If you like… Roald Dahl

The most consistently popular posts on my blog are these “If You like…” posts, so I thought I might try to do more of them. What better author to start up the series again than Roald Dahl? His books are beloved by kids and grown-ups. His quirky, subversive style has endured for over 50 years with a strong base of adoring fans. But once you finish the 19 children’s books Dahl wrote, what next? While I imagine that very few authors measure up to Roald Dahl in most fans’ eyes, here are a few books that might satisfy readers looking for something similar:

Ms Rapscott’s Girls by Elise Primavera is a whimsical adventure that includes the social satire that Dahl fans enjoy. I read it aloud to my daughter, and we both found it quite charming.

The Perilous Princess Plot by Sarah Courtauld is an absurd fairy tale style story full of wit and wordplay. It’s a princess story, but it’s sarcastic and funny. What could be better than that?

The Doldrums by Nicholas Gannon is another whimsical adventure story with quirky characters that reminded me a lot of Roald Dahl’s books.  And I wasn’t the only one who saw the similarities. Both the Booklist and the School Library Journal reviews compared the book to Dahl. I will say that it’s a bit long and slow moving at times, but the dreamy nature of the story pulls the reader along well enough.

Operation Bunny by Sally Gardner stars Emily Vole, an abandoned child who has been adopted by a pair of terrible parents who treat her like a servant. But things change for Emily when she gets to know her neighbor Miss String and all sorts of magical things start happening. This is a silly adventure full of the sort of humor and wit that Dahl fans know and love.

Need more suggestions? Try these:

Weird and Wonderful Books for Kids who Like Roald Dahl

If you like Roald Dahl you might also like…

The BFG Readalikes

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Reading Outside of my Usual

I am a pretty predictable person. Especially when it comes to books. I’ve read enough to know what I like, and I rarely finish a book that I’m not enjoying. There are too many books in my To Read pile to waste on something that isn’t resonating with my soul at the moment. My To Read pile is populated by realistic teen fiction with some historical novels thrown in for variety. I’ll read the books about tough teen issues and vary it up with a cute, fluffy romance. Other than a serious science fiction phase over ten years ago, I stick as close to realism in my fiction as I can get. That said, I have really enjoyed a few fantasy novels recently. This is so unusual that I can’t not share.

  

  • An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. I had heard a lot of good things about this book, but I hadn’t planned on reading it until a copy fell into my hands. It’s a big book with a map of a fantasy world on the end pages. It’s probably the last book in the world I would expect to like, but I was there, it was there. So I started reading. To my surprise, I devoured the book. In a weird way, it reminded me of Ender’s Game, which I read during my science fiction phases all those years ago and still love, because of the militaristic setting and moral questions.  In any case, one the short list of fantasy novels that I highly recommend, An Ember in the Ashes is probably at the top.
  • The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead. I received a copy of the book after meeting the author, and I was intrigued by the idea that this would be the first book in a trilogy in which each book would tell the story of the same time period from different characters’ perspectives. Even more rare for me than reading a fantasy novel is me reading all the books in a trilogy. But I will probably not be able to resist the future installments of this one with its unusual concept. Lucky for me, it’s like fantasy-lite. The fantasy world is more like an alt-historical world (no magic or magical creatures), so it fits closer to my usual than I expected.
  • A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz. This book drew me in by the way it was told. It is written as a history of a war between fairies and gnomes. It begins with “Once upon a time,” but it is far from a gentle fairy tale. There are photographs, drawings, and excerpts from other books, and it all served to immerse the reader (or me, at least) in the world, brutal as it was. The unusual narration and the depictions of sex and violence probably make this book one read with caution, but I found myself absolutely unable to put it down.

Here’s to being more open minded about genre. You never know what stories you’ll connect with if you give them a chance.

