I read Two for Joy on the treadmill at the recommendation of my friend Britt, who thought my second girlie might like it. (It’s emotionally complex, which–as weird as it sounds–is just exactly her thing.) At just under 90 pages, it’s really more of a novella, but then, that’s about the perfect length for my very young going-into-second-grade-r. (How young, you ask? The first day of school is on her birthday this year.) It’s a sweet and thoughtful little story about a latter elementary schooler (at a guess) and her divorced mother who convince their fiercely independent Aunt Tannie to move in with them after her latest fall. There are difficulties adjusting at first, and the author doesn’t gloss over them, but eventually love and plain speaking put them on the right track. The text did occasionally fall a bit short of where I wanted it to be–in small ways, nothing major–but the illustrations contributed meaningfully to the story. Bottom line? It’s well worth the amount of time it takes to read this one.
Meindert de Jong wrote one Newbery Medal winner and four Newbery Honor books during the course of his writing career, and I have now–FINALLY–read all of them. Hallelujah!
It’s not that they’re bad, mind you. His writing style just isn’t my cup of tea, and it seems to be aimed toward the very young. Shadrach, which I finished last night, is a prime example. There’s a definite charm to it, and De Jong’s ability to capture young Davie’s inner self is impressive, but I have trouble seeing what audience it was written for. By the time a child is old enough to read a 182 page book, is he or she going to want to read a book about a boy who can’t wait to get his pet rabbit and then, once he’s got it, has to figure out a thing or two about what the rabbit really needs? After all, he doesn’t actually GET the rabbit (whose name is Shadrach, by the way) until 94 pages in. And yet–while the intended audience is a murky, awkward problem for me, I was moved. There was some serious tension by the end, and Davie’s relationships with his family are lovely. (Idealized, perhaps, but lovely.) If you want a short, sweet novel about getting your first pet from a child’s point of view, this is perfect. If the plot doesn’t sound fascinating to you, however, I’d skip it. But the choice is yours.
The Gigantic Giant Goof-Up is the sequel to The Perilous Princess Plot, and I have to say, it’s delightful when a sequel actually lives up to expectations. This one involves unfortunate wishes, a Holy snail, a young giant’s birthday party, a goat with the munchies, and a bona fide handsome prince. Lavender is still dreaming unlikely dreams, Bonnet is still scared of quite the list of things, and Eliza is as down-to-earth as ever. (It goes without saying that Gertrude is the goat with the munchies.) This is a worthy follow-up to its predecessor, and I’m hoping Sarah Courtauld is far from done with the Old Tumbledown Farm!
I checked American Born Chinese out of the library during the tail end of my graphic novel experiments; I suspected it might be too old for my oldest, but the idea of it interested me, so I decided it was worth a try. It didn’t take long to realize that my suspicions were correct–it’s WAY too old for my 9-year-old–but it was certainly interesting!
I came across Marion Roberts’ Sunny Side Up while looking for another novel by the same name (which happens more often than I should probably admit!). I was immediately entertained by Sunny’s voice–she’s the 11-year-old narrator–but it took me a bit to decide that I also liked her. She’s not perfect, and her view of life reminds me that my 9-year-old is going to be growing up a lot in the next two years, but despite the whirlwind of change she’s facing, Sunny keeps finding her way to the right decisions…sooner or later. And she is facing quite the barrage of changes, by the way. Her mother is looking to blend the two of them with her boyfriend’s family, which means Sunny will only be a part-time only child; her stepmom is very pregnant; her best friend is starting to be interested in boys in general (and one of Sunny’s least favorite boys in particular); and her long lost grandmother is trying to meet her. I’m thinking it’s a tad old for my oldest–I’d look at 10 or 11 and up–but I’m glad I read it. I did have to decipher some of the Australian references (if your child isn’t excellent at context cues, you might have to answer a question or two there), but even so, Sunny’s narrative style is compulsively readable.
I enjoyed this one.
When I checked The House at The End of Hope Street out of the library, it seemed like the perfect read. For fans of Sarah Addison Allen? Check. A magical house where portraits of famous women speak to the inhabitants? Bring it on. And chocolate cake with lots of cream for breakfast? Who couldn’t get behind that? Upon reading it, however, I found the reality a bit different. On the one hand, I loved the magical house, and Menna van Praag’s writing style is very readable. On the other hand, the plot went to a bit of a different place than I expected.
