One-Minute Book Reviews

November 8, 2008

The ‘How I Survived Middle School’ Series – Nancy Krulick’s Fiction for Preteens, ‘Can You Get an F in Lunch?’ and ‘Madame President’

The first novels in a popular series tell fourth-graders how to apply eye shadow and cope with “hot” boys

Can You Get an F in Lunch? (How I Survived Middle School Series). By Nancy Krulik. Scholastic, 112 pp., $3.99, paperback. Ages: See discussion below.

Madame President (How I Survived Middle School Series). By Nancy Krulik. Scholastic, 112 pp., $3.99, paperback. Ages: See discussion below.

By Janice Harayda

The advance reading copies of these novels included publicity material that recommended them for 8-to-12-year-olds – a surprising age range for books that offer a full page of makeup tips and a quiz called “What Kind of Girl Are You?” that begins, “There’s a new boy in school and you think he’s really hot …”

Did Scholastic think that third-graders needed to read about how to put on eye shadow and cope with “hot” boys? I went to its Web site and found that that the answer was “No”: Scholastic thinks fourth-graders need to read about them. It apparently raised the lowest recommended age for the books by a year after printing the advance reading copies.

This change was hardly reassuring. Tips on makeup and boys may be fine for girls at the upper end of the age range for these books, the first in a popular series. But their heroine is 11 and ½ when her story begins, and children generally prefer to read about characters who are slightly older than they are. So most readers of these early books are apt to be 10 or younger. What will a 9-year-old fourth grader find it in them? Tips like these from Can You Get an F in Lunch?:

“BLUE-EYED BABES: Brown and rose eye shadows were made for you. Apply the shadow from lash lines to creases in your eyelids. Then top it with some dark brown or black mascara.”

Any publisher who tried to sell 9-year-olds a nonfiction book of makeup tips might face parental anger and resistance from school libraries. But Scholastic has found a way around the problem by incorporating the advice into novels and a companion Web site that its heroine consults and young readers may also visit.

You can read this marketing ploy as either as a) a harmless sign of the times and a logical extension of girls’ interest in toys like Bratz dolls or b) another sick example of premature sexualization and a publisher’s hope that people have forgotten the horror of seeing pictures of JonBenét Ramsey in full makeup. Either way, girls are finding their way to the novels. Jenny McAfee, the main character, has a blog on the series Web site that drew more than 700 comments for one post alone. And you wish that the books repaid that interest with more literary merit.

Jenny is kind and wholesome — her worst word is “Yikes” — and tells her story through down-to-earth first-person narration. She recovers quickly from her early setbacks in middle school (in Can You Get an F in Lunch?). And she wages a clean campaign against the odds when she runs for sixth-grade class president against her nasty ex-best friend, Addie, who has dropped her for a popular clique (in Madame President). Both novels spell out their themes plainly: Difficult situations get easier, hard work pays off, and true friends like you for who you are, not for what you own.

But this is standard tween series fare, built not on character development but on a fast pace and familiar anxieties – homework, new teachers, bad cafeteria food, taunts from older students, and off-again, on-again plans for trips to the mall. The “How I Survived Middle School” novels differ from others mainly in the women’s-magazine-style tips and pop quizzes scattered throughout the books and their Web site. And the advice raises its own problems.

Some of the tips in the series might help younger middle school students. But even the best raise the question of whether girls benefit from such an early indoctrination into the idea that they need advice on beauty, popularity and similar topics from people besides their parents, teachers and others who know them.

This series makes you wonder: Is anybody giving such advice to 9-year-old boys? You might argue, correctly, that boys tend to read other kinds of books. But to the degree that that’s true, this series reinforces stereotypes of girls no matter how much interest Jenny may have in playing basketball and running for class president.

If I had a 9- or 10-year old daughter, I wouldn’t refuse to buy these books for her. But I would offer her many other things to read, too – classics, good contemporary fiction and nonfiction, and, yes, the novels her brothers like. If she wanted advice on dealing with cliques and the other topics covered in the series, I would encourage her to visit the appropriate pages (“Kids” or “Teens”) of the award-winning Web site, KidsHeath, including kidshealth.org/kid/feeling/friend/clique.html. And in gentle way, I would suggest a potential drawback to those recommended “rose eye shadows”: Instead of turning her into” blue-eyed babe,” they could make her look as though she got a chronic eyelid disease at sleepaway camp.

