March 21, 2019
(+++) QUESTING ONWARD
Diary of an 8-Bit Warrior #6: Forging Destiny. By “Cube Kid” (Erik Gunnar Taylor). Illustrated by Saboten. Andrews McMeel. $9.99.
Curious George Seek-and-Find. By Julie Fenner. Illustrations by Rudy Obrero. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $9.99.
The continuing “unofficial Minecraft adventure” series, Diary of an 8-Bit Warrior, offers more of the same in its sixth book – that is, more of essentially what it offered in the first five volumes. These are the stories of an unassuming 12-year-old villager named Runt who is determined to become a warrior, and who goes through various training regimens and a variety of adventures as he grows into more and more of a hero. Neither Runt nor anyone else in these books is much of a personality – like characters in the actual Minecraft world, they are basically Lego-like characters defined entirely by what they do, with largely interchangeable personalities. But as in video games in general, personality is not the point: what matters are the quests, the unusual scenes, the traps to escape, the “bosses” to battle, and the successes to be had. “Cube Kid” obviously knows the Minecraft world well, and his books, unofficial though they may be, have a look and feel and writing style that fit Minecraft like a glove. That means not many words per page, constant changing of type style and size to keep the pages visually interesting, and comic-book-like exclamations (not always with exclamation points) on an ongoing basis. “The village was certainly beautiful, yes. Elegant, breathtaking, enchanting. But it was also empty. ABANDONED.” And so on. As for the dialogue, it is along these lines: “I do say, noble sir, ye have bested me in this duel. Thy abilities are most exquisite.” Neither the descriptive material nor the spoken elements will be a reason for most readers to pick up Forging Destiny. The book is positioned simply as a continuation of Runt’s ongoing successes at various difficult tasks and assignments, the idea being that if you are a Minecraft lover who has followed Diary of an 8-Bit Warrior from the start, then videogame enthusiast “Cube Kid” will share your interest and expand your view of the Minecraft world a bit. Not too much, of course, because the book series has to stay planted firmly within Minecraft territory to have any reason for being at all. But the enchantments in the book are new, the costumes of the characters are new, and the specific adventures are new. They do not, though, really work as well in print as in videogameland. For example, an entire 29-page chapter called “Tuesday” is a page-by-page illustrated battle “written by Emerald” with the title “Let ’Em Know: Ballad of Villagetown.” This contains lines such as, “Don’t let them win, don’t bend the knee,/ Be the heroes straight out of prophecy.” Page after page shows battle scenes, complete with video-game-style damage; musical notes to indicate, well, music; and fighting of all sorts: “It’s time for us to test our skills/ And reach the record for most kills.” It all fits the Minecraft concept but loses a little – actually a lot – in translation to the printed page. In the long run, nothing much happens in Forging Destiny except that Runt and his companions do various good things and beat back various baddies, thereby advancing further into hero-ness. Minecraft fans will enjoy this as long as they don’t expect the book to have all the visual punch of Minecraft itself. Diary of an 8-Bit Warrior is nothing if not predictable – but for that very reason will be enjoyable for readers who will know exactly what to expect, and will get it.
The questing is far milder and not at all violent, and is intended for very young readers indeed, in Curious George Seek-and-Find, one of the many books in the ever-expanding universe of Curious Georgedom. None of these books has anything much to do with the original series by H.A. Rey and Margret Rey, except for the inclusion of Curious George himself (frequently drawn with only a passing resemblance to the original character) and the occasional appearance of The Man with the Yellow Hat. This seek-and-find book fits the “expansionist George” mode well, and will be fun for young readers and pre-readers. Each two-page illustration shows one of eight scenes in which kids are supposed to find specific objects or shapes – the usual approach for books like this. But because this is for the youngest age group, there is no attempt to conceal the things-to-be-found – as there usually is in books of this sort, such as the long-running series Where’s Waldo? Instead, the shapes are shown here in the lower-left corner of each two-page layout exactly as they appear in the larger illustration, where they are gently mingled with other shapes that do not hide the ones to be found at all. Thus, a scene with balloons shows George in a balloon basket with a dachshund, while The Man with the Yellow Hat waves from below – and the shapes to be found include a strawberry-shaped balloon, a banana-shaped one, and so on. A kitchen scene featuring “Chef Pisghetti” has George learning to make pizza as The Man in the Yellow Hat (here without his hat, a no-no in the original books) watches approvingly. Kids are supposed to find ingredients that George needs and that are hidden in plain sight: a bowl of olives, another of tomatoes, and so forth. It is hard to imagine most children going through Curious George Seek-and-Find more than once, although the search-for-it theme does get slightly expanded at the back of the book, with suggestions to find specific characters on every page and then to find “one or more star shapes” per scene. The fun here is mild and transient, but will be fine for the target audience of the youngest fans of the various new incarnations of Curious George.