Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Bloomsbury Middle Grade” Edition

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Today’s Round-Up features three middle grade books from the same publisher – Bloomsbury Australia kindly sent us all three, unexpectedly, for review and we loved one, thoroughly enjoyed another and were left scratching our heads at the positive hype we’d heard about the third.  Regardless, we’ve corralled them all here for your consideration. Giddy-up!

First up, we have the one we loved:

Simon Thorn and the Wolf’s Den (Aimee Carter)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  simon thorn

Simon lives a pretty lonely life with his uncle while his mother travels the world for work, offset only by his ability to communicate with birds and animals. When Simon’s mother returns unexpectedly and Simon receives a message from an eagle warning him of danger, everything Simon knows is turned upside down.

Muster up the motivation because…

…although the cover screamed “pedestrian book for reluctant male readers” to me, I loved the unexpectedly complex and twisting plot, where no one is completely trustworthy and motives are as murky as unstrained tea. I knocked the book over in two sittings, such was the pull of the adventure and mystery. Simon is a solid and honourable character who just wants to peel back some of the layers of secrecy that have shrouded his existence for so long and there are many surprises in store for him along the way, none of which I feel I can really talk about because they all relate to twists in the tale. The supporting cast of young characters, including Winter, Ariana, Jam and Nolan are believable and, unusually for most middle grade writing, all carry authentic flaws that relate to their backgrounds and loyalties. While the story does have its typical middle grade tropes – a semi-orphaned protagonist, a potential “chosen one” theme, bullied kid makes good and so forth – these aren’t laboured or made the focus of the plot and instead play an integral part in guiding the twists. Best of all, the ending is almost impossible to pick (although seasoned readers of middle grade adventure fantasy will have their theories early on) because all of the main characters, apart from Simon, have motivations that are partly hidden from the reader. This is the first middle grade offering from Carter (and I certainly won’t be examining her YA work, that looks suspiciously like paranormal romance-y type stuff – blerch!) but I am heartily impressed and looking forward to the next instalment in Simon’s adventures. I would recommend this book highly to readers of middle grade looking for an absorbing take on animal shape-shifters and urban fantasy.

Brand it with:

Pigeons vs Rats, sibling rivalry, choose your side

Next up, we have a reissue of an old classic from a master of middle-grade storytelling:

There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom (Louis Sachar)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  there's a boy in the girls bathroom

Bradley Chalkers is the most obnoxious, odious child in school – even the teachers can’t stand him! But when new kid Jeff, and school counsellor Carla come along, things might start looking up for Bradley, if only he can stop sabotaging himself.

Muster up the motivation because…

…You can’t go wrong with Louis Sachar really, can you? Whenever you pick up one of his books you can be assured of interesting (if, in some cases, annoying) characters, amusing writing and some unexpectedly embarrassing events. There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom delivers in all of these areas. Bradley Chalkers is possibly the most deliberately obnoxious character ever written for this age-group and having a purposefully unlikable main character, while seemingly counter-intuitive, actually drew me further into the story. Apart from a few hints at some frightening events in Bradley’s father’s past, we aren’t ever privy to how Bradley got to be so unpleasant and self-defeating, but it is obvious that his problems are long ingrained and almost expected by all those around him, including teachers. The story rolls on toward an inevitable happy ending (with a few speed-bumps and tough decisions toward the end, of course) and the resulting fond feelings on closing the book are the icing on the cake. One of the great things about Sachar’s books is that there always seems to be room for forgiveness, with the young characters often changing their viewpoints and friendships in an authentic way by the end. And speaking of forgiveness, you would be forgiven for wanting to poke Bradley Chalkers in the eye after the first few chapters. I’d recommend this one for young readers looking for a realistic story of friendship and fitting in, with a good dash of humour.

Brand it with:

That weird kid, no one understands me, pay attention to signage

Finally, here’s the one that didn’t live up to the hype from our point of view.

Anyone But Ivy Pocket (Caleb Krisp)

Two Sentence Synopsis: anyone but ivy pocket

A half-witted maidservant is entrusted with delivering a precious jewel to a certain person at a certain time. She does so, while ignoring obvious cues toward villainy and making up stories.
Muster up the motivation because…

…if you enjoy stories featuring “delightfully” oblivious heroines embroiled in the delivery of a (possibly magic) valuable gemstone that people are prepared to kill to possess, then you will probably enjoy Anyone But Ivy Pocket. This one has been on our radar for a while and having heard that it was a funny adventure, with a strong, unique female protagonist, I was quite interested to dive in to the story. Unfortunately for us, Ivy can only be described as either wilfully blind to obvious social cues or spectacularly unintelligent and self-centred. Either way, it proved to be an excruciating reading experience because Blind Freddy (or Fredrika!) could see the glaring plot points that Ivy was missing. This was clearly intentional on the part of the author and I’m not sure why this technique was employed. As an adult reader, I found it to be tedious at best and I can’t imagine that younger readers would find Ivy’s dull-headedness particularly amusing. The narrative style was flippant and light and overall the book is obviously intended to be a humorous, wacky adventure with two-dimensional characters that each fill a particular function in the story. We just couldn’t get over our irritation with Ivy however, in order to enjoy the actual plot. Regardless, plenty of people have really enjoyed this book, but we shelf-dwellers don’t count ourselves amongst that happy number.

