By Elizabeth Wroten
On 27, Aug 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
I had a lot of thoughts about this one. I get that it’s an early chapter book and I don’t think this was the author’s intent writing the book. But you can’t help but wonder if the book itself and the positive reviews it seems to be getting on GoodReads reveal some deep seated, hidden biases we have.
I really think Pigsticks and Harold encapsulated the colonial system (and our current system that favors white people). Pigsticks is a very pale pig who doesn’t have a job, lives very comfortably, has a rather illustrious family line and decides to go on an expedition. He hires Harold, a very dark brown hamster who doesn’t actually apply for the job of sherpa, but gets it anyway. Harold is a bit bumbling but a gentle soul, much like depictions of native people in colonial literature.
Picksticks often seems to include him by calling them both explorers. However, Harold is always the one to take on the danger, get hurt and still get stuck carrying all of Pigsticks’ useless luggage. Harold hardly has a voice, he doesn’t get any say in what they do despite the fact that it affects him more, and is plain put upon. Pigsticks treats him like a servant is, quite frankly, a prick. He motivates him with the promise of cake that he doesn’t actually have or appear to intend to give him.
On the surface, it’s funny, but if you look at what it really seems to be depicting it isn’t. It might have even have been fine if the book was a parody of the colonial system and the cultural system that oppresses minorities, except the book isn’t making fun of it or putting it up as something bad. It’s just using it for humor at the expense of the Harold, the minority. And the problem is, the younger kids are exposed to this stuff, and in such a subtle way, the more they internalize the messages and biases.
I won’t be buying or recommending this.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 26, Aug 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
This week I have chapter books. I will actually have a much larger chapter book post next month, but these were the ones I read to preview for adding to the collection and for fun.
There was a lot to love about this book. My one complaint, I’m not wild about the illustrations. The kids look like Bratz dolls or something from Monster High which I can’t stand. Otherwise, this is a fantastic beginning chapter book.
The format (size, printing, etc.) make it feel like a more grown up book, but it would certainly be on a first grade/beginning second grade level. The print is large which spreads it out over more. Billie wants to take ballet and be a beautiful, floating, graceful butterfly. She and her best friend (a boy!!) sign up and it turns out Billie is neither floating or graceful. Her best is and he makes a terrible stomping troll. Billie spends the week upset that she isn’t particularly good at her role until they solve the problem by switching roles in ballet class. Billie appears to be diverse and certainly you get a boy doing ballet and liking it. I haven’t read any of the other books in the series, but if they compare to this they are worth having in the library or classroom.
A girl who likes math and puzzles. That seems like a rarity. Emma Jacks may be having mean girl trouble at school, but as a secret agent EJ12 she figures out how to handle people like that.
This was a really fun adventure as EJ goes off to the Arctic to stop an villain from melting the polar ice cap to sell for water. There’s some friendship difficulties too that Emma figures out how to manage and does so beautifully at the end of the book. Lots of action, fun gadgets, a secret identity and puzzles. Emma has to solve a bunch of puzzles in her mission and they’re included in the story so the reader can try their hand at them too. Perfect for third and fourth grade.
Update 9/23/2015: I book talked this at the beginning of the year with my third graders and I can’t keep it on the shelf. The boys were originally turned off by the “girly” covers, but I’ve had them asking to check it out too.
This one is really pushing the reading level of chapter books, but it was nice and short and is high interest enough that I think a fourth grader could tackle it.
Aaron is deaf and has never left his house or the surrounding area before. But when his mother doesn’t return from market one day he sets out to find her. He ends up far from home and unable to communicate because, while he is literate and writes notes to his mother, most people are not. After a few naive mistakes Aaron finds him self trapped in the Half-A-Moon inn working for a horrible woman who is also a thief. Aaron has to use his wits to get out of the situation and get back home. This would be perfect for around Halloween. It’s creepy and also a quick read which makes it a good pick for more reluctant readers.
Suzannah desperately wants a pet, but she can’t have one because the land lord doesn’t allow pets. To help her feel better her mom signs Suzannah up to volunteer once a week at the local pet shelter. At first Suzannah is nervous, but she finds she loves working with the animals and makes some new friends too. When a little girl brings in her guinea pig Suzannah makes it her mission to find the perfect home for Jelly Bean. This would be a great series for third and fourth graders, especially those kids who like animals. It wasn’t action packed by any means, but it was suspenseful as Suzannah tries to find a home for the guinea pig.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 19, Aug 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
Today are all the kidlit/middle grade books I read this summer.
It took me a little while to get into this one, but ultimately I enjoyed it. I love how they go around San Francisco together, but with a magical twist. Actually, the more I think about it the more I like this one because it tackles mourning and death of a close friend from a really different angle. I know kids aren’t necessarily all about sad books, but it made the pain relatable without being maudlin. The dragon’s friend (the girl’s aunt) has died and while she mourns through the book the story isn’t hyper focused on the death. There is certainly excitement and action and magic. Plus the dragon learns to accept the girl as her new companion and comes to understand what lies underneath the girl’s insistent need for a friend.
This one reminded me a lot of Cleopatra in Space and even more so of Zita the Space Girl. It’s a more difficult chapter book, but it has some pictures. It was really more the story line of a young girl ending up far from home in outer space and going on adventures. I came across the book while weeding our collection in the library. There are about ten of these books in the series so I thought I would read the first. Lots of action and space pirates and gladiator games. Fun characters, too.
