Captain Nobody by Dean Pitchford is about Newton Newman, who is the younger brother of the high-school star quarterback, Chris Newman. Newt is a nice kid, making breakfast for his workaholic parents and super-famous brother. He gets picked on some at school, but he has two good friends.
When Chris is injured in the Big Game and ends up hospitalized in a coma, Newt's friends insist he come out for trick-or-treating. Wearing some of Chris's old clothes, Newt becomes Captain Nobody. Captain Nobody becomes a permanent fixture as Newt continues to wear the costume, and even has some super-hero rescue moments.
When his brother recovers, Newt finally gets the recognition he deserves and gets to share the limelight with his brother.
Dean Pitchford is an award-winning screen writer and this is obvious in his writing style: very fast-paced with tons of dialogue and action, light on the descriptive passages. I think this book is fine for grade school kids. Middle-schoolers and up will probably find it a bit young.
Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord, author of one of my favorite books, Rules, sets her story on an island off the coast of Maine. Tess Brooks' mother is the island's school teacher, her father a lobster fisherman, or lobsterman, I suppose. The island's school is in danger of closing due to the loss of five students when the Hamilton family moved away. The islanders decide to host foster children in order to keep the school open.
Tess and her little sister, Libby, are excited about meeting Aaron, the thirteen year old who has been assigned to them. It becomes clear that Aaron isn't going to get too attached to "Home #3" and would much rather be with his mom. He was taken from his mom at the age of five, because of her drug and alcohol use. Five year old Aaron called 911 when she was unconscious. He lived with his grandmother for six years after that, but when his grandmother passed away, he was put in foster care.
Tess and her family do their best to make Aaron feel welcome and part of their family. Tess messes things up a bit when she writes to Aaron's mother and asks her to come to the island in disguise to see Aaron play the trumpet in the island talent show. I'm not going to spoil the ending, but I will let you know that it's a happy one, my favorite kind.
Tess is compulsive about luck, good luck, bad luck, her lucky charms, things you don't say on a boat, "touch blue and your wish will come true," etc. By the end of the book, she tosses out all of her lucky charms and realizes that her parents are right when they tell that we make our own luck. Of course, I believe luck has another name, grace, and clovers, stars, and other tokens have nothing to do with the coincidences or twists life has for us. I don't think it's problematic, just giving you a heads up.
Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes is set before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina in the ninth ward of New Orleans. My sister-in-law is from New Orleans and she said that the ninth ward was the lowest part of the city and much of it will never be re-built. She also said it was a notoriously poor and dangerous part of New Orleans. The poor part figures into our story, but not the dangerous part.
Lanesha lives Mama Ya Ya, the elderly midwife who delivered her when her young, unwed mother showed up on her doorstep. Lanesha's wealthy uptown folks have never acknowledged her existence, and her mother died in childbirth, but Mama Ya Ya loves her and cares for her, stretching her social security check to provide for both of them.
Mama Ya Ya and Lanesha have "the Sight." Lanesha sees ghosts, she sees the ghost of her mother on Mama Ya Ya's bed, ghosts on the street, ghosts at school, but they do not speak to her. She is something of an outcast with her light colored eyes and her ability to see ghosts.
Mama Ya Ya can see the future as well as ghosts. She is always reminding Lanesha to read the signs. Mama Ya Ya knows when someone is coming to visit, and the name of Lanesha's new friend before they even get to the door. Mama Ya Ya has an altar with a rosary, Catholic saints and voodoo gods, and the old religions and gods of Africa are referred to as well.
Mama Ya Ya dreams of the coming storm, but it's not the hurricane that frightens her, it's the blackness that will follow.
Lanesha is a smart twelve year old girl, with an aptitude for math, and a desire to be a teacher or a bridge building engineer. She reads the encyclopedias that Mama Ya Ya bought her, and studies diligently. Her teacher loans her the seventh grade pre-algebra book for her to practice with while school is cancelled for the hurricane. Lanesha uses math to help her in the crisis, figuring out where the safest place in the house is, how fast the water is rising, and eventually how to free a tangled boat from her rooftop perch in the aftermath.
What I Liked About This Book: Before the hurricane, a Christian minister comes and offers Lanesha and Mama Ya Ya assistance and shelter at the local church, which Mama Ya Ya politely declines. I was pleased to see a cleric represented in a positive light. I also love the way Lanesha and Mama YaYa care for each other, especially Lanesha's tender care and concern for the elderly Mama YaYa.
What I Didn't Like About This Book: As I mentioned above, there are many references to gods, idols, the ability to see the future, the ability to see and/or talk with ghosts etc. Now, unlike Disney's The Frog Princess, no voodoo master conjures up curses with help from demons. In fact, I have to see this book is way better than that movie on this front. Are ya still with me? I didn't think so.
Bounce by Natasha Friend was hard for me to start. Evyn, the thirteen year old female protagonist, has such a whiny, bitchy voice, I had to force myself to keep reading. Peter picked up this book during our recent road trip, and told me he didn't read very much because, "It was stupid." Bounce was nominated for a Caudill however, so with due diligence, I persevered. I love spelling "persevered."
Evyn and her older brother, Mackey, lost their mother when Evyn was one year old. Their father, Albert, has recently met and fallen in love with a professor of Greek descent, Eleni, who has six children of her own, ages nineteen to six. Albert and Eleni are getting married. Evyn, Mackey, and Albert will move from Portland, Maine to Boston, to start their new lives with their new family.
What I Liked About This Book: Large families are rarely represented well in literature (the Weasleys are a wonderful exception), but the author does a great job with this one. The newly formed Gartos-Linney family members are all very kind to each other, with the occasional minor bickering. They do outrageous and thoughtful things to demonstrate their familial ties, such as an incredible funeral for a dog, and wearing matching patchwork scarves to support Mackey's role in the high school musical, "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."
What I Didn't Like About This Book: "Boobs" are mentioned dozens of times. Evyn is small-chested, and notices everyone's "boob" size.
After nearly running away, Evyn is rescued by the eldest son, Linus. She gets to go to his college dorm to spend the night before facing the family the next morning. When she gets to his dorm, she meets Pamela, Linus's scantily clad, large breasted "friend," who also spends the night. Later in the book, Linus has replaced Pamela with another girl.
At one point in the book, Evyn comes home from school and rushes to the bathroom, only to find her father and his new wife in the midst of a shower scene. She chokes on the grape she is eating, and receives a bare breasted Heimlich maneuver from her new step-mom.
In my mind, there are too many adult situations for a kid's book. My kids won't be reading this one.
They will be reading the next one though...
Love, Aubrey by Suzanne LaFleur is the bittersweet story of a girl, who with her mother, are the only survivors of the fatal car accident that took the lives of her father and sister.
The book begins with Aubrey, eating cheese and crackers and watching tv all day until the food runs out. Her mother, suffering severe depression, has abandoned her.
You might think this book is nothing but gloom from here on out, but it gets better. Much better.
Aubrey's grandmother shows up and takes her to Vermont to live with her. Her grandmother also begins the search for Aubrey's mom. Through tomato gardening, taking care of a couple of pets, a next door neighbor girl who never asks too many questions, and some meetings with a guidance counselor who asks all the right questions, Aubrey starts to have a normal life again.
After her mother has been found and treated for her illness, Aubrey is given the choice to move back to Virginia with her mom, or stay in Vermont with her grandmother.
What I Liked About This Book: Everything.
What I Didn't Like About This Book: Nothing.
This one's a keeper, and a tear-jerker. And it's written by my cousin's wife's sister's high-school best friend. I think Suzanne LaFleur could be my new best friend too.