The 1939 Newbery Award winner, Thimble Summer, by Elizabeth Enright, is bland in a charming and low-stakes kind of way. It’s still a better book than many of its distinguished predecessors.
When we are first introduced to Garnet Linden, age 9, she is waiting for rain. Her parents are farmers, the crops are wilting, and there are bills to pay. I thought this set the scene for a vintage version of Karen Hesse’s gripping Out of the Dust, but alas, no. A missed opportunity. Garnet and her older brother, Jay, go to beat the heat by the creek, which has the tint and temperature of tea. Garnet finds a thimble in the river bank and declares it is magic. That night, the rain comes.
Now that their troubles are in the past, Garnet goes on to have quaint adventures, including:
- getting locked in the town library past hours, which, to her credit, she finds absolutely grand
- hitchhiking to the “big” city while all in a funk because she feels overlooked and under-appreciated by her family (Garnet is the middle child.)
- raising a prize hog and showing him at the fair
- touring all the tame antique rides and attractions at the state fair
To end the book, Garnet concludes that she had such a great summer on account of her lucky thimble. Yay. The End.
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An E. L. Konigsburg book about an art museum, an irascible old woman, a kid who wants to discover a secret and a mysterious piece of art? You’d be right if your first guess was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, but Mixed-Up Files has a lesser-known twin, written 39 years later: The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World (no one can beat Konigsburg when it comes to titles).
If I had to reduce Mysterious Edge to one sentence, I’d call it Mixed-Up Files with opera and Nazi art history. The art museum in question is the Sheboygan Art Center in Wisconsin, home to a historical exhibit of Degenerate art–artwork that was banned by the Nazi government and deemed too terrible for public consumption. As the museum curator, Peter Vanderwaal, works feverishly on the exhibit, his godson Amadeo Kaplan is contemplating his own art mystery in Florida, where Amadeo has just moved with his mother. Like the Mixed-Up Files’ Claudia, Amadeo wants to discover something: a fossil, a secret, buried treasure. He gets a good shot at his dream when he joins his classmate William in clearing out the estate of Mrs. Zender, who in her opera-singing days was known as Aida Lily Tull. Mrs. Zender hovers over their work with an imperial air, and her old-fashioned manners grate on Amadeo’s nerves, yet he can’t help but feel she’s testing him somehow. When he discovers a mysterious sketch tucked away on a bookshelf, and Mrs. Zender manipulates him into keeping it away from antique dealers–nearly costing him William’s friendship in the process–Amadeo begins to wonder what he’s gotten himself into. (more…)
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For a book about a kidnapped boy, Chickadee, by Louise Erdrich, is surprisingly funny. I first read Chickadee last year, before I’d read the previous books in the series: The Birchbark House, The Game of Silence, The Porcupine Year. And while Chickadee stands well on its own, it’s even better when read in order.
Omakayas, last seen as a teenager in The Porcupine Year, shows up in Chickadee as the mother of 8-year-old twins. That’s a leap in time of at least 15 years, and quite a gutsy move–but Omakayas was instantly recognizable as the calm, resourceful healer-in-training, and Erdrich smooths over the time gap by inserting a scene where the family tells the story of the twins’ birth. Having read the previous books, I enjoyed catching all the references, whether a sweet homage to Old Tallow, or the familiar story of how Omakayas’ brother Quill got his namesake from the porcupine.
Our main character, though, is Chickadee, who’s kidnapped by a couple of dim-witted twin brothers best described as henchmen (muscular, mean, prone to issuing growling threats). As Chickadee gets spirited away into the frozen prairie, the entire extended family follows to track him down. (more…)
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Posted in MG books (ages 8-12), tagged reviews on September 10, 2014 |
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I am a day gardener of tomatoes, kale, and eggplants, so I was curious to find out what The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier, is all about. It seems night gardening is far more perilous.
