Blog Archives

17 Dec 2010 Gentle Books for Gentle and Not-So-Gentle Kids
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My favorite books run the gamut from gentle (Wind in the Willows, The Borrowers) to brutal (House of the Scorpion, Unwind). One type comforts; the other makes me think. If it’s comfort you or your beginning reader craves, might I suggest the Bed and Biscuit series by Joan Carris? I’m eagerly awaiting the third book now. Yep, even bought it in hardback.

Welcome to the Bed and Biscuit takes place in a vet’s office. The narrator is an intelligent mini-pig aptly named Ernest. His best friends are a Vietnamese mynah who likes to answer the veterinary office phone and a cat who looks after the widowed doctor.

The human characters are comfortable, too, but this book’s biggest draw is the author’s genuine affection for animals.  Animal lovers will feel right at home at the Bed and Biscuit.

08 Nov 2010 Unnecessary Good
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This is NaNoWriMo, so I’m a little busy; however, I wanted to share this quote with you from What Happened on Fox Street by Tricia Springstubb: “What if necessary evil had an opposite? This is what it would be. This unnecessary good.”

You will have to read the book, a sweet coming-of-age story, to find out what Mo, who has lived her whole life on Fox Street, means.  Just know that I believe we should all look after each other the way the people on Fox Street do.  And, please, join me in adopting a new purpose: unnecessary good.

11 Oct 2010 Three Books I Couldn’t Put Down
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Have you ever picked up a book just for a look only to find yourself still reading a couple hours later? I have, and the feeling I get from a book like that stays with me. Maybe that’s the key to a story you can’t put down–feeling.
Often these grab-me-by-the-heart books are slim and spare, but not always. Sometimes they are written for adults, but most serve an any-age audience from elementary to ancient. Here are three books that grabbed me:
A signed copy of Michael Bishop’s Apartheid, Superstrings, and Mordecai Thubana came in the mail one afternoon. Before I even got to the rest of my mail, I had finished reading this novel and was sitting, stunned by the emotional impact. Like a lot of good science fiction, it had real social value, but that didn’t slow it down. My copy of Apartheid… has disappeared, so I just ordered another. Twenty years later, post-Nelson Mandela, I’m curious how it will feel this time.
Red-Dirt Jessie, by my friend Anna Myers, impacted me in a different way. Normally, I don’t do tear-jerkers, but I didn’t let a few tears slow me down. I was crying for joy by the satisfying end, and every time I see a “blessed gift” I think of this book.
Like Red-Dirt Jessie, Melodie Bowsher’s My Lost and Found Life sucked me in from line one. Strange, since the protagonist wasn’t all that likeable at the beginning of the story. Her change felt so real that, by the end, I was cheering her on. Even the ending, which I should have guessed but didn’t, was exactly right.

What are some books you couldn’t put down? I’d like to know.

26 Sep 2010 Revisiting Nancy Drew
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I’m breaking my promise to write only positive reviews.

I grew up on Nancy Drew.  I loved Nancy Drew.  I didn’t realize there was anything wrong with Nancy’s attitude toward certain people until I bought a facsimile copy of The Secret of the Old Clock, originally published in 1930.  I finished the book with a sick feeling.

In this first book in the series, a rather unpleasant family stands to inherit the fortune of a distant relative.  The author, Edward Stratemeyer writing as Carolyn Keene, makes it clear that the family took care of the aging relative only to get their greedy hands on his money.  Nancy is sure there is another will, and the adventure in this book revolves around her search for the will.  She lies, cheats, and steals to get her hands on the will, but it’s all for a good cause, eh!

There are things to like about Nancy.  She’s responsible and capable.  She’s also mean-spirited.  When the bad buy gets his comeuppance, she fairly gloats.  The good guys get rewarded, the bad guys get punished, and there is no sympathy at all for the latter.

To be fair, the original Nancy Drew mysteries were rewritten–condensed and modernized–in  1959.  But that doesn’t alter the message the first book sent, that there are good folk and bad folk, and it is up to the good folk to teach the bad folk a lesson.

A good story doesn’t need a moral.  In fact, writers will attract more readers if they steer away from simplistic moralizing.  But a writer’s attitudes will leak into the story line, and we must be careful that we don’t send the wrong message to the kids who read our books.   In almost every human there is both good and bad in varying degrees.  For almost every action there is a catalyst, something in a person’s past or present that makes him or her act in a certain way.  When we write without sympathy for the villains in our books, and when we set up our heroine as both judge and jury, we are teaching moral values that should be left untaught.

10 Sep 2010 The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex
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The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex was assigned reading for a Joni Sensel writing workshop.  I love science fiction, but with its made-up title, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up on my own.  Am I glad it was assigned!

Timely and timeless, the book pokes fun at today’s conventions and at history’s less dazzling events.  It examines relationships and power, but it keeps you reading with a screwball adventure and the cast of characters.  This is another tale that makes you cast aside your doubts for the sake of the ride.

When the Boov take Earth after trashing their own planet, they move humans to Florida to “Human Preserves-gifts of land that will be for humans forever.”  Forever only lasts until the Boov discover oranges, but not as a food source.

The narrator is twelve-year-old Gratuity Tucci.  When her mother goes missing she decides to drive to Florida with her Mom’s cat, Pig.  At a closed convenience store, while she’s picking up NutriZone Extreme FitnessPlus Blaster Bars for the road, she also picks up a Boov who calls himself J.Lo.  The multi-species trio set out to save the world with stops in Carolina; Happy Mouse Kingdom; and Roswell, New Mexico. 

Smekday is laugh-out-loud funny and will appeal to a wide range of readers, from upper elementary students to very mature ones, like myself.  The True Meaning of Smekday has everything it needs to become a cult classic.  Maybe it already is.

28 Aug 2010 Joni Sensel’s Reality Leak

I love quirky novels.  I’ve read everything Polly Horvath has written, and Ingrid Law’s Newbery Honor Book,  Savvy, is a treasure.  With Reality Leak, not only has Joni Sensel taken her place with the queens of quirk, but she makes it seem so plausible.  I bought every word.

Imagine seeing things you can’t possibly believe.  Imagine that someone else confirms the unbelievable.  The two of you form a team to investigate the impossible.  That’s the bare bones of this charming adventure.

I predict middle-grade boys will be passing Reality Leak around like they did a certain diary of a certain kid that made the rounds in my fourth-grade classroom (and the classroom next door).  All it takes is for a teacher to talk it up to the first boy.  The lucky readers will do the rest.

13 Aug 2010 Passionate about Good Stories
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I’m excitable. I can talk for hours about my chickens, my garden, and good books for children and young adults. That makes a blog a good idea for me; you can listen if you like.

At least once a month I will post a book review. If I review it, either I love it or it is somehow noteworthy. No unpleasantness here!

Check in soon to see my latest review. Hint: the author is Joni Sensel. If you love good science fiction and fantasy as much as I do, you’re going to love this author. Talk to you soon.

20 Jul 2010 Welcome to my new web site
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Hello, there! Welcome to my brand new web site. I’m just getting started, so check back soon.