Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Mason Dixon: Pet Disasters

Mills, Claudia. Mason Dixon: Pet Disasters
Nominated for the Cybils by Kristy

Mason's indulgent and somewhat overinvolved parents have decided that summer art camp is not enough to keep him occupied; he needs a pet. He doesn't think so. After bad experiences with Fish (he overfeeds and kills it), Hamster (it runs away), and Cat (his best friend Brody is allergic to it), he ends up with a three legged dog that Brody desperately wanted. Brody spends a lot of time at Mason's house, so considers Dog to be his own. At first, Mason is disgusted by the dog's drool, poop, and general untidiness, but he eventually bonds with the dog and becomes jealous of Brody.

Strengths: Not every child likes pets, and this is a gentle read for elementary students. The illustrations are contemporary but not weird, which is somewhat hard to find. This author has a lot of series for this age group.
Weaknesses: I didn't like Mason. While he becomes less self-involved and spoiled in the course of the book, his fears were a bit weak (he doesn't want a pet messing up his room) and the disasters were not really disasters, in the way that Hank Zipzer or Big Nate have disasters!

Young, Janet Ruth. The Babysitter Murders.
Dani enjoys babysitting for young Alex, and even though she doesn't need the money, it helps out Alex's single mom. There's a fair amount going on in her life, such as her best friend finally acknowledging that she's gay, and everything is apparently stressing her out, because she starts to have really inappropriate thoughts about her choir director, hurting people around her, and most disturbing of all, killing Alex. She tries to explain this to her mother, who doesn't understand, and Alex's mother just doesn't want to let her stop babysitting, so she confesses her feelings. The mother, quite rightly alarmed, calls the police. Dani isn't charged, but she is sent into therapy, and the newspaper picks up the story. No names are mentioned, but Dani's identity is soon revealed. The community is appalled by her existence, adding massively to her stress.
Strengths: This isn't bad as a problem novel, but...
Weaknesses: I wanted a murder mystery. Well, I didn't, but my students do. I was thinking that this would turn into something different, that someone would try to murder Alex and Dani would be blamed, and an investigation would ensue... something else. Also, this was not really appropriate for middle school; definitely more of a high school book, mainly because of the episode involving the choir teacher.

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