Best line: From Can You Get an F in Lunch?: “If Addie and Dana and the rest of their clique were supposed to be so popular, how come there were so few of them? Didn’t being ‘popular’ mean that you were liked by everyone?”

Worst line: Also from Can You Get an F in Lunch?: “Soon, Addie, Dana, and Claire were exchanging pots of eye shadow and blush with the older girls, bonding over their collections of Cover Girl, Hard Candy, and Jessica Simpson Dessert makeup.”

Caveat lector: In this series, middle school begins with the sixth grade — not with the fifth as at many schools – and Jenny McAfee is 11 ½ years old in its first book. The upper age limit for these novels would probably be 10 or 11 in places where middle school begins in fifth grade. But there’s a weird disconnect: At least in the first two books, the series doesn’t deal with topics that would naturally interest girls who are old enough to wear makeup, including menstruation and breast development. This review was based on an advance reading copy, and some material in the finished books may differ.

Read an excerpt from the series at www2.scholastic.com/browse/collateral.jsp?id=10789.

Published: June 2007 www.middleschoolsurvival.com The latest novel in the “How I Survived Middle School” series is Who’s Got Spirit?.

Better choices: A few that are available in most bookstores and libraries: The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the 2008 Caldecott Medal winner and perhaps the year’s biggest hit among 9-year-olds; The Higher Power of Lucky, the 2007 Newbery Medal winner, which may appeal to 10-year-olds; and Russell Freedman’s fine biographies for ages 9-12 Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery and Martha Graham: A Dancer’s Life.

Furthermore: Nancy Krulik has written many popular books for children and teens.

Janice Harayda is a novelist and award-winning critic who reviews books for children or teenagers every Saturday on this site, often in more depth than publications such as School Library Journal do. Please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed to avoid missing these reviews.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

November 1, 2008

Fiction, Nonfiction and Poetry About Sports for Grades K–8, Recommended by the Country’s Leading Children’s Literature Journal

Often I disagree with the reviews in the Horn Book, the country’s leading journal of children’s literature, which at times seem to favor books suited for schools and libraries at the expense of those that are pure fun. You probably aren’t going to find the magazine giving much play to Bob Phillips’s Awesome Good Clean Jokes for Kids (Harvest House, 207 pp., $3.99, paperback), which you can buy off the rack at CVS and might delight any 5-to-8-year-old on your holiday list.

But the Horn Book brings a seriousness of purpose to reviewing that’s all the more valuable now that so many book-review sections have died. And its editors have a leg up on most children’s book reviewers – to say nothing of bloggers — at gift-giving time: They see pretty much everything that gets published.

So if you’re looking for good books about sports for ages 5 to 13 or so, you could do worse than to look at its list of recommended fiction, nonfiction and poetry for grades kindergarten though 8 (and maybe higher)
www.hbook.com/resources/books/sports.asp. The Horn Book editors also suggest books about sports for preschoolers. I’ll post my gift suggestions for sports and other books in a few weeks.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

October 26, 2008

Late Night With Jan Harayda – Literary Halloween Costumes for Children

Bandicoot-Lapin Lancelot

Not long ago the New York Times ran a story that described a $156 French-made Lancelot costume that you could buy for a baby and hang as a decoration until a future Halloween. My first reaction to the article was: A three-figure outfit for trick-or-treating? During a worldwide financial crisis? The idea might make some people want to impale the author of the Times story on Excalibur.

Then I started thinking about what children tend to own instead: superhero gear. Some parents clearly have spent far more than $156 on, say, Spider-man toys, games, sheets, pillowcases, T-shirts and more. And didn’t the greatest Knight of the Round Table en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lancelot deserve as much respect as Spidey? Something to think about, isn’t it? The costumes are made by Banticoot-Lapin web.tiscali.it/bandicootlapinparis/english/indexuk.htm and sold at John Derian in New York (which inexplicably has mislabed Lancelot’s hood and suit as a Camen outfit on its site www.johnderian.com/index_home.html). Bandicoot-Lapin makes more than a dozen other costumes based on fairy-tale or mythological characters, so its site could inspire your homemade literary costumes, too.

© 2008 Janice Harayda All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

October 25, 2008

Good Thanksgiving Poems for Children

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Apple pie,
Pumpkin pie,
turkey on the dish!
We can see
we can eat
everything we
wish, wish, wish, wish.

From Else Holmelund Minarik’s “Apple Pie”

Merrily Comes Our Harvest In: Poems for Thanksgiving. Selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins. Illustrations by Ben Schecter. 32 pp., varied prices and editions. Ages 3 and up.

