Monday, June 30, 2014

Book Review: Pip's Trip

Pip's Trip by Janet Morgan Stoeke was written specifically with emerging readers in mind.  The text is large and repeats many words, although the vocabulary is not overly simplistic.  My kindergatener was thrilled to be able to read the entire thing aloud to her preschool brother.

In this story of the Loop Coop Hens, Pip tries to convince her friends Midge and Dot to go on a trip into the wide world with her.  Clearly the adventurer of the group, she climbs into the back of a pickup truck and prepares for a ride to parts unknown.  Midge and Dot, on the other hand, scamper off to ask Rooster Sam his opinion of the whole situation.  While Pip waits for her friends to come back, the truck "gets loud."  Regretting her decision, she closes her eyes in fear and waits.

The clever part of this story is that through the illustrations, readers can tell that the truck isn't actually going anywhere--a young man has it propped up on ramps and is repairing the engine.  But Pip is convinced that because it "got loud," she has gone somewhere.  And when she opens her eyes, the "wide world" looks just like her own farm!  And she is utterly convinced that she was very brave for traveling such a great distance in the big, scary truck.

Through this somewhat silly story, parents can have some great discussions with kids.  For example, what does it mean to be brave?  And how is the "wide world" like your own home?  A fun story as a stand-alone or a discussion-starter.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Book Review: Clink

My 4-year-old son recently grabbed Clink by Kelly DiPucchio and Matthew Myers off the library shelf.  This adorable book is a must-read for any little guy or gal who loves robots.  My kids read it over and over again, and several guests to our house delighted in Clink's story as well.

Back in the day, Clink was a state-of-the-art robot who could multitask by playing music and making toast at the same time.  But nowadays, he's surrounded by newer models, robots who can do homework, give makeovers, pick up dirty laundry, play baseball, and switch out fancy attachments.  Nobody wants to buy him from the robot store.  So he just sits on the shelf and rusts away while all of his friends get bought one by one.

But just when poor little Clink has given up all hope, a boy who loves music (and, apparently, toast) enters the store... and hopeful readers will find that even lovable misfits can find a place to belong.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Book Review: Athena the Brain 
My 8-year-old daughter has recently started devouring the "Goddess Girls" series by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams, so I picked up the first book to see what it was all about.  The series begins with Athena the Brain.  In this book, 12-year-old Athena gets an unexpected message with some shocking news: she is actually the daughter of Zeus, the king of the gods.  This is quite the shock.  She has been raised in a family of mortals as basically a sister to her best friend, Pallas.  In addition to revealing her parentage, Zeus has summoned her to attend Mount Olympus Academy, the school for the gods--where he is also the principal.

This is good news for Athena, because she has never quite fit in among the mortals.  It seems that she has some crazy talents, such as creating musical instruments and giving impromptu concerts.  So following a tearful goodbye to Pallas, off she goes to Mount Olympus Academy.  Over the next few days, she manages to make some good friends, particularly Aphrodite, Persephone, and Artemis.  Medusa, however, proves to be a jealous bully.

The book is very cute and provides some very simplistic versions of famous stories from mythology, such as as Medusa's serpent hair and freezing stare, the voyage of Odysseus, and the Trojan horse.  It also included some humorous puns, for example on the origin of the name of Trident chewing gum.  I liked that my daughter was learning basic mythology--even if it was in a very fictionalized format, she will have that background knowledge to call on when it's introduced in school later.

However, the book's actual storyline was very simplistic, so don't expect kids to get a lot of out that.  And if you're looking for some kind of explanation as to what kind of world these mortals live in, or what time period this is set in, or how the humans and gods interact... well, then you're out of luck.  There are no practical explanations given.  We're just to understand that characters come and go from Mount Olympus Academy at Zeus's whims, and they apparently age at whatever rate the gods desire as well.  The beauty of this series rests in the fact that there simply is no explanation given for anything--which may work for kids, but definitely didn't work for me.

Overall, I'm fine by my daughter reading this series--there's definitely nothing harmful in them, they're cute, and they do provide a good basis for later knowledge.  However, I wouldn't purchase the collection, and I will definitely try to introduce my daughter to other quality books to read in conjunction with these.

Book Review: Charmed Thirds 
The third book of the Jessica Darling saga begins the summer following Jess's freshman year at Columbia University.  She and Marcus have managed to survive their coast-to-coast separation (he is at a Buddhist university in California) with their romance intact and look forward to at least a few weeks of reuniting before Jessica begins her awesome summer internship with True magazine.  But somehow their weeks together don't end up as idyllic as Jessica had hoped, and then her internship is not quite what she expected either....

And then enter her sophomore year....

Unlike Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings, Charmed Thirds covers a large expanse of time in one novel.  Jessica's entire college career is summed up in this third novel.  However, I was somewhat surprised by how little of her actual college experience was described by the novel.  The book began after her freshman year had ended, so all that we learned about her much-anticipated college experience was told in little snippets after the fact.  Sophomore year was divided into "sophomore winter" and "sophomore summer."  Apparently the only important events that happened during Jessica's college career occurred while she was on breaks from school.  Or, in the rare event that anything important happened during the school year itself, it was only narrated in a flashback during a break from school, and only described in relation to how it related to the events that were occurring during the break.

I had very mixed feelings about this method of narration.  I mean, I understand its usefulness as a way to basically skip forward a large chunk in time, hitting only the highlights.  But during the actual reading, I was extremely frustrated.  I had just stuck with Jessica for two entire novels, during which she wanted nothing except to leave Pineville.  So now she's in college, she's got all the resources to be off to a new and better life, and I'm to believe that the only significant events in her life occur while in Pineville???  It's enough to make me lose all respect for her as a narrator.  Furthermore, she apparently formed zero significant relationships during her college years.  I realize this may have been a plot device in order to keep the cast of characters for the series smaller, but really, I did not have any sympathy for her as a character when she was dissing on Sara for not being able to get beyond Pineville gossip.... and yet her only relationships are still with Pineville people.

During Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings, I was a huge fan of Jessica Darling.  I rooted for her.  I related to her.  I could see a lot of my high school self in her.  I felt like she was flawed yet respectable, someone I could really get behind.  I could absolutely understand why Marcus Flutie (the bad boy who desperately wanted to reform himself) would have fallen desperately in love with her.  She was an awesome character.

I simply did not understand the Jessica that I saw in Charmed Thirds.  She was A Girl Who Makes Really Bad Decisions.  She alienated everyone everyone close to her.  She had no close relationships.  She made stupid decisions.  She had no plan for her life.  And she didn't even seem to feel bad about all the people she had hurt or let go.  And yet, miraculously, at all seemed to work out for her at the end--because, you know, she was such a great girl and deserved it.  And I was supposed to be happy for her?

Really the only thing that I did like about Charmed Thirds was Megan McCafferty's writing.  And because that is just so darn good, and also because I really hope Charmed Thirds was just a fluke and that the Jessica Darling I came to know and love in the first two books will make a comeback in the next installment, I have already put in an interlibrary loan request for Fourth Comings.  So stay tuned....