Mostly Monsterly: A Picture Book Review

Mostly Monsterly by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Scott MagoonOn the outside Bernadette is mostly monsterly. She has point ears, huge eyes, fangs and even a creepy necklace. She can lurch, growl and cause all kind of mayhem. But underneath the fangs and the fur, Bernadette has a deep, dark secret.

Sometimes, when she’s all alone, Bernadette likes to pick flowers, and pet kittens, and do all kinds of things that aren’t monsterly at all.

When Bernadette starts school all of her classmates act like total monsters but with a few secret weapons and some quick thinking Bernadette should be able to win them over and still get to be herself in Mostly Monsterly (August 2010) by Tammi Sauer and Scott Magoon (illustrator).

Sauer’s writing is perfect for reading aloud with built in pauses for suspense and surprises and a lot of humor. Bernadette is a lovable monster who learns that sometimes being different is okay but some concessions might be needed to make friends. The message is never heavy handed or otherwise over the top.

Magoon’s illustrations add the perfect blend of creepiness and cuteness to the story to create a book that will be perfect for any monster fans but not too scary for younger readers.

Excellent possibility for a storytime program about being yourself.

Possible Pairings: A Girl and Her Gator by Sean Bryan and Tom Murphy, Bark, George by Jules Feiffer, Presenting . . . Talulah by Tori Spelling and Vanessa Brantley Newton

*This book was received for review at Simon and Schuster’s Fall 2010 preview in May*

Ivy and Bean: A (younger) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows, illustrated by Sophie BlackallBean does not want to be friends with Ivy. Her mother keeps telling her that Ivy seems like a very nice girl, but Bean knows what that means. Nice means prim and proper and sitting quietly reading big books. Nice means boring.

At least, Bean thought Ivy was boring. When she plays a trick on her big sister and Ivy offers a quick hiding place, Bean isn’t so sure. Nice is supposed to be boring. And Ivy does seem nice. But she’s also training to be a witch. Besides, how nice can anyone be who has a vast supply of face paint, her own wand, and a spell that involves lots of worms?

Bean and Ivy didn’t plan to be friends, but they might be a perfect match in Ivy and Bean (2006) by Annie Barrows and Sophie Blackall (illustrator).

Ivy and Bean is the first book in the series which is very popular with younger readers. The text is not as advanced as the Clementine or Ramona books but the characters all have similar qualities that will appeal to readers looking for girls with spunk. This story was not as compelling, for me, as the Clementine series but it was a fun fast read that will work for young readers and reluctant readers. Blackall’s illustrations add a lot of appeal with her delightfully horrifying pictures of Bean’s horrible older sister and Ivy’s wonderfully scary witch attire.

There are some surprisingly vocal negative reviews (seen on Amazon) accusing the book of promoting everything from bad behavior to witchcraft. To such concerns all I can say is books don’t make ill-behaved children anymore than guns kill people all on their own. At its core Ivy and Bean is nothing more and nothing less than a sharp book about two singularly creative girls who are ready and willing to make their own fun be it with pranks or a new friendship.

Rx: A review

Rx by Tracy LynnI make no claims that this book shows the “real” life of teens or sensationalizes the less-than-dramatic reality. I simply don’t know. What I can say is that Rx (2005) by Tracy Lynn is very timely. Last December, for example, there were numerous news stories detailing the pressures teens face to be perfect and pretty and fun while making it all look easy. This book offers one explanation of how some teens do that.

Thyme Gilcrest goes to a competitive high school in a rich suburban neighborhood. It’s senior year and she is jockeying for position among the top 20 of her class–a coveted spot that Thyme can barely cling to despite hours of work each night. This all changes when Thyme gets a hold of some Ritalin to treat her self-diagnosed ADHD. Suddenly she can focus and life is good. Then her friends find out about the drug and start asking her to get other “cure alls” for them.

Lynn writes this story in matter-of-fact, concise prose. Narrated by Thyme, the story never offers judgment on the druggies, dealers and misfits that populate its pages. Instead, Lynn is simply setting down the facts as she knows them (read the afterward to see why the story is important to her) to offer up a cautionary tale about the hazards of prescription drug abuse and dealing.

The prose here is arresting. After the first pages I was hooked. Thyme’s commentary is sardonic and caustic–an appealing combination. At the same time, her story is painful to read as Thyme describes her let-downs and her own shortcomings. Despite that, the middle begins to drag as Thyme transitions from user to dealer. However, Lynn will throw in a trick now and then to surprise you.

Stylistically, this novel isn’t overly exceptional. It’s what I would term a “gimmick” novel–trying to cash in on the popularity (for lack of a better word) of the issue of prescription drug abuse in high schools.

The novel also deals with the world of privileged teens: kids whose parents have enough money that they are never home and leave their children with a bit too much free reign in their absence. The term “latch key children” might also come to mind. In a world where family dinners don’t happen as often as they used to, perhaps it’s not surprising to see more and more novels focusing on “latch key teens.”

Part of me wants to do more research on the subject to see if prescription drugs are really that available to random teenagers but, as with most things, I think it depends on the teen and the location. For my part, I had a nagging sense that the novel was overstating the problem or perhaps focusing on a more suburban phenomenon (although Meg Cabot’s new novel Jinx which is set in New York City briefly touches upon this issue as well). Perhaps I’m the only one who didn’t know how to go about getting illegal substances as a teen (and still doesn’t) and had no desire to.

At any rate, Rx is an interesting look at the burdens of overachievers even if the novel might leave you with more of a nagging feeling than a completely satisfied one.

Possible Pairings: Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd, Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark, How to Steal a Car by Pete Hautman, The New Rules of High School by Blake Nelson, The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp