Monthly Archives: March 2018

Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure by Ann M. Martin

9781250071699

by Ann M. Martin
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

In this updated version of the children’s classic series Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, veteran author Martin teams up with the original author’s great-granddaughter, Annie Parnell, to revive this series for a modern audience. I was disappointed to re-read the originals, which I had loved as a kid, and find that they were incredibly dated and found myself longing for an update. (Housewives stayed home; doctors made house calls, etc.) So I was cautiously thrilled to see that Martin had read my mind!

Martin’s version gives Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s great-niece a cell phone but keeps the problems and the solutions as timeless as ever. I found myself incredibly critical of the parents, and at one point Missy also addresses a set of parents after also curing their kids, which was nice. In the end, the most outdated thing about the book was the completely predictable and shallow romance between Missy and Harold the bookstore owner. But overall, the magic – and the magic – is still there!

Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

9780062414151

by Erin Entrada Kelly
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

This year’s Newbery winner is solid but also didn’t knock my socks off. It’s the story of painfully shy Filipino-American Virgil Salinas; his friend and visionary Kaori Tanaka; his crush, Valencia Somerset, who is hearing impaired; and local bully Chet Bullens. Chet throws Virgil’s backpack, containing his beloved guinea pig Gulliver, into an old well. When Virgil goes to rescue it, he gets trapped in the well. Meanwhile, Valencia shows up for her appointment with Kaori, but Kaori is preoccupied with Virgil’s missing his appointment hours ago. [Spoiler] The two, plus Kaori’s little sister Gen, set out to find him and eventually rescue him from the well. At the end, Virgil is finally able to stand up to Chet, tell his mother to stop calling him Turtle, and finally talk to Valencia.

It’s a sweet story, and definitely ticks the boxes for diversity, especially in #ownvoices. I can see why they chose it, and it will be a book I recommend to kids. I’m really curious to hear what my 4th and 5th grade book club kiddos think of it (next year – it’s still too new to choose for this year). I really appreciated the description of hearing aids on a hearing impaired person, and what reading lips is really like. I was upset to learn that Valencia’s parents didn’t think she “needed” to learn American Sign Language; first of all, she had trouble reading lips and also just wanted to, and I felt for her and the injustice of it. I also really enjoyed Virgil’s grandmother, Lola, and all of her stories of Filipino folklore. There is a presence named Ruby who comforts Virgil in the well and I missed where she came from (whether folklore or not) but I enjoyed her too, and her role in Virgil’s rescue.

Double Review: Graphic Novels

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Beyond the Western Deep, Volume 1
by Alex Kain and Rachel Bennett
Overall: 3 out of 5 stars

A graphic novel seems an interesting medium for this fantasy story, which required a few pages of worldbuilding to catch the reader up on the history needed to understand the plot. There are four (or five?) peoples, in each of the four directions, and they live in an uneasy truce with each other. Our heroes, some sort of anthropomorphic animals, set off on a quest at the end of the book. Honestly, I was a bit overwhelmed with all the unfamiliar names (maybe I’m just out of practice with reading fantasy?) to really dig into the story. As with often happens when I read graphic novels, I had a lot of trouble telling the characters apart, but at least this one is in color, so that was mitigated a bit. It’s a Very Serious Story, and I just didn’t connect with it. But it would probably be ideal for 4th graders (or strong 3rd graders) who are into Redwall or the Warriors series.

9780385386173

Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth (Volume 1)
by Judd Winick
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

After the utter seriousness of the first graphic novel, I thoroughly appreciated the humor of Hilo, who falls to Earth with amnesia and immediately meets D.J, who greets him with an “AAAAAH!” and takes him in. Hilo adopts the greeting and uses it to great comedic effect throughout the book, to my delight. I didn’t 100% follow the storyline of Hilo’s origin and the conflict on his home planet, but I was so entertained that I didn’t care. D.J.’s old friend Gina also moves back to town and very little about either of them has changed so they fall right back into their friendship. D.J.’s family is large and loud (he’s right between two older brothers and two younger sisters and feels like he doesn’t do anything especially well) and Hilo’s appearance livens up his and Gina’s otherwise humdrum lives in a sleepy small town. Hilo’s irrepressible nature is catching, as is his favorite adjective, “outstanding!”

