The Top Job

The Top Job by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel, illustrated by Robert Neubecker.

It’s career day at school and one little girl hears about all of the amazing and fantastic jobs her classmates’ parents have.  When she stands up to tell about her father’s job and says he changes lightbulbs, the whole class mocks her.  But she keep right on telling her story about how her father took her with him one day.  She details the equipment he needs, and then readers get to travel to the top of the Empire State Building where her father changes the light way, way up on the tower at the tip of the building.  By the end of the story both the audience in the book and any reader will be cheering for her father and this book.

The illustrations by Neubecker are wonderfully detailed with deep colors and a real sense of action and space.  Wonderfully thick-lined and friendly, they add so much to this book.  Kimmel’s words have little humorous touches and a very childlike quality that reads well as the words of a child.  There is a distinct voice to the narrator of the story, which I really love.  She is self-assured and poised, a nice strong female voice.

The text is the perfect length for young elementary children, ages 5-8.  This would work well as a read aloud in a classroom where you are going to discuss careers. 

Mercy Watson: Princess in Disguise

Mercy Watson: Princess in Disguise by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen.

I should not get as giddy as I do when a new Mercy Watson book appears, but goodness they are fun!  Frankly, if Kate DiCamillo had only done Mercy Watson books, I would adore her just as much.  The fact that she also wrote such incredible books for older readers as Because of Winn-Dixie and The Tale of Despereaux is amazing!  Alright enough gushing!

In this fourth Mercy Watson book, the Watsons decide that Mercy should celebrate Halloween.  They mention treats to Mercy and Mercy immediately agrees to join in the fun, picturing stacks of buttery toast as her treats.  Mrs. Watson creates a very pink, very flouncy princess dress for Mercy while Mr. Watson finds her a tiara.  Mercy has no interest in the costume itself, but the temptation of treats convince her to step into the dress.  But when Mercy finds that there is no toast involved in trick-or-treating she is quite disappointed, until she discovers a buttery candy and then there is no stopping the cavorting and rampaging that starts.  As always the book ends with a stack of buttery toast, but not until after quite a bit of wild romping.

If you haven’t enjoyed any of the other Mercy Watson books, run right out and get the first three.  Van Dusen’s art starts at the very cover and carries through with lush colors, a fifties feel, and great design down to the page numbers.  Take a few moments to admire the Halloween decor at the Watson’s house.  The detail is flawlessly funny.  DiCamillo has managed to create a series that can be read aloud to the picture book crowd but is also welcoming for young readers to tackle.

Highly recommended to read aloud to ages 3-6 and as a solo read for slightly older children or precocious readers.  The content is very child-friendly and appropriate for all ages.

The Aurora County All-Stars

The Aurora County All-Stars by Deborah Wiles

House is a twelve-year-old boy who adores baseball, especially pitching.  But last summer he missed the only real game of baseball that their small town actually gets to participate in because someone broke his elbow.   While he was healing, he was asked to be a companion to a dying neighbor who was known throughout town as a baby eater.  The book opens with the death of that man whom House has become close to over their months together.  But none of his friends know what he has been doing with his spare time.   House’s summer is also complicated by the return of the girl who broke his elbow the previous year.  She is back to run a pageant for the town which just happens to conflict in timing with the only real baseball game of the summer!

Golly, I loved this book.  The characters in it were astonishingly well-drawn in such a short book, but that is because Wiles has used each phrase and sentence to clarify and reveal the characters and the town.  It is a joy to read. 

The timelessness of the book was also appealing.  These children, parents and the entire town could have been any time in the last 50 years. 

Highly recommended as a classroom read for 3rd through 5th grades, this book should be put in the hands of any child who enjoyed The Penderwicks.  They offer similar styles and that wonderful timeless feeling where children can sink into the story and feel safe.  Rather like bottled childhood in the form of a book.

New Science on the Reading Process

Having a pretty crazed start to the week around here!  So please understand that this is being posted in a rush before my next meeting.  🙂  Tomorrow looks to be a little more calm and I plan to post reviews of some of my patiently-waiting pile.

