We The Nerdy Review
Original Source: (http://wethenerdy.com/kenneth-lamugs-the-stumps-of-flattop-hill-review/)
Note: My review copy of The Stumps of Flattop Hillwas supplied by the author. The book releases May 1st, 2016
I've uh, never reviewed a kid's picture book before. As an adult without children, I don't ever really run into them, though I'm a firm believer that kid's fiction can and should appeal to everyone. And hell, some of my favorite novels are kid's books. The Golden Compass, Harry Potter And the Sorcerer's Stone,The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Marlfox, and The Hobbit all spring to mind as amazing stories for kids and adults alike.
The opportunity to read The Stumps of Flattop Hill by Kenneth Kit Lamug came like most of my review opportunities come: an emailed request. In this case, some of my fellow writers at WeTheNerdy recognized the name as a wonderful comic's book artist and writer and told me to jump on this thing right away.
Here we are.
The Stumps of Flattop Hill is a haunted house story, and one that is actually pretty creepy at points. The house on Flattop Hill has a rather dark history, one where kids venture in for untold reasons and never come out again. Months later, a new tree shows up in the house's yard. Life then moves on.
Florence, our silent protagonist, is mocked for being too scared to enter the house. After being told what happens to those that go in, I'm surprised anyone would speak of the house openly at all, let alone kids in such a manor. This isn't some spooky place owned by a creepy old and misunderstood man; kids really do vanish once they enter. The place ought to be burned to the damn ground.
But I digress. Florence is infatuated with the place and like all haunted house stories, she ventures forth.
The Stumps of Flattop Hill is told through visuals and light amounts of poetry. The execution is pretty wonderful and actually reminds me of Mad Max: Fury Road in a way. There's an elegance to the little wording present and a confidence to let actions speak louder than words. The end result is a story that doesn't hold your hand as you go through it, meaning paying attention to Florence's facial expressions and the strange horrors she finds in the house is very important. This may or may not become frustrating for kids, though I'm not entirely versed on how smart children are these days.
The artwork in this story is very, very good. It's all monochromatic, which already makes it look pretty disturbing, but combine that with some Tim Burton aesthetic, and you have yourself a winner. It's darn creepy when it wants to be, and that tends to be through most of it. There's a vivid weirdness to everything, and Mr. Lamug makes great use of the color black.
The poetry too is pretty good for the most part. The story doesn't stick to one rhyme scheme but lets the words flow more organically, though everything is in meter and there are plenty of rhymes. This lets the text speed up when something tense is happening and slow down when we're tasked with simple viewing.
Though perhaps the best part with the text itself is how it's not afraid to be artistic in its own right. Words climb and contort based on what is being said. A cracked floor is paired with the word "floor" being cracked, a leaky door with the word "leak" visually leaking down the page. This gives The Stumps of Flattop Hill a ton of personality and makes the words themselves as visually interesting as the pictures.
Like with the visuals, I'm unsure what the age range of the text is supposed to be. I know all the words, but younger children might not; though any excuse to expand the vocabulary is a good one. The poetry too isn't afraid to mix and match, meaning a verb might show up at the end of the sentence to fit the rhyme/meter scheme present. This is par the course in adult poetry, but I have no idea where it stands with poetry made for children.
I also have to wonder how appropriate the whole thing is for young readers, but then, I always enjoyed a creepy story when I was a kid (my neighbor introduced me to the Alien franchise at a very young age, so that's probably his fault). Most fairy tales aren't exactly without their own horrors either, so this one fits in with those as far as I'm concerned. If witches with candy houses can eat children, then this horror house can make them disappear.
Adults with kids: Use your best judgment.
Honestly, my one complaint with the whole thing–and it is sadly a big one–is in the ending itself. I didn't like it. It's…unsatisfying as hell, which is a problem with any story regardless of the age group it's meant for. I'm fine with a bad ending or an unhappy ending if there's a good reason or point, but none of those really exist here. It just ends.
I've read others say it's supposed to be an open ending, one for interpretation, but I'm not sure I agree. The book is too short for that. Maybe if there were another ten or so pages to flesh out Florence, the house, and her town; but as it stands, the story just ends poorly.
It is of course possible that I just haven't paid enough attention to the pictures, but I've also read through the thing three times now.
The House of Flattop Hill is an enjoyable 40 pages with some great artwork and visually appealing writing. I think it's a story I'd have had fun reading as a kid, and hell, I did have fun reading it as an adult. I just wish the ending had been a bit more satisfying.
About the Author
Kenneth Kit Lamug is a Filipino-American author/illustrator based in Las Vegas, Nevada. His debut picture book A Box Story has won the Moonbeam Children's Book Awards, Literary Classics, Pinnacle Awards and the National Indie Excellence Book Awards. He has contributed to Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Tiny Books of Tiny Stories, Underneath the Juniper Tree and various publications. He has also worked in movies, comics and his photography has been showcased internationally.
Watch the trailer for a sneak peak into the wonderful imaginings of Kenneth Kit Lamug's The Stumps of Flattop Hill
Kenneth Kit Lamug: The Stumps of Flattop Hill (One Peace Books, 16 March 2016). ISBN 978-1935548867, RRP £13.50
ISBN# 978-1935548867, Hardcover, 40pages, Language: English, Dimensions: 9" x 7"