Review of Bink & Gollie, by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee

Bink & Gollie

by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee

illustrated by Tony Fucile

Candlewick Press, 2010. 82 pages.
2011 Geisel Award Winner
Starred Review

In the tradition of Frog and Toad, George and Martha, and Elephant and Piggie, here’s another easy-to-read book about two friends who are very different, but who have a great time together.

This one’s a beginning chapter book, with 82 pages, rather than a traditional easy reader format. But much of the story is told in the exuberant pictures and there are not a lot of words on each page. Readers will feel they have accomplished something when they finish this book with three chapters.

Bink is short and a little wild, with yellow hair going in every direction. Gollie is tall and calm, and likes things just so. You can see all that from the picture of them rollerskating on the front cover.

The first chapter brings a conflict in their personality types:

“‘Bink,’ said Gollie, ‘the brightness of those socks pains me. I beg you not to purchase them.’

‘I can’t wait to put them on,’ said Bink.”

After some conflict over the socks, the two friends come up with a compromise bonanza.

The book goes on in the classic tradition of friendship tales — with simple situations that test the friendship, but allow the friendship to come out strong and shining. The illustrations in this book tell much of the story and convey much of the emotion behind the words. And it’s fun to read one of these tales where we see cordless phones and a laptop computer in the illustrations. The book is classic — but modern.

This week I had a couple different people ask about chapter books that are not too difficult, but for a child who wants something beyond the traditional easy reader. Bink and Gollie will fill the bill. There are lots of big words: “outrageous socks,” “marvelous companion,” “remarkable fish,” and “extraordinary accomplishment.” But there is not a lot of text on each page, and many of the big words are repeated throughout the book. Children who read it themselves will realize that they have achieved an extraordinary accomplishment.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of The Off Season, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

The Off Season

by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
read by Natalie Moore

Listening Library, 2007. 5 CDs. 6 hours
Starred Review

After listening to Dairy Queen, I simply had to find out what happened next. I very much liked the narrator, Natalie Moore, and I could easily imagine her voice as DJ’s voice. (I was disappointed when the library didn’t have the third book in audiobook version.)

In The Off Season, DJ gets injured badly enough that she decides she’d better stop playing football in order to stay healthy for her true sport, basketball. But that’s only the beginning. She breaks up with Brian. Her brother Win has a devastating injury.

In the middle of this book, it seemed like everything that could possibly go wrong was going wrong for DJ and her family. I almost didn’t want to keep listening, because I was hurting for DJ.

Later, when I heard the author speak, I learned that she used to be a screenwriter, so she purposely used the three-act structure where everything looks black in the second act. And believe me, everything looks black in the middle of this book.

However, the author really pulls off a happy ending. DJ tackles her problems with the same fighting spirit that motivated her to play football in the first book — only now the stakes are much higher. By the end, you’re definitely cheering for her.

I have to say that, even though I didn’t like it when DJ broke up with Brian, because I liked him and had fallen for him with DJ — I was very proud of her. She broke up with him because he was ashamed to be seen with her. He never introduced her to his friends or his parents. And DJ figured out that she wanted to be with someone who was proud of her, who wanted the world to know that they were together. I loved it that she did that. I loved it that she figured out that was a dealbreaker. How often do you see that in books for teens? It was one more thing that made this book great — as well as heart-wrenching.

This review may be unnecessary. Those who read the first book, will, like me, be sure to want to read the second and third. But writing it gives me an excuse to again loudly cheer for DJ Schenk. She’s a high school girl with weaknesses and world-sized problems — but she ends up as an inspiration.

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Review of Clementine’s Letter, by Sara Pennypacker

Clementine’s Letter

by Sara Pennypacker
pictures by Marla Frazee

Hyperion Books for Children, New York, 2008. 150 pages.
Starred Review

I am so hooked on Clementine! This is the third book about this irresistible third-grader who knows how to pay attention — to the important things.

Just when Clementine is getting the hang of third grade and in sync with her teacher, he applies for a special program to send a teacher to Egypt. The class is supposed to write letters to the judges about their teacher, and Clementine decides to write a letter to make sure he doesn’t go.

Meanwhile, she has to deal with a substitute. A substitute who doesn’t know how things are done in their classroom.

“The rest of the morning got worse. By the time the recess bell rang, I bet I heard a hundred ‘Clementine-pay-attention!’s. And every time, I was paying attention!

