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The Cardturner: A Novel about a King, a Queen, and a JokerThe Cardturner: A Novel about a King, a Queen, and a Joker by Louis Sachar

I wish I’d reviewed this closer to actually reading it, because it’s an excellent book and deserves a thoughtful review. In short, I loved it so much more than I expected – I even read the optional bridge sections, although I can’t say I always understood them. I loved the narrative style and thought it was perfect for the story, and the characters were just perfect.

The plot took turns I wouldn’t have predicted, and this was mostly successful – there was one thing in the resolution of the story that I enjoyed at the time, but didn’t quite seem to fit in retrospect, and that one plot element is really the only thing holding me back from giving this five stars.

I picked it up when it made SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books this spring.

Source: my public library system

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Given my deep and abiding love for M.T. Anderson’s writing, it’s no surprise that his contribution to SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books is my favorite so far.  In his round, he was forced to choose between Deborah Heiligman’s Charles and EmmaThe Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and Jacqueline Kelly’s .  For the record, I called the match accurately on my bracket, going with my head over my heart.  Whee!  But that takes a back seat to watching a master at work discussing these two fabulous books.  If you’re not already following the Battle of the Books, it’s not too late!  Tuesday is the last match of Round 2, with Round 3 and the Big Kahuna Round left (plus the winner of the undead poll!  My choice is still in the running, but nothing is guaranteed.)

Things that I particularly enjoyed about Anderson’s commentary:

  • Darwin vs. Darwin, or as he puts it: “I’m forced to compare apples to apples: two books about scientific investigation, Darwinism, and large families, both with yellow foolscap covers ornamented with Victorian silhouettes.”  Two books that are, “if not the same species, then at least, er, a case of convergent evolution resulting in paired traits appearing in separate clades.”  What he said.
  • The idea of an Octavian Nothing-shaped topiary.  There should be a whole children’s literature-inspired topiary garden somewhere in the world.
  • He nails what I loved about Calpurnia (as well as what’s potentially problematic – the episodic nature and lack of tension).  I’d forgotten the line about “pitching woo,” a phrase I always associate with Anne (of Green Gables, of course) being outraged at the idea of “pitching and mooning.”
  • The spoiler warnings.  “*** SPOILER *** Charles Darwin died *** END SPOILER AND BOY ARE YOU SORRY YOU MISSED IT ***”
  • His comments on the Darwins’ many children: “After eight pregnancies, I lost track, and started to develop a wearying sense that no sooner did Emma D. stumble out of the borning-room, a new babe delivered into its swaddling clothes, than her husband was lurking in the corridor, crooking a come-hither finger and whispering about the origin of the species.”  Like all great writers, Anderson does that thing of putting into words exactly what you were feeling, but much more articulately.  See, I feel inarticulate just trying to compose that sentence.

Oh, just go read the thing already.  And while you’re at it, don’t miss my other favorite “can’t wait to check in on it every day” event – Fuse #8’s Top 100 Children’s Novels Poll, which is down to #11.

The Frog Scientist (Scientist in the Field) The Frog Scientist by Pamela S. Turner

I don’t read many science books cover to cover, but this one stands out for two reasons. First, it actually makes the scientific method sound interesting. Turner goes through the process of creating and testing a hypothesis in a somewhat simplified but fascinating way. It’s both a nifty experiment – the idea of thousands of frogs growing in Hayes’ laboratories – and one with a practical, immediate use – whether certain pesticides should be banned. A book like this would be a great tie-in to any lessons on experiments or the real-world applications of biology. It’s also a great read for any kid interested in a career in science, or anyone who loves frogs.

Which leads me to the second reason this stands out – like Frogs, the photographs are great. Some of the lab photos look pretty posed, but they still give a sense of what Hayes and his students are doing in the lab. But the frog photos really shine and would make this a treat for frog fans to flip through.

Chapters are fairly short but in-depth, probably making this a good choice for strong readers, maybe 4th grade and up, although I think it would still interest middle school and even some high school readers.

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This is on the list for SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books this year – one of the 5 titles I hadn’t already read.  One down, four to go.  The others are Marching for Freedom; Peace, Locomotion; The Storm in the Barn; and Sweethearts of Rhythm. I’ve got to fill out my brackets before the judging starts!  I’ve got the top half figured out – I’ve got high hopes for The Lost Conspiracy, but there are several others that I’d be happy to see make it to the last round.  But really, I’m more interested in what the celebrity judges have to say than in what they actually pick.  They’ve got some of my favorite authors judging  – where else will I see Nancy Farmer, Gary Schmidt, Jim Murphy, Shannon Hale, M.T. Anderson, Megan Whalen Turner and Katherine Paterson in the same place?  I’m trying not to squeal.

December 2021

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