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.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Reporter's Review: Al Capone Shines My Shoes, by Gennifer Choldenko

Dial, 2009
Overall Grade: A-/A

Moose Flanagan is still the nice boy of the kids living on Alcatraz Island. Their parents are guards—but even they can’t quite keep the incorrigible group of youngsters from getting involved where they shouldn’t. And getting involved with notorious gangster Al Capone tops the list. When Scarface Al asks Moose for a favor in return for helping Moose’s autistic (though that word is never used) sister Natalie into a good school, Moose doesn’t know what to do…and the other kids’ plans have a way of making the right choice even more difficult to find.
Al Capone Shines My Shoes falls into the category of very well-done sequels. Gennifer Choldenko created a unique, stand-alone plot for the second Alcatraz book, while nicely carrying through the elements that she set up in the first. In fact, the plot was masterfully structured; while being filled with action and suspense, each plot point clearly and logically arose from the characters’ actions and decisions. Some of the minor secondary characters didn’t always ring true, but the main characters were excellent and the interpersonal relationships were well developed.

Beyond that, despite its unique and seemingly “hard” setting, Al Capone Shines My Shoes was a beautiful story. I’ve read very few (though some excellent ones have been reviewed here) novels containing a character “on the autism spectrum,” to be specific, that was so authentic and genuine—and just as important, in terms of story, in which this character’s condition was so intrinsic to the plot. Moose and Natalie have a touching (while still honest and believable) relationship which dramatically demonstrates the immeasurable value of every human being, no matter how society might view them.
Now for one “pet peeve”, falling under the categories of both literary quality and overall enjoyment… Remember the post on “Yolenisms”? To briefly sum up, that’s the term we coined for melodramatic repeated phrases, often used at chapter and section ends (but very seldom in real life) to create a sense of drama and completion and/or suspense. It’s a pitfall for even some of the best writers, as evidenced here: we counted 17 altogether, which comes to more than one per every 15 pages. Here’s just a few, as examples:
p. 38: “Close enough, Moose. Close enough.”
p. 48: “You bet, doll. You bet.”
p. 133: “Jeepers, Moose. Jeepers.”
p. 193: “I dunno, Moose,” she says without turning back. “I really don’t know.”
(If you’re curious, you can find the others on pages 49, 58, 81, 110, 124, 142, 158, 176, 178, 185, 203, 209, and 222, respectively.)
After that, we thought of changing the term to “Choldenko-isms”… but it just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Why bring it up? Truth is, we see this a lot…but it’s so much funnier when an excellent author falls into it.

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

*Possibly Objectionable Topics: some mildly crude humor and scary moments

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