Saturday, November 21, 2015

Half a Creature from the Sea: A Life in Stories by David Almond, illustrated by Eleanor Taylor

David Almond has been one of my favorite, go-to authors for a long time now.  He always manages to write stories that seem to be about the ordinary until he peels the ordinary away and reveals the extraordinary in life.  Each one of his works has a distinctive voice and perspective and I have often wondered where or how Almond comes up with his ideas.  I think you will agree that novels like Skellig and The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean Telt by Hisself, and his latest, A Song for Ella Grey, are all riveting and unique.

Well, I thought to myself, wonder no more as I read the introduction and the eight short stories that make up Half a Creature from the Sea.  In the book's main autobiographical Introduction, Almond writes "I'll start with things I can hardly remember, things I've been told about, things that are like fragments of a dream."  From there, he goes on to introduce the reader to Felling-on-Tyne, the town where he grew up and the one he uses in his writing for "it's landscape, it's language, it's people" and rgwb procedes to show the reader just how he makes the ordinary extraordinary.

Each of the eight short stories that follow the Indroduction are also preceded with their own substantial autobiographical prologue.  In them, Almond explains where his idea first came from, and gives enough background information to not only make the story richer for the reader, but also to give us a way of seeing how Almond's writing process happens.

The character's in each story come to life, in a way that is difficult to master in so short a space, but everyone in these Almond stories feels real and full-bodied, even the ghost in "The Missing Link."  Almond's descriptions on which each of the landscapes his stories unfold become just as important, just as realistic as his characters, to the point where they become characters in their own right.  As the stories wander around this North-East area of England that Almond knows and seems to love so well, you can almost smell the salt in the air in the story "Half a Creature from the Sea" and taste those wonderful meat pies from Myer's pork shop from "Slog's Dad."

And Eleanor Taylor's black and white illustrations throughout the book compliment and enhance the hauntingly mysterious stories.  I especially liked the illustrations showing the ordinariness of Felling-on-Tyne as Almond introduced readers to it:
1 of 4 Felling-on-Tyne illustrations
in Half a Creature from the Sea
Half a Creature from the Sea offers readers a brillant peek at an author's inspiration and writing process supported by eight superbly crafted short stories.  If you are already a fan of David Almond's or even if you are new to his work, you are in for a rare treat, and you will totally understand why he won the 2015 Guardian's Children's Fiction Prize recently.

I should mention that there some bullying, some violence and a lot of cursing and it can be raw, but not ever gratuitous.

This book is recommended for readers age 13+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

1 comment:

  1. I read David Almond's THE BOY WHO SWAM WITH PIRANHAS and didn't enjoy it much so whenever I see his name, I doubt I'd add another of his books to my to-read list. But you've made me doubt my doubt, Alex. I think I will give this book a go!


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