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JunoniaJunonia by Kevin Henkes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While this looks like the usual “quiet” book – the kind that adults rave about and kids ignore – I do think this one will have real appeal for a certain kind of child. The type who notices details and nuances of mood, the kind who feels things strongly and likes reading stories that acknowledge that in between place of being ten. Reading this, I kept thinking, “I remember that feeling!” And for some kids, I think that kind of acknowledgment can be incredibly validating.

The development of setting (you’ll wish you could stay in Scallop) characters (flawed and nuanced) make this book stand out. I’m relishing the fact that the plot centers around details – that it’s the little shifts in mood and circumstances that have such a great effect on Alice. To me, Henkes really gets the essence of being a kid – whether in a chapter book like this or in his picture books.

One thing the book could have used more of is Henkes characteristic humor. This would have lightened the book a little and not sacrificed any of the other themes, I think. Still, I’d recommend it. It would be a great winter read to give you a sense of vacation, just like Alice’s annual winter trip to Florida.

Source: my public library

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Anya's GhostAnya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Here’s a nicely creepy blend of a ghost story, a high school outsider story, and a graphic novel. I loved that Anya as a character doesn’t feel like someone you’ve already met in a young adult book. Her family came to the US from Russia when she was young, and as she puts it, she “served her time in ESL.” She lost the accent but she still feels like an outsider. Things get stirred up when she falls down an old well and meets the ghost of a girl who died there in 1918 – and this ghost is a tricksy character. Emily is lonely and wants out of the well, but she’s tied to her bones – a problem she solves when Anya accidentally removes a tiny bone during her rescue. Emily sets out to prove she’s useful, but her interfering ends up forcing Anya to take a good hard look at who she is and what she values.

Recommended to any high school readers (or adults) who enjoy stories about outsiders with a side of creepy. The story works wonderfully in the graphic format, with facial expressions and settings quickly adding a lot of information that would otherwise slow a story down. Anya – and Emily – ring true as teenagers (I particularly liked Anya’s description of why she doesn’t like going to church with Russians).

Source: my public library

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Princess Posey and the Perfect Present: Book 2Princess Posey and the Perfect Present: Book 2 by Stephanie Greene

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a delightful creature of a book, hovering in between a beginning reader and a chapter book. The chapters give it a nice sense of substance that will appeal to kids who want the look of a chapter book but aren’t quite ready to tackle something thicker. The large font is great for kids still sounding out words and the frequent illustrations are perfectly suited to the story. Posey deals with the kind of problem that seems huge when you’re small, but she also triumphs in little things like being able to walk into school alone. A very slim chapter book dealing with the ups and downs of first grade is just the thing for those kids who pick up on reading early and want realistic stories about kids like themselves.

Source: my public library

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Doc: A NovelDoc: A Novel by Mary Doria Russell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Russell can do some amazing things with character and setting, and her prose style is nothing to sneeze at either. Which explains why I picked up a book about historical figures that I knew nothing about. I mean, I’d heard to Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp, but I literally had no idea what happened to them, why they’re famous, or how their stories played out. I intentionally didn’t look them up because I wanted to be surprised as the story unfolded.

Russell certainly makes them stand on their own as fascinating characters, so having no preconceptions worked just fine.  However, the end of the book totally fell flat since she did a lot of hinting/foreshadowing about the incidents that made them famous, but she never took us through those famous moments – they were only mentioned in what felt like a rushed conclusion. It’s a good book, but I might not have been the right reader for it.

Source: my public library

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Okay for NowOkay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you liked The Wednesday Wars, you must read this. Schmidt hits a lot of the same notes again, but his style – the voice, the characters, the whole thing – is so pitch perfect that I immediately wanted to start it over from the beginning (a rare feeling for me). In fact, I listened to the audio and then read the print version a few months later. The only downside to the audio is that you’ll want to look up the Audubon illustrations in a book or online, because they’re really key to the story. When I reread the print version, I found myself flipping back to that chapter’s illustration anytime the image was discussed.

The book’s only flaw is that it stuffs in a few too many things plot-wise, but for me that never detracted from the story. Not perfect, but pretty close. And I’m not lying.

Source: my public library

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Clementine (Clementine, #1)Clementine by Sara Pennypacker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Clementine is awesome. Why did I wait so long to pick up this series? It’s like getting a glimpse inside the head of that kid who never seems to be paying attention, who’s always getting involved in ridiculous incidents like cutting a classmate’s hair, and who is just plain exasperating. Except, when you get inside her head, it all makes sense. People are always saying, “Clementine, pay attention!” and it’s unfair because she IS paying attention – she’s paying attention to what’s happening outside the classroom window, or to what someone else is saying. She’s paying attention to the things that seem important to HER.