“But okay, fine, not to Mrs. Nagel, because she had gone from boring to extra-boring. Instead, I was paying attention to the astoundishing idea that had jumped into my head when I passed by the trash-and-recycling area last night. Which was the opposite of boring, believe me.”

Sara Pennypacker doesn’t settle for just the story of what happens to Clementine at school. She also weaves in Clementine’s interactions with her parents and baby brother, her neighbor the prissy Margaret and Margaret’s brother Mitchell, and Clementine’s scheme to buy her mother a present. I love the way Clementine goes to find names for her brother. Since her name is also the name of a fruit, she feels her brother should have the name of a vegetable. She finds some interesting names at the Chinese grocery, and from then on we hear about Bean Sprout and Bok Choy and Scallion.

These books would make absolutely wonderful bedtime reading — if only I had a child young enough. I’ll keep it in mind some day for a grandchild! And meanwhile, if you’re lucky enough to have an early-elementary-school-age child to read aloud to, I think the Clementine books would make a delightful choice.

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Review of The Talented Clementine, by Sara Pennypacker

The Talented Clementine

by Sara Pennypacker
Pictures by Marla Frazee

Hyperion Paperbacks for Children, New York, 2007. 137 pages.
Starred Review

I’m hooked on Clementine, and am so happy I finally discovered her. In this second book about her, her third grade class is going to put on a talent show. But Clementine does not think she has any talents that could be displayed in a show. Not like Margaret, whose fourth grade class will also be taking part. Margaret has talents to spare.

This book is full of Clementine’s hilarious attempts to find an act, with an unexpected and satisfying solution.

Once again, Marla Frazee’s brilliant illustrations add to the characterization of Clementine and her friend Margaret. Even before the book begins, we see Clementine walking to the bus with a loaded backpack — until she is overcome by the weight of it and must crawl.

I love the first paragraph, which gives you a taste of Clementine’s way of thinking:

“I have noticed that teachers get exciting confused with boring a lot. But when my teacher said, ‘Class, we have an exciting project to talk about,’ I listened anyway.”

This book is exciting and fun. And I’m not a teacher.

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Review of Out of My Mind, by Sharon M. Draper

Out of My Mind

by Sharon M. Draper

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, New York, 2010. 295 pages.

Melody introduces herself by talking about words:

“Every word my parents spoke to me or about me I absorbed and kept and remembered. All of them.

“I have no idea how I untangled the complicated process of words and thought, but it happened quickly and naturally. By the time I was two, all my memories had words, and all my words had meanings.

“But only in my head.

“I have never spoken one single word. I am almost eleven years old.”

Melody has cerebral palsy, a condition that gives her no control over her body.

“I can’t talk. I can’t walk. I can’t feed myself or take myself to the bathroom. Big bummer.

“My arms and hands are pretty stiff, but I can mash the buttons on the TV remote and move my wheelchair with the help of knobs that I can grab on the wheels. I can’t hold a spoon or a pencil without dropping it. And my balance is like zip — Humpty Dumpty had more control than I do.

“When people look at me, I guess they see a girl with short, dark, curly hair strapped into a pink wheelchair. By the way, there is nothing cute about a pink wheelchair. Pink doesn’t change a thing.”

Because Melody has no way to express herself except a temper tantrum, the world (except maybe her parents and her kind neighbor) doesn’t realize that she’s actually brilliantly intelligent. She’s put in a class for “special” kids who go over the alphabet over and over again.

But things do start looking up. Her school starts a policy of inclusion. Melody and her classmates get to join a music class, and then others. Maybe she’s even making a friend.

But that doesn’t come close to what happens when Melody gets a computer — a computer that can speak for her. At last, she can communicate with the world — and the world is in for a surprise.

Melody can even try out for the Quiz Team, a team that, if it’s good enough, will go to Washington, DC, and be on TV. Maybe her classmates will finally understand her worth.

This book was a good read. I have a friend whose son has cerebral palsy. It took me awhile to understand that the condition did not affect his mind, but only his body. I can only begin to imagine how much frustration that could generate. And this book helped me understand it better.

The author didn’t go with the predictable, feel-good ending. Although this was probably much more realistic, I did find myself wishing she had. But Melody is determined and smart, and I’m sure she’ll overcome anything further that life throws at her.

