Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

To Neverland

You would have thought the neighborhood street in our small town had become a barnyard so many rooster crows could be heard.  Most of us having seen the recent musical Peter Pan on television were pretending to have our own romps in Neverland.  Who wouldn't want to be able to fly and vanquish the dreaded Captain Hook?

Little did we know, there is actually a girl, now thirteen-years-old, who might find flying handy in battle but would never want to best the most feared pirate in the seven seas.  Although she would be loath to admit it, she would much rather give him a hug.  Hook's Revenge (DisneyHyperion, September 16, 2014) written by Heidi Schulz with cover and interior illustrations by John Hendrix is about the only child of Captain James Hook, his daughter.  I'll bet that caught you by surprise, it did me.  So host your sails, batten down the hatches and get ready to sail into the storm known as life in the Neverland.

Children Have Sticky Fingers and Ask Impertinent Questions
There have always been pirates.  Why, even as far back as Eve, on the day she was considering whether or not to eat that apple, a pirate was most certainly planning to sail in and take if from her. 

So begins the narrative, snarky, sly and replete with humor, by an as yet-unnamed close acquaintance of Captain James Hook.  Undeterred by Sir Charles's, her maternal grandfather's, best efforts to make her a lady suitable for a proper marriage match, Jocelyn Hook is being sent to

Miss Eliza Crumb-Biddlecomb's Finishing School For Young Ladies 

to be instructed in the fine art of social graces befitting her status.  Everything about the school, especially her two roommates, Miss Priscilla Katherine-Anne Edgeworth and Miss Nanette Arbuckle, is repulsive to Jocelyn.  She bemoans the state of her motherless life and the fact her father has never once tried to contact her.

After a particularly horrid scene in the dining hall thanks to Miss Eliza, Jocelyn runs away in the rain discovering an abandoned carriage house. Here she locates a locket given to her father by her mother on their marriage day. (Don't you love this kind of miracles in books?) She also meets Roger, cook's helper and undergardener at the school.  The two become fast friends planning grand adventures.

After nearly one year at the school, the tables are turned on the day of Jocelyn's thirteenth birthday.  It seems Jocelyn's nemesis witnesses her entirely friendly meeting with Roger in the garden the previous night.  Roger vanishes but so does Jocelyn.  A final visit to the carriage house, a letter from her father and an encounter with a talking giant bird,

Edgar Allan of Edgar Allan's Mainland Courier Service

are Jocelyn's ticket to Neverland and extraordinary escapades.

Several confrontations with the tick-tock bloodthirsty crocodile, the annoying Peter Pan, the Lost Boys who seem to have lost their wits too, a tribe of cannibals with a craving for the flesh of English persons, Captain Krueger's band of scallywag pirates, cold-hearted mermaids, a particular prince from the realm of fairy, and specters from the past and present, will have you turning pages as fast as a stiff breeze blowing on the waves of open water.  Characters, familiar and new, begin to spill forth from the pages as fast and furious as the action in which they are involved.  Mr. Smee, One-Armed Jack (with two good arms), Jim McCraig with a Wooden Leg (or a sliver in his toe), Nubbins the cook, Blind Bart the ship's lookout (wearing two eye-patches) and later Dirty Bob crew Jocelyn's ship, Hook's Revenge, on all their less than typical journeys around and about the ever-changing landscape of Neverland.  Each character changes and grows, especially Jocelyn, and so do we as readers.  This is only the beginning.

Words brimming with descriptive wit will have you embroiled in the plot before you can even think Jolly Roger.  The narrator, whose identity is never revealed, is definitely someone you want to meet at one moment, if only to thank him for his insightful discourse, and desire to avoid at all costs the next minute.  Jocelyn, whose life is certainly not typical for a thirteen-year-old girl (thank goodness), is the perfect example of using the skills you have to not only survive but better your life and those around you.  As best friends go, Roger is someone you want next to you, even if he's not sure who you are.  Mr. Smee and company, although weird, are strangely wonderful.  In this story Peter Pan and Tinkerbell are more pests than hero and heroine but this is wildly successful.

A vivid narrative, swash-buckling dialogue, and single startling sentences will have readers shaking their heads in wonder.  Chapters are tied together with skill revealing truths about Neverland leaving you stunned.  This may be Heidi Schulz's debut middle grade book but it's a tale you won't want to miss.  Here are a few of the sample passages I have marked.

"You know," she said in a loud voice, "I think my father would like to meet you.  He's been away, but I expect he'll come for me anytime now.  Perhaps you have heard of him?  Captain James Hook?"
Lady Trottington fainted dead away into her plate of jellied eels.  Lord Trottington let out a terrified scream.  (Who would have guessed him to be a soprano?) As for Ambrose, the thorough scrubbing a housemaid gave his chair later that evening stood as testament to his reaction to Jocelyn's pronouncement.

It was not the cherry tree framing the window in a cascade of blossoms (also pink), nor was it her view of the now nearly empty gardens and walks.  No, what lifted Jocelyn's spirits was this; if she looked toward the horizon, turned her head like so and squinted her eyes like this, far in the distance she could make out a tiny patch of shoreline bordered by a bit of deep blue sea.
For the sake of that spot of blue, Jocelyn resolved that she would not set fire to her room.
At least not on her first night.

On the south side of the island that day (I say that day, for the Neverland changes itself around as often as a vain woman changes her apparel) there resided a ruined ivory castle, nearly grown over with nettles, next to a great rushing river that appeared to flow backward---going up waterfalls instead of down.  Sprawled beside the island's main harbor was a ramshackle pirate village, easily identified, even from Jocelyn's lofty height, by the smell of blood and rum. ...
...Even so, the girl knew somewhere down there, amidst all the wonder, a terrible beast was waiting.
Reminds me a bit of my first wedding day.

In addition to the full color dust jacket artwork John Hendrix enhances the story with five full-page black and white illustrations.  Each image masterfully captures the emotions of the characters during a specific scene.  One in particular will have you gasping for air.

Before you let the sun set on another day, make sure to acquire a copy of Hook's Revenge written by Heidi Schulz with illustrations by John Hendrix.  It's a visit to Neverland like none other; you won't want to leave.  Read this yourself or share it with others as a read aloud but make sure you do before the sequel arrives.  It promises even greater excitement.

To learn more about the collaborative team of Heidi Schulz and John Hendrix please visit their websites by following the links embedded in their names.  Julie Danielson, author and blogger at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast interviewed Heidi Schulz at Kirkus.  The following week the art of John Hendrix was featured on her blog.

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