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Posts from September 2006

Endgame: Nancy Garden

Endgame is a very risky book. Author Nancy Garden tells the story of the events leading up to a fatal high school school shooting from the (fictional) perspective of the shooter. Fourteen-year-old Gray Wilton isn't a happy guy. His hunting-obsessed father doesn't understand him and yells at him all the time. Gray is small, and not good at sports, and he gets picked on at school. He moves to a new town, and tries to fit in, but bullies find him there, too. He has few friends, and not a whole lot of success with girls. And from there, things get much worse. The bullies, and his father, commit abuse after abuse, destroying his heart and soul. Eventually, pushed to the brink, he commits a violent act.

Endgame is Gray's story as told to his lawyer from the juvenile detection facility after the event. We don't know details of the event at first, but we know that it's serious, and that he calls himself, among other things, a murderer. Hearing his story helps us to understand what led him to the terrible decision to bring a gun to school.

Although this is a fictional account, it carries strong echoes of what we've read about kids who commit these heinous acts. Gray is a social outcast, bullied by the popular athletes, with a domineering father, and ready access to a gun. What's fairly clear, however, is that Gray's response to the situation is a combination of his own innate characteristics and the circumstances that govern in his life. He has an uncontrollable temper, a complete inability to feel empathy for anyone, and low self-esteem. His friend Ross suffers the same abuse at school (though with a more benign family situation), and does NOT respond by committing violence.

There is plenty of blame to go around here. Gray's father can't accept him for who he is, and constantly badgers him to be different. His father also teaches him how to use a gun, makes a gun available, and gives Gray the impression that manly men go around shooting guns. Gray's mother knows how sensitive he is, and knows how important music is to him, but doesn't stand up to his father to support him.

The school also bears some accountability. The kids who bully Gray and Ross are revered student athletes, put on a pedestal by students and teachers alike. Even when teachers and administrators observe the abuse, they have a "boys will be boys" attitude, and allow the situation to continue. There are some lessons here for schools, should they choose to hear them.

But Gray does have people who try to help him, mostly his older brother Peter and Peter's girlfriend Lindsay. A counselor from school, a couple of teachers, and his mother also try to help. And he pushes them all away, wallowing in his own pit of depression.

I found this book compelling, but depressing. The message seems to be that some people, if pushed hard enough, will snap, and that the people in their lives won't be able to help them. It would be nice if the book gave more of an idea of what, if anything, could have prevented the shooting. In Gray's case, it seems like the one thing that might have saved him was his love for music, and his talent with the drums, but in the end it wasn't not enough. I also found Gray's lack of remorse for the shooting, and his lack of empathy for the people affected, truly chilling. I was frustrated by the fact that that reaching rock bottom and committing such a terrible crime still didn't really reach him.

So, I don't know if this is a good book or not. On the one hand, it's a window into what might be going on in the minds of the outcasts, the kids who are hazed and marginalized in our high schools. And if we understand them, maybe we can reach them, and keep future school shootings from happening. On the other hand, Endgame is a bleak portrayal of a bleak situation. Gray's lack of remorse makes me concerned about how other persecuted kids will react to the book. So, if you're looking to better understand what might push a kid to commit a violent act, I recommend this book. But if you don't want to go there, and you want to give it a pass, I certainly understand.

Book: Endgame
Author: Nancy Garden
Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books
Original Publication Date: March 2006
Pages: 304
Age Range: 14 and up

Poetry Friday: Roald Dahl

Since Roald Dahl's birthday was this past week, I thought that it would be most fitting to go with one of his poems for Poetry Friday. Did you know that Roald Dahl was a poet? This shouldn't surprise anyone, given how much he loved to play with words. There are tons of poems in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator alone. Here is the beginning of one from Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (Chapter 13):

"If you are old and have the shakes,
If all your bones are full of aches,
If you can hardly walk at all,
If living drives you up the wall,
If you're a grump and full of spite,
If you're a human parasite,
Then what you need is Wonka-Vite!"

