Monthly Archives: May 2016

The Haters

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by Jesse Andrews
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

I had been eagerly anticipating Andrews’ second novel ever since reading Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. The Haters is the story of best friends Wes and Corey who go off to jazz band camp one summer and end up ditching the camp to go “on tour” with a girl they just met (none of them are really that great). They have all sorts of adventures that seem grownup and exciting and it seems like the trouble they get into they just leave behind, but eventually reality hits and hits hard. Andrews is great at telling a story through a teenager’s eyes and then sharing the story again from another perspective, so a teenage reader would probably realize how skewed their version of events can get. And of course this book has the same sense of humor as Andrews’ first novel, so I was frequently shaking with laughter and getting strange looks from people around me.

I really want to recommend this book to my cousin who is a freshman in high school and who is also into jazz band (and to whom I also recommended Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), but I will tell his parents a couple of things: 1. Wes and co. smoke pot, and 2. Wes loses his virginity to a girl along the way, which is described in pretty good detail. Mostly I hope my cousin chooses to live vicariously through Wes and not go out and try any of this himself, but I also hope he can relate.

Rad Women: 4 Books for book club

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Rad American Women A to Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries Who Shaped Our History … and Our Future!
by Kate Schatz
Overall: 3 out of 5 stars

Ohhh my book club hated on this book so much. Mostly on the art – all the women were portrayed horrendously – but also on the writing. They thought the typeface was hard to read and the text levels were all over the place from sentence to sentence. (One book clubber just doesn’t like alphabet books in general because they are too limiting, but I digress.) I didn’t hate it quite as much as they did, and actually thought they did a great job including women who made strides in a wide variety of fields. I could have used just a few more facts, like, I don’t know, birth and death dates. I guess you could say I have a thing about context.

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Ten Days a Madwoman: The Daring Life and Turbulent Times of the Original “Girl Reporter” Nellie Bly
by Deborah Noyes
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

The book club liked this one much better, though on the whole we found the one-page sidebars mid-chapter distracting. Maybe that’s a generational thing, though, and would keep the attention of the ADD generation? Overall, Nellie’s story is engaging and satisfying, especially the part where she gets committed to the insane asylum and manages to expose the horrific treatment of inmates there.

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Elizabeth Started All the Trouble
by Doreen Rappaport
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

We liked this one a lot too, especially the illustrations. The perspectives were used to great effect (men towering over women, comically large and small to emphasize the power disparity) and the scenes were just very detailed but would still make a great read-aloud – especially, we agreed, at the beginning of a biography unit, to give kids a little bit of information about a lot of women to whet their appetites.

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Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted a Million Trees
by Franck Prevot
Overall: 3 out of 5 stars

Book club also contains an artist who is able to give us her professional opinion of the art in the books we choose. After listening to my colleagues go on about how much they loved the illustrations, I asked them to say specifically why (because I didn’t care for them myself). Maura obliged and quietly instructed me in the finer points of African art themes. I remain unconvinced, especially since Wangari Maathai is suddenly all over the children’s picture book biography market, but the book clubbers seemed to think this was the best one.

The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island

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by Dana Alison Levy
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Oh, I love this family. I’m so glad they’re back, with all their boys and animals and noise! Delightful. This time they’re off to Rock Island off the coast of Maine, to their summer home that’s been in one of the dads’ families for ages. They are trying to figure out the fishy feeling they get from the rich man who has put in an offer to buy the old lighthouse next to their property. On top of that, they’re making new friends, joining drama clubs, teaching the cats to swim, and generally having a grand – and clumsy – old summer.

Interesting contextual notes include: In this installment, the boys’ skin color – all four are adopted, and two are not white like their dads – becomes part of the plot (in the midst of Black Lives Matter and racial profiling). I loved the frank discussion that Jax and one of the fathers has, though it should be noted that Frog is also not-white (if memory serves he is Indian) and also deemed too young to be part of the conversation, and the other boys are also not included in that conversation, though it surely impacts – and implicates – them. Also Eli’s new best friend, Alex, turns out to be a girl who dresses and looks like a boy (in the midst of an anti-transgender bathroom bill and general uptick in interest in transgender issues in general and in kids’ books in particular).

One final note: It occurred to me that the Fletchers remind me a lot of the Penderwicks, and as soon as I had that thought I couldn’t stop thinking it: four children, all of the same gender, the first three close in age and one much younger, very funny, sibling. This book especially drove it home, since it closely parallels the first Penderwicks book in being away at their vacation home. But it’s not a huge problem, mostly because I love both families just so, so much.

Crenshaw

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by Katherine Applegate
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Jackson’s parents are out of money again and he and his little sister are worried that they will have to live in their minivan like they did last time. Jackson spends most of the book fighting the reappearance of his imaginary friend, a huge cat named Crenshaw, but with a little help he is finally able to express himself to his parents and let go of a little grownup worry.

This book is heart-wrenching in parts, especially where Jackson or Robin describe being hungry or selling their stuff. The 4th and 5th graders in my library’s book club apparently didn’t really identify as strongly with Jackson or seem as strongly affected by his story as their parents did. My colleague and I also had slightly different takes: she was irked by Jackson’s parents’ tendency to look on the bright side of things and felt that they were ignoring the problem and the kids’ reactions. Meanwhile, my reaction was that the parents were doing the best they could and that sometimes putting on a happy face is the only thing you can do to keep going. I thought the parents’ fights were realistic but not too scary, and the ending was a little contrived but also hedged a bit to make up for it (spoiler alert: the dad gets offered a job and a place to stay).

A Fire Truck Named Red

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by Randall De Seve
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Rowan wants a super fire truck for his birthday, one that does everything realistically: shoots real water, has a real siren, etc. So he is super disappointed when his grandfather gives him an old beat-up truck that doesn’t make any noise or shoot any water. But when Papa starts to restore the old truck, he also recounts his imaginative life-saving exploits with “Red.” By the time the truck is touched up and ready, Rowan is ready, too – to use his imagination.

This story is everything I think about when I think about toys for kids. I am a huge believer in the power of imagination and not letting toys do all the work for you. That being said, I too had a Hanukah where I didn’t get the Super Soaker water gun I had in mind, but instead got a sad little water pistol that would mean utter humiliation against the boys down the street. So I understand both sides of this – and am super glad to have this book in the world!