Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Happy Birthday, Ellen Conford!

Conford, Ellen. Felicia the Critic. (1973)
Felicia argues with the weather on the radio every morning and is constantly trying to tell everyone around her a better way to do things. She thinks the crossing guard is inefficient. She tries to return a fatty roast to the supermarket for her mother. She gets in fights with her sister Marilyn constantly. Her mother tells her that she should be more constructive in her criticism, but even this does not help. When her best friend Cheryl tells Felicia that she can only be in a group her classmates are starting, Felicia shuts up-- even when the group tries to make money by having a carnival... in the middle of winter. When the carnival is a failure, Felicia learns that sometimes she should speak up, but in general, she should learn to be more positive.
Strengths: This title is 40 years old, and even though there are a couple of references dating it (Felicia sets her hair on rollers, a pot roast costs $4, there is a friend named Phyllis), it still stands up extremely well today. Felicia's habit of criticizing everyone is a habit that still gets students into trouble today, and the interactions with family and friends still resonate.
Weaknesses: The art on the first edition copy dates this horribly, and the condition of my library's book isn't great, either, but this still circulates!

Conford, Ellen. To All My Fans, With Love, From Sylvie. (1982)
In 1956, fifteen-year-old Sylvie is obsessed with Hollywood and Hollywood idols, and thinks that her future lies there, and not in the series of foster homes where she has been living because her alcoholic mother is incapable of caring for her. When her latest foster father starts the same pattern of abuse she has experienced earlier, she decides to run away. She has saved up money and has a good plan for getting on a bus out of town, but when her wallet is stolen, she has to take help from Walter, a middle aged Bible salesman who thinks Sylvie is older than 15. He suggests getting married in Las Vegas, and Sylvie thinks this is a good idea until she meets Vic, who is closer to her age and helps her to understand that love and sex are not the same thing.
Strengths: For a book of this age, the cover is not bad, and the story of running away is kind of interesting. I don't think I will put this in my library (I had to buy a copy in order to read it!), but I'm glad that I saw a copy. The paper alone is so much nicer than books printed today. Picky Reader will enjoy this one.
Weaknesses: I'm not sure I could get students to read about this historical period, even though the details of clothing, cars, everything are exquisite. Probably even better than books written during this time.

Myracle, Lauren. Violet in Bloom. (Sequel to Love Ya Bunches.)
From the Publisher: "Katie-Rose, Violet, Milla, and Yasamanfour girls with seemingly little in common but their flower namesare nurturing their new friendship and are busy building luvyabunches.com, their very own social-networking site. Their first flower-power task? A doomed campaign to get their school to serve healthier snacks. The Jelly-Yums they championsoon dubbed "beans of grossness"taste like candied beets. And that's just the start of their troubles. A scheming classmate tries to drive a wedge between Katie-Rose and Yasaman, Violet may have been slammed in a secret journal, and poor Milla unintentionally commits hamstercide. It will take all the strength and genuine affection of these pals to weather a particularly stormy week of fifth grade."
Strengths: I had to buy multiple copies of The Winnie Years series and have recently had girls asking for more by this author.
Weaknesses: This will date very quickly-- there is a lot of text-messaging and blog posting. Also, while diversity in literature is good, there is so much in this that it seems forced. An African-American girl, a girl with two mothers, a hijab-wearing Muslim-American girl AND a mother hospitalized for mental illness? That's a lot of issues, and societal perception of many of them will change quickly. This is why the simpler books like Conford's seem preferable to me. That said, at the rate my library books are being reduced to crumbling piles of glue and tape, I shouldn't worry about this too much!

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