The Penderwicks are back, this time facing a horrible catastrophe: their aunt, with authority from a letter written by their mother, has decided it'sThe Penderwicks are back, this time facing a horrible catastrophe: their aunt, with authority from a letter written by their mother, has decided it's time for father Martin Penderwick to start dating again! Inspired by Skye, the girls implement a plan in which they will provide their father with unsuitable dates, so he can prove the idea is a disaster. Hilarity and hijinks ensue, along with an ending suitable for a Penderwick novel.
This is another situation in which the Penderwicks live in a world slightly askew from ours. Martin's unsuitable dates are all hilariously bad, and no one ever asks him if he wants to start dating--it's enough that his dead wife thought it was a good idea. Iantha, the neighbor, is also a little too good to be true: beautiful, brainy, an astrophysicist, whose husband is out of the picture in a perfect and uncomplicated way.
That said, I thoroughly enjoyed how the girls got themselves more deeply entrenched in deception as they stretch ever harder to find dates for their father. I liked Skye in particular, since she immediately knew the Save-Daddy plan (which was her idea) was a bad one, yet couldn't find a way to stop it. I also love the hints for adult readers: (view spoiler)[When Martin said he was dating Marianne Dashwood, I cracked up laughing--not something a middle-grade reader is going to get. (hide spoiler)] And the ending (view spoiler)[in which Martin and Iantha fall in love (hide spoiler)] is so great I didn't even care that it was a slightly unrealistic contrivance. Overall, I think I loved it more than the first....more
I read the fourth book first and of course had to immediately run out and get the others. I hadn't realized what a chronological gap there is betweenI read the fourth book first and of course had to immediately run out and get the others. I hadn't realized what a chronological gap there is between this book and The Penderwicks in Spring, where Batty (here only four or five, I can't remember which) is almost eleven, and it was an interesting change to see the older sisters as young as Batty is there.
The Penderwicks exist in a sort of alternate universe in which things aren't perfectly perfect--poor Jeffrey has a horrible mother and doesn't even know who his father is--but everything nevertheless works out for the best. Even the mistakes are ideal and funny. I loved Jane, the budding author, writing endless stories about her dashing heroine and then showing them to (she thinks) a real live editor, then being utterly crushed when he's dismissive of them. And Martin Penderwick, their father, is wonderfully quirky and completely unfazed by having to raise four sometimes wild daughters on his own. I fell in love with the family all over again and only wished I'd read the series in order....more
This book about a girl with cerebral palsy learning to function outside her special school was fun to read, but slRead for the 2016 YA/MG Book Battle.
This book about a girl with cerebral palsy learning to function outside her special school was fun to read, but slight compared to others of this year’s Book Battle that are also about family and friendship (Binny in Secret and The Penderwicks in Spring particularly). Sarah Jane (Sal) has been living at a school for children with “motor handicaps” for many years, but her parents have decided she’s finally capable of integrating into a public school. Once at home, Sal faces many challenges, not all of which derive from her condition, which was one of the things I liked about the book. Sal’s cerebral palsy is treated with great sensitivity, but never used as the Big Issue in how others treat her except by one character, who is himself damaged and whose reactions to Sal come off more as his reactions to his own situation.
Sal’s friendships form the heart of the book. I liked the way she wasn’t the only outsider, and how the Dutch girl Elsje reacted to Sal—again, not as a disabled person, but as a threat to her own friendships. Elsje’s brother Piet was one of my favorite characters, not because he’s likeable (he isn’t) but because his situation, being an outsider, being physically damaged, made him compelling. The only character I didn’t like was Sal’s father, who kept sounding like the Professor on Gilligan’s Island. He was just too wise to be real.
I have to say I think in terms of how it handles disability, this book aged well, given how differently we think about disability fifty years later. It functions on one level as a guide to cerebral palsy without turning too much into a lecture, though it made me wonder how cerebral palsy is treated these days, whether Sal’s experience still has meaning. But even though Sal struggles realistically with her disability, many of the other relationships felt too obvious: the antagonism of the other “new girl,” Sal’s older sister who is unrelentingly negative about Sal’s capabilities, Sal’s parents who are completely well-adjusted to their daughter’s problems. Piet’s drama was the one that felt real to me, and his fear felt real as well. Given that this is Sal’s story, I think this is a problem. Even the denouement belongs to Piet, not to Sal, and while we’re meant to see Sal as the one who gives Piet courage, I don’t really buy it. Because of this, the ending feels tacked on, with Sal realizing she has friends and a place away from the school she spent so many years at. It wraps up a little too neatly for real life.
