Sisters by Raina Telgemeier

The companion to Raina Telgemeier’s #1 NEW YORK TIMES bestselling and Eisner Award-winning graphic memoir, SMILE.

Raina can’t wait to be a big sister. But once Amara is born, things aren’t quite how she expected them to be. Amara is cute, but she’s also a cranky, grouchy baby, and mostly prefers to play by herself. Their relationship doesn’t improve much over the years, but when a baby brother enters the picture and later, something doesn’t seem right between their parents, they realize they must figure out how to get along. They are sisters, after all.

Sisters-Raina-Telgemeier1

Although my advanced reading copy was not fully in colour, I expect the final version will be bright and visually appealing.  This graphic memoir features a range of spreads, including my favourite full page illustration of ‘the anatomy of a road trip’ (p.28).

Through a family road trip to Colorado, readers learn about complex sibling relationships. Like Raina, I have a younger sister and brother so I could totally relate to her frustrations!   I liked the addition of actual photos from Raina’s childhood with her sister, Amara. Lovely touch!

Best suited for kids ages 8-12 years, but really, anyone would enjoy this quick humorous read.  It does touch on more serious issues like parental struggles (marriage/money), and the common teen anxiety of fitting in socially.  Sisters has already received starred reviews, and I’m sure fans of her previous work, Smile and Drama will be equally impressed. Look for Sisters, August 26, 2014.

 

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The Brilliant World of Tom Gates by L.Pichon

Tom Gates is the master of excuses for late homework: dog attacks, spilt water, lightening … Tom’s exercise book is full of his doodles, cartoons and thoughts, as well as comments from his long-suffering teacher, Mr Fullerton. After gaining five merits for his ‘Camping Sucks’ holiday story, Tom’s work starts to go downhill, which is a pity, as he’s desperate to impress Amy Porter, who sits next to him …

tom gates

We are always looking for Diary of a Wimpy Kid read-alikes, and The Brilliant World of Tom Gates does not disappoint.  Winner of the Roald Dahl Funny Prize, this book is also written in diary format and includes illustrations, drawings, and different typesetting and fonts.   Although some children may not understand some of the British terms used, Pichon includes a handy glossary to explain words like biscuits, bonkers and dodgy.

Rather than focus on his ‘merits’, Tom spends much of his time thinking about his band and doodling.  To cover this up, he comes up with clever and creative excuses for why his homework isn’t done, like a leaking pen or dog drool.   I can practically hear young readers cracking up!  Personally, I had to laugh at Tom’s reference to his grandparents as ‘the fossils’ and his grandma’s very strange food combinations like a banana on a pizza!

The one issue I had was with Tom’s treatment of Marcus. I’m not sure what Marcus ever did to deserve being constantly teased. Tom writes ‘I’m an idiot’ on Marcus’ self-portrait and embarrasses him in front of the whole school.  Tom even puts temporary tattoos on Marcus’s face when he’s sleeping.  I felt bad for Marcus, and think Pichon didn’t have to include this form of bullying to obtain laughs.

Overall, a great funny and quick read for 7-12 year olds, especially reluctant readers.  The ‘Tom Gates’ series continues with Excellent Excuses (and other good stuff).

Review: The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne

 

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Author, John Boyne (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) teamed up with illustrator, Oliver Jeffers (The Hueys, Stuck) to bring juvenile readers this absurd, quirky adventurous story. Born with the ability to float, Barnaby embarrasses his ‘normal’ parents that are obsessed with being perceived as ‘normal’ by their friends and neighbours. In turn, his parent’s treat him terrible. Like, ignore him and hang him on a clothes line, terrible.  There is a conversation between Barnaby and his mother that will totally break your heart.  After instructing him to stop floating, she tells him, ‘Then, I’m sorry… But I have to say that I don’t like who you are very much” (p. 37).  At their wit’s end, his parent’s cut his weights and he floats around the world to meet other individuals that were sent away or abandoned by their families for also being ‘different’.

Although the characters in Barnaby’s travels all help in delivering the message that it’s OK to be different and true to oneself to be happy, the message got really repetitive.  When Barnaby was intercepted by the International Space Mission, I got bored and started to skim the text. And yes, it is a bizarre fantasy story to begin with, but I felt the space portion was so over the top and unrealistic.

Looking at my blog, I noticed that I’ve been reading lots of books with boy characters deemed different by society. I think the availability of books about embracing differences is fabulous, especially for growing readers looking for someone to relate to. I found the ending of The Terrible Thing… was perfect in sticking with the overall message of the book.  I wonder where in the world Barnaby’s next adventure awaits!

