105 Ways to Give a Book

“Their Bodies Burned Away to Nothing”

I have very fond memories of reading to my daughters from the classic Dinosaurs, Dinosaurs, by Byron Barton. The text in this book is almost hypnotic in its very simplicity: “There were big dinosaurs, and small dinosaurs. There were fierce dinosaurs, and scared dinosaurs.” Though by far my favorite part about this book is how seamlessly it turns from a book about dinosaurs into a going-to-bed book. “There were hungry dinosaurs, and very tired and very, very sleepy dinosaurs.”

But, as a child gets older, he or she may want a little more information about these fascinating creatures. But how much is too much information? For me, it’s represented this passage from a beginning reader book:
The fireball smashed into the ground.
Tyrannosaurus Rex died instantly.
The Pteranodons
were blown from the sky.
Their bodies
burned away to nothing.
The Day the Dinosaurs DiedLovely, isn’t it? That’s from The Day the Dinosaurs Died, an I Can Read book from Charlotte Lewis Brown. Nothing I like better for my beginning reader than a little death and destruction. Now, I understand that there are a lot of little boys and some little girls that looove dinosaurs. There are probably even many little boys and some little girls who will be thrilled by the blunt description and pretty graphic pictures of the end of the dinosaurs. But for the others, and for the sensitive me, I think that’s a bit intense. But perhaps it’s the picture of the Triceratops surrounded by flames that really puts it over the top — the Tricera-top. Not violent enough for you? How about a dead Parasaurolophus with its tongue hanging out and these words:
One by one they began to die.
Soon there was only one left.
Then she too starved away.
Does this seem a little much for seven- and eight-year-olds? Or in view of the many five-year-olds I saw at every Jurassic Park movie I went to see, is this stuff just standard these days?

Cereal Box Professor Follow-Up And More

As it turns out, the little Wall Street Journal article was written by an intern with an agenda. An intern with an agenda and a connection to Mary Burgess, Professor of English at University of Notre Dame. Paul Acampora interviewed the professor to get her take on the bubbling and brewing over the article. And it seems her opinion was not as one-sided as may have been implied. Check out the interview for youself.

Jen Robinson’s list Cool Boys in Children’s Literature is proceeding well, but still needs your help. It is now available in one easy-to-read list and ready for more suggestions. I’m sure with all of these women readers and librarians out there, the cool girls were easier to rattle off, but we can’t forget the boys.

In other list news, A Year of Reading is working on a list of Cool Teachers in Children’s Literature. Stop by with your suggestions. I’ll have to browse my library’s shelves to come up with something new myself.

Have a book review from last week you’d like to get a little more play online? Well, Semicolon will hold a Saturday Review roundup. Stop by and submit something fabulous. I’ll have to write one tomorrow, since my only review this week was The Fuchsia Is Now! and I’d rather use the opportunity to promote something I... umm... liked. Plus, the condom reference in my review gives me pause.

And if you never finished the massive amount of posts on the Fifth Carnival of Children’s Literature, consider this your reminder. Big A, little a put together quite a show, and in the middle of putting together a universal place for bloggers children’s book reviews. All this while traveling internationally. In comparison, I haven’t unpacked the suitcases from our family trip two weeks ago. But here I am... writing this post... instead. Maybe I’d better leave off here.

I Never Do This, But...

Many blogs in the kidlitosphere handle the book news better than I do, so I generally don’t write about it. And I’m okay with that. But, now I’m pissed off. I’ve written comments on three of the blogs covering this issue, and I don’t feel done yet. In fact I don’t even feel close.

So, what is the news that’s got me all worked up? Well, the illustrious Wall Street Journal reported — and I use that term loosely — that libraries were promoting fluff teen fiction for summer reading instead of the classics. Read it here, paying particular attention to the fourth paragraph.

How unbiased of the article to pick up the title If We Kiss to report on, and not mention Mal Peet’s Keeper or Ann Rinaldi’s Sarah’s Ground from the same summer reading list, because that makes it sound like ALL the suggestions are light teen fiction, rather than noting that SOME of the suggestions are light, while other books are not. You may also notice the representation of different types of books and a diversity of cultures represented in that list.

Let’s see your classics handle multiculturalism, shall we?

