Tag Archives: books and reading

Finding Serendipity

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by Angelica Banks
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday McGillycuddy’s big secret is that her mother is the famous children’s writer Serendipity Smith. After waiting all day for her to finish her final novel in the Vivienne Small series, Tuesday discovers the open window in her mother’s empty writing room and embarks on an adventure (along with her faithful dog, Baxterr) to find her.

This book is pretty imaginative for the “being literally sucked into a story” genre (see also: Story Thieves; Land of Stories; etc) but overall wasn’t a standout for me, though it is solid. I’m not sure how many kids are really serious about writing and will understand the metaphors, but it’s still a fun read. There’s a bit of deus ex machina to get Tuesday and co. out of a scrape but it works because she’s the author of her own story, etc. Also the mom is a thinly veiled J.K. Rowling, but again, fun. (Oh, also: as a librarian I was not fond of the portrayal of my kind in here!)

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library

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by Chris Grabenstein
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Twelve-year-old Kyle Keeley and his classmates have grown up in a town without a library. That’s why, when his town’s native son, the world-famous board game creator Luigi Lemoncello, returns home to build a new library, he kicks it off with – what else? – a game to reward those twelve-year-olds who can successfully “use what they find in the library to escape.” Kyle and his friends must collect clues and solve the puzzles to win the grand prize. Though it is full of futuristic elements like a hoverboard to reach the upper balconies of books, smellovision, and lifelike hologram tigers, this story is very rooted in a particular moment in time. Despite being set in an alternate reality where Mr. Lemoncello rules the game world, Grabenstein for some reason decided to include actual video games and technology (like Playstation 3), which may make the story lose a classic feel over time. It’s also a smudge didactic on the “teaching the Dewey Decimal System” side, but overall kids will probably pick up a lot (and incidentally, it sounds like an incredible library!). On the plus side, the book features challenging puzzles, teamwork, and the jerk/bully getting his comeuppance (er – spoiler alert). Totally delightful and satisfying for any fan of games and puzzles, even grownups!

For fans of: The Westing Game, The Puzzling World of Winston Breen series, and The Candymakers.

Misty Copeland, Jessi Ramsey, and Lessons Learned From Fiction

Reading the Baby-Sitters’ Club books at a young and impressionable age (8-10?) meant that I learned a lot from them. I learned what the word decorum means. I learned what it’s like to have a step-family. I learned what buffalo-head nickels and fedoras and tourniquets are. I even learned what a (derogatory) oreo is. But one lesson I had internalized so hard I took it for granted – until this week – was that it’s normal for ballerinas to be black.

In the Babysitters’ Club books, the original four girls are all in eighth grade (forever), but they quickly branch out into other members, including two Junior members, best friends Mallory Pike and Jessi Ramsey. Each of the BSC girls has traits that differentiate her from the others: Mallory’s are that she has red hair wears glasses [discovered when re-reading!] and comes from a big family; Jessi’s are that she does ballet and that she’s black. According to this website (and there’s more about Jessi and ballet on this blog), Jessi claims that racism no longer exists in the world of ballet, but with Misty Copeland’s recent promotion to principal ballerina making headlines, it seems that is untrue.

As a children’s librarian, I’ve read countless series with a carefully constructed balance of race. Series that come to mind include the Flower Power series by Lauren Myracle, the Beacon Street Girls by Annie Bryant, the Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick. These series almost always include a redheaded girl, a brown- and/or blonde-haired girl, an Asian girl, and a black/brown girl. Sometimes, as in the case of Flower Power, they even include a character with gay parents, just to fully round things out on the diversity scale.

The characters are almost always very different in terms of interests and personalities, sometimes to the point of being caricatures, so you wonder why they’re friends, but there are two takeaways to writing about a group of friends like this. One is for kids of all backgrounds to see themselves as protagonists – not just represented in the book as a minor character for diversity’s sake, but actually as a protagonist. This is getting better every day, and is the goal of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign on Twitter.

The other takeaway is for kids – readers – to understand that they can make a conscious choice to overcome the subtle racism that they have already absorbed from their surroundings and to choose as friends people who may look different from themselves, but share something – an experience (overcoming a bully, as in Flower Power; adjusting to a new school, as in Beacon Street Girls; being dragged to a mother-daughter book club, as in Frederick’s series) or simply a friendliness and openness. It is human nature that we gravitate toward others who look like us, but what if “like us” referred to physical expressions of our personalities (clothing styles, hair/makeup styles – though these are definitely currently influenced by our class, race and culture) and not skin color, hair color, gender, age?

I’m not denying that the Baby-Sitter’s Club books are flawed, especially when representing a world as technical and detailed as ballet, but I think they teach a very valuable lesson, which is that you can be anything you want. Maybe that’s a really Millennial outlook, but it’s one thing we can count on many fiction writers to do: depict the world as they wish it would be, and leave as their mark a small, subtle shift in the way people think things can be. Ann Martin gave us a world in which a black girl can be a principal ballerina; hers and other series give us worlds in which kids can be friends with kids who look different than them, because they have other things in common. By showing us how this world can exist, they are taking steps towards making it reality, and that is the beauty and optimism of fiction.

I grew up understanding Jessi’s ballet skills as a fact of life, so Ms. Copeland’s achievement surprised me at first and then thrilled me. Maybe she will be offended that I didn’t know how hard it had been for her to get there, and I certainly don’t mean to imply that racism doesn’t exist. Just that, for a while anyway, one reader (okay, probably lots of readers) were moving through the world blissfully unaware that it wasn’t the norm. Any aspiring black dancer would have found herself represented, if not in the actual world, then in a book. And that’s got to be better than nothing.

Where Are My Books?

by Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Overall: 2.5 out of 5 stars

The whole time I was reading this, it seemed really familiar. I finally realized it was very similar to The Snatchabook by Helen Docherty (copyright 2013; Ohi’s book is copyright 2015). Both feature a protagonist whose books go missing in the night and turn out to be swiped by a critter who doesn’t have anyone to read to him. He learns his lesson, puts the books back, and gets read to from his new friends from then on. Despite the unoriginality, this one’s cute enough that if The Snatchabook is out and you want something similar, this is a good runner-up (FYI: The Snatchabook is in rhyming text; Where Are My Books is not).