Book Review: Bink & Gollie

Bink and GollieBink and Gollie by Kate DiCamillo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Book Source: Checked out from the library

Bink and Gollie are the best of friends. They love roller-skating (on quad skates, not in-line blades) and pancakes (Gollie cooks them, Bink eats them). They don’t always agree on everything, but they find ways to compromise. DiCamillo and McGhee tell these three short stories completely in dialogue between Bink and Gollie. The actions and scene-setting are left to illustrator Tony Fucile, whose cartoon panels are utterly charming. The scenery around the characters is drawn in black-and-white, while Bink, Gollie, and the occasional guest adult, fish, or outrageous sock shine in full color. So much of the story is told through the illustrations, in fact, that it would be possible for a non-reader to understand and enjoy it without the text, but missing the playful banter would be a shame. There is some advanced vocabulary (“‘The problem with Bink,’ said Gollie, ‘is her unwillingness to compromise'”) for beginning chapter-book readers; this would be a good choice to read aloud to younger readers, although a motivated young reader might take the opportunity to learn the words in context.

The girls have been compared to Frog & Toad and George & Martha. I see a little bit of Ramona and Beezus in them. Gollie is the responsible one, sometimes exasperated with little Bink, but steadfastly loyal to her all the same. I sincerely hope that this is only the first volume of their adventures.

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Book Review: This Isn’t What It Looks Like

This Isn't What It Looks LikeThis Isn’t What It Looks Like by Pseudonymous Bosch

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Source: Checked out from the library

The fourth book in the series that began with The Name of This Book is Secret picks up where the third volume left off. In the early chapters, narrator Bosch splits attention between two stories: one is about a girl who wakes up in what appears to be a medieval European village unable to remember who she is, where she is, how she got there, or why she happens to be invisible; the other is about Max-Ernest, who is desperately trying to awaken his friend Cass, who has been in a strange sort of coma since taking a dose of time-travel chocolate. The reader can quickly figure out how these two stories mesh (you’ve probably put it together just reading this review), and it’s a relief when the two stories converge into one.

There is a lot of silliness here, in the style of the writing as well as the plot. Cass and Max-Ernest remain the center ground for the reader amid the swirl of outrageous situations and goofy narration. Bosch reads much like Lemony Snicket, explaining things in footnotes and hinting at secrets never quite revealed. Several of these footnotes refer the reader back to previous installments in the series; jumping into the series with this book is definitely not recommended. A cliff-hanger ending (and the fact that our heroes still haven’t uncovered The Secret) leaves readers anxiously anticipating the final volume, slated for publication in October 2011.

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Book Review: Roscoe Riley Rules: Never Glue Your Friends to Chairs

Roscoe Riley Rules #1: Never Glue Your Friends to Chairs (Roscoe Riley Rules (Hardback))Roscoe Riley Rules #1: Never Glue Your Friends to Chairs (Roscoe Riley Rules by Katherine Alice Applegate

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Source: Checked out from my library.

Kids have to follow so many rules!
Sometimes my brain forgets to remember them all.
It’s not like I
try to find ways to get into trouble. It’s just that trouble has a way of finding me.

In this first book in a series, Roscoe Riley, a first-grader with “high spirits”, welcomes us to his Official Time-Out Corner to hear the story of exactly what put him there this time. He was really just trying to help his teacher. Who knew it was a bad idea to glue things to people with the Super-Mega-Gonzo Glue?

This is a quick, breezy read, with one- and two-sentence paragraphs and short chapters interspersed with Brian Biggs’ cartoony black-and-white illustrations. Well-meaning but short-sighted Roscoe will be a familiar character to adults and kids, and his droll delivery will raise more than a few giggles. I can’t help but think of Roscoe Riley as similar to Junie B. Jones, but with more boy-appeal. Perfect for young readers just getting into chapter books.

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Book Review: Sassy: Little Sister is not my Name

Little Sister Is Not My Name (Sassy, #2) Little Sister Is Not My Name (Sassy, #2) by Sharon M. Draper

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book Source: Checked out from my library

I’m trying something new. If my family can’t call me by my real name, I’m not going to talk to them.

Sassy Simone Sanford is nine-and-a-half years old. She’s the smallest person in her family and the smallest person in her fourth-grade class. But she has a big personality and plenty of flair. In this first volume in a series aimed squarely at 3rd-5th girls, Sassy introduces herself, her friends, and her family, including professional storyteller Grammy.

