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Reviews and random thoughts on children's and teen fiction.
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Toppling. by Sally Murphy. 2012. Candlewick. 128 pages. ISBN: 9780763659219John is in fifth grade, and he loves dominoes. He doesn't play games with them; instead, he likes to line them up in complicated patterns, then knock them over to watch how they topple. His hobby becomes a metaphor for a precarious situation in his best friend, Dom's life, when John and his classmates learn that Dom has cancer and may die.
This book is very nicely done. It looks at a serious situation from the masculine point of view, and portrays all the complex emotions associated with childhood cancer without becoming maudlin. Though John worries about his friend's future, he remains hopeful and positive in a way that I think shows the resilience of real kids. He and "the guys" show real compassion for Dom, and the ending, though uncertain, sounds a real chord of hope and happiness.
Kids are naturally curious about serious situations, and I think this book will appeal to that curiosity. Though the main focus is how John reacts to Dom's diagnosis, there are also plenty of great details about classrooms and childhood interactions that make the entire world of the story very vivid. I was reminded, at certain points, of the Calvin Coconut series, where Calvin's classmates and classroom also come to life in unique ways. I think kids will also appreciate the open-ended ending to the story, which allows them to decide for themselves whether Dom will beat his illness.
I enjoyed Toppling much more than Murphy's previous book, Pearl Verses the World. While Pearl's story left me feeling very sad, this book infused a sad situation with enough good humor to make me want to keep reading. This book was originally published in Australia in 2010 by Walker Books with a slightly different cover illustration. Readers who enjoy Toppling might also like Julie Sternberg's Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie and Like Bug Juice on a Burger and Eileen Spinelli's The Dancing Pancake and Summerhouse Time. Though these books are not about cancer, they focus on kids dealing with difficult emotions and finding ways to cope. I borrowed Toppling from my local public library. For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.
Where the Steps Were. by Andrea Cheng. 2008. Wordsong. 143 pages. ISBN: 9781932425888
In this novel in verse by Andrea Cheng, third graders at an underperforming elementary school move through their final year in the school before the building is torn down. The kids have a variety of family situations and personal problems, but they all love their teacher, who is a stable and loving presence in their lives.
Though the book refers frequently to the fact that the school will be torn down, this story is more of a portrait of an inner city school than a story about saying goodbye to a beloved school. The characters, though interesting, are not very three-dimensional. Rather, each one is defined according to the situation he or she lives in, making them all seem like stereotypical representations of the author's impressions of this type of school. The emotions do ring true. I felt terrible for the kids in the scene where they are thrown out of a theater on a field trip for spitting, when none of them actually spit. The things the kids worry about - their parents' health, their own futures, their weight, etc. - are also realistic, but the characters who have these worries do not have distinct personalities.Where the Steps Were
is definitely timely, but I question whether the intended audience is really children. To me, it felt like the story was trying to convince adults that keeping schools like this open is important because of kids' attachments to their teachers and because kids like these have a lot of disappointments in their lives already. I think that is a perfectly fine message to send, but I wished the story was more focused on the development of individual characters than on this almost clinical analysis of what is lost when a school closes. I think teachers might be able to use this book as a read-aloud to prompt discussions about school community and fairness, but overall, it doesn't strike me as especially kid-friendly.
Andrea Cheng is a talented writer, and I see hints in this book of the style that made me fall in love with last year's The Year of the Book
, which is written in prose, but with very lyrical and poetic language. This book is not my favorite of hers, but for kids who attend a school in danger of closing, this might be the story that will help them cope with their feelings of confusion and loss. I borrowed Where the Steps Were from my local public library. For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.
Gone-Away Lake. by Elizabeth Enright. 1957. Harcourt. 272 pages. ISBN: 9780152022723
Portia is excited to spend the summer with her cousin, Julian, but she never expects that they will discover an abandoned lakeside community, or that they will make friends with a pair of elderly siblings who still inhabit two of the rundown houses. At Gone-Away Lake, as their friends Aunt Minnehaha and Uncle Pindar call it, Portia and Julian discover life as it was 50 years ago, while having their own summer of modern-day adventures they will never forget.
In this book, as in The Saturdays
, Elizabeth Enright celebrates childhood independence. Whereas the Melendy kids explore New York City unsupervised, with just their allowance to pay their way, Portia and Julian are given free rein in the country, where they can enjoy the secret of a forgotten village, and make new friends without sharing them with their parents or with Portia's little brother, Foster. Especially interesting about this story are the connections Portia and Julian feel to Minnehaha and Pindar as children. They never tire of hearing about their friends' fights, friendships, and adventures, and they engage with those stories so fully that they are inspired to create a club of their own in the hopes of recapturing some of that fun and excitement.
Some things about this book bothered me. I couldn't quite buy into the notion that an entire group of fairly wealthy families would abandon not just their homes, but all the contents of those homes, and never return for them. I thought this might be explained at some point, but it never was, and I was distracted by the feeling that there should have been some big reveal of the "truth" about Gone-Away. I also couldn't help but feel that Minnehaha and Pindar were living like Miss Havisham - waiting for the return of a day that would never be again. Perhaps this was intentional, as I think Portia and Julian breathe some fresh air into the lives of the two older people. Still, I wanted the characters in the story to feel disturbed as I did, and instead they were almost too accepting of the whole strange scenario.
That said, this is a well-written book full of interesting situations, well-described characters and settings, and everything a child wants in a summer story. I am not surprised that it was a Newbery Honor book in 1958, and I think, of the Newberys I've read, it's one of the older ones that still holds up well enough for contemporary audiences. It is similar in some ways to Miracles on Maple Hill
- both books are even illustrated by the same artists, Joe and Beth Krush - and I think it also compares well to the Swallows and Amazons books
, A Lemon and a Star
, and The Railway Children
. There is also a sequel, Return to Gone-Away
, published in 1961. I borrowed Gone-Away Lake from my local public library. For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.
Seasons: A Book of Poems. by Charlotte Zolotow. 2002. Harper Collins. 64 pages. ISBN: 9780060266996
In this easy-to-read poetry collection, prolific children's author Charlotte Zolotow shares her impressions of the four seasons. The book is divided into four parts. Winter Bits talks of snow, wind, and warm clothes. Spring Things focuses on birds, plants, and breezes. In Summer Thoughts, Zolotow describes butterflies, flowers, and bugs. Finally, in The Feel of Fall, the year winds down with Halloween, falling leaves, and golden fields.
I was surprised when I read the jacket of this book and found out that this collection, written just 11 years ago, was Zolotow's first book for beginning readers! She has done so many wonderful picture books that I guess I just figured she must also have written a few titles for kids who are learning how to read. Also amazing is the fact that she is still living, at age 97, and that this book was published in the year that she turned 87.
This book shares much in common with Zolotow's quiet, thoughtful picture book texts. Many of the poems consist of just one sentence, but those single sentences are filled with truth and beauty. Though her poems are very much about real things, mostly in nature, she has a lot of fun with language, making up words like "windrushing," "funnytime" and "beez." Her poems rarely rhyme, but each one has a distinct rhythm that shows how thoughtful she is about the placement of each word. She is also a very economical writer, using the most appropriate word for each sentiment, and no extras.
Zolotow has a lovely way of getting inside the mindset of a child. She articulates thoughts that children have in a way that makes them easy to understand, even if her child readers could not have put them into words themselves. In a poem called "Grown-ups" she poses questions: "Do mothers ever feel lonely? / Do fathers ever feel sad?" In "Birthdays", which is on the very next page, she takes note that mothers enjoy flowers more than the birthday cake preferred by kids. These wonderings and observations resonate very strongly with children who are just figuring out how the world works.
Though her poetry, Zolotow also compels kids to think differently about their worlds. In a poem called "Me" the speaker points out that if she were someone else, "there would be other things / to hear and see / for I'd be someone else / not me." This short sentence seems obvious to adults, but for children this might be a startling thought, and the beginning of empathy for people in circumstances unlike their own. In "My Cat" the speaker wonders about what her cat might think about. "Some Days" talks about how things might have been different in a child's day if he or she had not "done something mean."
