Browsed by
Tag: children’s adventure fantasy

On Anticipation: Story Openings

On Anticipation: Story Openings

At Clarion, the great short story writer Howard Waldrop, he of “Night of the Cooters” and “Fin de Cycl√©,” once talked to us about the crucial difference in reader response between “Huh?” and “What?!?” It took us a while, as it sometimes does with Howard, to sort out what he meant. He was distinguishing between two kinds of mystery that a writer can create.

“Huh?” is a good thing. The reader comes to something a little odd, something that raises a question or tickles their interest, and they want to know more. “Huh?” is a forward impulse, and a pleasant one. “What?!?”, on the other hand, is a bad thing. The writer has given too little information or too much or the wrong kind. The reader can’t sort out WTF is going on. “What?!?” is the expression of confusion that stops the reader and throws them out of the story.

I was thinking about the reader’s forward impulse yesterday in the used book shop we frequent. Books new and used hard to come by in the UAE and my son has read through most of his school library. I’ve been looking for fantasy in the adult section of the store that he might get into. What often stops him there is the first page–not necessarily because it is full of “What?!?”, but because there is no “Huh?” Successful kids’ books are usually really good at openings, because kids won’t read through four pages on the history of the royal house of Glomph to reach something interesting. A good opening isn’t necessarily one where something exciting happens–I’ll go out on a limb and say it rarely is. A good opening doesn’t necessarily rest on the first sentence or first paragraph either, but because of space limitations I’m going to focus only on those.

Pulling books off the shelf more or less at random (not too many books on our shelves here, and most of them are kids’ fiction), here’s part of the first paragraph of Megan Whalen Turner’s Newbery Honor winner, The Thief, which as I remember my son sucked down in a single sitting.

Read More Read More

The Wizard Howl

The Wizard Howl

Animator Hayao Miyazaki is one of my favorite directors, and Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi) one of my favorite movies of all time. Princess Mononoke is also wonderful, and My Neighbor Totoro a sublime children’s film. Packing for Dubai, with extreme space limitations, I made room for the smallish plush catbus a friend brought me from Japan.

Diana Wynne Jones is one of of my favorite fantasy authors. I had originally intended to devote this week’s post to her work. Then I watched Howl’s Moving Castle for the second time–the first since reading the DWJ novel it is based on. I should love it, right?

The movie Howl has many excellent qualities. Like Mononoke and Sprited Away, the animation is beautiful and well worth seeing on the big screen. The war footage, with the monstrous dreadnought airships and wizards in the shape of winged demons, is accomplished with the usual Miyazaki flair with all things aerial. The love story between Sophie, transformed by the Witch of the Waste into a 90-year-old crone, and the literally heartless Wizard Howl, seemed reasonably satisfying the first time around. The moving castle is just plain fun, and Billy Crystal does an OK Calcifer, if you accept that Calcifer is a cute, friendly little fire demon. (And that’s Lauren Bacall as the Witch of the Waste.) If you haven’t watched it, do so, but also check out Miyazaki’s other, better movies. To be fair, Miyazaki only came on board after the initial director bailed on the project, so its flaws may not be all his doing.

For me, though, the book tells a far more interesting story.

Read More Read More

Adventure Fantasy in the Children’s Section: Rick Riordan

Adventure Fantasy in the Children’s Section: Rick Riordan

My first encounter with mythology was, so far as I can remember, via an older brother’s copy of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes (1942). In retrospect the title is presumptuous, as it covers only only the Greek, Roman and Norse mythoi, but at the time I didn’t know how many cultures around the world had traditional stories about gods, monsters, and, sometimes, human heroes encountering them. Moreover, as I later came to understand, her sources for these most familiar versions of the Greek stories (other than Homer) were often the Roman retellings dating to the pomo Imperium–were what we might now call fantastic literature rather than genuine myth. Be that as it may, these were my first myths, and I read all I could get my hands on in the children’s section of our library.

