Category Archives: Children’s Literature

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

ImageObviously it’s been awhile…I haven’t been blogging because I feel like the act of having to write about what I read diminshed the joy I have always found in reading.¬† But every once in awhile, I might have something to say. ūüėČ

I recently read a blog post that made a case for high stakes in literature.¬† Books where the stakes are high, either physically or emotionally, are the books that grab you.¬† The books you can’t forget.¬† The books you rush to the end of but then are sorry to put down.¬† (read full post here: http://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2012/08/14/the-case-for-high-stakes-in-stories-that-is/)

Liar & Spy was not that book.

Maybe Rebecca Stead and I just don’t understand each other.¬† I didn’t fall all over myself like most of the children’s lit population when When You Reach Me came out either.¬† But I decided to give her another chance.¬† Sadly, I think this is where Ms. Stead and I will part ways.

Liar & Spy is well written.¬† The characters are good, the story is good, but there is nothing that reaches out and GRABS you.¬† There is nothing that makes it GREAT.¬† Several reviewers who have been singing its praises on Goodreads have called it “subtle”.¬† Hmmm.¬† In this case, subtle, to me at least, equals boring.

I’ve read lots of books that are just ok and haven’t felt the need to say anything about them.¬† But lately I feel that many of these books are getting so much attention that they don’t deserve.¬† Am I missing something?¬† Are my tastes so completely different from those of the general population of readers?

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2012 TBR Challenge – Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

One down, eleven to go! 

I’ve completed my first book of the 2012 TBR Challenge (for my previous post on the challenge, go here).¬† Little Women is a book I’ve wanted to read forever.¬† When I was growing up, I remember my mom had an abridged version up in the hall closet that I would pull down every once in awhile and attempt to read.¬† For some reason, I never got much past the first chapter.¬† I’ve seen the movie more than a dozen times (the Winona Ryder and Susan Sarandon version – which I LOVE), but I knew I¬†would be¬†missing out on a some sort of literary rite of passage if I didn’t read the book.¬†

The book is huge.  That abridged version I had as a kid did nothing to prepare me for the 400+ page volume I hefted around for a week.  Clearly there was going to be a lot more than they were able to show in the movie.  As paged my way through, I fell in love with the March girls and their charming New England world all over again. 

SPOILER ALERT! (But really, who doesn’t know this story????)
One of the parts I found most moving was the scene where Jo rejects Laurie.  It was much more powerful in the book than the movie.  I felt like we really got to see the depth of longing and hurt that Laurie experienced and it just about broke my heart.  About to embark for Europe to get over his heartbreak, Laurie goes next door to say good-bye to the March family:

When the parting came, he affected high spirits, to conceal certain inconvenient emotions which seemed inclined to assert themselves.¬† This gaiety did not impose upon anybody, but they tried to look as if it did, for his sake, and he got on very well till Mrs. March kissed him, with a whisper full of motherly solicitude; then, feeling that he was going very fast, he hastily embraced them all around…as if for his life.¬† Jo followed a minute after to wave her hand to him if he looked round.¬† He did look round, came back, put his arms about her, as she stood on the step above him, and looked up at her with a face that made his short appeal both eloquent and pathetic.

“Oh Jo, can’t you?”
“Teddy, dear, I wish I could!”

That was all, except for a little pause; then Laurie straightened himself up, said, “It’s all right, never mind,” and went away without another word.¬† Ah, but it wasn’t all right, and Jo did mind; for while the curly head lay on her arm a minute after her hard answer, she felt as if she ahd stabbed her dearest friend; and when he left her without a look behind him, she knew that the boy Laurie never would come again.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Juvenile fiction | 528 pages | Barnes & Noble Classics | March 2004 (orginally published 1868) | 9781593081089 | Personal copy

 

 

 

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The Luck of the Buttons by Anne Ylvisaker

“You’re such a Button.”

Tugs Button has heard this more times than she can count.¬† Her family is known for being unlucky.¬† They aren’t good at sports or art.¬† They aren’t talented musicians or exceptional cooks.¬† They certainly never win anything.¬†

But all that changes at the 1929 Fourth of July picnic.¬† For the first time ever, Tugs partners with cool girl, Aggie Millhouse in the three-legged race – AND WINS!¬† Then her essay on “progress” wins first prize in the essay contest!¬† And finally, Tugs’s ticket is chosen as the winner of brand new Brownie camera in the raffle.¬† Tugs Button, the awkward, clunky, much-less-than-graceful tomboy, could possibly turn her luck around.

But Tugs is plagued by the new man in town, Harvey Moore.¬† He says he’s here to bring a newspaper back to Goodhue with the help of monetary investments by the townspeople.¬† Everyone in town is enamoured with this dapper gentlemen – everyone, that is, except Tugs.¬† What will come of Tugs’s suspicions?¬† Has her short streak of luck already run out?

