Review of Eoin Colfer’s Legend of the Worst Boy in the World


Eoin Colfer’s Legend of . . . The Worst Boy in the World, illustrated by Glenn McCoy

Miramax Books (Hyperion Books for Children), 2007.  101 pages.

It’s not fair.  Whenever something bad happens to Will, no one will even listen to him tell about it.  He has four brothers.  If he wants to complain about something to his Mom or Dad, there are usually at least two brothers in line ahead of him.

Will says, “All this complaining means that by the time Marty and I get home from school with our troubles, there is usually a little brother perched on each of Mom’s knees, moaning about their baby problems.  And even if, miracle of miracles, there is a free knee, Mom is usually on auto-nod by then anyway.  Auto-nod is when grown-ups don’t really listen to what a child says, they just nod every five seconds or so until the child goes away.”

Finally Will finds the perfect person to listen to him:  Grandad.  He makes a deal.  Grandad will listen to one sob story from Will each week, if Will will listen to one from Grandad.

So it seems like a great thing.  Only whenever Will thinks he really has a terrible story, Grandad completely tops him.  For example, one week the barber slipped when he was trimming the back of Will’s head with electric clippers and shaved a bald strip right up to his crown.  When he told Grandad about it, Grandad took off his cap and showed him where a shark had bitten him on the head.

Will was completely frustrated, so he decided to do some research.  It turns out that when Will was only two years old, his brother Marty, at three years old, almost managed to get rid of him for good.

What’s the worst thing a three-year-old could do to a two-year-old?  What plot would get him out of the house, away from Mom and Dad, and almost do him in forever?  That, my friends, is the Legend of the Worst Boy in the World.

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Review of The Good Husband of Zebra Drive, by Alexander McCall Smith


The Good Husband of Zebra Drive, by Alexander McCall Smith

Pantheon Books, New York, 2007.  213 pages.

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2008.  #5 Fiction: Romance

This book, the eighth in the series about The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency, is extra special, because my copy is signed by the author.  I got to hear Alexander McCall Smith speak at George Mason University.  His talk was every bit as funny and delightful as his books.  I was completely enchanted.  Of course, that didn’t surprise me at all, since his books never fail to delight me.

I continue to strongly recommend this series to library patrons.  I do urge you to begin at the beginning, with The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.  I think you will probably want to read the rest, and eagerly read each next installment.

In The Good Husband of Zebra Drive, will Mma Makutsi really leave the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency?  The pleasant ups and downs of day to day life, as usual, are peppered with interesting cases.  Another delightful book.

I will give a taste of the pleasant wisdom found in these books by listing some quotations I highlighted:

“If there’s bad behaviour, the quickest way of stopping it is to give more love.  That always works, you know.  People say that we must punish when there is wrongdoing, but if you punish you’re only punishing yourself.  And what’s the point of that?”

“And that stopped the stealing.  Trust did it.  We trusted him, and he knew it.  So he stopped stealing.”

” ‘What we are trying to do with these children,’ said Mma Potokwane suddenly, ‘is to give them good things to remember.  We want to make so many good memories for them that the bad ones are pushed into a corner and forgotten.'”

“There was no point in telling somebody not to cry, she had always thought; indeed there were times when you should do exactly the opposite, when you should urge people to cry, to start the healing that sometimes only tears can bring.”

” ‘That engine I’ve been working on will run so sweetly,’ he remarked as he poured his tea.

‘Like life,’ she said.”

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Review of The Plain Janes, by Cecil Castelluci and Jim Rugg


The Plain Janes, by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg

Minx Books, New York, 2007.

We’ve all read books where the main character has to start at a new school.  Even books where she has to start a new high school six weeks after the start of the year.  But Jane’s reason for moving is a little unusual.  At her old neighborhood in Metro City, she was in the middle of a terrorist attack.

Now her parents have moved their family out to the suburbs, where they feel safer.  Jane hates having to leave the city.  When she sits in the cafeteria at the table for rejects, she learns that the other three girls sitting there are all named Jane.

After the terrorist attack, Jane found a sketchbook with words on the cover, “Art Saves.”  Can this be true in the suburbs as well as in the city?  She convinces the other Janes to carry out some “Art Attacks.”  They sign their work P.L.A.I.N.—People Loving Art in Neighborhoods.

But the authorities don’t take kindly to any kind of attack – artistic or not.

Here’s an engaging and artistic graphic novel about surviving, pressing on, and making a difference.

