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The Bulletin
of the Center for Children's Books:

Rising Star
Each month we offer a focus on a particular author or artist. Sometimes we use this space to discuss a rising new talent or an established star, but we also like to celebrate those who now live on only in the rich legacy of their books. See the archive for focus pieces from previous months.
Terry Pratchett

It's a bit cheeky of us to refer to Terry Pratchett as a rising star--his intelligent and humorous speculative fiction has been a continuing pleasure for adults for many years, and he was the creator of books for young people, in his Bromeliad and Johnny Maxwell series, years prior to his receiving the Carnegie Medal in 2001. Nonetheless, his influence hadn't really percolated into the American juvenile scene; the Bromeliads never attained the profile in the U.S. that one might expect (they've been recently and wisely reissued), and the Johnny Maxwell series doesn't even seem to have been published here. It's really only in the last few years that Pratchett has become a library-hold name, if you will, for those American professionals and readers who hadn't been swimming in British fantasy tides. The 2001 arrival was, of course, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, in which the traditional story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin is told from the viewpoint of a pack of hyperintelligent rats (their brains having mutated as a result of magical pollution) who just want to find a place to set up a private colony where they can live out their uncomfortably self-aware days in peace--a Ratopia, if you will. Guided into con artistry by Maurice, an ethically challenged cat, and aided by the piper, Keith, and a slightly off-balance village girl, Malicia, the rats find themselves fighting against the evil Rat King for their own lives as well as those of the townspeople they had intended to rob. It says much for Pratchett's skill that his first book for children successfully peoples a traditional folktale with characters gleaned from science fiction who explore the themes of the meaning of life, life after death, and the responsibility of sentient beings to fight evil in all its forms, and that he manages to make this novel simultaneously funny and grippingly touching.

Pratchett's next two books for children give further evidence of a remarkable mind at work. The Wee Free Men (BCCB 7/03) and A Hat Full of Sky (BCCB 5/04) chronicle the interaction of Tiffany Aching, a youngster with a gift for magic and an uncanny ability to see things as they really are, and the Nac Mac Feegle, a clan of hard-drinking, hard-hitting tiny blue men who inhabit the Chalk district where Tiffany lives. In The Wee Free Men, Tiffany and the Nac Mac Feegle fight off an invasion from the land of Faerie and rescue the son of the local lord. In A Hat Full of Sky, Tiffany is possessed by a magical parasite, and only the combined efforts of the Nac Mac Feegle and the daunting head witch, Granny Weatherwax, can give Tiffany the time and guidance she needs to break free and stay free. The snarky humor, frequent punchlines, cinematic descriptions and scene changes, ethical themes, and memorable voices that characterize Pratchett's adult novels are present full-force in these offerings for young people; Pratchett doesn't talk down to the kiddies, and thank goodness. Many young adult readers were already snarfing up Pratchett books as fast as they were published in the United States. Now their younger counterparts can join in the love-fest, with no feelings of respect lost on either side of the exchange.

(Our thanks to an alert Pratchett fan for pointing out the errors in the previous version of this piece, and we're especially glad to hear about the American reissues of his older titles.)

--Timnah Card, Reviewer

Selected Bibliography:

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents. HarperCollins, 2001. (BCCB 2/02)

The Wee Free Men. HarperCollins, 2003. (BCCB 7/03)

A Hat Full of Sky. HarperCollins, 2004. (BCCB 5/04)

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This page was last updated on November 1, 2004.