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Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom

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I didn't realize when I got this book through an early reviewer program that it was a style of YA/kidlit I don't favor, so I'll try to be generous.The main character's mother is dating again (ugh) after her divorce. Naturally, she keeps going after the wrong people. If she's not going to take their father back (and admittedly, the guy married his mistress, that's not going to happen), she should at least pick somebody better than all the losers!Really, the plot goes where you expect: Mother's latest loser isn't so bad, Protagonist makes her peace with her parents, a few funny things happen, and we all learn something. I don't see this one as being any more memorable than most of the books out there for kids, but that's not a bad thing - it's middle-of-the-road.
Nature Girl

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This was an acceptable book. That's about all I can say - the plot wasn't especially contrived, the main character's development wasn't too weird, nothing too boring or too unbelievable happened.Okay, so I prefer the classic My Side of the Mountain. This one is okay too.
Love and Roast Chicken: A Trickster Tale from the Andes Mountains

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Cuy (who is taking the role of Br'er Rabbit in these tales - he even gets caught with a "tar" (sticky gum) baby at one point!) is very very little. And when you're very very little and there's a big fox that wants to eat you and farms that don't want you to eat their alfalfa, you have to find a way to survive.Cuy survives by tricking people. He convinces Fox that the world is about to end, and that the sky is about to fall. He convinces the farmer that he's a very very small field hand. (This cracks me up every time.)It's hilarious. ABsolutely hilarious, and the art isn't half bad either.
Double Trouble in Walla Walla

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Of course, it had to happen in Walla Walla. Our main character comes to school with a bit of a wordplay affliction - everything she says comes out doubled! Either strict reduplication ("yak-yak"), rhyming ("nit-wit") or, often, what is called PARARHYME ("tip-top", "jibber-jabber"). (And believe me, it was a job and a half to find out the name for the last one!)It's just an itsy-bitsy bit... contagious. So we just have the standard plot where everybody gets dragged to the principal's office to try to find the root of the problem. The story itself isn't all that interesting, but it makes up for it in the hilarity of the dialog. Yes, it will twist your tongue in knots - but that's why you make the kid read it to you when they get bigger!
Ballet Shoes

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This was one of my favorite books as a child. And I'm not the only one! Apparently, when it first came out, the author couldn't get spare copies because the store she went to had a. put the books in their own special section and b. was restricting purchases to one per customer.That's just remarkable.The characters are - although a little overly nice (it isn't until later books (Dancing Shoes, Theater Shoes) that we start seeing a few spoiled rotten children) - mostly realistic. They do argue, they do occasionally misbehave, that sort of thing. As a child, I found the details of their education and stage training to be absolutely fascinating, and I read this book until I had to go buy another copy. And as an adult, I appreciate that even the kid that doesn't fit in, Petrova, who is interested in cars and planes and utterly bored by all her theater lessons, is not left out or ignored. She's less talented than the others (artistically, anyway), but she's still valued.However, it can be difficult for a younger child to get into this book today. The book spans several years, and it's full of old-fashioned dialog and old British money. We also spend a lot of time paying attention to what the grown-ups are saying. I would suggest that if your kid is not yet in her double digits that you hold off before buying a copy.
The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy