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Review of Penny Dreadful, by Laurel Snyder

Penny Dreadful

by Laurel Snyder

drawings by Abigail Halpin

Random House, New York, 2010. 304 pages.
Starred Review
2010 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #7 Children’s Fiction

I admit I was predisposed to like Penny Dreadful. I’d met the author at KidLitCon09, right after I’d already posted a review telling how much I enjoyed her earlier book, Any Which Wall. I found her a kindred spirit and was absolutely delighted when, after an exchange on Twitter, she offered to send me a copy of Penny Dreadful.

But predisposed or not, there’s no way I wouldn’t fall for a book where the main character mentions reading all the Anne of Green Gables books on the third page.

Penelope was bored, but she has an unusual perspective on her own boredom:

“This sorry state of affairs was only made more awful by the fact that Penelope had read enough books (they were just about the only thing that Penelope did not find boring) to know that bored little girls who live in mansions are usually spoiled. Penelope did not want to be spoiled. Spoiled girls in books were silly and selfish. Still, Penelope could not help it. Whatever she did, wherever she went, she was horribly, hungrily bored.

“Penelope thought that perhaps things might improve in a few years, if only she could go away to boarding school. In books, boarding school was always very exciting, full of deep secrets and midnight escapades, and sometimes magic. But even if her parents agreed, that was still far off in the future, and in the meantime she could think of no other real solution to her problem.”

I found Penelope’s solution to her boredom particularly delightful. After her father tells her that people who are bored have no Inner Resources, Penelope makes a resolution:

“From that day on, she tried to do things every single day. Since she had little experience with doing, and didn’t know where to begin, she turned to her books for help. Each morning she stood in front of her bookshelf with her eyes squeezed tightly shut and ran a finger down the spines of the bindings, stopping when the mood struck her. Then she’d pull out that particular book, flip to a random page, and do whatever the people in that book happened to be doing.”

The section that follows completely charmed this particular librarian, since it tells about Penelope’s actions inspired by several classic and much-beloved children’s books.

Especially beautiful is Penelope’s action inspired by one of my favorites, Edward Eager’s Magic Or Not? In that book, the children make wishes in a wishing well, and interesting things happen. Edward Eager leaves it up to the reader to decide if it’s magic or coincidence. As a child, I was sure it was magic. As an adult, reading it to my children, I realized that it probably wasn’t, but loved it all the more that it had convinced me as a child that it was.

“Penelope wandered out into the perfectly manicured lawn of her backyard, holding a folded scrap of paper. There was a decorative wishing well of sorts in the middle of the Greys’ lawn, beneath a little red maple tree. The well had been designed by a famous architect, and a picture of it was in a book her mother kept on the coffee table.”

Penelope makes a wish: “I wish something interesting would happen when I least expect it, just like in a book.”

About a week later, her father quits his job in the family firm in order to become a writer, and everything changes for their family. They run out of money. Her tutor and the housekeeper quit. Her parents aren’t used to keeping up with a mansion, and they are not happy to be broke.

“Then Penelope realized something. Wait! she thought. If the well is magic, and this is my fault, then I can fix it. And if I can’t fix it — it isn’t my fault at all!

“Straightaway she ran downstairs, grabbed a pencil and a sheet of paper from the kitchen table, and dashed out into the garden, where she stood by the well. This might not work, she told herself, but it can’t make things any worse. With a brief thought for how best to word her wish, Penelope bent over and scribbled a note.

“I just wish something would happen to make everything better right away!”

And, what do you know, shortly afterward, the doorbell rings. A telegram arrives. Penelope’s mother has inherited her great-great aunt Betty’s house.

The majority of the book happens after the family moves to the house, called the Whippoorwills. It is not at all what they expect. It turns out that Aunt Betty had let several other people add on to the house and live there, rent-free. At first, they are startled and upset that people are living in “their” house. As the summer goes on, Penny gets to know her quirky and interesting neighbors. She finds a friend not where she expects, and then learns how to be a friend.

Of course there are further problems. The back taxes on the property need to be paid, and if not, it will revert to the bank. They may not be able to stay at the Whippoorwills after all.

Of course Penelope, who now goes by Penny, tries to fix the situation, and I love the way things come together in a way that Penny, at least, doesn’t expect.

Altogether this is an absolutely delightful story. You’ve gt summer adventures with friends. You’ve got interesting characters who have conflict but are quite charming. You’ve got a revelation of Aunt Betty’s life story and how she came up with such interesting neighbors and possessions. And you’ve got a main character who reads great books!

