Thursday, September 4, 2014

August Round-Up

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The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee by Barry Jonsberg
Chronicle Books, 2014
(Reviewed based on an advance reader’s copy)

Candice Phee’s homework assignment is to write her autobiography with one paragraph for each letter of the alphabet. But Candice knows that 26 paragraphs aren’t enough to explain everything going on in her life. How can she write everything there is to say about her family, her best (and only) friend Douglas Benson from Another Dimension, her pet goldfish Earth-Pig Fish? And what about her plans for fixing her unhappy family? It’s a good thing Candice is a die-hard optimist who knows how to logically think through a problem, even if everyone around her is baffled. Also, she decides that she’ll probably need one chapter per letter.

Originally published in Australia in 2013 under the title, My Life as an Alphabet, this realistic fiction story is written in first person from Candice’s point of view. Each chapter is titled with the next letter of the alphabet, from “A is for Assignment” to “Z is for Zero Hour.” Candice is a quirky and fascinating narrator and her highly logical and literal way of viewing the world is amusing and endearing. Everyone, including Candice, admits that she has a unique way of navigating life, but Candice denies being on the Autism Disorder Spectrum. But it doesn’t really matter how Candice’s mind works because her proactive and kindhearted plans produce hilarious and life-changing results. Set in modern day Australia, this quick and easy read has a cast of characters that are realistically flawed with humor around every corner.


Recommended Age/Grade Level: Age 10+/Grade 5+

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A Hitch at the Fairmont by Jim Averbeck
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2014

It’s 1956 and 11 year old Jack Fair is mourning the sudden loss of his beloved single mother who tragically drove her car off a cliff into the Pacific Ocean. Now Jack must live with his only relative the repulsive Aunt Edith in her suite at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. Aunt Edith cruelly orders Jack around until the night she mysteriously disappears leaving only a ransom note written in chocolates on the bedspread. Alone and afraid, Jack has no idea what to do. Luckily, the famous filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock is an expert on criminals and he’s staying in the suite next door. Using Hitchcock’s film savvy and Jack’s artistic talent, the unlikely pair uncover clues and chase the kidnappers through the city’s many iconic landmarks, from Chinatown to the Golden Gate Bridge.

This action-packed mystery is written in third person from Jack’s perspective. He’s a reluctant hero, but he becomes more confident and resourceful as the story unfolds. Along with Jack the story features a cast of distinctive and broadly drawn characters, including San Francisco itself, that keep the story moving along. Although the book is lengthy, it is an absorbing read due to several chase scenes and humorous dialogue. Elements of the plot are predictable, however there are enough twists to keep readers on their toes. Each chapter, named after a Hitchcock film, begins with a 6 panel storyboard that highlights a sequence to be found in that chapter. In the context of the story Hitchcock explains storyboards and their use for films. The appendix includes information on all the chapter title films, including year released, plot summary, trivia, and where to look for Hitchcock’s famous cameo. Notes on Hitchcock’s personal and professional life are also included in the back matter. Knowledge of Hitchcock films is not necessary to enjoy this book. However, many readers will be inspired to watch his films making this a great title for a parent-child book club. You could also have adults read David F. Dodge’s To Catch a Thief, while kids read this title.


Recommended Age/Grade Level: Age 10+/Grade 5+

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The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy
Delacorte Press, 2014

What happens when you put four brothers, two dads, one dog, one cat, and an imaginary cheetah in one house? You get a year of misadventures big and small, funny and touching, silly and serious. Join soccer star 6th grader Sam, 4th graders energetic Jax and intensely intelligent Eli, and loveable kindergartner Frog as they learn about friendship, try new things, make mistakes, and, most importantly laugh and love everyone in their crazy family.

This wonderful realistic fiction book focuses on the daily life of one loving, if chaotic, family. It’s refreshing to find a book about a family with two dads that isn’t about the LGTBQ issue, but rather about the characters. The boys are used to having explain that they are adopted and that they have two dads, but they aren’t embarrassed or ashamed.  Additionally, the family celebrates the cultural/religious background of each boy, but never in a didactic manner. With short, episodic chapters this book is great family read aloud. Each chapter is written in third person from a single brother’s perspective. Chapters begin with a short message (email, text message, handwritten reminders) from one family member to another. In this way all of boys contribute to the story, just as they contribute to their family.


Recommended Age/Grade Level: Age 8+/Grade 3+