in the tradition of A.A. Milne

by David Benedictus

Illustrations by Mark Burgess. With the approval and support of the Trustees of the Pooh Properties Trust and in which Winne-the-Pooh enjoys further adventures with Christopher Robin and his friends. I opened this one with some trepidation. It’s very hard to read a book which attempts to pick up and carry on another’s legacy, especially one so beloved by so many readers since their childhood- like mine. I was pleasantly surprised. The writing style and character of the stories felt very close to the original, same with the illustrations. Christopher Robin did look a bit different- but then he’s supposed to be older now- and I often felt that Pooh’s legs were a bit too scrawny, and that Roo looked rather like a stretched-out flying squirrel, but other than that it all charmed me. I just enjoyed it and forgot to be too critical. I didn’t even mind that it introduced a new character (a female otter named Lottie, just as full of herself as Owl and Rabbit, but in a different way). It’s been many years since I’ve read the originals, or I’d probably hold this to a stricter standard. (Having read some other reader’s reviews since I wrote this, I cringe a bit now. Lots of people pointed out many nuances that weren’t at all like the original characters, and I can’t believe I didn’t notice those flaws. Yikes. Now I wonder if I’ll enjoy this if I do read it a second time round, having had those things brought to my attention).

The stories are thus- a rumor goes about that Christopher Robin is back (visiting, home from boarding school) and they all throw him a welcome party. Owl struggles over a crossword puzzle but is too proud to ask for help. Robin suggests they hold a spelling bee and Owl is the quizmaster- they start off with quite difficult words, start to get muddled, and then stop because it rains. Rabbit decides to organize a census but almost nobody cooperates because they haven’t any idea what he’s doing or why. He wants to count all his relatives so invites them with offerings of refreshments, but there’s too many rabbits, nobody wants the carrots (they all prefer shortbread) and they cause havoc in his house. There is a drought. The otter appears and is anxious to help them find water- a well is located and when the bucket doesn’t function properly, little Piglet is the brave one sent down to investigate. Afterwards he’s disappointed not to be more prominently featured in Pooh’s rhyme about the whole affair. Then the bee tree is found to be empty- which Pooh discovers when he nearly runs out of honey. Alarmed, they go looking for the bees- Eeyore suggests they may have swarmed, Lottie recommends they coax the bees back with flowers, but it’s Pooh who finally succeeds in leading the bees back home. Owl decides to write a book about his uncle, and doesn’t come out of his house for days. Friends knocking at the doors and windows are rebuffed and ignored. So the animals get up to some strange shenanigans to make owl give up writing (my least favorite of the stories). Lottie declares that many of the forest animals are “uncouth” and need educating. They set up a school with herself, Owl, Rabbit and Kanga teaching the others. It was a nice effort, but . . . fell flat. Same with the next chapter, all about a game of cricket (I don’t know the sport but it seems similar to baseball – a precursor?) Tigger eats too many blackberries, gets slightly ill and imagines that he misses his homeland of Africa. His friends try to recreate what they think an African jungle looks like for him, only to realize later that tigers aren’t from that part of the world at all. The animals have a harvest festival, and they sadly learn that Christopher Robin is leaving again- but he will always be their friend.

Rating: 3/5
216 pages, 2009

by Christian McKay Heidicker

Oh how I liked this book! I thought from the flyleaf description and a few other reviews that led me to this, that it would be rather silly. Not at all. It has some very dark themes and unsettling depictions of the real kinds of horror animals face in the wild, or anyone in a family that isn’t nurturing, no matter what species. While presented as juvenile fiction, it was very engaging for me as an adult reader, and I’d caution to read this to younger kids or those who are sensitive. SPOILER ALERT: some foxes die. Some are abandoned. Some are hurt by their own families. But there is courage and friendship and hope in the end.

The premise is that seven little foxes are out after dark listening to a storyteller. The stories frighten the fox kits, so that one by one they flee for home- will any last to hear all the tales? Because if they can brave the telling, each one teaches them something crucial- even if you have to read a bit between the lines for it. The horror of rabies. Of older male foxes that kill young rivals. Of young ones with weakness or disabilities being left to starve. Of facing snakes and brutal natural elements and unseen predators. Of the misery and cruelty that humans can inflict. I have to say, I was a bit put off that a beloved children’s book author was portrayed as evil in this story- from the foxes’ viewpoint- though I wouldn’t be surprised if she had stuffed her own specimens exactly as is described. It was also weird that a sudden magic element was introduced that made the foxes able to understand human speech- before that point in the story, I was rather enjoying the challenge of trying to puzzle out the garbled depiction of how the foxes heard English. And as up until now the story seemed completely realistic (other than the foxes talking to each other) it also felt a bit jarring. There was another detail that kind of threw me out of the story: a king snake threatening the young foxes with venemous bite. Um, king snakes aren’t poisonous. Other parts of the story mixed fauna that made you confused where exactly these foxes were growing up. It didn’t bother me too much, but some other readers mention that.

