Books, Bells, and Whistles

h1 December 22nd, 2007 by jules

It’s really time I took a blog break for the holidays, but here’s a post which I’m slidin’ in right before all the gift-giving begins. These are the types of books I don’t normally review here at 7-Imp: They’re all what are labelled “novelty,” I suppose, in one way or another. But I thought I’d go ahead and cover them here for anyone who might be looking for last-minute gift ideas. These are Books Plus Some, the “plus” being pop-up features, fold-out pages, 3-D surprises, parts to assemble, some dragons, some ocean liners, even a tutu. Without further ado . . .

Dragonology: A Field Guide to Dragons
by Dr. Ernest Drake
Edited by Dugald A. Steer
Candlewick
October 2007

This would simply be a stinkin’ cool gift for someone. How’s that for professional-sounding? This is Dr. Ernest Drake’s (bah-dum-ching) purported scientific study of/field guide to dragons, including an introduction to dragon-spotting, the migration and habitats of the creatures, equipment and fieldwork notes, notes on dragon evolution and extinct dragons, and then sixteen pages of classified dragon species — from the European Dragon (Draco occidentalist magnus) to the Tasmanian Dragon (Draco semifascia). Lastly, there are four pages of an admittedly non-exhaustive list of Pseudo-Dragons (“{t}he keen field dragonologist may, if he or she is lucky and observant, come across various creatures that appear to be related to dragons but that are, in point of fact, not dragons”). The book itself includes pages designed to look fading, antiquated, yellowing — with details such as water drops and cup stains on the pages. The pages in the classification section also include little fold-up flaps on the bottom of each page, providing information about the egg of each species. And, best of all, there are the pieces to twelve dragon models included in little pockets all inside the book. And they’re not difficult to assemble. Recommended for your budding fantasy-lover who especially loves to construct models. More information can be found here at the Ology World site, complete with the nameless British librarian.

How Many?: Spectacular Paper Sculptures
Design and paper engineering by Ron Van der Meer and Graham Brown
Robin Corey Books
September 2007

First, I want to send you to Anne Boles Levy’s review of this at Book Buds. Scoot. Go read. Then come back. I love how she opens the review: “If you could cross geometry-crazed Joost Elffers with 3-D illustrator Robert Sabuda, this is what you’d get: slender tendrils of paper that spiral almost to infinity in a book that’s endlessly fun and mind-boggling. Plus, kids will be too busy to realize it’s good for them.” Yes, slender tendrils they are, making this a book to keep far, far away from young children, or you will lose your mind. Actually, Van der Meer’s goal is for you to go insane: At a “special note” from him at the book’s home at Amazon, he writes about working on a complicated math project for years, only to return to the world of pop-ups with this creation, adding “{a}t long last I could let my hair down with How Many and create something that was not only beautiful to look at but also fiendishly difficult to work out.” Note the word fiendishly. Word. No, really, it’s fiendish and fun to work out all the many questions posed to the reader in this pop-up that Newsweek called “artsy, modern” (I love that very vague “artsy” — just what exactly do they mean? But I digress). Each spread features a different shape. Take the triangle, for instance: A whole slew of them are paper-engineered together on the triangle spread in very delicate, intricate sculptures, and you are asked questions involving much counting about these sculptures, including questions about how many shapes you can find within shapes. See? Fiendish. Just don’t expect to experience this one quickly. Later, in that special author’s note, Van der Meer adds, “{f}unny enough I always fancied creating paper sculptures in white and primary colours, but with my Dutch Calvinistic upbringing I still felt the urge that enjoyment comes with a price, hence the questions that I reckon will drive people insane, or at least start a massive debate in the family.” See? He’s still on about that — making us insane, that is. But it’s worth the strait jacket. It really is enjoyable. Just don’t rush it.

Titanic
by Martin Jenkins
Paper engineering by David Hawcock
Illustrated by Brian Sanders
Candlewick
September 2007

This is a treat for your Titanic junkie, no matter what age — or at least readers like me who don’t claim to know a whole lot about that fatal night on April 14 (that’s “Ruination Day” for you fellow Gillian Welch fans) but who easily get wrapped up in reading about the maritime tragedy. First, at the heart of this creation is a 32-page book that explains the history of the ocean liner from her inception to her maiden voyage to her tragic end. This book is tucked inside the package, and you won’t see it for a bit, ’cause first you will ooh and aah over the 3-D model of the liner, which is nearly two-and-a-half feet long. And then there are treats, such as:

  • A replica of the only known surviving first-class ticket;
  • A detailed deck plan of the ship;
  • A fold-out page of personal histories, those who survived the tragedy and those who didn’t;
  • A fold-out of headlines about the tragedy from The New York Times and The Daily Mirror;
  • A menu card, all the dishes served by the first-and third-class galleys.
  • Very small pop-up scenes that feature the wheelhouse, gymnasium, first-class stateroom, palm court, grand staircase, and the A La Carte Restaurant.

The 32-page book is detailed and written with clarity and a satisfying depth of coverage for younger readers, budding maritime junkies. Content, then, is covered and covered well . . . and the presentation? Did I mention the nearly-two-and-a-half foot long 3-D model for pop-up enthusiasts? A satisfyingly-designed overall package that delivers in terms of both form and function.

