We don't do stars...
We don't do thumbs...
We read children's books and grade them in 10 categories:
literary quality
plot
voice
originality
descriptive ability
humor (if attempted)
illustrations (if present)
believability of characters
believability of situations
overall reading enjoyment

There is no grading curve. There are no points for classroom participation. There is no extra credit.
If you disagree, come speak to us after class.

The Grading System

A+.....this means (guess what) we think it's great. So great it surprised even us.
A.....this means it's pretty darn good. A book we'd recommend to just about everyone we know.
B.....better than most. Not exactly Shakespeare for kids, though, if you get our drift.
C.....mediocre. Like the color beige, it didn't stand out.
D.....we didn't like it. There were more bad aspects than good ones.
F.....it reeked of badness. We read it over and over when we are in dire need of hysterical laughter.
F-.....We're pretty sure Dante had a circle of hell for the people who wrote these...and a lower circle for those who published them.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Reporter's Review: Cicada Summer, by Andrea Beaty

Overall Grade: A-
Amulet Books; 2008

In this case, we want to start by airing our biggest complaint: whoever wrote the dust jacket blurb for Cicada Summer did Andrea Beaty a grave injustice. From the blurb, we expected a sickly-sweet, happy-go-lucky story about one girl’s exciting summer; in other words, we expected to hate it. We did not. The actual book was completely different from its description, being a meaningful story of dealing with loss and guilt in a way that is refreshingly uplifting and honest. The one disappointment was that the book’s very short length (at 167 small pages) left some loose ends in character development and plot that could have been tied up more effectively in a slightly longer work.

Literary Quality: A-
Plot: B+
Voice: A
Originality: A-
Descriptive Ability: B
Humor: B
Illustrations: (none)
Believability of Characters: A-
Believability of Situations: A+
Overall Reading Enjoyment: A


Possibly objectionable topics*: death of a child; a criminal parent.

Reporter's Review: Acting Out

Atheneum; 2008

This, by necessity, is a different sort of review. Acting Out is a compilation of six one-act plays by six Newbery medalists: Avi, Susan Cooper, Sharon Creech, Patricia MacLachlan, Katherine Paterson, and Richard Peck. Plays, for one thing, cannot be critiqued as books can be; and for another thing, it would take way too long to critique each play individually.
We’ve given an overall grade to each playwright, based on 4 factors: plot, character, dialogue, and one more… When the book’s editor spoke with the authors, he gave them one criterion: each other must pick one word, and each author must use all six words in his or her play. Our final grade is based upon how well each playwright completed this task…after all, if that’s their gimmick, they should be able to stand the consequences… The words were: dollop, hoodwink, Justin, knuckleball, panhandle, and raven.

Avi: “Not Seeing is Believing”
Plot: C- (Bo-ring…can’t imagine kids wanting to act it)
Character: C
Dialogue: B (Kind of trite, but there were funny bits)
Word Usage: B

Susan Cooper: “The Dollop”
Plot: B
Character: A
Dialogue: B (It would have been better if it weren’t for the talking rock…)
Word Usage: C (A rock that’s named, and repeats, “Dollop”? Seriously…)

Sharon Creech: “The Raven”
Plot: A (It’s pretty funny, kids would like the kooky twists)
Character: A
Dialogue: A-
Word Usage: B- (Some were good, but others…)

Patricia MacLachlan: “The Bad Room”
Plot: D (we saw a popular movie with the same plot two years ago…we’ll give her the benefit of the doubt that she never saw it and didn’t purposely plagiarize…but either way, it wasn’t all that creative)
Character: A-
Dialogue: B-
Word Usage: C- (Inserting the words as random vocabulary words was just too predictable…and came across as desperate.)

Katherine Paterson: “The Billionaire and the Bird”
Plot: B- (It was well executed, but she did take it direct from Hans Christian Anderson)
Character: A
Dialogue: A-
Word Usage: A (We especially liked her use of “panhandle”…read it to find out)

Richard Peck: “Effigy in the Outhouse”
Plot: A (Very original and interesting)
Character: A
Dialogue: B (The play format may have been a little stumbling block, because sometimes the dialogue did not allow the story to flow as smoothly as Peck’s stories do)
Word Usage: B+


Possibly objectionable topics* in all six plays: none.

