Friday, March 25, 2011

Review - "Ruby Lu, Star of the Show"

In 2004, Ruby Lu, star of Ruby Lu, Brave and True by Lenore Look, joined the ranks of Ramona, Judy Moody and Junie B. Jones as the newest precocious youngster in the chapter book set.  Since then, Ruby has appeared in two more books, 2006’s Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything and the new Ruby Lu, Star of the Show.  With this newest title, she’s also gotten a makeover, care of new illustrator Stef Choi (the previous two titles were illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf).
In Ruby Lu, Star of the Show, the family faces their biggest challenge yet when Ruby’s father loses his job and the family purse-strings are tightened.  First on the chopping block are obedience lessons for Ruby's new dog, Elvis, who knows many cool tricks, like yoga, but needs help with the basics, like sit.  Ruby’s mother gets a job, and Ruby herself learns to adjust to life with a stay-at-home-dad.  (Sound familiar?  It should – the plot is similar to Beverly Cleary’s Ramona and Her Father).  Ruby tries many things to help the family through this rough patch, including running her own spa where her friends (with money scanned from the computer) all get new haircuts to engaging in a bit of pet therapy when her father seems down in the dumps.  But Ruby’s biggest challenge comes at the end of the book, when she discovers the past of her beloved Elvis, and learns the value in giving to others in need. 
Even though it harkens back to Cleary’s book from 1977, the Lu family’s struggles are very representative of our current economic climate.  Ruby’s is not the only family on the block with a parent out of work, and this takes its toll on the children, too.  There’s a very moving moment in Star of the Show in which Ruby’s father divides up money that was found and never claimed between two neighborhood families, keeping none for himself.  This allows Panchito, who has had a hard time making friends, mostly because of his own attitude, to try candy from Fred’s candy store for the first time and decide that he does, in fact, like candy.  In fact, “[h]e liked it very much.”  The issue of money is handled delicately, but realistically.  Despite Ruby’s worrying, never does it feel like the Lu family is in danger of losing their home, or going hungry, but the effort of job hunting takes its toll, and it shows in arguments between the parents. 
Ruby’s trademark humor is in full force as well.  Beyond the at home spa, there’s Ruby’s haikus in class, on everything from her dog to her “mean” teacher, Mr. Yu: “Monsters are creepy/Sneaky, send notes home with grades./Monster should not teach”.  After this incident, Ruby decides she doesn’t want to be a third-grade teacher any more (Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, anyone?).  Of course, Ruby makes up with her teacher, and even attends tutoring after school to help with her grades.  Ruby and her cousin, Flying Duck, even win the school’s Halloween costume contest, in their “cheap” homemade/dad-made costumes: Ruby as a washing machine, Flying Duck as the dryer.  Even little brother Oscar gets into the act as a bottle of detergent.
I always look forward to a new Lenore Look title.  She’s someone to recommend to nearly every reader.  I put her Alvin Ho books into the hands on every Wimpy Kid enthusiast that I can find, and I do the same for Ruby Lu and fans of the aforementioned Judy Moody and Junie B.  I think Ruby Lu has earned her place on the reading list next to Beverly Clearly, Barbara Park and Megan McDonald as a solidly entertaining and rewarding early chapter book.  I can’t wait to see what she gets into next. 
A note on the cover: I’m not really a fan of the new look.  The inside illustrations are just fine, but the cover image is a bit too girly to me, a bit too generic.  Ruby looks like any other big-eyed, apple-cheeked cartoon little girl.  She’s lost her Ruby-ness.  Of course, in my universe, all Look’s books would be illustrated by LeUyen Pham.  But that’s just me. 
Ruby Lu, Star of the Show by Lenore Look (ill. Stef Choi)
2011, Atheneum
Library copy

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