Tuesday, April 8, 2003

Children's lit

Jacques churning out 'Angels' and more

By Sara Pearce
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Brian Jacques is a verbal gymnast, tumbling from one topic to the next, his thickly accented words somersaulting over each other at a furious clip.

In a deep, rich voice he belts out pop songs and Italian opera, recites poetry, tells snippets of tales and stops mid-sentence to bellow a lusty "haar, har, har." You must, he insists, add the pirate's trademark sneer followed by a villainous laugh to the end of the title of his latest young adult novel. That would be The Angel's Command: A Tale from the Castaways of the Flying Dutchman (Philomel/Penguin Putnam; $23.99; ages 10 and up).

Brian Jacques will discuss and sign Angel's Command 2 p.m. Sunday April 13 at Books & Co., Town & Country Shopping Center, 350 E. Stroop Road, Kettering (937) 298-6540. Autograph line numbers will be given out starting at 1 p.m. Jacques will sign up to two books per person.
The sequel to Castaways of the Flying Dutchman (Firebird Books; $7.99; paperback) continues the story of 12-year-old Ben and his telepathic dog, Ned. The two were cursed to eternal wandering just like the rest of the crew of the famously ill-fated ship. But unlike the others, Ben and Ned were innocents and a sympathetic angel charged them with traveling the world through time to "bring confidence and sympathy" and to help people in distress.

In Angel's Command, Ben and Ned find themselves on a ship in the Caribbean in the early 17th century, but the moment that swashbuckling adventure ends they are whisked off to the Pyrenees to aid in the rescue of a young man.

As in every Jacques book, there is a classic battle of good vs. evil with plenty of thrills. There is another Jacques signature: young heroes.

Castaways was Jacques' first non-Redwall novel. Not that he's slacking off on the bestselling saga that has had his name tripping off tongues of children worldwide for the past 17 years. Loamhedge, number 16 in the series, will be published by Philomel in September. The book will resonate with longtime fans since it takes readers on a search for the elusive home of the mice who founded Redwall Abbey.

Jacques also says he is "seven-eighths of the way through" book 17, Rackkety Tam, the tale of a warrior squirrel. "Sounds like a real brawler, doesn't he?," says Jaques. "He came from the north with Wild Dougie Plum, a little Highland squirrel with a thick brogue."

Then there is the picture book, The Tale of Urso Brunov, which Philomel will release in October. The story of a thumb-sized bird, which Jacques calls "a sort of Slavic middle-European Russian folktale" is illustrated by Alexi Natchev. "It's a great read-aloud book for Mums and Dads,'' he says, adding he'll be reading it to Hannah, his 31/2-year-old granddaughter.

Following that should be the long-anticipated Redwall cookbook, for which Jacques did all the recipe testing himself on family and friends in Liverpool, his home. He even whipped up a "deeper en ever, turnip, tater and beetroot pie" - a specialty of Redwall's moles - for 40. "They ate it all, and I told them 'they were good 'ungry creatures,' " he says with a roaring laugh. The book is divided into seasons with a story written around the recipes.

Given that there are Redwall books, audios, guides, videos, TV shows, a build-your-own Abbey kit, figurines, trading cards, T-shirts, hats, a heavily trafficked web site (www.redwall.org) and a growing fan club it would seem that all the bases are covered. Not yet, says Jacques. "I would love to see a Redwall chess set."

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