Overall, the book had many admirable qualities, but it’s probably not one I’ll come back to....more
I used to really, really love this book. Louise Fitzhugh has a fantastic style, and Harriet's voice comes through clearly. Harriet, whose ambition isI used to really, really love this book. Louise Fitzhugh has a fantastic style, and Harriet's voice comes through clearly. Harriet, whose ambition is to be a writer and a spy (her commitment to each varies throughout the book) writes in her notebook constantly. Mostly she's keeping notes on the people around her, both her classmates in her sixth-grade class and the people she spies on. The latter are fascinating and so well portrayed, with all their quirks and oddities. But Harriet doesn't pull any punches, and when (as is inevitable) the truth about her writing comes out, she pays a heavy price and learns some valuable lessons about what a writer actually does.
Harriet is extremely perceptive, and her skewering of her classmates is accurate, which is probably why it pisses them off so badly. And this isn't a didactic novel, fortunately, because I think it would dilute Harriet's gift if the story were turned into some afterschool special about the meaning of friendship. But the one thing Harriet never realizes is that being perceptive, seeing to the heart of things, doesn't have to mean being cruel. It doesn't have to mean seeing only the bad. Harriet comes close to realizing this when she witnesses one of the people on her spy route, Little Joe, surrounded by heaps of food he seems to be devouring--and then he gives half of it away to some starving urchins. Harriet sees, but she doesn't understand.
The ending is particularly odd: (view spoiler)[Harriet's given the job of editing the sixth grade contribution to the school paper and uses it as an outlet for her writing ability. But she continues to skewer people, this time adults who are in a position to object to her airing their secrets before the whole school. I think, since the book ends with Harriet apologizing and her friends Janie and Sport forgiving her, it's meant to be a happy ending--but since her apology is a lie, and one her former nurse Ole Golly encouraged her to tell, I'm not sure Harriet has changed at all. Forget about such inanities as learning her lesson; if there's no change, then there's no point. (hide spoiler)]
I still really admire how brilliantly characterized this book is, but I have too many reservations about the conclusions I think the reader's meant to draw to truly love it anymore....more
This feels like an extended meditation on summer, and vacations, and being young. Portia and her younger brother Foster always go to stay with their aThis feels like an extended meditation on summer, and vacations, and being young. Portia and her younger brother Foster always go to stay with their aunt and uncle and cousin Julian for three months in the summer. This year, Portia and Julian’s wanderings bring them to a lost holiday “colony” of houses that were once lovely homes along a lake shore, but when the lake dried up, everyone moved away. Now the only ones still there are an elderly brother and sister who grew up there as children and returned to settle into old age. Portia and Julian befriend them, and the settlement at Gone-Away Lake becomes a giant playhouse and park and wilderness preserve all in one.
Honestly, it’s just an incredibly placid novel (I don’t mean this in a bad way). I kept waiting for something to happen--not in the sense of being bored, just that I couldn’t believe their idyll could remain undisturbed. For example: Portia thinks a lot about Julian and how great he is on the train ride there, and I really thought it was leading up to him having changed and being "grown-up" and boring, but no, he's exactly as she remembers him. It’s a little like Swallows and Amazons, but less exciting and with more grownups.
I was a little frustrated with the children’s timidity, particularly the girls’, but it was written in 1957 and maybe that’s just how kids were back then (or, more accurately, that’s what adults thought kids were like back then, since Swallows and Amazons is about twenty years older and I think no one would call the Blackett girls timid). But the fun of exploring these closed-off houses, of setting up a clubhouse in the attic of one, of finally discovering the mysterious Villa Caprice--it made me wish, a little, that I could be that age again and have that opportunity....more
I love prequels. I love the self-consciousness of them, how they play with reader knowledge and expectations. I didn't expect to like this one so muchI love prequels. I love the self-consciousness of them, how they play with reader knowledge and expectations. I didn't expect to like this one so much, and honestly, in itself it was really only a four. It was McKay's brilliant handling of this as a prequel to the Casson novels that bumped it to a five, that and how she made me finally like Caddy.
