Thisby Thestoop and the Black Mountain

It’s fair to say that I read a good number of books children’s books. Having kids of my own, I like to pilfer their shelves from time to time. In our house, we like to stock “the classics” as a sort of quality guarantee. Since children’s books became a genre there have been writers who have tried to cash in on the children’s market as a way to make a quick buck with little effort. Reading “the classics” means that you get the best books from every era without having to wade through the formulaic twaddle, most of which has mercifully been forgotten over the years.
It’s a different story with modern children’s books. Picking up a new children’s book means taking a chance on wasting your time, and the modern children’s book publishing machine loves tried and true formulas. After the success of Harry Potter we got books about schools for magical/mythological/specially talented kids who are sorted into groups based on their personalities. After The Hunger Games took off, we’ve have had m…


 Poor Coraline. She is stuck spending her summer vacation in the old subdivided house where her family has just moved. The only other people living there are two old ladies who used to be actresses and a crazy old man who claims to have a mouse circus that he won’t let anyone see. Everyone gets her name wrong; it’s Coraline, NOT Caroline! Her parents are always busy working and don’t have time to play. And her dad is always cooking fancy “recipes” for dinner when Coraline would just prefer some good, plain food. Yes, life is pretty glum for Coraline. That is until the walled-up door to the empty neighboring flat turns into a tunnel that leads to another world. It is a world with a house just like hers, except the two old ladies are young and energetic and put on fantastic theatrical shows to a room full of dogs; her room is full of wonderful toys that come alive and play with her; and she has another mother and another father who look just like her real mother and father, except that they have buttons for eyes. Coraline’s other father always has time to play with her. Coraline’s other mother buys her all the types of clothes she really wants to wear, cooks her the most wonderful dinners made up of all the foods she most wants to eat, and wants to keep her and cherish her and love her. Forever. The other mother even has a pair of nice black buttons that would fit Coraline perfectly…

I had seen the movie Coraline a few years ago, and so I thought I knew what to expect when I picked up the book. But of course, no movie could ever capture the lovely, delicious prose of Neil Gaiman. His writing is always so confident, skillful, and playful that reading anything he authors is like giving your imagination dinner at a five-star restaurant. Yes, the book is much better than the movie, and the movie was already pretty good. This is technically a children’s book, but really anyone over the age of seven with a pulse should enjoy Coraline. I also have to mention that Dave McKean’s illustrations do a great job of capturing the tone of Gaiman’s story as well.

Like most of Gaiman’s books, Coraline doesn’t follow the rules. In a conventional children’s fantasy book, the parents would realize that they’ve been neglecting their precious little snowflake and shower her with all the things she feels like she’s been missing. In this book, Coraline realizes that she needs to stop being dissatisfied and appreciate the fact that her parents love her even though they work a lot, and don’t buy her the clothes she wants, and her dad puts green pepper and pineapple on the homemade pizza. It’s a good reminder that not all love looks the same, and some things that look like love aren’t.

So do yourself a favor. If you are a parent looking for some good family out-loud reading material, or if you have kids who are looking for a good story, or if you’re a teen or adult who has a couple of hours to spend with a master storyteller, pick up a copy of Coraline.