Books by Daniel Pennac

Released: Nov. 1, 2008

Much improved by a new translation and the addition of Blake's thoughtful introduction and inspired illustrations, this witty plaint from a popular novelist and former teacher should finally find as wide an audience in the United States as it enjoys in France and the United Kingdom. In a series of loosely connected essays, Pennac recaptures the transformation from preliterate listener to eager new reader and writer that most children experience. Rightly noting that that eagerness often flickers and dies when children are left to nurture it on their own, he suggests effective means of rekindling it. He closes with a ten-point manifesto that grants readers the right to skip, dip, stop and even re-read. Adams's sprightly rendition is well matched by spot sketches portraying a range of ordinary people in acts of bookish avoidance or delight. Pennac sticks largely to European fiction for his many quotes and references, but his message is universal, and many adults—particularly those obsessed with, as Blake puts it, "tests and targets"—would benefit from absorbing it. Previously published in Canada as Better Than Life (1994). (Essays. Adult) Read full book review >
DOG by Daniel Pennac
by Daniel Pennac, translated by Sarah Adams
Released: Feb. 1, 2004

What seems at first like a simple, elegant dog's-eye-view uncurls into a dark-edged musing on hurt feelings, death, despair, and the problematic relationship between humans and dogs. As a newborn puppy, Dog survives a drowning and ends up in a dump, where he learns foraging, smell-tracking, and loyalty. After beloved Black Nose (a mother, though not necessarily his) is killed, he sets out for town, where he's imprisoned in the dog-catcher's death row before being adopted by a tiny girl named Plum, who reminds him of the sun. Plum's parents are harsh and cold, however, and even Plum may be less than she promised. Dog escapes, wanders, makes friends with an eclectic group of dogs and cats, and wonders how life should be lived. His reunion with Plum includes threat, heartbreak, and revenge before the much-needed happy ending. Occasionally surreal and slightly existential, this well-written piece has an unusual flavor. (Fiction. 8-12)Read full book review >
EYE OF THE WOLF by Daniel Pennac
by Daniel Pennac, translated by Sarah Adams, illustrated by Max Grafe
Released: Feb. 1, 2003

A slight French import goes heavy on symbolism but light on story. A one-eyed wolf paces his cage day after day, ignoring everything outside of it, until he finds himself in a stare-off with a boy. In the way of magical realism, the two characters trade life stories, each by looking the other in the eye. Africa, the boy, sees Blue Wolf as he grows up in Alaska, living fairly idyllically with his brothers and sister until his capture and subsequent imprisonment in a series of zoos. Then Blue Wolf stares Africa in the eye, seeing the orphan grow up, first in Yellow Africa, then Gray Africa, then Green Africa, and finally the Other World, where they meet. Africa himself is a fey child, a storyteller who can make friends out of sworn enemies and whose mystical rapport with animals makes him a healer of sorts. It is his gaze that heals the wolf in the end, bringing together Alaska and all the Africas at once. While each character's individual story is developed fairly well and the tone effectively infuses the story with a touch of the fantastic, ultimately there seems to be little substance to the whole, beyond a general sense of environmental we-are-all-one-ness. This is mystery writer Pennac's (Passion Fruit, 2001, etc.) first book for children to be published in the US; while he shows a sure sense of mood and tone, the lack of actual narrative is likely to leave audiences wondering: what's the point? (Fiction. 10-13)Read full book review >
PASSION FRUIT by Daniel Pennac
Released: Oct. 1, 2001

"Pennac's gift for charmingly nonstop non sequitur makes this featherlight case less like most English-language crime fiction than like the comic-strip film farces of Pedro Almodóvar."
Life would be perfect for Benjamin Malaussène (The Scapegoat, 1998)—who, just fired from his job at Vendetta Press, is free to resume his unofficial status as professional scapegoat—if it weren't for the new man in his fortune-teller sister Thérèse's life. Aristocratic Marie-Colbert de Roberval, Councillor Grade One in the National Audit Office is only after Thérèse for the contributions her insight into the future can make to his political career, and he doesn't want any of her relatives at the wedding. Determined to squelch the nuptials, Ben and his co-conspirators—his gay friend Theo, his brothers Jeremy and Half Pint, and Clara and Gervaise, who run Passion Fruit, the play group for prostitutes' children—rush to dig dirt on the impetuous suitor, but not even the recent suicide of his brother discourages Thérèse. So she goes ahead with the wedding, even though it'll mean the loss of her clairvoyant powers, and leaves her husband the first night of their honeymoon—only to return to her own near-death in a suspicious fire and a looming charge of murder when someone tosses the bridegroom over the balustrade of his Paris home. The new widow shyly avers that she has an alibi, the lover who got her pregnant the night her husband was killed. So why won't she produce this crucial witness, and what can Ben to help her in his absence? Read full book review >
THE SCAPEGOAT by Daniel Pennac
Released: Oct. 19, 1998

Benjamin Malaussäne's official job title is Quality Controller, but since nobody could possibly control the quality of all the goods in his Parisian department store, his real vocation is to serve as a scapegoat who can absorb outraged customers' abuse in a manner so pathetically affecting that the customers withdraw their complaints. It looks as if Ben's met his match, though, in the latest round of outrages at the store: a series of bombings that claim the lives of a garage mechanic, a pair of smooching senior citizens, a rabid pro-life lecturer, a sanitary-equipment representative. Not only is Ben unable to mollify the shoppers who survived the blasts; he's become the number-one police suspect. After all, he was on the scene of every explosion (except for one witnessed by his half-sister ThÇräse on his day off); his half-brother Jeremy sets fire to his school with a similar explosive; even his dog seems mysteriously implicated. In a more straightforward telling, Ben's new lover, the ravishing shoplifter he insists on calling Aunt Julia, would help him unravel the mystery and clear himself. But that's not exactly what Pennac (Better Than Life, 1994) has in mind. The first of Ben's four adventures to be published in the US is very French and more than a little precious, with clownish Ben, like Jacques Tati's M. Hulot, a charmingly jittery guide to the mercantile postmodern. Read full book review >
BETTER THAN LIFE by Daniel Pennac
Released: Oct. 1, 1994

This ode to the joys of reading is itself no joy to read. Pennac, a novelist and secondary school teacher in France (where this book was a bestseller), takes an idea that, if presented succinctly, could make a fairly interesting essay: Parents and schools, each in their own way, help turn reading into a dreary activity; however, if students were encouraged to engage in reading as an enjoyable process rather than as something else to be tested on, some might recognize and regain the sheer pleasure that, as young children, they once took in stories. Unfortunately, the author, even as he recognizes the simplicity of this idea, labors mightily to make it sound profound, and all too often the resulting text is simply fatuous, as in these sentence fragments rendered as four separate paragraphs: ``Read. Out loud. For the sheer pleasure of it. His [your child's] favorite stories.'' At times Pennac's comments sound like they have escaped from an intensely saccharine self-help book: ``What is love, if not the gift of our preference to those we prefer? Those acts of sharing fill the secret fortress of our freedom.'' Rounding out the volume is a discussion of ten rights Pennac claims for readers, including the rights not to read at all, not to finish what one does read, to read for escapism, and to reread particular favorites. Yet on closer inspection, some of these rights are less than absolute. For example, in discussing the right to read anything, ``anything'' is equated with novels, and Pennac is endorsing the right to read ``bad'' novels not for themselves but as part of the process of moving toward becoming readers of ``good'' novels. For Pennac the happy ending may be for young people to become readers like him. If reading is indeed ``better than life,'' you can't prove it by this book. Read full book review >