I really liked how the stories told to the kits eventually wove together, and connected the listeners to the storyteller in the end. The struggles of young foxes to prevail over all the risks and challenges of growing up felt so very real, and their vulpine characterization was delightful (even the nasty ones). I can well see how some compared this to Watership Down, even though it’s far shorter in length. I would have gladly read a few hundred more pages of this, and am happy to learn there’s a sequel- but it was just published last year so my library doesn’t have a copy yet.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5
314 pages, 2019

by Paru Itagaki

The species leaders at the conference decide that whichever student can identify the murder (no, it’s still not solved) will be proclaimed next Beastar of the school. They want Legoshi to do it. He’s hesitant of course (I’m liking his character more and more- this nice decent guy forced to show his aggressive side). And now it starts getting weird ~~ SPOILERS ~~ Legoshi thinks he’s been hearing a ghost, but meets a giant rattlesnake (that looks and acts a lot more like a python IMHO). Who is the school’s only security guard, but keeps himself hidden. I have a lot of questions about that, but moving on- He has been admiring Legoshi for a long time, and now pressures him to solve the murder mystery. Meanwhile, in the black market’s hidden enclaves, the red deer is still holding his new position with the lions, but starting to suffer poor health from making himself follow an unnatural diet in front of them (I suppose to prove his strength). One of them tries to sneak him vegetables. Then Juno tracks Louis down in the seedy part of town. She confronts him and they argue- really clashing because they’re so much alike. In ambition. I think they’d make a great pair! A new character (male Dall sheep) shows up in the drama club, stirring up trouble with all kinds of snarky, very pointed and almost flirtatious comments. Legoshi questions his carnivore friends about murder suspects, while they’re all angling to find out if he actually “did it” with the rabbit. Legoshi still struggles with his feelings for her- are they more predatory or romantic? and decides to keep his distance for now, vowing to focus on protecting her (and the other herbivore students). He gets attacked and beat up by an unseen, very strong assailant. Jack comes running to help him, and realizes from what he sees that Legoshi is becoming a different wolf as he gets stronger, changed by the touch of violence.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
208 pages, 2018

More opinions:
Al’s Manga Blog
YA on My Mind
anyone else?

by Paru Itagaki

Warning for more SPOILERS. The biggest is in white text, highlight to read.

In the opening scene, Legoshi and Haru confess their feelings for each other and become intimate- or attempt to. But the predator/prey instincts are too strong and they can’t go through with it. When they return to school things are even more awkward- the dorm mother and Legoshi’s roommates found his reading material about rabbits and now rumors fly that Legoshi has an unnatural rabbit fetish. Juno, still determined to “make Legoshi mine“, becomes fiercely jealous of Haru and threatens her. She’s even more angry when Legoshi spurns her in public at the festival. We get a flashback to Legoshi’s childhood, when he and labrador dog Jack became friends, and learn more of this animal society’s history.

Some of the worldbuilding ideas are kind of strange to me. Like that a small prey animal would, under extreme duress, feel compelled to put her body in her enemy’s mouth?? (No, I think they would desperately flee). Or that domestic animals (dogs and cats) were created through genetic engineering to end a war, by infusing milder traits into the preadatory species? And many of the “wild” felines and canines consider those domestics lesser, artificial animals. Or that a group of world leaders (one for each species) concerns itself over who is named “Beastar” of the high school (I guess it’s like prom king, or class president?) because after graduation that individual will take their place among the adult leadership. This was obviously supposed to be Louis, but they’re angling for someone else now.

