Tag Archives: juv

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

by Louise Fitzhugh
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

I read this one as a kid and boy did I not remember most of it! The scene where she climbs into the dumbwaiter and spies on her neighbor was the one that mostly stayed with me, but even that lacked a lot of details. I remembered nothing about Harriet having a nanny, who plays a huge role in the story, or the main plot of how Harriet’s spying loses her her close friendships as well as even her enemies among her classmates, few as they are. Overall I’d say it holds up better than a lot of children’s books.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

by E.L. Konigsburg
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

I remembered loving this one as a kid and the re-read did not disappoint. I was a sucker for kids running away and specifically their economy (The Boxcar Children, My Side of the Mountain, and even on the economy side, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, were in this category). I loved Claudia and Jamie’s story, and remembered it better than I did Harriet the Spy, but still forgot details like the fact that they had two whole other brothers. (I also didn’t remember how well Claudia and Jamie complement each other, but that’s sort of beside the point.) I loved especially how they hid in the bathroom stalls after the Metropolitan Museum of Art closed and then slept in the antique beds. They were very clever and I also loved the mystery of the angel statue and how Claudia and Jamie eventually figure it out, though I have to say that I did not recall them taking a taxi to Mrs. Frankweiler’s house and basically accosting her. But overall, except for a few things, it holds up well and is clearly a classic for a reason.

“Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses

by Beth Anderson
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars 

Illustrations by Jenn Harney really make this book, especially providing clarity in a couple of spots where the text is a bit confusing. They evoke the 1930’s and 1940’s, when James “Smelly” Kelly was at his prime in working for the New York City subway system, walking miles of track and fixing leaks (an average of 8 a day!). He used his super sense of smell to do the job, but also learned that listening well and using inventions he made were also crucial. Another winning picture book biography in a banner year!

Illustrations like: Day-Glo Brothers

Two Picture Books: Turtle Walk and Louis

Turtle Walk by Matt Phelan
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

A group of turtles goes on journeys each season. Repeating text is enhanced by the changing backgrounds, and then the very last one introduces a delightful change and the turtles go sledding down a hill on their tummies, then cuddle up in a big turtle pile and fall asleep. Completely adorable.

Louis by Tom Lichtenheld 
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Louis the teddy bear is NOT happy with the little boy who drags him around. Evocative of Daywalt’s quitting¬†crayons, his story is a rant about how he’s so out of here – as soon as the tea party is over, and the show and tell about how brave he was when the boy left him on the bus. But then the boy falls asleep hugging him tightly, and all’s well. Louis’ scowls – as only a teddy bear can – are priceless and made me giggle, falling in love with Louis immediately. I understood the indignities he suffered, and was also glad when he stayed in the end.

Double Review: U.S. Myth-Busting Books

Plymouth Rocks! The Stone-Cold Truth
by Jane Yolen

Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

I was surprised to see a Jane Yolen book get a lukewarm Kirkus review, even moreso when I read the title and synopsis. Americans are in need of some serious history myth-busting, particularly around Thanksgiving. So I requested a copy to see for myself. It turns out that I do not happen to agree with that particular reviewer and I’m glad I bought a copy for my library. Yolen’s anthropomorphized rock, and the historian (appearing to be a woman of color) correcting the rock, delve into some of the myths around its history as an American symbol and readers learn new facts (I even learned some new-to-me myths, that were then busted). The pair don’t get too far into the myth of the first Thanksgiving, disappointingly – maybe Yolen thought the full gory truth a bit much for a book aimed this young (2nd-3rd grade).

The Statue of Liberty Wasn’t Made to Welcome Immigrants
by Therese Shea

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Short text and wide spacing make this accessible to readers who have recently gotten the hang of it – probably best for second grade and up. Shares a myth about each of 11 different US landmarks and then shares the truth. Some myths I wasn’t even aware of! Included in information about Mount Rushmore is the fact that in 1980, the land was deemed stolen from the Sioux nation.

The Popper Penguin Rescue by Eliot Schrefer

by Eliot Schrefer
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

I loooooooved Mr. Popper’s Penguins as a kid. I believe it even fueled me and my sister pretending our stuffed penguin was alive, putting it in a box and “feeding” it torn up construction paper, on an Antarctic twist on proving responsibility to our parents to get a real pet. I haven’t re-read the book as an adult, mostly out of fear that it won’t have aged well.

The Popper Penguin Rescue features descendants of both Mr. Popper and his penguins. His distant relations, Nina and Joel and their mom, move back to town and into one of the old Popper penguin attractions and promptly find two mysterious eggs, about to hatch. They eventually decide to reunite the two chicks with the other Popper penguins, who had been rehomed on an arctic island. With the unquestioning help of an Inuit sailor, they take off from school to make the trip.

While on the island, they realize that the penguins don’t belong there, and are in fact having a devastating effect on the native puffins, who no longer have enough fish to eat. So they get Yuka, their Inuit guide, to take them and all the penguins to Antarctica. Once they get there they realize that the two chicks are a totally different species and should be somewhere else. In fact, because they have imprinted on Joel and Nina, they won’t survive in the wild at all, so the family decides to keep them in the end and use them to tour and educate people on penguins and climate issues.

This story is a lovely adventure for young children but requires a lottttt of suspension of disbelief that older readers might find frustrating. In particular, the family’s reliance on others – in particular a Native person for his labor and time, but also the Popper Foundation for funding – not to mention just dropping everything and going off on an adventure. But probably similar things happened in the original book and I was probably just fine with it, which makes me wonder if it holds up, both culturally and in my estimation as an adult.

