Counting by 7s – Holly Goldberg Sloan

In the summer of 2018 the eldest brought a classmate along on a trip to the cabin. That classmate brought books along, as you do, and one of them was Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan, which was left on the living room table and which I picked up and started reading late one evening when I had finished my own book but was not quite ready to call it a night. I read just a few pages, but enough to tell me I wanted to read more, and some time later I asked to borrow the book. When I picked it up again this summer I started at the beginning, but this time I finished what I’d started.

Counting by 7s is the story of Willow Chance. She lost one set of parents when just a baby, but was adopted by a loving couple. Unfortunately when she has just started middle school they are both killed in a car crash, and Holly is left without any relatives or other adult support network. She is promptly taken in, temporarily, by the Nguyen family, consisting of Patti, Mai and Choung-Hoy, on the insistence of Mai who has come to know Willow because her brother sees the same (not very good) councellor, Dell Duke, as Willow. Willow is seeing a councellor because she was suspected of cheating when she got all the answers correct on a test despite seemingly not paying attention in class at all. Willow is… not like other kids.

I posted on Instagram that I had been intrigued by the start of the book and that half-way through I was still intrigued. And so I remained, until the very end, when the story fell flat on its face and I was snapped out of my suspended disbelief and realised that I’d been uneasy about aspects of the story for quite a while. Regarding the ending I will refrain from too much comment as it will spoil the book entirely, but this Goodreads review by TheBookSmugglers (BEWARE SPOILERS, obviously) sums my feelings up perfectly.

Willow is charming as a character in a book, in real life she may be harder to deal with. There is never any actual diagnose mentioned in the book (if there is, I missed it), but it is pretty obvious that we are intended to read her as being “on the spectrum”, i.e. Asbergers/Autistic. Her interests are not those of other kids her age and her inability to pretend to care about “normal kid things” has left her pretty much friendless.

I tried to roll with it.
But what I learned and what was being taught had no intersection.
While my teachers labored over the rigors of their chosen subject, I sat in the back, pretty much bored out of my mind. I knew the stuff, so instead I studied the other students.
I came to a few conclusions about the middle school experience:
CLothing was very important.
In my opinion, if the world were perfect, everyone would wear lab coats in educational settings, but that was obviously not happening.
The average teenager was willing to wear very uncomfortable attire.

(Page 33.) And so a new start at a new school has not really helped, but once she gets involved with the Nguyens and with Dell Duke and the fortuitous taxi driver Jairo, she subtly gets under their skins and starts to change their lives for the better. Or… not so subtly, perhaps. I’d be inclined to agree with another Goodreads review, this one by Shelley:

An excellent introduction to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl phenomenon for kids. Watch the quirky, plucky, feisty, vocabulary obsessed orphan genius change the lives of everyone around her, just by existing. Whoo.

It’s all a little too neat. There is also an element of slightly troublesome, well, exoticism. Willow is “a person of colour”, the Nguyens are of Vietnamese descent and, well, lets say it doesn’t feel much like an own voices story (which it isn’t, and doesn’t pretend to be, I suppose).

So.

I’m not saying “Don’t read it!” It’s not terrible, and it has been amply blessed with awards, so a lot of people like it. But there are better books out there. Ok, so maybe I am saying “Don’t read it.” I’m not sure the initial charm makes up for its somewhat serious drawbacks.

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History – Vashti Harrison

I purchased Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History as part of a book haul through the children’s school some time last year (I think), and it’s been laying around waiting for attention ever since. I finally picked it up in order to cross off the square “Barnebok av svart forfatter” (Children’s book by a black author) on the Black author bingo reading challenge hosted by @litteraturenogmeg on Instagram.

It’s a quick read (for a grown-up), and it’s interesting in the sense that it highlights a selection of women who certainly deserve more attention for their contributions to society. Some I’ve heard of before, some not. I could easily use the list of names as a starting point for a biography TBR-list without skipping a single one of them.

However. Though the intentions behind the book are undoubtedly good, the execution leaves me unenthused on several counts. The texts are short, which they need to be in this format, but they also read… formulaic, dry and lacking in any enthusiasm for the subjects. The illustrations are cute, but I soon found myself vaguely annoyed by the fact that all the women are depicted with their eyes closed, then uneasy when they increasingly (the feeling getting worse for every iteration) seem like paper cut-out dolls just dressed in different outfits and hairstyles and finally exasperated at the combination of the cutesy, doll-like pictures and the “little” in the book’s title, which all contribute to a feeling that the (in reality strong, bold, intelligent, brave and wildly exciting) women are infantilised and… made unthreatening and “acceptable”. Which I assume is pretty much the opposite of the author’s intention.

