Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Best Man by Richard Peck

Cover image for The best manArcher is having a complicated 5th grade year.  His best friend is a girl (which is always complicated once you are 10) and her recently divorced mother is his new school teacher. She is nice, but hasn't taught before and is struggling a little. In comes Mr. McLeod.  He is an Army Reservist, totally cool and handsome, and their new student teacher.  He makes the second half of 5th grade the best ever.  As sixth grade rolls around, things get even more confusing when Archer's best friend starts wearing makeup, he suddenly has five classes a day and a locker to worry about, and his student teacher starts dating his favorite uncle. When Mr. McLeod's and Uncle Paul's budding romance is on the rocks, Archer wants to step in and help his uncle see the Mr. McLeod is a "keeper." 

So here is another of the recent round of LGBT books for kids. This one is--no surprise considering the author*--really well written and readable.  Archer is never worried or freaked out that his favorite uncle and his favorite teacher are in love. None of the other kids even tease him about the fact. It is just a happy situation, and Archer is delighted to help it along. In a lot of ways this is  another kids-helping-adults-with-their-romance book, like Honey or The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, except in this book the romance is between two men. The question is, would this really happen?  Has gay marriage, in just a year since it became legal across the country, become a non-issue, even with middle school kids?  I am not sure we are really quite there yet as a society.  Maybe Peck is hoping books like this will help get us there. (232 p)

*Peck is a Newbery and Newbery Honor winner for The Year Down Yonder and A Long Way From Chicago.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Audacity Jones to the Rescue by Kirby Larsen

Cover image for Audacity Jones to the rescueAudacity lives in a home for wayward girls in the early 1900's.  She is a leader among the other girls, but enjoys occasionally sneaking away to read in her own private library hideaway. When a local businessmen, Commodore Crutchfield, says he is on an important mission to help the country she agrees to come along, both to do her patriotic duty and to have a bit of real adventure.  As she continues her journey she comes to realize that they are on their way to Washington DC, and she soon finds herself in the role of cook's assistant in the White House.  Soup is not the only thing the cook is brewing, and soon Audacity and some new friends find they are involved with something more dangerous than they had imagined. 

Audacity is a spunky character and I like the fact that she is always kind and polite.  She uses her natural courage and wit to solve the mystery, aided by her great store of knowledge from being avid and omnivorous reader. She is quite an endearing heroine and I will probably read her next adventure when it comes out.  Larsen takes quite a bit of artistic license with the historical facts surrounding the presidency of William Howard Taft, but includes a note at the end of the book that explains what elements are historical and which are fictional.  (209 p)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Screaming Statue by Lauren Oliver

Cover image for The screaming statueSam, Pippa, Max and Thomas, the four orphan freak-show performers are back and caught up in another murder mystery.  When a old friend is murdered, and a friendly paper boy is the top suspect, our four heroes know they must do all they can to find out the truth.  But the mystery is not their only problem.  A new member to the cast, a handsome teen named Howie, is causing a rift between the four friends, the museum is daily getting closer to utter bankruptcy, and the evil Rattigan is still on the loose.  The kids are challenged with the seemingly impossible task of saving the museum, solving the mystery, avoiding Rattigan, while preserving their own friendship.

This is the sequel to Curiosity House:The Shrunken Head. The interesting relationships and setting that made the first book a best seller, are still the strongest part of this story, but I thought this book had a little problem with pacing.  Not much happens.  The kids see things, walk around and think about things, but they don't really do that much.  Pippa develops her talent for mind reading a little, but none of the others have much character development.  It is a common problem for the middle book in a trilogy (though I don't know if the author plans this to be a trilogy or longer) The author struggles to advance the story without ultimately resolving anything.  It was also mildly disappointing that, despite the title, the statue doesn't ever actually scream.  Still, I like the characters enough I will probably read the next one when it comes out. (361p.)

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Mango and Bambang: The Not a Pig by Polly Faber

Cover image for The not-a-pigHere is this week's intermediate.
Mango lives with her father who is always busy "balancing books."  She tries to stay busy, too, but is often lonely, until the day she meets Bambang.  Bambang is not a pig, but a tapir from a far away land. He is very nervous about living in the big city, but Mango is kind and gentle with him, and soon they are best friends. When Mango finally faces something that makes her nervous, Bambang knows he must step up and help his dear friend, the way she has helped him. This book is a treat, both literarily and visually. With simple language Faber creates a wonderful story of friendship and kindness. Vulliamy's cover even looks like a treat;  a box of candy or a popcorn bag. The interior illustrations are also charmingly done in the same two tone purple. Gentler than Junie B. Jones or Ivy and Bean, this is a great choice for a young child who is an advanced reader, or anyone who has a tender soul. (135 p.)