From the Wall Street Journal article about the lighter selections: “That such books might keep kids reading is a meager defense. If that’s the point, asks Mary Burgess, a professor of English at the University of Notre Dame, ‘Why not have them read cereal boxes?’”

Now, on the back of some cereal boxes, the kids can find a great way to make a layered art piece using just a glass jar and Froot Loops. Quality stuff out there. And keeping kids reading is kind of the... umm... point. And summer reading maybe could be... umm... fun. And maybe libraries might have kind of... umm... thought of this and made the best decision based on years of experience working as children’s and teens’ librarians, as opposed to as the professor of English at the University of Notre Dame. When the Wall Street Journal wants a quote on, say, college-level English courses, I hope the paper will consider tapping a children’s librarian for an appropriate response. Darn, except many children’s librarians will have probably taken college-level English courses, while the professor has probably not had courses in library science, so that wouldn’t be fair.

Oh, and I’ll bet that many library systems are like mine and pick NEW books for their summer reading lists, thereby excluding classics pretty much by definition. Our library system’s goal in summer reading is to present a variety of books that the kids may not know about yet. While there are many sources to list the classics and parents and teachers will know many classics, there are many newer books that the parents and teachers might not know. And, yes, some are lighter reading. But some are not. The point being that the kids can choose what appeals to them. To. Make. Reading. Fun.

Thanks to Shannon Hale’s site for finding the article, and to Bookshelves of Doom and Jen Robinson’s Book Page for bringing it to my attention. Unfortunately, it’s too late to add responses to the Wall Street Journal itself, but you can make your comments known here or at the above blogs. Or you can do as I ended up doing, and comment on all the blogs and then still find the need to write about it anyway. Which probably breaks some blogger etiquette rules, and if so, I’m sorry. Stupid Wall Street Journal.

(Edited to add: Chasing Ray and A Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea Cozy also have great posts on the topic. Check them out.)

Weird-Ass Picture Book of the Month

The Fuschia Is NowThe Fuchsia Is Now, by J. Otto Seibold, leads off MotherReader’s new feature, “Weird-Ass Picture Book of the Month.” J. Otto Seibold is no stranger to odd picture books. In fact, he may be called a reigning king. But this particular book hits a new high in both story and illustrations, and thus earns itself the honored title of Weird-Ass Picture Book of the Month.

Fuchsia is a little fuchsia girl who makes a wish on her birthday cake for her wish to come true. Which begs the question of how much wish can a Fuchsia wish if a Fuchsia could wish... anyway. She opens her present and finds a hat that makes her head look like a baby bottle or a... umm, condom. Then she decides to put a flower on her hat to make it look fancy and poof! A fairy pops out! The fairy poofs her some strange new friends, some with condom caps as well. It’s a new trend. They all play until nighttime and Fuchsia learns that she can bring them all back again by saying, “THE FUCHSIA IS NOW.”

J. Otto Seibold’s work with the bullet hole eyes has never appealed to me. And it doesn’t now either. But I think the story is weird and plotless as well. The book reads like a surreal Dick and Jane — very stilted, but with an occasional strange turn of phrase.

Most interesting to me is that Target used this book in promoting its Ready Set Read program. How did the marketing department make that happen? “The kids will love this stuff because it’s Hello Kitty meets The Powerpuff Girls meets Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends. So we’ll get the preschoolers, the elementary crowd, and the pot-smoking teens to boot!” And that’s how J. Otto Seibold began designing Target’s newspaper inserts for the program. And oh boy, go to the website for a odd introduction that competes with the 1970s Sesame Street vignettes. Speaking of smoking a little somethin’...

Fifth Carnival of Children’s Literature

What is that smell of popcorn and funnel cakes in the air? Why it must be the Carnival of Children’s Literature. Go on by and sample the reviews and articles, the mystery and magic that is kids’ lit. There’s lots to see and little to no chance of getting sick on the rides.

Down the Back of the Chair

Down the Back of the ChairMy offering up to the Poetry Friday gods is a new picture book by the name of Down the Back of the Chair. The author, Margaret Mahy, has unknowingly saved my the trouble of naming my blog entry today, as the title of her book is clever enough for me. That and I can’t think of anything else.

