Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick

This is a 2008 Caudill book, and was recommended highly to me by a person whose judgement in books I trust completely. It tells the story of an 8th grader who sees his whole life turned upside down when his 5 year old brother gets terribly ill. Steven is a caustic, intelligent boy who lives to play the drums, and not look like a dork in the eyes of the hottest girl in school, until this family crisis pushes him to grow.

This book sounds like a typically award-winning, depress you downer of a book, and in many places, it is certainly a tear-jerker, but it is also sometimes laugh out loud funny. The author has crafted a very interesting narrator in Steven. Steven is a wiseass, but he's the kind of wiseass that you can't help but like, because his view on the world is so very clear. Sonnenblick also manages to create a pathetic and sympathetic little brother who at the same time is sometimes bratty and annoying - and that is a feat for a five year old in a novel who is in danger of dying from leukemia. In the materials at the back of the book, we learn that Sonnenblick is a teacher, and his familiarity and frequent contact with children shows. The children in his book feel real - they have faults and strengths and depth. That said, I did have a hard time accepting Steven as an 8th grader. He seemed just a little too emotionally smart and self aware for an 8th grade boy. Then again my own children have not reached that age yet, and my only extensive contact with 8th grade boys pretty much happened about 27 years ago as an 8th grade girl, when I thought they were all stupid and irritating..... so maybe I am not giving them enough credit. That aside, this is a funny, touching, engaging book. I would not probably give it to anyone under 6th grade, but I think it would appeal to both boys and girls, and would probably make an excellent choice for a realistic fiction selection for children in middle school or junior high.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Millicent Min, Girl Genius/ Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time / So Totally Emily Ebers by Lisa Yee

These three books by Lisa Yee chronicle the same summer as seen by three children whose lives interconnect. Stanford Wong is a basketball star who just might lose his spot as the first 7th grader ever to make the A-team if he doesn't pass 6th grade English in summer school. Millicent Min is the child-prodigy who at 11 is poised to enter her senior year of high school, and who is forced to tutor "Stan-turd." Millie thinks Stanford is a hopeless stupid airhead, and Stanford hates Millie because as he thinks - it is kids like Millie who make everyone expect Chinese kids to be geniuses. Emily is a new kid in town who is having a hard time adjusting to life as a child of divorce who manages to become Millie's first best friend, and Stanford's first crush. All 3 children figure prominently in each book, but each book takes the same summer and looks at it from the perspective of each child. These books are funny and insightful, and it is almost brilliant the way they show how the same events can look so different from different perspectives. But the best thing is, they teach that lesson without being boring, or preachy, or depressing, and each book stands on its own as a self-contained novel. They cover serious issues - fear of failure, fear of not fitting in, fear of what others will think, the dissolution of your family - without being a giant drag. The kids think like kids and talk like kids, and worry about kid things, and sometimes they're really funny.

I think these 3 books are perfect for about 5th grade to 7th or 8th grade, boys or girls. Boys might resist reading "Millicent Min" or "Emily Ebers," but Stanford will certainly appeal to them. If I were a teacher trying to show point-of-view, I might teach these books, or if I didn't have time to require all 3, I'd pull out passages that describe the same event from each book to show how things can look different depending on how you see them. Fun books - worth your while - all around highly recommended.