Continuing on with important topics, Rosemary at Mom Read it put together a great list of anti-racism resources from multiple places, while author Shanna Miles put together list of Black Kids Living books, saying on Twitter “Buy a book about racism, but also buy books about black kids falling in love, vanquishing evil, worrying about college, & making mistakes.” I think that Twins by Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright is the book on this list most likely to appeal to my daughter, who can’t get enough graphic novels, especially about girls – I got all hopeful when I saw it on this list, but it’s not out until October.
And now to try to write the next review on my list while said daughter is having her trumpet lesson over Zoom… this is one book from my #CybilsReadDown pile, which is the sequel to a book I had previously read and not reviewed.
Malamander by Thomas Taylor. Illustrated by Tom Booth. Walker Books, 2019. 9781536207224
Our twelve-year-old hero, Herbert Lemon, or Herbie for short, is the Lost-and-Founder at the Grand Nautilus Hotel at Eerie-on-the-Sea – a cheery tourist town in the summer that turns eerie in the winter. He is shown as pale skinned and haired in the illustrations, and is of a timid nature. He’s very surprised when a girl his own age, Violet Parma, arrives, looking for her parents, who were last seen at the hotel 12 years ago. Surely Herbie, as the Lost and Founder, can help her find them? Violet is shown as mixed race; interviewing various colorful town characters reveal that her author father and scientist mother were researching mythical (or perhaps not-so-mythical) monsters of Eerie, such as the Malamander and its supposedly wish-granting egg. A bookstore called the Book Dispensary, where a mermonkey automaton makes book recommendations. Violet, full of courage and curiosity, is often found pushing Herbie into situations he would rather avoid. There is also a large and fluffy white cat, who talks on the rare occasions that call for it.
Gargantis by Thomas Taylor. Illustrated by Tom Booth. Walker Books US, 2020. ISBN 978-1536208597. Read from ARC (thanks, Charlotte!) Ebook on Libby.
In this second book, Violet is still in her new home at Eerie-on-the-Sea and still friends with Herbie and Erwin the cat. Herbie’s evening sheltering from a bad storm is interrupted when a person wearing a hood covering their features delivers a mysterious wind-up shell to the Lost and Found. Shortly after that, a large green glass bottle with a light inside and mysterious writing on the side turns up at the hotel. Everyone from the finder to the museum owner and all the fisherman in town claim that the bottle is rightfully theirs, minus one teenage fisherman who claims it as his uncle’s, so naturally, the elderly and autocratic owner of the Grand Nautilus Hotel puts Herbie in charge of determining who the rightful owner is.
In addition to this mystery, we are still curious about what happened to both Herbie and Violet’s parents. Though most people go to the Book Dispensary to have the mermonkey pick books for them on a regular basis, Herbie has been too frightened to open the one book the mermonkey gave him – as a baby – and certainly doesn’t want another one. Will Violet ever be able to persuade him to change his mind? And meanwhile, the storms are getting worse…
We definitely have to hope for more books in this series, because while there are new mysterious monsters in each book, we get information about Herbie and Violet’s parents in tiny amounts, mysteries that feel a long way from being solved. They have a nice blend of danger and the eeriness you’d expect of a story set in Eerie-by-the-Sea, and it feels set in the modern era in a backwater town, rather than a distant past that some kids might struggle to relate to. While there are dastardly villains and Herbie’s direct boss is less than caring, there are adults (moderate on diversity, high on quirkiness) who care and try to help, even if they are usually a step or several behind the kids in solving the mystery. This keeps it from having the utterly hopeless kids-against-the-world feel of the Series of Unfortunate Events, a good thing in my book. Violet herself is insistent that she is no sidekick, which I appreciated – and she does direct the action a lot. There are plenty of puns, and of course, giant monsters. Just the thing for the budding goth in your life.
ASOUE immediately came to mind while I was reading Malamander – but I agree with your comment about Malamander being less hopeless. One of my initial thoughts about Herbie was that he reads more like a side character than protagonist (not a bad thing), so I appreciate your point about Violent in Gargantis. Which I haven’t read yet but definitely will at some point!
He’s still the one getting the official assignments from the hotel, not Violet, so it’s not as great as it could be. But she is definitely there for her own reasons, and helping him out of curiosity more than because he’s the hero, so I appreciate that. I’d love to hear your opinion when you read it!