Which is a pity.

The author does say (in the foreword) “I originally envisioned them as little girls serving as stand-ins for these famous women – that’s why they’re ‘little’ – but as I’ve started sending them out into the world, they’ve become bigger than I imagined. I designed them to be interchangeable because I want you, the reader, to see yourself in any one of them, and to feel their strength and possibility in you.” So there is evidently some thought behind the aestetic choices, even if I disagree with their effectiveness.

I found this review by Julie on Goodreads interesting. She agrees with many of my views on this book in particular, and also compares it with other books in this… genre (?), of which she is similarly underwhelmed. I think we’ve got the first Rebel Girls collections on our shelves somewhere, so I’m going to hunt that out and see if I like it better than this book. From my point of view having some of the heroes being obscure is actually a plus, I’d have thought lifting the stories of people we for some reason (see also: patriarchy and white supremacy) have not heard of before is part of the point of these collections, but it’s hard to judge before having read through the book myself.

In any case, Little Leaders is not a bad book. It’s just nowhere near as good as I’d hoped (or that the subject matter deserves).

The Girl Who Drank the Moon – Kelly Barnhill

A buzz on Twitter a while back made me add The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill to one of my Adlibris orders, and it seemed like a good book to pick up while waiting for the next Pratchett from the library.

Warning: The following contains spoilers of sorts.

I can see why people would be enchanted by The Girl Who Drank the Moon, though for me it fell somewhat short of its potential (perhaps precisely because I had read about people being enchanted). I’m hard pressed to put my finger on exactly why, though, because when I try to sum up the cast of characters and the plot it seems to me that the book should be a perfect fit. The closest I have come to a reason is that I don’t feel I get to know any of the main characters as well as I’d like, or as well as I’d need to in order to really care about what happens to them. It is partly a consequence of the way the plot centers around forgetting (or rather repression of memories) and storytelling as a way to deceive rather than inform. The reader is partly kept in the dark along with the characters, which is unavoidable for the plot’s progression, but I think this is what detracts from the character building. For a large part of the novel the main characters are not wholly themselves, insofar as you need your memories to be yourself, and it certainly affected my perception of Luna, Xan, Antain and the rest. That said, towards the last hundred pages or so the fog is lifted, literally and figuratively, and I am much more invested in “what happens next”. Unfortunately, of course, the novel then ends (and it’s not reading as though a sequel is intended).

Still, it’s a good book, in fact I’d say it’s a very good book. It just lacked that final 5 % tug-at-my-heartstrings-from-page-1, and that is so exceedingly rare that it really is unreasonable to ask for it.

Drama – Raina Telgemeier

The book Drama by Raina Telgemeier is a great comic book about a girl in high school called Callie. It was published September in 2012, printed in Singapore and published by Scholastic.

Drama is focused on the life of Callie during the preparation for the Spring musical. Callie is a nice and funny girl who really wants to sing but her voice does not agree with that and she ends up joining the backstage crew and becoming the next stage manager.

All and all, I really enjoyed this book and I hope others will to. I believe that this graphic novel (comic book) is for the ages 7 and up because you need to understand what love is to understand what is really happening.

The Baby-Sitters Club – Raina Telgemeier

The series The Baby-Sitters Club by Raina Telgemeier is a great comic book series, that I love. The main characters are Kristy, Stacey, Mary Anne, Claudia and Dawn. Dawn joins in the third book but the others where there from the start.

There are four books in the series but I hope there will be more. The four books are Kristy’s Great Idea, The Truth About Stacey, Mary Anne Saves The Day and Claudia and Mean Janine.

Over all I really enjoyed the series and I believe that others will too. I recommend this series to the ages five and up and male and female or any thing in between.

Creepy Susie and 13 Other Tragic Tales for Troubled Children – Angus Oblong

The book Creepy Susie and 13 other tragic tales for troubled children by Angus Oblong is a very funny book. One of my favorites is Creepy Susie, but it is also funny that in this book electroshock therapy cures all mental issues.

There are a lot of main characters. There is: Helga from The Debbies, Betsy from Stupid Betsy, Waldo from Waldo and Bean, Scooter from Little Scooter, Sammy from Happy happy happy happy Sammy, Milo form Milo’s Disorder, Susie form Creepy Susie, Emily from Emily Ampatute, Scottie from Narcoleptic Scottie, Tommy and Patty from Sibling rivalry, Rosie from Rosie’s crazy mother, Jenny Jenny Jenny and Babette from Jenny Jenny Jenny and Babette the Siamese Quadruplets, Dick and Muffy from Dick & Muffy, Mary from Mary had a Little chainsaw.