Stories from Camp

woodticks

Earlier this week, I sat at the Wood Tick table at Camp Read-a-Lot.  Fortunately, there were no actual wood ticks.  Just teachers, librarians, and books.  Lots of books.  I started the morning by standing up in front of everyone and talking about books.  I made sure to wiggle my toes and listen for background sounds to calm my nerves as a friend had suggested.  I hope it worked.  It was all a bit of a blur, to be honest.

The real memorable Camp moments were later when William Alexander took the stage.  Here is a writer who knows what stories can do.  He spoke of the contradictory way people perceive fantastic fiction–it’s silly or foolish, but it’s also dangerous.  Not unlike the way comic books or video games are often perceived.  As a culture, we keep fighting over fiction without taking into account that we are wired for storytelling.  We need stories–foolish and serious.  Kids, especially, need stories of all sorts as they work out the intricacies of their worlds.

willalex

At this point in the presentation, I was live tweeting as quickly as I could.  Eventually I stopped trying to tweet it all, but not before he thanked librarians and teachers for perpetuating the love of reading aloud.  He said, “Read aloud always. Learn what delicious language tastes like.”

I have to admit, I haven’t read Goblin Secrets.  Even after it won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, I didn’t give it a chance.  Frankly, it’s rare that I pick up a fantasy novel.  But I have been won over.  In this PW interview Alexander said, “The thing about all stories, really, but especially about fantasy, is that they have the potential to throw our basic assumptions about ourselves into question.”  Perhaps it’s time I gave the genre another chance.

July Book Pick: Mouse Bird Snake Wolf by David Almond

mousebird

In an empty world with lazy gods three children decide to fill in the gaps by creating their own animals.  They start with a little mouse, and when that doesn’t cause any trouble–or rouse the gods from their naps–they create progressively larger animals.  David Almond and Dave McKean create an unusual story that won’t appeal to every reader, much less every child.  Because despite it’s dark tone, scary moments, and philosophical musings, it is a book that is aimed at children, ages 8 to 12.   Though I think that anyone with an interest in fantastic storytelling or McKean’s art will want to give this book a chance.

Mouse Bird Snake Wolf is a fable that opens up more questions than it answers.  The power of imagination, the nature of evil, taking creative risks.  These aren’t easy ideas, but Almond and McKean have a way of making them really quite beautiful–if a bit dangerous.  Not for sensitive readers, most likely.  Nor for anyone who doesn’t like the idea of lazy gods or alternative creation stories.  I’ll also note that the female gods are topless, and in a couple of illustrations there is a glimpse of boobs.  Assuming none of those things are an issue, this is a must read.

mousebird2

 

Other reviews: The Guardian and Waking Brain Cells.  You might also be interested in this post about  what we can learn from fairy tales.

Miss last month’s Book Pick?  Check out Rapture Practice.

What Novels Eat for Breakfast

“The great thing about the novel is that it eats categories for breakfast.”

–Lev Grossman (author of The Magician King) on what is and isn’t fantasy

As a librarian, I often find myself trying to put books into neat categories.  In my office, there are three of us that cover teen fiction, and we split it into genres.  I have realistic fiction, another librarian has paranormal and science fiction, and the other has fantasy.  But what exactly is the difference between any of these genres anyway?  Where are the lines?  Is The Future of Us realistic or science fiction?  How about magical realism? What level of magic tips it to paranormal or fantasy vs. realistic fiction?  Does The Book Thief fall into historical or does Death being the narrator push it into some form of fantasy?

These are the questions that I wonder about on an almost daily basis at my job, and this morning MPR re-broadcast an interview with Grossman about his new novel and the larger world of fantasy literature that made me stop and pay attention despite the fact that I rarely read anything approaching the fantastic.  He made the statement quoted above in a larger point that the idea of what is or isn’t fantastic is almost certainly going to change–just as science fiction from decades ago doesn’t seem so futuristic now that we live in an era of pocket computers.

I must admit, it does seem like some of the best books are the ones we don’t quite know what to do with.