Daring Darleen, Queen of the Screen by Anne Nesbet (9781536206197)
Darleen has grown up in the movie industry, first appearing as a baby and now at age twelve as “Daring Darleen” in a series of silent films. It is 1914 and the trend is to have the worlds of film and real life converge, so Darleen’s uncles make a plan for her to be kidnapped from outside a movie theater while being filmed by them. Everything seems to be going to plan until Darleen is snatched by the wrong kidnappers and discovers that she has been taken along with Victorine, a girl just her age who is an heiress. The two must figure out how to escape, using Darleen’s natural penchant for heights and daring moves that her dead mother also had. Still, she had promised her father to keep her feet on the ground, but that’s hard to do as her adventures continue almost like being in a real screenplay.
There is so much to love here! Nesbet creates the daring and inventions of early film-making in this middle-grade novel. The chapters are meant to be episodes, some offering a great cliffhanger until the next installment. The series of adventures makes for a page-turner of a book with two girls at its center who form a grand friendship along the way and adore one another for being just who they are.
Darleen is a heroine through and through from her day job in front of the camera but even more so in real life as she skillfully figures out puzzles, finds ways to escape, and does it all with real courage. In many ways, Victorine is her opposite. She wants to tell the truth at all costs, knows all sorts of facts and loves books and travel. The two together form an unstoppable force. It is also great to see Nesbet pay homage to Alice Guy Blache by having her as a secondary character in the novel.
A grand adventure of a novel that will have readers enthralled. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.
Dara Palmer’s Major Drama by Emma Shevah (InfoSoup)
Dara knows that she is a star. She can make all of the facial expressions in her favorite teen movies, has huge posters of her two favorite actors on her bedroom walls, and has lots of imaginary conversations with them as she dreams of her future in Hollywood. Her first step to stardom is landing the lead in the school production of The Sound of Music, and she just knows that her name is going to be called. But then it isn’t. Dara starts to wonder if it’s about the color of her skin, since she knows she’s an amazing actress. Dara was adopted from Cambodia. Then she notices that others with different skin colors are in the cast. The teacher offers her the role of stage manager, but Dara won’t agree to that. The teacher also invites her to join her acting classes, but Dara knows she doesn’t need them. As Dara slowly realizes that she may have a lot to learn after all, readers become convinced that Dara may just be the star she always thought she was.
Shevah has created in Dara a character who is both repulsive and compelling. Dara is unthinking, rather vain and unable to listen at the beginning of the book. Wisely, Shevah frames the book as looking into the past and Dara knowing that she wasn’t a very nice person back then. This gives readers permission to dislike Dara and yet also enjoy her humor, drive and sparkle. It also makes Dara’s deep changes all the more believable. Various characters also help Dara see herself anew, including her siblings, her parents and her best friend. This is done in many different ways from overt to subtle and is a skillful way to create change in a character.
The voice throughout the book is entirely Dara’s. The fonts change with Dara’s emphasis on various words, showing the passion and emotions behind them. The book design is fresh and friendly, having designs around the page edges and illustrations that break up the text a bit.
A strong and funny protagonist becomes much more self-aware in this gorgeous novel. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
Five, Six, Seven, Nate! by Tim Federle
This sequel to the award-winning Better Nate Than Ever is one of the strongest second books in a series I have read. After getting cast as ET in the upcoming ET: The Musical, Nate is now living in New York City with his aunt who is also an actress. But Broadway isn’t everything that Nate has dreamed it would be. There seems to be a feud between the video-game creator who is their director and the choreographer. Nate is an understudy and a member of the chorus but he can’t tap dance and is put into extra classes to improve. But there are also high points. Nate has a secret admirer who leaves notes and gifts, and he certain he knows who it is. Nate is also secretly helping another of the ET actors with her lines and they become close friends over manicures. Like any great Broadway story there are twists and turns and some romance too. It’s one hell of a second act.
Federle writes in a way that is so easy to read and creates books that are impossible to put down until the final curtain falls. This ease of reading though is because he is really writing directly for children in a way that is open, honest and speaks to all children whether they are actors or not. Add in Nate’s questioning his sexual identity and you have a book with plenty of depth.
What Federle does best is to create characters who surprise and delight. Nate himself captures this. Nate could come off as a stereotypical actor, but instead because the book is in first person, Nate reveals all of his inner dialogue. Much of which is screamingly funny. But Nate is not the only deep character here. Even tertiary characters are interesting and offer glimpses of how unique they are. Among the secondary characters, there are many who would make great books all on their own. Federle is a master of creating characters and making us care for them.
Bravo! This is a smash production filled with humor and delight. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Rifka Takes a Bow by Betty Rosenberg Perlov, illustrated by Cosei Kawa
Rifka’s parents are actors in the Yiddish theater community, they work at The Grand and perform regularly. So Rifka has grown up behind the stage, seeing them transform into different characters. Sometimes they are so different, she isn’t really sure they are the same person. When she goes to work with them, she gets to ride the subway and have a snack at the Automat. She gets to look behind the stage and discover all of the illusions that go into doing theater. Then one day, Rifka is climbing a set of stairs behind the stage and accidentally steps out during a performance! What is a girl with acting in her blood going to do?
Written by a woman who herself grew up in the Yiddish Theater where her parents worked, this book captures the wonder of that lifestyle for a small child. Perlov also shows us the intimate details of that world with the tricks of the stage, the joy of viewing a performance from the wings, and the obvious charm of having parents who are theater people. This is a beautiful look at a world that has disappeared with the times.
Kawa’s artwork is very unique. It has a wonderful modern feel thanks to the interesting proportions of the heads and bodies of the characters. Perhaps the best touch are the little objects that dance in the air. Whenever people are performing or communicating, they are there and flowing between them. They offer a sense of the flow of this family and the flow that happens with the audience as well.
A joy to read, this book truly is a look at a lost world from the perspective of someone who actually lived it. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Starring Jules (As Herself) by Beth Ain
When Jules is singing her new jingle for a fizzy ice-cream cone to her little brother and making lots of bubbles in their milk glasses, she is discovered and invited to audition for a mouthwash commercial. But even for a girl with lots of “pizzazz” there are difficulties to overcome. First, Jules finds out that the mouthwash is orange flavored, a flavor that makes her want to puke. Second, the only one she can see who can help her is her old best-friend Charlotte Stinkerton Pinkerton. Third, there’s a new girl in Jules’ class who may just be the perfect best friend ever, but Jules has to get to her first, before she joins the new clique that Charlotte has formed. It’s a complicated situation for Jules and the question is whether it will be just too much for this girl who is fizzy and filled with pizzazz.
Ain has created a character that reads like an older Clementine. Jules is wonderfully and innately quirky, obviously happy in her own skin. All of the small details and Jules’ unique view of the world serve to make her a beautifully human character. Happily, the same is true for the secondary characters as well. They are all richly drawn and complex. Friendship is shown in all of its miscommunication and mistakes.
Written with a light hand and a jaunty pace, this book will appeal to readers who have grown up with Clementine and are looking for a new heroine with plenty of individuality. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.