We don't do stars...
We don't do thumbs...
We read children's books and grade them in 10 categories:
literary quality
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.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Reporter's Review: Dying to Meet You; 43 Old Cemetery Road, by Kate Klise, illustrated by M. Sarah Klise

Harcourt; April, 2009
Overall Grade: B+/A-

Ignatius B. Grumply, an author of children's books with a twenty-year case of writer's block, decides to rent a old Victorian mansion in which he can ignore the distractions of the world and meet his publisher's deadline for his latest ghost story. But he soon finds out he's hardly safe from distractions there: a boy, a cat, and a very old ghost are already living on the third floor, and they don't intend to let him rest.

Dying to Meet You was an easy, enjoyable read which will likely be devoured by middle grade lovers of not-too-scary ghost stories. There was nothing spectacularly wonderful about it...but there was nothing which stood out as bad, either. Basically, it was cute and clever. You'll probably have fun reading it; you're less likely to be reading it to your grandkids in 20 years.

Literary Quality: B
Plot: B
Voice: A-
Originality: A
Descriptive Ability: B
Humor: A
Illustrations: B (They're cute, but they don't add much to the text)
Believability of Characters: A-
Believability of Situations: A-
Overall Reading Enjoyment: A-

Possibly objectionable topics*: parental neglect; ghosts (imagine that!)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Reporter's Review: The Geek Girl's Guide to Cheerleading, by Charity Tahmaseb and Darcy Vance

Simon Pulse; 2009
Overall Grade: A

How does a self-proclaimed and universally-acknowledged geek girl get to be one of the most popular kids in school? Join the cheerleading squad, naturally. If it sounds strange to you for a geek to wear an insanely short skirt, show off her mad split skills, and flirt with the star of the basketball team, then you're already in agreement with Bethany, the main character and hilarious narrator of The Geek Girl's Guide to Cheerleading. She tries out for the squad to please a friend--but she never expected how actually making it would change her life, her relationships, and herself. And whoever thought those cutesy ditzes worked so hard?
From the perspective of someone who's spent a lot of time in the geek world, I can vouch that Charity Tahmaseb and Darcy Vance ship have got their main character and her very funny geek friends right on. I can't personally verify the cheerleader aspect, but the portrait the authors paint of both worlds are exceptionally believable and tangible. I could say to read this book for the great humor...or for the character development and relationships and friendships...or just for the insight into the world of geekdom... But really you should just read it because it's a fabulous, fresh, and funny story that will bring out the inner geek in all of us.

Literary Quality: B
Plot: B (It's a character book, but there are some nice twists)
Voice: A
Originality: A
Descriptive Ability: A
Humor: A+
Illustrations: n/a
Believability of Characters: A
Believability of Situations: A
Overall Reading Enjoyment: A+
Possibly objectionable topics*: language, moderate sensuality and references to sex, underage drinking (not engaged in by the protagonist; viewed as very dangerous)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Reporter's Review: Fortune's Folly, by Deva Fagan

Henry Holt; April 2009
Overall Grade: A

Princesses in dire peril…a prince with a destiny to fulfill… an all-knowing fortune teller: seems like the recipe for a perfect fairy tale. Unless, that is, you are that all-knowing fortune teller—and not only don’t you believe your own fortunes, you don’t believe in fairy tales at all. Fortunata, the shoemaker’s daughter, is satisfied concocting fake portions to keep food on her father’s plate after he loses his wife and all his creative ability. But under the influence of an evil master, she is tricked into giving a prince a prophecy she is sure won’t come true…and she soon finds out that she is bound to see it does. If Fortunata is not able to help the prince fulfill his destiny (a.k.a. her prophecy), her father’s life will be taken. As she struggles to make the fortune come true, Fortunata learns that perseverance, a little wit, and a lot of love can be more powerful than magic itself.
Fortune’s Folly is, first and foremost, a very enjoyable book to read, full of all the great characters and action and true emotions you could hope to find in an original fairy tale. But Deva Fagan’s construction of plot and her clever allusions to many old fairy tales take the book to a higher level, far above the average fairy tale retelling. Like its plot, there are a lot of pieces to this story itself: action, romance, intrigue, characters…and each one fits seamlessly. Fans of fairy tales aren’t the only readers who will be fascinated and delighted with this excellent debut novel—the writing makes for a story that crosses and transcends genres and can be appreciated by everyone.

Literary Quality: A
Plot: A
Voice: A
Originality: A+
Descriptive Ability: A-
Humor: A (though limited, what’s there is good)
Illustrations: n/a
Believability of Characters: A
Believability of Situations: A
Overall Reading Enjoyment: A+

Possibly objectionable topics*: some scary moments and violence

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Monday's Food for Thought (...just on Tuesday!)

"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass."
~Anton Chekhov

Special Topics: The Dreaded Anachronism

This is a short post about a small issue:
One short, small word that is my biggest pet peeve:
No one is certain about this word/term's origins, but remember this if you're writing a historical novel: it's American, mid-ninteenth century.
Times and places this word was not used, the literary conversations of which I've seen it inserted into:
Regency England (in a few books, actually)
Revolutionary War America
Revolutionary War France (Although maybe you could make an argument for translation there...I guess they weren't speaking English anyway!)
Here's a link to just one dictionary entry regarding "OK"...for a more thorough treatment, you'll have to find a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary somewhere:

Monday, July 6, 2009

Monday's Food for Thought

"Don't you understand that we need to be childish in order to understand? Only a child sees things with perfect clarity, because it hasn't developed all those filters which prevent us from seeing things that we don't expect to see."
--Douglas Adams

Friday, July 3, 2009

Reporter's Review: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly

Henry Holt; May, 2009
Overall Grade: A-

As the only girl stuck in the middle of six brothers, Calpurnia (Callie Vee) Tate has to fend for herself—and in turn-of-the-century Texas, this means fighting for her right to be a girl with interests other than knitting and sewing and learning a new dish to cook every week…in particular, interests in the budding field of naturalism, in which Callie turns to her reclusive grandfather for help and mentorship. Through the course of several months she develops an unexpected friendship with the old man, who teaches her, though word and example, that she can be whatever she dreams of becoming.
With The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, we’ve never been so grateful for our grading system, which allows the individualization of various elements: the pacing and slow, but steady character development in Jacqueline Kelly’s story was exemplary, very fine writing; the sense of place and time was excellent; the reading enjoyment was unflagging. It is hard to say, however, whether the average (or even above-average) middle grade reader would be able to appreciate the extremely subtle plot. As far as plots go, this one was only average: whole chapters pass with no development—one chapter is entirely devoted to Callie and her family’s musical taste, another entirely to the history of their maid. The overall story arch is very small. It should be kept in mind, however, that this is Ms Kelly’s first novel—if she can bring the same flow and character and language to her future stories while devising more clever or complicated plots, her work will certainly be among the best of this time.

Literary Quality: A
Plot: C
Voice: A+
Originality: A
Descriptive Ability: A+
Humor: A
Illustrations: n/a (Though praise should be given to the gorgeous dust jacket)
Believability of Characters: A-
Believability of Situations: A
Overall Reading Enjoyment: A

Possibly objectionable topics*: mild language, veiled Victorian references to sex