By Janice Harayda

Thanksgiving has resisted the tarting up that has tarnished other holidays, and this book is for families who want to keep it that way. Lee Bennett Hopkins has collected on its pages 20 short and poems, most with strong rhymes, by writers including Marchette Chute and Myra Cohn Livingston. And Hopkins’s upbeat selections give the book a warm and nostalgic air.

In simple and often witty language, these poems celebrate traditional pleasures such as turkey, pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, grandparents and honoring the bond between the Pilgrims and Indians. “Simple” does not mean “dumbed-down.” Hopkins gives children credit for being able to understand metaphor by including Alice Crowell Hoffman’s “November’s Gift,” which begins: “November is a lady / In a plain gray coat / That’s very closely buttoned / Up around her throat.” He ends with Aileen Fisher’s alliterative acrostic poem, “All in a Word,” which expresses gratitude for things that begin with the letters in “thanks”: “T for time to be together, / turkey, talk, and tangy weather.”

A few poems subtly mention God in their last lines, a radical act by the ideological standards of contemporary picture books. And Ben Shecter enhances all the entries with gentle brown-black line drawings, many cross-hatched, depicting eras that range from Pilgrim to Victorian times. His picture for “November’s Gift” casts the “lady” in the first line of the poem as a larger-than-life figure who hovers above a village as leaves fly, suggesting Mother Nature in a bonnet.

Best line/picture: Else Holmelund Minark’s “Apple Pie” isn’t the best poem in the book. But very young children may find it the easiest to remember because its opening lines have the rhythm of a jump-rope rhyme: “Apple pie, / pumpkin pie / turkey on the dish!”

Worst line/picture: Dean Hughes describes a holiday with: “Turkey toes and turkey beaks, / Turkey claws and turkey cheeks” and “Turkey juice and turkey leathers, / Everything, but turkey feathers.” Nice, jaunty rhythm, but that “turkey leathers” seems to be there only for the rhyme.

Caveat lector: Merrily Comes Our Harvest In is out of print and hard to find except at libraries. But you can read two of its poems for free at sites described under “Furthermore” below. And some of its poems appear in other books. “The Pumpkin” is also in Sing a Song of Popcorn. “All in a Word,” “A Thanksgiving Thought” and “The Little Girl and the Turkey” appear in Thanksgiving: Stories and Poems.

Published: 1978

Furthermore: Merrily Comes Our Harvest In includes “Harvest,” or “The Boughs Do Shake,” available for free at www.bbc.co.uk/schoolradio/earlylearning/listenandplay_spring05_programme03.shtml. The book also has “Thanksgiving Time,” posted at www.thanksgiving-day.org/thanksgiving-day-poems.html (along with weaker poems). Among poems not in the Merrily Comes Our Harvest In: NetHymnal makes available for free the text and music for 50 Thanksgiving and harvest hymns, or poems set to music, for anyone looking for religious poems for older children or teenagers. Search www.nethymnal.org for “Thanksgiving” and or click here to find all 50.

Reviews of books for children or teenagers appear every Saturday on One-Minute Book Reviews. To avoid missing these reviews, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

October 18, 2008

Good Sports Stories for Children and Teenagers – Alan Durant’s ‘Score!’

UPDATE on Dec. 3, 2009: Online booksellers in the US have sold out of this one, but it is available under its original title of Sports Stories from UK booksellers including the Book Depository, which offers free shipping to the US.

Score!: Sports Stories. By Alan Durant. Roaring Brook, 264 pp., $6.95, paperback. First published as Sports Stories. Ages: See discussion below.

By Janice Harayda

Score! is an answer to the prayers of many adults who are looking for a gift for a child who likes sports. This outstanding book has 21 stories about young male and female athletes, written by authors from Homer and Matt Christopher. And it covers many popular sports, including soccer, tennis, football, baseball, basketball, swimming, wrestling, bicycling, ice hockey, horseback riding, and track and field.

That breadth alone might set Score! apart from other anthologies. But the book also contains an appealing variety of writing styles – formal and informal, serious and humorous, realistic and futuristic. An overconfident White Sox rookie writes hilariously inane and ungrammatical letters to a friend in Ring Lardner’s classic You Know Me Al. A young swimmer tries to qualify for the Rome Olympics after the death of her boyfriend in an excerpt from In Lane Three, Alex Archer by Tessa Duder, a former world-class swimmer for New Zealand. And a soccer contest 200 years in the future has undertones of wii and other digital games in Malorie Blackman’s “Contact.”

