Berk, Josh. Strike Three, You're Dead.
12 March 2013, Knopf Books for Young Readers
Book from YA Books Central and reviewed there.
Lenny is thrilled that he has won the Armchair Announcer contest and gets to meet the announcers for the Phillies and work at a game. He's not a good baseball player, but he's a great announcer and knows his baseball history-- for his audition tape, he and his friends Mike and Other Mike have dug up an obscure story about the worst pitcher ever, Blaze O'Farrell, who happens to still be living in their hometown. While at the game, the new and promising pitcher, R.J. Weathers, drops dead on the mound. Everyone assumes it was just a heart problem, but it looks fishy to Lenny and his friends, and they launch into an investigation. With the help of the local librarians niece, Maria (who is a huge baseball fan herself), the group looks into a variety of threats and manages to solve the mystery.
Strengths: Berk has a couple of good young adult mysteries (The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin, Josh Langan: Crime Scene Procrastinator), but I think he has really has a great voice for middle grade literature. Lenny is a hoot, and I loved that both of his friends were named Mike! They al get excited about things and go off half-prepared, and it is always funny. Maria is a great character-- a strong girl that Lenny has a little bit of a crush on. Side characters, like the announcers, the librarian, and the parents are all amusing and just quirky enough to be funny and not annoying. The mystery is a bit improbable, but has a nice twist, and working baseball into the story is great. I would love to see another book involving these characters. The cover is especially nice-- striking and won't date. Brilliant.
Weaknesses: There is some suspension of disbelief necessary to make this work, if one is an adult. Kids won't have this problem!
It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts. Both sites have lots of links to reviews about books that are great for the 4th through 8th grader. It's also Nonfiction Monday, hosted this week at A Mom's Spare Time.
And I had not heard that E.L. Konigsberg had passed away on April 19. There is a nice tribute at From the Mixed-Up Files.
Robertson, Keith. Henry Reed's Think Tank
Viking Children's Book, 1986
Since I could not remember any time travel in Henry Reed (and I'm sorry to say that there isn't any, Anamaria), and I am always longing to reread some of my favorites in the spring, I brought home this last book in the series. Henry is spending another summer in Grover's Corners, since his parents are in Manila (!) and want him to have access to "American activities" like baseball games and decent hamburgers and milkshakes. He and Midge decide to try a different business, and since consulting is the new big thing, they open a "think tank" and charge people to help them with their problems. Soon, they are helping an overweight boy excel by having a kite flying contest, helping get geese away from a neighbor's yard, and entertaining a sixteen-year-old girl. They also lobby to get a girl's allowance raised. The summers are pretty slow in Grover's Corners, but Henry and Midge use their ingenuity to liven things up.
Strengths: Even 1986 was a simpler time than today, if people were impressed by something printed out on a computer! (And probably in dot matrix, to boot!). Children could go riding bikes around, move someone's parked car without being found out, and have strange neighbors they don't know hire them to do odd jobs. Children today would benefit from having more "scope for imagination" during their summers, but lacking that in real life, they can read about Henry's adventures.
Weaknesses: The first book in the series was published in 1958, and the 30 years between the stories (and the almost 30 since this book), show badly. Henry and Midge are politically incorrect about the fat boy, and just not very understanding of other's differences. Midge accuses Henry of being a male chauvinist, rather unfairly. I found that I just didn't enjoy this as much as I did the others when I read them in the 1970s. Sigh.