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.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Reporter's Review: Breathing, by Cheryl Renee Herbsman

Viking; 2009
Overall Grade: A-

Savannah Georgina has suffered from severe asthma ever since her father left when she was little--he literally, so she thinks, took her breath with him. Not until she meets the boy of her dreams does she begin to get better--until he has to leave, too. Savannah questions her ideas of love and loyalty while they endure a long-distance relationship...but eventually true love teaches her the importance of breathing for herself.
Breathing is incredibly refreshing--I would say it's a breath of fresh air, but I don't want to fall into puns already! Basically, it is a very real, very honest love story that captures the essence of a first, true love, and brings it to life in a way that is both profound and inspiring. Cheryl Renee Herbsman has the ability to restore your faith in love and in human nature itself through her novel and its lifelike characters. The first-person voice may be a bit hard for some to digest; the story is told in a heavy southern accent and style, which was somewhat distracting to me, at least, as a Northerner, though it certainly brings a unique style to the story. I also questioned whether some of the phrases/metaphors Savannah uses would be accurate to a girl her age--they seemed more middle-aged than teenager at times, but truly I have no way of knowing as the jargon was so unfamiliar. If there are any southerners who've read this book, please leave a comment--I really would love to know what your (more informed) opinion is! And to everyone else: if you like contemporary romances, you'll be impressed with the poignancy, honesty and faith that Savannah brings to her story.

Literary Quality: B
Plot: B
Voice: A-
Originality: A-
Descriptive Ability: A-
Humor: n/a
Illustrations: n/a
Believability of Characters: A+
Believability of Situations: A+ (The believability was exceptionally well done)
Overall Reading Enjoyment: A
Possibly objectionable topics*: crude language, sensuality, broken families, violence

Monday, August 24, 2009

Reporter's Review: The Problem with the Puddles, by Kate Feiffer, illustrated by Tricia Tusa

Simon and Schuster; 2009
Overall Grade: A

The Puddles are a family of oddballs who can't seem to get anything quite right--perhaps because for the past several years, the only thing Mr. and Mrs. Puddle have agreed upon is to disagree. When they leave their country house for their city house and accidentally leave their two dogs (both named Sally) behind, their crazy adventure begins.
Applause to Kate Feiffer for writing this story as she did; she completely ignored a lot of the "rules of writing," which, in my opinion, have practically become cliche because so few people know how to write a book without them. For this reason, The Problem with the Puddles is enjoyable and never predictable, the voice is strong and unique (and without being in first person!), and the humor is wonderful. The plot is rather thin--okay for a middle grade book, but it was annoying in such a clever story that certain plot twists or elements were left vague or unexplained. Nonetheless, even adults will enjoy this story for its lovable, zany characters and cute illustrations (which add to the text remarkably well).

Literary Quality: A-
Plot: B-
Voice: A+
Originality: A
Descriptive Ability: A+
Humor: A
Illustrations: A- Believability of Characters: A
Believability of Situations: B
Overall Reading Enjoyment: A

Possibly objectionable topics*: none

Monday, August 10, 2009

Reporter's Review: Anything But Typical, by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Simon and Schuster; 2009

Overall Grade: A

Even for a typical kid, it can be hard getting by from one school day to the next. Hard to relate. Hard to figure out the right thing to do at the right moment. But Jason is anything but typical, and for him, every day is a battle to be the best version of himself he can be. He finds release and happiness in writing short stories and sharing them with an online friend from a creative writing website--but will his happiness last when he gets the chance to meet her in person where he can't hide behind his stories?
Anything But Typical is well-written, with a cast of great characters, all very believable and well-developed. Nora Raleigh Baskin's story is touching as well as important, and she brings it masterfully to life with excellent metaphors and descriptions, great pacing, and a wonderful first-person voice. The one drawback was a slight difficulty following the plot in a few moments; because the story is told from Jason's viewpoint, there are times when it was hard to tell whether what he was revealing was his daydreams or actual events.
This is one for the Newbery watch list.
Literary Quality: A-
Plot: A-
Voice: A+
Originality: A-
Descriptive Ability: A+
Humor: n/a
Illustrations: n/a
Believability of Characters: A+
Believability of Situations: A+
Overall Reading Enjoyment: A+

Possibly objectionable topics*: bullying

Author Interview: Deva Fagan

Today we are pleased to present an interview with the very talented Deva Fagan, author of Fortune's Folly.