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Review of Italian Lessons, by Peter Pezzelli


Italian Lessons, by Peter Pezzelli

Kensington Books, New York, 2007.  346 pages.

This is the second book by Peter Pezzelli that I’ve read.  I found both books warm and wonderful.  With both, I felt transported back to Italy.

In Italian Lessons, Carter Quinn, newly graduated from college, has fallen in love with a girl who lives in a village in Italy.  He can’t stop thinking about her.  So he decides to spend his summer learning Italian and then go to find her.

Carter learns that a music professor often gives private Italian lessons.  This professor, Giancarlo Rosa, has not been back to his childhood home in Italy for decades.

Italian Lessons covers the summer’s lessons together, what Carter learns about Italy and about life, and then what he finds in Italy — and how his discoveries touch Professor Rosa permanently, and allow him to finally make peace with his past.

This is a feel-good novel that is also thought-provoking, covering issues of life like forgiveness and destiny and opportunities.

I definitely need to look for more of Peter Pezzelli’s novels.  So far, they always leave me with a smile.

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Review of Life As We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer


Life As We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Harcourt, Orlando, 2006.  337 pages.

“But the moon wasn’t a half moon anymore.  It was tilted and wrong and a three-quarter moon and it got larger, way larger, large like a moon rising on the horizon, only it wasn’t rising.  It was smack in the middle of the sky, way too big, way too visible.  You could see details on the craters even without the binoculars that before I’d seen with Matt’s telescope.”

Life As We Knew It is gripping, dramatic, and well-written.  I’m afraid it’s also horribly depressing.

Years ago, I saw an episode of James Burke’s Connections show where he talked about what would happen if we lost electricity and other modern conveniences.  Would we even know how to grow food?  How to milk cows or slaughter chickens?  Would we be able to survive?

I found it interesting that Miranda’s family, aside from an attempt at growing vegetables, were still pretty much at the mercy of what they could purchase to eat.  They had to live in hope that the electricity would come back some day.  And I got depressed realizing I wouldn’t do much better!

This book would make for lively discussion in a book group.  How would you respond to such a situation?  I liked it that it was narrated by a high school student—because we can all understand how much that student would prefer a normal life and normal high school concerns.

I’m afraid I related a little too much to her single mother—that probably kept me from really enjoying the book right there.  It was too easy for me to imagine myself in that desperate situation, and wonder how I would respond.

I do think that in such a situation, I’d be force to turn to my faith in God—so I disliked it that in this book, Miranda had a friend with a church that presented a caricature of faith in God—a twisted, destructive trust, with a controlling and selfish leader at the head of the group.  How sad if, in such a desperate situation, you had only yourselves to rely upon—and hope that some day the government would get it together enough to help you survive.

So, this was a well-written story, with lots of food for thought.  But now I’m going to look for something light and cheerful to read!

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Review of Our Librarian Won’t Tell Us Anything! by Toni Buzzeo

Our Librarian Won’t Tell Us Anything!

by Toni Buzzeo
illustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa

Reviewed February 7, 2008.
Upstart Books, Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, 2006.

Here’s a book any librarian will love.

On Robert’s first day at Liberty Elementary, he goes to the library to find animal books. He decides to ask the librarian, but his classmate tells him, “Don’t even bother. Our librarian won’t tell us ANYTHING!”

Carmen is right – sort of. Mrs. Skorupski doesn’t tell him where the animal books are. However, she does show him how to look up the books he wants on the computer and use the shelf labels to find them.

Later, Mrs. Skorupski doesn’t find him a good online article for his report. But she does show him how to find one.

You get the idea! This is a fun story, and along the way it shows some of the many wonderful ways a librarian can empower you—even without telling you anything!

I was not surprised to learn that the author is a School Library Media Specialist herself. As a brand-new children’s librarian, this book has a special place in my heart.

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Review of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie
art by Ellen Forney

Reviewed February 4, 2008.
Little, Brown, and Company, New York, 2007. 230 pages.
Winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature 2007
Starred Review

This book is awesome.

I read it simply because it had gotten a lot of attention on the listserv for young adult librarians. Some complained about some edgy content—like masturbation—and I tend to be sensitive to content like that, and don’t like things like that thrown in gratuitously, so I suspected I wouldn’t like it. It also sounded like a book with an agenda—the Native Americans were pushing it so hard—that I suspected I wouldn’t like it.