Though these poems claim to be about the seasons, they are about many things: emotions, family, friendship, solitude, nature, home, and happiness. Zolotow captures each of these things on just the right level for an early reader and provides lots of food for thought, something lacking in many readers for beginners. I recommend this book very highly, especially for teaching poetry in kindergarten and first grade classrooms and library programs.I borrowed Seasons from my local public library. For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.
Seeing Emily. by Joyce Lee Wong. 2007. Abrams. 288 pages. ISBN: 9780810992580Emily is a Chinese-American teenager who is an artist, a good student, and a hard worker in her parents' Chinese restaurant. Though her immigrant parents don't approve of her dating, wearing lipstick, or defying their rules, when Emily meets Nick, she begins trying on different identities and getting a feel for life as Nick's girlfriend. She likes how it feels when he kisses her, until she realizes Nick only sees her ethnicity, not who she truly is. The book jacket makes it sound like this is a story about a prim and proper young woman who throws caution to the wind and becomes a rebel in order to impress her boyfriend. The story inside the cover is quite different. This is not a wild romance, or a tale of teenage rebellion. Rather, it is a story about identity, and about coming of age as one's true self. At the start of the book, Emily is struggling to create an "interior self-portrait" for her art class. She is meant to draw an interior space that represents who she is, but everything she draws comes out darker than she expects. As the story progresses, Emily explores that darker side of her personality, not as a meaningless demonstration of her independence in the face of strict parents, but as a personal journey of discovery. Emily ends up exactly where she belongs, in the end, but not until she has satisfied her curiosity about those sides of her personality she has not yet uncovered. I appreciate the subtlely of Wong's style. She addresses many issues in the three sections that comprise Emily's story, but she doesn't draw clear conclusions for the reader. Nick's behavior toward Emily - and his father's reception of her - are certainly examples of pretty egregious racism, but the author lets the reader figure that out based on context clues. She lets us understand, from Nick's words and Emily's reaction to them, that she is uncomfortable in the relationship, and that his behavior is unacceptable, but she doesn't give a lecture to the reader. This kind of open-endedness makes this a great book for discussion about cultural identity, and about the subtleties of human relationships that sometimes make it hard for girls to realize when they're in a bad one. Some readers might be turned off by the uncertainty of not being told what to think about various events. Myself, I had some trouble with the ending, which, while happy, does not tie things up that neatly or satisfyingly. Still, I can't imagine a different ending working better. Wong remains true to her style all the way through her book, and what emerges is a portrait of one girl doing her best to grow up into the person she is meant to be.
Seeing Emily will appeal to female young adult readers from all backgrounds, especially those who feel at odds with their parents' ideals, and those who have been in relationships with boys who don't really see their true selves. It would also make a great addition to high school poetry lessons. There is a lot of beautiful figurative language throughout the book that would provide interesting opportunities for analysis, while also allowing students to enjoy a relevant and interesting story.
I borrowed Seeing Emily from my local public library. For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.
Where I Live. by Eileen Spinelli. 2007. Dial. 112 pages. ISBN: 9780803731226
Diana loves where she lives. A family of birds has a nest over the back door, and her best friend, Rose, lives close enough that they can wave to each other from their windows. When Diana's dad loses his job, and the family decides to move in with Diana's grandpa, Diana just can't imagine what it will be like to live somewhere else. It is only after she says goodbye to her old house and old friends that she realizes that change brings happy things along with the sad.
This short chapter book in verse covers very familiar ground. There are countless children's books about moving, and many of them repeat the same events and emotions over and over again. This story is different, though, because it's not just about the moving process. About half of the book actually occurs before the move, so the reader gets a sense of Diana's life in her old house. Because the reader is invested in her old life, he or she is able to sympathize that much more with Diana when she learns she is moving. This means that Diana's feelings about where she lives - not the move - become the central focus of the story. The book becomes less of a "moving" book and more of a presentation of how our lives are affected by where we live.
The unique language of Spinelli's verse is another notable feature of this book. I picked out several lines and phrases that struck me as particularly evocative and interesting. One such phrase was "purpy flopple," which is the nickname Rose has given to the floppy purple hat she allows Diana to keep as a going away present. This is such a small, silly phrase, yet it's one of the most memorable in the book. I also thought Spinelli did a lovely job writing the moment at which Diana and her family drive away from their old house and Diana watches as Rose gets further and further away. I watch her from the back window
until she is a tiny speck -
the hardest goodbye of all.
There is also a wonderful description of Diana's little sister, Twink, that sums up her personality perfectly.
Twink's tub water
like a lake
Twink is always
making stuff like this happen.
I love these specific moments of insight into the characters. I also enjoyed the friendship between Diana and Rose, where they share each other's diaries and manage to get along despite their major differences of opinion about subjects like astronomy. I also like that, when Diana does make a friend at her new house who likes things that Rose does not like, she does not feel guilty or assume that she is replacing her best friend. This is yet another plot point that separates this book from others on the same subject.
Where I Live
is similar to Julie Sternberg's Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie,
and its tone also reminds me of Lulu and the Duck in the Park
and Lulu and the Dog from the Sea
. Though it is written in verse, I think it will appeal mainly to girls in grades 2 to 4, especially those with little sisters and fun best friends of their own. I borrowed Where I Live from my local public library. For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.
A Lemon and a Star. by E.C. Spykman. 1955. Harcourt Brace. 214 pages. ISBN: : 9780152447137
A few weeks ago, after reading Miracles on Maple Hill,
I realized that while I enjoy children's novels from the 1950s, I have read very few. This inspired a visit to my local library with the specific goal of choosing some Old School Sunday reading material published in the 50s. A Lemon and a Star
was a particularly exciting discovery both because I had never heard of it before, and because it ended up being such a great story. A Lemon and a Star
is about the four Cares children - Theodore (Ted), Hubert, Jane, and Edith (Edie), who live with their widower father and his household staff in Summerton, Massachusetts in the early 1900s. Because they have no mother, and because they are each mischievous little people, the Cares kids run rampant around the countryside, getting into fights, falling into the reservoir, capturing foxes, wallowing in mud and even occasionally sneaking into the city by train. Much of their time is spent bribing each other into keeping information from their dad, and in trying to keep Edie happy so she doesn't spoil all their plans before they even get off the ground. They have their own codes of loyalty and friendship, and their own ideas about how the world works, and they employ these rules as they look after themselves and each other.
Like Swallows and Amazons
and The Boxcar Children
, this book is appealing because it shows kids on their own doing things for themselves. The Cares children are not as responsible as John and Susan Walker, or as Henry and Jessie Alden, but that just adds to the fun of the reading experience. Most kids - whether they grow up in the early 1900s, the mid 1950s, or the early 2010s - will never have the freedom given to the Cares kids, and it's a lot of fun to live vicariously through them as their adventures unfold. I also think kids like to be shocked by the bad behavior of other kids, even if it the behaviors are not something they would do themselves. My husband and I read this book within a few days of each other, and as we discussed it, we just kept laughing and saying, "They're so bad!" Our enjoyment of their behavior reminded me a lot of reading The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
. Nobody wants to act like the Herdmans, but everyone wants to know what they'll do next. The same is true for Ted, Hubert, Jane, and Edie.
For a book about so much mischief, the writing is very beautiful. Images of the red house where the family lives, the reservoirs full of sparkling water, and Ted's black eye after a fight are just a few of the moments in this book that bring it fully to life and make it so easy to imagine really being in Summerton watching these kids playing. The personalities of the four kids come across very well. Ted is portrayed as the frustrated oldest child who is stubborn and annoyed by his younger siblings. Edie is the spoiled baby of the family who can be bought but not controlled. Hubert and Jane fall somewhere in the middle, trying to do the right thing and keep their father happy, but also endlessly fascinated by thir older brother and filled with concern for him when he is in danger. Every child reader can find a character to sympathize with in every scene.