So when I opened Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief, it was with a sense of coming home, in the best possible way. The central premise of the hugely entertaining book and its nearly as enjoyable sequels (titled collectively Percy Jackson and the Olympians) is that the Greek gods, and all the monsters of Greek myth as well, are as active today as in antiquity. Since Olympus follows Western civilization around, it currently occupies the six-hundred-and-sometieth floor of the Empire State Building in Manhattan. The Greek gods are still as, er, prone to falling in love with mortal women as ever, with all the resulting demigod heroes/troublemakers you might expect. However, because demigods have such a poor prospect of reaching adulthood, the Olympians have set up a summer camp on Long Island, called Camp Half-Blood, where prospective heroes can learn survival skills and train for heroic quests. Now, Zeus, Poseidon and Hades took a vow after World War II to abstain from unions with mortal women, because their offspring had come so close to destroying civilization entirely. Think they succeeded in their vow? Meanwhile, there’s a prophecy around regarding a child of one of the Big Three, as they are known, such that every monster and minion of Kronos (who is scheming to reassemble himself and escape Tartarus) is out hunting for such a child in order to destroy him or her.

Read More Read More

Adventure Fantasy in the Children’s Section: Garth Nix

Adventure Fantasy in the Children’s Section: Garth Nix

Recently, on a writer listserv I’m on, discussion veered to how to turn kids in general, but boys in particular, into avid readers. The general consensus from the parents on the list was: limit screen time, whether TV, games, videos; find books they are interested in; and read to them every day. On the topic of how to find books, one father of two boys in particular recommended the authors Patricia Wrede, Diana Wynne Jones, and Garth Nix, saying that he hadn’t considered the gender of the authors or the main characters, he just knew his kids would love their books, and they had. I would certainly second his recommendation. There is plenty for adults to enjoy, too.

Garth Nix, who is this year’s Guest of Honor at the World Fantasy Convention, is my 9-year-old son’s favorite author, and the one who easily topped his “what books would you want with you on a desert isle” list. (Here in Dubai, we are on a desert peninsula, not isle, but given how expensive books are, the feeling is sometimes the same.) Having been given a size and weight limit by his parents, he filled it mostly with Nix’s Seventh Tower and Keys to the Kingdom series.

The former consists of six slim volumes that would add up to a decent-sized tome in the adult section. It’s set on a pair of worlds, one, Aenir, the source of magic and spirits, the other, where humans live, in perpetual darkness except for the magical Sunstones that come from Aenir. Residents of the seven-towered Castle on the human world must each acquire and enslave a spiritshadow (exchanging it for their own natural one) via a quest to Aenir in order to achieve any status. The story begins when one of the main characters, Tal, has to steal a Sunstone from the top of one of the towers in order to heal his sick mother. He falls off the tower, out of the Castle, and into the wider world where his people are considered evil sorcerers…. It’s fast-paced, very readable, with humor, plot complications, and interesting characters and world-building, if (to an adult) a rather familiar overall plot trajectory.

Read More Read More

Adventure Fantasy in the Children’s Section

Adventure Fantasy in the Children’s Section

My just-turned-nine-year-old son is a voracious reader, and in searching for books that would interest him I’ve become aware of the explosion of quality sf/f books written for the so-called middle reader and young adult audience. More or less at the time we started reading these books together, I also became bored and impatient with a lot of what passed for adult f and sf. As a consequence, over the past three or four years, a lot of what I’ve read recreationally has been fantasy that you will rarely if ever find in the regular genre sections of bookstores. A good deal of it, however, I’ve enjoyed very much, and the reasons are not arcane.

Successful fantasy for kids–meaning books my son loves, which includes but is not limited to books that sell a lot of copies–generally shares several characteristics. First and foremost, Things Happen. Middle reader/young adult fantasy is almost by definition adventure fantasy. Also, Things usually start Happening right away. Kids won’t read past the first page or two if they aren’t drawn into the story right off; this doesn’t necessarily mean that things blow up on page 1, but that the characters and their situation are immediately involving.

Read More Read More