In Fortune's Folly, Fortunata is a young girl who must rely on her own cleverness to hold her life together... Magic might not be around the corner to help her, but she is smart enough to make her own happy ending come true. (Read my original review here: http://thechildrensbookreporter.blogspot.com/2009/07/reporters-review-fortunes-folly-by-deva.html)

CBR: Although Fortune's Folly fits into a "fairy tale" genre, it is
always Fortunata's ingenuity, rather than the help of a magic elf or
fairy godmother, that gets her out of trouble. What made you decide
to write this kind of non-traditional fairy tale?

DF: The original kernel of an idea for FORTUNE’S FOLLY was the concept of
a person who tells a fake fortune and then has to make it come true.
So in order to set that up, I decided it made sense to keep any hint
of “real magic” in the background. Plus, one of Fortunata’s defining
characteristics is that she is deeply pragmatic and just doesn’t
believe in magic: she isn’t going to wait around for a fairy godmother
to give her glass slippers. She’s going to go out there and FIND them
herself. Since the book is told in Fortunata’s voice, everything is
colored with that same pragmatism. My hope is that readers will come
out of the book asking themselves what is magic, what is chance, and
what is just the “good fortune” we make for ourselves.

I also found in writing FORTUNE’S FOLLY that I enjoyed not having
magic front-and-center, because it was more interesting to me as a
writer to find ways for the protagonist to overcome the challenges if
she didn’t have magical abilities. I have a great respect for writers
who can incorporate magic into their books in a way that is clever and
unique, because too often I find magic becomes a sort of skeleton key
that you just use to open whatever door is blocking your way.

CBR: What is your favorite fairy tale? Do you have a favorite modern
retelling? Favorite children's book in any genre?

DF: My favorite fairy tale is Beauty and the Beast. I have a special
fondness for Robin McKinley’s BEAUTY, which I think was the first
fairy tale retelling I ever read.

Choosing a single favorite children’s book would be virtually
impossible! There are so many!

I did, however, run a series of posts on my blog last December where I
spotlighted one of my childhood favorites on each day of the month.
The posts are here: http://devafagan.com/tag/childhood-favorites/

CBR: Undeniably, Fortune's Folly has a very clever, intricate plot...but
the characters are also wonderfully unique and three-dimensional. Did
you find it difficult to balance these two elements in the writing of
your story?

DF: Yes, actually one of my toughest struggles as a writer is to make sure
that I don’t get carried away by my ideas for plots before I find
real, living, breathing characters for them. I have written large
chunks and even entire drafts of books that I have ended up tossing
out because the characters just aren’t there yet!

CBR: What is your favorite part of being an author?

DF: Getting to meet and talk with other people who love books as much as I
do is probably the most rewarding thing. I still have to mentally
pinch myself sometimes after an email exchange with my editor about
books we’ve been reading, or an online chat with other writers, or an
interview like this! It’s just so weird and wonderful to actually be a
part of the awesome community of people who love kids books!

The other thing I really love is seeing my book in libraries. When I
was a kid (and now) libraries were one of my favorite places, and
where I discovered almost all my favorite books. So seeing FORTUNE’S
FOLLY out in libraries, being checked out and read, is a real dream
come true.

CBR: According to your website you have another book in the works--could
you give us any hints as to what we can expect?

DF: I have a second middle grade fantasy coming out from Henry Holt in the
BOGTHISTLE. Here’s a blurb:

All Prunella wants is to be a proper bog-witch. Unfortunately, her
curses tend to do more good than harm, and she hasn’t got a single
stinking wart. When her mixed-up magics allow a sneaky thief to escape
her grandmother’s garden, Prunella is cast out until she can prove
herself a true bog-witch.

It’s hard enough being exiled to the decidedly un-magical Uplands, but
traveling with the smugly charming young thief, Barnaby, is even
worse. He’s determined to gain fame and fortune by recovering the
missing Mirable Chalice. And to get what she wants, Prunella must help
him. But what if the aspiring villain and the would-be hero are on
the right quest . . . for the wrong reason?

