five fast ones

Fly Guy Meets Fly Girl by Tedd Arnold

The first Fly Guy book was on the Monarch List a few years ago, so I’m well aware that the character is popular with kids. This addition to the series seems to be more of the same, which means it’s well-written and illustrated and kids will read it. As you can guess, Fly Guy meets a Fly Girl. Sparks fly (HA!) for a bit, until each fly realizes that being in love means leaving their best child friend. Not particularly exceptional, but hand it to fans of the series.

Funny Lunch (Max Spaniel) by David Catrow

This book bothers me. I personally enjoy David Catrow’s art immensely, and his books are always big hits with kids. I just don’t find that this title is particularly suited to the needs of a kid who is just learning how to read. The art and text, while both humorous and engaging, do not complement each other all that well; meaning that a child struggling to decode a sentence would not really find any help in the accompanying picture. I think the Max Spaniel books would have been much better as a picture book series to allow room for the art to really breathe. Again, an enjoyable title, but not an outstanding example of the genre.

Alien Alby by Kaye Umansky

This book has a lot of made-up words in it (Groobleblaster, Splattermerang, Zoomeroo) that I didn’t find particularly amusing, but maybe that’s because I’m an old curmudgeonly fart, or I’ve been spoiled by words like chortle and Jabberwocky. Anyway, it seemed to me that a lot of the word choices in this book would be hard for beginning readers to decode. Further, the story didn’t grab me (something about Alby’s pet being bad and put into a cage, and Alby then sold all of his toys to buy a new rug) and I don’t know if it would grab any kids, either, unless they were really into aliens. An okay book.

Yeti Spaghetti by Samantha Hay

My first thought upon opening this book was, “These illustrations look exactly like Quentin Blake illustrations!” See for yourself: Mark Beech’s art. Quentin Blake’s art. Startling, no?

The story is about a boy who wants to be a chef, and how the town cooking contest is disrupted by Yetis. There is a yodeler that yodels the Yetis away, but one comes back on the cooking contest day with a saucepan full of spaghetti. I found it so boring that I can’t even finish typing a summary. There are eleven sentences that end in ellipses, which really bothered me for some reason. Also, there are tons of  adverbs in this book, telling us how characters spoke, which is sloppy. If you follow Stephen King’s edict to treat adverbs like $100 bills, there are$1000 worth of adverbs in this book! Not recommended.

Gilbert, the Surfer Dude by Diane DeGroat

Gilbert  goes surfing and loses his shorts. Ha, ha. Apparently this is a “high-interest” story. Maybe for some kids? Nothing special here, nor particularly well-done.

All reviewed from library copies. All opinions are my own and not those of the Cybils panel.


I have a guest post up over at Librarian by Day, about one of my favorite backlist/crossover titles, My Sister The Moon, by Sue Harrison. I got into Sue Harrison’s books after I read Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear/Earth’s Children series (which is FINALLY coming to an end in 2011, thank jeebus) and have found that Harrison’s work stands the test of time much better than Auel’s. I re-read all of the Earth’s Children books recently, in anticipation of the final volume in the series, and, wow, Auel has created an obnoxious character in Ayla, the preternaturally perfect prehistoric heroine.

For those of you who’ve read the Twilight books, do you remember how Bella, when she became a vampire, was, like the BEST VAMPIRE THAT EVAR VAMPIRED? Well, that’s Ayla–except she’s not a vampire, she’s just the mother of invention. Some of Ayla’s discoveries/inventions include:

1. Fire

2. Taming a wolf

3. How conception works

4. Birth control

5. Taming and riding horses

6. Making casts for broken bones

7. Seeing through time, i.e., tripping balls

8. Taming a cave lion

9. Awesome hangover cure

Also, she’s tall and blond and thin and blue-eyed, which is apparently the beauty ideal in prehistoric times even though the prominent female idol is the chubby Venus of Willendorf. Everything Ayla does is super-sexy, super-mysterious, and super-perfect. Everyone loves her eventually, even if they are initially repulsed by her adopted family (who are insultingly referred to as Flatheads by the Neanderthals).

I actually think Twilight fans would actually really, really love these books. The quality of writing is similar and the main characters are similarly self-deprecating yet strangely irresistible to everyone she comes into contact with. ALSO, WAY before Renesme was hideously coined, Ayla named her baby Jonayla, which is a combo of her name, Ayla, and her mate’s, Jondalar, because she wanted the name to reflect how the baby was a mixture of both of them. In The Mammoth Hunters, there is also a love triangle that is WAY more frustrating than Twilight‘s ever was. I mean, Ayla actually dumps the guy on the day of their wedding to run off with Jondalar. That’s way colder than anything Bella did, I think.

These books are also great for post-Twilight teens because of their wholesome yet astoundingly descriptive sex scenes. Nothing lurid, but there are lots of body parts described in Harlequin romance type vocabulary, and you get a sexy scene approximately every twenty pages, which is a pretty good ratio. From the wikipedia entry: “The author’s treatment of unconventional sexual practices (which are central to her hypothesized nature-centered religions) has earned the series the twentieth place on the American Library Association‘s 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000.” Now THAT’S a stamp of approval when it comes to sexy content, amirite?

If you like books that are so vexing that you actually yell at the book, OUT LOUD, yet you still have to keep reading because you just HAVE TO KNOW what happens, then I highly recommend the Earth’s Children books. Has anyone else read these and know what I’m talking about? Please let me know in the comments, I’d love to get a good discussion going.

Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same

It would take a cold, cold person to resist the charm* of Grace Lin’s Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same. Ling and Ting are twins who are, as the title implies, similar but not completely the same. In the first story, The Haircuts, we see Ting get terribly butchered bangs because she can’t sit still, which gives readers a handy visual clue to which girl is which for the rest of the book.

In the five stories that follow, Lin skillfully shows us how the girls are both different and similar through words, actions, and illustration. Ting emerges as forgetful (she spoils her sister’s card trick by forgetting her card) and fanciful (when Ling has trouble with chopsticks, Ting suggests glue and string as solutions), while Ling proves to be much more grounded and responsible when she closes her dumplings tight and logically uses a fork when she has trouble with chopsticks. However, both girls are great at working together and helping each other solve problems.

Lin ties up the book neatly by having Ting re-tell the preceding incidents in her own special Ting way, which is a perfect way to close out a book of interlocking episodes. This is a great book for emerging readers who enjoy realistic fiction with gentle humor. Highly recommended.

Reviewed from a library copy.

Goodreads page for Ling & Ting

*Is charm one of those sloppy words reviewers aren’t supposed to use?

Anna Maria’s Gift

Anna Maria’s Gift by Jamie Shefelman, illustrated by Robert Papp.

Summary from the book:

In 1715 Italy, nine-year-old Anna Maria Lombardini arrives at a Venice orphanage with little but a special violin her father made for her, but when her teacher, Antonio Vivaldi, favors her over a fellow student, the beloved instrument winds up in a canal. Includes glossary and historical note.

This book was okay. Serviceable might be the appropriate word. I would suggest that it be used in a music or history class as supporting material, but I don’t think it is likely to be a book that a kid would pick up by choice for a leisurely read. It could probably find an audience with fans of the American Girl books as well.

Reviewed from a library copy.

Layla, Queen of Hearts

When I picked up Layla, Queen of Hearts, by Glenda Millard, I was unaware that it was a companion to an earlier novel (The Naming of Tishkin Silk) and that it was an Australian import. This ignorance didn’t affect my reading experience in the least. If anything, I was happier after learning it was Australian, because then I could re-read it and imagine charming Aussie accents for all of the adorable yet down-to-earth characters.

Layla’s best friend is Griffin Silk, although in reality his entire family could be considered her best friends. The family is large and strange and if this book were set in the 60’s, they would definitely be called hippies and their home would definitely be called a commune. Everything is hunky dory until Senior Citizen’s Day is announced at school. Layla’s grandparents are no longer around, and even though Griffin’s grandmother Nell would gladly be Layla’s senior citizen, too, Layla wants a person of her own to take. During her search, she is introduced to Miss Amelie, an old woman suffering from alzheimer’s disease. Layla and Miss Amelie form a bond against all odds, and in the end things work out as best as they possibly could.

This book is the perfect thing to read on a chilly fall afternoon and is just as sweet and mouthwatering as the recipe for golden dumplings that is included at the end of the book. It’s cozy without being cloying and the characters are ideal companions without being annoying. Although it deals with some fairly heavy themes such as alzheimer’s disease and death, it never feels heavy. The sketchy black and white illustrations are a good complement to the story.  A good read-alike for fans of Laurel Snyder’s Penny Dreadful.

Reviewed from a library copy.

Rick and Rack and the Great Outdoors

Rick and Rack and the Great Outdoors by Ethan Long

Rick and Rack are a raccoon and a deer, respectively, and in this slight graphic novel they go on three different outdoorsy adventures, including fishing, tracking, and paddling around the lake in a canoe.

There is really no through-line to the three anecdotes, and this book ultimately comes off as an extremely abbreviated comics collection. Perhaps in a larger collection of comics, a story and relationship between the pair could begin to emerge, but as it stands, this book is an unexciting entry into the field of graphic novel as easy reader. Long’s art is as charming as ever, but as characters, Rick and Rack are just as bland as their names. Hand it to Ethan Long fans only if they are tired of Manana Iguana. Otherwise, there’s better stuff out there.

Reviewed from a library copy.

Porky and Bess

Porky and Bess by Ellen Weiss, Marsha Winborn, Mel Friedman (link to Goodreads book page)

Porky and Bess is the story of two best friends–Porky, a bachelor pig, and Bess, a single mother with three kittens. They could not be more different, and really, I could not puzzle out why they were friends, or if they are even good friends to each other.

The very first picture in Chapter One shows Porky and Bess both looking incredibly depressed–not a very pleasant beginning to a story that is supposedly about best friends. Bess doesn’t like to take her kittens to Porky’s house because it is messy, which is fine with Porky, because he doesn’t like Bess’s kittens anyway. While baking a moon cake in Chapter Four, Porky realizes he’s run out of moonlight. When Bess offers to get and lend him some moonlight that she has, Porky says, “‘I don’t want to bother you,” [b]ut really, he didn’t mind bothering her to get some nighttime for for his cake.’”

Fans of cozy stories with animal characters might enjoy this book, but there are better examples available.  This pair lacks the charm and humor of other easy reader duos. I would suggest sticking with Frog and Toad, Henry and Mudge, and Elephant and Piggy instead.

Reviewed from a library copy.