Thursday, July 27

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, Illustrated by Michael Martchenko

In accordance with the FTC, Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer borrowed this book from the library. Some wild child had scribbled all over one of the pages! The opinions expressed are his and no monetary compensation was offered to him by the author, illustrator or publisher. Cover art is copyright of Scholastic.

Elizabeth is a princess, betrothed to a prince named Ronald. Ronald looks like he could be Elizabeth's twin. This is some Game of Thrones content if you ask me.

Then one day, a dragon kills her entire kingdom, and carries off Ronald for a later snack. Elizabeth follows in hot pursuit, with nothing to wear but a paper bag. Did they have paper bags back then? Apparently.

Using her wits, Elizabeth does her best to outsmart the dragon. She panders to his ego and encourages him to desolate even more of the land. All for the sake of snooty little Ronald. Meanwhile, her kingdom is turning to ash. Yes, Elizabeth's methods are questionable, but she still manages to accomplish her goal. Which was also questionable. Thankfully, she learns to sort out her priorities.

This book is all about valuing cunning over style. It does not follow the pretty princess tropes of many picture books. However, I was put out that the book was censored. I read the 25th anniversary edition, where they changed the word "bum" to "toad." This is most offensive to toads!

'The Paper Bag Princess' is best enjoyed on audio, read by Robert Munsch himself. Munsch's talent for oral storytelling is without peer. He adds repetition, onomatopoeia, and other sound effects, injecting more humour and attitude into the narrative. A must-listen!

Monday, July 24

The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle by Beatrix Potter

In accordance with the FTC Quill Café would like to disclose that the reader borrowed this book from the library. He would like to return it. It has mysterious smudges. The opinions expressed are his and no monetary compensation was offered to him by the publisher. Or the author. As she is deceased. Cover art is copyright of Frederick Warne. Whoever he is. Oh, and the Random Penguin House. Them too.

This is the story of a little girl named Lucie who has lost her pinny...and all of her handkerchiefs. She sets out to find them, inquiring to the animals she meets along the way. Shockingly, they all snub her. At last Lucie comes across a "little person" who may know the whereabouts of her belongings.

I thought hedgehogs had bad eyesight, but little Lucie clearly needs glasses. It takes her the entirety of the story to be clued in to Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle's species. No wonder she keeps losing her stuff. She probably can't see where she left it!

Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle is some sort of servant, picking up after all the hooligan animals in the farm and hillside. She seems to enjoy her work, but that's what the privileged always say about those in servitude. She is nothing but polite to Lucie, explaining which garment belongs to which animal as she works. She even makes Lucie some tea. Lucie spends the whole time giving Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle the side-eye, staring at her wrinkly brown hands and prickles, and keeping her distance.

By the end of the story, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle has received a handful of thanks for her labour, which is probably more than her washer women contemporaries would get. Lucie finally comes to the conclusion that Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle is a hedgehog. Nay, in her words she is "nothing but a hedgehog." RUDE!

This book was a quaint read with pretty pictures, but it was spoiled by Lucie's naive and tedious nature. Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, however, has my utmost respect.

Friday, July 21

Cats at Hogwarts: A Poem

While perusing through the pages
Of the Potterverse, I found
That there weren't a lot of kitties
Lurking on the Hogwarts ground.

I checked my acceptance letter
And found quite plainly that
Each student was allowed to bring
An owl, a toad, or cat.

So I pondered probability
And the result that I got
Was that even with some owls and toads
Of cats there'd be a lot.

Yet Crookshanks and Mrs Norris
Were all the felines I could find.
Where did these other kitties go?
A few thoughts came to mind:

Were they cooped up in the common rooms,
Curled up by the fire?
For, strewn all over Hogwarts,
There's so much that could transpire!

Cats in the Potions classroom
Batting bottles from the shelves.
Or prowling in the kitchens,
Pawing hopefully at House Elves.

Gallivanting through the Great Hall
With greedy, expectant looks.
Cats lounging in the library,
Sprawled out on the books.

Cats sleeping on the stairs,
Sending first years for a fall.
Cats being cooed at
By the portraits on the wall.

Frolicking in the Forbidden Forest
And spraying on Hagrid's hut.
Cats yelling at any door
They deem should not be shut.

Cats ousted from the owlery,
Eyeing an eagle, barn or tawny.
Cats reclining on pouffes,
Getting tummy rubs from Trelawney.

Caterwauling in the corridors,
Singing a 3am lament.
Cats being pestered by Peeves,
Or finding the Room of Requirement.

