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Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip by Jordan Sonneblick.

 Curveball

 The sensitive male teen, yes he actually exists and you’ll find him in the narration of books by Jordan Sonneblick.  His characters always seem like the teens I’d like to adopt.  They are often handsome and smart without knowing it, use a lot of self-deprecating humor and are in the process of falling in love.

In Curveball, The Year I Lost my Grip, Peter Friedman is facing two crushing disappointments.. 

Since Little League, he has always been a star pitcher.   The summer before entering high school, he has his best season ever on the pitching mound.   Then in the championship game, he injures his elbow so severely that he will never be able to pitch again.

Then, there’s his grandfather, he and Pete have always shared a special relationship.  Grandpa is a professional photographer who has taught Peter everything he knows.  Suddenly grandpa is doing strange things like giving Pete all his photo equipment and getting lost on familiar streets.

For many students, high school can feel like a letdown after ruling middle school.  Josh no longer has his baseball to set him apart.  Life becomes brighter when he meets Angelika in photography class.  Angelika is a sensitive girl who has a way of getting to the real issues.  She understands that Peter has experienced a great loss and empathizes with his worries about his grandfather, encouraging him to discuss it with his parents instead of keeping his grandfather’s secret.

This is a great book for middle and high school students.  While there is definitely romance going on, this book is about much more.  Readers will find Pete’s narration to be humorous even as he deals with loss and finds a new life after baseball.

 

 

 

 

 

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Books by Beverly Cleary

April 12, 2016  was Beverly Cleary’s 100th birthday.  Here are a few of the books that she has written:

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Otis loves to stir up excitement at school.  He especially loves to pick on Ellen Tebbits, perhaps because she is so neat, clean and well behaved.

When Otis goes too far, Ellen and her best friend, Augustine, seek revenge.  Will Otis get what he deserves?

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When Keith’s  family stays at an old hotel, Keith meets a talking mouse who rides his toy motorcycle.  Ralph S. Mouse becomes a hero for Keith and his family.

Other books about Ralph’s adventures are Runaway Ralph and Ralph S. Mouse.

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Henry Huggins wants to do something important, like Scooter, the seventh grader on his street, who delivers papers.  Getting a paper route isn’t as easy as it looks, especially when you show up for the interview, hiding four kittens in your sweatshirt.

Henry is quite enterprising and works hard to achieve his ambitions, even when that pesky Ramona gets in his way.

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This is the first book where Ramona emerges as the main character.  Although this book is written from a kindergartner’s perspective, the audience for this book will be older children who will find Ramona’s antics amusing .  Other Ramona books are Ramona and Her Mother, Ramona and Her Father, Ramona the Brave, and Ramona Quimby, Age 8.

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Leigh Botts is the new kid in town.  His parents have recently separated and someone keeps stealing his lunch. Leigh shares his daily troubles with his favorite author, Mr. Henshaw.

This is a very different book for Beverly Cleary.  It received high critical acclaim including the 1984 Newbery Medal.

 

 

 

 


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Happy 100th Birthday Beverly Cleary!

(April 12)  Today is Beverly Cleary’s 100th Birthday!

In case you haven’t heard, Beverly Cleary is the author of over 40 children’s books. including the popular Ramona and Ralph S. Mouse books. These books are still popular in 2016.  Cleary seemed quite spunky when she was interviewed by Jenna Bush Hager on the Today Show last month. http://www.today.com/parents/99-author-beverly-cleary-beloved-generations-readers-t82256

I was first introduced to Beverly Cleary’s books by my childhood buddy, Nancy Clements. Nancy was a year and a half older than me and  introduced me to many things.  She first told me about Otis Spofford, a modern day Tom Sawyer who was always picking on Ellen Tebbits because she was so neat and clean and well behaved.  We were horrified when Otis cut Ellen’s hair.  We played games where we alternated being the “evil” Otis and his favorite target, sweet well-behaved Ellen.

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After Otis and Ellen, I read all the Henry Huggins books.  Henry was a little nicer than Otis, but he always found himself in trouble.  Ramona Quimby began as a fairly minor character in the Henry Huggins series.  She’s barely mentioned in Henry Huggins.  When my fifth grade teacher at Walter Bickett, Mrs. Cason, read  Henry and the Paper Route, we all howled at Ramona’s antics as she created havoc in Henry’s life.  So it isn’t surprising that she got her own series.

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Ramona seems to be Cleary’s most endearing character.  She’s always a little baffled by the world around her.  Why won’t her kindergarten teacher tell her how Mike Mulligan used the bathroom?    Why  can’t she be a paper boy like Henry Huggins?

CCF24032012_00011  Cleary’s books are timeless.   In the later Ramona books, she deals with some heavy issues when her father loses his job and her favorite Aunt Beatrice gets married.  Ramona’s struggles are seen from a childhood perspective. They don’t go out to eat anymore and the adults are grumpier than usual.

Just as Otis Spofford hated the goody two shoes children in his basil reader,  Beverly Cleary had no use for moralistic literature:

 I was so annoyed with the books in my childhood, because children always learned to be ‘better’ children and, in my experience, they didn’t. They just grew, and so I started Ramona… and she has never reformed. [She’s] really not a naughty child, in spite of the title Ramona the Pest. Her intentions are good, but she has a lot of imagination, and things sometimes don’t turn out the  way she expected.