Anyway, a quick link to fascinating news from Science Daily on the reading process which is entirely different than anyone ever thought!  Cool stuff!

Dahl Beats Rowling

The Guardian has an article that says a British study has shown that Roald Dahl is the most popular children’s author among young adults.  Interestingly, Rowling is number 4! 

Here’s the top 10:

1. Roald Dahl
2. CS Lewis
3. JM Barrie
4. JK Rowling
5. Anthony Horowitz
6. Jacqueline Wilson
7. Dr Seuss
8. Philip Pullman
9. Francesca Simon
10. Enid Blyton

I wonder what the results would be in the U.S.?

The English Roses Return

Madonna’s new English Roses Book series launched yesterday.  The new series is aimed at an older age, tweens.  There is an elaborate website filled with the art of Jeffrey Fulvimari where you can scroll through the different English Rose girls and discover just how cardboard and stereotypical they are.

Ana's Story

An article praising Jenna Bush’s teen novel caught my eye.  I haven’t had a chance to see the book yet, but I hope that it is as well done as this Associated Press article says.  Bush based the book on a real person whom she met in Latin America while working for UNICEF.  Ana’s life of poverty has been further complicated by HIV, so this is a book with the potential to educate about not one but two of our world’s epidemics.  Anyone gotten to actually read it yet?


Treasure by Suzanne Bloom.

With this book, readers happily return to the friendship of a goose and a polar bear first read about in A Splendid Friend, Indeed.  Goose spots Bear making an X on a piece of paper and immediately assumes that X Marks the Spot and there must be treasure involved.  So Goose takes over and leads Bear on a wild search for treasure whether it be buried or sunk.  It isn’t until Goose gives up and despairs of finding any treasure at all that Bear points out the real treasure.

I just love Bloom’s books.  But I have one caveat.  If you are a grown up without a handy crowd of children to read them aloud to, you may miss their real charm.  The books have gloriously large pictures that show well to a crowd, but it is the words that come to life when read aloud.  I find that Goose has a very distinct and rather silly voice when read aloud, but that may be just me.  🙂  Children adore the quick pace and the animals, but they also love the situation that Goose puts Bear into. 

Another guaranteed giggle book, perfect for the final book of a story time on pirates.  Recommended for ages 3-6.

The Nature of Jade

The Nature of Jade by Deb Caletti.

Make room for another title on my best books of the year list! 

Jade, a senior in high school,  struggles with panic in her everyday life.  She is in therapy for it and has tools she uses to try to control it, including watching the zoo webcam that shows the elephants.  That is where she first sees the boy in the red jacket carrying the baby.  And that glimpse will be enough to send Jade out of her controlled world, allowing her to realize that even those things that seem simple in her life are more complicated and less absolute.  Jade learns to take risks, be true to herself, and find her own way with a little help from some very large friends and some human ones too.

The writing here is exquisite.  In the beginning and again at the very end, Jade is in a fragile state.  The writing is almost brittle, crumbling away with rushes of images rather like panic.  When Jade is content, the writing slows, meanders, but never wanders away.  The writing allows readers to share Jade’s contentment and bask in it with her.  Somehow Caletti has managed to create prose that in its very pacing and tone allows us to feel Jade’s mood.  It is a monumental accomplishment.

The characterizations are also masterfully done.  Jade herself is very complex and vivid.   And so are the many secondary characters, especially Jade’s parents who start out as Jade sees them and slowly are revealed to the reader and Jade to be so much more.  Jade is a young woman on the cusp of leaving home, so seeing the humanity of her parents is very powerful and rings completely true. 

This is a must-read, a book to put in the hands of teen girls.  Any teen girl.  They will all respond to Jade and her life.  The book is a triumph, but retains ties to teen-girl books everywhere with its romance and issues.  It is an easy step for girls reading series novels to enter this world and discover great writing.