Tag Archives: juv

Nikki and Deja by Karen English

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by Karen English
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Nikki and Deja are best friends and next-door neighbors. They have their ups and downs, even in this transitional chapter book (think a step between Magic Tree House and The World According to Humphrey) and eventually become friends again. This book sees the arrival on their street and in their (second-grade?) classroom of a girl named Antonia who upsets the previously easygoing social balance and introduces the element of inclusion/exclusion. But they find a way to smooth things over between them. Each chapter feels like a stand-alone story but also makes a whole storyline.

Because of the Rabbit by Cynthia Lord

9780545914246by Cynthia Lord
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Emma is about to start fifth grade at her local public school, which she has never attended before. She’s been homeschooled, as had her brother until recently. Emma misses her brother and laments how he’s changed, though they are clearly still close. On her first day of school, Emma is put in a group with two girls who she wants to befriend and Jack, an autistic boy, who she sort of wants to befriend and also sort of doesn’t. Emma is not put off by Jack’s unusual mannerisms and, though she would prefer to work with the two girls, she enjoys working with Jack when they devise a plan to force Emma and Jack to do their part alone. Emma’s internal conflict arises when she feels she has to treat Jack poorly in or attempt to get to know the other kids. She eventually figures out that she can both stick up for him and make new friends in a new school, which seems tragically idealistic and didn’t quite ring true to me.

Despite that, I really enjoyed this book. I had it as an audiobook over the long weekend here in the U.S. and zipped right through it on my road trip (as opposed to You Go First which I had to stop listening to because the reader’s voice was way too annoying when she was voicing the annoying girl). I read it at the request of my boss and we agreed that, as the parent of an autistic child, Lord seems to have found a groove there, but we are wary of parents-as-experts not necessarily being the best resource. Our basis for this is the Light it Up Blue autism awareness campaign, run by Autism Speaks, which has come under scrutiny for not including voices of actual autistic people. The critique is that it’s an organization made of parents and other people who have autistic people in their lives, but do not include autistic people in their leadership and, more than that, sometimes say hurtful things. In contrast, the Autism Self-Advocacy Network is just what it sounds like, and their tag line is “Nothing About Us Without Us.” Keeping in mind that sometimes even parents of autistic children can make missteps, the boss and I were wondering how an autistic person would review this book. Until that happens, I’ll rank it high, with caveats.

YA Graphic Novels like whoa, part 2

9781596436206Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity by Dave Roman
Overall: 1 out of 5 stars (unfinished)

I had to stop reading this one because it gave me a headache. I mostly picked it up on a recommendation from a colleague, and because Roman was married to Raina Telgemeier (not just gossip – this GN spree was brought to you by a spunky 8-year-old who loves Raina so I’ve been looking for other graphic novels that she could read while she waits for Raina’s next book HURRY UP RAINA). Anyway, plot. Was there a plot? I’m not sure. A kid starts school at Astronaut Academy. There are other kids. There are teachers. There are dinosaurs you learn to ride…? There are magic flying buses that join up Power Ranger / Transformer style to create Metador. I couldn’t really follow what was going on because it reads like a little kid wrote it and makes no sense. But maybe some kids would like that? Probably kids who like Captain Underpants. I feel no need to finish this.

9781608868988Goldie Vance, Volume 1 by Hope Larson and Brittney Williams
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Goldie Vance has been compared to Nancy Drew, and very rightly so, but with a modern feel. Goldie still lives in the 1960s, but is interested in (and holds hands with) a girl. She is very precocious and also a very good detective. She gets into far more action-movie sequences than Nancy, which were exciting to read (if you like suspending belief). Goldie is also in high school (she works as a valet at the hotel her dad runs) and has a vendetta with the daughter of the owner of the hotel. She races cars like in Grease, which was also fun. I liked that the mystery wasn’t straightforward and took actual brainpower and observational skills to solve.

9780375865909Peanut by Ayun Halliday and Paul Hoppe
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Peanut tells the story of Sadie, who wants to stand out at her new high school and decides to tell everyone that she’s deathly allergic to peanuts. However, her lie soon gets much more complicated than she imagined, having to lie about epi-pens and reading ingredients carefully and even keeping her boyfriend away from her mother. Eventually, as you might guess, she gets caught in rather a dramatic way when someone catches her eating something suspected to have nuts in it. EMTs are called and the school nurse and teachers are panicked. Sadie, who has wanted to come clean at least with her close friends, is left a laughingstock, especially by the popular girls she had once wanted to befriend. The story ends with hope, though, of her earning back her boyfriend’s trust, if not exactly all her new friends. I thought this made for an excellent cautionary tale about the very likely outcome of a lie like this. The flipside, where real allergies are not taken seriously, is not really addressed, which is too bad. I was right with Sadie as she made every decision and felt for her desire to fit in, even as I knew where this was heading. We squirmed uncomfortably together as she realized how much she had to lose by confessing her lie, and just had to sit and watch it play out.

Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan

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by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Ravi is brand new to his New Jersey classroom, straight from Bangalore. His teacher claims not to understand him when he talks and sends him with the Resource Room teacher with Joe, who has Auditory Processing Disorder, which makes Ravi furious. He’s sure he’s found a friend in Dillon Samreen, the only other Indian in his class (even though he’s an ABCD), but the teacher’s actions, not to mention Dillon’s natural malevolence, undermine their friendship. The story alternates between Ravi’s point of view and Joe’s, which shows aspects of each boy’s culture through their own eyes and through the eyes of an outsider, which was a really neat device and one I wouldn’t mind seeing more of. There’s even two glossaries at the back, one for words from Ravi’s world and one for words from Joe’s world, and some of them are defined in the other’s terms, like “Trunk: storage area at the rear of a vehicle, in India known as a dickey or boot” or “Baseball: an American game similar to cricket.” Ravi also makes it well known to the reader both how to pronounce his name (emphasis on the second syllable) and how important it is to him. Joe is the first person outside Ravi’s family to get his name right, and Ravi notices.

The story takes place over one week, Ravi’s first week of school. His singleminded focus on Dillon leads him to think Dillon is nice and Joe is mean and stupid, but luckily he comes to his senses by the end of the week, especially when Dillon tricks him into eating beef, which he explains is a sin for Hindus. The students are given an assignment to bring in an object that represents them, which brings Ravi and Joe together against Dillon and they become friends. This is what I love about middle grade fiction; everything ties up neatly and people learn things about themselves and how to get along.

Other interesting things about this story in particular: Joe’s dad is away driving a truck a lot, but when he is there, he spouts some hate against immigrants, but sort of redeems himself with a loving note to Joe, which was interesting. Joe’s mom takes a job at his school as a cafeteria employee, which embarrasses him to no end, especially once Dillon gets wind of it. Ravi’s teacher also displays some bias against him, mispronouncing his name, disregarding how he has been taught (especially math) and telling him she can’t understand him due to his accent. When she says English is not his native language, she shows her own (and many Americans’) ignorance; however, this exchange and others show a lot of nuance in our multicultural society. To Americans’ ears, the Indian accent is quite different and can be hard to understand, even if you have heard it a lot. Ravi also shows he is quite defensive and quick to anger when it comes to insulting his intelligence or social standing, but he realizes that his teacher is not always wrong about him. Overall, the nuance in particular is very well done and is a testament to how well these two authors work together to show both cultures.

Children’s Book of Philosophy by Sarah Tomley and Marcus Weeks

9781465429230

by Sarah Tomley and Marcus Weeks (DK Publishing)
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Years ago, I struggled through Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder. An overview of philosophy and philosophers through the ages, with a narrative feel – what could be better? Yet the presentation was a bit too in-depth for me. This book, however, was nearly perfect. It presented each philosopher (not all by a long shot, but many of the big names likely to be familiar) and a quick biography in clear, large text with similar formatting on a sidebar, and the rest of the spread was devoted to their main ideas, again in simple clear language and large, uncluttered text. Not all of the pictures really matched the ideas, but some concepts are hard to show visually. I got a bit antsy at the end when the ideas turned political in nature, but it was good to know how some of our political ideas came out of philosophy.

Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall

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by Jeanne Birdsall
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Lydia, the youngest of the Penderwick siblings, is now ten and poised for her first visit to Arundel, the summer vacation setting of the first Penderwick book, for her sister’s wedding. There she meets Cagney’s daughter, Alice, who’s her age, and they become fast friends. There’s some drama with the older sisters, and with Mrs. Tifton (Jeffrey’s mother), but in general this one is more good, clean fun – and even lower drama than the other books in the series. I was still pulled in by the same kinds of funny scenarios as the rest of the series.

With words like “at last” in the title, I was expecting this book to feel like a final book in a series, but it didn’t, for a few reasons. One is that you don’t get to experience the wedding, which was a weird letdown. Another is that there’s no closure to the Batty/Jeffrey situation. Lydia’s parents are largely absent, which seemed odd. It all just makes me wonder if this really is the final installment. One thing I really loved was that at one point they’re talking about how Mrs. Tifton thinks one of the Penderwicks wants to marry Jeffrey, and 16-year-old Ben says “I didn’t think any of us wanted to marry Jeffrey”! LOVE.

Sandwalk Adventures by Jay Hosler

9781482385007

by Jay Hosler
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

A graphic novel about two mites living in Charles Darwin’s eyebrow follicles who believe him to be God. Throughout their conversations with Darwin, they learn that not only is he not a god, but all about natural selection, survival of the fittest, and evolution. The lessons are both explicit and implicit, told through allegories of what is happening in the storyline on a meta level. Overall, very creatively and clearly done. And also, ridiculous – for the naturalist/atheist in your life! (There is a tiny little bit about reproduction, just fyi.)