The Enchanted Dolls’ House Wedding
by Robyn Johnson
Handprint Books
September 2007

So, there’s this book I’ve never seen (from last year, I believe) called The Enchanted Dolls’ House from Handprint Books (“Meet Albert and Lucinda, Kristen, Oscar, Hattie and more, enchanted dolls who inhabit a magical series of homes, from a Tudor mansion to a twentieth century villa, finding adventure and secrets to discover, dances to attend, and parties to give in each era,” the publisher tells you). This is, apparently, a book for doll-lovers everywhere, especially considering it contains three-dimensional dollhouses that you can actually lift away to peek inside. And there are what the publisher calls “tactile treats” everywhere: journals you can open, letters to pull out and read, jewelry boxes to explore, fabric to touch, etc. Evidently, a romance developed between the dolls Albert and Lucinda (ooh la la), because in this new ’07 title, The Enchanted Dolls’ House Wedding — you guessed it — Albert and Lucinda get hitched. Or they have pled their troth (which is Victorian-speak for “have gotten engaged”). Everyone is in on the celebration, this book opening with their invitation, which you can pull out from the envelope yourself and read, and ending with their honeymoon. There are all kinds of delights within these pages for doll and pop-up (and so-called novelty book) fans: four pop-up buildings (a Victorian Manor Dolls’ House and a Victorian chapel, to name a couple); all kinds of fold-up flaps all throughout the book; envelopes to open; secret notes; and random surprises (a “Create an Edwardian Hairstyle” fold-out instructional piece). But here’s the book’s real charm: You will learn a whole flippin’ lot about the Edwardian, Regency, and Victorian eras. I’d recommend this to teachers covering these time periods if I didn’t think the book would get ripped and abused in classrooms. ‘Cause I’m here to tell you that Robyn Johnson packs as much historical information about these time periods as she can into this book — well, okay, it’s mostly about the fashionable accessories of the time period (this would be a good recommendation for budding theatrical costume designer or props-masters wannabes), but you learn a lot about other traditions as well. A surprisingly enjoyable read.

The Sleeping Beauty Ballet Theatre
by Jean Mahoney
Illustrated by Viola Ann Seddon
Candlewick
September 2007

If you have ballet fans in your home, this book/theatre/CD package (from the same women who brought us The Nutcracker Ballet Theatre in 2004) might just make them explode. It’s really more of a toy — again, the kind of thing I don’t typically cover here at 7-Imp — but it’s truly a delight for ballet and even fairy tales fans (and, again, your
budding theatre lovers). At the heart of this one is a booklet that tells the story of Sleeping Beauty (with random questions thrown in for the youngest of readers, such as “what is your special gift or talent?” on the spread about Aurora’s christening). The booklet contains stage directions for the fold-out theater that the entire package opens up to become; backdrops and scenery you can change all throughout the production you mount; and nine twirly figures whom you can place in the stage (as well as a supporting cast of flatter, non-twirly folks — but, hey, there are no small parts. Only small actors) — and all of these things are packed inside a lil’ drawer inside this package. Fans of All Things Diminutive just might pass out. There is even an audio CD with selections from Tchaikovsky’s 1889 score provided (though, disturbingly, I cannot easily find who performed the music. I’m sure it’s somewhere, and I just need to look harder). It sounds very seductive, no? All these parts and instructions and twirly figures. I haven’t kid-tested it, and I’d be interested in hearing from someone who has, but the booklet is well-written (again, geared at young readers with those random question breaks). It’s beautifully-designed and would make a good gift for the ballet-crazed children you know — but please also note Kelly Fineman’s review, in which she points out that all ages might squeal over this: “The reading level on the box says ages 4-8, but I’d imagine dancers as old as 12 would like this one (and perhaps even teens and adults, particularly those that are into classical ballet and/or paper dolls – I have a 43-year old friend who would literally flip for this.)”

Little Ballerina: My First Ballet Book
by Marianne Loibl
Illustrated by Clara Suetens
North-South
October 2007

And, finally, while we’re talking ballet, North-South Books has this first ballet book, complete with a tutu if you’re looking for this kind of thing as a gift for a young ballet-crazed girl in your life (sorry, boys, only a tutu is provided). You can find books like this every-dang-where, but I must say, this tutu is bigger than what you normally see and has red ribbon rosebuds on it. Come on now, everyone: Give me an awwwwwww! . . . And German author Loibl and Suetens (from Belgium) include in this fictional tale lots of introductory facts about ballet, including descriptions of the first five positions; what the gestures and mimicry of ballet mean; synopses of favorite ballets, such as The Nutcracker and Swan Lake; an explanation as to when you can dance in those coveted toe shoes and when you can wear a tutu; and more. A ballet glossary is included. The fictional narrative falls a little flat, but the fun facts thrown into the story make it a satisfying introduction for beginning ballet students or ballet dancer wannabes.

That’s it for now. I believe my holiday blog break is officially beginning. Happy holidays to all!

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Note: All copies are review copies.

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4 comments to “Books, Bells, and Whistles”

  1. I’ve just discovered your blog as of a few weeks ago and it’s become a favorite. I enjoyed this post since it’s true you don’t often get solid reviews for the gifty-type books. But I was especially pleased to find that my new fave bloggers are Gillian Welch fans! She’s awesome. I play den mother to Old Crow Medicine Show when they pass through San Francisco and since they’ve toured with Gil I’ve been lucky enough to meet her a few times. Yay for good books and good music!


  2. My book list is jam-packed from the December Carnival (Christmas cash and bookstore gift cards much appreciated!), but now my born-again-Edwardian self must have the Titanic and doll’s house pop-ups. Thanks for pointing them out! Have a merry one, Seven Imp!


  3. Hi, Kathy. Nice to meet you and always great to meet fellow Gillian fans. She’s one of my top-five favorites. Thanks for the blog compliments!

    Candice, right back atcha. Merry merry holidays!


  4. Great reviews, Jules. And now I’m wishing I’d opted in for that Dragon book when they offered. It looks smashing!


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