The site has the text of many of Roald Dahl's poems, including the rest of the above poem. Happy reading! I'm traveling today, so won't be posting any links to other Poetry Friday entries. Try Liz at A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy or Kelly at Big A little a.

Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City: Kirsten Miller

I loved Kiki Strike by Kirsten Miller so much that I added it to my Top Picks for 2006 (so far) list before I had even finished it. I want to buy it for all of the 12-year-olds I know, especially the girls. I flagged some dozen pages for possible quotation (and that was holding back, trying not to flag too many). I can't wait for there to be a sequel.

Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City is told by Ananka Fishbein, looking back at the age of 18 on events that she participated in six years earlier. The mysterious Kiki Strike invites her to be part of the Irregulars, a group of six 12-year-old girls, each with special skills, who solve crimes and undertake adventures. In addition to the leader, Kiki (who aspires to be dangerous), and the bookish Ananka, there is also the inventor Luz, the chemist DeeDee, the master of disguise Betty, and the forger and thief Oona.

Their first adventure is to conquer the Shadow City, a mysterious region located deep beneath the streets and buildings of New York City. They discover a secret entrance into this hidden world, one that hasn't been visited in 100 years. They prepare for their trip, developing maps and equipment and special outfits, and a means of staving off the rats. They find skeletons and treasures, and many entrances from the Shadow City back into day-to-day New York. The Shadow City is way cool!

Soon, however, things take an unexpected and dangerous turn, and Kiki disappears, along with some gold. For two years, Ananka and the others wonder what happened to her, as circumstances suggest that their "friend" Kiki is much more dangerous than they ever imagined. Eventually Kiki returns, and further dangers ensue.

What's great about this book is how strong all six girls are. They each special strengths, they form a team, they look out for each other, and they take down bad guys. The other tremendously fun thing about the book is that Ananka ends each chapter with a short how-to section for would-be girl spies and adventurers. These are hilarious as well as practical, and they repeatedly counsel taking advantage of the hidden benefits to being a girl in this sort of situation. For example:

"The Benefit of the Doubt: Most people are willing to give young girls the benefit of the doubt. Girls are too sweet and innocent, they think, to be up to no good. A clever story—generally one involving a missing kitten—can get you out of trouble in nine out of ten situations. Remember, a tear or two will make any tale more believable." (page 16)

"Duct Tape: Take a roll with you whenever you travel. It can be used to immobilize criminals, fix essential equipment, and make a cute skirt if you're in a bind." (page 86)

"How to Foil a Kidnapping: Anyone with half a brain can recognize many of the tricks that kidnappers play. Strangers offering candy, puppies, or modeling advice should be avoided at all costs. No one's that friendly." (page 280)

It's unusual to have the book be told looking back from six years ahead, but I think that it works. Ananka's voice is confident and humorous, and she's able to slip in plenty of tidbits that suggest that her life has remained interesting. Here are two more of my favorite quotes:

"Confidence is the force that runs the world. Mixed with a dose of charm, it has the power to produce everything from prom queens to presidents." (page 87)

"Simply put, women's intuition is the little voice inside your head that whispers that your new boyfriend may be bad news, that you shouldn't take the shortcut through that dark alley, or that your sister has been snooping through your stuff again." (page 232)

All in all, I can't praise this book enough. It's funny, and yet filled with adventure. The characters are strong, but likable, too. It's well-written and fun to read. I'm not sure if boys will like it, since all of the main characters are girls. But I'm certain that middle school girls will love it.

Book: Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City
Author: Kirsten Miller (see also Ananka's website and blog)
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Original Publication Date: May 30, 2006
Pages: 250
Age Range: 12 and up
Other Blog Reviews: Rave Reviews Log, A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy, Chasing Ray, bookshelves of doom

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

My Top Picks from 2005

So the other day I responded to MotherReader's call for book recommendations. She asked for top picks from 2006, so far, in various categories. I put my picks out there (though I'm sure that they'll change as I keep reading for the next 3 1/2 months).