This book is very fun but a little bit brutal so I recommend for ages 10 and up and all genders but only for those who feel like they can handle a bit of gore and murder.

The Christmasaurus – Tom Fletcher

As noted I finished This is How You Lose Her on my way to London, so I found myself without anything to read once we arrived, which left me feeling vaguely panicky. Not that I had much time for reading, but it’s the principle of the thing. Anyway, on our first morning we went on an expedition to a reasonably sized Sainsbury’s where I found The Christmasaurus. The book has been all over my Twitter feed for the last few months, so I did not hesitate in picking it up. By the time we left London it had been joined by rather a lot more books (most are shown here on Instagram, but despite my misgivings about luggage space I managed to squeeze in a couple more). Anyway, I read all of… 20 pages or so while in London, but rather more on the trip back, in fact I finished The Chistmasaurus on the flight into Trondheim and was left twiddling my thumbs the last half hour or so.

While it would certainly be more appropriate to read The Christmasaurus in December, reading it in February worked well enough. According to Goodreads:

The Christmasaurus is a story about a boy named William Trundle, and a dinosaur, the Christmasaurus. It’s about how they meet one Christmas Eve and have a magical adventure. It’s about friendship and families, sleigh bells and Santa, singing elves and flying reindeer, music and magic. It’s about discovering your heart’s true desire, and learning that the impossible might just be possible.

Which sums it up quite nicely. I like William Trundle and his father. I like the Christmasaurus and its elf friends. I think some of Fletcher’s explainations for how things work, like how the presents from Santa actually get “produced”, are delightfully quirky and inventive. I have a bit of a problem with the solution to the whole Hunter debacle, but I do like the solution to the other “villain”, Brenda Payne. And all the talk about crumpets made me hungry (and I had to google crumpet recipes).

Shane Devries’ illustrations are quite wonderful, some of the expressions on the Christmasaurus’ face being especially delightful, like here:

All in all, a pretty good read, and I’m sorry I didn’t pick up The Creakers when I saw it (though my luggage allowance is not sorry).

Water Horse by Dick King-Smith

Today I am writing a review about the Water Horse by Dick King-Smith. And to let you know the book is based on an old Scottish story.

The book is about two kids, their parents, their grandfather and of course the Water Horse.

In the book the oldest of the two kids finds a thing that looks like a giant mermaid’s purse, but it is not and they bring it to the bathtub and it hatches and, well a lot of trouble starts.

I liked that the book was very exciting and fun and not boring and something you really want to read.

The book brought me a lot of good ideas for games to play with my friends and art stuff, because I really love a real adventure and a nice art piece.

I liked it because it’s not one of those books you want to just put down and stop reading forever but is one of those books you just need to find out the ending and keep reading again and again.

I didn’t really like that there was so much boring stuff at the beginning because I like to dive right into the fun stuff.

And except for that the book is fantastic.

My favorite character is one of the kids (the youngest) named Angus, he is my favorite because he uses a lot of sailors oaths like: shiver my timbers, blow me down,  well I’ll be scuppered and holy mackerel.

I loved the book and I think all ages would like this book if they are in for a big ADVENTURE.

Lars er LOL – Iben Akerlie

Jeg hadde egentlig notert meg Lars er LOL av Iben Akerlie uansett, men når den havnet på langlista til Bokbloggerprisen 2016 og det i tillegg passet seg sånn at jeg nettopp var ferdig med Sweet Masterpiece og derfor trengte en ny ebok for “fem minutter til rådighet til å lese på mobilen” situasjoner var det bare å låne boka i ebokbib.  Etterhvert fenget den riktignok såpass at det ble mer strekklesing enn den kriseløsninga lesing på mobil vanligvis er.

Boka er skrevet i jeg-form og fortelleren er Amanda, som gleder seg til å begynne på skolen igjen etter ferien. Delvis grugleder hun seg til å se Adam, som hun er forelsket i, igjen og delvis er dette det året hennes klassetrinn er faddere for førsteklassingene. Men  så viser det seg at Amanda er blitt plukket ut til å være fadder for et helt spesielt barn. Ikke en søt seksåring, slik hun har sett for seg, men for den jevngamle Lars som har Downs syndrom. Amanda, som hittil har forsøkt å forholde seg ganske nøytral og usynlig, ikke blant de kuleste, men heller ikke blant de som er mest utsatt for mildere former av mobbing, føler seg slett ikke klar for å være en synlig forsvarer for Lars. Det utvikler seg et reellt vennskap mellom Amanda og Lars på ettermiddagstid, men samtidig forsøker Amanda å opprettholde en form for nøytralitet på skolen. Det går selvsagt ikke bra i lengden, og snart må Amanda velge hva slags person hun egentlig vil være.

