Monday, October 24, 2011

Review - "Marty McGuire"

Marty McGuire does not do princesses. She doesn't do frilly dresses or tiaras or waltzes. She'd much prefer to be playing outdoors, rescuing imaginary chimpanzees like Jane Goodall and pretending to win the Nobel Peace Prize. But when it comes time for the third grade play, "The Frog Prince", Marty is called upon to be the princess, and she's not happy about it. Eventually she gets into the whole acting thing, with the help of a wonderful teacher, and even finds herself having fun, learning to improvise and looking forward to the performance. But there's just one thing wrong: the stuffed frog taking the place of the enchanted prince is limp and silly looking, and after one particularly enthusiastic throw from Marty, missing a leg. So Marty and her friend Rupert come up with an ingenious plan to spice up the play, just in time for performance night.
It's hard to be different sometimes, but the refreshing thing about the title character of Kate Messner's Marty McGuire is that she finds being different not much of an issue at all. So what if she doesn't like princesses and dancing and other girly things? Marty is just fine with herself the way she is, and though she does learn to compromise, she doesn't change to be like the other girls. There is a subplot to the story that involves Marty's best friend Annie going over to the side of filly things and making new friends at dance class, and this obviously causes some jealousy on Marty's part, but again, doesn't have her running to "fit in" in order to get Annie back. She takes her mother's advice, and lets Annie come back on her own. It's nice to have a heroine like Marty, who is practical, in a third grade kind of way, and has the humor and sensibility to go with the bumps of life, even if it takes some talking to bring her around.
A note on the illustrations: Brian Floca does a wonderful job (surprise, surprise) of capturing little quiet moments, such as Marty listening through the door, with her favorite stuffed animal Bob the lion at her side, along with the bigger louder moments. The black and white illustrations are very lively. I love how the cover image catches Marty with her sleeves rolled up, in the process of doing a very un-girly thing. It's a perfect moment of stillness right before the action starts.

Marty McGuire by Kate Messner (ill. by Brian Floca)
2011, Scholastic Press
Library copy

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Southern Festival of Books

This weekend, I took a day off work and attended the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville.  I and my party arrived first thing in the morning, around 8:30 am, primed to see the first major speaker of the day, Pseudonymous Bosch, author of the hit “Secret” series (The Name of this Book is Secret, etc).  To my dismay, Mr. Bosch was a no show, his name not even on the program any more.  Conspiracy?  I think so.
 We looked around for a bit after that, checking out the booths, and chatting with representatives from Usborne, and authors Mary Casanova and Mark Wayne Adams (who gives a great presentation).  We when from there to our first panel of the day, featuring Sarah Sullivan, author of the lovely Passing the Music Down and Laura Murray, author of Gingerbread Man Loose in the School.  Both women were very informative about their process, and the panel was a success.  Immediately following this panel was another one in the same room, a YA discussion on teens coping with real world issues featuring authors Susan Vaught, with her new book Going Underground, and Judy Christie, author of Wreath, her first novel for YAs.  The authors spoke well about their books, but the discussion afterwards declined into a ‘what you can and can’t say in a YA book’.
 This was followed by lunch, from a food bus parked on the side of the road, the name of which I’ve now forgotten.  Tasty chicken on a stick, though.
 Following lunch, we canvassed the booths again, I got my picture taken with Llama Llama (in his red pajamas), and we made our way to the House Chambers to see Ruta Sepetys speak about Between Shades of Gray.  First of all, if you haven’t read Between Shades of Gray, get thee to a library immediately.  Secondly, if you ever have a chance to hear Ruta talk, jump.  She gave a wonderful presentation.
 As soon as Ruta’s talk was done, we hurried back to the signing colonnade so I could have my ARC of Bird in a Box signed by Andrea Davis Pinkney (squee!) and then we caught the tail end of Matt Phelan’s presentation on the youth stage about his artwork.  I’ll tell you what, that guy can draw, and he makes it look so easy.  I’m so looking forward to getting my hands on Around the World now.
  All in all it was a lovely afternoon.  And until I see him (or her) in person, I’m not entirely convinced this Pseudonymous Bosch person really exists. *shifty eyes*

Friday, October 7, 2011

Review - "Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie"

Everyone in the world knows the pain of having to say goodbye to someone they love. It's one of those universal levelers that make all peoples equal. Whether it's a parting of friends or a death of a loved one, no matter the age, the pain is real and tender. Books about saying goodbye are plentiful. There are books like Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me that deal with a friend that has moved away and the hole that can leave in someone's life, and there are books too numerous to mention (but take Mockingbird for example) that look at the death of someone close to you. Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie by Julie Sternberg is one of the former kinds of books. The separation at the heart of the book goes right to the soul of its eight-year-old heroine.
Eleanor's parents have bad news. Not the worst (Grandma's doing fine), but still pretty bad. Bibi, Eleanor's one and only beloved babysitter, is moving away. This makes for a very bad summer vacation, "As bad as pickle juice on a cookie." At first, everything reminds Eleanor of Bibi, from her bike to Roma Pizza. Eleanor is blessed with two very understanding and helpful parents, who go out of their way to make things better for their only child. Eventually, Eleanor gets a new babysitter, who has all the right moves, but isn't Bibi. But slowly, this becomes okay. Eleanor and Natalie play games together, go on walks, and wait for the mailwoman every day for a letter from Bibi. Of course, the letter finally comes, and it allows Eleanor some closure.
Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie is written in a semi-poetic language, but one that feels very germane to inner workings of an eight-year-old. Eleanor's feelings are very raw, and very easy to relate to. As I said, who hasn't lost someone? Sternberg does a wonderful job of getting inside Eleanor's head and letting us feel her sadness, her apprehension about joining the third grade, and her growing okay-ness with Natalie and moving on. Illustrations by Matthew Cordell also add to the inviting atmosphere. Because Eleanor has everyone on her side, her parents, her new babysitter, even her friend who is away for the summer, there is very little conflict in this little book, but it seems to get by just fine without it. We wait, just as Eleanor does, for those sure to be comforting words for Bibi, and sure enough, when they come, it's enough to bring a tear to your eye. The final letter is clear and compact, but full of love. Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie is also light and small, but also full of lovely thoughts.
Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie by Julie Sternberg, ill. by Matthew Cordell
2011, Amulet Books
Library copy