Reporter's Review: The Boy Who Dared, by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Overall Grade: B+
Scholastic; 2008

Susan Campbell Bartoletti is a wonderful researcher. In The Boy Who Dared, she found the story of a reluctant Hitler youth who is brave (and maybe stupid, as his family thought) enough to stand against the Nazis and risk his life for truth. Undeniably, the story itself is beautiful, although it is hard to give the author credit for that—after all, she only found it—the main character, Helmuth Hubener, is the real author of his story. It was well-told, however—not excellently, but not badly either. At times the character’s reactions were unbelievable, and Helmuth’s change from a young, excited Hilter-supporter to a angry, disillusioned Nazi-hater is jolting and confusing. The flashback style is interesting and the descriptions of the concentration camp are moving, if somewhat stylistically overdone.
Nonetheless, this is a book to be read. The author was brave enough to make a statement herself: the second world war was terrible for everyone. The atrocities committed against the Jews tend to have plenty of media—and as deserved as that is, it is enlightening to see the story from another perspective. Brave Germans—even ones such as Helmuth and his brother who were forced into serving the Nazis—also deserve to have their stories told.

Literary Quality: B
Plot: B
Voice: B
Originality: B
Descriptive Ability: A
Humor: B
Illustrations: (none)
Believability of Characters: B-
Believability of Situations: A
Overall Reading Enjoyment: A-


Possibly objectionable topics*: war; violence (including torture and privations of a concentration camp); Nazi propaganda involving anti-Semitism (shown in a negative light, of course).

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Reporter's Review: Bewitching Season, by Marissa Doyle

Overall Grade: B
Henry Holt; 2008

In Bewitching Season, by Marissa Doyle, the twin sisters Pers(ephon)e and Pen(elope) Leland are caught in a jumble of social obligations, political intrigues, silk gowns, and sorcerer’s spells. Cleverly plotted and rich with interesting historical details of early Victorian England, the story is gripping and intriguing…it would have been really wonderful if it didn’t fit quite so easily into a prefabricated genre, easily fitting into the spin-off slot of either Harry Potter or Bewitched. Nonetheless, the historical elements and likable characters (particularly some of the secondary ones) saved it from mediocrity: it was good, fair and square.
Now, to continue to be fair, our pet peeves must be aired: Too much explanation of the way magic works, at unlikely moments in dialogue; Too much “cute” magic for which there is no cost, no consequence; Anachronistic (modern) dialogue in a historical piece; Stereotypical romantic situations. That’s all… They may seem like such trivial things to complain about, and they probably are—but thus they are also trivial things to fix in a manuscript before it is published. Without those few weaknesses, the believability and enjoyment of Bewitching Season would have been vastly improved.
We wouldn’t complain about them if the rest wasn’t good, however…So, Bravo to Ms. Doyle on her first venture into publication.


Literary Quality: B
Plot: A
Voice: B+
Originality: C
Descriptive Ability: B
Humor: B+
Illustrations: (none)
Believability of Characters: B
Believability of Situations: B
Overall Reading Enjoyment: A-


Possibly objectionable topics*: witchcraft and sorcery; gossip of adultery and illegitimate children.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Reporter's Review: Princess Ben, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Overall Grade: B+
Houghton Mifflin; 2008

Catherine Gilbert Murdock may have created one of the most original fairy tale princesses ever in her gluttonous, spunky, ill-behaved Princess Ben. She did an excellent job of making us feel for an imperfect character, enough to love her despite (and because of) her imperfections, and love her even more as she overcomes them. Unfortunately, the secondary characters shared neither this charm nor believability, but Ben was lovable enough to compensate. The plot was well-thought-out and creative; again, unfortunately not all aspects were as good as others. Sometimes the first-person narrator dramatized a situation at first telling, only for us to find out later that the whole issue wasn’t too big a deal, insignificant enough to be trivialized away in a sentence or two. We would have liked to see Ben resolve these issues, instead of having them resolve themselves. Overall, though: a worthwhile read.

Literary Quality: B (some anachronisms and inconsistent language detracted from style)
Plot: A-
Voice: A-
Originality: A
Descriptive Ability: A-
Humor: A
Illustrations: (none)
Believability of Characters: C (In particular, the secondary characters came across flat)
Believability of Situations: C
Overall Reading Enjoyment: A-


Possibly objectionable topics*: sorcery; “bawdy jokes”; warfare.

