Monthly Archives: April 2010

The Penderwicks

The Penderwicks
by Jeanne Birdsall

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

This family reminded me so much of another family that I spent some childhood hours with – I think I’m thinking of the Moffats.  I really enjoy the dynamic of a bunch of sisters, especially when their ages are spaced out in unusual ways.  The oldest three in this story are each a year apart (12, 11, and 10) and then the littlest one is 4.  To me, the youngest is the most endearing, though they all have their moments.  There is one scene where they are at a fancy dinner party and the littlest, Batty, wearing her usual butterfly wings, is spotted by the oldest, Rosalind, as the wings are disappearing underneath the table because shy Batty is uncomfortable.  Many scenes with Batty and her butterfly wings made me laugh out loud from the mere description.  Birdsall definitely has an eye for detail and an ear for dialogue which made this book such a delight.  I am a big fan of a happy ending, especially for children’s books, so I definitely appreciated this one.  It mostly didn’t feel contrived or too forced, and there was even an element of romance for the Rosalind, which would hold the interest of slightly older readers.  I would say it’s excellent fun for 4th-6th graders, especially the more mischievous (or those who would be mischievous if they were a bit more daring, but are content to read about other kids being mischievous).  If they liked it, give ’em The Moffats.  Personally, I can’t wait to read the sequel!

Hooray for Diffendoofer Day

Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!
by Dr. Seuss

Overall: 2 out of 5 stars

So, I know you know April is National Poetry Month.  At my K-8 school, we’ve been all poetry.  I partly want this blog to inform other school librarians about what works and for whom, and also to serve as a record for me of what worked and what didn’t for future reference.  So, for future reference – Hooray for Diffendoofer Day! was a huge flop.  I’m not entirely sure what the problem was.  Maybe it’s that it’s kind of tricky to read, almost tongue-twistery in toughness, or maybe that it’s really long, or maybe it would be better with older kids, but we read it to both sections of the Junior and Senior Kindergarten – four groups in all – and every one was bored.  No one got the humor, no one followed the story, no one even pretended to engage with the rhymes.  Lesson learned.

I do still love me some Lane Smith though! 😉

Return to Sender

Return to Sender
by Julia Alvarez

Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

This is the story of a boy whose family farm is in jeopardy after his grandfather dies and his father is injured.  In order to save the farm, his family hires undocumented Mexican migrant workers.  So this is also the Mexicans’ story, told partly from the perspective of the oldest of the three daughters, who is in the same class as the boy.

This is another YA book club pick.  I snagged a copy on Monday at 4pm; by the time I went to bed Tuesday at 11pm, I was done.  The short chapters and vivid storytelling made the pages fly by.  There were times when the vehicle for the story felt forced; Alvarez uses lots of letters and diary entries to show the perspective of the girl, and then switches back to straight-up third-person narrative for the boy’s story, but overall it worked pretty well.

I also noticed that my copy was marked J Fic, but I don’t think it would work for kids younger than 5th grade at the outside (and of course it depends on the kid).  The bad parts are realistic enough and numerous enough; the good, lucky, warm-fuzzy parts are a bit unbelievable – but then again, so is luck.  The graphic parts (the mother is kidnapped by coyotes and mistreated) allude to the worst of it; someone who reads this at age ten or eleven would re-read it as an adult with an entirely different understanding due to Alvarez’s deft use of ellipses and keen ear for dialogue.

On a personal note, having participated in those protests for immigration reform in Washington, it was very interesting to read how they were woven into the narrative of these families in Vermont, and how they were viewed by those so far away.  It’s also amazing to me that something that happened just four or five years ago is already history – and something that the next generation will likely not be aware of having happened and will need to re-learn later (if ever).

(Incidentally, I am unable to think of this author’s name pronounced as the English Julia – she is always “Hulia” to me!)