 

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A Countess Below Stairs

 

untitled (2)A Countess Below Stairs is a must read for any fan of Downton Abbey.

Anna and her family fled their native Russia during the  Revolution to make a new home in London. Attempts to bring their valuables with them are foiled, leaving them penniless.

Anna takes a job as a housemaid in a grand house. In spite of growing up in a wealthy estate, she is kind and unspoiled. She decides that working downstairs can be a grand adventure. She clings to her copy of The Domestic Servant’s Compendium by Selina Strickland, determined to be the best servant ever.

Rupert is an unlikely Earl. He always assumed his charismatic older brother would inherit Mersham, the family estate. After his brother dies in the first world war, he agrees to be the Earl of Westerholme because his family expects it.

Rupert is engaged to Muriel who nursed him back to health after being wounded in battle. No one can deny that Muriel is beautiful and seems charming. Rupert is really not sure how they came to be engaged.

Muriel espouses an early Nazi philosophy known as Eugenics. She wants to apply the same principles of breeding  racehorses to human reproduction, beautiful people mating with other beautiful people with no room for disease or decay.

Muriel fires one of the footmen because he is too short. She sends the mute servant girl to an institution where she can be with her “own kind of people.” She is distressed when she discovers that Ollie, the flower girl in her wedding, has a limp.

The tone of this novel is light and comical. As a romance, it is fairly predictable. The fun of the novel comes from a wide variety of interesting characters and vivid descriptions. It is clear early on that Anna is lovely and kind, spreading joy to everyone she meets.  Rupert is obviously attracted to Anna but promised to Muriel. Both Rupert and Anna are committed to doing the right thing almost to the point of absurdity.  No one can set up a scene or create characters like Eva Ibbotson. She is a master of vivid imagery.

I first discovered Eva Ibbotson through her children’s books, Journey to the River Sea and The Star of Kazan.  When I found one of her adult books on the library shelves, it looked quite nondescript.  I would never have selected it if I had not known about the author. People say we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but we all do.

Her books were originally written for an adult audience.  Ibbotson wrote mostly children books in her later years.  Until recently, her adult title were hard to locate.  In 2008, MacMillan publishing has begun marketing her older titles to teens.  They simply changed the covers.  I think both adults and teens will enjoy these chaste romances.

A Countess Below Stairs is sometimes published under the title, The Secret Countess.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Teen Tales of Adventure and Romance

I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan begins with the romance of an unlikely couple and turns into a harrowing survival tale.   Readers will find this suspenseful book hard to put down.  Sometimes Sloan’s plots stretch credibility. But I don’t care.  I love her books anyway!

Emily Bell is your all American girl.  Her parents are loving people who want to make a positive mark on their world. Emily plays second string soccer and excels in school. She is curious about people and notices things that others fail to see.

Sam Border has been raised in the worst possible environment.  His dad, Clarence, is a conman and a criminal. They move often to stay away from the Law. Sam takes care of his younger brother, Riddle. He hasn’t been to school since second grade. He and Riddle have learned to be invisible especially during the day. In the afternoons, they emerge from their low rent house and go dumpster diving.

Clarence Border has no redeeming qualities. He knows how to steal and pawn goods. He finds the boys useful;  people are sympathetic to a single dad with two young boys. He has never paid much attention to them but as the boys grow older, he becomes more resentful of his sons. Both guys refuse to steal or engage in any criminal activity making them useless in his eyes.

A series of random meetings bring Emily and Sam together. Emily is fascinated by Sam. He’s not like any guy she’s ever known. He totally misses pop culture references. He’s quiet and humble, a welcome change from the arrogant Bobby Ellis who has had his eyes on Emily for months.

The Bell family begin to realize that Emily is love so they insist that Sam come over for dinner.  Mr. Bell discovers that Sam is a musical prodigy.  It’s not long before Sam and Riddle become a fixture in the Bell household.

It’s scary for Sam who is beginning to realize how strange his life really is. Riddle, Sam’s brother, stands out even more. He’s five years younger and small for his age. He rarely talks and spends most of his free time creating intricate drawings in old phone books.

Mrs. Bell takes an interest in Riddle and manages to get him some asthma medicine. Riddle, who had felt like there was an elephant sitting on him,  begins feeling better and  talking more. He loves helping Mrs. Bell fix supper every night.

The book takes a sinister turn when Clarence Border finds Emily Bell’s cellphone in his son’s pocket. He knew they had been doing laundry a lot. They were also later and later getting back to the house at night. Clarence is very angry about his sons’ secret lives. He vows to seek revenge.

Meanwhile the Bells are clueless about Sam and Riddle.  They don’t know that they live in a moldy house scheduled for demolition on the worst side of town or that their meals often come from trash cans.  When Mr. Bell’s car is vandalized, Sam realizes that he and Riddle are in trouble.

When Sam and Riddle arrive home, Clarence is throwing everything into the trunk and angrily orders them inside.   They are headed again for an unknown destination.

The Border sons are now caught in a life or death spiral.  Clarence has decided that he will make his sons pay.  From this point,  it’s a wild ride for the brothers who must not only deal with Clarence’s wrath but also navigate a remote wilderness without supplies or assistance.

Just Call My Name, also based on a song by The Jackson Five, is the sequel. The characters are mostly the same.  The plot has a similar structure. This time it is Emily and her friend, Destiny who are kidnapped and must fight for their survival.

I highly recommend these books for middle school and above.   These titles are light reading at its best.