Anyway, Down the Back of the Chair is a picture book of one longish poem that follows the story of a girl and her family searching for money. When the car breaks down, the kids advise dad to do as they do — search for change down the back of the chair. But when dad gives it a try, he comes up with all kinds of things.
Some hairy string and a diamond ring
were down the back of the chair.
Pineapple peel and a conger eel
were down the back of the chair.

A sip, a sup, a sop, a song,
a spider seven inches long.
No wonder that it smells so strong —
down the back of the chair.
Cute, huh? Reminiscent of Shel Silverstein with the ridiculous objects and the rhythm and rhyme, this book will be great fun as a read-aloud. The illustrations by Polly Dunbar add to the fantastical element, though I would personally like the size of the dad’s eyes reduced by about half. They kinda creep me out. But that is a small detail that I am willing to overlook for this cool, humorous, POETRY book.

For more offerings for Poetry Friday, check out A Chair, A Fireplace, etc., as she usually keeps track of such things.

Missing Duck and Goose

Now is it really possible that I forgot to write about one of my favorite picture books of 2006?

Duck and GooseAs I was returning Tad Hills’ Duck and Goose to my library, it struck me that I had never sung the praises of this wonderful book. I’ve read it to first graders, two kindergarten classes, and one preschool program in the four months that my library has owned this book. It is quickly becoming one of my favorites of all time, but I didn’t tell you, my devoted readers, about it. Shame on me. In my defense, many of you have seen it. Many of the bloggers have even written about it. But still.

Sometimes a picture book comes along that is so perfect, you want to press it into the hands of everyone that passes by. The illustrations are lovely and funny at the same time. The story is cute and amusing, but also meaningful.

Duck and Goose come across an egg — in theory. They each want it for themselves and argue about who will hatch it. When they can’t agree, they both end up on top of it with neither giving way. As day turns to night, they start talking and getting along. They find out what they have in common, and begin to talk about “our baby.” When they are woken by some movement, they run around wildly and try to figure out what to do. Only to find out that they have been sitting on a ball all along. The shocked looks on their faces is perfect. They take the new information in stride and play with the ball together.

All in all, this book conveys a perfect message about common ground, friendship, and sharing, while being entertaining, amusing, and visually entrancing. Watch for it to become one of the new classics.

Grown-Up Reading

I had never intended for this blog to solely cover kids’ books. I figured that I would write mostly about kids’ books, since that is what I see the most, but also about adult books, reading in general, and signs on the road. But with the recent glut of teen books coming into my library, I have been pushing my grown-up reading to the side. I made a choice to only bring those books on my trip to New Hampshire. And now I say...

Ohhhhh. So that’s what an adult book is like.

My husband drove all of the eight hours to our destination and back, leaving me lots of time to read in the car. Hey, I offered to drive, but he wanted to “make good time.” I just wanted to “get there alive,” so you can see where we differ. Also, I believe he took into consideration how much time I spent packing the suitcases, loading the car, and getting things generally in order for the trip, and thought I had put in my fair share of time. That, and I can be pretty bitchy while driving.

My point is, lots of reading time with an odd assortment of books.

Swimming in the CongoSwimming in the Congo by Margaret Meyers, captured me a few years ago with the review blurb on the cover, “Anne of Green Gables meets Heart of Darkness.” I knew then that I had to read that book. It came up again recently, and I thought I would reread it. And the blurb is pretty darn close. I might add, “It’s Poisonwood Bible — light,” as my blurb, because it’s so true. The book is set in the Congo at about the same time, with the daughter of a missionary. But while Poisonwood Bible focused on the lives of the family and the devastation the Congo caused them, this book focuses on people outside the family and how they love their lives in Africa. The girl is more a device to peek into the lives of the other missionaries — often literally — and to show the world of the Congo and the African boarding school. Each chapter could almost stand on its own, as different experiences and people come into focus. The book leaves room for personal interpretation and reflection, probably more reflection than I was able to give to it. It actually seems like a better book club book than Poisonwood Bible, being more accessible and leaving more to the reader to bring to the reading.

