Early chapter book review – Lulu walks the dogs by: Judith Viorst, Illustrated by: Lane Smith

luluThis is the second book that Lulu stars in.  The first book Lulu and the Brontosaurus is laugh out loud funny, as Lulu the most spoiled girl in the world finally gets told that “No, she cannot have a brontosaurus as a pet”.  Lulu learns a lot about being polite in the first book, and is changed in many ways.

The second book is just as funny.  Lulu needs to make some extra money, and after asking her parents politely 18 times and being told no. Lulu finally decides to get a job to earn it (because she’s done with tantrums after Lulu and the Brontosaurus).  And although Lulu knows nothing about dogs, she decides that being a dog walker is the perfect way to earn money.  Turns out (like most things in life) that walking dogs isn’t as easy as she thought.  So she gets some seemingly unwanted help from Fleischman (who’s first name is Fleishcman, not his last name, and there’s a whole other story on that too), who Lulu thinks is a a goody-goody, and makes her want to throw up in all his perfectness.

The antics, and advice, and life lessons about accepting people for who they are, and maybe, just maybe being a little bit nicer bring out much laughter and learning.

Judith Viorst has so many great picture books out (Alexander, and the terrible, no good, very bad day), so it’s not surprising that she’s created such a great series.  The narration alone in this book is brilliant, with the narrator regularly interjecting into the story to interact with the reader ” In actual life this almost could never happen.  In the stories I write, things like this happen a lot. Deal with it”.  Even going on tangents within the story to help explain things that might go over the young reader’s head, with excellent and funny explanations.

This would make the most wonderful read aloud book, and with Lane Smith’s fabulous pencil drawings throughout (my personal favourite is when the author speaks of Brutus the dog and his owner looking alike, complete will full pages picture) This is one of the best early Chapter books I’ve read all year.

Middle years fiction review – Between Heaven and earth By: Eric Walters

betweenBetween Heaven and earth is part of the seven series of books published by Orca.  The series can be read in any order, and each book is written by a different Canadian author.  The premise of the series is that a grandfather has seven grandsons. In his will he has left each grandson with a different task to complete, each book tells the story of a different grandson.

Eric Walters has published over 70 novels for grade 5-8 students, and I’ve read many of them.  I tend to recommend them heartily to students who like adventure novels.  Some of his books (like most authors) are better than others.  I had a hard time with this book.  I find that he often has main characters who are far too full of themselves and as the book progresses they learn more about the world around them, and that they still have a lot to learn.  Nothing wrong with that, although it gets a little painful when it takes 3/4 of the book for the character to really start to become more worldly and less annoying.

DJ is the main character of this book, he’s the oldest grandson, and takes himself to be the leader of the family, as though it’s his job to make sure everybody is doing what they should be, at least according to his standards.  I think this trait was supposed to be endearing, but I just found him so obnoxious, and such a know it all that I had a hard time getting past his traits to even start liking him or the book.

The task DJ has been given is to fly to Tanzania and hike to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro  and distribute his ashes at the top of the mountain. DJ assumes this will be a simple task, who can’t climb a mountain in 2 days?  Who needs to listen to the local guides? Why wouldn’t  you speak  to customs officials in another country as though you know so much more than them?  DJ is 17 and knows better than anyone how things should be done, at least according to DJ.  He does eventually grow as a character, but not as much as I’d hoped.

There were also several events that happened in the book that were flat out dangerous, and got solved far too easily and quickly, it made the book feel a bit false to me.  I’m hoping to read the 6 other books in the series, and since they’re written by different authors it will be interesting to see if I have a very different take on the writing style of each story.

grade 6+

Young Adult graphic novel review – Relish: my life in the kitchen by: Lucy Knisely

relishI’ll admit that it took me almost a full chapter to really get into this book.  I’m so used to graphic novels being in a set format, there was so much more text above each comic box that it threw me for a loop initially.  But once I was I used to the format, it was pure love.

Lucy Knisley tells a delicious tale (quite literally) of growing up in upstate New York with foodie parents.  How her first memories are tied directly to food “I’m lucky to have grown up with cooks and bakers, eaters and critics, and meals to remember.  My memories are formed in conjunction with my palate.”

As I read this collection of vignettes from her life, I found myself smiling, and reliving foodie moments in my own life.  Laughing at the fact that I grew up in a house with three spices in the cupboard (salt, pepper, and Paprika for deviled egg decoration) and how my palate grew and changed once I left home.  Good food can bring so much joy and so many memories.  I’ve never seen someone put it to words and drawings so poignantly! I need to read it again to really savour it honestly.

Her chapter on Junk Food made me laugh many times, knowing that even good foodies love their processed food in it’s disgustingly good glory as much as the rest of us.  While her description of finding the world’s perfect croissant in Venice, and then attempting for months to recreate it without success was my favourite chapter in the book.   “The mysterious deliciousness of those croissants continues to haunt me.  I suspect that the ingredient I lacked in Chicago was the anticipation and delight of waking on a morning of possibilities, far from home and school, in an ancient, watery city.”

It’s the recipes at the end of each chapter that really bring so much more to the book, I”m excited to try them!  Always pertaining to something that happened that chapter, and with drawings and interesting descriptions on how to make each recipe, it will be hard to look at cookbooks without delightful drawings included.

I need to hunt down her first book, French Milk now!

grade 9+ (for comprehension not content)

middle years review – The brilliant fall of Gianna Z by: Kate Messner

giannaAfter reading (and loving) Kate Messner’s Marty Mcguire books (great early readers!) I decided I had to try some of her middle years fiction.  The brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. does not disappoint.

Kate Messner puts the perfect voice to paper for all of her main characters.  The brilliant fall of Gianna G. follows Gianna through a turbulent month of the fall school year.  Gianna is an amazing runner, gifted artist, and completely unorganized when it comes to getting her school work finished.

Life gets even more complicated when her grandmother starts having forgetful episodes that lead to tremendous family drama, her arch nemesis goes after her spot on the cross country team and goes to any length (including sabotage) to get it.  Plus her leaf project for social studies starts to become a monkey on her back.

I loved how Gianna handled things, when times got tough, instead of blaming others, or the genuine stress around her, she sucked it up and tried to make lemonade out of lemons.  There were several scenes when I was hoping for that key moment when the main character in a complete panic loses herself and says something she regrets, but I admired Gianna even more when she was able to take a deep breath, and be the better person.  It was refreshing to read!

This book would make a great novel study for grade 5/6 and even includes a reading group guide at the back.