A Winner and Some Bite Sized Reviews
When I asked all of you to select that last book I’d review for 2008, I had no idea where your loyalties lay. Now the mystery is solved and the title that the most of you want to see praised/thrown to the wolves by me is:
Followed closely by . . .
Princess Ben by Catherine Murdock – 19 votes
Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains by Laurel Snyder – 17 votes
The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan by Nancy Springer – 16 votes
No Girls Allowed by Susan Hughes – 14 votes
Bunce’s tale was given a run for its money by a strong showing early on for Princess Ben. These two middle grade fairy tale titles (I know that PB isn’t based on anything specifically, but it’s certainly in the same vein) were neck and neck for a while, before CADAG pulled way way ahead. I avoided reviewing this one early on because I wanted to collect my thoughts. And according to Goodreads I’ve had a good eleven months to collect them (I finished it February 5th or so). Time to reel this puppy in.
As for the rest, author Joyce Moyer Hostetter had a good suggestion. So here, in lightning quick speed, are one-sentence reviews of everything I didn’t get to this year in the middle grade fiction/non-fiction area (sorry picture books . . . . there are only so many hours in a day). I apologize if some of these sound harsh, but when I’m limited to one sentence I can’t launch into details or define what I think as clearly as I would like to. So, in no particular order:
Little Vampire Vol. 1 by Joann Sfar – I am a Sfar fan to the marrow of my bones but I have found that unless he is writing for adults his books err a little too far into Itchy and Scratchy territory for my liking.
The Gollywhopper Games by Jody Feldman – If I could slap a big label on any book with the word "Fun" it would be this one, no question.
Tunnels by Gordon Williams: Science fiction has a tendency to either show the worlds above or the worlds below our feet, so it was a little disappointing to find this to be a book where 470 some pages lead us on a pretty uneventful journey (and I felt so bad for Chester that it was hard to enjoy much of it anyway).
Greetings from Nowhere by Barbara O’Connor – O’Connor knocks another one clean out of the park with a really wonderful tale of several very different kids and one old, run-down, defunct motel.
Eleven by Patricia Reilly Giff – A pretty frustrating combination of Giff’s typically stellar writing alongside one of the most forgettable stories I’ve encountered in a while.
Rex Zero: King of Nothing by Tim Wynne-Jones – My respect for the writing of Mr. Wynne-Jones knows no bounds, and while I enjoyed this sequel maybe a little less than Rex Zero and the End of the World I still found it a complex, gripping, wonderful book that deserves a lot more attention.
My Dad’s a Birdman by David Almond – Generally Almond’s delicate prose and complementary darkness can be alluring to me, but when he shoots particularly young (as he does here) it leaves the reader feeling a bit perturbed in the process.
Nim at Sea by Wendy Orr – It’s Wendy Orr writing about Nim and throwing in a character who is an author with low self-esteem issues; what’s not to love?
The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower by Lisa Graff – A remarkably good idea for a middle grade novel (con games for kids) and great follow through, though I almost wanted a slightly bigger con for the ending.
Cicada Summer by Andrea Beaty – It’s a slender, slight novel but there’s something so enticingly memorable about every scene that even months after reading it I can recall every character and thematic element.
Keeping Score by Linda Sue Park – I do believe that it is possible to really enjoy this book without loving either baseball or scorekeeping, but for me it was sometimes a challenge.
The Floating Circus by Zimmer – Just your average everyday piece of historical fiction about a boy and his elephant, but with enough research and honesty to give it a bit of a kick.
Tennyson by Lesley M.M. Blume: A very strong opening but I found the racial elements almost too complex for this simple a story.
The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti – A well wrought tale of historical fiction, but leaving it on my shelf too long kept me from remembering the pertinent details that would allow me to review it adequately.
My So-Called Family by Courtney Sheinmel – There is no surefire way to write a book about a tween searching for "identity" but this honest and compassionate novel makes this the best sperm donor book since Sue Stauffacher’s classic Donuthead.
The Ruby Key by Holly Lisle – Initially I enjoyed this very much but after thinking about it I can see how it was just your standard fantasy fare without much that was new to offer.
The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan by Nancy Springer – I practically weep when I read one of these books they’re so doggone brilliant (and this one gives Sherlock a little extra depth to boot, which is nice).
Princess Ben by Catherine Murdock – Fun in much the same way that The Princess Academy or Ella Enchanted are fun, and generally it’s a great book but there is some little element that prevents it from joining the ranks of the truly great princess fare out there.
She Touched the World by Sally Hobart Alexander and Robert Alexander – I found the subject noteworthy and the Alexanders have a keen ear for making non-fiction for kids mighty interesting.
Uh-Oh, Cleo by Jessica Harper – It is cute and a nice story but, as others have said about it, there’s really not enough here to justify an entire book.
Six Innings by James Preller – The more I think about it the better this book becomes until I’m verily kicking myself repeatedly for not officially reviewing it in 2008.
The Twilight Zone: After Hours by Rod Serling – Nice enough but essentially this is just a graphic novelization of the television show, without a lot of risk taken with either the art or the presentation.
The Twilight Zone: Walking Distance by Rod Serling – Oh, pretty much what I just said about After Hours.
