Ribsy

by Beverly Cleary
First sentence: “Henry Huggins’s dog Ribsy was a plain ordinary city dog, the kind of dog that strangers usually called Mutt or Pooch.”
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Content: It’s pretty simple writing, so it’d be good for the younger kids. It’s in the classic middle reader section at the bookstore.

I didn’t realize, when I picked the books for my summer book group, that Ribsy was kind of a sequel to Henry Huggins. I don’t think you need to read that one first, but it helps to know how Ribsy came to be with Henry before starting this one. Because Ribsy, for better or worse, isn’t a dog that sits still and waits. And so, when he gets left in the car in the parking lot of a shopping center (first of: different times, because NO ONE would think of doing this now…),  he doesn’t sit still. He gets out of the car (by accidentally rolling down the window) and then he’s off looking for Henry. Of course he gets lost, and ends up in the wrong car, and is off on an adventure, trying to find Henry again.

It’s an adventure, and Ribsy meets quite a few characters before Henry is able to track him down and bring him home. It’s very much a dog book (so if you don’t like dogs…) and not a bad one at that. I think this one stands up to time better than Henry Huggins did. Definitely enjoyable!

Henry Huggins

by Beverly Cleary
First sentence: ”
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Content: It’s really simply written; it could easily be a beginning chapter book these days. It’s in our classic chapter book section.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

I realized last year, when doing my kids summer book club, that part of what drew people to it was the chance to revisit books the parents loved as a kid, and to share them with their kids. So, I decided to revisit one of my favorite authors this year: Beverly Cleary.

Now, I say she was one of my favorite authors, but in all honesty, the only books I ever read by her were the Ramona ones, which I adored. I think my brothers may have read some of the others, but I didn’t. So, I consciously picked the books I hadn’t read for this group. (I missed the Beezus and Ramona week. I am going to have to reread that one on my own time!)

Henry Huggins is living a boring life. That is, until a stray dog finds him. And then, all of a sudden, Henry’s life becomes SO much more adventuresome.

Some  thoughts:

  • It’s very dated. I could tell it was written in the 1950s, not just because of the references (like a bus ride being a nickel, etc.) but because of the attitudes. And that sometimes grated on me. (Like Henry’s disdain of the class play. Get over yourself; it’s not that bad.)
  • The kids at the book group liked it, for the most part. Mostly they liked the dog. I agree. The dog was the best part.
  • It was REALLY simple. If it came out today, it’d be put in the beginning chapter book section. I don’t know if Cleary meant it to be for the 7-9 year olds, or if children’s publishing has gotten more sophisticated. Either way, both I and the kids in the book group noticed.
  • The lack of over-arching plot was also noticeable. I liked the vignettes with Henry and Ribsy, but I also missed a plot with conflict, rather than just a series of events happening.
  • I think the ending was sad, but that’s just me.

I’m glad I took the time to read this one, even if it’s not my favorite.

The Secret Grave

by Lois Ruby
First sentence: “Lots of people don’t realize that some nightshade plants are poisonous.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some scary moments… but it is a ghost story, so that’s pretty par for the course. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Hannah is the middle child of a big Irish family, who has just moved into a large, old mansion in northern Georgia. She finally gets her own room. She’s turning 12. And even though her best friends are leaving for camp and London and her older sister is a bit of a bear, she’s determined to have the best summer. And when she meets the mysterious Cady in the forest, she knows it’s bound to be great.

But then Cady gets possessive and controlling. And mysterious things start happening at the house. And Hannah’s brother, Scooter’s asthma gets worse. What, really, is going on here?

You know it’s a ghost story going in (because it’s part of the Hauntings series), which is fine. There’s a couple of ghosts, one which is spelled out, and the other which is obvious (at least to me), but the big reveal is held until later in the book, which annoyed me as an adult reader (though I wonder if more observant kids would mind). The characters grated on me; then again, I’m the oldest and it’s been a long while since I was a kid, so I don’t know how I would have felt, had I been in Hannah’s place. That said, I liked that there was a good family surrounding Hannah (don’t often get that), and that the conflict took place in spite of her parents, not because of them. While I found the ending to be a bit, well, cheesy, I did appreciate that there were consequences and that Hannah and Scooter tried to solve the problem, rather than just letting it be.

