Monthly Archives: March 2014

Dear Dumb Diary: My Pants Are Haunted!

by Jim BentonOverall: 2 out of 5 stars

I picked up this one after a parent pulled it out of the checkout pile to have a closer look before approving it and was asking the staff’s opinion. The protagonist, Jamie, is definitely not very nice and has some skewed views on popularity and character (at least in this book, the second in the series; I haven’t read any of the others). They may well be things that kids think but usually don’t say out loud, and reading them in a book may signal to some kids that it’s okay to say those things out loud. Unlike the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, though, Jamie does seem to learn things about her classmates that changes her mind, but it takes a whole lot of pushing to get her there. She is also really not nice to her mother or the family dog. I would tell any parent who questions them and seems sensitive to avoid these books. In general, little socially redeeming value.

Toothpaste Millionaire

by Jean Merrill
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

If you liked The Pushcart War, you’ll like The Toothpaste Millionaire. Middle schoolers Kate and Rufus decide to start making their own toothpaste and quickly realize, with the help of their math class, how quickly they could make a lot of money, even if they don’t vastly overcharge for their product like the big companies do. Rufus ends up retiring as a millionaire before eighth grade. One of our regular library patrons, a boy who’s probably in 5th or 6th grade, hangs out for hours at a time at the table in our graphic novel section. A couple of times in a row, he asked me for this book. Never checked it out, and I could never figure out why he wanted it, so I decided to read it. The other day I asked him – turns out it was for a school project.

This book touches on race issues a bit, in a way that stands out to a reader in 2014 but probably was very matter-of-fact and even super progressive for a reader in 1972 (the book’s original copyright). Rufus is black and Kate is white. The bank manager who gives them the loan is white, while Hector, whom they hire to run their factory, is black, and asks the kids if they discriminate.

Heaven is Paved With Oreos

by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

I absolutely loved Murdock’s trilogy about female football player DJ Schwenk. Now DJ’s little brother’s best friend, Sarah, shares her own story – a story about an unconventional grandmother and the impact her decisions have down the line. This grandmother, whom they call Z, got pregnant in college with Sarah’s father and left him with her parents to raise. When Sarah is fourteen, Z decides to take Sarah to Rome, a trip which turns out to have a different purpose than Sarah thought. While she is trying to sort out everything she’s learned about her grandmother, she also grows up a lot and figures out a thing or two about her friendship with Curtis (DJ’s brother).

One thing I love about both DJ and Sarah is that they are hardy Midwestern girls and don’t talk about their feelings readily – as a hardy Midwestern girl myself, I identify a lot with them. I liked the times in this book when DJ and Sarah talk to each other, and when Sarah actually gets around to writing about her feelings (the book is presented in journal form, mostly from Sarah’s point of view). You can tell it’s hard for her, and her personality is funny but awkward and she’s much more interested in science than feelings, but she makes great strides and it’s fun to see how she works out what’s going on with her life. This is a great middle school book, and in fact it’s on our teen librarian’s list for the middle school book club. Because Sarah doesn’t find it easy to talk about her feelings, she may appeal to boys as a heroine more than they think.

Ender’s Game – Movie & Book


by Orson Scott Card
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Many moons ago, I read Gone With the Wind. It was summer, the slow time at my job, and I read it mostly at work. It took about two weeks. My grand idea was then to watch the movie and be able to sound all smart when casually mentioning the differences between the book and movie. For whatever reason, I never got around to watching the movie, but I was left with an attitude of understanding that the movie will always be different, and have a special fondness for movies adapted from books. I generally don’t find them as upsetting as most people for this reason. The one exception is books where I just love the way I’ve imagined the world in my head and don’t want to spoil it with someone else’s view of how that world looks.

Ender’s Game is not one of those books, and I was so excited that they finally made a movie of it! I first read it twelve years ago and it instantly rocketed to the #2 slot on my all-time favorites list. (Expect to see another post when the movie of my #1, The Giver, comes out – slated for this August.) I don’t think I reread Ender’s Game until this week but it was, if it’s possible, even better the second time around. Card’s recent attention on his comments on homosexuality aside, he has some deep and beautiful things to say about the nature and worth of humanity as a whole. That said, this book is deeply rooted in a Cold War mindset, with mention of the Warsaw Pact, scathing rebukes on population control, the realistic bad guys being Russian and the alien bad guys being less overt but cold-hearted killers unable to communicate or think for themselves. In the end, though, Ender loves his enemy and finally is able to understand them and tries to make up for all the damage he’s done.

The one main thing I remembered from the first reading was the surprise twist at the end. Having held onto that, and very few other details, I entered the movie-world, which I heartily recommend. Of course they left out most of the back story, and not developing his older brother Peter’s character took away from what made Ender perfect for his task. But the thing that jolted me out of my blissful enjoyment of the first half was that I started to believe that Ender knew all along what he only finds out at the very end of the book, along with the reader. (I’m trying very hard not to reveal any spoilers, so no details!) But then at the end of the movie, he does find out and it’s clear he didn’t know at all. Much of the beauty of Card’s views on understanding and loving the enemy is lost by the way they tied things up in that department, but it was still a solidly entertaining movie. The other interesting change is that Ender is much older than 6 in the movie. The actor himself was 15 or 16 during filming; while he definitely looks younger than that, he’s clearly much older than 6, and that takes away a little from it. But I think this would be an incredibly demanding role for an actual 6-year-old, and that’s kind of the point Card makes in making Ender so young, so I have made my peace with it.

So the final word is, I love watching movies-from-books to see where they nipped, tucked, and changed, but I know that the book is almost always better. Go forth, watch, enjoy – but always read (or reread) and you won’t be disappointed!

And if you get a chance, find yourself a third edition (1991) with Card’s Introduction. It’s got one of my favorite reflections on reading and writing: “The story of Ender’s Game is not this book, though it has that title emblazoned on it. The story is one that you and I will construct together in your memory. If the story means anything to you at all, then when you remember it afterward, think of it, not as something I created, but rather as something that you and I made together.”


How to Steal a Dog

by Barbara O’Connor
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

When Georgina’s father leaves the family, her mother is forced to live out of their car with Georgina and her little brother, Toby. But ever-resourceful Georgina decides that a good way to earn some quick money for rent would be to steal a dog, wait for the reward poster to go up, and return it and claim their reward. However, she eventually learns a lesson in compassion and sees that things are not always so black-and-white.

The kids in my library’s 4th-6th grade book club often choose and enjoy this book. It’s one of those books that is definitely taking a walk in someone else’s shoes, especially for most of the kids in my library’s town, a fairly well-off suburb. Georgina is very likeable and her reasons are understandable, if misguided. The struggles she has with her mother, whom she blames for their situation, as well as her description of what life is like living out of a car, are very realistic and compassion-evoking.