Reading with SJ: Kid Lit Edition

Published July 5, 2015 by admin

Sean Taylor’s roundtable discussion this week is about the books we loved to read as children. If you’re like me, you’ve never quite let them go and revisit them from time to time…and maybe pick up some new loves, too.

I mean sure, I’m a responsible, functioning adult, but I will admit that there is a certain nostalgia in flipping through one of the Babysitter Club, American Girl, or Reading Rainbow titles of my youth. I fully admit that I’ve burned through two collections of Beatrix Potter and one full set of Little House books because they’re a more relaxing way for me to turn my brain off at night than pharmaceuticals. Heidi will always be one of my favorite books, and I spent a summer a few years ago reading as many of the books that Disney cartoons were based on as I could find. Yeah, that was one interesting summer, let me just say that.

So craving something comfy cozy and reminiscent of li’l Selah, I went to the library and you get to benefit from it.

Basil and the Lost Colony and Basil in the Wild West by Eve Titus – I grabbed these because I recently re-watched The Great Mouse Detective, which is based on the first book in this series. Don’t judge me. I saw that movie in the theater as a kid and the bat was absolutely terrifying. There are a few titles the library didn’t have (that one included), but honestly, it wasn’t that much of a loss. I got halfway through Basil and the Lost Colony, and couldn’t be bothered to finish it or start the other book. The basic premise is Basil is the mouse version of Sherlock Holmes and he and his partner in crime, Dawson, live in the household of the great detective, fighting against mouse villain, Rattigan. The Lost Colony features the pair scaling the mouse version of the alps to find a secret, lost colony of mice that descended from a group around William Tell’s time, and features characters like the Adorable Snowmouse.

Usually I’d be all for this, but dude, the mouse puns. Every. Page. All. The. Time. There’s consistency and then there’s obnoxiousness. While it’s interesting that the mice have their own version of our world somehow set in our world, it’s a little incongruous at times and makes for a much better visual like in the cartoon than reading it in a book. Plus, honestly, Basil is annoying. Constantly prattling (Dawson is the narrator but his chatter moves the action along), misogynistic, and full of himself…it’s irksome and actually toned down for the movie. I can see where I would’ve enjoyed this as a little kid for like five minutes, and the concepts are really cool, so it’s disappointing that I didn’t enjoy this more. Plus, every chapter also ends on a forced cliffhanger, and there’s such a drive to wind tension and build anticipatioin that it just isn’t calming. At all. And part of the reason I read kid titles is to chill out in the evenings. It’s definitely one of those series where I get why it was popular. The concept is fantastic – the execution is just so, so annoying.

Also, Disney, holy cheese, why the ever loving mousedom have you not rebooted The Great Mouse Detective to modern day England and called it Basil?! You are missing an opportunity, Disney!

I can’t remember how I figured it out, but I realized a few weeks ago that a series I loved as a kid was only finished as of like 2006, when I was just a little bit older. Obviously I had to find out what happens, so that brought me to…

Return to Howliday Inn by James Howe – I love these books. In a bad way. James Howe is one of those middle school/ya writers that has become a little overlooked for rockstars like JK Rowling, but he is so, incredibly good. I will fully admit that the Bunnicula series (for me, at least), can be a little mixed – I like some titles better than others, but now I’m wondering if that was just where I was at as a kid. I vaguely recall reading this one before and being neutral about it, but I tore through it this time. Basically Harold is a dog who writes books about the Monroe family’s adventures. Chester is his friend the cat who is way involved in conspiracy theories. Howie is the other dog who came to them in Howliday Inn (second book in the series, after Bunnicula). Bunnicula is a vampire bunny that drains veggies. It’s adorable. It’s awesome. There’s never any actual paranormal activity, but Chester is always convinced there is, and it always gets them into trouble and runs them into kooky characters along the way. This time the crew is taken to Chateau Bow Wow again, where they spent Howliday Inn, though this time there’s a mostly new cast. Animals start disappearing, there’s a questionable weasel and some cat burglars, ventriloquism…it’s great. Chester and Harold’s banter is hysterical, and poor Howie is trying to figure out what’s going on. Love it.

Bunnicula Stikes Again – Bunnicula never stays at Chateau Bow Wow (Because of his special diet? I can’t remember),so this book sees him back in the cast, though ill. While the Monroe family struggles to save a local theatre (where the bunny was found during a screening of dracula), the animals try to figure out if Bunnicula once again has designs on mankind or if there’s something seriously wrong with him. There’s some really nice comparisons to Sherlock Holmes and while Chester has been a bit one note throughout the series, he suddenly evolves at the end of the book (for Chester). Besides being amused, I really found it very heartwarming, ever proving that I’m a sap or a lunatic.There’s also the first mention of MT Graves in this book, which admittedly made me choke, because it’s a not-so-subtle jab at the over-the-top titles of RL Stine. And it’s hilarious. Howie and the two human brothers can be a little grating, but they’re just being who they are, and part of the family, after all.

Bunnicula Meets Edgar Allan Crow – Pete, the older Monroe boy wins a contest to have author MT Graves visit his school, which leads to the author staying with the Monroes. A sullen, mysterious figure in a cape with a pet crow who doesn’t talk, he immediately makes Chester go on high alert. Convinced the author and his crow have designs on Bunnicula (because no pet is ever left unscathed in his books, and what’s with the giant murder of crows in the backyard?!), he leads the plot to figure out what malice the author is plotting and save the beloved bunny. Mr. Howe sneaks in some self-deprecating humor here and there and some sly references to the boy wizard, as well. There were some twists in this I didn’t completely see coming, and like its precursor, I found myself actually feeling stuff at the end. I should mention that each book features a note from Harold’s editor, so you also get an idea of what’s going on in the outside world, as well through little framing stories. By the end of this book, Harold is getting older and makes a decision about his career, the editor is making his own decisions, and the torch is passed to Howie (there’s apparently a spin off series, but I haven’t looked at it yet).

The whole ending was done really, really well. It felt complete. It felt full circle. It also made me surprisingly sad that it was over (and has been over for years, I just didn’t know it).

All in all, a cute series that mixes horror tropes with humor and some very gentle creepiness. I remember as a kid it took me a little bit to really get the tone of this series, but oh how I loved it once I did.

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