But the thing is, I also enjoyed many books this year that were published in 2005. And in fact, I made a mistake on my original list and included a book from 2005, only to have to remove it when I realized my error. This, naturally, made the author sad. So I've decided to make a list of my top picks from the 2005 books that I read this year. Here they are, by age range:

Elementary School

Middle School

High School

As with my 2006 list, this list is highly subjective. And since I didn't start my blog until the end of 2005, I'm sure that there are books that I completely missed out on reading. But these are all books that stood out for me, out of the 2005 publications that I've read. I highly recommend them all. Happy reading!

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Bracelets, Antagonists, Chocolate and Classic Books

Here are a couple of highlights for you today:

  • Via A Fuse #8 Production and bookshelves of doom, you can now buy banned books bracelets. They have little tiles with the covers of banned books, and also tiles that say "I Read Banned Books." There are versions with adult titles and kids titles. They were created for the American Library Association Office of Intellectual Freedom. I looked, and they're actually slightly cheaper if you buy them directly from the ALA. The ALA site has a list of which books are included in each bracelet. You can also find a list of the 2005 most challenged books at Chicken Spaghetti.
  • Responses are starting to come in to MotherReader's newest challenge, Top Picks (so far) for 2006. Check out the comments on her original post, and see her choices here and here. Please note also that although Amazon lists Gail Gauthier's Happy Kid! as being published in 2005, that's a mistake. The real publication date was May of 2006.
  • Nancy at Journey Woman is looking to add more names to her list of Great Antagonists of Children's Literature. She's sponsoring a contest good for a $25 Starbucks gift card. Head on over and cast your vote!
  • Don't forget, today is Roald Dahl's birthday. I intend to eat lots of chocolate in his honor. You can find some other suggestions to honor Mr. Dahl at Scholar's Blog. Thanks to Kelly for the reminder. Kelly and I both choose Matilda as our favorite Dahl book.
  • Shannon Hale returns to the topic of whether high school kids should only read "classics" or not. Specifically, she addresses this question that people have been raising: "if we stop teaching only the classics, aren't we in danger of getting on that slippery slope where eventually we don't teach any classics? And then how will teens read those books?" Shannon comes down firmly on the side of giving kids a range of books to read, to increase each kid's chance of finding the book that they love, and that will turn them into a lifelong reader. She concludes: "There are these amazing, accessbile books out there. They're great works of literature. They're changing lives. And someday soon, they'll be accepted in your high school."

And now I'd better get back to work!

New Moon: Stephenie Meyer

There's a real risk in absolutely adoring the first book in a new series. The problem, of course, is that it's difficult for the second book to live up to the first. And let me tell you that I LOVED Stephenie Meyer's first book, Twilight (my review is here). I eagerly awaited the sequel, New Moon. I counted the weeks, and pre-ordered it from Amazon as a special birthday gift to myself.

If you haven't read Twilight yet, I suggest that you stop reading here. New Moon picks up a few months after Twilight lets off, as Bella and Edward start 12th grade in Forks, Washington, and Bella prepares to "celebrate" her 18th birthday. Bella is devastated to be marking her 18th birthday because Edward, who is immortal, will never be older than 17. She continues to beg him to transform her into a vampire, like himself, but Edward holds firm. She dreams a horrible dream in which she is an old woman, and Edward is just as young and beautiful as ever.

Bella and Edward continue to struggle with the difficulties that come from a vampire/non-vampire relationship. Their intimacy is kept constantly in check, because Edward fears losing control and hurting Bella. And woe unto them all should the clumsy Bella end up with a paper cut in front of Edward's family. After a near crisis in this area, Edward breaks up with Bella and leaves town, leaving Bella with a gigantic hole in her heart, and a near-total ability to function and interact with other people. The parallels that Meyer draws between Edward and Bella's story and that of Romeo and Juliet seem, if anything, to make Juliet seem not so dedicated in comparison to Bella.

Other adventures follow, of course. The town of Forks, and Bella herself, seem to be magnets for danger and disaster. I don't want to say too much about the plot, at the risk of giving anything away. But Jacob, the young Indian boy that Bella befriended in the first book, plays a key role, as do other mythical creatures, in addition to vampires. Bella takes risks, learns to stand up for herself, and makes important decisions.