Not a bad book, just not for me.

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora

by Pablo Cartaya
First sentence: “I’m officially resigning from love.”
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Content: It’s a bit more, well, mushy than your usual middle grade fare, but it doesn’t smack of YA quite yet. While it’s in that nice spot for 10-12-year-olds, it’s in the Middle Grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore. I may change that and put it in the YA. We’ll see.

It’s the summer after 7th grade, and Arturo Zamora is ready to have a good one. He’s working at his family’s restaurant, hanging out with friends in his Miami neighborhood. That all changes, however, when a big developer decides to make a bid for the lot next door to the restaurant, the one which the Zamora’s were hoping to purchase from the city for their expansion, and has plans to put in a fancy new “exclusive” building. All of a sudden Arutro’s summer has turned into fighting this developer, and figuring out his place in the family. Not to mention his burgeoning feelings for his mother’s goddaughter, Carmen. It’s going to be quite the summer.

This was a really fun book. I enjoyed Arturo’s attempts to figure himself out. I loved the Cubano culture that threaded itself through the book. I loved Arturo’s relationship with his grandmother and mother. Even the slight romance wasn’t overdone. I loved that the Spanish was woven seamlessly in the book, often without English translation. It felt more authentic that way. And I also thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the Zamora’s and cheering the little guy in the fight against Big Man. Definitely one to check out.

Audiobook: Beyond the Bright Sea

by Lauren Wolk
Read by: Jorjeana Marie
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Content:  There are some instances of violence that could be intense for younger readers. It’s in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Crow has lived her entire life on a small island in the Elizabeth Islands off the coast of Massachusetts. She lives with the man — Osh — who found her, washed ashore in a small boat,  as a new baby.  Her history hasn’t bothered her, but something about being 12 has got her wondering where she came from. Her questions lead to a chain of events that involves pirates, lepers on Penikese island, and finding her family.

I’ll be honest: I tried this one in print. It didn’t take. I just wasn’t compelled enough by the writing or the characters to keep going. So when I saw that it was audio, at first I was hesitant. But, I gave it a try, and maybe it was right place/right time, or maybe it was the fantastic narrator, but this time it stuck.

I loved hearing about Crow and Osh’s spartan life, getting the feel of life on the northern islands. I loved going with Crow as she discovered the history of her family, and felt for Osh as he struggled with his own feelings (maybe that was just the adult in me reacting).  I loved learning the history (of sorts) of the leper colony on Penikese, and to just get a sense of the place and time. Wolk is a good historical fiction writer, though I’m not sure her work is best suited for kids. (Well, maybe those precocious ones.) Even so, it’s a lovely book, and one I thoroughly enjoyed listening to.

 

Felix Yz

by Lisa Bunker
First sentence: “I almost talked to Hector today.”
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Release date: June 6, 2017
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: It’s handling some more mature themes, so is probably not appropriate for the younger set (but you know your own kid). It will be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section, but it might do better in the YA (grades 6-8).

When Feliz was three, his father was doing experiments and, well, accidentally fused Feliz to a fourth-dimensional alien. Unfortunately, his father died in the process, but Felix and his alien, whom he ended up calling *zyxilef, or Zyx for short were left to figure out an existence together.

Which they have for ten years. But, things are getting harder for Felix, and he will die if they stay fused. So, his family — Mom, Grandy (his gender fluid grandparent), and sister Beatrix — has talked to researchers who have decided that the only way is to de-fuse Felix and Zyx. The only problem: Felix might die.

The book is Felix’s “secret” blog: a history of how he was fused, what life with Zyx is like (alternately good and kind of tough), and his hopes and fears for the future.

On the one hand, this gets bonus points for progressiveness: a genderfluid and a bisexual supporting character, plus a gay main character. I loved the new invented pronouns to talk about Grandy (“vo, ven, veirs, veinself”). I enjoyed Felix’s voice, even though he was often petulant. But then again, what 13 year old isn’t? It was lacking in the action department, and I didn’t feel Felix’s anxiety for his life as much as I thought I could. But it wasn’t a bad book, and I did enjoy many aspects of it. Even if it’s not perfect.