Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale, 2003

Crown Princess Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee was called Ani by her aunt, and Princess by her horse, Falada, with whom she shared a psychic bond, and the Jewel of Kildenree by her mother, the Queen, who senther off to marry the Crown Prince of Bayern, giving the crown of Kildenree to Ani's younger brother. But her escorts are traitors who try to kill her and deliver her blond lady-in-waiting, Selia, to the prince of Bayern as his betrothed. A thoughtful novelization of Grimms' fairy tale, The Goose Girl is captivating read (even if this reader wishes the final version had been better edited). Strongly recommended.

The Doll People, by Ann M. Martin & Laura Godwin, 2000

Annabelle Doll lives with Mama, Papa, Nana, Bobby, Baby Betsy, and Uncle Doll in Kate Palmer's bedroom, but Auntie Sarah Doll has been missing for over 45 years. Her family thinks it's too dangerous to venture out to find Auntie Sarah -- after all, they could end up frozen in Permanent Doll State, and lose their ability to think and move and talk! But Annabelle is determined, and with the help of her new friend Tiffany Funcraft, a plastic doll belonging to Kate's little sister, Annabelle finds a way. An interesting addition to the small (and dying) genre of doll stories, the text will appeal to girl readers in grades 2-4.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Love, Ruby Lavender, by Deborah Wiles, 2001

Where would nine year-old Ruby Lavendar be without her grandmother, Miss Eula? High and dry in Haleluia, Mississippi, that's where, spending the summer missing Miss Eula terribly, writing her letters, adn wishing she could see their chickens roosting over their eggs. And surely Miss Eula could advise Ruby on how to treat snotty Melba Jane, who keeps harping on about the accident that happened last summer. Warm, Southern, war & redemption & chickens, and a handful of characters to savor. Recommended.

Born to Rock, by Gordon Korman, 2006

Leo Caraway knew at 10 that his dad wasn't his bio-dad, but not until 17 did he discover that the name on his birth certificate belongs to King Maggot, lord of the punk rock scene, and lead singer of Purge, a hard-edged 80's band. But it takes unfairly losing his scholarship to Harvard for Leo to seek out his millionaire bio-dad in hopes of tuition assistance, and that's how Leo, an erstwhile member of the Young Republicans club, finds himself touring with Purge's summer comeback tour. Never a dull moment, lots of aging rocker humor. Romance was the novel's flat side, some teen sex present, not explicit but also unproblematized.

Friday, September 22, 2006

James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl, 1961

It takes a little magic to rescue James Henry Trotter from his miserable like with Aunts Spiker and Sponge. He gets more than a little magic when some curious squirmy things makes a wizened peach tree sprout a peach the size of a house, inhabited by human-sized worms and bugs. Why shouldn't James and his insect friends sail across the Atlantic Ocean by seagull, pursued by sharks and cloud men? With Dahl, anything's possible. Marvelously absurd and surreal fantasy; verse songs are a highlight. Strongly recommended.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A Door Near Here, by Heather Quarles, 1998

There's no food in the house, and little money; Mom's passed out drunk and has been for months; the kitchen sink is spewing dirty water all over the kitchen; and Alisa, Katherine's eight-year old sister wants a stamp to mail a letter to C.S. Lewis to ask him where is the nearest door leading to Narnia. Katherine, Tracey, and Douglas have enough to worry about, holding their family together and shielding their situation from teachers who might turn them in to DSS and pull them apart. Exceptional realism grappling with parental abandonment and neglect, and a haunting, lovely tribute to Lewis and his legacy. Strongly recommended.

Monday, September 18, 2006

A Wind in the Door, by Madeline L'Engle, 1973

Meg's 6-year old genius brother Charles Wallace needs rescuing again, but not from the fascist/communist villians on Camazotz -- this time, he needs saving from his own mitochondria, where evil’s seeping influence is corrupting the young and vital farandolae. It's up t0 Meg, a feathery many-eyed cherubim, Calvin, and dour, officey elementary principal Mr. Jenkins, to help him. Theology in humanist clothing, a fantasy sequel to A Wrinkle in Time that does not live up to the first novel's promise, and feels much more overtly philophical and religious. Borrows heavily from the science fiction of C.S. Lewis, particularly his Perelandra trilogy.

The Meanest Girl, by Debora Allie, 2005

Alyssa's best friend Chelsea's got no excuse for inviting Hayden, the meanest girl at PS 58, to her birthday slumber party, but she goes ahead and does it, and that's just the beginning of her odd behavior, leaving Alyssa confused and mad. And what's gotten into her sort-of boyfriend, Dillon? And who's leaving weird stuff in her locker? And what if cute Mr. Carter reads what she's written about him in her English class writing journal? Sixth grade is pretty hectic, and it's hard to chill, but a little bird teaches Alyssa a thing or two. Fun middle-grade realism. Recommended.