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I read this book to my young nieces (aged 5 and 8) this past month. They liked it very much, and are eagerly waiting for the sequel. (Alas, they'll have to keep waiting, I like to space related books out a little.)This is, in many ways, a very consciously old-fashioned book, from the cover (a bad choice there, but you shouldn't judge books by them) to the narration to their landlady's attitudes (but then, she may be compensating for running off and getting pregnant as a teenager by being strictly old-fashioned and proper now that she's back home.) Like other reviewers, I was surprised to see a computer in it - I'd just kinda assumed this book was set at least a few decades ago!Several people have mentioned that they find the characters unrealistic. This is a tough issue. I will agree that the grown-ups seem to be pretty two-dimensional... but then, you don't see much of them, and only ever through the eyes of the children. They're not likely to think too deeply about the adults around them. As for the kids...Jeffrey, Skye, and Jane seem to be very real people to me. Jane is a little florid in her speech, but we've all known the occasional child like that. Think of Anne Shirley! Batty was a little advanced in her speech... but then, she lives with a highly educated father and three intelligent sisters who are much older than she is. It's not unreasonable for a four year old to speak as well as she does, especially under those circumstances, and she certainly *acts* like a four year old does.No, the only character who struck me as unrealistic was the oldest girl, Rosalind. When she's acting her age (12), I don't have this problem. Her crush on an 18 year old boy? Well, girls that age will do that sort of thing, and feel stupid about it too. The problem was that she was much too... well, responsible. It's not unusual for twelve year old children to be mature and responsible when they have to take care of a younger sibling. And it's not criminal or bad to expect a child that age to help take care of a younger sibling either, especially when you're a single parent. However, it seemed that Rosalind spent more time with her youngest sister than their father did (for that matter, Dead Mom showed up in the book more often than he did), and that she was determined to be the girl's mom. She put her sister to bed every night! What's more, it's hard to remember that she's only one and two years older than the other two girls. THEY act like kids, so why was Rosalind the only one tasked with the role of Replacement Mom?It just seemed like she was the only one burdened with anything at all. And while it's not unreasonable for older kids to help out younger siblings, it IS unreasonable for, out of three children almost the same age, one to have all the chores and responsibility and the others to mostly get off scot-free.Off the subject of the characters, I will agree that nothing particularly scary happens in the book. The big conflict is that their friend has to learn to talk to his mother. Some people find this a flaw. Reading to two children who get upset when anything remotely scary appears in a book (I just plow ahead anyway, there's not much we can do about that) I find it a relief. A book where nobody will, even once, object to anything! Yay! It's interesting, but on a more even keel than, say, Harry Potter (our last book).Really, the only problem I had with this book, other than poor Rosalind, was the narration. The author simply tried too hard. It was never enough to just tell us what happened, instead she had to interject that "years later" the girls "argued" about it, and stuff like that. I think she was going for more of that old-fashioned effect, but she overshot and it just got annoying.
A Corner of the Universe