Like many books for kids published in the 1950s, A Lemon and a Star
is a great celebration of the adventures kids can have in their own backyards. It makes a nice read-alike for The Moffats
, The Railway Children
, and Swallows and Amazons
, as well as for books by Carolyn Haywood and Beverly Cleary. Though I think they will be somewhat hard to find, I hope to track down and read the other three books in this series: The Wild Angel
, Terrible, Horrible Edie
and Edie on the Warpath
, all of which sound wonderful.I borrowed A Lemon and a Star from my local public library.
For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.
Something Sleeping in the Hall. by Karla Kuskin. 1985. HarperCollins. 64 pages. ISBN: 9780060236342
Though the title at first suggests something sinister, Something Sleeping in the Hall
is a collection of poems about a child's desire to have a pet. Short, easy-to-read poems celebrate birds, cats, pigs, dogs, dragons, elephants, and every other kind of animal imaginable. Some poems are sweet, others funny, but they all relate to that universal wish kids have for a pet to love and care for.
The poems in this collection are untitled, and visual cues are used instead to mark where one poem ends and the next begins. I missed the cues at first, because I tend to look more closely at text than images, but kids who are just learning to read are more likely to do the opposite, so they would probably be tuned into those cues much more closely than I was. I'm not sure it wouldn't have been more effective to just name the poems, but the tiny illustrations marking when the poem is about a bird, when it is about a pig, when it is about multiple animals, etc. are a distinctive feature of this book that I think kids will like.
Kids will also like some of the dark humor in a few of the poems. For example, there is a hog in one poem who eats both a dog and a frog. The end of that poem says, "And then he lay down / bang - /
and died." Other poems joke about a cat eating mice and a bear who walks down the street greeting and eating every creature he meets. Early elementary schoolers love to be grossed out, and they love to be surprised, and these poems really deliver those two key components.
This collection is a great introduction to poetry for the youngest readers. It shows that poems can be playful, and that they can talk about everyday things in interesting ways. Some of the poems in this collection are only one or two sentences long, such as "It makes me squirm / to watch a worm." Even older kids who are intimidated by poetry might find relief in the fact that such a short and simple sentiment is actually a complete poem. I also like the way some of the poems toy with the conventions of early reader books, such as the one on pages 14 and 15 that talks about a "blue bird on a branch," a "wild bird on a wig," and a "third bird in a bunch." The illustrations for that poem are almost like a rebus and they help kids decode the words while also letting them laugh over the silliness of the text.
Though Something Sleeping in the Hall
is almost as old as I am, it still holds up for today's beginning reader audience. The book is out of print, but my library system still has a copy and I suspect many others will as well. I plan to use at least two of the poems at my beginning reader story time - either as rebuses or flannel boards. Share this book with animal lovers who are learning to read and watch them enjoy their first experiences with poetry. I borrowed Something Sleeping in the Hall from my local public library. For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.
Make Lemonade. by Virginia Euwer Wolff. 1993. Henry Holt and Co. 200 pages. ISBN: 9780805080704
This distinctive novel in verse tells of two young women - LaVaughn and Jolly- whose lives intersect when fourteen-year-old LaVaughn answers seventeen-year-old Jolly's ad for a babysitter. LaVaughn needs to make as much money as she can so she will be able to get out of this neighborhood and go to college. Jolly needs a babysitter because though she is not yet eighteen, she has two little ones at home. What starts out as a mutually beneficial employment situation evolves slowly into much more, as LaVaughn helps Jolly to see herself in a new way and to seek the help she needs to make a life for herself and her children.
There is no other book in all of YA literature like this one. Each of the characters is fully three-dimensional. Jolly, in particular, comes to life as a person, rather than just a statistic, and the reader is able to really empathize with her and understand her worries and suspicions about welfare and going back to school. Though LaVaughn is an outside observer for much of what happens to Jolly, she, too, is remarkable, because she goes above and beyond a babysitter's call of duty. Even though her mother - herself a presence looming large on the edges of the story - suggests time and again that LaVaughn would be better off away from Jolly, LaVaughn feels such sympathy for her she can't let go until she knows she will be okay.
Books like this often have the misfortune of being "issue" books. It's easy for an author to become preachy and start using his or her books to caution kids against the dangers of pre-marital sex and teen pregnancy. Though this book certainly didn't make me want Jolly's life, it also didn't read like a cautionary tale. This book isn't just about the path down which our mistakes can send us. It's also about the unlikely people who can make differences in each other's lives, through the most unusual of circumstances.
This book is amazingly well written. Not only is the language beautiful, but I think the poetry makes it easier to get lost in the world of the story. Poetry gets at the heart of LaVaughn's feelings for Jolly, and also captures the rhythm and flow of how each of the characters sounds to LaVaughn. There is also a beautiful metaphor of a lemon tree that is mentioned many times throughout the story. LaVaughn tries to help Jeremy plant a lemon tree, but no matter what they do, it just can't bloom until, finally, his mother gets her life together.
The story also doesn't draw any easy conclusions, making it a great one to discuss in high school English classes or in book discussion groups. Does LaVaughn take advantage of Jolly when she takes the babysitting job? Is it wrong for Jolly to place such heavy burdens on LaVaughn? Would the average teen have the strength and courage to help someone like Jolly? The author provides no answers, but the readers' love for the characters prompts them to consider the morality of the entire story, and to consider what the truth is for them. Make Lemonade
is one of the best young adult books I have ever read, and I recommend it very highly. I loved it so much, I am almost afraid to read the sequels - True Believer
and This Full House
- because I'm afraid they might not measure up. Still, I care so much about these characters now, I think I will have to take the risk just to find out what happens to them going forward. Make Lemonade
contains mature content and will be best appreciated by readers who are prepared to grapple with difficult questions and who can maturely respond to discussions of sexual violence, poverty, and teen parenthood.I borrowed Make Lemonade from my local public library. For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.
Like Bug Juice on a Burger. by Julie Sternberg. April 2, 2013. Amulet Books. 176 pages. ISBN: 9781419701900
This short novel in verse is the sequel to Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie.
Eleanor, now fully adjusted to life with a new babysitter, has been given an unexpected treat by her grandmother - the opportunity to go to sleep-away camp at Camp Wallamwahpuck, where her mother went as a little girl. Eleanor has heard from her friend Katie that camp is all about eating candy, riding horses, and jumping on a floating trampoline, so it comes as a bit of a shock when her camp experience is somewhat different. The food is gross, and candy is forbidden. There is a floating trampoline, but Eleanor has to wear a life jacket if she wants to go anywhere near it. Even nighttime sounds upset Eleanor. All she wants is to go home! But through her friendship with a girl named Joplin, and her connection to a goat she has secretly named Cornelius, Eleanor learns that though she might not love camp, maybe she can still make the best of it.
Like the first book about Eleanor, this story focuses on the complicated emotions kids sometimes experience in new situations. Though it might sound like Eleanor is a pessimist, the story is not a depressing meditation on the woes of going to camp. Rather, it is an exploration of healthy ways to handle unfamiliar and uncomfortable situations. Especially noteworthy is the way the adults in Eleanor's life take her feelings seriously, but also give her little boosts of encouragement to help her get through the difficulties she faces at camp. Kids are comforted when they know they have supportive adults to turn to, and this book is a great reminder that kids are never alone with their feelings of frustration or confusion, and that there is usually something to be gained from every new experience, no matter how unpleasant it seems.
Julie Sternberg does a nice job of getting inside the nine-year-old mind. The passages describing Eleanor's humiliation about being in the lowest swimming category of anyone in her cabin reminded me of similar experiences from my own summer as a nine-year-old camper who could not swim. Sternberg understands how little things can seem big to a child, and her story manages to validate the feelings of kids in those situations, and to provide advice on how best to survive them.