There are so many places
These curious cats could be,
And so my thoughts are hounded
By their mysterious scarcity.

Perhaps these cats are not of note
To the boy with the lightning scar.
But I will never cease to wonder
Where these magical felines are.


(Cats: Charlie, Severus, Ariel, Rocky.)

Tuesday, July 18

Animal Music by Julia Donaldson, Illustrated by Nick Sharratt

In accordance with the FTC Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer borrowed this book from the library because it had a hedgehog on it. The opinions expressed are his alone and no monetary compensation was offered to him by the author, illustrator or publisher. Cover art is copyright of Macmillan.

In this book, all sorts of animals are playing music. Except the hedgehog, he just hums. What are they trying to say? Hedgehogs can't play instruments? Why couldn't the hedgehog play the violin? They've got penguins playing the violin. PENGUINS! How is that even possible with their flippies?

I have been carried away. I shall compose myself. But not to music because apparently I can't play an instrument. Just hum. Hmph.

The animals in this book include dogs, hippos, a koala, and some seafood. Is that derogatory? Sea creatures. They croon and play the spoons. I think that they have rebelled against a seafood restaurant. They have taken up the utensils that would be used to eat them and reclaimed their freedom, making music from strife.

There is a bison playing the cello that has phenomenal balance. Then there is a tiger and a carthorse. What makes a carthorse a carthorse? Is it a cart? Because this carthorse doesn't have a cart. Is a carthorse still a carthorse if it has no cart? The tiger is beating a drum near the carthorse's ear. I expect is aggravating, but if he complains he will be eaten.

There are also some turtles. Real turtles, not tortoises calling themselves turtles. I'm looking at you teenage ninjas! Then there is a gerbil playing a camel. Does a camel constitute as a musical instrument? Is it polite to jump around on a camel and use it as your own bouncy castle/bongo drums?

They are all playing music of different genres – pop, classical, blues and more. They are either clashing terribly or playing different set pieces. Each animal wears a sparkly red bow or bowtie. Among the animals are a diverse group of children, dancing and singing. It is night-time and they have no adult supervision.

I must conclude that this book is taking place at an international music festival to raise money for a children's charity. Or, the animals are brainwashing all of the children, and have done away with the adults. Maybe the humming hedgehog is a hypnotist! He must be the mastermind behind it all. Yes.

'Animal Music' is a book packed with simple rhymes, where alliteration abounds. It is good for early readers, though I cannot say whether there is anything nefarious subliminally hidden in the text. Read at your own risk.

Saturday, July 15

Hans My Hedgehog by Kate Coombs, Illustrated by John Nickle

In accordance with the FTC, Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer nabbed this book from a library display. It spoke to him. The opinions expressed are his alone and no monetary compensation was offered to him by the author, illustrator, or publisher. He tried to contact the Brothers Grimm in a seance to see if they had any long lost manuscripts he could pawn on eBay, but there was no response. Cover art is copyright of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.*

Once upon a time there was a couple who looked like they stepped out of a Renaissance painting. Like many people who are comprised of paint, they were infertile. They wished more than anything for a child. Their wish came true and they had a baby boy. This baby boy was a hedgehog with human legs. Because this couple were so literal, they named their son Hans My Hedgehog.

This is a retelling of Hans My Hedgehog, a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. Kate Coomb's writing is seemless and John Nickle's illustrations complement the fairy tale genre.

"Each note slipped between
the trees like a spell.
The pigs, listening below,
were steeped in magic."


Hans – like most hedgehogs – is a bit of a loner. A self-proclaimed outcast if you will. He spends his time in the forest, frolicking with pigs, playing the fiddle, and flying on a rooster. Seems legit. The probability of a rooster flying expertly while being ridden by a hedgehog is on par with fairies, and this is a fairy tale.

Hans lives near two kingdoms. Both of these kingdoms are run by monarchs with no sense of direction, who each decide to go off on their own, and subsequently get lost in the forest. Hans helps both kings in turn, but asks that in return for his help they give him the first thing that they meet when they get home. This "thing" in both men's cases is their daughters. Talk about objectifying women! The question is, which king will deliver when Hans comes to collect? Yes, that does sound creepy. Because it is.

This is a (marginally) less messed up retelling of Hans My Hedgehog. It's still whack and rife with objectification and misogyny, but the original story is maximum cringe. Hans is more romanticised in this version. I'm not sure this is a good thing, but it makes for a nice story to read to your children, so that they can be traumatised by the original fairy tale later in life.

*Atheneum's parents are Simon & Schuster. They are very proud.