Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Jeff Kinney


Diary of a Wimpy Kid has obviously been on my radar for a while, you have to have lived under a rock for the last ten years to have missed hearing about the phenomenon. A few years ago our oldest nephew was engrossed by it (though in the Norwegian translation), and when the eldest came home with volume 1 from the school library and finished the book in one evening (a first for her with a chapter book, a milestone worth noting), I thought the time was ripe to have a nosy and see what the fuss is all about.

And, well, I read it and I’m afraid I still don’t know what the fuss is about. See, Greg Heffley, the eponymous wimpy kid, is a bit of an asshole. He treats his (only) friend Rowley like shit, for example. Not that you don’t have some sympathy for him, middle school can be rough, but still. And while the lass was raving about how funny the book was I didn’t even smile once.

So I’m not in the target audience, not by a long stretch. Perhaps I would have found it hilarious when I was nine? Probably? Perhaps not? It’s hard to tell. But I’m not going to suggest that nine-year-olds shouldn’t read it, or that there is something wrong in nine-year-olds finding it funny. I’m even considering seeing if I can’t pick up a second-hand set of the series and donating it to the school library, if it turns out the lass is correct when she says they only have the first volume. Any book that gets a kid as interested in reading as this one seems to do is fine by me (well, ok, as long as the book in question doesn’t actively encourage harmful behaviour, I suppose). But would I suggest it to older readers? No. Not unless you, like me, like to have some idea of what your children are reading. For your own pleasure or education (or both) there is little to recommend the Wimpy Kid.

Matilda the Musical

Når vi var i London i februar virket det som en opplagt ting å gjøre å ta med eldstemann på musikal. Jeg ga hen valget mellom Lion King (hen har selvsagt sett filmen) og Matilda (vi hadde nettopp lest boka). Ikke overraskende valgte hen Matilda, og jeg gikk til innkjøp av billetter.

Jeg vet ikke helt hva jeg hadde ventet meg. Med utgangspunkt i en bok jeg elsker og med sanger av Tim Minchin burde jeg jo egentlig være overbevist på forhånd, men jeg må innrømme at jeg ikke helt klarte å se for meg hvordan det skulle funke på scenen. Dennis Kelley er kreditert med «book», så jeg går ut fra at det er han som er ansvarlig for frihetene Matilda the Musical har tatt seg med Roald Dahls historie. Og all ære til ham for det, for det funker. Minchins tekster er selvsagt, hadde jeg nær sagt, geniale og en bok som i utgangspunktet består av mer prat enn handling er blitt til en overbevisende og forrykende musikal.

Det er vanskelig å velge når jeg skal prøve å si noe om HVA som var bra. Sceneelementene og kulissene var flotte, som skapt for å appellere til oss bibliofile og ble utnyttet forbilledlig i koreografien. Skuespillerprestasjonene var det ingenting å utsette på. Miss Trunchbull spilles av Alex Gaumond, et grep som føyer seg pent inn i Britisk pantomimetradisjon der «the dame» alltid spilles av en mann, men det føles slett ikke pantomimeaktig her (og sjuåringen skjønte ikke at det var en mann, heller, og ble svært overrasket når det ble nevnt etterpå). Han gjorde en fantastisk jobb. Både han og Matildas foreldre (James Clyde og Kay Murphy) ble forresten buet (og, må det understrekes, applaudert) når de kom ut for å ta i mot appluasen. Det har jeg aldri opplevd før, men det føltes helt rett (og jeg går ut fra at de tar det som et kompliment, det betyr jo at de har overbevist i rollene).

I tillegg til meg og sjuåringen var mamma med, og hun har ikke engang lest boka, men også hun var begeistret for forestillingen, så det er altså ikke nødvendig å være svoren Matilda-fan heller. I det hele tatt: Musikalen anbefales på det varmeste.

Tuesdays at the Castle – Jessica Day George

tuesdaysatthecastleI think I first saw the title and cover of Tuesdays at the Castle on Goodreads, I know I certainly wanted to read it once I’d read the synopsis on Amazon:

Every Tuesday Castle Glower takes on a life of its own-magically inventing, moving, and even completely getting rid of some of its rooms. Good thing Princess Celie takes the time to map out these never-ending changes. Because when the castle is ambushed and Celie’s parents and oldest brother go missing, it’s up to Celie to protect their home and save their kingdom.

It sounds like a really good starting point for a cracking adventure, doesn’t it?

In some ways it is. After reading the book I am still in love with the idea of the castle, and the way it changes, taking care of people it likes and signally quite clearly when it doesn’t approve of someone.

Also, most of their rooms were significantly smaller than they had been before and only seemed to have windows when it was raining.

