Monthly Archives: February 2013

The Agony of Alice

by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Category: Of Interest to Girls

Personal Evaluation: Unlike Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, I read the whole Alice series as a tweenager so I can personally attest to its relevance and accuracy. I adored Alice and still do.

What might interest children: Girls in the throes of early puberty and all the changes that sixth grade brings, having a boyfriend, dealing with a clueless dad and older brother… they will all relate to Alice on probably multiple levels.

Update: I recently read this with my Adults Who Read Kids Books group, an impressive and inspiring collection of librarian heroines. They were extremely critical and thought Alice was hopelessly out of date. Perhaps if I read this for the first time as an adult, I would be able to see what they see. But maybe not – I find I’m not overly critical. We also read another one (Achingly Alice?) that everyone else thought was very didactic and forced but I thought was okay. I thought it seemed the most dated (funny because it’s one of the more recent ones – but does anyone call it “getting a pelvic” anymore?) but overall fine.

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret

by Judy Blume
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Category: Of Interest to Girls

Personal Evaluation: This book is pretty famous and much-parodied, so I was well aware of it years before I ever read it but I had no idea what it was about. If I’d known it was about a girl in an interfaith family, I might have picked it up much earlier to see how Margaret’s thoughts and situation echoed my own. It turns out, not so closely, but I liked her journey. Interfaith families have been a huge topic of discussion in the Jewish community for years, so it was really interesting to read what a girl might have been thinking along those lines in the 1970s.

What might interest children: Because I read this as an adult, the adolescence part did not seem as important to me, but Blume has a knack for putting her finger right on what girls are going through when puberty hits, so I know that’s a big part of the draw for her readers. Besides that, Margaret is incredibly real and seems like a friend, which keeps you reading.

Philippa Fisher’s Fairy Godsister

by Liz Kessler
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Category: Of Interest to Girls

Personal Evaluation: I was worried that it would be too sparkly and girly for me, but aside from a few choice descriptions, it really wasn’t. It was more the story of a girl who gets three wishes and wants to change her dorky family and her popularity status, but along the way learns those oh-so-important lessons about friendship, bullying, popularity, dorkiness, and parental love. You might be able to guess what she does with that third wish, but it’s how she got there and what the fairy godsister had to do with it that got me. I’m not sure I’ll read any more, but I really liked Philippa and Daisy’s (the fairy godsister) relationship.

What might interest children: I could see this being a great book for those who have outgrown the Rainbow Magic books and want something with a little more meat to it, but don’t want to leave fairies behind forever.

Faith, Hope and Ivy June

by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Category: Of Interest to Girls

Personal Evaluation: The snippets on the back were a bit misleading. It made it seem that the girls participating in the school exchange, Ivy June and Catherine, were at odds most of the time, when in fact it was just one small incident. Overall it was a great concept, even if the two girls seemed to goody-goody to be true. It was not all fluff, though – each one goes through a family emergency which strengthens their brief friendship.

What might interest children: There was a conflict with Ivy June’ s best friend Shirl, which mostly resolves itself in a way that younger children could relate to, but not older ones, ones the ages of these characters. I thought there could have been more exploration of how to resolve a misunderstanding between friends other than just letting it shake out and letting one of them come to her senses – most young girls I know don’t work like that! But overall a great story and some really great geographical and current events learning – about Kentucky in general and mining in particular, also about making assumptions between rich and poor, city life and rural life.

Ida B.

by Katherine Hannigan
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Category: Of Interest to Girls

Personal Evaluation: Holy cow. This is about the saddest book I have ever read. It starts out happy-go-lucky and you really adore Ida B and then, with just a little foreshadowing, WHAM! You are sucked into her shattering 9-year-old world. I think any kid (or adult, for that matter) who has had something traumatic happen to them (or a loved one) and felt their world turn upside down will relate to Ida B. I pretty much sobbed my way through this book, which was unfortunate because I mostly tried to read it during my lunch hours. One other thing I loved were the parts about how she feels about the earth and how she connects to her family’s land and trees and brook. There are also a couple of really touching scenes with Ida B and her father.

What might interest children: It seems like cancer is everywhere these days. Many cases do not result in death, but for those that do, Ida may be a comforting friend to a child suffering this particular sort of loss – or even any loss of parent or loved one.

Ask Me Anything

by Kim Bryan, et al. (DK publishers)
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Category: Of Interest to Boys

Personal Evaluation: This is really similar to the other trivia book I reviewed (How Loud Can You Burp?) in that it’s laid out in question form in the index. I think it would be a stronger book if it actually answered the questions it sets out, but sometimes the authors just use these titles to catch your attention and organize their information around a topic.

What might interest children: Tons of facts and very attractive-looking layout, especially the ones where you turn the book sideways to read the two-page spread as one long page.

How Loud Can You Burp?

by Glenn Murphy
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Category: Of Interest to Boys

Personal Evaluation: I was sold on the title! This book is actually really informative – almost too informative, and the topics seem to go on and on in an interview-like format (except Glenn must have made up both parts). But I sure did learn a whole lot!

What might interest children: I think the title says it all, really. Though it does cover a wide range of topics in an easy-to-understand way.

The Book of Pirates

by Howard Pyle
Overall: 2 out of 5 stars

Category: Of Interest to Boys

Personal Evaluation: I had this one on Playaway so was tricked into assuming it was new. On listening to it, it struck me as a bit boring and it was only in doing a little research in my library catalog and on Amazon.com that I realized it was written over 100 years ago. I also had a hard time figuring out if this book was fiction or non-fiction. I guess most libraries have latched onto the fact that it’s not all strictly true, so it goes into the fiction section. It probably circulates better there, actually.

What might interest children: I’m feeling like a broken record, but there is plenty of adventure, and facts (if you can pick them out of the fiction) for learning, as well as historical context. Overall, though, I probably wouldn’t recommend this book to a kid.

Honus and Me

by Dan Gutman
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Category: Of Interest to Boys

Personal Evaluation: Hooray, time travel! I admit, I don’t know much baseball history or trivia, but I can see how people would, especially after reading this series. Gutman really makes the real historical figures come to life, and I found myself actually caring why the Honus Wagner card was valuable, and how to pronounce his name.

What might interest children: I know about this series because of a third-grader I had a few years ago. He was what you might call a reluctant reader, but not because he had any trouble reading, he just wasn’t interested. But this series captured his attention and kept him busy for a while, because he’s interested in sports. Kids who are interested in sports history and trivia will also like these books.

Heat

by Mike Lupica
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Category: Of Interest to Boys

Personal Evaluation: Having played little league softball for a few years, I was able to follow most of the game narration, but I was more interested in Michael’s interpersonal struggles: with the girl he likes, with his hero, his coach, his brother, his emotions. There is a distinct and exciting denouement and a tidy resolution (a bit too tidy, but that’s okay), both of which give Hollywood a run for its money!

What might interest children: All the baseball talk and play-by-plays will easily capture the attention of a reluctant reader, and Michael’s race against time until he is able to get out from the lies he and his brother live is very exciting.