I think that New Moon is just as well written as Twilight. I read it in one sitting (all 576 pages), whiling away an entire Saturday. I enjoyed getting to know Bella better, and seeing her become stronger. I loved spending time with Jacob, too. Even Charlie (Bella's Dad) evolved during the book, becoming more confident as a parent (Bella didn't move in with him until her junior year in high school). I found the descriptions of Bella's heartbreak compelling and moving. I thought that Meyer's device of just including a blank page for each of several months worked well in conveying Bella's initial grief without any words. The plot, especially near the end of the book, was gripping. I'm consumed with assembling all of the little hints about how Bella is different from other people (Edward can't read her mind, she's a magnet for trouble, she can't stand the sight of blood, etc.), and figuring out what they might mean.

And yet... I just can't say that I loved New Moon in the same way that I loved Twilight. The reason is simple. Edward was absent from a large chunk of the book, and I missed him. What I loved most about Twilight was Bella and Edward's relationship, their banter, their longing, the way they guarded themselves from each other. I likened it in my Twilight review to the relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. In New Moon, Edward and Bella's relationship is much more like that of Romeo and Juliet, tortured and heartbreaking and filled with loss. Oh, I understand why this was necessary to keep the series going. But my heart, like Bella's, felt a bit empty without Edward as a major part of the story.

I'll still be lining up for the third book in the series (Eclipse, due out in fall of 2007), and awaiting future books after that. And I did put New Moon on my Best of 2006 (so far) list, because I didn't want to penalize Stephenie Meyer for having written such a wonderful first book in Twilight. If you liked Twilight, then New Moon is a must-read. (And if you haven't read Twilight, then I highly recommend that you go back and start there). Just be prepared for Edward to be missing from a large section of the book, and adjust your expectations accordingly.

Book: New Moon
Author: Stephenie Meyer
Publisher: Little, Brown Young Readers
Original Publication Date: August 2006
Pages: 576
Age Range: 14 and up
I also enjoyed New Moon reviews by Stephanie Ford at Children's Literature Book Club and Leila Roy at bookshelves of doom.

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Top Picks for 2006 (So Far)

MotherReader has called on members of the kidlitosphere to select our top picks for 2006 (so far), by age. She asked for only five in each category. Narrowing things down was very difficult. To make it easier, I limited myself to books first published in 2006. This eliminates many excellent books that I read this year that were published last year (or earlier). Here are my selections:

Elementary School

Middle School

High School

Please note that this list is highly subjective. It's the books that I've personally enjoyed the most out of the books that I read this year, and that were published this year. It was difficult to choose, and I read a lot of other wonderful books, too. There are also books that I've heard great things about, and am dying to read, but I did not add any books to my list on the basis of expecting to like them. I'll be interested to see what other people pick!

UPDATE: Above post edited to remove Pond Scum, which, although I loved it, turns out to have been published in 2005. My mistake! I replaced it with Happy Kid!, which I've just learned from author Gail Gauthier was actually published in May 2006, despite Amazon listing it as December 31, 2005. Sorry for any confusion, and thanks to A Fuse #8 Production and Gail Gauthier for taking the time to point out my mistakes.

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Sunday Afternoon Visits: September 10

After yet another week of travel, during which I didn't have any time to visit my friendly neighborhood blogs, I'm catching up this weekend on what I missed. Here are some things that caught my eye:

