Cannery Row is not so much a novel, as a capturing of a moment in time. Light on plot, but heavy in description, it features dozens of characters that each play a part (however small) in the central story. Although there’s a long and winding road to get there, the main story centers on the planning of a party for Doc, orchestrated by Mack and the boys, a group of homeless men who have taken over an old warehouse. Their initial plan is ill conceived and leads to minor disaster, but eventually circles around through the community for a happier ending.
Taking place in a relatively quiet California coastal town during the Great Depression, the story is told through a series of vignettes of various length. There are some clearly driving the plot, and others that link to the main story in ways that are not obvious as you are reading. The style gives the book a inextricable feeling of community. The small details of each moment, the strings of each life in Monterey interwoven.
Part of what is interesting to me, is that each character seems to know their place and their part in the scheme of their own world. Most are destitute, but content where they are. Mack and the boys certainly know what they need to do to improve their situation, but are content to get by with life as it is. They have a roof over their heads, the little dog Darling to care for, and just enough niceties to make the Palace Flophouse home. Another character I found interesting was the woman who loves to throw parties, but cannot afford to actually put on a party herself. When she’s not able to help in planning for others, she contents herself with tea parties with the neighborhood cats. Well, why not?
Boris’s thoughts: “I am concerned with the collecting of cats for Doc… but would really enjoy a tea party, so I’ll even it out: 2 paws.”
While this one is not strictly a Christmas story, there is something about Jan Brett that just feels Christmasy to me. This book is a follow up to her telling of a more traditional Gingerbread Man. In this case, it is a Gingerbread Baby. After running of on his initial adventure, the Gingerbread Baby has made his way back home. The story starts with him living contentedly in a gingerbread home with Mattie, although feeling terribly lonely when Mattie goes off to school or out to play with his friends. The Gingerbread Baby goes off on a second adventure in search of friends.
Unfortunately, he goes looking for friends in a plain, normal bakery… where none of the other cookie creatures can talk or play! He is perplexed and decides to rest while he thinks about what to do next. Of course, resting turns into sleep, which is interrupted by a hungry mouse! The Gingerbread Baby decides that this friendship search is not working out for him, and dashes back home– leading to the chase scene that we expect from Gingerbread characters. While he is discouraged from his journey, he does find a nice surprise waiting for him when he gets home, which folds out into an extra large pop-up picture for the end in the hardcover edition.
I like this story as a read aloud. It’s a nice traditional type story, and has a combination of normal storytelling, as well as some verse in the Gingerbread Baby’s speech. The pictures are great: large and with tons of details to look through with kids. One of the compliments of Jan Brett’s books I have heard is about the beautiful borders around the pages of her stories, and this is no exception. I like in this one that the borders serve a dual purpose– there is a recipe for gingerbread cookies included, while we also get to see what Mattie has been up to while the Gingerbread Baby has been away.
Boris’s thoughts: “I think the real lesson here is that I don’t ever need to leave my comfy home. Sounds good– it’s time for a nap.”
At 48 pages, this is not quite a children’s picture book, but not quite a novel either. Something in between: perhaps a children’s novella? I am a big fan of Brian Selznik. I love the style of his novels and the way he combines words with illustrations to tell a story. This is a little different than his longer works, in that he uses the pictures to supplement this story rather than to continue driving the plot. However, the pictures are no less essential here than in his novels.
Being born on Halloween, it is no surprise that Alonzo has a fascination with monsters. His love is fueled by the late-night horror film show hosted by Mr. Shadow, where he discovers the greatness of Lon Cheney. Alonzo is inspired by the films, which turns into a dream to become the “boy of a thousand faces.” I love that his character has a dream that is outside of what might be considered normal. Alonzo goes beyond “I want to be a movie star” to actually working on and creating something new. His goal is not to be famous, but in the creation of something to be enjoyed by others.
The reciprocal relationship between Alonzo and Mr. Shadow is interesting as well. Alonzo is inspired by Mr. Shadow and his show, reaching out to him when he is beginning to feel disillusioned with his dream. At the same time, Mr. Shadow believed that nobody was interested when his show ended, but was inspired by Alonzo to “bring back” something that he loved in a new way.
I love this as a tribute to traditional horror films, special effects, and Lon Cheney. I think it is also a great introduction to the horror genre. It is a bit creepy, but not something that would truly scare most children. It’s perfect for kids who might have an interest in things that are a bit dark seeming, that might seem a little weird to others.
Boris’s thoughts: “Hmmm… dark and weird… I approve. 3 paws.”
I am a little bit ashamed to admit that it took me until 2018 to read this book. I really loved this book, but I also have some mixed feelings about this book. I’m going to admit up front that I’m not sure this is going to count as a traditional book review– more of my own semi-rambling thoughts. Although, I suppose that is at least somewhat appropriate for such a well known story.
The Little Prince is a book about what a pain adults can be, written by an adult for children, but maybe actually for the adults that are reading the book to children. Did I lose anyone there? Understandable.
I suppose what I’m getting at here, is that I cannot quite decide who the intended audience actually is for this book. Certainly it is written as a children’s book, but there is so much that I feel is intended for adults. These things, of course, are good reminders. We are kind of a pain– especially from the perspective of children. We are so often wrapped up in our own thoughts, our own things to do, our own “matters of consequence.” At the same time, I think there are plenty of themes in there for children as well– responsibility, relationships, recognizing that our actions are part of what gives the things around us value. Perhaps these are themes for children that are also areas where adults may need some reminders?
Honestly, I could probably type for days without ever feeling that I have done this book justice. It is sad, but it is sweet. If you’ve debated reading it, I would suggest that you stop putting it off. It is a fast, easy read–the only reason I did not finish it in a day is laziness and silly adult responsibilities. Even if you do not love it, it is a book that I feel undoubtedly is worth the read.
Boris’s thoughts: “I think this counts as a snuggle-time book. 4 paws.”
This is one of several books that I have placed in the category of “I can’t believe nobody made me read this before I was an adult.” I know that I had wonderful and well meaning English teachers throughout my time in school, and many of them probably assumed that another teacher would have us students read the classics at some point, but somehow I missed out on several books such as this. Alas, I somehow escape high school without ever opening a book by Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, or myriad others that are considered the “books everyone has read” (or, perhaps, read just enough of to pass the class). Turns out, I actually quite like reading books typically labeled as “classics.” Admittedly, I probably have not read as many as I should. I digress.
I did feel a bit at a disadvantage for not reading Tom Sawyer first. I realize that this is not exactly a sequel to the other book, but felt there was a bit of lacking of background that I may have gotten from the other book. However, that did not stop me from enjoying this one. I enjoyed the series of adventures, strung together into a plot, but often possible to consider as independent storylines. I appreciated getting a glimpse of Tom Sawyer as a character in the end, although I admit that I liked Huck Finn better as a character. He is presented very much in the context of his “white trash upbringing,” but is smart and often thoughtful in spite of it.
The writing in period/southern dialect took a bit of getting used to, but was not a huge challenge to read. Of course, everyone reviewing this book must address the frequent use of the “n word.” Yes, it’s there. Personally, I can get past this considering the time and context– we are talking about a book that was set and published in the 1800s. I actually found it to have aged better than other publications from the time period.
Boris’s thoughts: “Classics? Are those the kinds of books that make you sit on the couch for a long time at night? I like those too. 4 paws.”