Reporter's Review: The Underneath, by Kathi Appelt

Overall Grade: B-
Atheneum; 2008

The Underneath is Kathi Appelt’s debut novel; her writing skill certainly indicates that it will be the first of many. Her words have a beautiful, poetic quality—our one complaint is that this style may have been slightly overused for a prose narrative, but we could certainly see future books succeeding very nicely in an unadulterated poetry format. And yet, despite its many excellent qualities (honest characters, beautiful language, stunning descriptions), we still can’t say that The Underneath was a book we enjoyed. Especially considering Ms. Appelt’s skill with words, we felt betrayed and disappointed that she chose to manipulate her audience to feel one emotion: the weight of tragedy. Or rather, depression, for tragedy involves a basically good character failing through one unfortunate flaw, whereas The Underneath’s sadness stems from basically bad characters –with one or two good traits—being true to their natures and making bad decisions. And, although the end promises redemption, it doesn’t make good on the promise. In the very last paragraphs, the character who is the cause of most of the catastrophe saves the lives of the protagonists by making one good decision. Supposedly this redeems her—but we would have to argue that this is not redemption…it is simply a character finally making the kind of choice any decent person would have been making all along. There is absolutely no sacrifice, no risk to herself, that is the essence of true redemption.

Literary Quality: B
Plot: C
Voice: A
Originality: C
Descriptive Ability: A+
Humor: C
Illustrations: A (by Caldecott winner David Small)
Believability of Characters: A
Believability of Situations: B
Overall Reading Enjoyment: D


Possibly objectionable topics*: death; violence, including child and animal abuse.

Reporter's Review: Wings, by E. D. Baker

Overall Grade: D
Bloomsbury; 2008

So, obviously you can tell by the grades that we didn’t enjoy this book very much. It can be difficult to be objective without sounding mean, but please believe that we offer this report not to put down the author but to provide her book with the only completely honest critique she may have received up to this point.
Let us begin by saying first of all that E. D. Baker’s Wings had some decent plot points. Unfortunately, the first half of the book did not reflect that, and it was over half-way through the narrative before anything other than the desire to finish the book made us want to keep reading. She had two main characters: Tamisin, a half-fairy, and Jak, a half-goblin. Once she started to show us Jak’s viewpoint, the story gained an interest that was lacking in Tamisin’s story. Presumably, Ms. Baker’s book was directed toward a female audience, but that is no reason to begin a story with a less interesting character, simply because she is the same gender as the majority of readers. Throughout the book, there is a strong tendency toward the predictable and clich√©, particularly in descriptions and character reactions; however, one or two quite good metaphors or lines of dialogue proved that Ms. Baker is capable of better. We would suggest—and this is a suggestion we proffer to all authors—that in future manuscripts, she elicit the help of a good critique group to help point out these failings, as it can be hard to see the obvious in something that has been staring you in the face for months. A fresh perspective always helps, as does forcing yourself to read your book, as one author said, as though it were not your own: force a fresh perspective on yourself. Having created a world like the one in Wings, we are sure that E. D. Baker has enough imagination to do so.

Literary Quality: D
Plot: C+
Voice: C-
Originality: C
Descriptive Ability: F
Humor: D
Illustrations: (none)
Believability of Characters: D
Believability of Situations: F (As in all fantasies, we are not referring to the fantastical situations, but the believability of the characters’ reactions to these situations and the logical progression from one situation to the next)
Overall Reading Enjoyment: D


Possibly objectionable topics*: pregnancy outside of wedlock; mild violence.

Reporter's Review: Ever, by Gail Carson Levine

Overall Grade: B
Harper Collins; 2008

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS.

Take a plot hook √° la Percy Jackson, add a best-selling Newbery-honoree, and you have the basic recipe for success with Gail Carson Levine’s newest book, Ever. Now don’t get us wrong, the book wasn’t terrible by any measure—but it was a letdown considering our expectations. The plot involves Kezi, a young girl from the land of Hyte, and Olus, the young god of the winds from Mount Akka. The twist: Kezi worships Admat—the One God—but through a tragic (and admittedly well-written) chain of events, is vowed to be offered as human sacrifice to her Lord. When she begins to fall in love with Olus, her faith is tested, but Olus devises a plan: Kezi must fulfill the test to become a goddess herself—that way, she can still be sacrificed, but never actually die. From a plot point of view, the end was disappointing. So, Kezi becomes a goddess—but she had to completely change herself and give up her family to do so. Maybe we just expected something more encouraging from the author of be-true-to-yourself Ella Enchanted. We were left feeling that Ms. Levine sacrificed something herself: meaning. By pushing an exciting, twisty plotline, she missed the opportunity to portray a meaningful message through her characters. The only message we were left with was: life is confusing, so don’t believe anything.
On a final note, we feel we should explain our grade of the voice. Technically, it wasn’t bad, except it seemed far too young for the Young Adult category that the book was placed in due to its subject matter. However, the author risked telling the story from two points of view, back and forth—and this flawed it. The voices individually were both fine—but they were exactly the same. Unless you payed close attention, you would forget who was speaking when. All the thoughts could have come from the same mind…which kept us from ever forgetting that, of course, they did.

