Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little

Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little is an amusing debut by Peggy Gifford. It's the day before school starts and Moxy Maxwell still hasn't done her summer reading. She put it off all summer long and now has to read an entire book (Stuart Little) in one day. The book follows her over the course of that day, as Moxy puts off reading by finding other, more appealing things to do. Many children (and adults!) will relate to Moxy's skilled procrastination techniques and be entertained by the things she decides are priorities (such as planting peach pits in the yard for the peach orchard she might want to own when she is an adult).

The story is accompanied by photographs taken by Valorie Fisher. It's unusual to see photographs in a children's fiction book, but in this book they work very well. The pictures and accompanying captions enrich the text and add to the humor. Moxy's twin brother Max is credited with taking the pictures, and it's funny to see his side of the story through them. It took me a little while to get used to the photographs, but once I did I really enjoyed them. They help make the book feel like a true story and that might add to the appeal for some readers--especially those who can relate to procrastinating on their summer reading!

This is an excellent book for children who are ready to move on from easy readers, but aren't quite ready for books with long chapters. It has short chapters, a large font and the pictures help break up the text. Recommended for children in grades 3-5.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


Elsewhere, by Gabrielle Zevin.

Liz Hall is fifteen years old when she is hit by a taxi cab and dies. Like most of the recently deceased, she is sent on a boat to Elsewhere, where people age backwards until they are babies and are sent back to Earth. She must deal with her feelings of loss over a life cut short and struggles with whether she should return to Earth early (it's an option given only to youth under the age of 16; instead of aging backwards Liz can opt to return to Earth as a baby immediately). She quickly falls into a deep depression and becomes obsessed with watching her friends and family from special viewing stations. Despite the strict rules against it, Liz also plots to communicate with her family in a dangerous plan that, if it fails, could mean her remaining years in Elsewhere are horrible.

In Elsewhere, Liz has the opportunity to meet and live with the grandmother she never knew, learn how to drive, and form her first romantic relationship. She also gets her first job (as a counselor for the Division of Domestic Animals, Liz utilizes her previously unknown ability to speak "Canine" to greet new dog arrivals and place them in homes). Even though Liz begins to age backwards from her first day in Elsewhere, in another respect she grows up very quickly as she begins to come to terms with her new reality. This is Zevin's first novel for young adults, and she beautifully presents Liz's initial emotional turmoil and eventual journey towards acceptance. At times the book is sad, amusing, sweet and even profound. Highly recommended for readers in high school.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Girl's Like Spaghetti

Last year, Lynne Truss followed up her popular book Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation with a children's version, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference! Just last month, The Girl's Like Spaghetti: Why, You Can't Manage Without Apostrophes!, Truss's latest offering for children, was published. Both of the children's books follow a similar format: a brief introduction of the punctuation mark the book focuses on is followed by a number of examples, and the book ends with further explanations of those examples. In The Girl's Like Spaghetti, Truss explains the two uses of the apostrophe: to show where letters have been left out of contractions and to indicate possession. Then fun, colorful illustrations by Bonnie Timmons demonstrate how apostrophes can change a sentence. One illustration, of boys dumping trash on each other, is accompanied by the sentence "Those smelly things are my brothers," while on the next page is a picture of dirty shoes that is captioned "Those smelly things are my brother's." Two different pictures show children's clothing stores. One picture, of Lil' Tess's Tots' Wear, is labeled "The shop sells boys' and girls' clothing." The other picture, labeled "The shop sells boys and girl's clothing," shows Lil' Tess's Tots 'n' Wear, which has girls' clothing and little boys in the shop window! After all the illustrations is an additional explanation of each sentence; for example, Truss explains that "The apostrophes make boys' and girls' plural nouns that are possessives" and that "Without an apostrophe, boys is a plural noun."

While the average child probably wouldn't seek this book out on his own, it could be a useful tool for teachers or parents who want to work with their children on punctuation. It is very well done and quite entertaining (I laughed out loud at some of the illustrations) and I highly recommend it for work with elementary school children. It might also provide a helpful review for older children--or even adults--who won't be put off by the simplicity or playful illustrations.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Dairy Queen

In Dairy Queen, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, we are introduced to DJ Schwenk, a 16 year old who lives with her family on their dairy farm in Red Bend, Wisconsin. With her two older brothers off at college and her father recovering from hip surgery, the burden of operating the farm falls on DJ. During the summer before her junior year of high school, DJ develops a friendship with Brian Ott, the quarterback of the rival town's football team, and helps him train for the upcoming football season. Over the course of the training, DJ decides that she wants to play football for her high school, which causes problems with her friends, family and the community. It also endangers her budding relationship with Brian, and DJ must figure out how to navigate through unfamiliar experiences and truly express herself to her friends and family, which doesn't come naturally to her.

Dairy Queen's story and characters felt completely fresh and held my interest all the way through. DJ is a complex, interesting character who is both inspiring and flawed at the same time. She is a strong, athletic girl who has no problem trying out for the football team despite the mixed reactions of her friends and family, but she is clueless when it comes to having meaningful interactions with even her closest friends and immediate family members. She learns a lot about herself and how to interact and communicate with others, but, endearingly, she still has a ways to go at the end of the book.

Dairy Queen is best suited for girls in middle and early high school, and I highly recommend it for that age group. I listened to the audiobook and thought it was very well done. The narrator, Natalie Moore, captures both the accent and spirit of a 16-year old from Wisconsin in a very appealing way. Moore seems to truly understand the characters and she does not turn them into charicatures, which I have noticed sometimes happens in audiobooks, especially those featuring teenagers. Moore also narrated The Off Season, the sequel to Dairy Queen, and I am eager to listen to that as well.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Camp Babymouse

Camp Babymouse, by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm, is the latest in a series of graphic novels about a young mouse named Babymouse. In this volume, she goes to summer camp for the first time. She is enthusiastic when she arrives, but things quickly go downhill as she racks up demerits which bring her bunk down to last place in the competition for the "Camp Wild Whiskers Cup." When she leads her bunk to a victory in a scavenger hunt she manages to redeem herself in their eyes, but her bunk still comes in last in the overall competition.

These ups and downs are typical for Babymouse in all the books in the series. She is a highly relatable character who means well and wants to be liked, but who makes plenty of mistakes and often alienates her peers. She also loses herself to her imagination quite frequently, such as during a canoe race when she imagines she is "Captain Babymouse" searching for a white whale (and ends up capsizing the boat and losing the race).

The illustrations are simple yet amusing drawings in black, white and pink. Recommended for girls in upper elementary school.