Ylvisaker’s novel is a an utterly charming look at small-town life in Iowa in the 1920s.¬†

The Luck of the Buttons by Anne Ylvisaker
Juvenile fiction | 224 pages | Candlewick Press | April 2011 | 0763650668 | Library copy

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Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet

In this darling and beautifully illustrated¬†biography, Melissa Sweet¬†introduces readers to¬†the creator of the floats we all know and love that parade around New York City on Thanksgiving Day.¬† Tony Sarg began his career by making marionettes that were known for their incredibly lifelike movements.¬† His work attracted the eye of R.H. Macy’s department store in Herald Square and Sarg created holiday window displays for them.¬† When Macy’s decided to have a holiday parade for their employees, they knew Sarg was the man for the job.¬† Sarg worked with a company that made blimps to bring his ideas to life.¬† After some design tweaks, Sarg was able to create stunning balloons that have dazzled audiences since 1928.

Balloons Over Broadway:¬† The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade by Melissa Sweet
Picture book | 40 pages | Houghton Mifflin | November 2011 | 0547199457  | Library copy

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Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

“This is what happens on journeys – the things you find are not necessarily the things you had gone looking for.” (p. 235)

Hazel and Jack are best friends.¬† Highly imaginative and having both suffered loss in their home lives, Hazel and Jack seem inseparable.¬† Until a shard of glass from a magic mirror falls in Jack’s eye and pierces his heart with an impenetrable coldness.¬† Suddenly he wants nothing to do with Hazel and soon he disappears into the woods with the White Witch.¬† Despite Jack’s brush-off, Hazel goes after her friend, for this is what best friends do.¬† In the woods, things are not what they seem.¬† Hazel encounters wolves, wizards, and woodsman, all of whom try to distract her from her mission.¬† After trudging deeper and deeper into the cold, Hazel finally finds the Witch and the slightly underwhelming showdown (but a showdown nonetheless!) begins.¬† Based on Hans Christian Andersons story, “The Snow Queen”, Breadcrumbs is a fairy tale retelling that blends contemporary and traditional tales, along with realistic and fantasy elements.

I just have one word to describe Ursu’s writing:¬† enchanting.¬† I thought the writing was brilliantly beautiful, with passages that beg to be read aloud.¬† I found Hazel to be a believable and relatable character and her issues with her parent’s divorce, fitting in at a new school, growing up (and growing apart) were realistic.¬† I was completely drawn into the first half of the book…and then lost a little bit of interest in the second.¬† Maybe it’s just the fact that I prefer realistic fiction over fantasy that I had a harder time swallowing the second half.¬† I also thought the story got slightly repetitive and that the climax was a bit anti-climactic, but even with those hang-ups I was still overall delighted by Breadcrumbs and would recommend it to young and old alike.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu
Juvenile fiction | 313 pages | September 2011 | Waldon Pond Press | 0062015052  | Library copy

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Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

“‘Master Jefferson has done a lot of great things…he was a leader in the war.¬† He wrote that declaration thing.¬† He made us a new country.¬† And then he went to France, and he was president…so, does all that mean he’s a great person?¬† White folks seem to think so.¬† If you’re great enough in some areas, does it make up for the rest?’

Maddy asked, ‘Would a great person sell someone else’s son?'” (p. 254-255)

How would you feel if your father was the President of the United States, but no one could know about it?  Or if your father was also your owner?

In Jefferson’s Sons, Bradley tells the story of Thomas Jefferson’s other children-those he had with his slave, Sally Hemmings.¬† Beverly, Harriet, Maddy & Eston get better treatment than the other slaves at Monticello, but they are still slaves.¬† Beverly, Harriet & Eston are light-skinned enough that at age 21, when they receive their freedom, they’ll be able to enter white society, but it’s a decision that will mean never seeing their mother or Maddy again.¬† Bradley explores complex issues of slavery, identity, equality, freedom, and family while maintaining a certain measure of innocence by telling the story through a child’s eyes.¬† The story dragged a bit towards the middle, but press on through that because the ending is incredibly powerful and brought tears to my eyes.

Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Juvenile Fiction | 368 pages | September 2011 | Dial | 0803734999 | Library copy

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The Magnificent 12: The Trap by Michael Grant

In the second volume of The Magnificent 12 series, Michael Grant once again takes us on a wild ride around the world. Mack, Stephen and Jarrah are on their way to China to pick up the next member of the 12, but of course they encounter everything from scary little men made of stinky blue cheese to dragons, to giant grasshoppers and just plain old giants. With the clock ticking down to the Pale Queen’s release, will Mack be able to find the rest of the 12 in time to save the world from impending doom?

I wasn’t as enamored with this second book. The humor that drew me into the The Call was over the top and contrived in The Trap. I also think that the numerous pop culture references will date this book too quickly. Overall, though, I’d still recommend this series to readers who like humor and adventure.

 
The Magnificent 12:  The Trap by Michael Grant
Juvenile fiction | 294 pages | August 2011 | Katherine Tegen Books | 0061833681 | Library copy

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