I've never cared for Caddy. She's sort of airheaded, in some ways like her mother Eve, but unlike Eve, I get the sense that Caddy is doing it on purpose. Caddy Ever After didn't do anything to change my impression, but then, how could it, since Caddy was practically Sir Not Appearing In This Book. Caddy's World is set six years before Saffy's Angel, the year that Rose is born and Caddy is twelve. It was strange to see Caddy, who previously seemed so free of connections, to be part of a tightly-knit gaggle of girls who've been friends since they were four and five. Unlike the other girls, who all have their own identities (i.e. Alison who hates everyone) Caddy's title "bravest of the brave" is in Caddy's mind an honorary title, since she isn't brave about anything but spiders, which to her aren't scary at all.
Caddy's braveness becomes evident, though, as she turns out to be the one who has to face reality for everyone else. Whether it's being the first of the friends to admit that their lives are changing, or telling her friends that they've all been dumped by their communal boyfriend, or facing the fact that her new baby sister may not survive, Caddy's bravery is something that's only obvious to everyone but herself. The most interesting example of this is when Caddy risks her own life to pull her friend Ruby out of the path of a speeding truck, because the true act of bravery is that she immediately pushes Ruby into the path of a metaphorical truck Ruby's avoided throughout the book, namely Ruby's admission to an elite school that will take her away from her friends. Caddy more than once risks her friends hating her when she makes them face up to the fears they've been avoiding, and that's real bravery.
I loved Caddy's friends, too; they're all different and all seem so very twelve years old. Beth's obsession with her size and consequent descent into anorexia and bulimia seem particularly well characterized. There's never a sense of this becoming a "problem novel," because Beth's mental state makes all her choices seem obvious, if wrong. Ruby's decision to fail rather than be accepted to her elite school--something it's clear she would like if she didn't have to leave her friends behind--also makes a certain twelve-year-old sense, but what's beautiful is the hints that all the adults in her life understand perfectly what she's doing and are willing to give her space to work out her problems. And Alison, she of the brilliant hair and exotic makeup, has a wonderful internal life that even her friends don't suspect.
Which leads me to another thing I love about this book and about the Casson stories in general: adults are not bumbling idiots, but just grown-up versions of the children who are the protagonists. Alison's greatest rebellion is met by the head of school telling her outright that she knows the real Alison is the opposite of the Alison who dyes her hair magenta, that illusory Alison, and Alison is stunned to realize it's true. She's even more stunned when the head, rather than ordering her home until she's dyed it a normal color, just tells her to tie it back and keep it out of the way. How much better a reaction than yelling and tears, and again, perfectly believable.
Finally, I think it's amazing that even though this is a prequel and we know that Permanent Rose comes through just fine, Caddy's tension and fear about the fate of the firework baby, lying there in the hospital pierced with tubes, feels very real. And Rose's final line, in the epilogue that happens six years later, makes for a perfect ending....more
I like it when my kids want me to read books they love. This is a sweet story about a boy and his dragon, or at least the dragon he's been chosen to cI like it when my kids want me to read books they love. This is a sweet story about a boy and his dragon, or at least the dragon he's been chosen to care for from hatching to adulthood. Jeremy's experience is a lot like caring for an infant, and I think most parents would love to have an instruction manual like his. There's a lot of wisdom here that kids will appreciate because it doesn't sound like preaching, such as how having a desire for something makes it more likely that you will find it, and that no matter how much work you put into helping someone grow, eventually you have to let them find their own path or all that work will have been pointless. It's not quite the kind of middle-grade fiction that adults (in my opinion) can fully enjoy, but it's an excellent choice for intelligent young readers who aren't quite ready for YA fiction....more
This book has a fun premise: three teens are hired by a local pizza delivery place, only to discover that it's a front for an international monster-huThis book has a fun premise: three teens are hired by a local pizza delivery place, only to discover that it's a front for an international monster-hunting organization, and their jobs were just a pretext for recruiting them into the group. The (probably) main character, Toby, is sort of a drifter in his own life: he starts things, then gives up before he gets very far, mainly because there isn't anything he really cares about...except cooking, which he's too shy about to admit to anyone. Working at Killer Pizza gives him the confidence to follow that dream and the ability to push through the hard times because he's got his teammates depending on him. There's some good action, scary monsters, and I liked that Toby's physical transformation (he's sort of a couch potato before the KP training regimen tones him up) doesn't instantly make him self-confident as well.