Alan Durant provides helpful introductions for some of his selections, including an excerpt from National Velvet. He writes that Enid Bagnold’s 1935 novel is “the most famous horse racing story in fiction” and inspired a movie that starred Elizabeth Taylor as the teenage horsewoman who disguises herself as a male jockey to enter the Grand National. Then he mentions an unusual aspect of the excerpt: “What makes this description of the race so memorable is the way it is viewed not from the perspective of the competitor, Violet, but from that of the horse’s trainer, Mi, who struggles to follow the race among the crowds of spectators.”

Most of the stories in Score! have a strong plot and would lend themselves to reading aloud. This virtue adds to their appeal in an age when fiction for children, as for adults, is becoming more fragmented and elliptical. Before television, the great radio broadcasters knew that had to use words to draw pictures of games for their listeners, and the best writers in this book do that and more for their young readers.

Best line: In The Iliad Ulysses asks Athena to help him in a foot race, and the goddess obliges by tripping his rival Ajax: “He fell headfirst into a pile of cattle dung, while Ulysses ran on to win the race.” What a brilliant way to get kids interested in Homer: Choose a scene that has somebody falling head first into a dung heap.

Worst line: A couple of stories deal with English sports in a way that may baffle some children. I love P.G. Wodehouse but have no idea what he means in a line about cricket match from his Mike at Wrykyn: “Burgess’s yorker was nearly too much for the latter in the first over, but he contrived to shop it away, and the pair gradually settled down.”

Recommendation? The publisher recommends Score! for ages 9–12. But some of the tales may also appeal to teenagers. The Lardner story, for example, was written for adults and first appeared in the Saturday Evening Post.

Caveat lector: This review was based on the hardcover edition, which has illustrations by David Kearney.

Publisher: 2008 (Roaring Brook paperback), 2000 (Kingfisher hardcover entitled Sports Stories).

Furthermore: Durant lives in England and wrote the “Leggs United” soccer series for children.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

October 11, 2008

‘Katie Loves the Kittens’ – A Picture Book for Children Who Have Been Scolded for Being Too Affectionate With a Pet or New Sibling

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:06 am
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I haven’t seen John Himmelman’s new picture book, Katie Loves the Kittens (Holt, 30 pp., $16.95). But Meghan Cox Gurdon, who is usually right about these things, said in the Wall Street Journal: “On the face of it, this delightful story for children ages 3–8 tells how a small, exuberant dog named Katie must learn to curb her boisterousness in order to earn the trust of three kittens who have just arrived in her household. Subtly, it also works as a parable for any child who has ever been scolded for being too bouncily affectionate with a pet or newborn sibling.” Read Gurdon’s review at online.wsj.com/article/SB122307253831303537.html and about Himmelman at us.macmillan.com/author/johnhimmelman.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

September 26, 2008

John Burningham’s ‘John Patrick Norman McHennessy — the boy who was always late’ — A Great Picture Book Returns in Hardcover in Time for Holiday Gift-Giving

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:52 pm
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A teacher doesn’t believe a boy’s fanciful stories about why he can’t get to class on time

John Patrick Norman McHennessy — the boy who was always late. By John Burningham. Knopf, 40 pp., $16.99. Ages 3 and up.

By Janice Harayda

The Man Booker Prize judges snub Netherland. The Secret outsells Pride and Prejudice on Amazon. Oprah picks another book with woo-woo elements – this time, sentient dogs. A Long Way Gone appears on nonfiction lists even though its publisher has never produced any evidence that Ishmael Beah was a child soldier for so much as one day. The tanking economy won’t help any of this.

The publishing industry is a font of bad news, but sometimes it works as it should: John Burningham’s John Patrick Norman McHennessy — the boy who was always late, one of the great picture books of the 1990s, is back in American stores in the handsome hardcover edition it deserves. A boy gets the last word on a teacher who doesn’t believe his explanations for why he is late for class in this exceptionally imaginative and entertaining book, which has a fine subtext about the degree to which schools penalize creative children. And its large format and exciting pictures make it ideal for story hours, reading aloud, and holiday gift-giving.

Best line/picture: All.

Worst line/picture: None.

Published: 1999 (first American edition) and July 2008 (new hardcover edition).