Though it is a sequel, Like Bug Juice on a Burger
will stands on its own. Nervous new campers who sympathize with Eleanor might also enjoy Justin Case: Shells, Smells, and the Horrible Flip-Flops of Doom
by Rachel Vail and Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disasters
by Lenore Look. Eleanor is also sure to become a new friend to readers who love Clementine. Like Bug Juice on a Burger
is a great follow-up to Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie
, and I hope we'll see Eleanor conquer more of her fears in future stories!
I received a digital ARC of Like Bug Juice on a Burger from Amulet Books via NetGalley. For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.
Anastasia Krupnik. by Lois Lowry. 1978. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 128 pages. ISBN: 9780395286296Anastasia Krupnik keeps an ever-changing list of things she likes and hates. Sometimes she hates her grandmother for losing her memory and not knowing who she is. Other times, she loves the opportunity to sit down and get to know her better. Sometimes she loves Washburn Cummings, an older boy in her neighborhood, and other times, he makes her so unhappy she adds him to the hate list. Her teacher, her parents, and even her soon-to-be-born baby brother all jump back and forth between the lists as Anastasia navigates life as a ten-year-old. I remember the Anastasia books from childhood, but I couldn't swear that I've ever read one. As a kid, I tended to be turned off by older books, and I think this series has always had an unfortunate set of covers that make the stories seem even older than they actually are. Reading it now, as an adult, this book was a surprise. I was surprised by the fresh writing and the main character's strong voice, and I was surprised by how quickly the story moves, and how easy it was to get lost in it. There isn't much of a plot, really, but what makes the book stand out are all the great details Lowry uses to paint the Krupniks as real people. I loved learning about Anastasia's father, Myron, through the dedication pages in each of the poetry books he has written. I loved Anastasia's brief flirtation with the idea of becoming Catholic, and her impression of what that would mean. Anastasia's family life reminds me of many other families from middle grade series, including the Clementine, Ramona Quimby, and Alice McKinley books. Somehow I've never thought of the Anastasia books as being in the same class with these "classics" - but I should have guessed that Lowry would write just as well in the realistic fiction genre as she does in science fiction.
Anastasia Krupnik will appeal to fans of the books I just mentioned, as well as to readers who like Johanna Hurwitz, Ann M. Martin, and Megan McDonald. It's tricky for me to promote books to kids when their covers look so old and strange, but it's worth giving them a great book talk - or even reading one aloud to a group in order to get kids excited about reading them once again. Very little stands between Anastasia and 21st century girls, and I'm not even sure anyone could tell just from the text that this book is older than I am! If you missed these in childhood, as I did, give them a try now - you won't be disappointed.
I borrowed Anastasia Krupnik from my local public library. For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.
Google Reader has entered the three-month sunset period that will end with its retirement on July 1, 2013. As we all scramble to find our next feed reader - or a new, non-RSS alternative - I want to share with my readers all the methods you can use to subscribe to my posts.
For more alternatives to Google Reader, check out this post. Thanks for reading and following this blog! If you missed it, click here to read yesterday's Carnival of Children's Literature. Check back on Sunday for a new Old School post.
Click here or on the "subscribe via email" link in the sidebar to get each of my posts delivered directly to your inbox. With my current blogging schedule, this would be about 4 emails a week, on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Except for a brief lapse for most of this month, due to a technical error I had not realized I made, all my blog posts here and at Story Time Secrets are automatically tweeted, with links, to my Twitter account, @sharingsoda. If you follow me on Twitter, you'll never miss a post!
I update the Facebook page for this blog every time I make a new post. If you like my blog on Facebook, these posts should turn up in your news feed.
I pin reviews from this blog to my Pinterest board, entitled Books Reviewed (2013). This does not update in real time, but I try to pin new posts at least once a week.
I link to all my reviews on my Goodreads account. Again, these updates are done manually and not in real time, but if you are my friend on Goodreads, you will see these links in your recent activity when you log in.
This is by no means the only way to follow RSS feeds, but for now, it's the one I've chosen. Though some blogs I follow look garbled and strangely formatted in Feedly, mine actually looks pretty good, and if you're undecided about where to move your feeds, I'd recommend checking it out. In any case, regardless of which feed reader you use, the link to my feed is: http://feeds.feedburner.com/sharingsoda
Welcome to the March 2013 Carnival of Childrens' Literature
! There are so many great posts on so many wonderful and diverse topics this month. I hope you will click on every link and share them with your kid-lit loving friends. Look for next month's carnival at City Muse Country Muse
. Early Literacy
- At Monkey Poop, Amitha reviews The Market Bowl, a picture book set in modern day Cameroon in which a little girl must face the consequences when she puts too high a price on a sloppily prepared soup that she made.
- Catherine, who blogs at The Cath in the Hat, shares her review of Building Our House, a "delightfully detailed" picture book in which a young girl narrates the building of her brand-new house from start to finish.
- Nancy from The Busy Mom Bookshelf shares her review of Only One You, a 2006 picture book written and illustrated by Linda Kranz and published by Rising Moon. Nancy says, "This is a book that can be read over and over and should be read over and over as a gentle reminder to your kids and to yourself about how to make one's self and the world a better place."
- Jennifer from Jean Little Library introduces her brand new blog, In Short, I'm Busy, which is a collection of story time resources. In this post, she shares a recent session of Preschool Interactive, featuring a shark-themed storytime, complete with commentary, early literacy connections, book suggestions, and more.
- Aishwarya at Practically Marzipan presents a reading of "the problem of Susan" in C.S. Lewis's Narnia books, in the context of Alan Garner's fantasy novels, particularly the Brisingamen trilogy.
- Wendy Mass has a new book coming out in June! Get a sneak peek of Pi in the Sky from Brenda's review at Proseandkahn, where she calls it her favorite book of 2013.
- At Original Content, Gail's response to David Levithan's science fiction novel, Every Day, attempts to answer the question: When Can Changing Points Of View Work Really Well?
- At Talee's World, author Jacquitta A. McManus blogs as eight-year-old Talee, the main character from her novel, Talee and the Fallen Object. In this post Talee shares photos from her sleepover with her best friend, Cora.
- Curious about how to incorporate Common Core Standards into a lesson about Goldilocks? At SpeakWell, ReadWell, Jeanette describes how she used Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs to help her second grade students learn how to retell stories and compare multiple versions of the same story.
- After Jeanette has inspired you to connect Golidlocks to the common core, visit Kate at Book Aunt for a long list of Goldilocks retellings, written by everyone from James Marshall to Jan Brett.
- Here at Secrets & Sharing Soda, I have decided to share my Old School Sunday post about the creepiest children's book I know - 1990 Newbery Honoree Afternoon of the Elves by Janet Taylor Lisle.
- Lisa, who blogs at Shelf-employed, shares an enticing book talk about Nan Marino's latest middle grade novel, Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace, which will be published on April 16.
- Can you lose and still be a champ? Read-Aloud Dad uses Two Cars, a vintage picture book originally published in 1955, as the basis for an interesting philosophical post about competition, individualism and following the rules.
- Reshama at Stacking Books reviews a beautifully illustrated picture book by Demi entitled The Empty Pot. Set in China, the book tells the story of a young boy who struggles to grow the flowers he must show to the emperor.
- Wendy from An Education in Books reminds us that "not all interesting girls are sassy and loud." In her review of Eileen Spinelli's When No One is Watching she celebrates the strengths of shy kids and asks us to share our experiences with shy characters.
- Are you a reader of children's books and in need of some reading suggestions? At Jen Robinson's Book Page, Jen has pulled together a great list of resources for finding books of all genres. Her links take us everywhere from the Cybils website to weekly round-ups and memes around the kidlitosphere.
- Erica also has some great recommendations - for math lovers! At What Do We Do All Day?, she has compiled a list of math chapter books and story collections, which includes The Lemonade War, The Phantom Tollbooth, and The Candy Corn Contest.
- Still need something more to read? Maybe you share reading interests with one of the characters from TV's Glee! Pat at Read, Write, Repeat has been suggesting books for everyone on the show. This post explains why mean cheerleader Kitty Wilde should read Poison by Bridget Zinn.