Great for fans of: Big Nate, Calvin and Hobbes, and the Flying Beaver Brothers

Book and Movie: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

9780375869020  wonder_28film29

by R.J. Palacio

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

I think it’s fair to call Wonder the biggest sensation in children’s lit in quite some time, but I’ll do a brief summary just for posterity. This is the story of 10-year-old August Pullman, who was born with a genetic craniofacial abnormality. Due to the dozens of surgeries he’s had in his life, his mother has homeschooled him, but now the family decides he’s ready to start school and they enroll him in a private school in Manhattan. Mostly the book consists of following Auggie through his first year of school, enduring the stares and the social outcast status, until he makes friends and ultimately wins a school award for character and strength.

I first read Wonder when it came out, and years later I’m still getting kids who want readalikes for it. While most of the book is incredibly touching, even five years after its publication it already seems so trite and just an “issue book” (where nothing really happens, it’s just about the main character having his unique feature). Especially the award – even Auggie says in the book that he doesn’t really get why he won it, that it seems like he just got it for being himself and living his life of challenges – seems so trite that I docked it a star. My adults-who-read-kids-books book club leader chose this one knowing we’ve all read it and I’m sure this will be a lot of the focus of the discussion on Thursday.

But enough Debbie Downer, onto the comparison. This book/movie comparison will be a little different because I may have more trouble than usual keeping apart what happened in the book vs. the movie. I was halfway through re-reading the book when I found myself on a long flight recently and I watched the movie to pass the time, then finished the book. But here goes, my best attempt!

The book switches voices frequently to show the same event from different perspectives. The movie does this too, but just once per character, since it’s a lot easier to tell who the focus is on visually. They did a great job getting into the minor characters’ back stories, like Via’s friend Miranda and Auggie’s classmates Jack and Julian. As always, they omitted some details and changed others around in ways that don’t add to or simplify the story in a meaningful way. Notably, they eliminated the storyline of Auggie getting hearing aids, changed up Summer and Jack’s befriending of Auggie, and took out Julian’s suspension in the movie. Also, while Via’s boyfriend, Justin, is racially ambiguous in the book, he is described as having “long hair” (which to me suggested he was not black) while in the movie he is black and has short hair. He is also given as the reason she joins the drama club and tries out for the school play in the movie, and I liked that development.

I was pleased to see that they did not really change the death of the family dog much at all, and that they added more to Via’s backstory, especially with her grandmother, in the movie. When I first saw the trailer, I was annoyed that the film did not portray Auggie’s facial features as drastically different as I’d imagined, but I got over that. Overall, solid performances and a script that stays very, very true to the original story, with chunks of dialogue lifted right from the book.

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling

9781454923459

by Dusti Bowling
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

13-year-old Aven Green’s life was easier when she lived in the same town she’d lived in since she was 2 (when she was adopted) and people were used to seeing her in all her armless glory. But now Aven and her family are moving from Kansas to Arizona and she’ll have to make friends all over again, not to mention deal with the stares. But she perseveres, befriending a kid with Tourette’s syndrome and an overweight kid, and even getting the courage to join the soccer team (one sport she can definitely do well). I also liked how she describes how she manages many daily activities (but not in such great detail that it takes over the story), lists the pros and cons about them on her blog, and also refuses to answer more intimate questions (like how she wipes her own butt – so stop thinking about it already).

This was brought up in my book club as a Wonder readalike. Wonder was, well, wonderful when it came out, but now it’s almost trite. I’m always amazed at how well kids take to the story, and how they flock to the library when their teacher is reading it to get more books like it. I keep a mental list of readalikes and I’m definitely adding this one to it! It’s much less sappy than Wonder, and the story is not just about how other people see her, or her struggles in life. In fact, it’s a pretty typical middle grade novel.