The Mouse and the Motorcycle, by Beverly Cleary, 1965.

Keith is a guest at the Mountainview Hotel, and Ralph is a permanent occupant, but their love of motorcycles (and the magic of sound effects) forges a friendship between the two adventure-loving boys, even if Keith is a human and Ralph is a mouse. Loyalty, bravery, generosity, and high adventure all are possible three inches above the floor. Suitable for elementary ages. Recommended.

P.S. Longer Letter Later, by Paula Danziger and Ann M. Martin

Tara*Starr and Elizabeth are about as different as two seventh grade girls can be, but their strong friendship (and candid letter writing) carries them through their first year apart after Tara*Starr moves to Ohio. Tara's family rebuilds itself, while Elizabeth's unravels, and both find their way across the threshold of young adulthood in very different ways. A successful and engaging use of the epistolary format, successful perhaps in part because the two voices were penned by two authors, and thus remained distinct and in dialogue. Recommended.

Whistler's Hollow, by Debbie Dadey, 2002

When Lillie Mae's daddy didn't come back from the Great War in France, and her Mama was killed in a factory accident, and Aunt Helen made no secret of not wanting her, there was only one place to go: Whistler's Hollow, clear on the other side of Kentucky, to live with Daddy's Uncle Dallas and Aunt Esther. They welcome her warmly, but their young friend Paul does not. And what's Paul always toting around in Uncle Dallas's violin case? Short, moving middle grade historical fiction, with its share of dangers and surprises.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Shug, by Jenny Han, 2006

All Annemarie 'Shug' Wilcox wants in this whole wide world is for Mark Frindley, her best friend and boy-next-door, to like her back. But he's got the hots for her gorgeous 16-year old sister Celia, like every other boy in town, and it looks like he's paired off with another seventh-grade girl. All the other new junior high students are pairing off, too, but Shug can't talk to her mom about it, because she's rarely sober, nor her father, because he's rarely home. Sterling middle-grade realism. A triumphant first novel that delivers on the promise of its opening, and then some, blending humor and tragedy adroitly. Complex, gritty, endearing characters and a voice that reeled this reader in hook, line, and sinker. Most strongly recommended.

Monday, September 11, 2006

A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. Le Guin, 1968.

Sparrowhawk is marked as a child by his extraordinary power, and sent as a youth to be trained as a wizard. Pride dogs his steps, and succumbing to it he unwittingly unleashes into the world a terrible Shadow, a thing of darkness and unlife that seeks to devour him. The narrative employs a "high" fantasy voice to recount Sparrowhawk's wanderings, and includes a characteristic blending of philosophy and epic. More memorable for setting than character, and for image than for action, its climax disappoints and its protagonist, while admittedly following the convention of the flat quest hero in high fantasy, leaves me wishing for more to grasp. A narrative endowed with a stylistic excellence and burdened by overmuch contrivance and hollow philosophy. I could not enjoy it as much as I wished to.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Gossamer, by Lois Lowry, 2006

Littlest One and her trainer creep under doorsills and flutter throughout houses while people sleep, hovering over their special things and finding fragments of memory. They blow these fragments into sleeping human ears to bestow dreams upon them, dreams of laughter and hope and courage. But in one house, where eight-year old John waits to be reunited with his mother, nightmares stamp and whinny at the door. A blessedly Freud-free dramatic exploration of dreams; a different approach to middle-grade fiction about foster children and child abuse. Compact, potent, a persuasive fantasy, a hopeful overcoming. Recommended.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Rosie Cole's Memoir Explosion, by Sheila Greenwald, 2006

Rosy's not satisfied with her assignment to write about an interesting relative, so when her college-age sister Pippa suggests she write a memoir about herself instead, Rosy is easily convinced. But the more she tries to follow the format suggested by a Memoir How-To guide, the more she writes a pack of fibs that alienates friends and family. Geared to ages 8-12. Rosy's reasoning during this memoir process is unconvincing; feels like a failed attempt to channel Harriet the Spy. Not recommended.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Aquamarine, by Alice Hoffman, 2001

Claire and Hailey spend the dog days of August at the decrepit Capri Beach Club, slated for dismantling at the end of the summer, just like their friendship, which will be torn apart when Claire's family moves in September. When a storm sweeps a torrent of ocean water, plants, and animals into the the Capri's swimming pool, Claire and Hailey are amazed to find it brings a mermaid with it. A flat, disappointing narrative that treats its characters as undifferentiated objects, always tells and never shows, and completely misses its opportunities for drama and emotional tension. Not recommended.

Moose Crossing, by Stephanie Greene, 2005

When highway workers put a "Moose Crossing" sign up near Moose's house, notions of celebrity go to his head, so much so that he can't be bothered to swim with his best friend Hildy. But when moosewatching fans show up by the dozens, Moose gets to rethink his priorities. Suitable for 6-8 year old readers.