Out of the Wild by Sarah Beth Durst – I might have liked the previous book a hair more, but Durst retained enough darkness and dire straits to keep me flipping the pages as fast as they might go.
Masterpiece by Elise Broach – A real peach of a book and a charmer to its core, though I acknowledge that the turtle tank chapter was fairly superfluous.
Mascot to the Rescue by Peter David – I appreciated the look at how the comic book world has become a playground for adults rather than children, but I think the book needed just a smidgen more depth.
Ways to Live Forever by Sally Nichols – You have to have some kinda chops to write a funny dying kid book, particularly if it’s written in that kid’s voice, but this is just one of the most amusing, smartest, and saddest titles of the year.
Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb – I remember enjoying this as I was reading it so I wish the story had stuck with me just a bit more lo these many months later since I seem to have forgotten more than I’ve remembered.
Smiles to Go by Jerry Spinelli – This was one of those books where certain elements and ideas were brilliant in and of themselves, but taken as a whole (and with an ending that didn’t quite convince me) there is something missing in the mix.
Kenny and the Dragon by Tony DiTerlizzi – It’s either an homage or a retelling of The Reluctant Dragon but however you prefer to slice it it’s still pretty darn sweet.
Phenomena: Secrets of the Senses by Donna M. Jackson – An ideal book for any kids looking for good non-fiction titles on everything from ESP and dreams to our proven extraordinary senses.
Highway Cats by Janet Taylor Lisle – This book lingers in the mind and while this one sentence review is unworthy of its oddities, I can’t quite wrap my head about the title enough to put my thoughts into any kind of coherent order.
Tracking Daddy Down by Marybeth Kelsey – I would have a hard time writing a longer review of this because while I liked it I never could quite figure out if Billie’s naivete was forced or utterly consistent with her character.
Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains by Laurel Snyder – Not quite like any other fairy tale novel I’ve encountered, and while I might have shortened it a tad I think it’s indicative of a strong writing talent.
The Teashop Girls by Laura Schaefer – I usually don’t gravitate towards the girly girl books, but this was one of the more enjoyable (and delicious) titles I had the pleasure to discover late in the year.
Totally Irresponsible Science by Sean Connolly – In spite of referring to a philosopher’s stone as a "sorcerer’s stone" (seriously, people) this may be one of the most beautifully designed science experiment books I’ve had the pleasure to peruse in quite some time.
A Thousand Never Evers by Shana Burg – No, I’m afraid this one just didn’t ring true for me, though I understand why others are fond of it.
Coraline: The Graphic Novel by Neil Gaiman, adapted by P. Craig Russell – Considering how great an artist Mr. Russell is, I would have expected more to this than just a straightforward graphic novelization of the book (and maybe it could have tried to out-creepy Dave McKean’s original illustrations, eh whot?).
Korgi: Book 2 by Christian Slade – I enjoyed this more than the previous Korgi graphic novel, probably because the alien character was so out-and-out freaky and WEIRD that it bumped the book up from "normal and sweet" to "omigod what the heck is going on?????".
Knights of the Lunch Table: The Dodgeball Chronicles by Frank Cammuso – While I appreciated the fun Arthurian (and Shakespearean?) references, there wasn’t much here to bump this up from "fine" to "great".
Nightmare on Zombie Island by Paul D. Storrie – Maybe I’m just a Choose Your Own Adventure snob, but aside from the art these stories didn’t have enough variety and change-ups to make them worth pursuing after the first or second death.
Johnny Boo: The Best Little Ghost in the World by James Kochalka – You don’t find many graphic novel easy readers out there and I think that this one might be pretty okay, except there’s something about it that makes my 30-year-old eyes blur.
Johnny Boo: Twinkle Power by James Kochalka – I have zero doubt that the butt-wiggling Ice Cream Monster will render five-year-olds everywhere prostrate with giggles, and like its predecessor I find it almost impossible to wrap my adult head about the text.
Saltwater Taffy: The Seaside Adventures of Jack and Benny (The Legend of Old Salty) – Another book where it got so surreal that I ended up falling in love with it unexpectedly.
In the Small by Michael Hague – I’m afraid that this one broke my heart as I had such high hopes for a Michael Hague graphic novel and this, suffice it to say, wasn’t what I was looking for.
Wild Magic by Cat Weatherill – While the premise is strong (i.e. what did the kids find when the Pied Piper led them into that mountain?) the fantasy elements are just bit too disjointed to hang together as a whole.
Canned by Alex Shearer – A uniquely frustrating book for me since I loved the opening, the Blue Velvet-like premise, and the first few chapters but by the end it fell apart in a variety of different ways, which just chapped my hide.
Babymouse #9: Monster Mash by Jennifer and Matthew Holm – I have yet to discover a Babymouse that didn’t exceed expectations one way or another, and this book is no exception.
No Girls Allowed: Tales of Daring Women Dressed as Men for Love, Freedom and Adventure by Susan Hughes – A great premise for a book, but unfortunately the pacing and art don’t quite reach their ultimate potential.
The First Escape: The Dopple Ganger Chronicles by G.P. Taylor – Words fail me.
Yam by Cory Barba – Pretty much what you’d get if you combined Yo Gabba Gabba with alternate comic fare, which is to say it’s kinda brilliant.
Expect A Curse as Dark as Gold review in a week or so.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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