Imaginary MenImaginary Men, by Anjali Banerjee, is a typical chick lit book — very light with a romance at heart. What makes this book stand out is the India component. Lina is attending her sister’s wedding in India when her Auntie Kiki traps her with a possible arranged match. To get out of the conversation, Lina says that she is engaged, not expecting that the lie will make its way around the wedding like wildfire. She can’t seem to extract herself from the fib, so keeps it up hoping later to tell her family that her fiancé dumped her. But, of course, it can’t be that simple, and soon Lina is looking for her own perfect match to make the lie the truth. The storyline would not have grabbed me, except for the interesting and continual references to the culture of India within America. I liked the incorporation of another culture and country into the standard chick lit format. At the end is a short interview with the author, which offered additional insight.

I’ll be back later with more from my adult reading. Actually, now that I wrote it like that, it sounds kind of dirty.

Does This Template Make Me Look Fat?

While I was in Virginia Beach soaking up the sunshine and holding my baby niece, my husband was busy at work on my blog. I’ve wanted to include pictures for my books for a long time, but it seemed like too much work to figure it out. So he did it. And if that weren’t enough, he went back through the all the months of my blog and added pictures to the posts. That’s true love folks, and a little bit of a perfectionist tendency.

Another change will not be apparent, and that is my new status as an Amazon associate. I’ve always linked to Amazon, but now if someone wants to buy a book after coming from here, I’ll get a little credit. I also thought this seemed like too much work to set up, but again, my darling husband set up my account and changed the links on every one of my books. True love, and a little bit of an obsessive nature.

The last change is my final farewell to anonymity. I don’t use my name on my site as a matter of practice, though it’s on my Technorati profile anyway. Then I wrote that article for Edge of the Forest under my real name. And now, my photo comes out as part of a School Library Journal Extra interview on the 48 Hour Book Challenge. They asked for a photo, and right before I got on the road Saturday, my husband took that picture. The exchange between us went something like this:
Me: “Should I hold the book up more?”

Him: “I’m not a professional photographer. What do you want to do?”

Me: “Well, I can’t see what I look like, but you can. How do I look?”

Him: “You look grouchy.”

Me: “In all of the pictures I look grouchy?”

Him: “I don’t know, seems like it.”
As it turns out, in at least one of the photos I didn’t look too grouchy, and I sent that to the reporter just before zipping along to face the Saturday traffic. Taking my picture when I hate having my picture taken, true love and a little bit of patience.

I’ll be traveling again for a few days, so take this time to read the archives, buy a book or two, and look at all the pictures — including a new graphic for the 48 Hour Book Challenge. True love, I tell ya.

I Read The Back Of The Froot Loops

I have been at the beach for a few days visiting my family and enjoying the... well, beach. The weather has been absoultely perfect, and we stayed by the ocean all day today. In fact, as I write this at the lovely and helpful Virginia Beach Central Library computer, I am wearing my bathing suit covered by a pair of drawstring shorts and a large T-shirt with the lyrics to “Smelly Cat” printed on it. Wearing this outfit in a public place would have appalled me a scant few years ago, but now I realize that no matter what I look like, (a) people have seen worse and (b) people don’t care.

So, I popped by to tell you that I have read nothing that I can tell you about. Nada. For three days, my reading material has consisted of a column or two of the newspaper and the back of a cereal box, where I saw a way to make a layered work of art with a jar and crushed Froot Loops.

My interest has been held not only by the beach — as lovely as it is — but by my new niece. My brother has adopted a sweet and beautiful baby girl with black hair and deep brown eyes. I spent hours yesterday holding her and staring at her adorable face. As soon as I finish here, I am going back to his house and I am going to read that little princess some Curious George, and let her know that I will always have books.

The Best Poetry Book Ever

Usually, Poetry Friday takes me by surprise. I’ve written my own Ode to Mo poem, I’ve praised picture books written as one long poem, and generally I’ve hidden my head in the sand. But not today, because I have found the best poetry book for children ever produced. The book of poetry that I will buy and read and listen to again and again.

Poetry Speaks to ChildrenPoetry Speaks to Children is a collection of modern and classic poems from a diverse group of poets that includes Ogden Nash, Langston Hughes, Sonia Sanchez, and Roald Dahl. This diversity is what I love — love — about this collection. “Gas,” by C.K. Williams — a poem that uses the word “fart” multiple times — is one page away from a poem from Macbeth. A Native American poem taken from a Osage prayer is followed my a poem by Rudyard Kipling. There is something in this book for everyone to enjoy and to relate to. The eclectic collection exposes the reader to many different styles of poetry.