Literary Quality: B
Plot: B
Voice: C
Originality: B
Descriptive Ability: B
Humor: C
Illustrations: (none)
Believability of Characters: B
Believability of Situations: C
Overall Reading Enjoyment: B+


Possibly objectionable topics*: semi-graphic violence including human sacrifice; bawdy innuendos; subject matter dealing with a multitude of gods and doubt in an omniscient God.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Reporter's Review: Trouble, by Gary Schmidt

Overall Grade: B
Clarion; 2008

Trouble. Trouble. Trouble. So far, this is the most difficult review we’ve had to write. Gary Schmidt undeniably does some amazing things with words—take any individual sentence in the book and you will be impressed by the beauty and flow of his language. The only problem is… It. Never. Stops. Every sentence is beautiful, which resulted in a sort of emotional stagnancy. The bar was set extremely high by beginning the story with a heart-wrenching tragedy breaking into Henry Smith’s beautiful, perfect world when his older brother is hit by a car, loses an arm and becomes comatose; but the author seems reluctant to let his readers feel any emotion other than melancholy for the rest of the book. Every scene is poignant…which makes all of them less moving than they ought to be. We wanted to feel the nitty-grittiness of daily life, but were hindered by the constancy of the florid language. Also, as beautiful as it was, much of it was overdone.
It was a pretty nice story…not astonishingly original, and we predicted the ending after the first quarter, but there was a good flow of character development and a brother-sister relationship that was almost really good.

Literary Quality: A-
Plot: C
Voice: B
Originality: B
Descriptive Ability: A+
Humor: B-
Illustrations: (none)
Believability of Characters: C
Believability of Situations: A-
Overall Reading Enjoyment: C


Possibly objectionable topics*: racism, vandalism, acts of violence, violent injury and death

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Reporter's Review: The Case of the Bizarre Bouquet, an Enola Holmes Mystery, by Nancy Springer

Overall Grade: C-
Philomel; 2008

If you are going to try and recreate one of the most beloved literary characters of all time, you had better do a good job of it. Nancy Springer, in her newest Enola Holmes mystery, The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets, did not. The portrayal of the legendary Sherlock Holmes was nothing less than literary libel. Not only was Sherlock inextricably muddled in logic, Ms. Springer took it upon herself to portray him, along with every other man of Victorian England, as an adamant fighter against the freedom of women. We liked the idea of throwing a strong, feminist character such as Enola into a male-dominated world, but there is a difference between feminism and unconstrained gender-bashing. Certainly, if a male author had made such condescending and condemning remarks about women as a sex, he would be blackballed from every publishing house in the country…not to mention the country itself. We must give Ms. Springer the benefit of the doubt, however. Perhaps she really believes that the average man would condemn his wife to an insane asylum could he not divorce her. Perhaps she finds it logical to suppose that men made women wear long skirts for centuries so they could not do anything. Perhaps all the men she has ever met in her life are complete losers. That would explain a great deal.
The writing of the book was mediocre—full of run-on, convoluted sentences and forced usages of archaic words. One use of “frisson” in a period book is acceptable, but two? And three instances of “proboscis”? Perhaps Ms. Springer should spend a little less time burying her own proboscis in a thesaurus, and a little more time putting it to the grindstone to whittle her sentence length down. Here’s some statistics: we took a sentence at random and counted 74 words (10 of which had 9 or more letters), 7 clauses, 4 commas and 2 dashes. Feel free to disregard this review if you do not agree that such an example screams of writing eccentricity just begging to be tamed.
One last thing we must mention… Mysteries should be solved by cleverness and intelligence, not by chance. Certainly not because you happen to be in the right place at the right time to hear the right conversation—for no better reason than you thought you’d take a stroll at the moment. Certainly not because you throw together some mad coincidences and act upon them as though they were flesh-and-blood clues.
Ms. Springer was right about one thing: Sherlock Holmes would have been horrified at his sister’s behavior. This book was elementary, indeed.