Unfortunately, Killer Pizza has some writing and structural problems that get in the way of the story being exceptional. Most serious of these is that the point of view shifts frequently not only between characters, but between a third-person-limited and third-person-omniscient tone that in a horror/thriller/action novel kills the illusion of immediacy. Since the third-person-omniscient POV often turns into the author telling the reader what's happening instead of showing it, it's like the narrative is full of potholes that stop you just as the tension is starting to build up steam. I think that's unfortunate because one of the things Taylor does well is create extremely tense horror-movie scenes. On the other hand, the scenes in which Our Heroes face off against their terrifying foes tend to be full of gratuitous exclamation marks! which are multiplied depending on how dramatic the event is!! because Taylor, not being satisfied with describing an action sequence, needs to sum up what we've just seen happen with a single descriptive sentence!!! (I am not making this up. Some sentences end with multiple exclamation marks.) All of this should have been addressed by an editor before the book ever saw daylight.
There are some moderately gory episodes, including a homeless man being devoured by one of the monsters and a creature being shot in the eye, that make me hesitate to recommend this for the middle-grade audience it's probably meant for. I'd say it's a good read for teens interested in action or horror stories who care more about the story than how it's told, because underneath it all, there's a good (if not groundbreakingly original) story here....more
This is a great little story about how an idea becomes a product becomes a business. As a child, I loved the idea that a kid could become a millionairThis is a great little story about how an idea becomes a product becomes a business. As a child, I loved the idea that a kid could become a millionaire by creating something everyone used and then selling it at a reasonable price. As an adult, I enjoy the interactions between the characters. Rufus isn't too smart to take advice from his friend Kate, and through helping Rufus, Kate discovers a talent for writing. The technology is a little dated, and today's children may not be familiar with how race relations were in the 1970s, but it's still a good starting point for teaching children about economic basics....more
I loved this book! Though it's written just right for a middle-grade audience, it belongs with the handful of middle-grade books (most notably WendeliI loved this book! Though it's written just right for a middle-grade audience, it belongs with the handful of middle-grade books (most notably Wendelin Van Draanen's Sammy Keyes mysteries) that have enough substance to appeal to older readers as well. I especially liked the characterization of Castle Glower and Celie's relationship with it, something I'd like to see explored in later books. And Prince Lulath! My very favorite character. He is positively adorable. Very, very enjoyable book, and I'm looking forward to reading more in this series....more
I had high hopes for this book; the premise is a clever take on the alien-abduction story, and though I was familiar with Mark Teague mainly as an illI had high hopes for this book; the premise is a clever take on the alien-abduction story, and though I was familiar with Mark Teague mainly as an illustrator of children's books, his collaborations have been good enough that I was willing to take a chance on this. Unfortunately, the concept isn't well supported by the execution. The third-person narrative veers between omniscient and limited in a way that comes across as awkward, as does the shifting POV, and some of the descriptions come across as too self-consciously clever. The pacing between sections is also irregular, as if Teague is rushing through one to get to another. I'm pretty sure this is intended to be a middle-grade novel, and the characterization bears this out; these are mostly stock characters, but with enough alterations that they don't seem like stereotypes (the smart science-kid is a black girl, the hero is tough and good-hearted, but also a redneck). On the other hand, some of the plot elements are harsh enough that they don't seem to fit. Example: the aliens are spider-like, carnivorous, and obsessed with food, and the human characters always have the threat of death hanging over them. That's all fine, but the alien captain is just a little *too* vicious and violent, the hero's Uncle Bud is maybe just a bit too selfish (the kind of selfish that gets other people killed)...it all seems just a little off to me. Ultimately, when I realized that I not only hadn't picked up the book for several days, but couldn't remember where I'd left it, I decided it was time to give it up....more
This is a sweet, lovely story about people searching for a home--not just a physical place to settle, though that's very important to Grady and his moThis is a sweet, lovely story about people searching for a home--not just a physical place to settle, though that's very important to Grady and his mother Lila, but also the connection between people that makes anyplace home. The relationship between young Grady Flood and old Charlie Fernwald is simply charming, and I love the details about birdwatching and purple martins....more