To Night Owl from Dogfish

by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer
First sentence: “
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Content: There’s some frank talk about periods, so maybe for the older end of the spectrum? Still, it’s in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, though I think older readers would like it as well.

Bett and Avery are happy with their respective lives. Bett lives with her dad in Southern California, surfing and collecting feathers and shells. Avery lives in New York City with her dad and is happy with their super structured life. But when their dad’s meet, everything changes. They arrange for Bett and Avery to attend the same summer camp, hoping that they’ll become best friends. And Bett and Avery are determined to stop them.

Except… they do become best friends. (And have adventures!) But their dads? Well, it doesn’t work out. But don’t worry: Bett and Avery have a plan.

This was a super adorable book! Seriously. Written entirely in emails — between Bett and Avery with ones from the adults in their life every once in a while — it’s oozing charm and delight and just plain fun from every pore. Sure it’s a bit Parent Trap-y, but I think it manages that (it has a nice twist ending that’s quite sweet) without being too cloying. I adore both Bett and Avery, and I loved how their individual voices and personalities came through in the letters. It’s just a super charming book.

(I do have to note that Bett is a bi-racial character, though both the authors are white. Take that for what you will.)

At any rate, I did enjoy it a whole bunch.

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.

Be Prepared

by Vera Brosgol
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some awkward pranks, some light bullying, and some kissing. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Loosely based on Brosgol’s youth, Be Prepared follows 10-year-old Vera to Russian camp, nominally so she can “fit in”. Being Russian, she doesn’t quite mesh up with her friends at home, so she figures she’d have a better chance to fit in at a camp where everyone is Russian. Except, once she gets there she finds out that being the new kid isn’t any fun. Everyone already knows the camp traditions, rules, and has friends. She’s perpetually the third wheel and is often pushed around, especially by the older girls she bunks with.  It’s awkward and embarrassing, and Vera just wants to go home.

I can completely empathize with the feeling of not fitting in, feeling awkward, and not knowing how to make friends, and Brosgol captures that perfectly. But, thankfully, she manages to figure things out by the end of camp, mostly by being herself, which is always a good thing for kids to read about. She manages the awkward with humor — there are some laugh-out-loud moments! — and she makes even the annoying kids and the bullies be multi-dimensional.

There is a bit of a cliffhanger at the end of this one, so I hope Brosgol gives us a sequel!

More Lumberjanes

lumberjanes2Lumberjanes, Vol 2: Friendship to the Max
Lumberjanes, Vol 3: A Terrible Plan
by Noelle Stevenson & Grace Ellis
Support your local independent bookstore: buy vol 2 here, and buy vol 3 here!
Content: There’s some violence, a bit of kissing, but mostly, it’s okay for ages 10 and up. It’s in the teen graphic novel section of the bookstore.
Others in the series: Beware the Kitten Holy

A, K, and I all fell head over heels for the Lumberjanes, so we ran out and go volumes 2 and 3 in quick succession. Both are individual story arcs in their own right, so it’s really not something you need to read in order (though I suppose it helps). In Friendship, our illustrious Lumberjanes find out that there’s a Greek God in their midst, one whose set upon causing mischief, and they have to figure out how to stop them. It’s definitely my favorite of the three; there’s a ton of humor and action, and Jen (their illustrious cabin leader) even gets to play a pivotal role.

However, none of us really got into a Terrible Plan all that much. Mal and Molly are off on a picnic and end up following the Bear Lady down a portal into another dimension. They’re off trying to figure out their relationship (and how to get back) while the others are trying to earn badges. That, actually, was my favorite part: April, Jo, and Ripley trying to decorate cakes, make beds, dance, and just do Anything that doesn’t involve the Supernatural. Pretty funny stuff. But the art changed, and it while doesn’t seem like that should really make a difference, it did. It was more difficult to get into the story line, and to connect with the characters when they didn’t look like they were supposed to.

Maybe that’s nitpicking, and I’ll probably check out the next Lumberjanes (assuming there is one). But, the first two volumes are definitely the best.

Lumberjanes, Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy

lumberjanes1by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke Allen
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s a bit of violence, but nothing super gory. And no language. I’ve moved this series back and forth between Middle Grade Graphic Novels and Teen Graphic Novels. It’s okay for fourth grade and up, but it’s doing better in Teen Graphic Novels, so I’ll leave it there.

The third collection in this series came out a couple weeks ago, and I was reminded that hey, I really ought to give this one a try. So I picked up the first volume (I suppose I could have sauntered down to the local comic book shop) at the library, just to see.

Oh my Holy Kitten, it’s SO much awesome. Five friends at Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types, who happen to solve supernatural mysteries using math, science, and strategy? How can this not be awesome? I’ve been trying to figure out a way to handsell it — SO MUCH AWESOME doesn’t cut it, really — because the appeal isn’t in the plot. It’s Ripley, who is a ball full of fury and cookies (and is my favorite). It’s in Mal with her “What the junk?” swears and attitude. It’s in the spoofing of the Girl Scouts, and the boys camp where they like things tidy and bake cookies. It’s in the subtle LGBTQ undertones. It’s in the silly camp badges and the Adventure Time-y art. It’s that I gave it to A and K, saying I needed someone to gush over this with, and they loved it.

It’s really just the best thing ever.