CBR: Finally...Are there any questions you've always wanted to be asked
that you'd like to answer here?

DF: I am always happy to say “YES” anytime someone offers me chocolate,
curry or tea!

CBR: Thank you, Deva, for your time and thoughtfulness in this interview! We are definitely going to be haunting the bookstores next Spring for a copy of Prunella's story, and we wish you all the best..and plenty of chocolate, curry, and tea. :)
To read more about Deva Fagan and her novels, you can visit her very enjoyable and informative website: http://devafagan.com/

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Reporter's Review: Winnie's War, by Jenny Moss

Walker Books; February, 2009
Overall Grade: A-

1918: A world war is killing the boys abroad…but at home in Coward Creek, Texas, a feared epidemic is attacking all without discrimination and Winnie is determined to save her family from contracting the deadly Spanish Influenza. Between her controlling, irritable grandmother, her silent father, her traumatized mother, and the possibility of losing her best friend, Winnie has a lot to deal with, but her courage and stubbornness serve her well in her own battle to hold her family together.
Winnie’s War is written in a lovely, engaging style, sharing aspects of L. M. Montgomery’s or Eleanor Estes’ literary qualities. Jenny Moss’s portrayal of the era of the First World War was very real and engaging, and her book escaped becoming depressing as one might expect of a book about sickness and death. The plot was fairly simple and some minor secondary characters could have been more developed; however, Winnie herself is a delightful protagonist, very strong and appealing, and the more important secondary characters are unusually complex and believable.

Literary Quality: A
Plot: B
Voice: A
Originality: A-
Descriptive Ability: A-
Humor: n/a
Illustrations: n/a
Believability of Characters: A (A+ for Winnie, Clara, Mr. Levy, and Winnie's parents, B+ for the others...)
Believability of Situations: A+
Overall Reading Enjoyment: A

Possibly objectionable topics*: death and illness, one secondary character with intense emotional disturbances

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Coming soon to a blog near you...

Just to whet your appetite (and because I'm excited about it), here are our coming attractions in author interviews!

Deva Fagan, author of Fortune's Folly

Charity Tahmaseb and Darcy Vance, authors of The Geek Girl's Guide to Cheerleading

Even more are soon to follow, so (to be really tacky about it) ...stay tuned!

Reporter's Review: Faith, Hope, and Ivy June, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Delacorte; 2009
Overall Grade: A-

A few miles can make a big difference--or maybe not so big... Ivy June Mosley of backwoods Thunder Creek and Catherine Combs of affluent Lexington are chosen for a Kentucky exchange program where each girl is able to spend two weeks in the other's home to see "life on the other side" of the mountains. While both facing their own personal dramas and family problems/disappointments, Catherine and Ivy June are able to learn that while lifestyles may differ, humans face the same problems everywhere you go.
Faith, Hope, and Ivy June was a very good example of a book which focuses on its setting; both Thunder Creek and Lexington were portrayed believably and visually, while also creating an emotional connection with the reader for the place as well as the characters. Not to belittle the characters, for they were the heart and soul of the story and Ms Naylor did a wonderful job of filling her cast with memorable, lovable, and complex human beings. The main aspect that seemed to be lacking was the emotional intensity in the plot; while a lot of "big" things, serious and potentially life-altering things, are happening, it felt as though they were not developed to their full emotional potential. Everything, except the final climax, resolved itself quite quickly, leaving me as a reader with the feeling that the conflicts would have been more suited to a shorter book. However, partially because of this, it is a story that can be recommended to a younger reader with a sensitivity to too much tension--while still able to be enjoyed by older children and adults as well.

Literary Quality: B
Plot: B-
Voice: A-
Originality: A-
Descriptive Ability: A+
Humor: n/a
Illustrations: n/a
Believability of Characters: A+
Believability of Situations: A+
Overall Reading Enjoyment: A

Possibly objectionable topics*: family conflicts, corporal punishment

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Food for Thought

"When we see a natural style we are quite amazed and delighted, because we expected to see an author and find a man."
~Blaise Pascal, Pensées, 1670