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The Poky Little Puppy

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Title: The Poky Little Puppy

Author: Janette Sebring Lowrey, illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren

Publisher: Little Golden Books

Pages: 24

Format Read: Hardback

Rummaging through old boxes sometimes reveals the most surprising books – and old favourites! One book I recently got merrily reacquainted with was The Poky Little Puppy, written by Janette Sebring Lowrey and illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren. It was originally published by Little Golden Books in 1942.

It was one of my absolute favourite books as a child, and rereading it now reminded me why. Four little puppies are terribly naughty, dig their way out to the wide wide world, and miss out on desserts. One little puppy is too clever by half. You can guess how that goes. The illustrations are adorable, the puppies even more so – although I’m a bit surprised by all the lavish desserts!

There’s a lot of magic in this slim book, and the style of writing is rhythmic – and just enough to capture a child’s imagination and teach them a few things (without being obvious or preachy about it!) at the same time. The puppies are curious characters. They’re babies after all. And they’re captivated by the world that is so new to their young lives. They’re innocent even in their naughtiness, an endearing trait that brings them to life.

As for the star of the book, the Poky Little Puppy…he is innocent, and sweet, and much smarter than his siblings. A bit too smart for his own good, and too smart puppies usually lack that bit of sense that keeps the others in line. Until, of course, the dénouement.

It is a charmingly told story, beautifully illustrated, and I still recall lines from the tale by heart. There is a reason, I think, that The Poky Little Puppy has remained popular. Reading it now brings back the same thrill that I felt as a child.

A childhood favourite that I am still fascinated by, is The Poky Little Puppy.

 

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Crenshaw

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Book: Crenshaw

Author: Katherine Applegate

Publisher: HarperCollins

Pages: 246

Format Read: Kindle

Jackson is an intelligent and articulate child. He wants to be an animal scientist when he grows up, and “Crenshaw” is told from his point of view. And while he has his grown-up profession all mapped out in his head, his life at the moment is fraught with difficulties. He lives in a cramped apartment with his parents and five year old sister. Their finances are dwindling, and Jackson’s father is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Most of the family’s possessions have to be sold – and Jackson is terrified that they will become homeless, and forced to live in their minivan.

And in the middle of all that, a large (outsize, actually) and friendly cat turns up. His name is Crenshaw, and Jackson is pretty sure he isn’t real. Cats do not take bubble baths and surfboard. His rational, scientist mind is appalled at the idea that he, of all children, should have an imaginary friend.

But there it is.

Crenshaw the cat really shouldn’t be there, but he is. And his presence gives Jackson a sense of purpose, and the strength to deal with the crisis around him. Something about Crenshaw gives the boy a chance to reflect, and something to hope for.

Essentially, “Crenshaw” is the story of an imaginary friend who keeps a lonely child company. Crenshaw the cat knows all that Jackson knows, obviously. But he also knows a little more than the child knows. So is he really imaginary?

I also found Jackson’s best friend Marisol an interesting character. On the surface, Marisol is as rational as Jackson is. But Marisol, unlike Jackson, is hardly surprised by an imaginary friend. Because she believes in magic, even if it is imaginary magic, because it gives her something to believe in and hope for.

And for Jackson, accepting Crenshaw (bubble baths included), as a friend was exactly the kind of magic he needed. Even if he is only imaginary.

Except that his dog Aretha can see Crenshaw…

A very true and vibrant children’s story, “Crenshaw” was definitely worth the read.

“I’ll leap on to their beds and walk on their heads. It will be amusing.”

Crenshaw in “Crenshaw” by Katherine Applegate

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The Northern Lights

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Book: The Northern Lights

Author: Philip Pullman

Publisher: Scholastic

Pages: 399

Format Read: Paperback

A long time ago, when I was in school, I came across a note in the school supplement of a national newspaper. It spoke of a book called “The Northern Lights,” the first book in the “His Dark Materials” trilogy. Since then, I’ve read the trilogy in its entirety, but I want to focus on “The Northern Lights” (or “The Golden Compass” as its American edition is called).

It’s about a girl called Lyra, and when the book opens, she’s up to some spying along with her companion, the daemon Pantalaimon. Lyra hides in a room where she is not supposed to be, ignoring her daemon’s grumbles, and stumbles upon magic and worlds she never knew existed. And that interest, for her, begins with a magical particle of creation called ‘Dust’ – with a capital D. And that Dust, it seems, is tied in with the aurora borealis.

Then, her close friend Roger disappears, and for some reason, she knows his disappearance has something to do with Dust.

The world of “The Northern Lights” is intricately crafted. It is set in London, and Oxford, but not the London of this world. Lyra’s Oxford is like our world in many ways, and very different in others. Here, everybody has a daemon, a sort of spirit companion that takes the form of animals, right from birth. To not have a daemon is unnatural, freakish.

The book is a little slow moving in the beginning as the world is built up, but that does not make it any less interesting. Lyra’s exploits are exciting, and there is a sense of wonder when the mysteries of Dust get more and more complex. Children vanish and a strange and exquisitely beautiful woman has been linked to their disappearance.

And through it all, Lyra begins to discover her true parentage.

Lyra Belacqua is an extremely precocious, often difficult and wild child, and she is very likeable, as is her daemon Pantalaimon or Pan. There are mysteries she must solve on her own, the truth of Dust she must uncover – and the plot is complex. Very complex. The sheer brazenness of her nature is mixed with empathy for those around her, a formidable combination considering the dangers lurking in her world. She must also deal with the mesmerizing Mrs. Coulter, and the harsh, sharp tongued Lord Asriel – both of whom have secrets of their own.

“The Northern Lights” is an immensely readable and captivating fantasy on an ambitious scale.

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The Snow Spider

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Book: The Snow Spider

Author: Jenny Nimmo

Publisher: Egmont UK

Pages: 167

Format Read: Paperback

“The Snow Spider” is a children’s book, and a fascinating one at that, weaving elements of Welsh folklore and myth into a fantasy story with a boy and a little silvery spider.

For his birthday, Gwyn’s grandmother gifts him five odd objects – a brooch, dried seaweed, a whistle, a scarf, a broken toy horse – and tells him they are magical. These mysterious items, she tells him, will turn him into a magician. Gwyn doesn’t know what to believe, especially since his grandmother, for all her affection, is a bit eccentric. Perhaps he could use these gifts to bring his missing sister back home.

Without giving too much away, using one of the objects causes a glittery little spider called Arianwen to appear, a magical creature that weaves dreams and visions in her sparkly web. Gwyn is a lonely, but affectionate boy, and the spider quickly becomes a strange and wonderful friend. His friend Alun is a sceptic, a character who does not believe in magic. As for Gwyn’s father…well. He is distant and cold to the boy, especially since his daughter, and Gwyn’s sister, went missing years ago.

For a slim book, “The Snow Spider” handles its cast of characters quite well. I found myself liking Gwyn’s eccentric grandmother, especially because she is the only character who sees Gwyn for who he is. And of course, the tiny spider Arianwen. She is, by far, my favourite character in the book.

Many of the names in “The Snow Spider” are taken from Welsh legend, and notes at the back of the book, including an author interview, are really helpful if you aren’t familiar with it. There’s the magician Gwydion, for example, in Welsh lore. While these elements are very well woven into the story, you may want to refer to a translation of the Mabinogion for a better idea.

The story ends rather quickly, in my opinion (probably to be picked up in the next book of the series) but “The Snow Spider” did keep my interest until the end. It has that dash of magic and mystery I enjoy very much, and besides, the writing style is lucid.

I’m really glad to have “The Snow Spider” on my shelves.