- Are you a fiction writer? You might find inspiration in obituaries, according to Esther Hershenhorn's recent post at Teaching Authors. She provides insight into how reading obituaries has helped her writing, then challenges writers to create obituaries for some of their characters in order to deepen character development.
- If you're looking for an excellent non-fiction book for upper elementary students, Andi from A Wrung Sponge recommends Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, American's First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone, newly published by Candlewick. Andi says, "Stone's fascinating book tells the story supported with archival photos, original period advertizements and political cartoons, as well as the artwork of award-winning artist Ashley Bryan."
- Jeanne at True Tales & A Cherry On Top celebrates Women's History Month with a post about Heart on Fire - Susan B. Anthony Votes for President.
- Julie from Instantly Interruptible reviews Steve Sheinkin's award winning nonfiction title, Bomb: The Race to Build--And Steal--The World's Most Dangerous Weapon. In her review, she explores some of her frustrations with the author's treatment of the Japanese and with his portrayal of the moral and ethical implications of the bomb.
- Lisa shares a post from Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month, in which author Michelle Markel shares how her picture book biography, Brave Girl, came to be published.
- Liz at Kid Lit About Politics gets emotional in her post about YALSA Nonfiction Award Finalist We’ve Got A Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March by Cynthia Levinson.
- At The Fourth Musketeer, Margo hosts a guest post from author Annette LeBlanc Cate, who writes about her 2013 book, Look Up! Birdwatching in Your Own Backyard. Cate tells us, "Birding is sort of a natural thing for kids....they like to know the names of things, and they pay attention to stuff most grownups don't have the time of day for... like bugs on the steps, and butterflies, and flowers pushing up through the pavement.... and birds, too."
- Students struggling with Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet might benefit from two apps reviewed by Mary Ann at Great Kid Books. Video previews and screenshots included!
- Our Learning Collection shares a post about The 7 Habits of Happy Kids, by Sean Covey, which uses animal stories to teach the lessons first introduced in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in a kid-friendly way.
- At Wrapped in Foil, Roberta reviews Kadir Nelson's "visually stunning and moving biography" of Nelson Mandela.
- How much do you know about John Newbery, for whom the Newbery Medal is named? Sarah from Sarah Albee Books has done her research, and she shares her findings in this fascinating blog post about the first children's publisher to actually enjoy kids.
- It's a poetry celebration with Ladybug magazine at Kerry's blog, Picture Books & Pirouettes! Kerry shares two poems from February's issue of Ladybug: "Kangaroo Dance" by Shannon Caster and "Marshmallow Soup", written by Kerry herself!
- At Booktalking, Anastasia Suen spotlights Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke.
- LH Johnson of Did you ever stop to think & forget to start again? shares an in-depth review of a picture book that makes her "proper happy": Martha and the Bunny Brothers by Clara Vulliamy. She also provides some insight on how she reads picture books without children.
- Tina of Tales from the Rushmore Kid shares some writing advice in the form of a publicity tip of the day from Molly Sardella, a publicist at Penguin Young Readers.
- Zoe at Playing By the Book hosted an International Edible Book Festival. Now she shares the 61 entries she received from 5 different continents!
The Carnival of Children's Literature is organized monthly by Anastasia Suen. View the archives of past carnivals on her blog.
Relish: My Life in the Kitchen. by Lucy Knisley. April 2, 2013. Macmillan. 192 pages. ISBN: 9781596436237
Lucy Knisley's mother is a chef, so naturally, Lucy grew up around food - first in New York City, then in the more rural Hudson Valley. The result of Lucy's childhood is not just a great recipe collection, but also a collection of wonderful food-related memories that shape Lucy into her adult self. In this memoir, Lucy recalls the times she and her mother stood in the kitchen and ate cherry tomatoes right from the bowl. She reflects on the disagreements she and her parents have had over junk food, and waxes poetic about a croissant she has never been able to replicate. Each chapter is topped off with a detailed recipe, explained in words and pictures with a touch of humorous commentary.
I initially chose to read this book because I wanted to get back into reading graphic novels, and the cover art caught my eye on NetGalley. I had no idea that the author had actually lived in Rhinebeck, NY, not far from Poughkeepsie, where I attended college and only an hour or so from where I actually grew up. Though I did not recognize the specific places Lucy had visited, I still enjoyed feeling that personal connection to the book, which is part of what motivated me to read it.
While I enjoyed the concept of this book, I didn't connect with the episodes from Lucy's life as well as I would have liked to. I am not a cook, nor am I a particularly adventurous eater, so the details of all the food didn't necessarily excite me, and I was disappointed that I couldn't connect with Lucy and the other "characters" of her stories through another avenue. I got some glimpses into Lucy's family life - such as the fact that her father misses her mother's cooking and still occasionally eats meals with her - and into her longest friendship, with the friend who moved to Japan and helped her explore Japanese food - but I wanted to feel more invested in her life, and that never quite happened.
On the other hand, the artwork is everything the cover promises. I enjoyed the detailed lines in each panel, and though I skimmed much of the text of the recipes, I loved the way she included a visual component for each ingredient and each step in the cooking process. I'm not sure these would be the most practical recipes to follow in the kitchen, but I thought including them as part of the story was a unique and effective approach. Relish
is most likely to appeal to readers who love food as Lucy does. Teens who aspire to be chefs or bakers will find a kindred spirit in Lucy, and all readers will be inspired to reflect on the ways food has shaped their identities. Most of the content in the book is appropriate for middle grade readers, but I think the tone is more YA, and at least one chapter includes content mature enough that parents might not want their nine-year-olds to read it just yet. Recommend this book to teens who loved Raina Telgemier's Smile, and also consider it as a read-alike for Ayun Halliday's Peanut
and The Crepe Makers' Bond
by Julie Crabtree.I received a digital ARC of Relish: My Life in the Kitchen from Macmillan via NetGalley.For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.
Blog: Secrets & Sharing Soda
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author: kate messner
, source: netgalley
, publisher: scholastic
, series: jaguar society
, read 2013
, published 2013
, genre: adventure
, genre: realistic fiction
, level: middle grade
, Add a tag
Hide and Seek. by Kate Messner. April 1, 2013. Scholastic. 256 pages. ISBN: 9780545419758
At a ceremony honoring them for their role in saving the original American flag from thieves, junior Silver Jaguar Society members Anna, Henry, and Jose learn that another valuable artifact is missing. The Jaguar Cup, an important piece of Jaguar Society history, has been replaced with a counterfeit. The senior members of the Society must head immediately to Costa Rica to investigate. Their parents want to keep them safe, so the three kids are left with a society member named Michael and his daughter, Sofia, but that doesn't stop them from gathering evidence. When the senior members of the society are stranded due to an earthquake, and suspicious people start appearing at Michael's lodge, the kids find themselves in serious danger, as the thieves do their best to get away with what they've done.
Though this book seems like a mystery at first, I think it's better to think of it as an adventure novel. The kids do spend some time gathering clues and analyzing evidence, but the truly exciting parts of the story have them running around the rainforest in the dark, accidentally petting giant spiders and wielding machetes at poisonous snakes. There is some character development, particularly involving Jose's role as the "smart kid" of the group, but the plot is the main focus. The story is action-packed, filled with moments of triumph and exhilaration, as well as frustration and defeat. Readers have the chance to learn about the culture and climate of Costa Rica while also watching with their hearts in their mouths as the cup slips out of the kids' reach again and again.
When I was a kid, I used to imagine all the heroic things I would attempt to do if I were ever kidnapped or chased by an evil criminal mastermind. I suspect these kind of ridiculous scenarios are common in the imaginations of a lot of kids, and this book taps into those thoughts. Jose, Anna, and Henry have unlikely experiences, but I can't imagine a child who wouldn't enjoy living vicariously through them. Everything that happens to them - even the scary things - seems like it would be very exciting!