Side 195.

Jeg skjønner hvorfor Lars er LOL har blitt en favoritt, både blant bokbloggere og i målgruppen (boka vant ARKs barnebokpris 2016, stemt fram av femte-, sjette- og sjuendeklassinger). Ikke minst er historien fengende og har godt driv, mot slutten gikk pulsen høyt mens jeg ventet på klimakset i konflikten. Den tar dessuten Amandas dilemma på alvor, og jeg føler at det er viktig at det skrives historier som viser hvordan motivasjon for mobbing – eller unlatelsessynden å late som ingenting når noen andre mobbes – ofte er ønsket om ikke å bli mobbet selv og å holde seg inne med de “kule”. Det som manglet for meg var bedre utdyping av noen av bipersonene, særlig Amandas venner Sari og Kay, blir litt for todimensjonale til at jeg helt får tak i hvordan de påvirker Amandas valg. De to jentene som står for hovedandelen av mobbingen oppleves også litt karikerte. Det er et mindre problem, og sikkert enda mindre hos målgruppen.

Et stort pluss er framstillingen av Lars. Det er ikke akkurat overflod av litterære portretter av personer med Downs, hverken i barne- eller voksenlitteraturen, og det er derfor godt med noe som kan rive ned en fordom eller to.

Jeg humret godt over lærerportrettene, både kontaktlæreren og gymlæreren er godt gjenkjennelige typer som nesten bikker over i karikatur, men bare nesten. De fleste av oss har nok møtt på en Janne eller en Stein Vidar i vår ferd gjennom det norske skoleverket.

Side 143.

Det som virket mest forstyrrende for meg var enkelte av delene av historien som omhandlet Adam. Misforstå meg rett, Adam er ekstremt viktig for Amandas motivasjon, hun tror at hun må være “kul” for at han skal legge merke til henne, men særlig den aller siste scenen med Adam følte jeg var overflødig og flyttet fokuset vekk fra hovedtemaet i boka. Der hadde nok den 11-årige versjonen av meg selv vært uenig, så det er mulig forfatter og forlag har gjort det rette, men jeg ville personlig strøket hele scenen.

En annen svakhet ved boka er at Amandas observasjoner av det som skjer veksler mellom å være troverdig for alderen og overdreven modenhet og av og til overdreven umodenhet. Det er nok også noe som plager meg mer som voksen leser enn det ville plaget meg om jeg var 11.

Alt i alt vil jeg på det sterkeste anbefale Lars er LOL. Særlig om du er i målgruppen (eller kjenner noen som er det som du kan gi den til).

Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Jeff Kinney

wimpy

Diary of a Wimpy Kid has obviously been on my radar for a while, you have to have lived under a rock for the last ten years to have missed hearing about the phenomenon. A few years ago our oldest nephew was engrossed by it (though in the Norwegian translation), and when the eldest came home with volume 1 from the school library and finished the book in one evening (a first for her with a chapter book, a milestone worth noting), I thought the time was ripe to have a nosy and see what the fuss is all about.

And, well, I read it and I’m afraid I still don’t know what the fuss is about. See, Greg Heffley, the eponymous wimpy kid, is a bit of an asshole. He treats his (only) friend Rowley like shit, for example. Not that you don’t have some sympathy for him, middle school can be rough, but still. And while the lass was raving about how funny the book was I didn’t even smile once.

So I’m not in the target audience, not by a long stretch. Perhaps I would have found it hilarious when I was nine? Probably? Perhaps not? It’s hard to tell. But I’m not going to suggest that nine-year-olds shouldn’t read it, or that there is something wrong in nine-year-olds finding it funny. I’m even considering seeing if I can’t pick up a second-hand set of the series and donating it to the school library, if it turns out the lass is correct when she says they only have the first volume. Any book that gets a kid as interested in reading as this one seems to do is fine by me (well, ok, as long as the book in question doesn’t actively encourage harmful behaviour, I suppose). But would I suggest it to older readers? No. Not unless you, like me, like to have some idea of what your children are reading. For your own pleasure or education (or both) there is little to recommend the Wimpy Kid.