Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

I’ve been recommending and checking this book out for the past two years and been meaning to read it, so when I saw it on the shelf while getting Main Street #2 I decided to grab it. I ended up speed reading it this afternoon while waiting to pick someone up. Is that the most generous way to read a book? Not really. But, I did like it and I did think it was very good (and now feel better equipped to recommend it to all the realistic fiction readers who like things a little sad.)
Rose has autism (highly functioning) and has the misfortune to live with her dad-an angry man who tells her to just be quiet and act normal and refuses to help in any way. The one good thing he does for her is bring home a stray dog, who Rose names Rain. She loves homophones and talks about them all the time. In the text homophones are listed, which I found kind of annoying to read.¬† I thought that Martin’s portrayal of an autistic child was spot on. (Not that I’m an expert.) Her behaviors perfectly matched those I see in students.
During a hurricane Rose’s dad lets Rain out and Rain gets lost. See? All kinds of sadness here–someone being mean to an autistic child + a dog= I cried twice. Fortunately the other thing going for Rose is her uncle, who is kind and loving and looks out for her.
There’s a lot here, but it was definitely a quick read. Rose’s father’s backstory is described fairly succinctly, for example.

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Welcome to Camden Falls (Main Street #1) by Ann M. Martin

I listened to this on audiobook with my 4th grade daughter and we both agreed it was wonderful! A little bit of a sad start-two sisters are orphaned in a car crash and go to live with their grandmother in the idyllic little town of Camden Falls where Min (Grandma) owns a charming sewing store called Needle and Thread (it’s as if that part was written for me.) Ruby and Flora and Min live in a row house and the story focuses on the girls’ adjustment to a new town and life, making friends, and becoming part of the row house group of neighbors. All the neighbors have their own sorts of stories and some of them are fairly serious (dementia.) I think Martin has a pretty deft hand in middle grade fiction incorporating serious things into stories.

The audiobook reader was a new voice for me and I really thought she was great. One story/character who especially benefited from the audiobook treatment was Robbie, a boy with Down Syndrome. When the reader, Ariadne Meyers, spoke in Robbie’s voice she did indeed sound just like someone with Down Syndrome. Which at first made me sort of flinch because you instinctively think “someone is mimicking someone’s disability! That’s not nice!” But she is not making fun, just being an amazing actress and realistically bringing all the character’s to life. I will say though that then listening to the scene where some nasty children make fun of him and call him the R word and then he cries was so heartbreaking to listen to that both Tabby and I cried when we heard it. (Much like listening to The War that Saved My Life–hearing cruelty is worse than just reading the words.)

We were really captivated by this story and delighted to go to the library and find 5 more books in the series all sitting on the shelf. Since the audio version only appears to be around for book 1 we are going to read book 2 aloud together next.

The Road to Ever After by Moira Young

Oh wow did I love this. So charming and touching and magical. I would recommend this to anyone who liked The Van Gogh Cafe by Cynthia Rylant (a book I love.) I selected this from the new book display at the library-it has a pretty cover. One of those books that I started and was kind of confused about a time period or even what was happening. Was it a parable? A realistic fiction social issue story? As usual with that sort of confusion I decided to just enjoy it paragraph by paragraph and see what happened.
Davy David is an orphan who can sweep beautiful pictures of angels. He’s in a poor hardscrabble town and ends up with a dog and on the lam with an elderly woman who has three days to get to her destination with death. Along the way they have adventures, become friends, and notice that the old woman is unaging.
This was a beautiful story, and a thoughtful one.

*I just noticed on Goodreads that this is described as being “part Harold and Maude.” I think that’s a reference that the intended young audience will not get at all, but it makes perfect sense to me seeing it now–I love the movie Harold and Maude and indeed there are many similarities and themes of love, friendship, a life lived, and death.

Snow Lane by Josie Angelini

This was great, though one of those books I found distressing to read because I kept thinking “why won’t someone step in and help these children?” and “if this horrible cruel girl doesn’t get caught and punished for her abusive behavior I’m going to hate this book!”
In many ways it reminded me of Family Game Night--children in a house with parents not properly caring for them. I found it really terribly sad. I did wonder why it was set so specifically in the 1980s-it seemed like it was just so that the Challenger explosion could be included.

A fast read, very emotional, and a good story.

The Dragon’s Guide to Making Perfect Wishes by Laurence Yep

This is the 3rd (final? I think?) book in this series about a dragon and her “pet”, who is human. They are delightful fantasies with a bit of adventure and the fun of blending humans and magicals together. I’m always trying to promote the first two in my library because they are just right. Sadly they are not as popular as I want them to be.
I liked this one very much, specifically because of the element of traveling through time to visit a 1915 expo in San Francisco. Such fun details! A meeting with a special figure you will recognize!
A satisfying, quick  magical adventure.

Slob by Ellen Potter

I’ve been looking at this book for over two years-very popular in my library, at least one teacher does it as a readaloud with her class, and kids have often requested it. But I’d never read it. And not only that, turns out it wasn’t what I thought it was about at all! So, my daughter’s class is one of the ones where the teacher just read it to them and she told me it was so good and I should read it. She also told me a major spoiler. That’s ok, it made me even more intrigued when I started to read it and couldn’t figure out how what she told me would fit in.

Based on title and cover I thought this was likely just a story about a fat kid who didn’t fit in. In fact, it’s much more than that. Yes, Owen is fat. Yes, he is picked on. But he’s also super smart and building some kind of incredible machine (in secret.) And his sister seems to not be transgender, but part of a group of girls who want to be called boys. And he goes to a school with a gym teacher who is a total monster and honestly this was the hardest part of the book for me to read/believe. Why could no on stop this cruel adult? It’s a topic I have a hard time looking at lightly, or as just a funny caricature. I got pretty worked up about it.

I really liked this and felt like there was not only the whole social issue/realistic fiction component, but also a few mysteries going on at once. [I might recommend Liar & Spy to students who liked this.]

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

I loved this! I was initially excited about it, but then I think I read a not great review of it, but I say that review was bunk because I really enjoyed this. Graphic novel: premise is that a prince loves to dress in women’s attire (wigs/gowns) and push the envelope in women’s fashion and he hires a new seamstress and shares his secret with her and they become tremendous friends. I really enjoyed this so much. I loved the fashion-the sketches, her designs, and also the bit of historical concept in there of a department store and ready to wear to clothes being a new modern idea. I enjoyed the Prince’s expressions of how he was a boy and just sometimes loved feeling like a woman. I loved his family’s responses. As for the drawings, they were pleasing to me. The prince has such a sharp triangular nose-he reminded me very much of Howl in the Studio Ghibli film version of Howl’s Moving Castle.

So, all in all –a good story, a good message without feeling didactic, and characters I really liked.