Celie is a charming 11-year old whom I’d have wanted as a best friend when I was her age, and her relationship with her older siblings is realistically described.

It is a delightful book all in all, but there was something that kept me from embracing it wholeheartedly. It is difficult, when writing for children, to find the right level of danger. You want to make the story thrilling and keep your readers on the edge of the seat, but not to traumatise them. Jessica Day George manages this, but not in a wholly successful way. Some of the dangers Celie and her siblings face are very serious, they suspect that their parents have been killed as part of a plot to conquer the castle. And there is, obviously, a very real limit to what sort of a fight children can put up against grown-up plots. But the story lurches from nail-bitingly scary stuff to slapstick pranks (some of the pranks, by the way, are very good), from quite precocious reasoning to rather childish behaviour, and to me the shifts do not seem entirely natural. I’m all for comic relief (did I mention that some of the pranks are very good?), but somehow it’s not wholly successful here.

That said, I’m looking foreward to reading the next installment with pleasure.

The Twistrose Key – Tone Almhjell

twistroseThe US launch of The Twistrose Key by Tone Almhjell caused headlines in Norway: A Norwegian writer whose first novel is being published in the US before it is published here in Norway? Sensational! See Dagbladet for an example.

I was curious, of course, so I put in an order for the book. I started it briefly on Sunday, and then picked it up again on Monday. At some point in the evening, just at the time I would normally have started to head for bed, I realised I’d read one chapter too far, and that there was no hope of putting the book down again before I was done. This was on page 228, consider yourself warned. Just past midnight I Tweeted: «Just finished The Twistrose Key by @tonealmhjell. It seems I will need to write yet another rather enthusiastic blog post. #goodbook«. And then I went to bed.

The Twistrose Key reminded me of several of the fantasy novels I read and loved as a child: The Chronicles of Narnia, of course (what with the talking animals, the influence is quite obvious), Susan Coopers The Dark is Rising series and a Norwegian series by Bente Lohne which starts with the book Julias reise, to mention the most obvious candidates. Reminded me, yes, but in a good way. This is not a derivative book, the idea is original (well, as original as ideas are), even if it does involve a child walking through a portal into another world where time moves at a different speed and animals can talk. I wish it had been around in the mid-eighties when I inhaled this kind of book, I would have loved it unconditionally (I still do, but not with the fervour of my ten-year-old self).

Our heroine, Lin, has moved from her childhood paradise, Summerhill, to a rickety old house in Oldtown because of her mother’s work. She misses her friend Niklas, she misses the countryside with snowfights and she misses their troll-hunting games. Moreover, her pet vole, Rufus, has recently died. Then an odd package shows up, containing two keys, one that fits the cellar door of their rented house, and a large, old-fashioned one that looks a bit like a rose, with the word «Twistrose» engraved on it, a name Lin thought she had invented herself, the code name she would use in the troll hunt, but which she has not yet shared with anyone. So, like a good heroine, she descends to the basement and finds the keyhole (which is not really a key hole) for the twistrose key, and that opens the portal to Sylver.

In Sylver there is snow, and plenty of it, but there is also Rufus, now tall as a man and able to speak. He explains that Sylver is where all pets that have ever been loved by a child come when they die, but there is a problem, and Lin is here to help them. And so the adventure begins.

There are many reasons to love The Twistrose Key, the relationship between Lin and Rufus is one of them. They really are best friends, and I love Rufus’ dry humour, evident at the first meeting:

«Rufus! How? I mean, you’re so… You’re so…»
«Handsome?» He grinned. «Eloquent? Alive?»

(Page 21.) The plotline is pretty perfect, no long stretches of boredom while having things explained at you, little peaks of thrill to keep your interest going and a big show-down at the end. The conflict is, well, I was going to say believeable, but let me say believable withing the context of the world Almhjell has created. The villain to be fought is appropriately villaineous, and the master villain has believable motivations. There is seriousness and darkness here, but not so much that it destroys the joy of the victory (which happened for me with The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, which I’m afraid I never got around to blog about). And the language is wonderful, with touches of fairytale and ecchoes of Nordic winters, among very many other things. And the book actually has an ending. Not that I don’t hope for more stories from Sylver (I want to read about Rufus and Lin exploring the lands), but it is actually quite nice to have a book that obviously has the potential for a long series but that has no obvious cliff-hangers.

Oh, and I must add a note to say how much I love the vignettes that head each chapter. Drawn by Ian Schoenherr they perfectly capture the mood of the book.

I’m looking foreward to reading The Twistrose Key with the lass in a year or two, when she’ll be the right age for it. And if you have an 8-12-year-old in your life I suggest you read them this book (if you’re allowed) or give it to them to read for themselves. Oh, and though this really is a children’s book (unlike with Odinsbarn, where I do not agree with the publishers on the designation), it is the sort of children’s book that can, and should, be read by adults for their own pleasure.

