November 14, 2013


Warriors: The Ultimate Guide. By Erin Hunter. Harper. $19.99.

Cody Simpson: Welcome to Paradise—My Journey. Harper. $21.99.

The Wildwood Chronicles, Book II: Under Wildwood. By Colin Meloy. Illustrations by Carson Ellis. Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. $9.99.

Stick Dog Wants a Hot Dog. By Tom Watson. Harper. $12.99.

My Weird School Special: Deck the Halls, We’re Off the Walls! By Dan Gutman. Pictures by Jim Paillot. Harper. $4.99.

     As the holiday season rapidly approaches, families are certain to be on the lookout for gifts that are sure to please – which means that books directed at a specific fan base will be particularly welcome. If you are looking for a big, well-produced book that will be a significant present for someone who loves the Warriors series about cat clans, a cat civilization and cat-focused otherworldly mysteries, then Warriors: The Ultimate Guide will be a great choice. A handsome hardcover volume packed with attractive illustrations that really show the cats’ different personalities, the book includes full descriptions of many of the members of Thunderclan, Shadowclan, Windclan, Riverclan, Skyclan and the Tribe of Rushing Water, and also features sections called “The Early Settlers” and “Animals Outside the Clans.” Several short stories are included in addition to the descriptive material, and the whole book makes it clear just how well the team that writes as Erin Hunter (Kate Cary, Cherith Baldry, Gillian Philip, Inbali Iserles, Tui Sutherland and editor Victoria Holmes) works together to produce seamless narratives in a complex, multifaceted world where all the parts fit together very well indeed.

     Fans of Australian singer Cody Simpson will welcome the chance to revel in his supposedly autobiographical thoughts and his feelings about music and success in Cody Simpson: Welcome to Paradise—My Journey, one of those books that professes to show that a 16-year-old has in fact had a “journey” in life and, what’s more, is able to write about it himself (of course he is not the author, but the actual author remains uncredited). Here are comments that are entirely typical for books about and supposedly by pop stars, but with a slight Australian skew to reflect the fact that Simpson is from Queensland: “Honestly, if I have downtime, I’d rather be outside, surfing or skating or hanging with my mates.” There is nothing particularly revelatory here, nothing that would interfere with the carefully crafted and well-packaged Cody Simpson image: “It took a while for it all to sink in. I hadn’t really thought about what it would mean to be a professional musician. I was so focused on swimming, and I was only 13 years old. …Not surprisingly, my swimming suffered when I was traveling back and forth to the States.” For most fans, the big attraction will in any case not be the words but the pictures, of which there are plenty – again, carefully selected to reflect the packaged image that Simpson and his music are supposed to evoke. Non-fans will have not the slightest interest in this oversize hardcover book, but those who are devoted to Simpson will enjoy it from start to finish.

     Of course, there are plenty of gift books out there for fans of other sorts, and some of them can be particular bargains. The new, well-priced paperback edition of Under Wildwood, which appeared in hardcover last year, is an example. At nearly 600 pages, this second book of Colin Meloy’s trilogy, amply illustrated by Carson Ellis, contains plenty of adventure and intrigue for fans originally captivated by the first book, simply called Wildwood. The series focuses on the dense, tangled forest called the Impassable Wilderness, said to be on the edge of Portland (not coincidentally, Meloy, Ellis and their son live in Portland, Oregon). Prue McKeel and her friend, Curtis, discover many of the usual tropes of fantasy in the forest, from warring creatures to dark doings of all sorts; echoes of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia stories will be clear to those who know those tales. After the rescue mission of the first book, the second starts with Prue living a rather dull, mundane life until – no surprise – she is drawn back to Wildwood, which is being torn asunder by the usual evil doings as well as some unusual ones relating to titans of industry (who tend to be notably absent in other fantasy novels).  Prue and Curtis do indeed need to go under Wildwood, as the book’s title implies, to succeed in their second quest, and it is clear from the book’s poetic conclusion that there is more to come – which it does in the trilogy’s finale, Wildwood Imperium. Fans of the first book who have not yet read the whole series will have plenty to keep them enthralled in the second installment.

     And let us not forget smaller books that can serve, literally or metaphorically, as stocking stuffers. Stick Dog Wants a Hot Dog is for fans of the original Stick Dog book by Tom Watson, and they will certainly agree with the comment on the cover that this is “another really GOOD story with kind of BAD drawings.” That is the positioning of Watson’s books and part of their fun: Stick Dog is so simply drawn that just about anyone can re-create him, but his big eyes, thought balloons and endearing nature add up to gentle amusement. Watson’s writing style certainly helps, as when Karen the dachshund explains about telling time: “‘I know all the o’clocks. Two o’clock. Seven o’clock. Fifty-three o’clock. Tomato o’clock. All of them!’” Helicopters, raccoons, a large and bearded stomping man, a completely misunderstood human exercise session, and a rescue that involves Karen jumping from an upstairs window into a sheet all stand in the way of a journey to “Peter’s Frankfurters” – which, however, is successful at the end, leaving everyone and everything quite satisfied, especially Stick Dog’s stomach.

     And in more or  less the same vein, Dan Gutman’s Christmas-themed My Weird School foray will be great for fans of the various Gutman school-oriented series. Everything is here, from the funeral for Striker Smith’s head after the action figure is decapitated by a school bus, to a visit to a Santa with bad breath and maybe “a GPS and state-of-the-art surveillance technology.” An escaped petting-zoo reindeer, a rapper named Cray-Z, Officer Spence on a Segway, and other entirely typical elements of Gutman madness are complemented by weird Christmas facts – about the first song broadcast from space, the real meaning of “mistletoe,” a mall with an indoor ski slope, the Santa Claus Museum in Columbus, Texas, and more. There are also a few pages of games, puzzles and Weird-School-focused trivia questions, all adding up to a seasonal feast for the eyes and a temporarily engaging treat for the brain – at least the brains of Gutman devotees.

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