Literary Quality: C
Plot: C
Voice: B
Originality: B
Descriptive Ability: B
Humor: C
Illustrations: (none)
Believability of Characters: D
Believability of Situations: D
Overall Reading Enjoyment: C


Possibly objectionable topics*: Abandonment of child by parent; Several references to prostitutes; One instance of mildly crude humor; Strong anti-male sentiment.

Reporter's Review: A Curse Dark as Gold, by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Overall Grade: A
Arthur A. Levine; April, 2008

You tread upon dangerous ground when you decide to re-write a fairy tale; why mess with something that has satisfied readers for hundreds of generations, after all? We suppose the only reason is that you could do it better—and Elizabeth C. Bunce turned Rumpelstiltskin into something it has never been before. Although A Curse Dark as Gold is written for young adults, “old adults” would do well to read it and consider its themes. Who would have guessed that an old fairy tale could become a vehicle for a profound story about family, friendship, marriage, perseverance, and forgiveness?
While the evil pervading the story was at times a little unsettling (you tread on even more dangerous ground when you thrust a fairy tale into the “real world,” curses, witches and all), the main characters’ goodness was so overwhelming and so honestly portrayed that it made up for the bad stuff…and a lot of bad stuff happened to these poor characters. The story is of a cursed family trying to keep their generations-old wool mill alive against all odds…so don’t read it if you’re not prepared for some heart-wrenching moments when terrible things happen just when you were expecting the storm clouds to clear away.
But rest assured, they do clear away at the end in true fairy-tale fashion… You know how some writers are beginning writers—with this amazing first chapter that pulls you in right away and instantly links your life to the characters? And some are middle writers, developing plot twists that make your head spin? Elizabeth Bunce is an ending writer. Few people can pull off an ending this good, and it’s more than worth a slightly slow beginning to get to it.


Literary Quality: A
Plot: A
Voice: A+
Originality: A
Descriptive Ability: A+
Humor: (none, not factored into grade)
Illustrations: (none)
Believability of Characters: A+
Believability of Situations: A-
Overall Reading Enjoyment: A


Possibly objectionable topics*: Two brief illusions to sex—the first in a very respectful reference to marriage, the second referring to the illegitimate parentage of a character (Neither are in any way graphic or crude); witchcraft; curses; violent death of multiple characters (again, not graphic)

Reporter's Review: Eleven, by Patricia Reilly Giff

Overall Grade: C
Random House, Wendy Lamb Books; 2008

Eleven, from Newbery Honor recipient Patricia Reilly Giff, was pretty disappointing. There isn’t much actually bad to say about it—our biggest specific complaint was that she had characters cry when this seemed a little over the top. The saddest thing about this book was that nothing—at all—stood out. The plot was mediocre and predictable, the tension seemed contrived, the characters weren’t vivid enough. For a book that on the surface seems to be all about relationships (Sam’s relationship with his grandfather, with the new girl at school, with his reading teacher, with his neighbors), the relationships were very vaguely recreated…and the problem is it didn’t turn out to be about anything else either.
Eleven wasn’t a bad read, wasn’t an unpleasant way to spend a few hours…but we probably won’t remember it by this time next week.


Literary Quality: B
Plot: C
Voice: C
Originality: C
Descriptive Ability: B
Humor: C
Illustrations: (none)
Believability of Characters: C
Believability of Situations: C
Overall Reading Enjoyment: C


Possibly objectionable topics*: Vague memories of child abuse.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Children's Book Reporter: Book Reports for Children's Books

Have we mentioned why we're here? We've noticed a striking lack of book reviews that analyze children's books in any depth. When we want to find a good book to read, we want to know a lot more about it than whether someone "liked" it or not--liking, you must agree is extremely subjective. We hope to provide reviews that give more information than this. Yes, we will say whether or not we liked it...but we will also tell you why in as much detail as we can put and still be entertaining.
Please post a comment here and let us know what you think of our system!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Reporter's Review: The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, by Jeanne Birdsall

Overall Grade: A-
Knopf; 2008

There is a character mentioned in The Penderwicks on Gardam Street who claims to have been all sorts of people in her past lives: Mary Queen of Scots, Mary Magdalene…lots of Mary’s. If we believed in reincarnation, we’d have a list of people Jeanne Birdsall might have been in a past life: L. M. Montgomery, Eleanor Estes, Elizabeth Enright, Hilda Van Stockum. Her book had an old-fashioned (in a good way) charm that permeated the entire story and made it altogether lovable despite a somewhat predictable plot and a horrible dust jacket—but the latter wasn’t Ms. Birdsall’s fault, poor woman. The characters’ development was believable and meaningful, and you can’t help but love them all. Their problems are those of an innocent lot of girls, without so many problems found in most contemporary novels—which was nice to find. Having had pretty innocent childhoods ourselves, it was refreshing to see a modern children’s book that actually acknowledged such childhoods as normal. A quote from the aforementioned L. M. Montgomery comes to mind: “Don’t be led away by those yowls about realism. Remember—pine woods are just as real as pigsties—and a darn sight pleasanter to be in.” The Penderwicks, etc was a very pleasant book to find oneself immersed in—it will be on our shelf years from now for our children to enjoy—with our hearty recommendation. Not to sound hackneyed, but just make sure not to judge this book by its cover!


