Nobody by Liz Rosenberg, illustrated by Julie Downing

Released May 25, 2010.

A charmer of a book about a boy and his imaginary friend, Nobody.  This allows for plenty of wordplay in the book with Nobody telling the boy to do anything, Nobody helping him, and Nobody cleaning up.  George woke up early in the morning and with Nobody’s advice decided to make a feast!  So he and Nobody raid the refrigerator, mix all sorts of things together including eggs, chocolate syrup and dog biscuits.  Not allowed the turn on the stove, the two friends had to wait.  So they played cards.  Nobody won.  George then invented his own game which he won.  When his parents woke up, they were surprised by the mess.  As they took the matter in hand, Nobody began to shrink and disappear until George called him back to help make pancakes for breakfast.

I’ve always loved wordplay and we don’t see enough of it in books for preschoolers.  Especially this kind of subtle playing where it can be ignored without losing the story, or enjoyed as another dimension of the book.  Rosenberg’s text is great fun to read aloud.  Children will love the concoction the two create together and will immediately understand that Nobody is imaginary.  I also appreciate the parents’ reaction to the morning mess.  They take it in stride and with humor. 

Downing’s illustrations have a soft quality that works well in this early morning story filled with imagination.  She uses sploshes and drips of paint to great effect as the kitchen becomes messier and messier.  George is quite a small child in the illustrations, which will make it inviting to young children to join in the adventure.

Recommended, this is a great book to share when doing story times on cooking or messes.  Nobody makes a mess quite like this one!  Appropriate for ages 2-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

Little Blog on the Prairie

Little Blog on the Prairie by Cathleen Davitt Bell

When Gen’s mother signs the family up for Camp Frontier, they don’t know what they are getting into.  Now they must live like they are 1890s pioneers.  Which means wearing authentic clothing, cooking on a wood burning stove, milking cows, raising chickens, and living in a tiny cabin in the woods with an outhouse.  All of their electronics are confiscated when they enter camp, but Gen manages to sneak in her cell phone.  From there, she texts her best friends one of whom turns her texts into a blog for an assignment.  All is not dull work on the prairie, there is handsome Caleb who seems interested in Gen but might like Nora, the daughter of the owners better, and then there is the competition between the families and the drive to not keep being in last place.  Maybe this family bonding thing isn’t so bad after all.

Bell has created a book with a sharp wit and yet a homely warmth.  Gen is a great protagonist whose texts are fun to read.  Bell also has a feel for humor with the killer chickens and the cow milking scene.  Both are worth reading the novel for.  She writes best when dealing with modern teens juxtaposed with the world of 1890.  Bell’s writing is stilted in other scenes where there isn’t humor.  Her scenes with Nora and Caleb don’t flow with the same effortlessness as her humor.

Another issue is her characterization of the secondary characters.  Caleb, the love interest, is rather dull and quite normal though nice.  I don’t see why Gen who is bright, funny and complex would be entranced by this boy.  Nora, the homeschooled daughter of the proprietors, is also a disappointment.  Left to be rather cardboard and mean, she could have been a great example of a homeschooled kid.  Instead, she is envious and lonely.  What a missed opportunity she was a character!

One of the big successes of the book is that it never becomes a moral story about the dangers of modern technology and the isolation of modern family life.  Just as the book was approaching that, it veered into an unexpected direction that kept the novel fresh and interesting.

Despite the issues with the book, I could not put it down.  The humor and Gen kept me reading.  Recommended for readers who enjoyed Little House on the Prairie but also modern teens who wonder what would happen if their cell phones, iPods and computers were taken away.  Appropriate for ages 12-14.

Reviewed from ARC received from Bloomsbury.

Also reviewed by Semicolon.