Well, I loved it. I don’t blame the Native Americans for urging us all to read it. I’m going to urge everyone to read it, and if I had a background at all similar to his, I know I’d be that much more vehement. If the book has an agenda, it’s so sensitively carried out, you don’t feel like you’re reading a message—just a wonderfully crafted story. I’m going to try very hard to get my 13-year-old son to read it, though if he ends up waiting a few years, that’s okay, too. Yes, conservative parents will probably want to prescreen this book before giving it to a younger teen. The book presents a hard look at tough realities of poverty—while keeping the readers laughing.

“Junior” Arnold Spirit, at fourteen, is a budding cartoonist.

I draw because words are too unpredictable. 

I draw because words are too limited.

If you speak and write in English, or Spanish, or Chinese, or any other language, then only a certain percentage of human beings will get your meaning.

But when you draw a picture, everybody can understand it.

When Junior starts high school, and is given a math book so old it has his mother’s name in it, he gets mad.

The consequences of his angry reaction include Junior being advised to leave the reservation and attend the high school in Reardan, twenty-two miles outside the rez.

Junior goes to Reardan, but the others on the rez hate him for it—especially Rowdy, who’s been his best friend all his life.

They stared at me, the Indian boy with the black eye and swollen nose, my going-away gifts from Rowdy. Those white kids couldn’t believe their eyes. They stared at me like I was Bigfoot or a UFO. What was I doing at Reardan, whose mascot was an Indian, thereby making me the only other Indian in town?

The story of Junior’s freshman year at Reardan includes basketball showdowns between his new school and the reservation’s team—featuring his friend Rowdy. He navigates the scary world of a white high school, makes some friends, and suffers way more than his share of tragic losses.

That’s the true genius of this book. Sherman Alexie deals with some dreadful situations, but he effectively mixes in laughter, and the reader comes away with overwhelming hope, instead of the despair you would think you’d feel after reading a book about poverty and death and limited opportunities.

This book gave me a window into a world I knew little about, and it did it with affection, compassion, and pride.

I picked up this book at bedtime, and kept reading until I finished it. When I did, I set it down with a smile on my face. A wonderful and satisfying read. World-broadening, moving, and uplifting.

The review of this book on the main website is found at:

Review of Rise and Shine, by Anna Quindlen

Rise and Shine
by Anna Quindlen

Reviewed September 14, 2007.
Random House, New York, 2006. 269 pages.

I like Anna Quindlen’s writing. She creates depth, windows into people’s souls.

This book is the story of Bridget Fitzmaurice, a social worker in Manhattan, and her older sister Meghan, one of the most recognized people on TV, the host of Rise and Shine, a network’s morning show.

When Meghan lets something slip on the air that she shouldn’t have, it looks like her career is over. When Bridget learns about the other pressures in Meghan’s life behind that, she wonders if she really knew her sister.

Will any of their lives ever be the same again? Well, no. We all grow and change. This novel looks at a window of time when the lives in one family change dramatically. Perhaps partly I liked it because Bridget is almost exactly the same age as me—and it’s a time of change for me, too.

If someone told me the plot of this novel, I’m not sure I would have thought I’d like it. But in Anna Quindlen’s hands, it’s a treasure. You enjoy getting to know these people.

This review is on the main site at:

Caddy Ever After, by Hilary McKay


Caddy Ever After

by Hilary McKay

Reviewed August 12, 2007.
Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster), New York, 2006. 218 pages.
Starred Review. I love the Casson family! Their delightful chaos and artistic creativity are authentic and warm-hearted.

Each of the books features one of the children of the family. In this one, Caddy gets to be in the title and has the most dramatic story, but each kid gets a long section to tell. In many ways, the story is truly about obsessive, creative Rose, who gets to begin and end.

The book begins with Rose telling us about why the Ghost Club has been banned from her school, and her daring rescue attempt.

Then Indigo takes up the story. He begins, “I can only think of two things that Rose is good at. One is art and the other is loving.” Indigo goes on to tell how Rose inspired him to invite Sarah to the Valentine Dance, and how he figured out a way to get her to go, despite her wheelchair.

Saffron then tells about how she lets down her friend Sarah and is haunted by a balloon. Then she ends up lost and stranded with Rose, and they are saved by someone whom Caddy thinks is probably the “Real Thing.”

So Caddy plans a wedding, but Rose is terribly upset. Because Caddy is planning to marry someone who isn’t darling Michael.

Once again, Hilary McKay weaves an absolutely delightful tale.