The really interesting thing, however, is that it wasn’t the plot’s destination that bothered me significantly. (For most of the book, the lesbian romance is only hinted at, but it does become prominent at the conclusion.) Openly embracing a homosexual lifestyle is in direct opposition to my beliefs, yes, but I know not everyone shares those beliefs. What bothered me far more was the nature of the problems all of the female protagonists seemed to be facing. Affairs, dead-end (sexual) relationships, unrequited love, failure to recognize true love…I truly believe that relationships are incredibly important, but focusing all of the women’s problems around sexual relationships or romantic love oversimplifies both the female gender and life itself. The solutions to some of the women’s problems don’t involve either of those things, but isn’t it a tad insulting to women to assume that their problems are, in a broad sense, all the same?
Sadly, I’m unable to be as precise and powerful in this review as I wanted to be; it happens when you finish a book on vacation and don’t get to review it until a couple of weeks (and several books) later. The other criticism I can still support (without re-reading half the book) is van Praag’s characterization. Most of the characters were decently drawn and interesting, but the villains in Alba’s life are lamentably one-dimensional. They all have their one motivation or character trait that explains their subsequent actions; there doesn’t appear to be anything else to them. Ultimately, then, as much as I did actually enjoy the book, I can’t see myself recommending it. Once I started reading it, I couldn’t stop, but if I had it to do over again? I probably wouldn’t start. On the other hand, if I’d loved where the plot went, I’d likely feel differently.
I suppose that means that the decision is up to you.
I really ought to be reviewing The House at the End of Hope Street, which I finished more than a week ago. I meant to on Wednesday, in fact. I meant to again, today. And yet…I’m still trying to work out exactly what I want to say about that one, and in the meantime, I finished reading Anya’s Ghost to see if it was suitable for my oldest.
It’s not a bad book, you understand. I just looked at the description and thought “hey, interesting mystery!” instead of looking at the recommended age range and thinking “hmm, 12-17 or 7th grade and up…” It’s a graphic novel about an unhappy girl who becomes friends with a ghost–and ultimately learns some surprising truths about herself. I would almost classify it as horror, which is not at all my thing, but it’s really just a contemporary ghost story. Anya was well-drawn (mostly figuratively, because I’m not really qualified to judge the literal aspect there!) and became far more likable during the course of the book, as her view of her world became a truer one. There is some common high school bad behavior here, but nothing explicit or (sadly) shocking to today’s teens. I wouldn’t mind my kids reading it in high school, since Anya comes to some valuable conclusions about some of that behavior; for now, however, back to the library it goes.
Bottom line? If your latter junior high or high schooler likes graphic novels and/or ghost stories, it’s worth a look. I would NOT give it to elementary schoolers–under any circumstances.
Greetings to my legions of devoted fans–have you missed me?
Seriously, though, I spent some lovely time in Idaho visiting my parents and my brother and his family, and now I’m trying to get my house back together, think about routines for the summer, and review the books I’ve finished in the last couple of weeks. (Although to be fair, I only finished a couple; I did, however, skim several more before giving them to my oldest, their primary audience!) I’m starting with an easy one, because there are still unpacking and laundry and THINGS waiting for me to do…
I have to admit, I was wondering about Nathan Hale’s third Hazardous Tale–few people choose to write children’s books about the Donner Party, and it was clear from the title that he wasn’t going to shy away from the more gruesome parts of its history. Then again, as my friend Andrea pointed out, what better way to appeal to reluctant readers? In any case, Donner Dinner Party is a worthy addition to the series. I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen to paint James Reed as such a caricature, but Hale addresses that at the end; ultimately, I thought he did a pretty good job with the story. There’s a lot of facepalming involved for adult readers, but that would be true of even a bare recitation of the facts, really. I’m looking forward to seeing what my oldest thinks of it, because how would it be to read it not knowing how it’s going to turn out?
I’m expecting an interesting reaction to this one.
Now that school is officially out (and the girls’ dance recital is officially over!), I’m taking the next 10 days or so to spend time with family. Happy Summer to you all, and I’ll see you mid-June!
Pretty sure I’ve had a mild case of food poisoning the last few days, which means I’m feeling extra tired, unmotivated, and determined to get to bed earlier tonight, which means that I’m bailing on both you and my terrifying sink full of dirty dishes in a rather embarrassing run-on sentence.
Sorry about that.