The story has a fast pace and straightforward writing, making it a quick, enjoyable read for even the most reluctant of readers. Reading the first book is not required to follow the story, so Hide and Seek would even work as a classroom aloud for fourth or fifth graders. Hide and Seek
is a perfect choice for kids who like The Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys, and for readers who enjoyed Madhattan Mystery
and Chasing Vermeer
. I received a digital ARC of Hide and Seek from Scholastic via NetGalley. For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.
Blog: Secrets & Sharing Soda
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source: personal collection
, published 1940
, author: arthur ransome
, series: swallows and amazons
, level: middle grade
, genre: mystery
, feature: old school sunday
, publisher: david r godine
, read 2013
, Add a tag
The Big Six. by Arthur Ransome. 1940. 367 pages. ISBN: 9781567921199
In the eight books of the Swallows and Amazons series published prior to The Big Six
, Arthur Ransome’s wonderful characters have imagined themselves in a whole host of situations. Sometimes they are sailors; at other times, they’re miners, at still other times, they’re explorers. This time around, the Death and Glories (Joe, Bill, and Pete) and Tom Dudgeon as well as Dick and Dorothea, fancy themselves detectives, and they’re not too far off from becoming the real thing. Someone has been casting off boats, and almost everyone believes it is the Death and Glories. They have been in the vicinity of each boat set adrift, and Mr. Tedder, the local policeman is sure he will be able to prove it was them and disband the Coot Club. Dorothea, with her wild imagination, and Dick, with his new interest in photography team up to help their friends prove their innocence and catch the real culprit.
While I will always love the Swallows the most of all of Ransome’s characters, I really grew to love the Death and Glories in this book. In their first appearance, back in Coot Club
, the three boys seemed very much like one entity, with very few obvious details to differentiate one from another. In this book, the three boys’ individual personalities are much more pronounced, and I enjoyed seeing the ways they related to one another. I also enjoyed seeing Dick and Dorothea in leadership roles in this story. In all the previous books they have been in, it seems like they have always taken their cues from someone else - namely Nancy, Tom, or Mrs. Barrable. To see them as heroes in this book was a nice change of pace. I also thought it was neat to introduce a mystery element into a sailing story, and I didn’t miss the technical sailing jargon that seems to permeate most of Ransome’s other writing.
I am now just three books away from completing this series, and The Big Six
is definitely among my favorites of all the books. At some points, the repetition of the evidence and the lack of action is a bit tedious, but for the most part, the fresh dialogue keeps things moving, and the slow revelations about the different clues help to build suspense so that the reader doesn’t know the outcome of the mystery until the absolute last second. Though the reader can easily guess early on who the true criminal is, it is still entertaining to see the kids solve the mystery and prove their case even when none of the adults around them could manage. Just like all the other Swallows and Amazons books, this one celebrates what kids can do on their own and proves that they should be taken just as seriously as adults.
I own a copy of The Big Six. For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.
Mallory and Mary Ann Take New York. by Laurie Friedman. March 1, 2013. Darby Creek Publishing. 159 pages. ISBN: 9780761360742
In Honestly, Mallory
, book eight of her series, Mallory got into big trouble when she lied to her classmates about winning Fashion Fran's design contest. In this latest book, the nineteenth of Mallory's adventures, she wins that same contest - for real this time. Her prize includes a trip for four to New York City, and the opportunity to model the outfit she created for the audience at Fashion Fran's show. There is just one problem. Before winning the contest, Mallory made a pinky-swear with Mary Ann that if one of them won the contest, the other would come up with a way for both girls to be on the show. Though Mallory manages to convince her mother to bring Mary Ann and her mom on the trip to New York, she has more trouble than she imagined keeping the rest of her promise. And Mary Ann is very upset. Will they still be friends if Mallory can't live up to her pinky swear?
The storyline in this book is a refreshing departure from the trends of the last few books of the series, where Mallory is boy-crazy and obsessed with her brother's private life. It also represents a turning of the tables in Mallory's friendship with Mary Ann. In most of the books, Mallory is pouty and petulant, but this time Mary Ann takes on that role, and Mallory must cope with it. I also think a lot of elementary school girls can relate to the problems that are created by making promises that are too big to keep. I do wish the story taught a clearer lesson about the consquences of making those promises (the girls basically get their way in the end), but kids who read the story will probably like the happy ending better than any life lesson that could have been offered.
According to a 2010 interview with Laurie Friedman at From the Mixed Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors
, there will be 20 books in all in the Mallory series. That means there's only one more to go! I will be sad to see it end, since I've been reading them for so long, but I am curious to see how everything will be wrapped up. I also look forward to learning what Friedman might work on next!
Suggest Mallory McDonald to readers who are outgrowing chapter books and ready to start moving onto middle grade titles. Read all my reviews of books in this series by clicking here
. I received a digital ARC of Mallory and Mary Ann Take New York from NetGalley. For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.
The Perfect Guy. by Ann Herrick. 2013. Books We Love, Ltd. ASIN: B00BB2E0U2The Perfect Guy
is a new edition of a young adult romance novel previously published in 1989 and again in 2005. Like Twisted Window
by Lois Duncan and Fog
by Caroline Cooney, this book has apparently been modernized from its original form in the hopes of reaching a new, 21st century teen audience. The main character of the story is Rebecca, whose mother has just remarried to the father of Rebecca's crush, Pres. Rebecca is naively convinced that this new family dynamic is sure to cause Pres to finally in love with her. She keeps trying to make up reasons to spend more time with her stepbrother, but despite her best efforts, he always seems to respond in a brotherly way. What Rebecca doesn't realize, though, is that another guy in her life is ready to give her everything Pres won't.
I have to confess that I could tell right away that this was a not a brand-new contemporary novel. Even before I learned that it was originally published in the 1980s, I noticed that all the modern-day technology in the story felt out of place. I also thought the characters' names - Pres, Celeste, and Rebecca - sounded nothing like names that teens commonly have in 2013. This isn't necessarily a flaw, but for me, these things were slight distractions. I also questioned whether it was necessary for Rebecca to be in love with her stepbrother, as I don't know how common a problem that truly is for real teens.
That said, the story itself is easy to read, with straightforward writing, lots of dialogue, and short, fast-paced chapters. Herrick captures that sense of obsession some girls develop when they have crushes, and very realistically portrays how blind they can become to the reality of the boys' lack of interest in them. Middle school girls - and even some high schoolers - who are reluctant to read will enjoy the interpersonal drama that emerges as the story progresses, and they will be just as pleased with the happy ending, even if they will see it coming a long way off. The story also offers a lot of sympathy and comfort for girls adapting to new stepfamilies, which is always a relevant topic for this age group.
Learn more about Ann Herrick and her books at her website
. I received a copy of The Perfect Guy from the author.For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.
Iris and Walter. by Elissa Haden Guest. 2000. Harcourt Children's Books. 44 pages. ISBN: 9780152021221
When I arrived at my current library two years ago, the first question I received that stumped me was a request for the Iris and Walter books. I knew a lot of kids’ books, even then, but somehow none of the libraries I’d worked in prior to my current position had this series, so I had to admit to the nanny who asked for them that I didn’t know what they were. In the intervening two years, I have read a couple of the later books about this pair of best friends, and I have come to love Christine Davenier’s illustration style. Today, I’m spotlighting the very first Iris and Walter book, published in 2000.
Iris has just moved to the country, and she misses everything about her life in the big city. Her parents try to cheer her up by asking her to play all her favorite games, but Iris doesn’t feel like it. Her problem, she complains to her grandfather, is that the country doesn’t have any kids. Grandpa is sure this can’t be true, so he takes Iris on a walk around her neighborhood. Up a ladder, in a tree, behind the door of a little treehouse, Iris finds Walter, and suddenly life in the country is much, much better.
Lots of children’s books deal with moving to a new place and searching for friends, and the plot of this story doesn’t really add anything that previous books haven’t covered. What stands out about Iris and Walter
is the way the story is written, and the specific details Guest uses to evoke Iris’s memories of the city, and her feelings about moving and meeting Walter. For example, Iris doesn’t just miss the city, she misses “playing baseball after supper until it was too dark to see the ball.” She’s not just nervous about the country, she thinks it’s “as lonely as Mars.” And when Iris and Walter finally meet and explore the country together, Guest even takes a few moments to reflect on the natural beauty of Iris’s new home, telling us of “red-tailed hawks and starry skies” and “pale roses” and “cool grass.”
