Background: I haven't yet read Piper Reed: Navy Brat, but I included it in the very first edition of my reviews that made me want the book feature, based on this assessment from Marcie at World of Words: "Are you looking for a book for girls (or guys) who have "graduated" from Junie B., but still need a good, short chapter book to keep them reading? This is the book." I remembered that, and when the opportunity arose at ALA to pick up the advance copy of the second book in the series: Piper Reed: The Great Gypsy, I didn't hesitate. And I agree completely with Marcie's assessment.
Review: Piper Reed: The Great Gypsy, written by Kimberly Willis Holt and illustrated by Christine Davenier, is about 10 months in the life of nine-year-old Piper Reed. When the story begins, Piper is living with her mother and two sisters on a navy base in Pensacola. Her father has just left on a six-month tour of duty, and the family is still adapting to his absence. But Piper has plenty to keep her occupied, from meetings of The Gypsy Club (of which Piper is the founding member) to short family trips to plans for a pet show.
This book had a feel to me of classic middle grade fiction. The Reeds reminded me a bit of the Melendy family (except for the first-person viewpoint centered on Piper, and the presence of email). There's not so much a plot as a series of incidents, as the reader spends time with a family that feels real. Piper's older sister Tori worries about her weight, is horrified by her first pimple, and has a first crush on a boy. Piper's younger sister Sam is always poking her nose into Piper's business, and is very briefly traumatized by the death of her pet goldfish, Peaches. Piper is mean to Tori, defends Sam from the attacks of others, and wants to do something big to impress her father. She's dyslexic, but this is a minor point in the story, not much more significant than her hair color.
Christine Davenier's illustrations complement the text perfectly. My favorite is a sketch of Piper's hummingbird expert uncle visiting Piper's class for show and tell. He's wearing his hummingbird hat, and sitting hunched over in a little elementary school seat. The teacher clearly doesn't know what to make of him. There's also a priceless picture of Tori, drinking her first cafe au lait in New Orleans, fingers delicately extended, nose in the air. The text reads:
"Tori held the mug with her pinky finger pointing out. Her nose circled above the rim, as she took in a long sniff. Finally she closed her eyes and took a giant gulp of the cafe au lait. Her lip curled, but after she swallowed, she announced, "Scrumptious!"
Tori always liked to think she was grown up."
Piper Reed: The Great Gypsy has just the right amount of sentimentality - enough to give the book heart, without being sappy. Piper and Sam choose the "saddest" Christmas tree, "a Charlie Brown tree". Piper's mom and the girls make sand angels on Christmas day, but are saddened by the missing spot where the dad's angel should be. But not to worry -- the ending is perfect!
Highly recommended for kids just reaching into middle grade fiction who want day-to-day stories that they can relate to. Although the characters are mostly girls, there's not much "girl stuff" in Piper Reed: The Great Gypsy - I think that boys would enjoy this one, too. It would make a nice classroom read-aloud for second or third graders. Personally, I'm going to use this series the same way I use the Clementine books, as a sure-fire gift idea for girls of a certain age (the age range here being a year or two older than the one for Clementine). And I'll look forward to Piper's next outing.
Publisher: Henry Holt
Publication Date: August 19, 2008
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: BooksForKidsBlog, Jelly Mom
Author Interviews: Cynsations, The Karianna Spectrum
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.