Magical Ms. Plum

The Magical Ms. Plum by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Amy Portnoy

Third-grade teacher Ms. Plum is the most popular teacher in the school.  Everyone wants to be in her class.  Children who have had her speak of their love for her, but then stop talking and just smile mysteriously.  Ms. Plum has a wonderful secret: a magic supply closet.  It smells of something wonderful and has dark corners filled with wondrous things.  When a student is asked to get something from the closet, they return with an animal that perfectly matches what they need.  A shy girl is pampered by a group of little monkeys.  A loud child returns with a parrot who talks even more than he does.  And who knows what the smart boy who sees himself as not needing anything will get! 

This book is a delight.  Ms. Plum is a mix of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and Ms. Frizzle.  She solves children’s problems with magic and a modern style.  Becker has just the right touch, nicely building from one story to the next in episodic chapters.  Ms. Plum’s teaching is evident, but the animals and children are the heart of the story, just as they should be.  Portnoy’s black-and-white illustrations are have a modern feel that is right at home here.  They nicely break up the text, making a book that reluctant readers will feel right at home reading.

Perfect for reading aloud to a class, this is also an ideal book to hand to young readers who can reach the end of a chapter and have some resolution and a sense of accomplishment.  This would also be a good pick for readers who are reading above their age group.  There is nothing scary here but plenty of interest.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from publisher.


Bait by Alex Sanchez

Diego can’t seem to control his anger.  He punches a kid just for taunting him at school and ends up in court.  There he meets Mr. Vidas, a parole officer, the first person in his life who listens and holds him accountable.  Although he was going to be sentenced far more leniently, Diego asks to be put on parole because that is the only way that he can continue to talk with Mr. Vidas.  But will the supportive Mr. Vidas continue to be supportive when he learns what Diego has done?  And will Diego have the courage to be honest about his past?  After all, no one in the world knows.

This novel is as powerful as Diego’s fists.  It tells the story of a teen so filled with rage, bitterness, and misery that his skin can barely contain it.  But it also tells the story of survival.  It is a deep novel where Diego grows in believable and tangible ways and hope comes in where there was none.  The writing is filled with the same tension one sees in Diego.  Sanchez writes with an understanding of the complexities of the teen boy who has survived desperate situations.  He has a background as a parole officer, which I am sure contributes to the strong sense of the good a single person can do in a teen’s life.  Despite its dark themes, the book is positive, a hopeful novel. 

Highly recommended, this book is a powerful story about a survivor.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from copy received from publisher.

Put It Down and Walk Away

I was captivated by Suzanne Munshower’s piece on half-read books in The Guardian.  I am a reader who is always stopping in the middle of a book, or just after starting it.  I am brutal.  If the book isn’t delighting me, intriguing me, or just interesting me, I simply don’t have the patience to wade through it.

Luckily for me, I review children’s and YA books, so a certain amount of interest at the start is necessary to get young readers to keep going.  But that is just my handy-dandy excuse.  I was equally brutal before becoming a reviewer and when I read mostly adult books.  It also doesn’t have to do with length for me.  I set down picture books that are 30 pages long if they are not doing it for me.  Opinionated, aren’t I?  😉

So how do you read?  Are you as snotty and brutal as I am?  Or are you one of those nice people who finish every book you read? 

I knew one person like that.  She insisted that so many books become worthwhile in their later stages that it was worth it.  She’s probably right, but I’m just not that type of reader. 

How do you read?