The writing is descriptive and yet accessible for newly independent readers. The vocabulary is rich, but not overwhelming, and the story manages to be literature without being obscure or boring. Kids can relate to the happiness of finding a new friend and to the coziness of spending time with that friend day after day. Walter doesn’t have much to say in this book, so it’s not necessarily the most balanced introduction to a series that stars two characters, but as “how they met” stories go, it works nicely, and it sets us up for all the future fun Iris and Walter will have together. Iris and Walter
reminds me of the sweetness of the Frog and Toad books and the humor of Mr. Putter and Tabby or Henry and Mudge. Recommend it to kids who like the Freckleface Strawberry picture books, the Pinky and Rex series, and the George and Martha series. Learn more about the rest of the Iris and Walter books at the author’s website, http://www.elissahadenguest.com/ I borrowed Iris and Walter from my local public library. For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.
The Railway Children. by E. Nesbit. 1906. 208 pages. ISBN: 9780486410227
Roberta (Bobbie), Peter, and Phyllis (Phil) have never been poor before, but when their father must go away unexpectedly, they and their mother move to a more modest home in the country. There isn’t much to do in their new, smaller house, and their mother is always busy writing stories to make ends meet, so the children often find themselves visiting the railway station. There they have many adventures: making friends with Perks the porter, waving to a particular old gentleman who rides the train past their station every day, and even saving a train from a very bad accident! All the while the three children are kept in the dark about where their father really is. When Bobbie finds out by mistake, she uses her railway connections to sort things out and, hopefully, bring her father home.
My husband has been nagging me to read this book for months, and I kept putting it off because I was one hundred percent sure it was an old, sad orphan story. I was completely wrong about this, as it turns out. There is some sadness in the book, but the kids are not orphans, and though the story is now over 100 years old, it reads more like a 1950s children’s novel, such as those written by Eleanor Estes and Elizabeth Enright. It is certainly somewhat old-fashioned compared to contemporary middle grade novels - the children dress in early 1900s garb, they watch a “paper chase” in one chapter, and they lack the modern sources of news and communication that would have made it much easier for them to learn of their father’s whereabouts during his long absence. The narrator also sometimes addresses the reader directly, which is not very common in contemporary kids’ books (unless they’re written by Lemony Snicket.) Even so, the dialogue between the characters sounds very contemporary, and many of the children’s arguments and conversations could easily happen in any group of 21st century children I have met.
The story itself is well-written without being difficult to read. The characters come vividly to life mostly in the way they speak, and each chapter’s adventure moves swiftly by. It is extremely unlikely that any group of kids would have so many opportunities to save lives and cheer up those in need, and it did bother me toward the end of the book that a country town where nothing ever happens could suddenly be the center of so much excitement. Still, kids reading this book would no doubt enjoy seeing kids their own age becoming heroes, no matter how unlikely those events might actually be. They will also relate to the kids’ desire not to seem like pious goody-goodies, and to the mistakes they make along the way. The Railway Children
is to railroads what Swallows and Amazons
is to sailboats. Any child who has ever been fascinated by trains will fall in love with the railway station along with Bobbie, Peter, and Phil, and they will enjoy feeling like part of their family. Recommend The Railway Children
to realistic fiction readers who enjoy family stories, adventure, and emotional happy endings. I read The Railway Children free online at Project Gutenberg.For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.
My Summer of Pink and Green. by Lisa Greenwald. March 2013. Amulet Books. 272 pages. ISBN: 9781419704130
In My Summer of Pink and Green
, the sequel to 2009’s My Life in Pink and Green
, Lucy Desberg’s family finally begins work on the eco-spa that will attract new business to their aging pharmacy. Lucy is excited, mostly because the eco-spa was her idea, and she is anxious to expand her business as a makeup artist. Unfortunately, what no one has told Lucy is that the family is bringing in a consultant to oversee the spa’s grand opening, and that Lucy’s main role in the entire process will be to hang out with Bevin, the annoying daughter of the business’s chief investor. Lucy also has other things to deal with - her sister came home from college with a new boyfriend, her best friend, Sunny, is all wrapped up in her new boyfriend to the point that she can’t talk about anything else, and Sunny’s brother, Yamir, on whom Lucy has a crush, seems to like Lucy one minute and forget she exists the next. It’s going to be a long summer!
My feelings about Lisa Greenwald’s books have run the gamut over the past few years. I loved Sweet Treats and Secret Crushes
, but felt lukewarm about Reel Life Starring Us
. My Life in Pink and Green
fell squarely in the middle of the spectrum, and now My Summer of Pink and Green is leaning more closely to the love I felt for Sweet Treats and Secret Crushes
. I read the first book about Lucy not long ago, right after I received the digital ARC of this book from NetGalley, so Lucy has been fresh in my mind, and I like where this second book takes her character.
Lucy is a go-getter and an optimist, and it is undoubtedly her determination that saves the family from financial ruin in the first book. I completely understood her indignation, therefore, when most of her responsibilities are taken away in this sequel. I think the entire story explores something interesting that we don’t get to see very often in children’s literature. What happens to kids like Lucy who take on a lot of adult responsibilities when the adults in their lives get it together and don’t need their help anymore? Of course, Lucy should be a child and hang out with Bevin and have fun. Any adult reading this book will easily see that the responsibilities placed on Lucy’s shoulders were perhaps not fair to her, but how does that same situation feel to a child who felt so needed and now feels left out? Lucy’s family is very much in a time of transition, and this book deals so realistically and authentically with the emotions a child might feel.
This book also deals with a lot of other common tween problems - boys, best friends, and cruelty. What I like about Greenwald’s handling of these subjects is that Lucy plays the role of both good guy and bad guy. She’s not blameless in the rift between herself and Sunny or herself and Yamir, nor is she completely kind and friendly to Bevin all the time. She’s a normal kid learning to navigate not just new family dynamics, but new developments in her friendships as well. My Summer of Pink and Green
will appeal first and foremost to readers who have read the first book and want to know how things turn out for Lucy and the eco-spa. It’s also a good read for fans of Leslie Margolis’s series of earnest middle school tales beginning with Boys Are Dogs
, and readers who have enjoyed Every Soul a Star
and other books by Wendy Mass.
I received a digital ARC of My Summer of Pink and Green from Amulet Books via NetGalley. For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.
Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality. by Elizabeth Eulberg. March 1, 2013. Scholastic. 272 pages. ISBN: 9780545476997
Lexi has never had very much luck with guys. She is known for having a great personality - a code phrase Lexi feels is applied only to girls who aren't beautiful. In her family, Lexi's seven-year-old sister Mackenzie is considered the beautiful one. The girls' mother enters Mackenzie into pageant after pageant, throwing away money they don't have on an activity Mackenzie doesn't even enjoy. Lexi sees through the superficiality of the pageant game, but her mother never listens to her. In fact, Lexi is expected to sacrifice time with friends, her work schedule, and even her own hard-earned money to make Mackenzie's pageants successful. This book is the story of how Lexi finally gets fed up with her life. She doesn't want to be known as just a great personality anymore, and it's time to exact her revenge.
Reality TV watchers who have seen the trainwrecks that are Toddlers and Tiaras
and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo
know all too well the questionable parenting and erratic behavior of some of these pageant moms. What we don't get to see on those shows, though, is how the pageant obsession might affect members of the family who don't approve of the expensive hobby, and how such a disagreement can put a strain on a family. This book, through the eyes of its teenage protagonist, shows this situation in a realistic and emotional way. Lexi is truly torn between her desire to be appealing to boys and her wish to avoid the appearance-obsessed attitudes of her mom and sister. When she suddenly starts dressing differently and wearing make-up, it does give her the results she wants with boys, but she still has trouble shaking the nagging feeling that is compromising her principles. So many times, in movies and books marketed to teens, all it takes is a little bit of lip gloss and a pair of contact lenses to turn an awkward, shy girl into every teen boy's dream. This book does a decent job of challenging that ridiculous idea and it goes deeper into issues of self image and beauty and reminds us of the value of having a great persoanlity, no matter what a girl looks like on the outside.