  • Author Rick Riordan shares the text of his keynote address from the annual Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers conference. The speech includes "Rick’s top five misconceptions about writing". Among other points, he notes that "We don’t write simply because we think it sounds like fun. It isn’t true that anyone can do it." Also "People often tell me that they hope to write some day, when they retire, when they’re not so busy. My response? Don’t wait. That day will never come." I always enjoy Rick's combination of humor and bluntness. 
  • For a very different, but equally entertaining, perspective on writing, check out this post by Eve at The Disco Mermaids about her writing life. Her list of other jobs that she would consider if this writing thing doesn't work out is especially funny (e.g. "Person who is responsible for “disposing” of the Mrs. Fields cookies that aren’t round enough or don’t have enough chocolate chips in them").
  • And, for a third perspective on writing (is this some sort of September 11th-induced angst in the water this weekend?), check out the cartoon and accompanying post on author Alan Silberberg's blog. Alan writes about selling his first book (Pond Scum), and how it's affected his writing process.
  • Author Shannon Hale asked her site visitors to post their secrets, in honor of the publication of her book River Secrets. In five days she's received 110 comments. She has some serious fans out there!
  • In a pithy post, Liz B. from A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy suggests that if you're an author requesting that your local library purchase copies of your book, you might first think about making sure that you have a library card yourself. Words to live by.
  • A Fuse #8 Production links to Garth Nix's comments and poem in response to Steve Irwin's death. I've found the outpouring of sadness over Steve's death fascinating and moving.
  • Chris Barton has a new list of children's history books, this one covering the time period from 1950 to 2000. He also has links to his previous lists covering other historical periods. This is a great resource, people!
  • Via Kelly at Big A little a, September 13th is Roald Dahl day. "The appropriately whimsical instructions? Wear something yellow or, if you don't like yellow, something you really like." Kelly also links to an interesting Guardian article about Roald Dahl's career and writings, including his writing for adults. I'm a big Roald Dahl fan, myself. I taught myself to type when I was in junior high school by copying Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and I absolutely adore Matilda.
  • Also on the topic of Roald Dahl, Leila from bookshelves of doom posts Roald Dahl's response to comments from Eleanor Cameron in a 1973 Horn Book magazine article. Dahl defends modern (in 1973) literature and the ability of individual teachers to help kids find good books.
  • Via Susan at Chicken Spaghetti and also via Planet Esme, I learned that the Sixth Edition of Jim Trelease's wonderful book The Read-Aloud Handbook was published in late July. I highly, highly recommend this book. I have the Fifth Edition, and I've given it as a gift to I don't even know how many people. If you have kids, if you know kids, if you know people with kids, and you want said kids to grow up interested in reading, then buy The Read-Aloud Handbook.
  • Via TadMack at Finding Wonderland, J. L. Bell's Oz and Ends has a write-up about Madeleine L'Engle's quest to publish A Wrinkle in Time. There seem to be several morals to the story. Don't give up - it can take a long time for something groundbreaking to be published. Connections are always helpful. And you still need to have an excellent manuscript, in addition to everything else.
  • Michele at BLTeens Blog has a post about How To Be a Successful Teen, based on four suggestions from her daughter's high school principal. I'm not sure if all of the suggestions are realistic for every kid, but they sound like good advice to me.
  • Gregory K. has an Oddaptation of Curious George over at GottaBook. Oddaptation's are Greg's own art form, short poems designed to capture the essence of a story. This one includes an optional tone of voice range for the last line.
  • Kurtis at Outside of a Cat calls upon bloggers to read and blog about one or more banned books during the upcoming Banned Books Week (September 23-30). He adds: "By "banned" books I mean ones that were pulled from libraries or classrooms, or which were threatened with being pulled from libraries or classrooms."
  • The Seventh Carnival of Children's Literature will be held at Wands and World on September 23rd. Submissions are due by September 15th.

Happy browsing to all!

Where to Stay in Sedona: My Recommendation

This is a bit off-topic, but in case any of you are traveling to Sedona, Arizona any time soon, I wanted to recommend to you a wonderful place to stay. My friends Ken and Heather own a gorgeous, newly built home in Sedona. Their home, called Sedona Suite, features two private entrance suites. Each features a king-size bed, deluxe bathroom, private balcony, and kitchenette.

These accommodations are so much nicer and more private than you'll ever find in an ordinary hotel. The beds are plush, the towels are thick and soft, the colors are restful, the toiletry products are cruelty-free, and the kitchen comes stocked with free water, soda, teas, granola bars, etc. There's also satellite TV and wireless Internet. And the views are simply amazing!