I haven’t laughed this hard in a while – and the audio version is pitch perfect. I can still hear Clementine’s voice in my head every time I type “pay attention.” The only downside to listening to the book is missing out on Marla Frazee’s perfect illustrations – get a copy of the book to flip through while you listen and enjoy the best of both worlds. It’s a quick, funny read with great pacing and well-rounded characters – highly recommended.

Source: my public library

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The Penderwicks on Gardam StreetThe Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rereading this one on audio was sheer fun. This is the only Penderwicks book (so far) that the girls spend at home, and I loved seeing how they interact with their everyday world. Their house, the neighbors (the boys down the street and the new family next door), friends, school, and the fantastic area in the woods that’s both a refuge and a place to let loose their imaginations.*

The plot centers around the fact that their father has (very reluctantly) started dating. This leads to lots of humor, of course, but also some pain for both him and the girls. This gets resolved in a way that was easy for me to spot a mile away, and I think a lot of kids will spot it, too. And I think there’s something comforting in being able to predict what will happen. It’s ultimately a happy-ending book, and I think some kids like having the reassurance that happiness is on its way.

As with the first book, the fact that the girls have a wide age-range and quite different personalities makes this a great family read-aloud, whether you listen to the excellent audio version or read it aloud yourself. There are different levels of enjoyment, too, depending on whether you’re four and identify with Batty or whether you’re an adult and can figure out what Mr. Penderwick is up to on his dates with Marianne.

*Can I just take a minute and say how much I love books that acknowledge that kids need these places that are their own? Whether it’s a fort in the backyard or a city park or a bit of woods they can wander in alone. I tended to be an indoor kid, I think, but I have vivid memories of backyard forts that felt wild and private. I also think of the little wooded area by my elementary school that seemed enormous and special and was home to all of our imaginative play at recess. It was filled with magic back then, I swear.

Source: my public library

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And here’s what I had to say about it when I first read it back in 2008:

Like the family Hilary McKay’s books, the Penderwicks cover a variety of ages in characters (preschool through 8th grade), which I think would make them good choices for any reader within that range, or for a family read. The Penderwicks on Gardam Street is full of references to children’s books, and has plenty of humor (although some of it might go over younger heads) and a variety of adventures undergone by each sister. A great book for a hot summery day.

Like the first book, The Penderwicks, this one almost seems more like a nostalgic pick-up for librarians and teachers and parents than a book for children – and that thought distracted me a little as I read it. However, I think it’s also a great pick for kids who like old-fashioned stories (the book is contemporary, but has a timeless quality) – stories about families and everyday concerns and defending the family honor, but also about loving soccer and writing plays and being interested in Latin and dark matter. In other words, I would totally have loved it as a child. And I know of families in search of books like that, so I think there is a real audience for it.

Dark DudeDark Dude by Oscar Hijuelos

I picked this one up because it was the only book from the Oregon Reader’s Choice Award senior division that I hadn’t already read. It was also a story that I wouldn’t ordinarily be drawn to, and I think it’s important as a librarian to read widely so that I can recommend widely.

I never quite knew where the story was going – it takes place partly in New York and partly in rural Wisconsin – two places where Rico doesn’t quite fit in. I thought the characters were interesting, and Hijuelos has some great observations about being in that strange, in-between place where you belong yet don’t belong. I’d recommend it to teens who are interested in reading about those experiences – either as a reflection of their own lives, in some way, or as a window into what other teens experience.

Source: my public library

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The Penderwicks (The Penderwicks, #1)The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this when I read it in 2005, and I enjoyed the 2nd one as well, so I thought I’d reread them on audio in preparation for the third book. I’m sure glad I did – I really loved the Penderwicks this time around. The audio versions are excellent – they feel like the sort of thing you should listen to on a family car-trip, with something for everyone. The range of kids is similar to other classic series like the The Saturdays (and yeah, I think the Penderwicks will reach classic status, too).

I’ve heard various complaints about these books – that they’re not original (too derivative of the older series) and that adults love them but kids don’t. Tell that to the girl who breathlessly asked in the children’s library if we had The Penderwicks at Point Mouette and was overjoyed when I grabbed it from the processing pile for her.

This first one might be my least favorite of the three – the series just keeps getting better. A little sweet, a lot funny, and some timeless adventures – just what you need for a summer audio book.

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