This book would be a wonderful choice for a mother-daughter book club. Or a class read-aloud. In fact, on her website, Laurel Snyder has a fabulous offer:

***BRAND NEW PROGRAM! Join the PENNY DREADFUL BOOK CLUB! For 2010, I’m trying out a crazy new idea, a book club. Essentially, it works like this– you and your group of kids (class, library book club, bookstore regulars, homeschool co-op, etc) pick any five of Penny Dreadful’s 20 favorite books to read (Penny is a BIG reader). Contact me and tell me which books you’ve chosen, and I’ll supply my own special study guides for each of them (along with bookmarks and a poster for your library/store/classroom). You simply read and discuss the books you’ve chosen, and then I’ll come and join you for your discussion of the sixth book– Penny Dreadful! I will do this FREE OF CHARGE for groups of ten or more kids within driving distance, or for the cost of transportation/hotel if I must travel. I’m doing this–waiving my fee–because the books on the list are books I love personally, and the idea of kids reading them makes me so happy!

Isn’t that just wonderful? And the books are like the ones I mentioned, great classic children’s books.

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Review of Dairy Queen, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Dairy Queen

by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
read by Natalie Moore

Listening Library, 2006. 5 CDs; 6 hours, 9 minutes.
Starred Review
2010 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #1 Other Teen Fiction

I’d heard a lot about Dairy Queen, but never got around to reading it until I heard that Catherine Gilbert Murdock was speaking at the local MAYALIG (Metropolitan Area Young Adult Librarians’ Interest Group) conference. I had loved Princess Ben, so I definitely wanted to hear her speak, and thought I might as well listen to Dairy Queen, even though I don’t usually like sports novels.

I loved Dairy Queen. In fact, I did something I don’t usually do and when I was close to the end, I couldn’t stand it and brought the CD into the house to finish listening.

In this book we’ve got the classic romantic plot. Boy meets Girl and they can’t stand each other. But they are thrown together and get to know each other, and things change.

However, the classic plot has never before been told in quite this way! We’ve got football and cows and a girl who’s definitely not the usual type to date the high school quarterback.

D.J. Schwenk lately has had to take on most of the work at her parents’ dairy farm. She had to drop out of basketball her sophomore year to do the milking. Her family doesn’t talk: Her little brother hardly at all, and her two older brothers, who are off at college, don’t talk to the family ever since the big fight.

D.J.’s older brothers were legendary football players in their small town of Red Bend, Wisconsin. So D.J. knows a lot about training football players. Their family friend is the coach of the archrival team at Hawley. He tells Brian Nelson that if he wants to play quarterback next year, he should learn how to work this summer — on the Schwenk farm.

At first D.J. and Brian detest one another. D.J. thinks he’s a lazy whiner, and Brian thinks D.J. is just like the family’s cows. But D.J. knows a thing or two about football, and as she spends the summer training Brian, they start talking. Brian’s Mom is a family therapist, so he knows how important it is to talk. D.J., however, neglects to tell him some crucial things — like the fact that she’s planning to try out for the Red Bend football team — and play against Brian.

I was completely hooked by this audiobook. I love romance that’s done slowly — like real life, with misunderstandings and a slow coming together. D.J. and Brian come from very different worlds, and even if they can come together in romance, can their relationship get through facing each other on the football field?

This is a sports novel and a romance and a family story, all rolled into one, with characters you’ll come to love. If you told me this was a book about a girl who joins the boys’ football team, I wouldn’t be interested. But it’s a great story about a feisty girl who doesn’t want to live life as a cow.

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Review of The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, by Tom Angleberger

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

by Tom Angleberger

Amulet Books, New York, 2010. 154 pages.
Starred Review
2010 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #8, Children’s Fiction

Last night, a friend mentioned that her third grade son is a reluctant reader and is daunted by the thick books some of his classmates are reading. Another friend suggested Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which the mom said her son has, ready to read. That’s when I recommended The Strange Case of Origami Yoda.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda is similar to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books in that it’s set in a middle school, has lots of cartoon drawings to accompany it, is hilarious, and deals with the difficulties of being a middle school student. I liked the Yoda book better, though, and the humor seemed less crass and genuinely funny.

For example, how’s this for a nightmare assembly that the kids have to go to: “Mr. Good Clean Fun and Soapy the Monkey present: ‘Feeling Good About Our Smells.'” Seeing the poster of that event simply makes me laugh.