Literary Quality: A
Plot: B+
Voice: A+
Originality: B
Descriptive Ability: A
Humor: A
Illustrations: F (We hate to do it, but the dust jacket was possibly the worst we have ever seen on a children’s book. It looks like someone not artistically-inclined printed it out from Microsoft Publisher.)
Believability of Characters: A (This has emotional honesty at its best)
Believability of Situations: A+
Overall Reading Enjoyment: A+


Possibly objectionable topics*: Death of a parent

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Reporter's Review: The Willoughbys, by Lois Lowry

Overall Grade: A
Houghton Mifflin; April 2008

Once upon a time there was a clever woman named Lois Lowry who wrote a great many children’s books and won gold medals that got printed into stickers and put on the covers of two of them. Then one day, she decided to flout all convention and write a book called “The Willoughbys” about four children who wish they were orphans with two parents who wish they were childless. Both teams work at their goals with great spirit and determination, but the children prevail. With their fairy-tale billionaire benefactor and odd (but not really odious) nanny and a couple random children thrown into the mix, they live happily and parentlessly ever after. The End.
The strangest thing about this book was how much we liked it. Considering how recognizable the name of “Lowry” is in the insightful, complex, thought-provoking branch of the Children’s Literature World, her sense of humor was so surprisingly wonderful in this book that it left us smiling long after we finished shaking our heads in disbelief at the Willoughby parents (un)timely demise near the end. No one in the past or present world of books seemed safe from the narrator’s sarcastic wit, and we loved it—but let us note that Lowry owes a profound debt to Roald Dahl. If he hadn’t been so insanely clever—and perhaps plain insane—she not only would have missed out on a few jokes but would have left us with our mouths gaping open at her irreverent humor. After all, we’ve seen squished aunts, devoured parents, malevolent toddlers, and unbalanced candy-makers…so we can put up with a little more lunacy now.

Literary Quality: A+ (It’s Lois Lowry—what did you expect?)
Plot: A
Voice: A+
Originality: A
Descriptive Ability: A-
Humor: A (We wanted so badly to give it an A+…but there was this one lame joke… Oh, why did you do it, Dear Author? Considering how short the book is, it is simply unforgivable to use more than one page to lead up to a joke about NOT naming a candy bar Baby Ruth.)Illustrations: A- (Despite the proviso on the cover they were not ignominious, but added to the spirit and interest of the story)
Believability of Characters: A (For a farcical work, that is; everyone was developed well and the emotional honesty of the main characters—though not always the secondary ones—was absolutely top-notch)
Believability of Situations: A (See above)
Overall Reading Enjoyment: A+

Possibly objectionable topics*: Neglectful parents; Parents abandoning their children; Children planning their parents’ death; Unhappy marriages.
As a warning: anyone without a developed sense of sarcasm should be carefully monitored during the reading of this product.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Reporter's Review: The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, by Trenton Lee Stewart

Overall Grade: B+
Little, Brown; May 2008

OK...so it has the longest name of any decent book we've read since From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, but the point is: it's decent. It's refreshing to read a book where the author treats his readers with respect, dropping words like "phalanx" without a pause for breath or explanation. Overall, it fell into the category of sequels that don't live up to "the first one"; the beginning was very slow, and the conflict was non-existent for the first 70 pages. On the other hand, it kept us laughing almost constantly, with ridiculously lovable characters and brain-stimulating humor on practically every page. On the whole, the book was almost as clever as its protagonists.

Literary Quality: B+ (We got oh, so tired of all the parenthetical comments and repetitive back-story)
Plot: A
Voice: B+ (It jumped around so much from one character to another that we got confused...)
Originality: A
Descriptive Ability: A
Humor: A
Illustrations: B
Believability of Characters: B+
Believability of Situations: B
Overall Reading Enjoyment: A

Possibly Objectionable Material*: None we could find