Thursday, February 08, 2018

Introspective Novels

Stevens, April. The Heart and Mind of Frances Pauley.
February 6th 2018 by Schwartz & Wade Books
Copy graciously provided by the publisher upon request

Frances (who refers to herself as Figgrotten because she likes the way it sounds) has some quirky personality features, including an immense love of nature that causes her to fill her room with branches and sleep with the windows open even in the winter. These quirks irritate her older sister, Christinia, who becomes increasingly antagonistic toward her. Since others also find Frances a bit off putting, this desertion is particularly hard. Luckily, the bus driver on her route, Alvin, is particularly nice and philosophical, and bond over stories of birds and articles Frances reads in the encyclopedia. Frances likes her teacher, who is understanding and fun, but she doesn't like new student James, since he is even smarter than she is an frequently monopolizes the class. When Alvin becomes ill, Frances has a particularly tough time in school, but luckily her parents try to help her, and even Christinia is surprisingly supportive. Eventually, Frances makes friends with Fiona and learns how to deal with change in her life. She even is willing to trade in her too small, cat hair covered coat for a new parka, and even realizes that the replacement bus driver is not as talkative as Alvin because he is shy.
Strengths: Frances' struggles with her sister distancing herself from her are very true to life. By fifth grade, children need to figure out that being quirky often does not work to their advantage, and Frances is one of the few characters in middle grade literature who picks up these clues, makes a few changes to her actions at school, and improves her own life. N.B. I no doubt made many of my own problems in fifth and sixth grade, so I can relate.
Weaknesses: For some reason, Frances being referred to as Figgrotten throughout the book grated on me. Also, this is a more introspective book, so not a lot "happens".
What I really think: This reminded me strongly of Constance Greene's A Girl Called Al, and is a gently sad book with more hope than most middle grade books have had lately. I especially thought that Frances' mother was particularly nice, and no doubt long suffering!

February 6th 2018 by Schwartz & Wade Books35553564Perl, Erica S. All Three Stooges
January 9th 2018 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Netgalley

Noah Cohen and Dash are best friends who like to hang out and goof around, watching old comedies movies and drinking root bear with Dash's father Gil. They also go to Hebrew school together and are preparing for their bar mitzvahs. Noah isn't happy to find out that a girl who goes to his school, NOA Cohen, is scheduled to have her ceremony on the same day as his. That's the least of his worries, however, when Dash's father dies suddenly. Noah's mothers, Jenny and Karen, don't have a lot of details, even after the funeral. Dash is avoiding Noah, and loses his phone. Noah picks it up, and scrolls through the messages, uncovering the fact that Gil has killed himself. His mothers say this is the case, but don't elaborate or talk to him too much about it. Noa seems to be closer to Dash that Noah is, and the two boys just end up not talking. Noah doesn't manage to give the phone back in a timely fashion, and eventually gets in trouble for it, which almost cancels his bar mitzvah. In the meantime, life in Noah's school and home goes on, although he and Dash both need help in dealing not only with Gil's death but with their estrangement from each other.
Strengths: There are lots of good details about what it is like to come of age in a community with a significant Jewish population(near D.C.), which would be a good window book for many of my students, whether they are Jewish or not, since the Jewish population in my community is very small. The inclusion of Jewish comedians is interesting. The difficulties that Noah and Dash have following Gil's death are very realistic and understandable.
Weaknesses: I found it difficult to believe that Noah's mothers weren't up front with him about Gil's death, knowing how close he was with Dash's father, since he himself does not have any other father figure in his life. People on the east coast seem to overshare all kinds of unpleasant information, and with the concerns surrounding suicide today, I found it unfathomable that Noah wasn't given more support.
What I really think: This was a really good attempt at dealing with the death of a parent by suicide, and also a good, detailed description of the preparations involved in a bar mitzvah. With the addition of the trouble between Noah and Dash, this was a lot for one book, and having so many issues diluted all of them. I don't know that I will purchase this book, although my main objection is that the cover is horrible and the book would have to be hand sold. Conflicted about this one.
Ms. Yingling

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