The Twistrose Key kom på norsk i november 2013 med tittelen Vindeltorn, utgitt på Gyldendal. Bokelskerinnen har et intervju med Tone Almhjell, der hun blant annet forklarer hvordan det har seg at boka først kom ut på engelsk.

Andre bloggere om boka:

Doktor Proktor og det store gullrøveriet – Jo Nesbø

proktor_gullrøveriJo Nesbø leverer igjen med Doktor Proktor og det store gullrøveriet, men skuddet sitter ikke så sikkert som tidligere. Etter min mening er dette den dårligste Doktor Proktor-boka. Men den er fortsatt veldig, veldig bra.

Norges banks gullbeholdning (en hel gullbarre) blir stjålet, og det bare en uke før Verdensbanken skal komme på inspeksjon. Dersom det blir oppdaget at gullet er borte vil Norge bli kastet ut i økonomisk krise. Kongen gjør det eneste rette og tilkaller Bulle, Lise og Doktor Proktor. Ferden går til London, og dere har våre tre helter flere helt utrolige eventyr før de – selvsagt – løser oppdraget og redder Norge fra katastrofen.

Jeg vet ikke helt hvorfor det ikke fungerte optimalt denne gangen. Kanskje er tanken på økonomisk kollaps litt for abstrakt til å fungere som trussel? Det burde selvsagt ikke være slik, særlig siden jeg visstnok er voksen nok til å forstå konsekvensen av noe sånt, men jeg fikk ikke den store trusselfølelsen her. Nåja. Morsomt er det. Spenningskurven er bra, om ikke toppen er like høy som i de tidligere bøkene. Krumspringene, både handlingsmessig og språkmessig er der i hopetall, og mye av det er skrevet for voksne, selv om jeg ikke tviler på at ungene synes det hele er storveis også. Selv setter jeg pris på et godt (og ofte også et ikke fullt så godt, noen kaller meg lettmort) ordspill, så jeg flirer høyt av slike ting som dette:

Riktignok var Rublov verdens rikeste mann, rikere enn Olav Kron, Steinrik Hagen og Skillinge Røkke til sammen.

Kan media fluksens begynne å omtale de relevante herrer med deres nye kallenavn, please? Som den anglofil jeg er setter jeg selvsagt også pris på puber som heter ‘Løven, Hamsteret Og Den Ganske Skjeve Oksekjerra Til Herr Woomblenut Som Pleide Å Selge Rugøl Borte På Gamlemølla’.

Snart på tide å teste første boka som høytlesing for seksåringen, kanskje?

Utterly me, Clarice Bean – Lauren Child

clarice_beanUtterly me, Clarice Bean was near me on the shelf when I suddenly found myself with a sleeping baby on the couch and no current read within reach. I figured it would be alright to start it since it was likely to be a quick read, which it was.

I enjoy Lauren Child’s style, something I know from having sat through quite a few Charlie & Lola episodes on children’s tv. I like the whimsical element (though I admit it sometimes seems a bit forced). Clarice Bean is very similar, and Clarice could be Lola a few years down the line, though Charlie is missing, having been replaced with three siblings, no less. Another difference is that Clarice’s parents are actually present in the story. Still, they are very similar, and I keep hearing Lola’s voice in my head as I read Clarice’s story.

For all that it works pretty well. It is not, however, a children’s book for grown-ups. I will not be reading any more (except maybe aloud to the lasses), but I might definitely buy them, as I suspect they will hit the spot when the girls reach the right age (in a year or two as far as the oldest goes, I imagine 8ish to be a good age to read this).

Katie in London – James Mayhew

katieinlondonI keep meaning to blog more about the books we read with the lass, so while I remember:

I was tipped off about Katie in London, and I’m very glad I was. The plot is hardly revolutionary: Katie goes to London to see the sights with her little brother and her grandmother, but before they really see anything, grandma wants a rest on a bench at Trafalgar Square. Katie and her brother therefore travel around London with one of the lions instead. They see St. Pauls, the Tower, Tower Bridge, the London Eye, the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace and Hyde Park.

Like most kids (and some adults), the lass tends to enjoy something more if she’s heard about it a lot. So reading books about a place before going there is good. The internet, and especially YouTube is good too.

From that point of view, this book fulfills its purpose beautifully. And while it is not great literature, neither is it bad in any way, it fits its audience without being (too) tedious for the grown-up who has to read aloud.

