I don’t think I’ve ever consumed an entire series as quickly as I did this one: The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place. (The Chronicles of Narnia are a very close second, because I inhaled those as well, though in light of a recent rereading, I would have to put the Incorrigibles at the top.*) To be perfectly honest, I only learned of it and picked it up because they’re illustrated by none other than Jon Klassen, but I’m so glad I did!
The series is a delightfully written mystery that will keep you making connections between all the little details Wood drops left and right at every turn, whether it be the mysterious howling on Ashton grounds or the oddly coincidental wolf theme popping up at the bequest of a certain…. A.? Wood keeps you guessing with every book at how things are connected: was it really just a chance ad in the papers that got Penelope Lumley working for the Ashtons? Were the Incorrigibles actually raised by wolves? And what’s with Old Timothy? Just whence does Penelope Lumley’s seemingly infinite pluck come?
I won’t go too much into detail because I don’t want to spoil it for you, but Wood definitely keeps you on your toes and grabbing for the next installment. I personally quite enjoyed the asides, along with the fast pace and wit, but where I think Wood really excels is where this series has something to appeal to a variety of age groups. (The last book in the series, The Long-Lost Home, is set for release next June, and we’ve placed it on order, so beat the lines and put yourself on the waiting list now!)
When Bertolt popped up in my periphery, I knew I had to read it, especially in the wake of The Giving Tree. (In case you missed it, you can see my thoughts about Silverstein’s book here.) Like The Giving Tree, Bertolt also features a relationship between a (nameless) boy and the titular tree – I hesitate to say his tree, even though he has named it, because although I think he feels an affinity with it and identifies it as his own, it’s less a matter of belonging or ownership so much as the fact that it is with this particular tree and not another that he has a special connection – but veers into a completely different direction altogether, and it’s both heartwarming and sad because no sooner do we feel the complete love of this boy for the tree do we learn that the tree can no longer give him what his memories hold: Bertolt is dead.
In light of this, the boy meditates upon the death of his friend, Bertolt, the big oak tree, and is thrown into a sort of controlled turmoil: were Bertolt to have been struck by lightning or cut down, at the very least, the boy says, he would know for sure. His excitement during the winter served to sadden him even further once spring came around, and the fact that he never realized when exactly it was that Bertolt’s life quietly ended only compounds the realization that this year, this spring, will be different from all the springs past. The little boy thinks about what he can do to remember Bertolt and all the fun times they had together – getting to know the inhabitants of the big tree, climbing up to people-watch the inhabitants of the city – and comes up with a beautiful idea to give the tree its foliage once more.
Fairytales generally end the same way: happily ever after. But I’ve never been able to help but feel that it’s a bit of a stretch to ask me to actually believe that they do just sort of float through life happily ever after, so I love seeing follow-ups to, and riffs off of, some of the more popular traditional fairytales!
In Wooden Bones, Scott William Carter explores concerns I’d say were noticeably absent in the original Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi – why being a real boy is necessarily better than being a wooden puppet, for example*, or developing a concept of identity that is not dependent upon being a boy of flesh and bone – while still adhering more or less to the fairytale structure. Pino, the boy formerly known as Pinocchio (because Pinocchio is too long and cumbersome for everyday use, according to Gepetto), discovers that apart from just being a magical boy, in the sense that he became a real boy only with the aid of magic, he truly is a magical boy, in that unlike regular real boys, he has magical powers.
Of course, these magical powers only bring him trouble (as well as helping him get out of trouble by digging himself a bigger hole), but the trouble is what prompts him to come to the realization that it doesn’t matter whether he’s a real boy or a wooden puppet boy: he’s Pinocchio, and perhaps more importantly, Gepetto won’t love him any less for being one or the other. Continue reading