Furthermore: Burningham won the Kate Greenaway medal, Britain’s Caldecott, for Borka: The Adventures of a Goose With No Feathers and Mr. Gumpy’s Outing. He earned other raves for John Patrick Norman McHennessy, some of which you can read here www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780375852206. The book doesn’t ascribe a nationality to its young hero, but the name “John Patrick Norman McHennesy” might delight families who are proud of their Irish heritage.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

September 14, 2008

Five Great Reference Books for Your Home Library That Also Make Excellent Holiday Gifts – A Librarian’s Favorites

Filed under: A-to-Z Holiday Gift List,Reference — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:18 am
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Lyndon Johnson recited the presidential oath from it on Air Force One.

“I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.”
Musician Tom Waits, as quoted in the Yale Book of Quotations

For years I’ve urged people to consider giving great reference books as holiday gifts, especially to families. Not many $25 bestsellers deliver as much value as the $12.99 World Almanac and Book of Facts, more than a thousand pages packed with sports statistics, election results, the most popular baby names, documents like the Gettysburg Address and more. And in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal Donald Altschiller, a librarian at Boston University, offers a terrific starter list for shoppers in the form of a quintet of reference books that he sees as essential for a home library.

Four of Altschiller’s choices have appeared — in some cases, repeatedly — on my own lists of gift-book recommendations: the Yale Book of Quotations (Yale, 2006), the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), the Merck Manual of Medical Information: Second Edition (2003) and that World Almanac and Book of Facts (World Almanac, 2008). So I’ll take his word for the fifth: the Oxford Atlas of the World (Oxford University Press, 2007). Altschiller explains his choices in “Five Best” online.wsj.com/article/SB122125935106030191.html?mod=2_1167_1 (which accurately describes, for example, some advantages of the Yale Book of Quotations over Bartlett’s). His article also contains a few facts that, as often as I’ve written about these books, I didn’t know. One involves the World Almanac: “In November 1963, during the rushed swearing-in ceremony aboard Air Force One, Lyndon Johnson recited the presidential oath from this invaluable resource.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

September 5, 2008

Children’s Storybooks About Elections, Presidential and Otherwise

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:13 pm
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I try never to miss Meghan Cox Gurdon’s fortnightly reviews of children’s books in the Weekend Edition of the Wall Street Journal, and not just because they show consistently good taste and news judgment: Gurdon is a morally fearless critic who has the number of publishers who try to pass off patronizing twaddle as art. Here is the beginning her review of six storybooks about presidential politics in the Aug. 23–24 Journal:

“Parents keen to make presidential politics ‘relevant’ to their young children will find abundant help in 2008’s extra-large batch of campaign-themed storybooks. But will the tykes care? Children like a bit of fun in their picture books, yet the adult temptation to moralize seems, in most cases, to overwhelm any possibility of an engaging tale.

“Consider, for instance, the story of how a virtuous underdog rises to leadership in Rosemary Wells’s Otto Runs for President (Scholastic). Interestingly, the book is dedicated to Elizabeth Edwards, wife of a onetime Democratic underdog whose virtue now seems … somewhat dog-eared.

“The setting here is a school, all the candidates for president are canines, and the didacticism is as thick as the paint in the illustrations ….”

I admire Rosemary Wells greatly, but Gurdon defines her terms so clearly and writes so persuasively that her review left me in no rush to read about Otto. Gurdon was also underwhelmed by Kelly DiPuccio’s Grace for President and Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s Max for President. (Lane Smith’s Madam President not quite as “morally earnest.” ) So which books about electoral politics might children enjoy more? Next Saturday I’ll review one of them, Kate Feiffer and Diane Goode’s President Pennybaker, also included in Gurdon’s roundup online.wsj.com/public/article/SB121944276577664749.html?mod=2_1167_1.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

August 29, 2008

Laura Bush and Jenna Bush Campaign for Books in ‘Read All About It!’

The first lady stumps for John McCain at the Republican National Convention next week and for reading in a picture book about a boy who becomes a convert to literature

Read All About It! By Laura Bush and Jenna Bush. Illustrated by Denise Brunkus. HarperCollins, 32 pp., $17.99. Ages 4 and up.

By Janice Harayda

The good news is: This book isn’t as bad as Millie’s Book, the bestseller that Barbara Bush wrote entirely in the voice of her pet spaniel. The bad news is: It’s a close call.

Read All About It! is a stump speech posing as a storybook. First lady Laura Bush and her daughter Jenna lobby hard for reading in this tale of a boy who prefers freeze tag to books. One day Tyrone decides to pay attention instead of clowning around when his teacher, Miss Libro, reads to his class, and — presto! — his view changes. The characters in books become real to him: “During a story about our Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin stepped into our classroom, flying a kite.” A dragon appears “as the prince was about to save the princess” in a fairy tale, and a ghost and pig turn up when the teacher reads other books.