Another I picked up off the shelf while reading. I haven’t read much Avi and this one sounded the most interesting to me out of all his others. It was okay. I would give it to kids who like more realistic talking animal stories. Poppy was a bit too insipid for my tastes, but I can totally see kids getting into this series. It reminds me of the Mouseguard books and a bit of The Rescuers.
DNF. I picked this one up because I realized it’s book three and the only one in the series we own. I wanted to see if we needed the others. It makes enough sense on its own, but I think kids will have an easier time if they’ve read the others. I found it kind of tedious which is why I put it down. I wasn’t sure if it was the writing or if it was because I hadn’t read the other books. Fairy fantasy.
Another mouse story and another DNF. This must be British because one of the characters meets a very untimely and horrific death (off page) in the first chapter or so. That’s so like the British. Dark children’s literature. I would actually have read it all, and maybe the other two in the series, if I wasn’t pressed for time. I picked it up more because I’m trying to get a sense of what we have in the collection so I can hand-sell some of these books and series. I loved the world building and the magical, mystical qualities of the story. A more grown up (and probably better written) Gregor the Overlander which the librarian read to the third grade last year.
Our middle schoolers used to read this, but it’s in our lower school library too. I really enjoyed it, but it seemed like it would make a much better class book. The story moved slowly and was a bit introspective, so I could see most kids getting bored with the story. It might also require a more mature reader.
This was hilarious and it incorporated a mythology (Viking) you don’t see all that often despite it being European. Thor and Loki cross dress to trick the giant king into giving back Thor’s hammer which he has stolen. The narrator, Thialfi the goat boy, is rather bumbling and also has to cross dress. This leads to a situation with a young giant who wants to make out with him. Kids will love the humor.
This was an ARC I got at ALA and I really liked it. It’s history woven into a narrative about growing up and finding your inner strength wrapped into a road trip story with a grandfather. It sounds complicated, but it isn’t. The chapters are short and easy and it’s on the cusp of chapter books and kidlit, so I think it would be great for late third grade and into fourth. It’s written by a native author and it’s about a famous Native American. Well written and engaging, an excellent book to get into kids’ hands.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 12, Aug 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
I did a fair amount of reading this summer for fun and wanted to get some quick thoughts up about the books I read. The following books are from the upper end of what I read.
I had really mixed feelings about this one mostly because of my own personal reading preferences. While reading the book I was totally into it. The writing was wonderful and the story engaging. I liked the characters. But, it’s essentially a romance and I’m not feeling romances right now. Maybe on a less personal-preference note, why do all these books have to have a romance in them? Maybe I’m just an old married lady, but do teens want romance in everything? (This is definitely a teen book with an attempted rape or two.) I think the story would have been plenty interesting enough without the romance in it. Two girls, one Asian, one black, trying to make it across the U.S. during the period of Western Expansion? That’s a good story with a lot of problems without the complication of love and squishy feelings. Still, while I was reading it I really enjoyed it. Well worth adding to a library collection or simply picking up to read. Also the cover is beautiful.
I absolutely love this series. It’s a fun, quick mystery with some other interesting character development going on. Mary is half Lascar, but can pass as white and often does. She was also orphaned very young and has a checkered past that’s given her a lot of baggage. I thought this was a great conclusion to the series and read it in day. The question is, why do I accept the romance in this one, but not other books? I don’t know. I suspect because despite some of the issues they tackle these books are lighter in tone. It’s also definitely not a focus, but still a major plot point, if that makes any sense at all. Lee obviously has a love of this time period and I would give the series to any middle or high schooler who likes Victorian England and mysteries.
Jane Eyre is my all-time favorite book. I reread it once every year or so and still love it after reading it the first time my freshman year of high school. The Cottage in the Woods is Jane Eyre meets fractured fairy tales. It is beautifully written and just really well imagined and executed. That being said at 400 pages and with a younger feel with the fantasy/fairy tale aspect it might have a niche audience. Still, it’s brilliant and everyone should read it.
I love novels in verse and this one didn’t disappoint. We picked up a copy at ALA in June and talked a bit with Nelson (she was delightful). Apparently she lived in Sacramento and, according to her book more than once, which added a nice personal connection. This is a memoir of her childhood growing up moving around the country as an Air Force family and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights Movement. I think her personal awareness of the time period really adds something to the history and I think the book would make a great read aloud or read together for any class that studies it.
Another great novel in verse from Marilyn Nelson. We got the ARC of this at ALA and I wanted to preview it before I passed it on to any of the kids in my lower school library. American Ace covers some of the history of the Tuskegee Airmen through a boy who has learned that his grandfather was not actually his grandfather. There is both the history of the Airmen and a lot of personal details about how Connor and his family take this news. I think we skipped this bit of history when I took American history THREE TIMES. Jeez, Louise. That’s ridiculous. Let’s get wonderful books like this into kids hands so we don’t have to rely on textbooks to give us a broad picture of our history. The book is totally appropriate for upper elementary (simply based on reading level) on up into high school.
Holy crap this book was so, so good. It’s also incredibly violent. But so, so good. Larbalestier can write. She really brought the neighborhood to life and it’s a character of its own in the book. There is a lot of tension and suspense, but there is a ton of character development. And these characters are damaged. Their baggage drives the story as much as the action does. I love ghost stories too and the addition of Kelpie’s ability to see ghosts was My one “complaint” was that I didn’t realize it takes place over the course of one day.