Rosetown by Cynthia Rylant

This was so charmingly written and so very Cynthia Rylant. The writing reminded me most strongly of Van Gogh Cafe and I just loved-simple, straightforward, moving.
A quaint town in Indiana is the setting and at its center is a young girl, her new friend this year, and her parents who are separated. There is also a bookstore. Except for the parents being separated and 4th grade being a little bit unsettling, everything seems great. I did find it odd that it was very specifically set in 1970something, since it almost could have been anytime. But maybe that makes the small town a bit more believable.
Bookstores, cats, things working out, interests, noticing details-these are things that seem very Rylant to me and the things that speak very directly to me. I thought this was a very nice book.

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Making Friends by Kristen Gudsnuk

This was a very fun graphic novel, although there were some things that just didn’t flow to me. Danielle has just started middle school and it seems to be one that a bunch of elementary schools feed into. Her best friends from elementary school are in a different group than she is, leaving her facing middle school classes, lunchtimes, and everything else all by herself as she struggles to make friends.  Meanwhile a great aunt has died and the end result of an enormous family squabble is that Danielle gets the aunt’s old sketchbook. While drawing a doodle of her favorite anime character in it she discovers the sketchbook has some magic as the character comes to life. Only, she only drew his head. He believes she is a princess and tries to help her make friends. Except he’s kind of a jerk. There were lots of details I really liked in the illustrations, such as every brand name being not quite right (i.e., “Newtflax” instead of Netlfix.) I liked it when Danielle knew so much about it and referenced the show and books the Prince are in. But I didn’t care for the family scenes, which were kind of odd and didn’t really fit into the rest of the story.  Her uncle is a terrible nasty man? But only shows up in a couple scenes? To what end??

I was surprised by the turn the story took at the end but I really enjoyed the resolution. So, while the fantastical elements make this not quite the same as According to Aggie or Real Friends, I do think the theme of maintaining old friendships and making new ones stands out enough that fans of those other titles would enjoy this.

The Candymakers by Wendy Mass (again)

I recommend this book all the time (and have somewhat forced it to become popular at my school, even buying more copies) and have had it in the back of my mind as a book to re-read when at loose lends, which happened a couple weeks ago. And this was just the ticket.  I’m curious to see what I originally wrote about this, but will wait until after I’ve written this. But here’s my original post from 8 years ago.

One of the things I remembered about this book that made it a stand out for me (and the hook I use to tell kids about it) is that the story is told from the point of view of one character and then abruptly starts and starts over again, telling the same story from a different character’s point of view. There are four characters and each time the story is retold (a bit shorter each time) it’s not a boring repeat, but another version that reveals the characters are not all who they say they are and all the pieces come together. Also, it’s an adventure set in a candy factory, so yum. And fun.

I’m pleased to report that this holds up and was just as delightful as the first time I read it. Now if I could only persuade my own child to read this….

Now let’s see what I said the first time…  looks like I agree with my first time read through! (but was way more descriptive.)

Pieces of Georgia by Jen Bryant

This is part of my school collection and I wanted to give it a read to see what it was all about and who it would be good to recommend it to. I think for my 4th and 5th graders it may be a tiny bit mature–I think 6th grade would be a more ideal audience. But that stuff aside, I thought this was a lovely book. Written in free verse that is mostly more like short text so it all just flows very quickly, this was a fairly quick read. Georgia is a talented artist who lives with her dad. Her mother died very quickly 3 years ago and since then they’ve been shut off from any family. Georgia’s friendship with Tiffany, a girl who is everything Georgia is not (rich, athletic, popular, etc.) is a really nice solid center of the story. When Tiffany begins to not act like herself Georgia is worried but, realistically, not sure what to do when she realizes that Tiffany is taking pills to handle her busy schedule. (They are in 7th grade.) The other main part of the story is Georgia’s development of her artistic skill, which she inherited from her mother and thus, she feels she has to hide from dad. An anonymous gift of a membership to an art museum provides inspiration, reflection, and artistic growth for Georgia. I really liked the parts of the book where she observes and thinks about the Wythe paintings. I also liked the commentary about artists being observers. A solid thoughtful story.

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

This was just fantastic. A great realistic fiction story I know I’ll be recommending to lots of kids. This book had so much emotion in it-at least it provoked a lot of emotions at me: fury at the injustice and racism Mia’s family had to endure, sadness for her family, disbelief and anger at the racist police and landlord, frustration with Mia’s teacher for not seeing how the other children were treating her, admiration for Mia for her courage and not giving up, happiness at seeing the motel residents gather round Mia’s family, and hopefulness for all. And, frankly, depression and shame that humans would treat other humans so unfairly and cruelly.

I think what I liked about this was that while it had plenty in it to open childrens’ eyes  and promote empathy for immigrants, it was also just a really good story. I liked seeing Mia make a friend, I thought all the characters who lived at the motel were good supporting characters, and I liked the details about her family’s Chinese culture.

I especially enjoyed reading the afterward and finding out how much of this story is directly taken from the author’s life! So, if you read this and think “oh my gosh that can’t be true!” or “things like that only happened 60 years ago!” , guess what? That’s not the case.
I thought this was a terrific story, but also a really important one for children to read.

Palace of Stone by Shannon Hale

Having recently reread Princess Academy and realizing that a. I thought that book was great and b. I’d never read the sequels, I picked this up recently. I ended up not taking it on vacation with me and had it waiting at home to enjoy recuperating from vacation by lying on the couch reading this. Hale is such a good writer (though I will admit I skip the quarry songs at the start of each chapter, even though I’m sure she worked hard on them.) As a sequel I thought this was great-it built on what we learned about the land and the characters from the first book and introduced a real consequence and new world to them after the victory at the end of the first book. It was hard not to read about commoner uprisings and tyrant kings and not see it in light of the current political landscape! I liked how Hale managed to included details that showed how truly cut off the Esklanders had been for generations, such as they literally knew nothing of medicine. Miri’s lessons in bravery and diplomacy come in handy, along with her new studies in ethics. And the somewhat magical properties of linder become more apparent (and useful.)
I thought this was an exciting sequel and look forward to reading the conclusion.

Sheets by Brenna Thummler

Not to be confused with Blankets by Craig Thompson! But also a graphic novel. The overall look of this caught my eye at the bookstore and I bought it for school. It was an easy one day read (maybe even one long sitting but I fell asleep in the hammock!), and also met with approval from my almost-11 year old.
Marjorie is only 13 but she is single handedly running her family laundromat. We quickly put together it’s because her mom died last year and her father’s been in a depression ever since, mostly leaving her and her little brother on her own. As you can imagine, Marjorie is not really equipped to go to school, run the laundromat, worry about the business failing, and cope with the loss of her mother all on her own. I love that the ghost character in this story is also a child, Wendell, who also seems to be having a little trouble on his own. At least Wendell lives in a kind of ghost town with plenty of other children (which is horribly sad when you think about it, but somewhat glossed over.)  There is a dastardly character in this story who is really so bizarre-he wants to cheat them out of their business, he wears suits and is robust looking but always on twinkle toes, he wants to turn it into a yoga and spa, and he’s clearly a villain. And satisfied to threaten/do business with a 13 year old?? Honestly, that was a bit weird but I was happy to have a willing suspension of disbelief and sit back and watch the story unfold, hoping that Wendell and Marjorie might be able to help each other out and happy that they did.
I would have liked some more “fun” details about Wendell’s life as a ghost, such as his support group and “ghosturizer”, which kept their ghostly sheets clean.