Hårfine floker! – Tania Kjeldset

kjeldsetJeg leste altså Hårfine floker! av Tania Kjeldset i helgen. Det var forsåvidt et hyggelig bekjentskap. Fanny er en sympatisk niåring av typen jeg gjerne skulle vært venn med når jeg var i samme alder (eller nå, for den saks skyld). Boka starter med at alt går på tverke for Fanny, akkurat slik verden kan gå på tverke av og til, og hvor hver nye ting du gjør bare gjør situasjonen verre, samme hvor godt ment handlingen din var. Heldigvis er det alltid lov å si unnskyld.

Fanny har en venninne som heter Klara og er gammel. Det er ikke bare niåringer verden kan gå litt på tverke for, og når alt er som verst for Fanny viser det seg at Klara har minst like store problemer. Fanny bestemmer seg for å hjelpe Klara og når hun gjør det løser hun samtidig de fleste av sine egne floker.

Som sagt er Fanny selv sympatisk, ellers falt jeg vel mest for familien hennes, men ingen av personene i boka er spesiellt utdypende beskrevet. Skal jeg ha noe å innvende er det vel at dette virkelig føltes som en barnebok når jeg leste den – i motsetning til f.eks. Tonje Glimmerdal som føles som en bok, rett og slett. Men den står nå i hylla sammen med de andre «les selv»-barnebøkene i påvente av at ungen skal bli gammel nok til å gjøre nettopp det, og jeg likte den godt nok til å være litt skuffet over at det ikke later til å finnes flere bøker om Fanny. Tania Kjeldset har derimot skrevet en del andre bøker, så jeg kommer vel til å holde utkikk etter dem, tenker jeg, men i første omgang på loppemarked (der også min kopi av Hårfine floker! stammer fra).

Et slags PS: Hadde den utgaven jeg fant hatt det omslaget som den utgaven som nå er i salg har hadde jeg ikke kjøpt den, tror jeg. Og jeg som pleier å si at utseendet til boka ikke har noe å si. I dette tilfellet synes jeg det gir et HELT annet inntrykk av hva slags bok det er, jeg får nærmest et litt sånn «kioskroman for barn»-inntrykk av det nye designet. Men det er nå meg.

Doktor Proktor og verdens undergang. Kanskje. – Jo Nesbø

doktor_proktorDa har jeg fått lest oppfølgeren til Doktor Proktors prompepulver og Doktor Proktors tidsbadekar. Og sjarmerende lesning var det.

I Doktor Proktor og verdens undergang. Kanskje. må våre helter – Lise, Bulle og Doktor Proktor – igjen trå til og redde seg selv, Norge og hele verden forsåvidt. Norges befolkning har blitt hypnotisert av noen vesener som er beskrevet i Dyr du skulle ønske ikke fantes, boken Bulles bestefar har skrevet, og det ser mørkt ut. Ved hjelp av noen nye allierte – noen av Bulle og Lises lærere, en mislykket hanggliderselger fra Sør-Trøndelag og en konge i eksil – rydder våre helter selvsagt opp.

Når jeg leste de to første bøkene var jeg litt kritisk til at de lignet stilen til Roald Dahl så ettertrykkelig. Det opplevde jeg ikke som et problem denne gangen. Som bemerket i forbindelse med smakebiten jeg serverte på søndag er slektskapet til en annen barnebokforfatter framtredende i denne boka, Bulle kunne helt klart vært Pippis barnebarn. At en person fra Di Derres repertoar – Madsen, korpsdirigenten med pilotsolbriller – også får en litt mer framtredende rolle hjelper på å gi persongalleriet mer spennvidde, og er forøvrig en herlig detalj og et nikk til voksne lesere. Likheten med Roald Dahls forfatterskap er tilstede fortsatt, men ispedd alle andre referanser er det ikke lenger forstyrrende.

Plottet er ubetalelig. Dyr du skulle ønske ikke fantes er skumle. Spenningskurven er akkurat slik den skal være. Vennskap er toppen. Annerledeshet er bra. Å redde verden er gøy og forsøket er verdt det selv hvis man skulle mislykkes, for livet er faktisk herlig. Og ikke minst, Bulle og Lise og Doktor Proktor er fortsatt verdens beste bestevenner.

I det hele tatt er dette en serie Nesbø fortjener vel så mye cred for som for Harry Hole. Skikkelig gode barnebøker er det relativt langt mellom. Dette er i alle fall årets første julegavetips fra meg.

Well said

Last year Shaun Tan won, which made me feel that the award was going to the best people. With a longlist of 184 people I feel less like I’m in competition for an award and more like I’ve been told I’m part of a club of people who’ve been doing the right thing.

Making fiction for children, making books for children, isn’t something you do for money. It’s something you do because what children read and learn and see and take in changes them and forms them, and they make the future. They make the world we’re going to wind up in, the world that will be here when we’re gone.

Neil Gaiman – on being on the longlist for the Astrid Lindgren Award longlist.