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Monday, October 25, 2010

The Aristobrats (long overdue)

I received this book from a publisher ages ago and have been meaning to post about it since, but life and the Cybils got in the way. So here comes the long-overdue Aristobrats post.

When I first began this book, I felt totally detached from the characters. Theirs is an almost ridiculously privileged life that I just couldn't connect with. I'd never heard of most of the designer names these tweeny-bopper characters throw around. They seemed initially so shallow, I just couldn't see what kind of gripping plot could possibly develop with them at center stage.

But. As the book progressed, I was quite pleasantly surprised. It wasn't a typical popular-girls-realize-their-shallowness-and-reform kind of plot. It was different, and it was good in its own way, more believable in its own way. The four best friends, "Lylas" (love-you-like-a-sister-s), are at the top of the populadder when they begin their eighth-grade year at their over-the-top-prestigious private middle school. But then they're shocked, and bumped down a few rungs, when they are assigned to head the school's totally uncool webcast. Where I assumed the plot was headed after this revelation---popular girls decide to rock the webcasting thing and by virtue of their own popularity and general coolness turn it around and make it awesome, making them again the toast of the school---was not, in fact, where the plot was headed.

So yes. While it was not initially my cup of tea, I did appreciate it in the end. Maybe I was guilty of some bottom-up pride and snobbery of my own. So thumbs up for The Aristobrats' surprising fun and not-as-shallow-as-I-thought-ness. Recommended for middle-school-aged girls.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Turtle in Paradise

Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm (author of Babymouse, for you fans!)
2010 Cybils nominee, Middle Grade Fiction

It is so cool that this book was inspired by author Jenni Holm's family history.  The book takes place in Florida during the Great Depression.  Turtle is a sassy eleven year old, and because her mother's employer doesn't approve of the housekeeper bringing children along, she is sent to live with her cousins in Key West.  There she discovers what her rowdy cousins are up to, what an alligator pear is, and what can happen when you dig for buried treasure.

I loved Turtle.  She is so good at the quick comeback.  She's the witty part of me that was always either late to the scene or suppressed by my polite side. She's not just snotty, she's smart and well behaved, and easy to love.  I also loved a couple of the characters who love her:  Kermit and Slow Poke were my faves.  Anyway, obviously Holm did a great job making the characters seem real.

Many of the analogies in the book came from the popular culture of the time.  Turtle references Little Orphan Annie, Shirley Temple, Terry and the Pirates, and so on.  I was fairly familiar with all of the references made.  Would kids who don't recognize these icons be put off by these analogies?  I don't know.

Anyhow, great story.  Great writing.  Having hung out with a gang of cousins, I can vouch that the spirit of that craziness is well captured here.  

Friday, October 8, 2010

Keturah and Lord Death

Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt

"I'm kind of dying to know how it ends." I told Jacob in the middle of the book.  He did his "har-har-very-punny" laugh, but I hadn't actually meant the pun.  Leavitt just does a very good job of building suspense.

This is an original fairy tale, though it has the whole Arabian Nights thing going since Keturah manages to stay alive after a brush with Lord Death by promising him the ending to her story tomorrow.  She's known in her feudal village for her storytelling, and Leavitt gives her a beautiful voice.  The imagery in the story is just lovely, and where imagery is deliberately vague (what does Death look like, after all?) mood is there in buckets.

The pacing was spot on, too.  If this book had been written by another author it could have gone on and on.  As it is, you know that Keturah is thinking and scheming but she never shares her innermost thoughts.  Perhaps that helps with the suspense.  Anyway, it's a slim book, and not a word is wasted.

This is one I want to add to my collection, and I think it would be fabulous if read aloud.  If you like fairy tales (the meat and cheese kind, not the bubblegum and lollipop kind), you'll like Keturah and Lord Death. It was a finalist for the National Book Award, too. Thanks to Shannon Hale for mentioning it on her blog.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Baby Baby Baby!

Baby Baby Baby! is a new board book by Marilyn Janovitz.


Alysa's take:
On the day my new baby was officially two weeks old, this review copy came to my door. How fun!  And I'm happy to say that it is just as fun to read with a two-year old as with a new baby.  The bright illustrations provide visual entertainment, and the baby is dressed in gender neutral colors.  The text is easy to turn into actions for a crazy toddler.  Also, something I find important with rhyming books, the meter is not stilted or difficult to figure out.

Ashley's take:
I have had great fun reading this book with my 8-month-old. The interactivity of it is so cute. He just grins and grins as we clap hands, "nuzzle baby's ears," "tickle your face," and "Dance, dance, dance!" The rhyming is sweet---no trite "nose" and "toes" combos. Totally cute board book. Definitely recommended for your bitsy bouncy baby. :)
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