Book Review: Christoph Niemann – The Pet Dragon

Hi all!

The Pet Dragon, Cover ArtLately it seems I’m on a bit of a streak of finding outstanding childrens’ books. Let’s keep the streak alive with The Pet Dragon by Christoph Niemann.

Lin is a young Chinese girl who is one day given the gift of a baby dragon. When the dragon disappears, Lin heads out on a quest to find her friend the dragon… and we get to go too!

Niemann has taken a small set of Chinese characters and merged them with amazing illustrations so you not only get a fun story to read, but learn something about Chinese language along the way. Each page of the story shows one or more characters in the context of the story and with a small legend along the bottom so you can learn the meaning of each of them.

I read this book with my two girls, one age 3 and the other age 7. Each took something different away from the experience. My youngest daughter was fascinated by the story and the beautiful artwork, but really didn’t take notice of the characters. My oldest daughter immediately saw how the characters were worked in and was fascinated by not only the artwork and the story, but the deeper meaning.

The Pet Dragon, image 1Mr. Niemann works as an illustrator for The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, and The New York Times Magazine. This is his second childrens’ picture book, the first being The Police Cloud. Prior to that, he also illustrated The Boy with Two Belly Buttons, which was written by Stephen J. Dubner.

He and his family just recently moved to Berlin, Germany, and are adjusting to their new surroundings. Mr. Niemann was kind enough to answer a few questions by e-mail for this review.

Q: Are you doing anything special to spread the word to schools and libraries about this book? I have an aunt who helps run several libraries near where I live and a sister who is a first grade teacher – both of whom would love your book.

A: So far I have only been sending out copies to a few magazines and websites, but haven’t targeted schools and libraries in particular. I am most aware of how crucial those are for the success of such a book, but haven’t had the right contacts yet.

The Pet Dragon, image 3Q: You now have two childrens’ books under your belt that you’ve both written and illustrated, and another book you illustrated for Stephen Dubner. Do you have any more childrens’ books on the horizon?

A: I have a number of ideas that I am rather fond of, but the one that is actually taking shape right now is about the New York subway. Stylistically I want to work in a similar style as I did for the NY Times blog, but unlike that post, I will have to rework the story so it is really about the angle of the children.

Q: Do you have any favorite authors that you like to share with your boys? Or any current favorite books?

A: These days Gustav (who just turned 4) is obsessed with Freight Train, by Donald Crews, I Am Invited to a Party by Mo Willems, and Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss. Arthur (age 6) is getting interested in Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which I enjoy reading to him, even though I have to admit they are very dark at times. Arthur’s favorite book of course is Transit Maps of the World (by Mark Ovenden and Mike Ashworth), a wonderful book.

The Pet Dragon, image 5Q: How are you enjoying living in Berlin? How does it compare to living in New York?

A: What I love about Berlin: In August it is not 110 degrees 24/7 like in NY. It’s ridiculously more affordable to buy good food at the supermarket. And the kids have much more space to run around. What I miss about NY: You can’t get iced coffee at every corner. The Apple store. But most I of course miss my VERY dear friends. (He was on a plane to New York to visit some of his favorite people and places as he responded to these questions.)

Q: And lastly, any words of advice for budding childrens’ book authors or illustrators?

A: I am very excited to have a couple of books out there, and am most aware of how much luck (apart from the sweat) that took. I think it is simply impossible to “plan” on being a successful childrens’ book illustrator, and I would advice to aim broadly and look beyond childrens’ books in terms of illustration (as well as in terms of writing.) Working as an editorial illustrator has taught me a lot of discipline regarding deadlines as well as regarding concepts. Without this training I think I would have been utterly lost trying to fill 36 pages with a cohesive story and consistent art.

I want to thank Mr. Niemann for taking the time to respond to my questions and for producing such a wonderful book for children. It’s one I know my girls will enjoy for years to come.

Be sure to check out Mr. Niemann’s website and keep an eye out for his future books. I know we will!

–Fitz

p.s. You can purchase Christoph Niemann’s books at Amazon below:

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Book Review: Brocabulary Coming in October

Hey all…

When I saw the cover of Brocabulary: The New Man-i-festo of Dude Talk, I was intrigued. When I see the term “bro,” I now think of two different things. The first is fraternities, of which I was never involved with in college. The second is the character Dean from the G4 TV show Code Monkeys, who uses “Brocabulary” like a trooper. So I thought… perhaps, as a male, I should attempt to learn more of this part of manly society in which I was never asked to participate…

Boy was I mistaken. I’m evidently not cut out to be talking to the Bros.

Brocabulary Book JacketI thought it might be ok as I chuckled my way through the Brologue. (The definition of a “brologue” is: (n.) A prologue that delves into the rich history of bro-speak.) Beginning with cavemen, working through Mesobrotamia, we get to the Egyptians. The Egyptians you see were famous for “guyroglyphics,” which were roughly equivalent to scrawls on bathroom stalls. The Greeks were really the hearty partiers of their day, which made them easy for the Broman Empire to conquer them… You get the idea.

From there, the book is broken into a number of chapters…

  • Chapter 1: Brommunication — Focuses on how to communicate with your bros
  • Chapter 2: Barticulation — How to deal with your bros at a bar
  • Chapter 3: Player Palaver — How to be a player without offending your bros
  • Chapter 4: Banguage — What to do with a girl when you get her home
  • Chapter 5: Hocabulary — How to deal with the ladies
  • Chapter 6: Chilloquialisms — The art of chilling
  • Well, you get the idea. Some of the other chapter titles aren’t really meant for PG rated company (not like the titles for Chapters 4 or 5 really are either).

Danel Maurer photoFor some of us, I have to say that all this book does is solidify the already warped perception by some members of the opposite sex that all men are pigs. Some men are pigs. I can’t disagree with that. But the rest of us “nice guys” don’t really want to be lumped in with them.

I was expecting a satirical look at “bro-speak,” and instead got a lesson in why I’m glad I was never assimilated by a fraternity in college.

What is this book good for? I see this book becoming a popular gag gift for those friends who fit the mold – especially those middle aged bar hoppers needing a laugh. (Unfortunately some of the recipients of this sort of book will most likely not see the joke and enjoy the book thoroughly, going so far as to adopt the attitudes and techniques described therein. [shudder])

The author, Daniel Maurer, has written for the NY Times, NY Magazine, Nerve, Gawker, McSweeneys, Metro, Modern Drunkard, various humor sites, and a failed porn mag (according to his website, which you can visit his website here).

The book (<em>Brocabulary</em>) will be available on October 7, 2008, from Collins Living, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

As a gag gift, I give this book 4 out of 4. But as a serious work of humor fiction, I don’t think it’s for everybody. It only gets 1 out of 4 from me on that score.

–Fitz

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