The Plot in Five Sentences Or Less: Bud Calloway is an orphan who never knew his father and whose mother died a few years ago. Bud springs himself from his next foster home and manages to hide out for a few nights outside the local public library. But the road beckons, and soon Bud is on his way to Grand Rapids to find his father. Along the way, he meets a lot of quirky characters who help him along in his quest. He eventually encounters a grumpy jazz musician who doesn’t fit his model of fatherhood.
My Take: This is the first book that I had read by Curtis and I was not disappointed. No landscape writer, Curtis’s strength lies in his ear for creating a character through the sound of their words. I can certainly understand why this book won the 2000 Newberry Medal Award. Bud is an artfully sketched out character who is as adept at survival as he is with the English language. I appreciated Bud’s rituals to stay out of trouble with adults and his humorous “Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself.” I recommend this book to any 5th grader and above who can appreciate Bud’s interesting view on life.
One Interesting Note About the Author: According to his website, after graduating high school in Flint, Michigan, Curtis worked in Fisher’s Body Plant #1, hanging 80 lbs. car doors onto Buick’s.
The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: While mourning the disappearance of his father two years prior, Gregor and his younger sister Boots are sucked into an underworld through a grate in their apartment building’s laundry room. They soon discover thriving societies of crawlers (cockroaches), humans, spiders, and rats that live together through a fragile truce. Unfortunately, war is brewing as the humans believe that Gregor is the one predicted by an ancient prophecy to bring aid to their kingdom in the face of their enemy the rats. Not wanting to be entangled in the politics of the underworld, but desperate to find a way home, Gergor and Boots set out on a quest dangerous quest to fulfill the prophecy.
My Take: This is one of those books/series that I have meant to tackle for a couple of years now. I found it to be an immensely readable juvenile fantasy that kept the pace going. I was impressed by Collin’s ability to immerse the reader in another world, provide adequate detail for the characters and setting, without losing the narrative momentum. I also appreciate that the book works well as a stand alone or as a beginning to a delightful series. Recommended ages 9+
One Interesting Note About the Author: C’mon! It’s Suzanne Collins! You probably know all about her already.
Jennifer L. and Matthew Holm continue the amusing tone set in their Babymouse graphic novels with their new series Squish. Last week I read the first two installments to my 5 year old daughter.
Plot: Squish is a young amoeba who lives in a pond floating with other microorganisms including paramecium and planaria. But life in the pond is not easy and Squish is plagued with troubles familiar to any human child in elementary school. In the first book, Squish must face down the school bully Lynnwood, also an amoeba, who wants to eat his obnoxiously ebullient friend Peggy, a paramecium. In the second book, Squish is starting a new school year and finds that he has made it into the cool crowd with the Algae, the “coolest microorganisms in the pond.” But Squish soon finds out that being with the popular kids comes with a price that is too high for him to pay.
Personal Reaction: These are fun, clever reads. I love the artifice of using the microscopic world of a pond as an allegory for the trials of elementary school. Lynnwood is the scariest amoeba in school because he readily, and quite literally, eats and digests other microorganisms. The Algae are the coolest kids because they produce oxygen. As an adult, I found it entertaining to reconsider the life of an amoeba, something that I had not thought about since 9th grade biology class. Kids will enjoy the comic book spoof humor and the problems that relate to this age group.
Themes: following your conscience, bullying, standing up for your friends, father-son relationship, the effects of the inner life of the mind on the outer world, fitting in with social groups, the shifting nature of friendships under pressure.
Squish: Super Amoeba 94 pages 2011 Random House; Squish: Brave New Pond 90 pages, 2011 Random House.
Synopsis: The year is 1735 and the place is the Tower of London. Forrest Harper is an 11 year old boy who is the son of the prison’s Ravenmaster. His days are spent tending to the birds, playing with his rat catching friend Ned, and providing meals to some of the prisoners. Forrest longs for adventure and receives some when a group of Scottish prisoners are sent to the tower. Amongst them is a girl named Maddy who soon fills Forrest’s ear up with tales of her home in Scotland.
As the day of Maddie’s trial and execution approaches, Forest and Ned are tempted to become part of a plot to help her escape. But there is so much at stake. If they are caught, it would surely mean death for them and great shame for Forrest’s family. What will they do?
Personal Reaction: Because I enjoy reading about history and other cultures, this was a quick and easy read for me. Woodruff packs this book with bullies, thugs, and shady people. She also does such an excellent job of building characters and moving the plot along that I truly wanted for Forrest, Ned and Maddie to prevail. After I hit the midway point of this book, I just burned through the rest. I had goosebumps as I read the final pages. I’m not sure that I can give a book higher praise than that.
Themes include father-son relationships, testing of friendships, freedom vs. captivity, bullying, the limits of patriotism, the morality of public executions, child labor, and child cruelty.
225 pages; published 2003
You may not think that a book about Scrabble would keep you turning the pages, but Meg Wolitzer’s The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman kept me engaged.
Duncan and his mother have just moved across the country to Drilling Falls, Pennsylvania to live with Aunt Djuna. Just as he is settling into his new school, Duncan discovers that he has a secret power: his left hand is able to read the words and pictures on a page just by moving his fingers across them. When school bully and hardcore Scrabble player Ken Colter discovers this ability, he convinces Duncan that he could be amazing at Scrabble. His magic fingertips would allow him to choose whatever word tiles he wanted from the tile bag. Ken and Duncan are soon on their way to the national Scrabble tournament in Yakaminee, Florida. But Duncan is unsure whether he wants to go, and if he does, will he be able to put up with Ken’s bullying and use his super power to cheat their way to the finals?
This book has other interesting characters that all meet at the Scrabble tournament. Wolitzer deftly juggles these different storylines while managing to keep the plot moving forward. I especially liked how the author’s obvious love of words and the game of Scrabble came through. Readers will appreciate some of the clever wordplays. Who knew, for instance, that MARASCHINO is an anagram of HARMONICAS?
Themes explored in this book include bullying, missing fathers, discovering your talents, and first crushes. I definitely recommend this book to readers ages 10 and above.
294 pages. Published 2011.