Jada Jones, Rock Star by Kelly Starling Lyons

by Kelly Starling Lyons
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Jada Jones is a 4th grader whose best friend has just moved away. Now she’s faced with sizing up the rest of her classmates for potential substitute friends. I won’t give away what happens, but I loved her process. This seems like a solid early chapter book series, especially for those readers with a love for science. Jada – and her jokes and love of rocks – are utterly loveable. Lyons nails the complicated lives of elementary students and their interpersonal relations.

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

by Lauren Wolk
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

12-year-old Crow has spent all but the very first hours of her life on Cuttyhunk Island, off the coast of Massachusetts. When she arrived on the shore of the island’s loner, whom she eventually named Osh, he adopted and raised her as his own. But now that she’s twelve, she’s more interested in where she came from. A stranger comes to the nearby island of Penikese, which held a former leper colony and from where everyone on the island suspects Crow came from (and they keep her physically distant because of it). As Crow grows over the novel, she learns not only the truth but also that it doesn’t need to define her. My one word of warning is that the stranger on Penikese turns out to be two strangers, and one of them is rather scary. I would not give this to a reader who is easily scared, especially of large, angry men breaking into their house in the middle of the night.

There’s actually quite a lot about this book that reminded me of Show Me a Sign: historical fiction about a little-known historical community on an island off Massachusetts, complete with a scary man and a first trip to the mainland without adults. Overall I enjoyed this story very much. It was a very fresh topic; as someone who also reads adult fiction, its similarity in subject matter to Molokai by Alan Brennert was what initially intrigued me. The writing is detailed and quiet in a way that seems to reflect Crow’s quiet life on the island, most of the time. I liked that she got some, but not all, resolution to her quest, and that the two adults in her life didn’t suddenly fall in love. Who knows, maybe there will be a sequel – but this book honestly doesn’t even need one.

Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet by Zanib Mian

by Zanib Mian
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Omar is an elementary schooler of indeterminate age (though his siblings are 3 and 13 so I am guessing he’s 8-ish). His family is Muslim and lives in London, though they move at the beginning and he has to change schools. He quickly makes a new friend and a new enemy, but by the end of the book, the enemy has been won over with just a little compassion and understanding (turns out his little sister is very ill and gets all the attention). Omar’s new next-door neighbor is anti-Muslim when they first move in, but their efforts to be friendly finally win her over, too. All’s well that ends well!

This book has lots of illustrations and different text, in a Geronimo Stilton type way, but fewer different fonts and no colors, so it gave me less of a headache to read and might be a good stepping stone book between Geronimo Stilton and more traditional chapter books. This book also seems to be more of a window for others into Pakistani Muslim culture and less of a mirror for Muslims themselves as almost all of the terms are explained or at least given some context. I’m not sure I’ve seen any books like that for this age level but I’ll keep looking because mirrors are so important. I really enjoyed this one, but docked it a star because the title seemed to suggest more cohesion around the fact that Omar is an accidental trouble magnet, but the story seemed to meander a bit more than that (or be straight-out more about the bully storyline).

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

bk_long_walk_200pxby Linda Sue Park
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

I picked this one up because it’s been on our 6th graders’ summer reading list for a while and I’ve never read it. I was also looking for a quick easy read because it’s been a while since I’ve posted, which leads me to a quick update: I’m away for the majority of 2020 and while I’ll try to keep posting regularly, my book access seems limited to what I can snag as an e-book. I’ll still try to get to newer stuff, but might have to rely on whacking through the huge to-read list of older titles.

However, this book was hardly easy – sure, it only took me a little while to read it, but Salva’s story is a tough one. I did not realize, going in, that this was based on a single true story; I thought it was a composite story. Park knows Salva and had read his written accounts of his life to write her book. The story opens in 1985, when Salva is almost 11 years old and war comes to his village in southern Sudan, and is told alongside the story of a girl in Sudan in 2008, Nya, facing the same water struggles from when Salva was young. War comes to Salva, finally, and all at once, while he is at school and the teacher sends all the young boys into the bush – run away from the village, he says, fearing that the boys would otherwise be forced to become soldiers on one side or the other.

Salva, on his own, meets up with a group of people walking east toward Ethiopia. He meets his uncle along the way, who helps him come to terms with the fact that his family is likely all dead. His uncle and his new friend both die along the way, in pretty gruesome ways that are described quickly and pretty matter-of-factly, but still disturbing especially once you know that this is a true story. Salva’s story includes accounts of life in refugee camps, but at that point the story picks up a lot in pace and much of the interesting narrative elements are lost as we speed through the years to the end of the story. Salva moves to a few different refugee camps, in Ethiopia and then Kenya (when the Ethiopians kick them out), becoming a leader of a group of Lost Boys, and then gets sent to the US to live with a family in Rochester, NY, even though he is no longer a minor. He goes to college and returns to Sudan to help build wells – including the well that Nya’s community gets. Salva is eventually reunited with his father and learns that most of his family survived as well.

I appreciated that there was a note from Salva and an author’s note, both from 2010/2011, and then an updated note from 2015 about the publicity that the books has generated for Salva’s organization, Water for South Sudan. The book is so short that I would have loved more fleshing out of the second half of the story, instead of nearly straight narration. However, the shortness of the book means that a lot of kids choose it for summer reading, and I think it describes a world so utterly unfamiliar to most kids in my community that I really appreciate its inclusion in the curriculum.