As Molly and her younger brother, Kip, journey to the Windsor estate deep within the “sourwoods,” we are told “‘they were riding to their deaths.” They don’t have much of a choice in the matter. Their parents were lost at sea (literally), leaving fourteen-year-old Molly to fend for the both of them. Using her powers of observation and knack for telling persuasive stories, she plucks Kip out of the orphanage, finagles a fish-cart for their journey, and secures the promise of employment from a man she’s never met in a place she’s never been.
Too bad, because the Windsor house is isolated, derelict, and dominated by a creepy tree far more sinister than the Whomping Willow. In fact, it’s practically parasitic. The inhabitants of Windsor house appear drawn and pale with sickness, from four-year-old Penny to her mother, the pinched Mistress Windsor. Worst of all, a shadowy man appears on the grounds at night, souring their sleep and leaving brittle leaves and muddy footsteps behind. “This house is no place for you,” Mrs. Windsor warns, when Molly uses her talents to wrangle a servant’s position in exchange for room and board. (more…)
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Confession: I’ve never read Lewis Carroll’s beloved Alice in Wonderland cover to cover…until now. I tried once as a youngster, and before getting terribly far, decided Carroll was full of nonsense. Alice seemed to drift from scene to scene, from character to character. And why was there no plot? No plot, no point. The whole thing was, ahem, mad as a hatter.
Perhaps I could have avoided Alice for the rest of my natural life, but as a self-professed lover of children’s books, this omission on my reading list made me feel ever so slightly like a fraud. Plus, there are a lot of Alice fans in the kidlitosphere. So over the weekend, I decided to patch this gap in my education.
Going in, I expected Alice to be irritatingly trippy, full of mushrooms with magical properties and hookah-puffing caterpillars. (This was my sole memory of the animated Disney film that baffled me as a child.) Alice surprised me by coming across like a comedy sketch you’d watch on the BBC, deadpan yet absurd. I found myself reading in the pauses before the punchlines.
You promised to tell me your history, you know,” said Alice, “and why it is you hate–C and D,” she added in a whisper, half afraid that it would be offended again.
“Mine is a long and a sad tale!” said the Mouse, turning to Alice, and sighing.
“It is a long tail, certainly,” said Alice, looking down with wonder at the Mouse’s tail; “but why do you call it sad?”
Take some more tea,” the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.
“I’ve had nothing yet,” Alice replied in an offended tone, “so I can’t take more.”
“You mean you can’t take less,” said the Hatter: “it’s very easy to take more than nothing.”
If the people behind Monty Python didn’t read Alice growing up, then that’s curiouser and curiouser. Next question, is Through the Looking Glass just as funny?
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Grab a timer. I challenge you to name all the Asian and Asian-American superheroes you can think of in one minute. Go.
OK. Who did you come up with? How many were you able to name?
My point exactly. Unless you’re a diehard comic book buff, that was probably a frustratingly long and fruitless minute. When was the last time (or first time) superhero blockbusters, and their inevitable summer sequels and spin-offs, have featured persons of Asian descent gowning up in spandex to save the world?
Enter storytelling geniuses Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew. Their graphic novel, The Shadow Hero, hits all the marks of a great comic book–vibrant action sequences, ruthless villains, hero-defining moments, vigilante justice, justice in upholding the law–while finally giving a face to the mysterious Green Turtle. Take a step back, and his origins story is also a playful and nuanced exploration of the Chinese immigrant experience in pre-WWII America, as well as Chinese history, culture, and personal identity.
Growing up in Chinatown, teenager Hank Chu’s biggest dream is to carry on the family grocery business. Then there are his mother’s loftier aspirations for him. In a comedic turn of events involving a bank heist, a high speed car chase, and an appearance from a caped hero called the Anchor of Justice, Hank’s mom becomes determined to transform her reluctant son into the first Chinese-American superhero. Appropriately, Hank’s initial crime fighting escapades are downright embarrassing until, in true superhero tradition, personal tragedy propels him to embrace a new identity as the Green Turtle.
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