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Children's Book Reviews



Kate Marley

Sometimes, it's nice to read a book for no good reason whatsoever. It doesn't have to be educational, doesn't have to have a higher message, or moral to teach (although sometimes they are, and do). But it's perfectly all right, at times, to pick up a book and read it just for the sheer fun of reading. Here's a few suggestions to get you started.


Big Silver Space Shuttle by Ken Wilson-Max. c 1998, Scholastic.
With vehicles as a subject, and pop-up, interactive tabs, it's no wonder that kids (particularly boys) love this series by Wilson-Max. It's easy to read, with big, bright illustrations, and just plain fun to move those tabs and knobs around!

Bravo, Amelia Bedelia by Herman Parish. c 1997, Greenwillow.
Peggy Parish's nephew continues the family tradition with another funny story about the housekeeper who takes everything literally. In this story, Amelia is helping out with a school concert, so fans can expect the most unlikely and hilarious things when the conductor asks for B flat, the string section, or a drum roll. Pictures are by Lynn Sweat.

The Secret Knowledge of Grown-ups revealed & illustrated by David Wisniewski. c 1998, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard.
This book is a definite departure from his usual folk and fairy tales, and he proves equally adept at telling a silly story. Even better, this will appeal to grown-ups as well. Why do adults tell kids to eat their vegetables? Not to jump on the bed, or bite their fingernails? The answers (and the always incredibly complex cut paper illustrations) will amaze and amuse just about everyone with any claim to a sense of humor.


The Silly Gooses by Dave Pilkey. c 1997, Blue Sky Press.
Divided into short, easy chapters with plenty of colorful, cartoonish pictures by the author, this celebration of a life dedicated to silliness will appeal to many kids. A gander who just never outgrows doing silly stuff finally meets the goose of his dreams, and the way is set for a very silly family indeed.

Grossology Begins at Home by Sylvia Branzei. c 1997, Addison Wesley.
This is a prime example of the sort of non-fiction that too many kids love. It's about all the little household denizens and stuff that most grownups would rather not hear of such as...bacteria on household sponges, what happens to it after you flush the toilet, and how millions of dust mites are living in your get the idea. The cartoonish illustrations by Jack Keely and the plastic cockroach attached to the cover are just icing on the cake.

Secret Diary by Elizabeth Koda-Callan. c 1997, Workman.
I've put this book here because although the story is very short and simple, the author is trying to encourage kids (mostly girls) to keep a diary. And for that, they have to at least know how to write simple sentences, which is about second or third grade. What the kids will find fun is the secret part, and the lock with a key that comes attached to the book to help anything they say stay that way.


Forest Slump by Emily Lloyd. c 1997, Learning Triangle Press. A very tongue in cheek mystery (the subtitle is The Case of the Pilfered Pine Needles) about a group of teens in the future. Equipped with a James Bond type supervehicle, not to mention a seemingly sentient super computer, they travel around the world solving problems. But there is a strong element of humor here - the complete title is only the first of many puns - so the ecological messages are not only overshadowed by deliberately bad jokes, but also wacky characters and an improbable plotline.

Freedom's Sons by Suzanne Jurmain. c 1998, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard.
Anyone who was inspired by the movie and wants to learn more about the Amistad mutiny will find many questions answered by this fascinating book. The most interesting part for me was finding out what happened to Cinque and the others who survived after they won their freedom. This is one of those fun non- fiction books that reads like an adventure story, complete with villains, unsung heroes, alien lands with their hardships to be endured for years, and insurmountable odds miraculously overcome. A great read!

Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause. c 1997, Delacorte.
This Maryland author's first novel, The Silver Kiss, made a big hit with older teens. This story is not about vampires, but werewolves, specifically Vivian, a teenager coming of age. It has the same lyrical language that, at first, seems incongruous with its subject, and the same honesty about sexuality that makes some adults uncomfortable. But I found the sexual content to be very believable and realistic, not only for older teens, but also from an animal's point of view, which tends to be more down to earth than a human's. Just be aware that it IS there. Most importantly, the story is about a young woman who has gone through some major changes in her life (her father died, and then they had to move). She's trying to sort out what she wants and how she wants to achieve her goals without disavowing or revealing her heritage. For normal kids, this is hard enough. For werewolves, it's an especially difficult conflict.


There's a Hair in My Dirt! by Gary Larson. c 1998, HarperCollins.
Many fans of The Far Side will run out, as I did, to check out the first new book of Larson's in a long time, only to open it and ... be confused. For at first glance, it looks like a children's picture book, complete with story, and color illustrations. As one reads, and examines the pictures closely, parents may decide that, no, your six year old is NOT ready to see the father bird frying up an egg, or read about the beautiful maiden drowning the tortoise. Read it yourself, and decide how much of Larson's macabre humor your child can take, particularly the unusual ending. Basically, he is lampooning the overly sentimental romanticism displayed by so many people about nature. Since I share his opinion on this subject, I wasn't overly shocked; in fact, I enjoyed it, as did my sixteen year old. But it won't suit everyone.

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