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 Penderwicks in Spring

by Jeanne Birdsall
First sentence: “Only one low mound of snow still lurked in Batty Pederwick’s yard, under the big oak tree out back, and soon that would be gone if Batty continued to stomp on it with such determination.”
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Review copy intercepted when opening freight at my place of employment.
Release date: March 24, 2015
Others in the series: The Penderwicks, The Penderwicks on Gardham Street, The Penderwicks at Pointe Mouette
Content: It’s a bit more advanced than the younger end of the reading spectrum can handle by themselves, but it makes a wonderful read-aloud. It will be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

The Penderwicks are back! I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. So SO very happy. In fact, I sat down and devoured this book in one day, and then was immediately sad because I should have savored it.

It’s been four years since the last Penderwicks book, and the girls have aged appropriately. Rosalind is off at college, Skye is a senior in high school (as is Jeffrey) and Jane is a junior. That leaves Batty as a fifth grader, the oldest of the younger Penderwicks, her step-brother 8-year-old Ben, and their half sister, two year old Lydia. That’s a lot of responsibility for Batty, who is used to being the youngest. Add to that her beloved Hound’s death (six months prior), and Batty finds herself struggling this spring.

She does make some good discoveries. Their neighbor Nick Geiger has come home from a tour in Iraq, and he inserts himself in the lives of the Penderwicks with nothing but wonderful results. And even though Skye is having some issues with Jeffrey and Jane is surrounded by boys and Rosalind brings home an absolutely awful boy from college, Batty’s finding her own way.

The most wonderful thing about this book is that’s it’s just as good as all the other Penderwicks books. Birdsall is such a fantastic author, capturing the innocence of childhood as well as the more complex of emotions: frustration with being young, a bit of despair, a bit of helplessness. It’s a funny book — the Penderwicks are witty and wonderful — but it’s also one that tugged at my heartstrings and made me cry in the end.  It’s honest, and simple, and absolutely wonderful.

Rain Reign

by Ann M. Martin
First sentence: “I am Rose Howard and my first name has a homonym.”
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Content: There’s really nothing, and the words are mostly simple with lots of white space. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Rose Howard is a 12-year-old fifth grader with high-functiohttp://www.thebooknut.com/2013/08/counting-by-7s.htmlning autism. Her mom ran of when she was two, and she’s been raised in a small New York town by her dad. (And her uncle, who’s much nicer than her dad.) She generally makes do in school, at home. Especially since her dad’s gone either at work or at the bar down the road.

He did pick up a dog for her, one day, though. Which she named Rain. And Rain keeps Rose company.

(There is a side bit about Rose loving homonyms but I felt that was more distraction than anything, and didn’t really add much to the plot.)

A big storm hits, the remnants of a hurricane, and knocks power out in the down. Rose’s father lets the dog out, and she never comes back. So, Rose and her uncle set to checking in shelters to find Rain. And when they do, they’re in for a surprise.

I’ve never read any Ann Martin before (yeah, I missed the whole Babysitter’s Club thing), and I really wanted to like this one. But I just… didn’t. Counting by 7s and Anything But Typical did the whole autism spectrum thing so much better. I didn’t care about Rose, I’m tired of missing mothers and bad fathers, and I just. didn’t. care.

That’s not to say it’s a bad book… I did like the way Rose narrated it, like she was writing a report. It was clever, but I found that the form got in the way of the substance. That’s not to say others (especially dog lovers) wouldn’t like it. But it wasn’t for me.

Parched

by Melanie Crowder
First line: “Sniff-sniff.”
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Content: There’s some harsh situations — a character was kidnapped and brutally treated, another character is shot and killed — but there’s no swearing at all. It’s not an action-packed book, so even though it’s on a 3-5th grade writing level, I’d be picky about which kid to give this to.

The world has turned to dust. Water is hard to find. And that makes anyone with water — or who can find water — valuable. Sarel’s family had water, until the gangs came through and killed Sarel’s parents and burned the compound to the ground. All that’s left is Sarel and the dog pack her father trained. It’s not a good thing; Sarel is running out of the little water she has left. Musa has a talent for dowsing, and has been kidnapped (or sold; I was never quite sure) to the gangs to find water. One night, Musa escapes, and finds his way to Sarel’s compound. It’s up to the two of them to work together to survive.

As you can tell, there isn’t much to this slim (seriously: it’s 152 pages.) novel. It’s highly introspective, more narrative than anything else. Even with the tension mounting to the end, it’s a quiet book about survival. I liked it, but I never really connected with it. Some of that was the quietness of it all. But it was also that I wanted more. I am not saying I needed a 300 page action-filled book, but I finished this one feeling like there was something missing. There wasn’t quite enough to it. I wanted more about how the world ended up parched. More about Sarel and her past. More about Musa and his talents. (Though I didn’t want more dog.) I wanted more connection between the characters. And the ending kind of came out of nowhere to me: I wanted answers as to how the book got to that point.

That said, the writing was gorgeous. And I have to give Crowder props for setting a dystopia book in an African-feeling setting. But it just wasn’t all I wanted it to be.

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)