Tommy starts the narration in The Strange Case of Origami Yoda and other classmates contribute their version of the events that happened, the advice yoda gave them, and how it turned out. Here’s how Tommy begins:

“The big question: Is Origami Yoda real?

“Well, of course he’s real. I mean, he’s a real finger puppet made out of a real piece of paper.

“But I mean: Is he REAL? Does he really know things? Can he see the future? Does he use the Force?

“Or is he just a hoax that fooled a whole bunch of us at McQuarrie Middle School?

“It’s REALLY important for me to figure out if he’s real. Because I’ve got to decide whether to take his advice or not , and if I make the wrong choice, I’m doomed! I don’t want to get into all that yet, so for now let’s just say it’s about this really cool girl, Sara, and whether or not I should risk making a fool of myself for her.

“Origami Yoda says to do it, but if he’s wrong . . . total humiliation.

“So I’ve got to know if he’s real. I need solid answers. I need scientific evidence. That’s why I went around and asked everybody who got help from Origami Yoda to tell their stories. Then I put all the stories together in this case file.”

Origami Yoda’s been giving advice to the students at McQuarrie Middle School. When they follow the advice, things work out beautifully. When they don’t, things go wrong. But there’s something very strange about that, in the person of Dwight:

“Dwight is the guy who carries Origami Yoda around on his finger.

“The strangest thing about Origami Yoda is that he is so wise even though Dwight is a total loser.

“I’m not saying that as an insult. It’s just a fact. Dwight never seems to do anything right. Always in trouble. Always getting harrassed by other kids. Always picking his nose. Always finding a way to ‘ruin it for everyone,’ as the teachers say.

“If he would just listen to Origami Yoda’s wisdom, like the rest of us, he would have it made.”

I love the way the author presents what happened and lets us judge for ourselves whether Origami Yoda really has wisdom or not. Besides Tommy, who seems a bit gullible (but look at the facts!), he has Harvey write some commentary from a skeptic at the end of each chapter.

Reading the book as an adult, I’m afraid I was with the skeptics. But I love the way what happens is so ambiguous, you can easily understand the kids believing in Yoda. The situations where Tommy and his friends get Yoda’s help are funny, but definitely realistic. And Tommy ends up finding out what it’s like to really be a friend before it’s all done, so the themes do give any reader food for thought.

I enjoyed this book so much, I made sure to buy my own copy at ALA Annual Conference and get it signed by the author. When I did, a young boy was ahead of me, showing Tom Angleberger the origami yoda he had folded. The author signed it, and I thought that was a great recommendation for the book. (There is a pattern in the back of the book to make your own Origami Yoda.)

A fun read for any age.

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Review of The Princess Plot, by Kirsten Boie

The Princess Plot

by Kirsten Boie

Narrated by Polly Lee

Recorded Books, 2009. Originally published in Germany in 2005. 9 CDs. 10.25 hours.
Starred Review

When I checked out The Princess Plot, I expected more of the fantasy tale I usually enjoy, set in a medieval kingdom. This story, however, is set in modern-day Europe, the story of a normal girl who gets embroiled in international affairs. Listening to it made it hard for me to get out of my car when I arrived at my destination!

The narrator did a great job. Since she has a British accent, I was imagining the book set in England. When I reached the end and learned it had been translated from German, that made a lot more sense — the geography of flying to the invented northern kingdom of Scandia fit better. Also, Jenna’s schedule of being out of school with the afternoon off fits with what I know about German teens.

The story is well-done. The plot is a little far-fetched, but the author has you going with it all the way. Jenna thinks of herself as very plain. She’s been brought up by a single mother who’s super-vigilant about Jenna staying safe and protected. So when her best friend wants her to go to an audition for girls their age to play a princess in a movie, she decides to do it without asking her mother’s permission. It seems strange when the producers pick Jenna instead of her friend and insist that she’d be absolutely perfect for the role. It feels strange, but also very, very good.

Then they take Jenna to the Kingdom of Scandia and tell her that she’s going to audition for the role by doing a favor for the princess of Scandia and being her replacement at the celebration of the princess’s birthday. The princess’s father recently died, and she wants to be out of the public eye. Or so they tell Jenna.

The reader knows that the princess has run away, and the regent and his people haven’t found her yet. The reader also knows that the “movie” people are sending Jenna fake text messages from her mother — so her mother does not actually know what’s going on.