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Poe Estate by Polly Shulman

Cover image for The Poe EstateBecause of financial troubles, Sukie's family moves in with an elderly cousin who lives in a creepy old house. Sukie soon discovers that the house is haunted, but that is nothing new to Sukie. She has been haunted by her deceased sister since her death years earlier. The house ghosts tell of a lost treasure and soon Sukie and a new friend, Cole, are on a quest to discover the treasure and save her family from financial ruin.  But they can't do it alone.  They need the help of the New-York Circulating Material Repository and its mysterious archivist, Elizabeth Rew.

This is a companion book to The Grimm Legacy, and The Wells Bequest, but I didn't realize that when I read it.  I thought it was the first in the series, and it works just fine that way.  If I had read the first two books, I would have recognized Elizabeth Rew, who is the main character of Grimm Legacy as soon as she appeared in the story, but Shulman gives enough background that it was just fine to read this one first. The premise of all three books is interesting and original, but the book's real appeal comes from the strong and likeable characters. Sukie has a kind of "Harry Potter" feel as she gradually discovers her own powers and her place in her family history.(259 p.)

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Minion by John David Anderson

Cover image for MinionMichael was raised in an orphanage, but was adopted at age 10 by a criminal mastermind.  His "father" is a technological genius who builds powerful gadgets for whomever can pay for them.  Michael is special as well.  He can do mind-bending and the book opens with him using his power to nonchalantly rob a bank. Although Michael and his father are certainly criminals, they have a good father/son relationship and live by their own set of ethics. One day a superhero shows up in their town, and Michael can't help but be impressed with how easily he dispatches the bad guys. His feelings about "The Comet" complicates his relationship with his father's customers, most of which are part of the local crime syndicate. Things get even more complicated when they find out about Michael's persuasive powers and try to use him to confront the Comet. This book is in the same world as Sidekicked but it is not really a sequel because it is about a different set of characters.  In a way it is a mirror image of the Sidekicked story because it is about a boy with a caring mentor who is on the wrong side of the law, while Sidekicked is about a boy with a superhero mentor who doesn't care about him at all. Both books are full of action and fun sprinkled with interesting ethical questions about right and wrong. (277p.)

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

When Friendship Followed Me Home by Paul Griffin

Cover image for When friendship followed me home

Ben has grown up in the foster care system, never really having a home until he is adopted by Tess.  Tess gives him love and a home, and when a stray dog, Flip, enters the scene, and Flip leads Ben to a true friend, Halley, Ben’s life seems to be complete.  Things start to unravel when Tess passes away, and Halley’s cancer returns.  This is definitely a social issues book, but unlike some, it has as much heart as heartache.  The overall theme is one of hope and the importance of friendship, between child and dog, child and child, and child and adults. The Halley character is very endearing, but I am not sure any child is really that charming. Still it was fun to read about her and pretend a kid, with cancer or without, could be that wonderful. This is a good choice for kids who like Because of Winn Dixie and OK for Now.(247 p.)

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Princess Posey and the Crazy Lazy Vacation by Stephanie Green

Cover image for Princess Posey and the crazy, lazy vacationHere is my intermediate book of the week.  Posey is in first grade and the book starts the last day of school before a week long school break. Her friends talk about the exciting things they will do over the break, like visit grandparents in a different state, or go to Disney Land. When Posey talks with her mother, she finds out that they aren't going anywhere. Instead Posey's mom has taken the week off work and they are going to have a "stay-cation" at home. At first Posey is disappointed, but she ends up having a very good time playing with her mom and even learning to ride a bike. The reason the series is called "Princess Posey" is because when Posey is faced with something that is difficult, she puts on her favorite pink tutu and becomes "Princess Posey." Princes Posey has the courage to try hard things that were too scary for regular Posey, like getting back on the bike after her first crash.  The text is simple enough that it would make a good transition book from easy readers, and a bridge book to Junie B.Jones or Clementine.(84 p)

Friday, September 2, 2016

Six Kids and a Stuffed Cat by Gary Paulsen

Cover image for Six kids and a stuffed catSome of Gary Paulsen's books are serious, even heart rending and others are just funny.  This story fits into the second category. Six eighth-grade boys are stuck in a bathroom after school because of a storm warning. The boys fit very different stereotypes, one shy, one an over achiever, one a rocker, etc. Close proximity makes the boys interact in ways they probably would have never happened under normal circumstances, with funny results. I did think the end was a a little contrived, especially when two boys who have been enemies are suddenly best friends. Still, Paulsen's portrayal of how 14 year old boys interact is mostly spot on. As I was reading the book I kept thinking, this would make a fun play.  Then, when I got to the end of the book, sure enough, it is reprinted as a one act play. Paulsen, rather cleverly, gives each of the characters a gender neutral name, so the play could be performed by either six girls or six boys. It would be interesting to see it done by girls.  That would make it a very different story, even if the words are exactly the same. All in all it was a fun quick read. 138 p.