Monday, April 09, 2007

Star-Studded Review-a-Rama

Currently Reading: The Brothers Grimm: Two Lives, One Legacy, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
Just Finished:
Yang the Youngest and his Terrible Ear, From a Crooked Rib, Kitchen

Oh, I have a lot to talk about, I don't even know where to begin. It's like when you're writing a paper and you just become paralyzed with the enormity of the task before you and freeze up and never get started.

So... let's talk about some books, eh? I guess I'll focus on award winners and those with buzz. We'll see how far I get tonight!

First up on the block is the lovely A Drowned Maiden's Hair: A Melodrama by Laura Amy Schlitz

All Maud wants is to be adopted and to have a real family again. When the elderly Hawthorne sisters take her home, Maud is overjoyed. She has nice clothes, good food, and indoor plumbing. What Maud doesn’t have is any friends—she’s not allowed to go to school or see visitors. Maud is a secret, and when she finds out why, she has some very tough decisions to make about what’s important.

This was a very moving story about the compelling need for love and a home, versus doing what is right. At the same time, we get a good dose of spirituality and mediums and ghosts. It was wonderfully spooky without being scary.

I loved the way Maud's friendship developed with Muffet, the Hawthorne's deaf servant. I also liked the way that Maud really struggled with her decisions about what to do-- she didn't always want to do the right thing, and how Schlitz handles this conflict makes Maud so much more real and likeable.

It was getting a lot of well-deserved Newberry buzz and even though it didn't win and wasn't honored, you should still check it out.

Rules by Cynthia Lord.

This was a Newberry Honor, as well as the winner of the Schneider Family Book Award (for books about disabilities.)

Catherine is a twelve year old girl whose little brother, David, has autism. On one hand she is fiercely protective of him but on the other, she is mortified when he does embarrassing things that could potentially mess up her relationships. She doesn't give her friends nearly enough credit in understanding about David, but she's been burned in the past. To help David be less embarassing, Catherine writes him rules about day-to-day life. No toys in the fish tank. It's ok to yell on the playground, but not during dinner. Over time, a lot of these rules are obviously more for Catherine than for David.

Catherine's best friend is away is away for the summer and there's a new family moving in next door. Catherine has high hopes for her friendship with Kristi, but, like real life, not everything goes as she wished it would--and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

When Catherine accompanies David to therapy, she meets Jason, who is in a wheel chair and can't talk. Jason has a book of cards with pictures and words that he points to in order to communicate. Catherine starts drawing him more cards, including nebulous concepts like "murky" and "unfair". Catherine again tries to balance fitting in with her "normal" friends and classmates, and her friendship with Jason. Jason was a really interesting character that continued to surprise me, and I wish we saw even more of him.

One of my favorite parts of this book were when Catherine was trying to figure out what to draw for abstract ideas. My other favorite part was the struggle Catherine had in trying to be understanding of David, but feeling overshadowed by him in the family dynamic and needing her parents to sometimes focus exclusively on her. I think it was a very real, if not pretty, look at what it means to be in a family with someone who requires so much attention and energy.

I also liked how, when David couldn't put his thoughts and feelings into words, would quote extensively from the Frog and Toad books by Lobel. It was heartbreaking and hilarious.

My main quibble is with the ending-- it was overly tidy and neat while at the same time not really solving anything. It tarnished the rest of the wonderful book for me.

Penny from Heavenby Jennifer Holm

This was another Newberry Honor and my favorite of this year's Newberry crop. Penny is growing up in 1950s northern New Jersey and is torn between her mother and grandparents (whom she lives with) and her nearby Italian family of her deceased father. The two sides of the family don't talk to each other and even though Penny's mother would never tell her not to see her Italian family, it's obvious she doesn't like all the time she spends with them.

Summer is hard, even without the family drama. Penny's mom won't let her go swimming in fear she might catch Polio and then she starts dating the milkman!

Eventually, the truth about Penny's father's death comes out, as well as the horror of what Italian-Americans went through during WWII, which is something that doesn't get discussed much. I had no idea most of this stuff had happened.

The book is a bit nostalgic, but wonderfully written (and from the same person who does Babymouse! Such versatility!) and while showing excellence in children's literature, has definite kid-appeal. The author's note at the end was excellent, as well as Holm's own family album. I highly recommend.

And that's all for tonight, but I have a lot more to come...

1 comment:

Erin said...

I highly enjoyed all these books, especially Penny!