Best of all, Heather and Ken are two of the most hospitable and interesting people you'll ever meet. Ken is a well-respected consultant and the author of The Consistent Consumer: Predicting Future Behavior through Lasting Values. Heather is the founder of Models with Conscience, and the author of Beauty without the Beasts: a Guide to Cruelty-Free Personal Care. Their goal, and one in which I think they've succeeded, is to provide a peaceful and memorable atmosphere in their home. I've visited several times, and look forward to visiting again soon.

If you're not yet convinced, just peruse a few of the visitor comments on the Sedona Suite website. I promise you, if you're looking for a place to stay in Sedona, you won't be disappointed by Sedona Suite.

Children's Literacy Round-Up: September 10

Here are some recent children's literacy-related stories that have caught my eye:

  • A Swiss non-governmental organization has been successful with their publishing arm in bringing books to Rawandan children. You can read more at SwissInfo. Agnès Gyr-Ukunda and her husband started their organization "to create and promote traditional children's stories written in the national language, Kinyarwanda, and to give them "their own proper literature"."
  • The Alberta Classroom on Wheels bus (COW) is a government-sponsored program that promotes literacy for pre-schoolers. Children up to age six can board the bus for a full day of literacy-related fun activities. "During the visit, a facilitator models literacy activities and encourages parents to read to their babies and pre-schoolers. The bus provides a friendly comfortable space where parents feel at ease with books and gain confidence in their ability to read to their children." Read more in the Smoky River Express.
  • Retired schoolteacher Mary Ellen Taylor of Seaford, Delaware started writing a picture book with her grandchildren, and turned the project into a larger-scale endeavor to promote literacy, art, and family ties. Together, they've published a book called Animal Tracks. You can read the full article at Newszap Delaware.
  • The major league lacrosse team the Long Island Lizards has introduced the "Lizards Literacy Lounge" to "cultivate reading awareness among children across Long Island. Throughout the year members of the Lizards staff and players will be visiting schools, hospitals, libraries and other youth centers across Long Island to promote literacy by interacting with the children and reading a book to the group."
  • The White House Conference on Global Literacy will be held on September 18th in New York City. "Invitations to the literacy conference targeted first ladies, first spouses and ministers of education from countries with large populations or high illiteracy rates. According to U.S. officials, to date, roughly 25 first ladies and 40 ministers of education have responded that they will attend." Read more here.
  • According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Pittsburgh was planning an annual Storywalk event on Saturday, September 9th. "The 7th Annual Storywalk features life-sized dioramas depicting scenes from seven children's books, including "The Baby Goes Beep." Families can stroll along the path and pass through story after story, while readers narrate the books for the audience and encourage responses."

Poetry Friday: Wynken, Blynken, and Nod

Continuing my theme of poems from nursery rhymes, I bring you the classic Wynken, Blynken, and Nod, by Eugene Field (1850-1895). This poem was originally called Dutch Lullaby. You can find it in numerous places on the internet, including here, here, and here.

Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night
   Sailed off in a wooden shoe---
Sailed on a river of crystal light,
   Into a sea of dew.
"Where are you going, and what do you wish?"
   The old moon asked the three.
"We have come to fish for the herring fish
   That live in this beautiful sea;
   Nets of silver and gold have we!"
                     Said Wynken,
                     And Nod.

The old moon laughed and sang a song,
   As they rocked in the wooden shoe,
And the wind that sped them all night long
   Ruffled the waves of dew.
The little stars were the herring fish
   That lived in that beautiful sea---
"Now cast your nets wherever you wish---
   Never afeard are we";
   So cried the stars to the fishermen three:
                     And Nod.

All night long their nets they threw
   To the stars in the twinkling foam---
Then down from the skies came the wooden shoe,
   Bringing the fishermen home;
'T was all so pretty a sail it seemed
   As if it could not be,
And some folks thought 't was a dream they 'd dreamed
   Of sailing that beautiful sea---
   But I shall name you the fishermen three:
                     And Nod.

