by Tom Angleberger
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
Personal Evaluation: I loved all these kids. They were all so real to me, and reminded me of myself and other kids I knew when I was in middle school and brought me right back to middle school dances (in an endearing way). I found the wacky premise oddly intriguing and wanted to see what kind of advice wise Origami Yoda would give. Because I had it as a playaway and didn’t see the layout, I probably missed out on some drawings, but the structure of it as a case file was clear. There were different readers or voices for the different narrators, which was also helpful.
What might interest children: This book was really popular in my area for a while. I think the fact that Yoda is in the title, and it’s a weird title, is intriguing. The idea of the loser kid being the hero, almost against his own will (since he doesn’t even take Origami Yoda’s advice) is interesting to kids, as well as all the other social dynamics – the terror of asking someone to dance, etc. I don’t think it would be as popular for kids in playaway form as in book form, though.
by Matt Christopher
Overall: 3 out of 5 stars
Personal Evaluation: This book struck me as incredibly dated and the kids were almost too innocent to be believable. I think this would appeal to a much younger audience now than when it first came out, which I was surprised to discover was not even 20 years ago. For example, the main character says of his former best friend, “a no-good, miserable, dirty–” and his mother admonishes him, saying “You don’t use that kind of language.” His little sister calls someone stupid and the mother says, “behave yourself” (p.94-95). When their neighbor’s house catches fire, the father pulls an alarm on a pole across the street to call for the fire truck. I was 12 in 1994, when this book came out, and I remember nothing like that. But besides those details, the story is a solid one of hurt feelings, friendship in need of repair and teamwork – and of course lots of soccer.
What might interest children: This is definitely a book for sports fans, and probably not for non-sports-fans. Kids who have had friendships tested out on the field will follow the play-by-play easily and with interest. I would probably stick to Christopher’s more recent books, though – hopefully they are more culturally current. I hope to read one for another category later in the semester.
by Julia Alvarez
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars
Personal Evaluation: I am a big fan of Julia Alvarez’s work, for both adults and children, and this story was no exception. All the characters are so well-written and real, even if Juanita seems a bit innocent and Tia Lola seems a bit too cheerful. Things have a way of working out neatly for this family, and I enjoyed the way Alvarez translated the Spanish words and phrases – it wasn’t stilted the way they sometimes are, but it flows and a non-Spanish-speaking reader can pick them up by context, as he or she would with an English word they don’t know. Alvarez’s website lists this book as the second of four (so far) in the Tia Lola series, but I would add to that Return to Sender, which I have previously read Return to Sender which takes place in the same town and has some of the same characters. So even though I was a bit lost because I hadn’t read the first Tia Lola book, it was still a familiar setting and enough of it was explained to get the idea.
What might interest children: Tia Lola is a magical kind of adult who really understands kids. She is a natural teacher and such a bright, cheerful presence. All of the characters are multidimensional but especially siblings Miguel and Juanita and I think they would be really easy for kids to relate to. This is especially true of kids who have divorced parents – we get enough of a peek into Miguel and Juanita’s parents’ lives to understand one of the reasons why people get divorced, and why they may choose to remarry and all the complicated feelings that go along with that, which may help some kids. Any kid who’s ever felt left out for being “brown” or knowing another language will feel accepted in this tiny Vermont town; any kid with Spanish-speaking classmates will learn compassion (and a little Spanish) with this story.
by Yumi Gotta
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars
One day Hikaru, a teenage boy, finds a Go (game popular mostly among older Japanese people, a la backgammon or canasta) game board and the spirit of an old Go master takes up residence in his brain. By obeying the Go master, Hikaru is able to play people much better than him, which leaves them confused. He enters a youth Go tournament and gets a lot of attention, but does not really understand what the game means to those who have gotten good the old-fashioned way – through practice. There are some really funny parts when he is trying to shut out the Go master’s voice from his head and just get through his day.
Personal Evaluation: To me, the idea of reading manga was like most people’s idea of eating their vegetables: you should at least try it once, it’s good for you (in that it makes you a more well-rounded children’s librarian). Even the head of the children’s dept. at work did not deter me when I asked her for a manga recommendation and she said, “I don’t recommend you read any if you can help it!” I just picked one randomly off the shelf and when I took a closer look later I saw that it was a Shonen Jump one, it was all the better as I see those go out all the time. I’m still not sure what that means but I think it’s the name of the Japanese publisher. But anyway, I actually found the story fairly easy to follow (especially after my Asterix experience – see previous entry). The only confusion was some of the Japanese terms and social constructs. I was fine with the story not explaining the game at all, but every once in a while there would be a page of instruction that I found did not make any sense. Other than that, it was a quick and surprisingly enjoyable read. The game part kind of reminded me of Louis Sachar’s recent book, The Cardturner.
What might interest children: The story is fun and easy to read. I think kids really like the style of animation. I asked our teen librarian and her impression is that kids really respond to the “otherness” of the Japanese culture and the manga drawings, and the fact that really random things happen – in fact, the more random, the better. She thinks the storylines are also appealing to kids.
Overall: 2 out of 5 stars
Personal Evaluation: I had a lot of trouble getting into this one. There are a lot of characters and I found the pictures extremely busy. There was one panel in particular in which I had to squint to make out the small character next to a larger one, because the background details were confusing the images. Jumping between storylines also was confusing to me. But again, these books are really popular so maybe kids are better at that than I am… There were also a few explanations of words in historical context, but I found the explanations were not helpful at all.
What might interest children: There is some humor and lots of adventure… other than that, I’m really not too sure why these are so popular.