And if that weren’t enough to sell this book, it is accompanied by a CD of the poems read by the poets. Thanks to archival copies, today’s children can hear readings of Robert Frost and Langston Hughes, among others. There are also readings by Nikki Giovanni and J.R. R. Tolkien. Tolkien, I said. Not all of the poems are included on the CD, but enough for an hour’s worth of driving. (Well, when do you listen to CDs?)

And there is still more, because the book involves three illustrators who bring these poems to life. One illustrator may have led to an overly consistent style of art that wouldn’t have reflected the very different kinds of poems. But with three, we get a mix of styles — while still keeping a general consistency. It would have been jarring to see radically different art styles, but though the illustrators each bring a unique flavor to the poem, the pictures flow well from one to another.

I have only one complaint. I wish they had not used Carl Sandburg’s “On A Flimmering Floom You Shall Ride,” especially as they used another poem that plays with made-up words, “Jabberwocky,” very soon after it. I can’t imagine why they didn’t use “Fog” instead, which would better represent the poet’s style and would be accessible to children. Now, funny thing, this very poem was Little Willow’s poetry pick for the day. Cool.

I am driving to Virginia Beach tomorrow with my kids, I’m bringing this book, and I’m playing the CD. And we are not leaving that car until one of us comes to appreciate poetry in a new way. With this collection, I’m thinking that this is a pretty safe bet.

If You Liked...

I was popping by Amazon to look up a book, and a link for a list of recommendations caught my eye. I’ve seen it before — I think I have even looked at it before — but tonight it just seemed funny. Since I have purchased certain books on Amazon, they make some other recommendations. Since I purchased a Junie B. Jones book, I might like another. Okay. Since I purchased a Cynthia Rylant beginning-reader book, I might be interested in a different series of hers. Sure. Since I purchased a Disney music CD for my kids, I might want to know about another Disney product. Fine.

But the first book on my recommendation list, the book with no hint as to why it was suggested, was The Wind Boy, by Ethel Cook Eliot. I have never heard of it. It’s not new, having been republished in 1996. But this is Amazon’s top pick for me. The number one selection.

Also, because I bought How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? as a present for my nephew, he would certainly like Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. They are both picture books and... nothin’. I got nothin’ to connect these two books.

The most trouble comes from having bought Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. I swear, they’ve connected dozens of unrelated picture books to the purchase of this title. But my favorite, my very favorite, is assuming that I want to purchase The Tale of Despereaux. Because clearly I have been desperate to complete my collection of award-winning books from the year 2004, and I am only one Newbery winner short. Thanks Amazon, for thinking of my needs.

Gorillas In Your Bathtub?

I see a decent amount of picture books, and I only review the ones that have garnered a strong reaction from me — either positive or negative. I love to share the funny or lovely books I have run across, and I feel compelled to warn you against the sappy or crappy books I have had to read.

How to Get a Gorilla Out of Your BathtubAnd then there is John Hall’s How to Get a Gorilla Out of Your Bathtub.

I don’t know how I feel about this book. It’s funny... yet, in such a strange way, it’s not grabbing me. And I like strange.

Basically, the girl in the story instructs us the readers as to the techniques for getting a gorilla out of your bathtub. A trail of bananas won’t work, because gorillas like bathtubs better. Wrapping a rope around the gorilla’s tummy will remind him of being tangled in a bowl of spaghetti. What? It just gets more surreal from that point.

When I went to Amazon to see what reviewers thought of this book, there were no professional reviews. Huh. What’s more, of the people who had been to that page only one percent ended up buying that book. One percent. So, it doesn’t seem to be hitting other people as a must-have purchase either.

In summary, kudos to the author for thinking out of the box in children’s picture books. However, I am not sure I am ready for How to Get a Pickle Out of Your Ear or How to Get a Pancake Out of Your CD Player. But do let me know if How to Get an Idiot Out of the White House gets published.

A Book By Any Other Name

With nonfiction books, especially for children, the titles can be pretty straightforward. If you want a books about snakes, the title Snakes would be a pretty obvious choice. I suppose authors could use something like Eve’s Bane or The Thing In My Garden That I Find Scary as titles, but they never seem to do that. Given the obvious title syndrome (or OTS — see your doctor for a prescription), it should come as no real surprise that two books with similar title formats came into my library on the same day.

