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, February 26, 2010

Reporter's Review: The Summer of Moonlight Secrets, by Danette Haworth

Walker Books, to be released June 2010
Overall Grade: A-/A

Allie Jo fears that summer with her best friend away is going to be miserable—but she didn't expect that helping her parents work at the Meriwether Hotel in Hope Springs, Florida, would bring her a few new friends: a sweet girl named Sophie, a skateboard-loving boy named Chase, and a beautiful girl named Tara with a mysterious penchant for moonlit swims...and maybe that's not the only mystery surrounding her...
There's something about a big, old house, a bunch of kids, and a mystery that made the perfect ingredients for a kids' book. There's a long history of books that fit into this sub-genre: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; The Children of the Green Knowe; now, The Summer of Moonlight Secrets. Danette Haworth created a cast of lovable, believable characters, and put them in an absolutely incredible setting. The Meriwether is bursting with secret passages, hidden rooms—it's the perfect place to hide a secret, so it isn't too surprising that secrets abound. These secrets, and the characters themselves, move the plot forward to an exciting, touching climax.
My critique of the book would be that certain plot elements (Chase's mom and Chase's relationship with Sophie, in particular) are very built up in the beginning, to be left rather vague by the end. They serve well as plot-propellers, but didn't tie up into a perfectly satisfying ending. Also, in terms of pacing, once the danger arrives at the book's climax, everything is resolved a little too quickly for my taste. I felt that if the danger had presented itself sooner or lasted longer, the tension and pacing would have been perfect.
Altogether, The Summer of Moonlight Secrets is an enchanting story for middle grade readers, and, who knows? It might be at the start of a new fantasy trend—you'll have to read to find out what.

Literary Quality: A-
Plot: B
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*: broken family, kidnapping

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Reporter's Review: Cosmic, by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Harper Collins (Walden Pond), January 2010 (U.S. date)
Overall Grade: A

Ever since he was a little kid, Liam wasn't little. By the time he turns twelve, he's way taller than his dad, let alone his classmates. He has to shave. Everyone mistakes him for an adult—and he hates it. Until...he's the only kid allowed to ride the new super ride at the amusement park...and adults treat him with respect...and he (almost) gets away with test-driving a Porsche. And he somehow cons his way into being the “parent chaperone” to the first four kids in space. Which is absolutely cosmic, as he would say—until the kids start acting like typical kids and break the ship. What they need is a dad to come rescue them—but Liam is the only dad they've got.
You come across a few books in your lifetime that really surprise you. You come across a few that make you laugh until you're crying. You come across a few that have such profound depth and meaning that when you finish them they settle into your gut so you'll always remember the way you felt reading them. You hardly ever come across one that embodies all these qualities; Cosmic is such a book. I finished it a week ago and held off writing the review so I didn't just gush meaninglessly (I did that to my family and friends). Now that I've stopped raving, here are my more organized thoughts:
To start with the negative (note the use of the singular), the structure was confusing. Liam begins telling his story to his parents from space, through recording himself on his phone—which makes for a very cool opening. But once we get to the point in the story where he began telling it, there is a disconnect. The time and circumstances have to be reestablished a few times, which can be disorienting. Unfortunately, it felt that a story which could more simply have been told in past tense after it was all over, began in the middle for the sake of a killer opening paragraph.
That said—deal with the confusion. Seriously. Because... we're on to the positives: brilliant voice, wonderful humor, the coolest tribute to Roald Dahl ever. (You'll have to figure it out yourselves.) If you like Science fiction, you'll be impressed by the author's attention to research and detail; if you don't, you'll still love Cosmic for the characters, the story, the subtlety with which a very important message is conveyed.
Ok, I'm going to go gush to my family some more now.

Literary Quality: B (for the aforementioned confusing structure—and that alone.)
Plot: A+
Voice: A+
Originality: A+
Descriptive Ability: A
Humor: A+
Illustrations: n/a
Believability of Characters: A
Believability of Situations: A
Overall Reading Enjoyment: A

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Reporter's Review: Operation Yes, by Sara Lewis Holmes

Arthur Levine Books; Fall 2009
Overall Grade: A-

Miss Loupe is the new sixth grade teacher at a school just outside a Air Force base in North Carolina; Bo Whaley is the base commander's well-meaning, trouble-making son; Gari Whaley is Bo's cousin whose mother is deployed in the Middle East; the whole sixth grade class is a group of individuals who are waiting for something to turn their lives into something...meaningful. That something may be Miss Loupe's crazy ideas about improv theater and the practice of saying, "Yes, and..."--crazy smart ideas which show a group of disconnected kids how to make their lives and themselves a true piece of art.
Having spent a large part of my own childhood as a "military brat" (Sorry, dad...I know you don't like that term--neither does this book's author, seemingly, so you're in good company...), Operation Yes really resonated with me, and I feel it provides a fascinating look for civilian kids into a virtually untapped setting and group of characters. I did find the initial pacing somewhat slow; it took a while to get to a real "plan" on any character's part. The multiple POV's may have accentuated this; to me, what propelled the story was the relationships, rather than any one character or plot element. On that note, however, the relationships were exceptionally well developed and believable. I loved the way the theme was exposed, and the improv theater stuff--so cool and original.
On a final note, I have to offer my sincere thanks to Ms Holmes for so beautifully representing her character's muddled thoughts regarding war. Long-time followers of this blog know how much it bothers me when an author uses her characters and plot as mere vehicles to forward an agenda; far to the contrary, I think Operation Yes offered a balanced, true presentation of how most kids stuck in the middle of it actually feel about war. Ms Holmes presents the facts, simple as that, followed by her character's reactions to them, and allows her readers to draw their own conclusions. So, thank you!

Literary Quality: A-
Plot: A-
Voice: B
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*: war-related injury and violence (not directly related, but through dialogue)