Margolis, Leslie. Secrets at the Chocolate Mansion
3 September 2013, Bloomsbury
E ARC from Netgalley.com
Maggie's friend Sonya and her mother have opened up a soda fountain in Brooklyn, but on opening day, there are lots of problems. Salt turns up in the pie, and a baseball goes through the window with a note stating "Take your cookies elsewhere!" Later, a critical shipment of chocolate chips goes missing. Maggie starts investigating, but there a lot of other things going on in her life. Her boyfriend Milo won't return her texts. She babysits the little boy who owns Nofarm, and thinks that he may be talking to the ghost who is supposed to inhabit his apartment building, which used to be the mansion of a chocolate entrepreneur. Is the mansion really haunted? And who is out to ruin Sonya's Sweets.
Strengths: I really enjoy Margolis' work, even though I'm not a fan of New York City or clue oriented mysteries! I love her characters, the age appropriate romances,the fun family interactions with Maggie's twin brother Finn. The dogs from her dog walking business are an added bonus!
Weaknesses: I read this just before Netgalley archived the title, so I couldn't remember any of the names! This is not a fault of the book-- it is a weakness in my comprehension. I tend not to remember the endings of books as well!
Henkes, Kevin. The Year of Billy Miller.
September 17th 2013, Greenwillow Books
Nominated for the Cybils by Danielle Smith
Billy is wary of starting second grade, especially since he suffered a fall over the summer and is worried about his hit to the head. This book encompasses the entire year, and is divided into four sections, each centering around another character: teacher, father, sister and mother. Ordinary, every day second grade things happen, and Billy's reactions to them are shown. He is frustrated with making a diorama with his stay-at-home artist father. He and his sister are watched by a babysitter, and his sister is somewhat annoying. He has a nightmare. He has to write a poem about his mother for school. Through it all, Billy tries to make sense of his world and figure out the best way to deal with all of these occurences.
Strengths: This put me strongly in mind of Carolyn Heywood's B is for Betsy books, but with more philosophy. I can see this being popular as a read aloud in the second grade.
Weaknesses: The audience for this one is tough, given that it is 229 pages (ARC) with relatively few illustrations, and is highly philosophical in tone. While there are mildly funny parts, it didn't seem to me that there was a lot to interested an actual 7 year old. I actually picked up B is for Betsy to compare-- Heywood's books have more happening and less thinking, which made them more enjoyable for me as a child.
Betsy Bird gushes about this one on Goodreads, and addresses the problems of the age of the character, the length of the book, and the intended audience. She compares it to Cleary's Ramona books. Perhaps this hits a younger demographic than I am accustomed to, so it's hard for me to gauge. Clearly a middle grade novel, however, and not an early chapter book.