The red deer shows up again at the end, having proven he can be even more aggressive and depraved than anyone imagined (including this reader). No scruples. Violent to the end. He thought he was going to die at the hands of the lion gang, but instead he became their new leader. Wow. Not sure if that move was just to save his own hide, or to prove his strength and brutality- shocking everyone, even himself.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
208 pages, 2017

by William Marshall Rush

Dan works on a Montana cattle ranch as a green hand. He has to bear the teasing and rough treatment from older experienced hands, the bullying of Wag- another guy his age who feels he should be favored as the cook’s son- and some subtle resentment from all because he is the ranch owner’s nephew. Never mind that his stern uncle gives him no favoritism at all. Dan tries hard to hone his skills and do his work well, finding better company with one Native American man who lives on the ranch with his family, and brunting occasional fights with Wag. But he realizes what he really wants when he finds a hidden path to the top of the Rainrock Mesa and spies a beautiful sorrel Appaloosa mare. She has a reputation for a nasty temper, but Dan is determined to ride her someday. The wild horses on the mesa are unlike other horses on the range, they’re spotted descendants of the Nez Perce Appaloosa stock. The ranch owner decides he must catch and sell some of these wild horses to get badly-needed funding for the ranch, feed his cattle in the winter and pay off loans to the bank- even if it means that the horses go to slaughter for dog food. Some of the cattle hands are outraged that good horses would go to such an end, so Dan determines to break in a few colts on his own, that could be sold as saddle stock. And other men have more devious plans, including to trap the proud wild Appaloosa stallion, who Dan feels deserves to stay free.

There’s so much else to this story- it was far more complex and interesting than I’d expected. From details on how the ranch work was handled, cowboy traditions, prejudice against the Natives, descriptions of different horse types and their qualities, scorn against the sheep herders, some dishonest lazy cowboy bums contrasted to the other hard-working and honest men. Even the banker whom I expected to be portrayed as a flat more-or-less evil and greedy character, was more nuanced and sympathetic when DAn got to know him. The wolves however, were always shown as just bloodthirsty, ravenous and vicious creatures. And the sheep were very much looked down on, horses praised, cattle well-liked but considered boring after a while. It all made me chuckle. I was surprised at how much the men often solved with outright fistfights though! (Seems typical of these older stories). And the ending wrapped up a bit too quick, leaving me thinking: what?

Rating: 3/5
236 pages, 1951

by Bill Watterson and John Kascht

This book is so short it’s hard to say anything without saying everything, so

~ ~ ~ ~ SPOILER ALERT ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Yes, it’s by the same author as all the Calvin and Hobbes comic strips, but you’d never guess if you didn’t see his name on the cover.

This book was hard to understand what it’s getting at. It’s mostly pictures- muted, fading-into-the-background pictures, people with rough faces, looming trees in the darkness. Text on the opposite page just one or two lines each. It starts out looking like a medieval setting, the people are all afraid of “mysteries” in the dark forest that no one can make sense of. The king sends out knights to put an end to their fears and many perish, but finally one comes back with a captured Mystery. The people are surprised at its ordinary appearance (not shown in the illustrations) and they study it thoroughly and loose their fears. The forests are cut down and suddenly everything seems to have progressed, with modern-looking cityscapes, vehicles, etc. Then looming symptoms of environmental disaster and climate change. People worry but the ruler shrugs off their concerns with reassurances. And then- what? One page says people are alarmed but too late- and the next show the planet in space and declares that eons have passed. Nothing about if the people died or what, but a final note that other things continued on. Unsettling- but I suspect it was supposed to be. I feel that I didn’t like this book very much, but I can’t quite stop thinking about it!

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 2/5
72 pages, 2023

by Paru Itagaki

Note: this review will contain some SPOILERS.

Legoshi finds out that Haru was abducted by a carnivore gang centered in the black market- and he’s desperate to rescue her from mortal danger. The authorities essentially turn a blind eye to the situation. Legoshi goes so far as to ask Louis for help, but the deer refuses to get involved. He then goes to the market on his own- rather impulsively and unprepared- and is almost immediately accosted by thugs. He’s extricated from a bad situation by the Panda. Legoshi then convinces the Panda to help him save Haru, even though it’s probably already too late. Things quickly go bad, with just the two of them against eight lions. At great cost to himself, Legoshi succeeds in getting to Haru just in time, and unleashes his rage into violence against the lion gang leader. He gets some unexpected assistance at the very last moment, and Louis gets a degree of revenge for some of his childhood suffering. Legoshi and Haru find themselves still in town after curfew, so they hastily find lodgings, and of course share a room, and the scene ends right when Legoshi is confessing his past aggression towards her, which she had been pretending to not remember . . . This volume got a lot more violent than the previous ones, and some of the scenes of Haru in the clutches of the lion gang are very discomfiting in nature- the gang leader wants to inspect her body before he eats it, in all kinds of compromising positions. Even though Haru is terrified and feels certain she’s going to die, she still shows some spunk and verbally defies the gang members. There’s flashbacks of her past explaning more of her personality and attitude towards relationships, which I thought had been clarified in the previous volume, but even more so now. Legoshi has now rescued her from danger twice, and I wonder how that might affect her feelings towards him, it seems on the verge of being an unhealthy balance. The story is so intense, I can’t help picking up the next volume immediately– and they follow in such close order, it’s a seamless shift from one volume to the next.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
200 pages, 2017

by Paru Itagaki

SPOILER warning!

Right away things get quite steamy. We find out why Haru is so promiscuous, how she met Louis and yes, they’re involved. She saw his weakness when he shed his antlers. Legoshi realizes that his strong feelings for Haru aren’t predatory in nature but romantic, and he blusters about how to tell her. Feeling awkward because interspecies relationships are strongly frowned upon in this society- even more so when between carnivores and herbivores. Then he sees Louis and Haru sharing a brief moment of affection in public, and recognizes who his rival is. At the same time, the female wolf Juno thinks they’d make a perfect match and is flirting heavily- but gets confused and hurt when her attentions aren’t reciprocated. A lot of the students go into town preparing for a festival day. The herbivores are urged to return home by dark because of a recent increase in murderous attacks. Legoshi finds Haru there late and offers to walk her home. But when they have a disagreement while waiting for the train, bystanders think he is attacking her and instead of facing the questioners, they flee together. Bill the tiger learns something dark about Louis’ past but when he confronts him with it, Louis pulls out a gun, threatening the big cat to keep his mouth shut (I didn’t see that coming!) We learn that Juno has high ambitions and isn’t afraid of standing up to guys, Louis’ background isn’t as noble as he pretends, some of the carnivores in the school have it out for the red deer, and then Legoshi tries to confess his love to Haru. She’s refusing to listen- and then she disappears.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
216 pages, 2017

Phoebe and Her Unicorn #18

by Dana Simpson

The unicorn reacts to a butterfly as if it’s a bad omen, and tells of many more. She tries to jump over the moon. Marigold frets over a minor social faux-paus she made long ago, that nobody else remembers. There are two pages in this book exactly the same as in the last one! (when they pretended to be princesses with swords). Odd. I don’t think it’s a printing error, as the panels are arranged slightly differently (but have the exact same artwork and text). Phoebe scrapes her knee and wants Marigold to produce magic tears that will instantly heal it. Phoebe and Marigold magically switch places for a day: Marigold-as-human has even odder-than-usual conversations with Dakota, and struggles to perform fine motor skills with her fingers. While Phoebe as a unicorn enjoys frolicking, delights in having a tail, then botches some magic (but harmlessly). Back to normal, they find an unidentifiable small magical creature, that turns out to be another unicorn’s pet and has to get returned. This is difficult for Phoebe, who quickly became attached to it. Todd the candy dragon decides he wants to be scary and garner some respect, but no matter what he’s still cute (reminded me of Spike in an episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic). Phoebe and Marigold solve a ghost mystery. Dakota reconnects- briefly- with the goblin queen. And realizes it’s still good to just let the end of that friendship lie. Phoebe worries that some of her friends will drift apart from her when they’re older. Her parents reflect on how some things from their youth can never be revisited- because they’re now considered offensive. And Marigold offers an (absurd) unicorn equivalent.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
178 pages, 2023

Phoebe and Her Unicorn #17

by Dana Simpson

I thought the cover of this one was really fun, but the punk rock part of the storyline was very short, and the unicorn’s accessories far fewer. That part comes about near the end of the book, where Phoebe and Marigold are at yet another summer camp and putting on a musical performance. Phoebe and a new friend Stevie play some actual punk music, whereas Sue and Marigold just want to smash things! A much greater portion of the book was taken up by ongoing interactions with an alternate-universe Phoebe + unicorn pair, via a magic portal. Their alternate personas are supposed to be evil– but they’re not really. Which says something deep that I just didn’t quite get.

I like all the little snippet parts better. Such as when they meet a very dorky, unattractive unicorn named Prince Aspirational Arrogance who is very full of himself (the complete opposite of Lord Splendid Humility) but it’s funny. Later Phoebe worries that her book report on a graphic novel won’t count because Dakota says “those aren’t real books,” but happily her teacher is a fan of the same series! Phoebe and Dakota get lead parts in the school play together- but end up arguing on stage (and the star role is a snail which somehow inspires Marigold). Phoebe tries to understand why she procrastinates and sometimes can’t focus. She and Marigold meet another male unicorn- one even more self-centered than Marigold is. The unicorn tells Phoebe another fable, how the clouds are selfish unicorns blocking the sun. They pretend to be princesses wielding swords together, arguing who gets to save an imaginary kingdom. And more!

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
178 pages, 2023


All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it


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