Brand it with:

Are you being served?, mystery maids, wacky historical fiction

Two out of three ain’t bad, as they say, so I hope you have found something here, as we did, to amuse and entertain. Thanks again to Bloomsbury Australia for this Round-Up-worthy haul!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

What’s In A Name Challenge: The Boy Who Lost His Face…

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Afternoon all! All this thinking about the Small Fry Safari KidLit Readers Challenge that I will be hosting in 2014 (do join us, won’t you?), reminded me in rather abrupt fashion that I haven’t actually finished the What’s In A Name Reading Challenge that I started this year…oops.

WIN6 Beth Fish Reads reading challenge

A quick health check noted that I only have three books to go, and while scrabbling around for a replacement book in the Lost/Found category, I happened upon a book on my to-read pile that fit the bill perfectly: The Boy Who Lost His Face by Louis Sachar.

Taken from: the Non-Christie Listie as a late replacement

Category: Six– a book with Lost or Found or the equivalent in the title

In an attempt to fit in with the cool crowd, David helps to steal an old lady’s cane, humiliating her in the process.  The old lady curses David and over the next weeks, all the things that the boys did to the old lady start happening to David.  David must find a way to break the curse or forever live in fear of breaking bottles full of liquid, falling out of his chair and having his pants fall down.

boy who lost his face

The Book’s Point of Difference

Well. I’m not sure. It’s pretty standard middle grade fare.  Possibly the fact that there is an inordinate amount of swearing, and many references to the Three Stooges.

The Pros:

– David is a very ordinary kid and therefore very relatable.  He’s obviously trying to do the right thing, but fate seems to have other plans.  The banter between David and his small new posse of friends is quite funny at times, also.

– There is a sweet little romance plotline that develops nicely as the book goes on.  Nothing too sappy and nothing too overdone, but it adds another dimension to the story.

– This one reminded me a lot of middle grade books from the late 80s and 90s.  All the angst of early puberty is being played out here in a very safe way, and therefore this book will have great appeal to its target audience.

The Cons:

– As I said, there is a LOT of swearing for a middle grade book.  Nothing too extreme, but it is quite frequent.  As an adult reading this, it didn’t bother me in the slightest, but it may upset parents/delight the target audience…you’ve been warned.

Overall, this is another good read from Sachar, with all the humour and oddness that fans would have come to expect.  Certainly the themes of honesty and being one’s self aren’t rammed home too hard and there is plenty here to keep the younger readers engaged.

…On that note, if you’re looking for a readers challenge for 2014, why not check out the Small Fry Safari KidLit Readers Challenge?  Click on the button below for more details -we’d love to have you aboard!

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Until next time,

Bruce

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Retro Reading: Books about Puberty…..

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Yes, it’s that time again – time to link arms with a trusted confidante (ie: me) and take a stroll down memory lane. BYO mosquito repellent and hayfever medication.

Recently I have been contemplating that most treacherous of life events – puberty.  A younger colleague of mine has just begun on this road to adult gargoyle-hood and is most vexed at the appearance of mould where there was no mould before.  It was while I was advising him of the necessity of a meticulous morning-and-evening cleansing routine to keep this problem in check, that I decided I should re-read some classics related to this special time for young gargoyles and fleshlings alike.

To that end I selected two that I remembered well (or at least I thought I did…): the perennial favourite Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume and Pig City by Louis Sachar.

are you there godIt may come as a surprise to those of you who have read Are You There God?…., but on re-reading I had absolutely no recollection of any of the content pertaining to Margaret’s investigations into different religions. None, whatsoever.  How could this be? I wondered – clearly, this was an important part of the main character’s growth and development throughout the plot.  It’s even mentioned in the title, for goodness sake.

It was about this time that I began to suspect that on my initial reading, drawn by content arguably more interesting to a young buck undergoing certain important life changes, that I may have skipped the bits about religion and flicked through to the advice about increasing one’s bust…..Yes, dear reader, I believe that I may have been guilty of skipping large chunks of the story in order to get to the spicy bits! Surely, though, this small infraction can be forgiven – as creatures of stone, gargoyles have a vested interest in busts (of the artistic, sculptural variety) and advice as to how to make a bigger one could be just the ticket for a gargoyle without a lower half to take a step up in the world, so to speak.

In re-reading Pig City, you will be pleased to know I did not uncover any nasty surprises about content I had forgotten, for this book was certainly on high rotation in my reading list at that time.  Strangely though, I had forgotten all about the book itself until I recently overheard something that jogged my memory and I felt an immediate need to search it out.

pig city

The story follows the sixth-grade school year of Laura Sibbie and friends as they grope their way up, down and across the social ladder through the creation of various clubs.  The initiations and subsequent fall-out of these friendships make up the bulk of the story, and very entertaining it is too.  This is a much milder take on the beginnings of adolescence than that presented in Judy Blume’s work – the characters still have the charm and innocence that Blume’s more wordly girls do not.

Having had its first outing in 1987 though, I wonder how much the events in Pig City mirror the experiences of today’s children in grade six and seven.  I can’t help but feel that the squabbles depicted here would nowadays be more likely to occur in a younger age group than the technology-savvy, know-all-about-it pre-teens of the post-noughties.

I must say, having re-dipped the toe into books about this life event, I feel I must seek out more as the embarrassing predicaments in which the characters find themselves are really quite fun to read about.

Any suggestions from fellow bloggers about classic “growing up” reads to tackle?

Until next time,

Bruce