Saturday, August 07, 2010


The Adventures of Jack Lime

by James Leck

Recommended by the Exelsior File, this sounded like fun, though I had seen a slightly less enthusiastic review elsewhere (the location has escaped me in the meantime).

This slim book has three separate cases in it, so it works even for someone who finds it hard to stick it out through a whole story, as they can be enjoyed one at a time. it's appealing, too, for its simple, graphic cover, which I love, and smacks of the era emulated (spoofed?) in the writing style.

The book is written in classic hard-boiled detective lingo, with small, smart substitutions made to bring it into the world of kids. A couple of examples from the opening pages of the first case, as Jack is setting the scene:

... I was inside, tucked into the rear booth of The Diner, where not even the rays of the sun could touch me, nursing a root beer float and trying to ignore my throbbing left eye as it swelled shut. ... That's when Sandra Kutcher walked into my life.
Sandra was the type of girl who made boys do stupid things, even boys who needed to take a long hiatus from finding things out.

The cases, too, are tailored to be those you expect a kid to get into, not the murders of adult mysteries. jack certainly does get himself into some scary situations along the way as he tangles with some town toughs, but nothing a grade 3 or 4 and higher couldn't handle. in fact, that element of danger is part of what makes the genre, so this simply wouldn't work without it - and it has massive boy appeal, too.

In short, I found this a great fun read with a sly sense of humour, so the fact that yes, it's not the first children's book to hop on the tails of classic noir and may not be wholly original doesn't take much away from my enjoying it.

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Friday, August 06, 2010



by Patricia McCormick

A book about a girl tricked into leaving her parents and sold into human slavery in the sex trade is, as you might imagine, not a topic for the young or faint of heart. This definitely belongs in the teen range with its content, though I do think an older child, say a grade 6 with some sophisticated reading habits, could handle it, because while Lakshmi is in a horrific situation, the writing of it is handled gently.

The story is told slowly, so that the circumstances that led to her mother allowing her to leave the home become clear, and the mother is not painted as someone who has easily abandoned her child to the mercy of others. The manipulations used by the various traders along the way are revealed, so the reader can see how people are tricked by them. Lakshmi's introduction into the sex trade, even, is handled carefully, never using shock value or graphic description, but couching it more in the language of the child the Lakshmi is, since she is telling her own story here.

This is a worthwhile read for an older child or a teen who can handle it, who is interested in what is happening in the wider world, because this is very real, but of course, it is a topic that makes this book one to recommend carefully to the right child. for all that I picked it up worried that I would be horrified, I was pleased to find that McCormick has managed admirably the tricky balance of cushioning the brutality and horror without downplaying the truth of what happens to girls in this situation.

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Publisher REview: Boom!

by Mark Haddon

(A foreword to this book notes that it is a rewrite of a long-ago-published book by the former title of Gridzbi Spudvetch!.)

This title by the author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime is full of action and silliness in equal measure right from the get-go, when Jimbo overhears his teachers exchanging words in another language and starts to snoop.

When it becomes clear that his teachers are not normal humans and are onto he and his friend, Charlie, the stakes climb, and things get dangerous, but when his friend disappears, he knows no adults will believe his story. He's on his own - except for a surprise last-minute addition to the mission.

What follows is funny and fast-paced, and reminds me a bit of a Daniel Pinkwater, or even a slightly (and I mean slightly) toned-down Douglas Adams written for kids. Totally enjoyable, and a great read across the board, though it does have the benefit of great boy appeal.

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Thursday, August 05, 2010


The Fabled Fourth Graders of Aesop Elementary School

by Candace Fleming

This collection of stories takes place throughout the school year at Aesop Elementary, a most unusual institution filled with punnily-named teachers and occasionally very strange occurrances, particularly in the grade 4 classroom, with its new teacher...

Each of these tales is a way of retelling one of Aesop's famous fables, or telling a story that while set in a modern school, winds up at the same moral as one from an ancient fable. The moral is spelled out at the end of the chapter, but this doesn't feel preachy because of it, and it doesn't seem that it would turn kids off. Instead, they might find themselves trying to guess what the lesson will be.

The stories, with their often strange and sometimes supernatural elements combined with the school setting made me think of the Sideways Stories from Wayside School series, or maybe even the Bailey School books.

Fun, a little silly, and light-hearted, but not without its little life lessons, either.

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Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Subsitute

by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Another one a coworker told me about - it's great having someone else in the children's department to share thoughts with! This short graphic novel/easy to read book uses a lot of the devices of plot and setting that are familiar to readers of this level, but melds them with comic book superheroes for a ridiculous but really fun take on an early graphic novel. Imagine if the cartoon-y sections of Captain Underpants took over the whole book... there you go. You've got it now. It is similarly funny and irreverent, though parents should like it better for the fact that its humour is very slightly more sophisticated and far less toilet-based!

I really liked the clever way the author inserted spy tools into the lunch lady's standard arsenal of tools like lunch trays that become laptop, hairnets that become net to bind bad guys, and so on. The plot is simplistic, but well-suited to ER readers, and the evil plot not so evil as to create nightmares, especially as the images are simply drawn and printed in black line and yellow colouring only.

I thoroughly enjoyed this and now obviously need to get my hands on the second installment, which involves evil librarians...

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