Sunday, November 26, 2006

Looking for holiday presents for boys and girls? Check out these two books!

For boys

MANGA CLAUS: Honor*Loyalty*Tinsel: The Blade of Kringle by Nathaniel Marunas, artwork by Erik Craddock.

That's right, folks, Santa has some seriously ripped abs under the suit. And with his training as a samurai more than a century and a half ago and the Miuaguchi Daisho, two swords given to him from a knowledgeable sensei, well, Santa's ready to respond when things go wrong.

In this episode, which I will assume will be the first in a series, Fritz, a disgruntled elf, decides to use some magic to turn a robot-like nutcracker into a ninja. His goal? To cause a bit of fuss that will allow him to showcase his mad magic skillz and save the day. Maybe his plan would've worked, too, if things hadn't gone horribly wrong. When nutcracker-robot-ninja falls into a furnace and coals spew into the nearby teddy bears . . . well, let's just say it's not pretty.

When Santa is first alerted that there's a problem, he decides to find out "what in the name of the Big Benevolent Buddha is going on around here." The comedy doesn't stop there, as Santa guesses that the ninja bears are on their way to the power plant, saying "that's where I'd go if I were a deranged ninja teddy bear." Will Fritz arrive in a bin full of elf knickers in time to deliver the samurai weapons to Santa? Will Santa be able to deliver the toys in time for Christmas, leaving from the Clement C. Moore Sleighport? I'll never tell. Er, unless you've already sorted it out.

The humor in this one is genius, from the map of the North Pole facilities inside the front cover to the black-and-white-and-red all over illustrations to the really funny text and asides, this is one bit of manga that you've gotta see. It's got a hard cover, and reads in the way of a usual book in English, making it an easy entrée into manga for the uninitiated.

I leave you with a shortened version of the copy from the back cover:

A disgruntled elf, dark magic, and a horde of possessed ninja teddy bears threaten to put an end to the holidays . . . To battle the evil teddies, Santa himself must break out his ancient samurai swords, imbued with the spirit of the season, and become MANGA CLAUS, guardian of giving and protector of presents! Santa's blades are swift and his bujitsu unmateched, but will they be enough to save Christmas?

And for girls?

While on vacation in D.C. with my hubby, I finished reading Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller. And now I am wishing more than ever that I could have fully realized my own plans to be a teenage sleuth/spy with amazing technology at my disposal, because it would have been so much fun. And apparently, it would have rewarded me with interesting confederates, pulse-pounding adventure, and riches. I knew it, and yet I did nothing. Le sigh.

The true MC of the book is not the fabulously glamorous title character, Kiki Strike, but rather the narrator, Ananka Fishbein. Her development throughout the course of the novel is the encouraging, empowering stuff that every young girl needs to read. Not just her flab-to-fab physical transformation in middle school, but also her mental accuity and her sense of self-confidence. Holler it with me, ladies (and men, too, but please use full voice and not falsetto here): GIRL POWER!!

Ananka first notices Kiki Strike at the private school that Ananka attends in New York city. Nobody else seems to notice Kiki at all, really, but Ananka tries to sort out who she is and, more importantly, figure out what she's up to. When the Princess (who is really a princess, we're told, and not just your everyday upperclass Ms. Snooty-pants) accuses Annanka of stealing a valuable ring, things really get interesting -- for the reader, as well as for Annanka, who now gets to know the elusive Ms. Strike a bit, as well as meeting a handful of other interesting young girls, each with their own particular sets of skills. One is already a master chemist; another is a master of disguise; yet another is the queen of forgery (particularly documents, but she's knowledgeable about quite a few art objects, etc., as well), and another girl who is an incredible engineer. Kiki turns out to be an excellent sleuth and a black-belt in karate, as well as having many, many secrets (none of which will you learn here).

Pick this book up for its rollicking good plot. But what will sell you on it isn't the fun plot and all the gadgets and cool clothes -- it's the narrator's voice and her journey that will sweep you up and carry you along. And you will be glad you went for the ride.

Coincidentally, BIG A little a posted a review of Kiki Strike over at her blog the other day. I agree with her age recommendation for the book, btw. It's marketed as YA, but because the book starts with Ananka being 12 and ends with her being 14, I really think this one is fine for girls age 9 and up who are independent readers. The girls who read The Lightning Thief and wish that Percy Jackson were a girl will adore Kiki Strike. And so will you.

P.S. - This one's on the CYBILS list for middle grade fiction, which is where I agree it belongs.

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