Beil, Michael. Summer at Forsaken Lake.
12 June 2012, Random House Children's Books
Nicholas and his twin sisters Hayley and Hetty are sent to a small Ohio lake front town to stay with their great Uncle Nick while their father is off with Doctors Without Borders and their mother (from whom he is divorced) is busy with work in New York City. At first, Nicholas thinks that the summer will be completely boring... until he finds a movie his father made, meets Charlie (a really great baseball player and a girl), and learns to sail. His sisters are deep into Arthur Ransome's We Didn't Mean to Go To Sea and talking in British accents. It turns out that Charlie's mother Fran was a friend of their dad's, and was even interested in him romantically until the movie filming took a bad turn. A scripted boat crash went horribly wrong, and Fran was hit by the mast of the boat, broke her arm, and lost the movie camera. Nicholas and Charlie suspect foul play, so have Fran recreate the boat scene and tell them all the people who were involved in the filming. They then talk to them, look at the wreckage of the boat, and unearth the camera from an unusual source. Meanwhile, Hetty and Hayley plan a boat trip ala Ransome, but things go badly there, with a neighbor having an emergency on shore and a storm rolling in. Nicholas and the twins stay with the boat and rescue a man who has wrecked his boat... and who knows more about the film incident than anyone else they've talked to. Nicholas and Charlie work on completing the father's film, filling in some back story. What are the chances that the two parents, whose romance was so cruelly cut short, might get back together? And what are Nicholas' chances of having a romance of his own?
Strengths: *Sigh* It's not the plot on this one, it's the...summer. Okay, Penderwick's fans, go ahead and laugh, but I loved this book because it made an idyllic summer at the lake, complete with classic literature, mystery, romance and a ROOM IN A TOWER seem totally and completely plausible. Since I am probably exactly the age that the parents are in this book (and I was born on the coast of Lake Erie), it just spoke to me.
Weaknesses: The mystery aspect will draw students to this book, but I do worry a tiny bit about kid appeal. Mr. Beil's mystery series is very popular, so I think I can hand sell the heck out of this, which is something I have not been able to do with the Penderwicks no matter how I try.
Most importantly, Mr. Beil has posted a his own version of The Seaweed Strangler that he made as a child on YouTube. How awesome is that?
3 April 2012, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Precious lives in Botswana with her family, which includes her father Obed, who likes to tell her stories about life in Africa. She loves school, and everyone at her school is very nice and follows the rules, until someone steals a piece of cake that her friend Tapiwa had. Everyone in the school is upset and blames Poloko, who is an overweight boy who likes to eat. Using her powers of observation and a little bit of trickery, however, Precious determines that the thief is not Poloko, and solves the crime.
Strengths: The black and red illustrations in this are beautiful and remind me of picture books from the 1930s and 40s. It's nice to see a multicultural book for emergent readers. I have not read The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, but readers who have would particularly enjoy this look into the main character's life as a child.
Weaknesses: The mystery was not very intriguing, and the language very simple. Sometimes things that didn't need to be explained were covered in great detail.