Lexi is a memorable character with whom I would have loved to be friends during high school. She is loyal, funny, and smart, and I rooted for her from page one. At a significant turning point in the book, Lexi's parents both do and say things they probably don't mean, and I nearly started crying, so closely did I sympathize with Lexi's feelings and her desire to break away from all that made her so unhappy. At that moment in the story, when the adults in her life let her down so terribly, I found myself making comparisons between this book and Tales of the Madman Underground
, where something similar happens between Karl Shoemaker and his mom. (Both situations also involve money, which caught my attention as well.) Teens - especially those who will soon leave home - often clash with their parents, and I think this book handles that idea well, without making Lexi act like a total victim, and also without completely vilifying her mom. The psychology of this book alone is enough to make it enjoyable, and I think readers will enjoy seeing the transformation Lexi undergoes, and how this change in turn alters her family dynamics.
Fans of Elizabeth Eulberg's previous work (The Lonely Hearts Club
, Take a Bow
, etc.) will not be disappointed by her latest novel. Read-alikes for Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality
include King of the Screw-Ups
by K.L. Going and Big Fat Manifesto
by Susan Vaught. I received a digital ARC of Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality from Scholastic via NetGalley.For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.
Escape from Silver Street Farm. by Nicola Davies. March 26, 2013. Candlewick. 80 pages. ISBN: 9780763661335
Karl, Gemma, and Meera are excited for the opening of the farm that has been their dream since kindergarten. There is just one problem - their sheep and turkeys have escaped! While Karl and the farm's new caretaker, Scottish farmer Flora McDonald, track the sheep to the nearby grocery store, Gemma and Meera must gather the clues that will piece together the unlikely events that happen to the missing turkeys.
This book has so many things in it that kids just naturally love: kids taking charge, animals in silly situations, a sense of suspense and mystery, and a happy ending. Though the characters are definitely older than the average age of the target audience, the tone and humor are spot-on for the early elementary reader. Animal lovers will be pleased by the occasional passages written from the point of view of the various animals, but even kids who are less thrilled with animal-centric stories will engage with the characters and their detective work instead.
The design of the book is also very appealing. The illustrations at the start of each chapter hint at events to follow, and they show the racial diversity of the characters that is not explicitly discussed in the text. Katherine McEwan's
tiny lines and cartoonish faces remind me of drawings by illustrators like Matthew Cordell and Marla Frazee. I especially like the way McEwan shows the animals' personalities in their faces. Another appealing aspect of the design are the little footprints along the bottom of each page. In the chapters focusing on the search for the sheep, they are hoofprints, and in the turkey chapters, they are little turkey prints. This is a nice visual cue to help kids keep track of the switch from one part of the story to another. I also think those are nice touches to have on pages that are otherwise nothing but text.
There are so many books for kids about animals, but this series stands out for me because the author is an actual zoologist with firsthand knowledge of caring for animals. There are no talking animals in this book, but the animals have realistic personalities and minds of their own that give them a more active role in the story than in many books about kids and their animal obsessions. The Silver Street Farm series
is a perfect read-alike for the Lulu series
by Hilary McKay, also imported from the UK by Candlewick Press. For more suggestions for readers who like animals, check out my lists about kids and their dogs
and farm animals
.I received a digital ARC of Escape from Silver Street Farm from my local public library. For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.
The All-Of-A-Kind Family. by Sydney Taylor. 1951. Follett Publishing Company. 189 pages. ISBN: 0929093089
Mama has five girls: Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, and Gertie, and because there are no boys, they call themselves an “all-of-a-kind family.” The family doesn’t have very much money, but they still have lots to be happy about. The girls visit the library regularly, where they are always glad to see their friend, the library lady. They have a wonderful relationship with their father’s best friend, Charlie, who gives them treats when they are sick and often comes around for dinner on holidays. They even get a little bit of money now and then to spend on secret candy to eat in bed, and to buy gifts for their father’s birthday. Throughout the year, the girls keep busy and make the best of what they do have - wonderful friends, and each other.
This first book in the All-of-a-Kind-Family series was written in the 1950s, but it takes place during the year 1912. Despite the age of the story and the fact that it is historical fiction, it is a fresh and accessible book, even today. Though the girls in the story are poor and living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, they have many experiences that can be universally appreciated by children from all backgrounds, living in urban and rural environments. Each chapter consists of a particularly memorable episode in the family’s life, including things like the loss of a library book, the discovery of old books in their father’s warehouse, and missing out on the Passover seder because of scarlet fever. Readers learn not only what life was like for immigrants living in early 20th century New York, but also all about Jewish tradition and celebrations throughout the year. Though the girls in the story lived 100 years ago, they have many qualities, interests, and worries that contemporary kids undoubtedly share. The All-of-a-Kind Family
is a great fictional representation of growing up in a Jewish family, as well as a sweet celebration of sisterhood. There are some surprise twists at the end of the book that bring together details and characters from earlier chapters, and I didn’t see any of those coming, so I was very pleased by that. I also like how quickly the story moves, and the upbeat tone that provides a sense of hope in difficult circumstances without becoming overly sentimental about city living or poverty. Readers who are anxiously awaiting another installment in the Penderwicks series might enjoy reading about the All-of-a-Kind Family - a series with six books in all - while they wait. It might also appeal to fans of Megan McDonald’s Sisters Club books, and to readers who enjoy The Boxcar Children, The Bobbsey Twins, and Betsy-Tacy
. I borrowed The All-of-a-Kind Family from my local public library. For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.
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Latasha and the Kidd on Keys. by Michael Scotto. March 19, 2013. Midlandia Press. 254 pages. ISBN: 9780983724391
Latasha Gandy is a happy and optimistic fourth grader. She loves her Momma, and her best friend Ricky, and even her neighbor, Mrs. Okocho. She has a great dog named Ella Fitzgerald Gandy, who can be wild, but is also full of love. Though her mom works odd hours and they don't have much money, they still get along pretty well, and Latasha wants for almost nothing. The only thing she doesn't have is a dad. After she attends Ricky's birthday party and sees him interacting with his dad, she becomes a little bit sad, not to mention curious, about the father she has never known. When Momma agrees to get in touch with him, Latasha is excited. Her dad, Patrick (aka "The Kidd") turns out to be a musician with a charming personality and a great sense of humor. Trouble starts, though, when Latasha begins to count on Patrick, and he doesn't live up to his promises.
Like the first book about Latasha, Latasha and the Little Red Tornado
, this book starts off slow, but once it picks up, it's hard to put it down. Many kids come from families where one parent is absent, and this book does a nice job of portraying a realistic version of that scenario. What impresses me the most is how the author manages to tell a story about a very difficult relationship without either vilifying Latasha's dad or turning Latasha herself into a victim. Even at her saddest moments in this story, Latasha doesn't blame herself for the way her dad behaves. She is angry, but also resilient, and she learns to express her anger in a healthy and constructive way and directs it at her father instead of internalizing it. It's refreshing to read a story about family problems where the characters are more than just a bunch of dysfunctional stereotypes. I especially appreciate the way Scotto fleshes out the personalities of both of Latasha's parents and even delves into the story of how they met and fell in love. This helps readers understand Patrick's good qualities and also builds up the overall world of the story.
Michael Scotto's writing has a real sincerity. His characters are authentic people who make good role models, and his stories are hopeful, but realistic. Latasha and the Kidd on Keys
celebrates the strength and love of families, and gives kids a positive way to deal with sometimes tricky family dynamics. I think this sequel is even better than the first book, and I hope this won't be the last we see of Latasha!I received a digital ARC of Latasha and the Kidd on Keys from Midlandia Press via NetGalley.
For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.