I think I’ve had a copy of Stephanie Brockway’s and Ralph Masiello’s The Mystic Phyles: Beasts (Charlesbridge, July 2011) for nearly four months now, but sometimes I’m just slow here at 7-Imp. Better late than never, right?
Also, better to post this around Halloween anyway. Mystical beasts. Mystery letters. Goblin spiders. Black cats of doom. Really evil bunyips. Strange fires in a creepy house. Cryptic necklaces that strengthen one against attacks. Weird things all-around. Yep, it’s fitting.
This is the story of Abigail Thaddeus, who lives with her eccentric grandmother and very controlling grandfather. Abigail can count her friends on one hand—okay, one finger—and her social life at her junior high school is really difficult, to say the least. But, after a black cat delivers her a note and a key, her life changes forever, launching her on a quest for … well, research. “What I’d like you to do is research,” an anonymous letter (“Your Devoted Friend,” it is signed) says. “You will start with mythical beasts….Find as much information as you can. Educate yourself. Investigate the mysteries, then discern for yourself the fact and fiction.”
The book is designed to look like a sort of scrapbook or journal of Abigail’s: Filled with drawings, journal entries, notes, confessions, details of her days at school and home, and her research, it is composed of original illustrations from Stephanie and Ralph, as well as re-printed photographs and illustrations (i.e., the 1936 photo in Popular Science of the bull made to look like a unicorn by Dr. W. F. Dove at the University of Maine). Young Abigail notes her research findings (pictured above is part of her research on Sea Monsters, including what you don’t see in that spread, “Species of Sea Monsters”), most followed by “My Incredibly Brilliant (But Not Very Scientific) Ideas” about what each creature could actually be: Sea Monsters, as reported by sailors over the years, could in fact have been giant squids, finally discovered in the mid-1850s. Or, my favorite, Bigfoot could in fact be a “worldwide hallucination…One person sees what they think is Bigfoot and runs home to the tell the story. The story spreads. Then other people claim to see it, either because they’re dying to see it, too, or they’re afraid of it, or it’s the first thing that pops into their heads when they spy something strange. Could this really happen on a worldwide scale?”
Dragons, the phoenix, unicorns, centaurs, mermaids, and more: Abigail researches them and reports what she’s learned (cryptozoology, anyone?), and all the while we’re privy to what is happening in her family and at school, as the mystery of why she’s been asked to do this and who her family really might be is revealed. At school, she’s dealing with bullies, mean girls (“the Britneys”), and a crush on Deke, the most artistic boy in school. The tide turns toward the book’s close, things leaning toward wrapping up tidily for Abigail (at least socially), but there is also room for a second title, not to mention many mysteries unsolved. The second title is supposed to be about fairies, a book I hope sees publication. “Is there more to the faerie realm than stereotypical little creatures with wings?” Abigail wants to find out.
Booklist has called this one “lighthearted and suspenseful.” True. It’s also straight-up fun for your older elementary or middle-grade students who enjoy research, particularly those with inquisitive minds and those who enjoy journaling. The illustrations from Bestiary Masielus, which Abigail finds in her library (the purpose of the key from that black cat, we come to find out), were rendered by Masiello in oils, and Brockway handled all the other illustrations in mixed media. These are very busy (every inch gets covered) and engaging spreads, made—as I said—to look like the journal of a young girl with a bright mind.
Here’s to book two, all about the faerie creatures of the world, both good and bad. (Cue music of doom here, as Brockway writes at the very close.) And here are some more spreads from it. You may click each to enlarge. Enjoy.
THE MYSTIC PHYLES: BEASTS. Copyright © 2011 by Stephanie Brockway. Illustration © 2011 by Ralph Masiello and Stephanie Brockway. Published by Charlesbridge, Watertown, MA. Images reproduced with permission of the author.
Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you.
1) Move over, Lilly. My seven-year-old has some pretty savage new boots, thanks to her grandfather, cowboy at heart.
2) Just in time for Halloween, check out this creepy goodness from Barnes & Noble and The New York Review Children’s Collection: It’s Neil Gaiman narrating The 13 Clocks by James Thurber (well, it’s just an excerpt) — animated by Nola Pictures. Not for the easily-spooked. It’s here.
3) Autumn: Pumpkin farms. Tire swings. Hay rides. Hot chocolate. Corn mazes. Light jackets. Red leaves.
There. That was seven kicks embedded into one. Sub-kicks.
4) I got to see my aunt and uncle from Maine this week, and I lurv them. And my aunt gave me a piece of art she created that is so entirely lovely.
6) Oh, and The Black Keys’ new song, “Lonely Boy.” I have a dance crush on this guy, whose moves are oddly compelling:
7) I finally watched Trainspotting. Only years 15 years after it first came out. Also, like dude up there dancing, oddly compelling.
What are YOUR kicks this week? And what are you gonna be for Halloween? Would you like to see my seven-year-old’s costume? Meet Violet Baudelaire. Here she is telling us that, since her brain is so often filled with images of pulleys, levers, and gears, she never wants to be distracted by something as trivial as her hair: