Saturday, February 24, 2007



by Cynthia Lord.

Catherine is, at twelve, getting to the end of her rope. Like so many older siblings of a child like David, she has a lot of responsability and not much attention or time to herself. David is autistic, needs attention and watching, not to mention concrete rules for his behaviour. She and David share a sweet secret language in the words of Frog and Toad Together, and she is a very caring sister to him. But she is hoping to make friends with the new girl next door, Kristi. She is embarrassed by her brother's abnormal behaviours, acutely aware, as 12-year-olds are, of what others might think. She is torn by Kristi's friendship with a boy who she hates for laughing at her brother. And she if frustrated, because she wants something for herself, something will not be ruined by David. Her feelings and desires are right out there, and ring true - right up to the guilt she feels for having them in the first place.

Add on her budding friendship with Jason, a boy who is both speechless and wheelchair-bound. It's a prickly thing, growing in nice bursts and painful setbacks, all nicely centered around the interesting device of word cards she is creating and illustrating for his communication book. Ultimately, she is forced to face the fact that she is so worried about what people will think of her, she is risking both the friendships she wants - the one with Kristi and the one with Jason. He thinks she is embarrassed by him, and she has lied to Kristi.

The whole mess culminates at a community dance, when she finally lashes out at her father and insists that she "matter[s] too," then explains herself to Jason and realizes that many of the things that she has been worried about - mostly, the opinions of other people - are not as important as she had thought. Indeed, no one even seems to notice her and Jason dancing when she agrees to break her own rule and risk dancing in public.

I like this one. I like the fact that David is shown as both frustrating and a nice kid in his own right. I like the fact that Catherine clearly loves him and wants to protect him, but admits to her own frustration. The word cards and the words of Frog and Toad are nice ways to solve and talk about the communication issues in the book, and they show Catherine as caring and inventive. I think the whole things comes together into a pretty good package.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007



by Carl Hiaasen.

Following on the great success of his first kids lit outing, Hoot, adult author and newspaper columnist Carl Hiaasen brings forth another tale of environmental activism by kids and a few complicit adults. I don't think I've ever seen a kids book adapted into a movie so quickly as that last, and certainly, Hiaasen's writing lends itself easily to the cinema. In much the same way as with Eoin Colfer, you can see the action playing out as you read - which makes for great kid appeal and an easy read that pulls you along with it.

I think what I'm finding I like best about this book, though, is the same thing that I love about Andrew Clement's novels: the characters and their relationships. Like Clement, Hiaasen's adult are real people, fully fleshed out, and the kids come to understand them a bit. In so much of kidslit, adults are a little flat, sort of stock cardboard cutouts, with maybe one eccentric exception. Here, though, the parents come to life and the kids discover more about them during the story. The kids and parents have good relationships, trusting (even when kids are sneaking around doing things that would make their parents instantaneously grey) each other to do the right thing, even if it looks a little wonky at the outset. I like how often, they end up helping each other or supporting each other or maybe even working together towards something they think is a worthwhile endeavour. I like that this gives credit to both kids and adults.

The setting in this book that really steals the show, too - Hiaasen's deep love for his home state is palpable as he lovingly and richly describes it. It makes the Keys sound idyllic, the perfect place for a family, and it is part of what makes this book jump off the page and into the mind's eye.

Fantastic for middle-grade readers (maybe grade 4 or 5 to 7 or 8?) of either gender (both brother adn sister are fiesty and get to play a real role in the action, often working together). Even a reluctant reader could eaily get sucked into this one, which I think moves a little faster than his first.

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Monday, February 05, 2007


Travels With My Family

by Marie-Louise Gay, a favourite picture book author and illustrator. Her work with Don Gilmor and her own Stella books are absolutely fantastic - funny, cute, with an underhanded humour and wide appeal from kids right up to the grownups who read them to the kids.

Loving her material as I do, I was really looking forward to this early chapter book. The premise (family keeps taking crazy vacations to out-of-the-way places, things go awry, hilarity ensues) had promise, she has a great sense of humour, it just had to be great. Right? Right? Um, well...

I think something is not translating on paper, to be honest. Something about the tone leads me to the suspicion that hearing her read this aloud would, indeed, be side-splitting. But it feels kind of flat in the reading. None of the mishaps are really played up for laughs, none of the reactions lingered over to comic effect. The family simply moves from one ill-fated voyage to the next, with each episode kept short. It's like it might just be too dry and deadpan and again, maybe with a facial expression or tone of voice, it would be terrific. I'm kind of hoping to find an audiobook or animated version of this to see if my theory is correct, because I really hate for her to produce something that so completely does not reflect the sense of humour her other work shows.

So yeah, with heavy heart, I will be shelving this one and not really recommending it around to the kids who are always asking me for funny books. Sigh.

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