Review: The Encyclopedia of Me by Karen Rivers

From Goodreads: Tink Aaron-Martin has been grounded AGAIN after an adventure with her best friend Freddie Blue Anderson. To make the time pass, she decides to write an encyclopedia of her life from “Aa” (a kind of lava–okay, she cribbed that from the real encyclopedia) to “Zoo” (she’s never been to one, but her brothers belong there).

As the alphabet unfolds, so does the story of Tink’s summer: more adventures with Freddie Blue (and more experiences in being grounded); how her family was featured in a magazine about “Living with Autism,” thanks to her older brother Seb–and what happened after Seb fell apart; her growing friendship, and maybe more, with Kai, a skateboarder who made her swoon (sort of). And her own sense that maybe she belongs not under “H” for “Hideous,” or “I” for “Invisible,” but “O” for “Okay.”

Scholastic sent me some new fall releases and I immediately gravitated towards this middle school junior fiction novel about a witty pre-teen girl, Isadora. Like many girls her age, her life revolves around family, friends, and obsessing about first crushes. I remember being that age and going through similar experiences- especially feeling the confusion and hurt over the demise of a friendship.

Written in encyclopedia format, I found that sometimes the random entries (like ‘Stephen King’ or ‘Mesopotamia’) disrupted the storyline. They definitely acted as filler, as only a couple of the entries like ‘Mega Mall’ were much longer in comparison. These longer entries were used to help move along the plot and storyline. There was also use of photos (hairless cat, paella, etc.) and footnotes throughout Tink’s encyclopedia to allow for her random (yet hilarious) thoughts.

Although sometimes fluffy, the book also includes deeper issues like: being bi-racial, bullying, autism, and social pressures. I think Rivers did a great job at ensuring that Tink acted age-appropriate when dealing with those issues.  From the beginning to the end, Tink’s character grew and matured.  I was rooting for her the entire book, so her transformation was truly satisfying to read.

Pick up this touching and hilarious book September 2012. If you don’t take my word for it, Meg Cabot endorses the book too, declaring: ‘What every girl will be reading this year!’

PS-For all those still wondering what ‘quince’ is… it’s an Asian fruit tree.

Review: Cheesie Mack is Not a Genius or Anything by Steve Cotler

At our last Father/Son Bookclub the boys chose Diary of a Wimpykid: Dog Days and absolutely loved it. Since it was my turn as the moderator to choose the next book, I wanted a read-alike that would appeal to my grade 4-5 boys. I selected the junior fiction book, Cheesie Mack is Not a Genius or Anything by Steve Cotler after reading some positive reviews.

The humorous book was about Ronald ‘Cheesie’ Mack retelling the crazy events leading up to his grade five graduation. Cheesie began with Chapter 0 (The Story is Over!) where he informed readers that the story was about a “mysterious old coin, an evil sister, a dead sister, runaway rodents, a super-best friend, a fifth-grade graduation disaster, some really unusual words… and The Haunted Toad (pg1).” Sounds awesome, right?

Well it was… yet I am still so incredibly peeved at the amount of times the CheesieMack website was promoted that I find this review difficult to write. It seemed like every page had ‘if you like this or have something to add… please go to my website CheesieMack.com and let me know!’  Ughh- I just wanted to scream, enough already! We get it!  I’m sure there could have been an equally effective way of promoting the website without having it so ‘in your face’. I can’t wait to talk to the boys to see if they were equally annoyed and if any actually checked out the website while reading the book. 

Despite this SUPUGE (SUPER-HUGE) annoyance, the book did have some redeeming qualities:

-Cheesie’s voice as a tween boy is believable. I liked the character of Cheesie, especially when he was forced to make a tough decision that had the potential to affect his friendship with his best friend, Georgie. His family relationships were also fun to read about. I was amused by the ongoing secret point battle he had with his sister. Cheesie created a point rating scale and would designate points for whoever made better insults, got the other in trouble, etc.  I wonder what my score would be with my siblings…

-As a librarian, I love when a book teaches readers new vocabulary words in an interesting way. When Cheesie added and defined new words, it never felt forced. 

-Tween boys will enjoy this book.  The storyline was fun and humourous (such as Cheesie’s invented words like scoogled- scoot and wiggle). Another aspect that will appeal to boys was the addition of several visuals, including black and white illustrations and lists. When Cheesie used lists and bulleted points, it added a visual element that changed up the words from the standard text.

While Cheesie Mack is no Wimpy Kid, I think it will satisfy its target audience. Those that loved the book will be happy to know that Cheesie Mack is being turned into a series, with the second book, ‘Cheesie Mack is Cool in a Duel’ to be released June 2012. For those that can simply not wait for the next release, you can always check out the CheesyMack website! HA!

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