We see the plot unfold, little by little. We’re given hints as to why they wanted Jenna. She’s a perfect double for the princess. We see that some North Scandian terrorists have been active lately, and get the feeling it may be connected with that.

The whole thing adds up to a captivating yarn about an ordinary girl — or at least someone who always thought she was ordinary — suddenly finding herself in a foreign country in the middle of a plot that’s way bigger than she is.

A sequel has recently come out, but my library hasn’t ordered it yet, so I will give in and order a copy for myself. I liked the people in this book, and very much would like to read about what happens next.

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Review of The Cardturner, by Louis Sachar

The Cardturner

by Louis Sachar

Delacorte Press, New York, 2010. 336 pages.
Starred Review

Ever since he was small, Alton’s parents have drilled it into him that his great-uncle Lester is his favorite uncle. Uncle Lester is rich, very rich, and Alton’s parents want to be remembered should anything ever happen to him, God forbid. He’s only actually met Uncle Lester one time, when Alton was six, at his uncle’s sixty-fifth birthday party. When Alton’s a junior in high school, his uncle takes a turn for the worse, and his parents start thinking what they could do with his money.

One person they’re worried about is Sophie Castaneda.

“I’d heard about the Castaneda family all my life, ‘the crazy Castanedas,’ but I never quite got my uncle’s relationship to them. It was complicated, to say the least.

“From what I understood, Sophie Castaneda was the daughter of Uncle Lester’s ex-wife’s crazy sister.

“When Uncle Lester was in his twenties, he had been married for less than a year. His wife had a sister who went insane. The sister had a daughter named Sophie King, who later changed her name to Sophie Finnick, and then became Sophie Castaneda when she got married.

“See what I mean?

“According to my mother, all the Castanedas were bonkers. I met Toni Castaneda, Sophie’s daughter, at my uncle’s sixty-fifth birthday. Toni was about six years old, and I remember I was glad to find someone my own age to play with. Toni ran up to me. She covered her ears with her hands, her elbows sticking out, and shouted, ‘Shut up! Leave me alone!’ and then she ran away.

“She didn’t do that just to me. I watched her tell other people to shut up and leave her alone too. I thought she was funny, but when I tried playing that game, I got in trouble for saying shut up.”

On one of Uncle Lester’s turns for the worse, he goes blind. Alton’s Dad figures he’ll have to stop playing cards, but then his mom hears that Uncle Lester is playing cards four days a week with Toni Castaneda. They aren’t sure how he can do that when he’s blind. Then they get some insight into it:

“It was the second-to-last day of school. I didn’t have any summer plans, just a vague notion about getting a job. I had just driven Leslie to her friend Marissa’s house, and when I got home I heard my mother say, ‘Alton would love to spend time with his favorite uncle!'”

Uncle Lester wants Alton to drive him to his bridge club and be his cardturner. He will tell Alton what card to play, and Alton will play it. Toni had the job before, but then, before playing a card, she asked, “Are you sure?” thus revealing to the other players that Uncle Lester had more cards he could play. He fired Toni and wants someone who knows nothing about bridge. Alton qualifies.

It turns out that Uncle Lester — Trapp is what everyone calls him at his bridge club — is a fantastic bridge player. Alton tells him the cards in his hand at the beginning of each game, and Trapp has no trouble remembering them all and all the cards played during the game. Other people ask him for advice after the day’s play, and he can still remember the cards that were dealt.

You might think a book about playing bridge would be boring, but this is anything but. When the plot requires some detail about the game, the author inserts a whale symbol (because of all the whaling details in Moby Dick) and then a summary box, so if you choose you can skip the details and cut to the summary.

Yes, this is a book about playing bridge — Trapp would like one more shot at the national championship — but it’s also about Alton learning about his uncle and his uncle’s surprising life. And then there’s Toni Castaneda, who is Trapp’s protege as a bridge player. She doesn’t seem crazy to Alton. Too bad his best friend seems interested in her.

I especially enjoy the last third of the book. I can’t give away what happens, but it’s perfect, and what follows brings everything together.

I grew up playing Rook, which is like a very simple form of bridge, so I could follow the play pretty well. The book did make me want to learn bridge! Like other Louis Sachar books, this book strongly appealed to the mathematical side of my brain. You can think of the bridge play as a series of puzzles, which were fun to read about. It was all in the context of a very human story, adding up to a great book.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.