Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths

by Graham Annable
First sentence: “Rabbit.”
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Content: There’s a lot of pictures, and simple words on each page. It’s in the Beginning Chapter Book section (grades 1-2) of the bookstore.

I have to admit that I picked this one up primarily because the title makes me smile. Making two sloths the subject of a graphic novel? How delightful! How absurd! And that perfectly describes the book.

Peter & Ernesto are two sloths, friends living in a tree together. They have their games and traditions, and it’s all good. That is, until the day that Ernesto decides he wants to see more of the sky than the small patch above their tree. So, he leaves. He has some interesting adventures, and makes a lot of new friends, as he explores all the sky. Peter, on the other hand, is worried when Ernesto doesn’t come back. So he follows him, at least until he can’t. Then he waits until Ernesto comes back. And when he does, he shares all the things he learned by being away.

it’s super simple, and the illustrations and text reflect that. I adore Annable’s sloths; while they’re more cartoonish than actual renditions, it captures the, well, slothiness of the animal. And I like the dichotomy between Ernesto — who is more adventuresome — and Peter, who is just a bundle of anxiety. It’s delightful. My favorite interaction is when Ernesto meets a fox and a raccoon when he’s exploring a mountain sky. They say,  “I thought sloths were lazy.” And Ernesto replies, “We’re content. There’s no need to move much when you’re content. But I’m not content. So I’ve been traveling.” I love that sentiment.

It really was a charming little beginning graphic novel.

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Lions & Liars

by Kate Beasley, illustrated by Dan Santat
First sentence: “Frederick Frederickson was thinking about strawberry daiquiris when the dodgeball slammed into his face.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is some violence and some mis-adventures, and a few intense moments. It’s in the middle grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore.

Frederick Frederickson (whose mother wanted a name everyone would remember, bless her heart) is not high up on the totem pole of popularity. And this bothers him. Even though he has a couple of friends, he wants more: people who laugh at what he says (and not because they’re being mean), to be respected, to be Liked. To not be the bottom of the totem pole. So, when the one thing he looks forward to every year — a cruise with his family — is taken away (poor pity Frederick) he gets into a fight with his friends and ends up adrift on a river… and lands at a weekend camp to Reform boys.

Pausing here for a minute:  I’m sure his parents were frantic when he goes missing (though there’s hardly a word about that), and I know middle grade books can only happen with bad or absent parents, but the fact that Frederick so casually integrates himself into the camp and COMPLETELY FORGETS ABOUT HIS FAMILY kind of doesn’t make me like him. At all. In fact, I kind of just wanted to smack his spoiled, privileged face. (REALLY? You’re pitching a fit because your cruise got canceled because a HURRICANE is coming? I know you’re ten but give it up already.)

Frederick ends up impersonating a kid called Dash, and discovers that maybe the kids in cabin 13 — who go by Ant Bite, Nosebleed, Specs, and The Professor — aren’t so bad, after all.

I know this was supposed to be a heartwarming story about a kid who learns how to be a decent friend (because he’s pretty dang awful to his friends, and they’re pretty dang awful back) and I’m sure there are kids who will like this a lot (because who doesn’t want to run away from home and go to a weekend camp?) but this was just not for me.

Bob

by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead
First sentence: “I feel bad that I can’t remember anything about Gran Nicholas’s house.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: It’s written perfectly for the younger age group. It is in the middle grade  section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore.

Livy hasn’t been to her grandmother’s house in Australia in five years, when she was five years old. She doesn’t remember much from the last time she was there: not the room or the toys or the landscape, and especially not the green creature in the closet. Bob (the green creature in the closet) remembers Livy though. She told him to stay put, which he did. For five years. In the closet. But now that Livy’s here, he’s sure she can help him find his way home again.

Bob (the book not the character) is a charming little story about friendship and growing up, but also home and family. And it’s a delightful twist on fairy tales. In Mass’ and Stead’s hands, it’s not saccharine, but simple and sweet and tender.  Livy was more complex than I expected, pulled between her childhood self and a desire to be “older” and the responsibility of being a big sister. And Bob was charming and delightfully innocent. I liked that the fairy tale had rules: even though they were never spelled out in the book, Mass and Stead were consistent with who could and could not see Bob. It was incredibly well done, and a delightful read. .

 

Module 15: Flashcards of My Life

Harper, C. M. (2006). Flashcards of my life. New York, N. Y.: Little, Brown, and Company.

Genre: Realistic fiction.

Book Summary: Through a series of flashcards and “diary” entries, Emily tells the story of a couple weeks in a middle school (she’s in 7th grade? I’m not entirely sure). She navigates friendships — her two sets of friends don’t quite get along with each other — and first crushes — does Andrew like her? Does she like Andrew or someone else? — as well as dealing with her parents’ up and down relationship

Impressions: I’ve often said that the reason there are so many bad parents in middle grade is because conflict makes for a good story. This book lacked that in a major way. The stakes — will her friends talk to her? Will the boy like her back? — are really low, and while they are important in many middle school girls’ lives (I do remember 7/8th grade, and yes, those were important questions), they just don’t make for compelling reading. This book lacked any compelling conflict, and any character arc. It really is a slice of life story, and while I don’t want to insinuate that middle school girls lives aren’t worth putting into book form, this just didn’t work for me. Plus, the font drove me nuts. It was meant to reflect handwriting because of the diary-like feel of the book, but it kept pulling me out of the story.

Review: I was able to find a Kirkus review of the book, which was kinder to the book than my reaction. The reviewer wrote “With humor and insight, she focuses on such topics as kissing, embarrassing moments, regrets, talent and dreams. ” However, the final sentence was dismissive: “Emily’s search for the truth about friendship, romance and identity will appeal to ’tween fans of conversational chick-lit.” I dislike the term “chick-lit” because the designation is dismissive, insinuating that a book isn’t “real” literature, but rather something that girls like, which makes it less, somehow. However, it really does fit this book.

Staff. (2006, Jan 1). Flashcards of my life.  Kirkus Reviews, (1). Retrieved from: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/charise-mericle-harper/flashcards-of-my-life/.

Uses: My first reaction was “Please don’t”. If you must, it would work on a display of diary-type books or other middle school relationship books.

Readalikes:

  • Dork Diaries by Renee Russell – The most obvious read-alike, if only because it’s also told in diary format, and details the every-day life of a middle school girl. I’ve never read these, but they seem to be more compelling because there’s 12 (I think?) of them now, and people keep buying them. (Which kind of proves the point that it’s not that middle school girls’ lives are uninteresting, but rather the book.)
  • Invisible Emmie by Terrie Liebensen – This tells a similar story to Flashcards: Emmie is a quiet, unassuming girl who drops a note she had written to her crush, and finds herself less invisible. It’s told in graphic novel form, which helps the story, as does the secondary plotline as Emmie imagines what it must be like to be popular, like Katie.
  • The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez – Another book about a 7th grader trying to figure out how to fit in, but add Mexican culture and punk rock, and you have a much more compelling book.

All Summer Long

by Hope Larson
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: May 1, 2018
Content: There’s a little bit of romance, and just some themes of growing up in general. It will be in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore, but the sweet spot for this one is 6-7th graders, I think.

It’s the summer after 7th grade, and Bina’s not looking forward to it. Her best friend, Austin, is off to soccer camp for a month, and Bina’s afraid that summer will be boring without him. They’ve always spent the summer together, making their own fun, but they seem to be… growing up. And things aren’t the same.

Though, eventually Bina finds her own things to do: she makes friends with Austin’s older sister, Charlie, gets some babysitting gigs, and practices her guitar. It’s not the way it was with Austin, but it doesn’t suck.

The underlying conflict in the book is Austin and Bina’s friendship: they’ve been friends forever, but Austin’s been getting some grief from other boys (toxic masculinity is the worst!) for being friends with a girl, and so he attempts to push Bina away — which is part of the reason he’s been acting weird toward her. Larson treats all this with kindness and humor, and puts across a message that it’s okay to be friends with whomever you want to be with. Period. It’s wonderful.

And Larson also captures what it’s like to be young and faced with a long summer of doing… nothing. I like that the parents are concerned and responsible, but not hovering (they also change the Netflix password, so Bina can’t just watch TV all summer… that’s not a bad idea!) and Bina has some freedom to go out and find her own fun, but within reason.

It’s really a delightful graphic novel.

The Brixton Brothers: The Case of the Mistaken Identity

by Mac Barnett
First sentence: “Steve Brixton, a.k.a. Steve, was reading on his too-small bed.”
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Content: There are some slight intense moments, offset by humor. It would probably be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, but I think it could be an upper beginning chapter: there are short chapters, big print, and lots of illustrations.

Steve Brixton has always wanted to be a detective like the ones he’s always reading about. But it isn’t until  his teacher gives him an impromptu research paper assignment about American Quilting, that Steve gets  to see some, well, detective action. He’s set upon by Librarians (the bad sort) and Goons and he and his friend have to figure out who has stolen the Top Secret Codes from this historic quilt (I think… the plot wasn’t really the point of this one).

Goodness this was funny. Especially if you’ve read a lot of Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew books. Steve and his friend, Dana, are always getting into scrapes they have to get out of, and somehow (even though neither are terribly bright) figure out the mystery in the end. (My favorite exchanges were of the Steve: “Hey, chum” and Dana: “Don’t call me chum” variety. Every. Single. Time.) It was kind of a lame mystery — the solution was pretty obvious — but I don’t think the mystery is the point of these.

Even so, it was a ton of fun.

The Wild Robot Escapes

by Peter Brown
First sentence: “Our story begins in a city, with buildings and streets and bridges and parks.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Others in the series: The Wild Robot
Content: Same as the first one: short chapters, large print, illustrations. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore. This one, like the first, would also make a good read-aloud.

Spoilers for the first one, obviously.

When we left our fair robot Roz, she was being airlifted off her beloved island and transported back to the city. She was reprogrammed, and then sent out to be a farm robot, helping a family. Except, she wasn’t reprogrammed enough: she remembered her life on the island and her son, Brightbill, and while she wasn’t entirely unhappy at the farm — cows are good conversationalists and Roz had a lot to do — she missed her, well, home. So, she sets out to escape, which leads her on a whole adventure trying to get back to her island.

It’s much of the same as the first book here: intrusive narrator (but again, not so much that it was bothersome) and Roz is a very sweet character to root for. I liked her adventure this time, and the different things she saw and how her story spread out and paved the way for her to get back. The ending was sweet and satisfying at the same time, which was nice.

It really is a delightful story.