Sunday, June 24, 2007


Chickens See Blood

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (Harcourt, 2006) is about a family (divorced mother, three kids) getting through the winter after an asteroid nudges the moon closer to Earth. What I would do in disaster--what kind of a person I would become--is something I think about a lot. My mother once told me that there was a lot of pushing and shoving in the breadlines during her war in Rotterdam, and she found it very difficult to push herself forward. The mother in this book doesn't: she goes into survival mode right from the get-go and as a result the family survives.

But despite some interesting details, this book was a disappointment to me. In the end it was a teenage-girl's-journal novel. And I was reminded that I've never actually been crazy about SBP.

At the other end of the Wow! spectrum there is Beth Goobie's Hello, Groin (Orca, 2006). What a fantastic book! This writer is a national treasure.

Better Than Blonde by Teresa Toten (Puffin, 2007): About five minutes on the Internet proved to me that indeed, juice boxes didn't get going in the market until the 80s. It was that detail that got me seeing blood, and I could hardly read on for all the holes I pecked. Okay, so maybe a 13-year-old reader won't notice...but is that fair? Why even bother setting the book in 1975, then? The only reason I can think of is to explain to said 13-year-old reader why there is so little sexual intercourse in the Blondes' lives. This does not excuse authorial laziness and the shortsightedness of the publisher, who could easily have caught these things simply by engaging a copy editor old enough to have been around at the time.

Anita Lobel's No Pretty Pictures (Greenwillow, 1998), is a great read, distressing but enlightening; necessary, certainly.... I wonder if Jerry Spinelli read this before he wrote Milkweed. AL rode that carousel that figures so prominently in JS's tale. We can read these books as what they are, stories of war; but we can also read them to see what those experiences do to children. Does being born into a toxic/addicted family, and growing up in poverty and in and out of the state's care, create the same kind of people?

Smiler's Bones by Peter Lerangis (Scholastic, 2005) is the story of a young Innu boy who is taken by Peary with this father and a number of others from his village to New York, where, after being displayed to the public as curiousities, the adults die one after another from TB. The boy finds a home with a foster family and grows up fairly happily, until his teens, when he is shocked to discover that the bones of his father and of the other Inuit were rendered and are being kept for "study" by a natural history museum.

I'm pretty sure I read this boy's story before, but differently. Nevertheless, this was good: distressing, sobering, well written. The boy is not an object of pity, though he is pitiable.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


The Bad Word

Silly Americans...what else would you call a scrotum in this (perfectly innocent and also funny) context...a private part? But we're talking about a dog! Dogs are not private! (And the word is so beautifully at the centre of the perfect ending.)

The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron (Matt Phelan, illus.; Atheneum, 2006) is very much a Newbery book—plucky kid in insecure circumstances getting what she needs and finding love. It throws a lot of things together which together are funny: a Parisienne in the California desert, competing 12-step programs, American frontier eccentrics, aforementioned plucky heroine getting things slightly wrong. So, it's funny; but to whom? To kids? The writing style is oddly dense--I had to reread sentences often. Maybe it's a read-aloud. A twelve-year-old female accomplished reader would enjoy it, I'm sure. The illustrations are fine.

Me and the Blondes by Teresa Toten (Puffin, 2006) was just what it was described to be, and I liked it and was impatient reading it in equal measures as I went along. I did make a point of picking up a copy of the sequel and chatting with the author at BookExpo so that must mean that on the whole I like it. The impatience was mostly my own; I don't like too much dialect/quirkiness in pronunciation in writing (just the jist of it is enough, usually) though I grant it was pretty funny in this book.

Regarding that chat, which was very fun, here's a bulletin from the Department of Horn-Blowing: Let it be known that any reference the author makes hereafter to the Blondes books being about how Sophie needs the Blondes and the Blondes need her, or variations thereupon, are directly attributable to me.

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