The Rundown- July ’17

As I finished this blog, I just realized that all three protagonists in these stories are orphans. How appropro for the month of July 😦  They’re also all classified as “children’s” or “juvenile” fiction, which is interesting.

 

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (new read)

51V2oJ1tNTLThis is one of those books that I’d heard of at a young age, but never knew anything about. The introduction was written by an author who first read it as an adult and said she wished she had done so as young girl because it would have been life changing for her. I didn’t have such a strong reaction, but I can understand the sentiment.

16 year old Kit arrives to her aunt and uncle’s house in Connecticut after leaving Barbados when her Grandfather dies. Their 17th century Puritan community is much different than the freewheeling lifestyle she left behind and her uncle doesn’t approve of the influence she has on her teenage cousins. She also befriends Hannah, who is declared a “witch” by most of the town, but Kit feels she is just misunderstood.

Kit has a lot of fire and passion, and wants to do her own thing. That could definitely be inspiring to young girls making their way through the perils of teenagedom.

VERDICT: This was a departure from many of the books I’ve read lately. The time period of the story is underrepresented in general and it’s rare to see a heroine with such a mind of her own from then as well. For those reasons, I’d keep this book on the list.

 

Saffy’s Angel by Hilary McKay (new read)

Saffys_AngelThe first word that pops into my mind after reading this book is “heartwarming.” I never heard of the story or its author before, but I’m glad I did!

Saffy is a member of the Casson family, with three other siblings: Caddy, Indigo and Rose. Her parents are both artists, with her father working mostly out of town in London. One day, Saffy (short for Saffron) realizes her name is the only one not on the paint chart hanging in their kitchen. She then discovers that she had actually been adopted by her aunt and uncle after her parents died.  Soon after, her grandfather passes away and leaves her an “angel,” whose identity is unknown. We then see Saffy on her journey of self-discovery as she searches for her angel.

I think a lot of kids (and adults) would be able to relate to this story in some way. Even if you’re not adopted, wondering how you fit into any type of group is a common issue we all deal with at some point of our lives.

I was impressed at how well McKay was able to flesh out so many characters in such a short novel. Each of the children have distinct personalities that shine through, even though the main focus is on Saffy. I saw that there are several other books featuring this family, so that might be part of the reason.

VERDICT: I don’t know if this is one of the best books of all time, but it was definitely a sweet and enjoyable story. It’s a toss up for me!

 

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (new read)

61lEzC6Sz3L._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_This next read came with a lot of hype. I remember when it won the Caldecott Medal and how shocking it was, since most winners are short picture books and this novel clocks in at over 500 pages!

I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a unique mix of text and illustration. The story itself was interesting. It contains a real historical figure, that of filmmaker Georges Melies, and many of the details are true, although the other characters are fictional. It takes place in Paris in the 1930s. Most of the action is in a train station, where Hugo lives and takes care of the clocks after his father passes away. It’s categorized as a “historical fiction steampunk” novel.

I really don’t want to say too much more about the plot because part of the fun for me was knowing very little about it before reading and being intrigued at every turn. This is a widely lauded story for good reason– any age would appreciate it!

VERDICT: I thoroughly enjoyed this story and agree with its inclusion as one of the best. It was an enjoyable and suspenseful read.

**I watched the movie this morning and was underwhelmed. Some of the action went by really fast in the movie, that would take pages of illustrations in the book. The reader can control the pace. It also appears that a couple of characters were completely eliminated. I think they could have done more. You can skip this one!**

The Rundown- July ’16

Sachar_-_Holes_CoverartHoles by Louis Sachar (reread)

My first reread of 2016!

I read this book for the first time back in college for my children’s literature class. I should have known I would love it. Louis Sachar is the author, and he wrote one of my faves from when I was little: Sideways Stories from Wayside School. One way I heard this book described was as a “mystery comedy novel,” which I like! It also has elements of a tall tale woven throughout.

Stanley Yelnats, a 14 year old boy, is wrongly accused of stealing a famous baseball player’s shoes and is sent to Camp Green Lake in lieu of jail. His misfortune, as all that happens to his family, is blamed on his “no-good-dirty-rotten pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather”. He is dubbed “Caveman” upon his arrival and spends his days, along with the rest of Tent D, digging five by five feet holes. If anything interesting is found, they may get the rest of the day off! The camp is run by The Warden, with day to day operations being split between Mr. Sir and Mr. Pendanski: not the team you want in charge of your well-being. We see Stanley’s journey, along with the rest of his group, as they try to figure out just what might be interesting enough to get The Warden’s attention. In addition, we also find out some history of Camp Green Lake and of Stanley’s family.

This is just a totally fun book. It’s easy to read and keeps you guessing! Not to mention, the way Sachar weaves the background stories into the main narrative is magical. It was a wonderful reprieve from the foul language and depressing subject matter that I’ve been reading recently.

VERDICT: No question about it—this should absolutely be on the list! With broad appeal, and a unique story, it stands out as a wonderful piece of young adult fiction.

**This is a rare case in which the movie does the book justice. I encourage you to check it out too!

 

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Stewart (new read)510cd0w1aUL

Another great summer read!

This is a classic “save the world” adventure featuring four children, who are identified by a series of tests as having exceptional qualities needed for the task set out by Mr. Benedict. Kate, Reynie, Constance, and Sticky are sent to a school run by evil Mr. Curtain. By working together, they must stop his plan for humankind. Of course, you must read the book to find out what that plan is, and if they stop him!

This story was a real page turner. Lots of suspense and twists, which kept me reading, as the book was close to five hundred pages! I think it would appeal equally to boys and girls, and a myriad of ages.

I know this review is short, but I feel with this particular story it’s better not knowing what you’re getting into!

VERDICT: I loved this book and think it totally deserves to be on the list. I’m looking forward to reading the other books in this series down the road.