When I think of Sharon Draper, I think of books like The Battle of Jericho and Out of My Mind, so this sweet and fluffy series is a nice change of pace. Sassy’s world is a pleasant one – her big issues include her frustrations with having to wear a uniform and the fact that her whole family tends to call her “Little Sister”. The descriptions of her classmates indicate that her school is highly diverse, and everybody seems to get along splendidly. Recommend especially to girls growing out of Junie B. Jones and Clementine.

A little note: I don’t know why GoodReads has this listed as book #2. It’s the first book in the series.

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Book Review: Grounded

GroundedGrounded by Kate Klise

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Daralynn Oakland should have been in her father’s plane that day. Instead, she was sitting at home, grounded by her mother, when a state trooper arrived to tell them that the plane’s engine failed, and that Daralynn’s father, older brother, and younger sister died in the crash. After that, nothing can be the same. Her homemaker mother stops cooking meals and takes a job preparing bodies at the local funeral home. Her grandmother loses interest in anything except playing with the 237 dolls well-wishers sent Daralynn. And her single, sophisticated Aunt Josie becomes infatuated with Mr. Clem, a new man in town with some awfully big ideas. Daralynn is just beginning to cope with her grief and the changes in her life when she stumbles on a mystery to solve.

The tiny town of Digginsville comes alive through carefully selected details, such as the K-12 school that is home to the “Mighty Moles” and Doc Lake, where Daralynn enjoys fishing for catfish stocked by the Department of Conservation. The year is left vague, but it is clearly a few decades ago, indicated by the fact that Uncle Waldo has been home from Vietnam for just six years before the crash, and a mention late in the book of events “twenty-two years after” that year. The voice of the first-person narrator, who sounds like an adult recalling her childhood, rather than a current sixth- or seventh-grader, reflects this perspective without calling too much attention to it.

There is some heavy material here, but Klise uses a gentle touch with her quirky characters. Their journey from life B.C. (“Before Crash”) to A.D. (“After Death”) is not without humor or adventure. Recommend to fans of Wiles’ Each Little Bird That Sings and LaFleur’s Love, Aubrey.

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Book Review: Henrietta Horbuckle’s Circus of Life

Henrietta Hornbuckle's Circus of LifeHenrietta Hornbuckle’s Circus of Life by Michael de Guzman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

All her life, Henrietta has been on the move. Born into a traveling clown circus, she lives with her parents in an RV, part of a caravan that journeys from city to city, putting on shows. She loves performing as part of the act, and she is mystified by the idea of ever leaving the circus and settling down somewhere. But Filbert’s Traveling Clown Circus has had some tough times, and some serious changes are coming Henrietta’s way.

With a smooth flowing narrative voice and short chapters, the book pulls the reader quickly into Henrietta’s world. It is packed with details about the clowns’ vagabond lifestyle, from how the Hornbuckles’ RV is arranged to how dinner is prepared to how Henrietta and her father work out a new routine. For curious readers, it is a fascinating glimpse into an entirely different lifestyle. Fans of realistic fiction will appreciate the way Henrietta faces both the everyday challenges of life on the cusp of becoming a teenager and the much bigger issues that are altering life as she has known it.

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Book Review: Scumble

ScumbleScumble by Ingrid Law

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Like his cousin Mibs in Savvy, on the eve of his thirteenth birthday, Ledger “Ledge” Kale is convinced he knows what his special talent will be. And, like Mibs, he is mistaken. Instead of the expected super speed, he discovers that he has a gift for making things fall apart. After his uncontrolled talent wreaks havoc at his cousin’s wedding, his parents make an abrubt decision to leave Ledge and his sister in the care of their uncle on his ranch outside Sundance, Wyoming, while he learns to “scumble” – rein in – his savvy.

Law brings back characters from Savvy and introduces new ones while maintaining the tall-tale style and quirky turns of phrase of her Newbery Honor book. Here, the stylistic flourishes are little heavy-handed, especially in the early chapters; the language just doesn’t flow as naturally in Ledge’s voice. The book moves a little slowly at first as well, but things pick up considerably in the second half. Law’s colorful characters are definitely her strength, drawing the reader into the story even when plot turns challenge the suspension of disbelief. Ledge is a believably awkward, likeable teenage boy, just beginning to leave childhood, and the reader wants to know what happens to him and the people he meets in Sundance. There’s a touch of romance, but nothing too sickly sweet in this adventure. As “companion novels”, both Scumble and Savvy stand on their own, and there seems to be a hint of a possible third volume near the end.