Wynken and Blynken are two little eyes,
   And Nod is a little head,
And the wooden shoe that sailed the skies
   Is a wee one's trundle-bed.
So shut your eyes while mother sings
   Of wonderful sights that be,
And you shall see the beautiful things
   As you rock in the misty sea,
   Where the old shoe rocked the fishermen three:
                     And Nod.

Rick Yanco maintains tons of other poems by Eugene Field on his website, too, including one of my favorites, The Duel (the Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat).

UPDATE: You can see a round-up of other Poetry Friday entries from this week at A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy.

The Sisters Grimm: The Unusual Suspects: Michael Buckley

The Unusual Suspects is the second book in Michael Buckley's Sisters Grimm series (following The Fairy Tale Detectives). The series is about Sabrina and Daphne Grimm, effectively orphaned since the mysterious disappearance of their parents, and now living with their grandmother, Relda Grimm. In the first book, they learn from Granny Relda that their family has a long-time responsibility to solve and document mysteries, and keep the peace, among the Everafters. The Everafters are characters from centuries of fairy tales and stories, all of whom have been trapped in a small town in New York state for 200 years.

As The Unusual Suspects begins, Puck (the impish 11-year-old king of the pixies, who has been around for 4000 years) has moved in with the family. Like any younger brother figure, he revels in tormenting Sabrina, but he takes creativity and mischief to his own special level. To make matters worse, Sabrina and Daphne have to start school. Sabrina is particularly put out because school gets in the way of her primary project, which is using the magical items stored inside the family's Magic Mirror to try to find her lost parents.

Sabrina's incessant crankiness, and her deep-seated resentment of Everafters (who she blames for the loss of her parents), make her difficult to live with, and make school a tough adjustment. The insouciant Daphne fits in immediately at school, and simply adores her new teacher, Snow White. Very quickly, however, school becomes a dangerous place, as Sabrina discovers her teacher, Mr. Grumpner, hanging dead in a huge spiderweb, apparently the victim of an oversized spider. Other freakish creatures also appear, and another death occurs at the school. Naturally, the Grimms are on the case.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes, to give you a feel for the book, and for Buckley's low-key, yet humorous writing style:

"Sabrina had been to a lot of schools in the past year and a half, and they all had a few things in common. Every one of them had a couple of grouchy teachers, a bully, a bully's punching bag, a weird cafeteria lady, a bathroom that everyone was afraid to go into, and a librarian who worshipped something called the Dewey Decimal System. None of those schools, however, had a teacher-killing monster scurrying through its hallways. And they said New York City had everything." (page 90-91)

"... Granny Relda explained, as she stood up and crossed the room to a pile of books stacked next to the radiator. She tugged at a couple in the middle of the stack and sent the rest tumbling to the ground. She left the fallen pile where it was and returned to the table. Granny wasn't much of a housekeeper." (page 113) (I love the casual understatement here.)

""Puck, sweetie, no shape-shifting at the table," Granny Relda lectured." (page 129)

""We need to find you another word," Sabrina muttered. "Hey! I'm seven! I don't know a lot of words," the little girl (Daphne) said." (page 216) (OK, I find Buckley's routine reference to Daphne as 'the little girl' irksome, but I'm getting used to it.)

I think that these books are a lot of fun. I love the magical objects (the Little Match Girl's matches, the Golden Cap that the Wicked Witch of the West used to summon the flying monkeys, etc.), and I enjoy learning how each Everafter has adjusted to small town life. As with the first book, I do find Sabrina a bit annoying, but I love her younger sister Daphne. Puck is also a hoot, and I'm glad that he is continuing as a major character to the series. Mayor (Prince) Charming is also growing on me, surprisingly. The Unusual Suspects is an excellent addition to the series. I can't wait to read the third book.

Book: The Sisters Grimm: The Unusual Suspects
Author: Michael Buckley
Publisher: Amulet Books (Abrams Books for Young Readers)
Original Publication Date: 2005
Pages: 192
Age Range: 9-12

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.