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Ann M. Martin has written, to my knowledge, three books now involving autistic characters - a stand-alone novel in the 80s, that BSC book, and now this one.I like to be complete, so I thought I'd check this one out and compare it against my memories of the others. This review WILL contain spoilers, I'm sorry, because there are a few issues I have with the book at the end.First, you should note that Adam's characterization clearly reflects increased knowledge of autism. This is as it should be - the other two books are painfully outdated... but it wouldn't be fair to judge her for writing a book in the 80s that uses the knowledge we had in the 80s. Adam is never officially diagnosed, but it's fairly clear from the speculation ("some thought it was autism, some thought it was schizophrenia") and a few specific details of Adam's behavior (he engages in scripted speech, he has the savant skill of calendar counting, he is totally lacking in the social awareness that says do NOT stare at women's chests) that he's intended to be on the spectrum.How accurate is this depiction? I don't know. I have a hard time believing that you COULD memorize many - much less all! - full episodes of I Love Lucy in the days before VCRs, but then, I didn't live in the 60s. The calendar counting did annoy me. Most autistics are not savants (and only about half of all savants are autistic - Kim Peek, the inspiration for Rain Man, was not autistic, for example).I was happy to see that Adam is a real character. He has interests and feelings and a life. You get the feeling that he has some greater purpose than to simply provide character development for his niece. This is in contrast to disabled (particularly autistic) characters in many other books, who really are just there so the people they come in contact with can have a renewed appreciation for life or be kinder or I don't know what. Some commenters has mentioned that his behavior is "inconsistent" - he's "sometimes childish, and sometimes adult". This is accurate, though. Adults with developmental disabilities are still *adults*. They still have adult feelings, even if in some ways their understanding isn't up there.Which brings me to another point, there are some mildly adult situations in this book. Adam stares at his crush's chest, and accidentally walks in on her with her boyfriend. It's not really that bad, but of course every family will have to make its own judgments about appropriateness. And now we get to the end of the book, and the reason I gave it such a low rating. THIS IS WHERE THE REAL SPOILERS COME IN.After seeing that he really doesn't have a chance with the pretty young woman who works at the bank (and after a trying few days where he had it made clear to him, again, that his family doesn't really want him to act the way he is), Adam goes and kills himself. And Hattie (who considers herself to be like her uncle in some way, although the reasons why are never given) thinks it over and calls this brave in her mind. Not the sort of braveness she'd like, but brave all the same.It's not the suicide or the lackluster condemnation of the act that concerns me - actually, it's very clear that suicide has major repercussions for the people you leave behind.It's the context. And this might be unfair, but I think the context is important. We're not living in a world where people love and accept the disabled. We're not living in a world where this is ONE voice about autism and suicide. We are living in a world where prominent autism organizations can make videos where mothers say - in front of their verbal autistic children! - that the only thing that has stopped them from killing those same children and themselves is thinking of their *normal* child. And when called on it, these same organizations can then claim that every parent of an autistic child really wants them dead. (Alison Singer, in the short film Autism Every Day.) We are living in a world where parents who locked their autistic son in a room and set the house on fire aren't convicted of murder. (Christopher DeGroot.) We are living in a world where it is common for people who kill their autistic children, in fact, to be praised for their "courage" and their "love". We're living in a world where there are parents of autistic children who feel no compunction about saying that autism is worse than cancer because at least the children with cancer die. (sentex.net/~nexus23/md_01.html - actually, the autism - cancer comparison is all over the place, along with the autism - AIDS comparison and the autism - kidnapped children comparison. But at least most of these people don't go out and say that those other kids are lucky enough to die faster than the autistic kids!)In short, we're living in a world where the lives of autistic individuals (and disabled individuals in general) are not considered as valuable as those of "normal" people.The suicide in this book could have been handled differently. Our main character could have reasoned that if his family loved him they could have accepted him better instead of hiding him away - remember, she had only found out about him that summer! She could have suggested that if he wasn't so ostracized and patronized, he might never have taken that drastic step. In fact, there is a real suicide risk among autistics, similar to the recently publicized risk among gays. Or, the "oh, it was brave not to want to live in this world he doesn't fit into" bit could have been made in isolation from a culture which says that all the time.But it wasn't. Instead, you read the book and her thoughts, and it's hard not to hear it saying yet another variation of "those people are better off dead". This is a message that society does need to hear again. In particular, it's a message that autistic children do not need to hear again. Yes, I said autistic children. In this day and age, we have to accept that you can't assume the only people reading a book with an autistic character are NTs with no idea about autism. Many of them instead will be on the spectrum somewhere. Or they'll be siblings of autistic children - they don't need that message either.I'm sure the underlying message was not Ann M. Martin's intent. However, unfortunately, intent isn't some magical glitter that removes all wrong. The message is there whether she intended it or not, and it's one that is actively harmful. "Their lives have less worth" is a contributing factor in the murder and suicide of autistics. I really can't advise this book for anybody, unfortunately.
Yo! Yes?

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This is a very simple book for an early reader, with no page having more than two words (all dialog) on it.The story is really told in the illustrations. You can see so much from how the boys stand, how small or big their words are. Very sweet story... and at a level a five year old can easily read.
Snowflake Bentley

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This is a fascinating book, well-illustrated, about the man who first captured snowflakes to save. My nieces were enraptured.However, it is a little wordy, and it can be hard to figure out (if you're reading aloud) what to do with the sidebars of information. (I personally ignored them. They're interesting on their own, but trying to integrate them into the story would've been impossible.) This is definitely a picture book for the older crowd OR for young children who read well above their grade level.
Mabela the Clever

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A good story with an unusual moral - at least, I've never heard "Pay attention and THINK about what you're saying!" presented as a moral before, although God knows it ought to be.No mousies are harmed in the reading of this story. My only real concern with it is that I have no idea how authentic it is.
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