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Book Review: Best Friends Forever

Best Friends Forever: A World War II ScrapbookBest Friends Forever: A World War II Scrapbook by Beverly Patt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Louise Krueger and Dottie Masuoka have been best friends all their lives. They’ve been inseparable – going to school together, attending church together, and watching fireworks on the fourth of July together. Then, in the spring of their eighth grade year, Dottie’s family, along with the other Japanese families in the Bainbridge Island area and all along the West coast, are “relocated” inland. Louise creates a scrapbook, bringing together photos, drawings, and letters. Dottie describes in detail life at Camp Harmony, while Louise records her life on the homefront. As Louise visits a rehabilitation hospital, learns to knit socks for soldiers, and works on a Victory Garden, modern tweens get a glimpse of life during World War II. An Author’s Note at the end clarifies which elements are fact and which are fiction, and a bibliography is provided for further reading. It is an eye-catching introduction to the subject, and I can see it being easy to booktalk to fifth- and sixth-grade girls, although the appeal to boys is probably limited.

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Book Review: The Night Fairy

The Night FairyThe Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Flory, a tiny Night Fairy no bigger than an acorn, is nearly eaten by a confused brown bat, she finds herself wingless and trapped in a garden. Spunky and determined, she makes a home in an empty birdhouse and tries to live as a Day Fairy. Her challenges and adventures are related in simple, flowing language matching the timeless fairy-tale feel of the story. The watercolor illustrations bring the scenes to vivid life.

Schlitz tells a lovely story with lessons about resiliency, friendship, and growing up without ever preaching to the reader. This slim chapter book would be a wonderful, slightly more sophisticated choice for fans of the many fairy books currently available.

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Picture Book Picks: Knitter Appreciation

What knitter hasn’t had the sad experience of working for hours on a gift item, only to discover that the recipient doesn’t like it, never wears it, or hid or gave it away? I like to call it UGGS: Unappreciated Gift Giver Syndrome, and I still avoid it by mostly knitting just for me. But UGGS also rears its ugly head in fiction, so here are three picture books about knitters looking for a little appreciation. As an added bonus, they all happen to be animals.

Annie Hoot and the Knitting Extravaganza by Holly Clifton-Brown.

Published in the UK and Australia before hitting the States, this book stars a sweet if slightly dim owl who loves to knit. Unfortunately, her strigine friends refuse to wear the brightly colored clothes she creates. So, she travels around the world (in various partially-knitted forms of transport) in search of some happy knitwear recipients. She tries the rain forest, the African plains, and the Arctic before getting a bit homesick (and running out of yarn). When she gets back home, she discovers that the other owls have come to appreciate her and her gifts. The storytelling is a little clunky, but the watercolor illustrations are adorable, even if it does look like Annie is knitting with two very large iron nails in a rather peculiar style. (It’s probably very hard to knit with wings.) I take issue with the depiction of penguins frolicking with polar bears up in the Arctic – it’s a pet peeve of mine – but they’re so darn cute!

Derek the Knitting Dinosaur, by Mary Blackwood, illustrated by Kerry Argent

In this rhymed-text import from Australia, Derek is a little green dinosaur with a problem. His brothers, Fang and Fearless,  are big, fierce, scary dinosaurs who roar and stomp and fight while Derek just likes to sit inside, knitting and chatting with his friend Montmorency (a cute but quite toothy spotted mouse). Fang and Fearless aren’t all that bothered by Derek’s homebody ways, but he seems to worry that he should be more like them. When the weather suddenly turns colder, Derek’s brothers come to him for the one thing they can’t scare up: some warm clothes. The book closes with Fang and Montmorency agreeing what a good thing it is that “dear little Derek / would rather just sit, / and go / knittety / knittety / knittety / knit!” And Derek himself seems to be pleased enough to have finally found his place. Blackwood conveys an important message about appreciation of differences without being didactic, and Argent’s illustrations are charming. They also add some additional humor; there’s just something about the knitted underpants that makes me giggle.

Knitty Kitty, by David Elliott, illustrated by Christopher Denise.

“Clickety-click. / Tickety-tick.” A grandmotherly cat, complete with half-glasses perched on her nose and a cozy red shawl, sits in an armchair by the fire, knitting up a hat, a scarf, and mittens for three little kittens to wear while playing outside. They’re warm and cozy during the day, but having dressed their snowman in the knitwear, they find themselves chilly and uncomfortable in their sleeping basket at bedtime. Knitty Kitty, of course, has a solution; she curls up along with them in the basket. Denise’s acrylic and ink-on-paper illustrations depict a quaint little country cottage. While Knitty Kitty herself is very human-like, the kittens definitely act like kittens. They pounce on tails, wrestle with the mittens, and poke curiously at a stray ball of yarn. It’s easy to feel the energy of the three little kittens contrasted with the cozy room. A lovely twist on the Three Little Kittens nursery rhyme, this would be a good choice for a bedtime story.