Friday, November 27, 2009

Grandma Dowdel is one of my all-time favorite book characters! I first met her in Richard Peck’s “A Long Way from Chicago” and then in his Newbery Award winning story, “A Year Down Yonder”.

Mrs. Dowdel is clever and resourceful and the kind of person who wields great influence (for good) without ever getting due credit for her remarkable wisdom and generosity. Those books took place during the Great Depression, but Peck’s latest book, “A Season of Gifts”, brings us all the way up to the year 1958. I resonate with the era – when I would have been a very young child much like little Ruth Ann Barnhart in the story.

The Barnharts have just moved into the house next door to Mrs. Dowdel. Mr. Barnhart has come as the new Methodist minister and has brought along his wife and three children – innocent little Ruth Ann, rebellious teenage daughter Phyllis, and bullied 12-year old Bob who narrates their season of trials and gifts spent in a small Midwestern town.

Peck truly has his own gift … storytelling. For those who love the style of the tale told by Ralphie in ‘The Christmas Story’ by Jean Shepherd (made into the classic Christmas movie) – pick up these (and other) books by Richard Peck. You won’t be sorry.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd

When Ted and Kat’s cousin Salim disappears while riding the London Eye (the huge ferris-wheel-like observatory vehicle), only the kids are able to unravel the clues to find the missing boy.

What makes this pair uniquely qualified is what most people would define as a disability… Ted has Asperger’s Syndrome. Ted is obsessed with weather patterns and his logical (rather than emotional) mind leads him to wonder if Salim’s disappearance might have evolved in the same ways that the weather has evolved. Ted is constantly trying to share his thoughts with the adults, who tell him to “Shush.” It is his special abilities make him worth paying attention to!

This is a British novel, with a few spellings and uniquely English references that may provide a moment of pause for young American readers, but they add cultural character and realism to the story.

This book was listed on “Best Books” lists in both 2008 and 2009 and I highly recommend this for grades 5-8.

Monday, November 02, 2009

I love Carl Hiassen's novels for young readers! He has written three witty and compelling environmental stories and all three are winners. I just finished listening to the audio version of his latest book, Scat. Scat is the story involving kids at a private school and their intimidating biology teacher who suddenly disappears during a field trip to the Black Vine Swamp. (All of Hiassen's books take place in Florida)
Hiassen develops his characters fully so that boys and girls and even adults are realistically portrayed - warts and all! The major protagonist is a boy, Nick, whose father is injured while serving in Iraq during the course of the story. There isn't any obvious political agenda in this book - other than the necessity to protect the natural habitat and creatures that are struggling for survival in our ever-encroaching "civilization". Hiassen employs humor to make his villains and less-than-ideal adult characters a respite between intense scenes involving the anxious teens.
His two previous novels for young people were called Hoot (which was made into a movie and won the Newbery Honor) and Flush. I think this third novel might be the best yet!

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