But the characters vanish when their stories end. Alarmed, Tyrone and his friends search the school for them, talking with people like Ms. Gravy (a cook in the cafeteria) and Ms. Tonedeaf (the music teacher). The students find the missing characters in the library, and on the last page Tyrone begs with the zeal of the newly baptized, “Miss Libro, let’s read here, in the library!”

The theme of Read All About It! is that if you give books a chance, you may enter magical worlds. And who would disagree that reading can seem magical? But there’s a weird similarity between the Bushes’ just-say-yes-to-reading theme and Nancy Reagan’s just-say-no-to-drugs platform. Whether you’re talking about books or drugs, you don’t usually convert kids with moralizing. Apart from the problems a just-say-yes approach might present for students with ADD or learning disabilities, the plot of Read All About It! is too weak to rescue it from its didacticism.

Roger Sutton, editor-in-chief of the children’s literature journal the Horn Book, wrote in the New York Times Book Review that “kids who don’t like stories won’t be persuaded otherwise” by this one:

“As Tyrone would say, it’s not real. The point is laboriously made, the teachers’ names are dorky, the plot is hectic and the suspense and dialogue are artificial.”

Given that Laura studied to become a librarian and Jenna wrote an earlier book, Sutton wondered: “How could such confirmedly bookish types write an I-love-reading book so fundamentally tone deaf as to why reading can inspire love?”

The tone-deafness goes beyond the dippy names of characters. Princesses still exist in fairy tales – and girls still love to read about them – but in modern stories they are much less likely than in older ones to have a prince “save” them as envisioned in Read All About It!. And in textbooks the phrase “Founding Fathers” is giving way to “founders.” The authors seem to be trying to have it both ways – to appeal to liberals by sometimes using “Ms.” and to conservatives by alluding to princes who “save” princesses and by bringing up those “Founding Fathers.” Apart from any external political considerations that are involved, this approach makes for an internally inconsistent story. And you wonder if it’s a coincidence that Miss Libro is on all levels a more attractive character than the presumptive feminists, Ms. Gravy and Ms. Tonedeaf.

Read All About It! gets what little life it has from its spirited color illustrations by Denise Brunkus, illustrator of the Junie B. Jones series. The book also has six brief reading lists of picture books or early readers, which appear on Miss Libro’s blackboard and which children may find useful. Even those call for caution: More than half of the recommended books come from HarperCollins, publisher of Read All About It!.

But the authors’ reading lists mercifully include E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, a children’s novel that exemplifies the spirit of a comment Sutton made in his review of Read All About It! in the New York Times Book Review: “Children’s librarians could tell you: if you want to convince children of the power of books, don’t tell them stories are good. Tell them a good story.”

So if you want to get children excited about reading, you might skip Tyrone and go straight to Fern, the girl who in Charlotte’s Web saves the scrawny last pig of a litter. White once said, when a critic sent him a scholarly disquisition on that modern classic, “It’s good I did not know what in hell was going on. To have known might well have been catastrophic.” The authors of Read All About It! do know what’s going on, and that’s the problem.

Best line/picture: On the title page a pig nuzzles Tyrone with a Babe-like sweetness that isn’t cloying.

Worst line/picture: No. 1: “Ms. Toadskin thinks she can gross us out with her science experiments. But I live for that stuff!” No. 2: “The library is a boring place! All I will meet there are stinky pages.” No. 3: “And then I had the most brilliant idea EVER. ‘Miss Libro, let’s read here, in the library!’

“’Take it from me, Tyrone! You never know who you are going to meet when you look in a book!’”

Take it from me, everybody! Overusing exclamation points is a sign of weak writing! And italics and boldface, too! The authors don’t get that this is shouting at kids!

Published: May 2008

Consider reading instead: Max’s Words, a far more effective picture book about a boy who discovers the joy of words www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/08/16/.

Futhermore: Read Roger Sutton’s full review here www.nytimes.com/2008/05/11/books/review/Sutton-t.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss. Listen to Laura Bush and Jenna Bush talk about how they wrote their book here www.harpercollinschildrens.com/harperchildrens/parents/gamesandcontests/features/readallaboutit/.

Increased library use helps libraries justify requests for increased funding. Please support public libraries by checking out books or using other services regularly.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

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