A Tiger Grows UpA Tiger Grows Up, by Anastasia Suen, is a nonfiction picture book for younger readers. The pictures are beautiful, really stunning. The text is simple with a sentence or two on each page, and usually a little fact insert on each spread. The words are easy enough for a beginning reader, or it could be enjoyed as a read-aloud to a preschooler. I’d tell the plot, but you’ve probably guessed from the book’s title. It is one in a series of books of Wild Animals, that includes a hippopotamus, elephant, rhinoceros, lion, and a baboon — all growing up, presumably.

A Bear Cub Grows UpNow, A Bear Cub Grows Up, by Pam Zollman, is one of a series of books from Scholastic News. The series includes books about a shark pup, tadpole, chick, turtle hatchling, and spiderling (what a cute word). These books are intended as beginning-reader books, with a few simple sentences per page, easy vocabulary, and large type. The left page is text and the right page is a photo, sometimes with a caption. The ending summarizes what the child has read in smaller type, perhaps for the parent to review with the child — as I did with my beginning reader.

Both series are great, just different in audience and style. But with the plethora of words at the publishers’ disposal, perhaps they could have found a way to differentiate these two series more clearly. Assuming they care. Which they probably don’t. It’s librarians and parents who will get confused as they try to look up one title or another in the series. So, remember, if it is the adult animal’s name (i.e., tiger) it’s the Wild Animals series. If it uses the baby animal name (i.e., spiderling), it’s the Scholastic News series. Got that? Good.

Not By Its Cover

How to judge the two boy books that I read this weekend? Both leave me perplexed for entirely different reasons.

Jumping the ScratchFirst I read Jumping the Scratch, by Sarah Weeks. Black and gray covers seem to indicate dark books, but this bright red cover showed me a happier read.

So much for that theory.

I knew this was the author of So B. It, and perhaps should have expected more in the self-discovery vein. Also, like the other book, the author draws out the mystery of the past, allowing the reveal at the very end. But while this worked in So B. It, where the main character had to track down her mother’s story, in this case the story is inside the main character all along and he is trying to forget it. I don’t think the structure works as well, especially since the reader can figure out what the secret is early on in the book.

Jamie and his mother have moved in with his aunt after Jamie’s dad left them. Their presence is welcome and needed, as his aunt had an accident at work and has lost her memory. She is able to remember things before the accident, but isn’t able to form new memories. Jamie and his mom try to find the right magic trigger that will bring it all back for her. At the same time, Jamie is struggling to forget something that happened to him not too long ago. When he meets a girl who lives in the same trailer park, she shows signs that she may know his secret — and that she may be able to help.

The book is all right, and the issue of sexual abuse is handled well. But the secret is pretty obvious, and the conclusion to the aunt’s problems is unrealistic. And certainly not a bright-red, happy kind of book at all.

GiftedThe second tricky book was Gifted, by Beth Evangelista. The cover shows a flagpole from which flies a pair of boxer shorts with white mice. Seems like a funny book.

And it is, if you find bullying and tormenting amusing, which I don’t. This book is a tough call. The writing is funny. But the situation — avoiding getting beaten up — not so much.

George is a smart kid loved by his parents and teachers, but not by his peers. He is especially tortured by the Bruise Brothers who seem to have it in for him. When he has to go on an eighth-grade sleepover field trip (are there schools that have week-long sleepover field trips?) away from the protection of his principal father, George knows the bullies are going to get him. All he has are his powers of avoidance and his best friend Anita.

Through the course of the book, we find out how much George has always put himself first, so perhaps he has some of this coming to him. But I can’t buy that any kid deserves to be beaten up because he has been selfish and superior. While the writing is very funny, I would like to see it applied to a different plot than avoiding getting beaten up, which doesn’t make me feel so good laughing about it. There were some good moments in the book, and a point at which George has to face his fears. But overall, not as humorous as a pair of boxers up a flagpole might lead you to believe.

Stop the Muffin Madness

An Open Letter to Betty Crocker, Since Their Comment Feature Is Currently Unavailable

I thought I had gotten used to the new packaging conventions, whereby companies short-change consumers by putting less actual product in the boxes/bags. But your 6.5-ounce muffins packs are a new low. Why? Because they make five muffins. Five. Not six, which one would assume is the standard — as it has been for years. Five, which you won’t realize until you read the directions.

