she will not take any more money from their dad Violet gets the idea that she needs to find a better class of man for her mom. She decides George Clooney might be  right because her mom had met him years ago on a set when she had been called in to do hair when another stylist was sick. So she writes George a letter.

Oh, by the way, Violet has a whole shelf full of books and she often rearranges them alphabetically by title, then alphabetically by author (Louisa May Alcott to Paul Zindel)!

Also, by the way, Cosmo from Word Nerd and Amanda, his girlfriend,  appear in this book. Oh, and Violet has a crush on a fellow named Jean-Paul Bouchard from Winnipeg who is “seriously cute”.

You will love these whether you are in seventh grade or whether you finished university a long, long time ago when the earth was cooling. Happy Reading.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

“In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes.

“Sophie Hatter was the eldest of three sisters. She was not even the the child of a poor woodcutter, which might have given her some chance of success. Her parents were well to do and kept a ladies’ hat shop in the prosperous town of Market Chipping. True, her own mother died when Sophie was two years old and her sister Lettie was one year old, and their father married his youngest shop assistant, a pretty blonde girl called Fanny. Fanny shortly gave birth to the third sister, Martha.”

One of the topics of great interest in the town of Market Chipping was the Witch of the Waste. The Witch had “threatened the life of the King’s daughter” and the King had “commended his personal magician, Wizard Suliman, to go into the Waste and deal with the Witch.” The outcome of this was that the Wizard had not returned and the townspeople believed he had been killed by the Witch.

Shortly after the Wizard had disappeared, a tall black castle had appeared in the hills above Howl's Moving Castle 1Market Chipping. The castle had four tall, thin turrets and clouds of black smoke issued from those towers.

The townspeople believed the Witch was behind the presence of the castle, especially because the castle sometimes appeared on the moors to the northwest of the town, then it would be in the east above the rocks and then it would move closer to the town and sit in the heather just beyond the last farm to the north of the town. Sometimes they saw the castle actually moving and the black smoke would be pouring out of the tall turrets. The Mayor of Market Chipping was thinking about sending to the King for help.

When they found out that the castle did not belong to the Witch but to Wizard Howl they were even more frightened. Stories were spread about that Wizard Howl collected young girls and sucked their souls away from them just to amuse himself. All the young women in Market Chipping were warned not to go about town by themselves.

Then, disaster strikes the Hatter family. Just at the time when Sophie was about to finish up her schooling, her father died suddenly. He had gone into debt to send his daughters to the best schools so the shop itself was in debt and all the girls had to leave school. Fanny decided to keep Sophie as an apprentice but also had to send her sisters Lettie and Martha out to apprentice elsewhere. She sent Lettie to Cesari’s bakeshop and Martha to Annabel Fairfax who was a witch with an excellent reputation in the Folding Valley.

Sophie’s apprenticeship progresses rather well because she had considerable talent at decorating hats but she was lonely and taken advantage of somewhat by her stepmother who was seldom in the shop to help Sophie. She missed her sisters very much. When May Day came she finished up her work and determined to go to Cesari’s to see her sister. It was crowded in town and when a young man in “a fantastical blue and silver suit” approached her somewhat aggressively she tried to hide from him.

“It’s all right, you little grey mouse,” he said, laughing rather pityingly. “I only want to buy you a drink. Don’t look so scared.” He coaxes but she eventually gets away and rushes to the bakery to find Lettie.

A few days later, “the grandest customer she had ever seen sailed in, with a sable wrap drooping from her elbows and diamonds winking all over her dense black dress.” the lady was wearing a “wealthy hat” and was accompanied by a young man “pale and obviously upset” who “stared at Sophie with a kind of beseeching horror”.

The woman rejects all the hats Sophie shows her and says that Sophie is wasting her time. When Sophie defends her position things rapidly deteriorate and when she dares to suggest that the woman should not have bothered to come in the young man gasps and becomes more upset. The woman then identifies herself as the Witch of the Waste and puts a spell on Sophie which will change her life completely.

“Sophie got herself to the mirror, and found she had to hobble. The face in the mirror was quite calm…it was the face of a gaunt old woman, withered and brownish, surrounded by wispy white hair. Her own eyes, yellow and watery, stared out at her, looking rather tragic.”

Howl's Moving Castle 2She was warned not to tell anyone about the spell and she knew she could not stay and face Fanny so she packed a few things she thought would be useful and locked up and left. She decided she would write to her sisters eventually and knew also that she would have “to do” for the Witch of the Waste when she had the chance but for the time being she simply had to put some distance between herself and the town.  “…it took her a while to notice that some of the grinding and puffing was not coming from herself at all. She looked up blurrily.

Wizard Howl’s castle was rumbling and bumping towards her across the moorland…black smoke was blowing up in clouds from behind its black battlements…She raised her stick and waved it imperiously at the castle.

Stop!” she shreiked.

The castle obediently came to a rumbling, grinding halt about fifty feet uphill from her. Sophie felt rather gratified as she hobbled towards it.”

And so begins a wonderful adventure for all ages! Settle in and enjoy!

 

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

Cimorene was a princess in the large kingdom of Linderwall which is “just east of the Mountains of Morning, where philosophers were highly respected and the number five was fashionable. The climate was unremarkable. The knights kept their armor brightly polished mainly for show…periodic problems with royal children and uninvited fairy godmothers…could be cleared up by finding the proper prince or princess to marry the unfortunate child…”  Cimorene was the youngest daughter of the King and she hated it in Linderwall.

When she was twelve, her father found out she was bullying the armsmaster to give her fencing lessons. She argued but her mother put her foot down, saying it simply wasn’t proper.

At age fourteen, her father discovered that she had been making the court magician teach her magic ever since her fencing lessons had been forbidden.

She came up against similar resistance when she tried Latin lessons, cooking lessons, economics and juggling lessons and so, when she was sixteen, she summoned her fairy godmother. The fairy godmother explained that she should only be called in the case of  matters of utmost importance to Cimorene’s life and future happiness. It turned out that the fairy godmother was in league with her parents and so she bade same fairy godmother a polite good-bye.

Quite suddenly her parents arranged an engagement without informing her and informed them that she didn’t want to marry Prince Therandil nomatter how good looking he was. Her parents refused to change the plans and Prince Therandil could not be enlisted to help. While bemoaning her status in the castle garden she uttered the thought that she “would rather be eaten by a dragon” and a small green frog replied “That can be arranged.” The frog just happens to dislike Therandil for sinking rocks on the pond in the garden and letting them fall into the frog’s living room. After a discussion of Cimorene’s qualifications the frog decides that there is no other option than to run away. He offers her full instructions and later that night Cimorene sets out with five clean handkerchiefs and her best crown. She followed the frog’s Dealing with Dragonsinstructions very carefully and arrived at a “tiny, wretched-looking hovel made of cracked and weathered gray boards. The door hung slant-wise on a broken hinge, and the whole building looked like it were going to topple over at any moment.” She knocked three times, snapped her fingers, pushed the door open and walked inside.

It was very dark inside the hovel but when Cimoriene informs whomever is speaking to her that “I can’t see who you are in this dark, you know” “a small ball of light appeared in the air above Cimorene’s head. Cimorene stepped backward very quickly and ran into the wall.

The voices belonged to dragons.”

And so begins a wonderful adventure in which Cimorene becomes a dragon’s princess. A dragon named Kazul. A female dragon who becomes the King of Dragons. Yes!

Recommended for teens and about-to-be-teens and grandmothers who are attracted to dragon stories and anyone else who is so inclined!