Now, I am generally out of the baking loop. I suppose it is possible that new five-cup muffin tins are in vogue. But if that is indeed the case then why does the stupid, tiny picture of the muffin tin on the back show SIX MUFFINS?

Would it kill you to put the appropriate amount of muffin mix in the bag — which I am guessing would bring it up to the standard eight ounces — and maybe forgo a little bit of profit? Or even raise the price if you are so inclined, but stop this muffin madness.

Sincerely,
A Ticked-Off Consumer

Going to Italy

Well, not me. But in these two books Italy features strongly. And I have a friend visiting Italy now. Is she sending me some signal through these books? Hmm, I say.

I liked the first book until the end, which puts me in a quandary. I don’t like reviews that give away too much information. I want to read the minimum I need to get me interested in the book and not a sentence more. That said, the important thing for me to convey, the flaw in the book, is in the ending. Hmm, again.

So, here’s an analogy. Suppose you were reading a book about a kid struggling with drug abuse, and you like these sorts of books anyway. As you read, you think that the author is handling the drug abuse issue very well, but you know from the ominous tone that something bad is going to happen to this kid. Given the drug abuse, you suspect an overdose is coming up. You are in the last, say, twenty pages in the book and he come to a crisis point with his addiction, but seems to pass it unharmed. Then he hikes into the woods, is bitten by a rattlesnake, and dies.

You can say, "Wow. I didn’t expect that ending!" or you can say, "What was the drug addiction story leading up to anyway? I feel cheated!" Or maybe a little of both.

Friends of the HeartFriends of the Heart, by Kate Banks, is NOT about drug abuse. Let me make that clear. But the build-up of tension in the story seems to go nowhere in a way that is both realistic (when were all of your problems taken care of cleanly?) and unsettling (but this is a book, and I want the proper ending).

Lucrezia has been friends with Ollie since they were babies. They are friends of the heart, or amici del cuore if you prefer. They lived together in Rome until Ollie had to move away. Now they visit each other when they can, with their long visit being in the summer at Lucrezia’s grandparents’ house by the sea. Lucrezia is thirteen this year and wonders how her longtime friendship with a boy will change. They are joined on their adventures by the sea by a summer resident they have always known, Anna Maria, and a fourteen-year-old boy, Martin, staying with his grandparents on the shore for the first time. With the world of Ollie and Lucrezia opening up to include these other two, tensions arise and things change for all of them.

I enjoyed the characters’ interactions and development. I really enjoyed the view into a Italian summer. I think the book was well written overall. The ending was not what I expected, and I don’t say that in a good way. However, it is a gentle read, and I may include it in my booktalk to the seventh graders. Certainly, there is nothing inappropriate in it.

Four Things My Geeky-Jock-of-a-Best-Friend Must Do in EuropeNow, I’ll review a book 180 degrees away in tone from the first one, yet about travel in Italy and about a thirteen-year-old girl. It’s interesting that I read it following the first one, not knowing what it was about, exactly. I mean, the title is Four Things My Geeky-Jock-of-a-Best-Friend Must Do in Europe, so I had some idea, but I didn’t pick it deliberately.

Brady is going on a cruise in the Mediterranean with her mother as a kind of “not-mitzvah,” and has been left instructions of what do to by her best friend. Delia has written these instructions on Brady’s hand and arm so she cannot ignore them. She must write Delia about her adventures, must wear a bikini in public, and meet a cute Euro guy. But Brady has always been the shy one, and doesn’t know what to do without Delia. But following Delia’s instructions as much as possible, Brady comes out of her shell and has a great time.

There are a lot of contemporary references in the book which make it accessible. Brady reads Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging on the plane even though her mother says it is inappropriate (and Brady has a more than a little of that Georgia attitude throughout). At a party they give away LiveStrong-type bracelets. Most interesting to me, and what makes this an easy booktalk in this area, is the mention of the Nationals baseball team and Old Town Alexandria. I’m not surprised, given that the author, Jane Harrington lives in Alexandria, just outside of Washington D.C., but it is a little bonus for my enjoyment.

I liked this book unreservedly. It is fun, light, and entirely appropriate for all teens — and adults.