Book Review – The Nixie’s Song

Title: Beyond The Spiderwick Chronicles.  Book 1 The Nixie’s Song
Authors/Illustrators: Holly Black, Tony DiTerlizzi
Format: Hardback
Published: 2007

 

So I feel that I need to start this with a preface that I know absolutely nothing about the series.  I saw this book when I was walking down a row in the library and grabbed it in a hurry because I recalled that the series was popular and I wanted to see what the hype was.  It wasn’t until after I got the book home that I realized that it was a second series about the same thing (sort of?  Apparently?)  So I don’t know if you needed to read the other series first, but it said it was book one so I dove in.

In this series, Nick’s dad is a developer on a project in Florida so he moves his sons down there, along with their new stepmother and stepsister Laurie.  Laurie is obsessed with a book and she’s determined that it’s real and the odd creatures she’s reading all about are really just outside her window, only she can only hear them and not see them.  Nick, bored and in need of something to do, begrudgingly humors her on a walk and realizes that she may be able to hear the creatures, but he actually has the sight.

The two end up with a Nixie on a quest.  Her sisters are missing and she’s got to find them.  They agree to help.

 

So, for a children’s chapter book, the thing isn’t bad.  It’s written well enough that I didn’t mind that I was 25 years beyond the target age group (at least) and it was cute enough that I see no issue with a kid picking it up.  

The Nixie is really an unhappy camper when she finds out that two of her sisters are dead, but the group soldier on to find the others and instead find a giant.  

Which appears to everyone around them as just a mound of mud.  They’re trying to get people to leave the thing alone while they try to kill it, and everyone else wants to move what they think is a dirt pile to somewhere a little more slightly.

Oh, and along the way the group picks up a few more people.  For starters, Laurie’s book is supposedly written by information from Jared and Simon Grace, so they track the twins down for help.  They also find a guy named Noseeum Jack – or more accurately, Jack finds them – who gives them a lot of information that they will need as they continue on.

Just as the book got interesting, the chapter was over and with it went the book.  Dang it.

 

So my review.  Again, I’m a bit *ahem* beyond its target age group, but I found that I didn’t care.  The story was pretty quick and I blamed most of that on the genre.  I hadn’t intended on reading more of the series, but the action stopped mid way through the friggin end of the book.  Like, a creature was on the move and then BOOM and we’re expected to pick up the next one to see where it goes.  

I hate that.  It’s like the worst thing ever.  I mean, I’ll have to read another book or something.  (Ha!  I’ve already asked for it from the library.)   

 

Bottom line, it was decent enough.  I think that a kid in the right age group would really like this, and I’m guessing that whatever happened in the main series connects to the book that Laurie carries everywhere with her (she even says she does) and people who haven’t read the other could read this.  I know I followed it around just fine.   I think this would be a great book for “what do I give to a eight-year-old interested in fantasy…? “ and because of that I’ll give it a 4/5 page rating.

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Book Review – Word Nerd

Title: Word Nerd
Author: Susin Nielson
Format: Hardback
Published: 2008

So, I thought about starting off this review by saying that I am not this book’s target audience, but I doubt that I’m the target audience for most of the stuff I read.  And really, since it’s technically a children’s book, I’m pretty sure you know by now that I’m not some 11 yr old girl (I am still holed up in my room with the stuffed animal I sleep with, but that’s a different argument altogether).

ANYWAY.  Word Nerd follows around Ambrose Bukowski, a self-described word nerd, only child, and peanut-allergy sufferer.  He’s named after his dad, who died before he was born, and as a result, he hops around Canada with his mother, a professor who moved whenever the going get tough, or she didn’t get tenure.

The book starts out with the school bullies slipping Ambrose a peanut in his sandwich.  Predictably, it almost kills him, and the result is that Ambrose ends up home schooled while his mother teaches at night.  While all that is happening, he’s becoming friends with the neighbor – Cosmo Economopolous – who showed up unnanounced after leaving prison.   He coerces Cosmo to take him to Scrabble Club instead.

So… Uh.   I’m sorry, but the plot of the book reads sort of like a NaNoWriMo dare.  I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing, but it’s just odd.  “Let’s kill the dad off in utero so he’s out of the picture…  Let’s go to scrabble club… Let’s pick some random medical issue… Let’s… “   I’m not saying it’s a bad thing per sey, but most of what happened in the story is defintely stuff that seems peculiar.  Most pre-teen boys aren’t gung ho about something like Scrabble Club, for instance.

That said, the book is written well enough, (although I wish it weren’t first person, bcause it’d would be so much stronger if it wasn’t), albeit predictable (although, again, I’m about 25 years beyond their target audience, so it might be better if I were).

I also had issues with the alphabet soup type of last name that the upstairs neighbors had.  Ambrose usually called them Mr. & Mrs. E, but every time the author said the whole last name, it pulled me out of the book entirely because your eye kind of trips over it on the page.

 

In the end, even though it was a silly premise, I thought it was well enough written, especially the scene with the mother in the car when she finds out about Scrabble club.  The chapter headers are single words but arranged so you’re making words out of a strimg of letters, and that was a cute touch.  I did feel that a few of the characters talked down to Ambrose a bit, which was annoying because it was his freakin’ story, but I’ll give it a pass for the reading level this book is written at.

In the end, I was looking for a simple read that I could finish in a hurry, and I did finish this in an hour or two on the couch one night.  That in mind, I’ll actually give it a tentative four out of five pages.  If you’re the book’s target audience, go ahead and grab it.  If you’re beyond that point, though, you may not enjoy it quite as much.

Books Review – Caroline, Rebecca, Kaya

Meet Caroline
Kathleen Ernst
Illustrations Robert Papp
Hardback, 2012

Meet Rebecca
Jacqueline Dembar Greene
Illustrations by Robert Hunt
Paperback, 2009

Meet Kaya
Janet Shaw
Illustrations by Bill Farnsworth
Hardback, 2002

As part of Pleasant Company/American Girl’s decision to retire Molly, Misheal and I went back and read through some of the books – Misheal tackled Molly’s six book series, but I went through and did Molly’s companion books and have now moved on to the other Meet whoever books from the American Girl catalogue.

In Meet Caroline, we’re looking at the first shots of the War of 1812, and a little girl who lives in upstate New York on the shore of a great lake.  When war breaks out, she’s in a boat that her father built with her father and two cousins.  As they go towards Upper Canada, still British owned, they get seized by the British Army, who takes the girls back to their family but hold her father and cousin, Oliver, as prisoners of war.  [Side note – if Oliver is from Upper Canada, he’s a British Citizen.  I don’t know why they took him prisoner…]

In Meet Rebecca, we’re with a Jewish family in the midst of World War I.  Her problems start with not being allowed to say the prayer to light the candles on Saturday, and end with her persecuted Jewish cousins trying to get out of Russia with their lives.

In Meet Kaya, we’re in the midst of a Native American tribe somewhere in the Oregon/Washington/Idaho area (they only show us a map of the tribal lands, they don’t really say where they are) during Salmon Fishing Season.

So now on to my feelings about the books themselves.  First of all, I am a little disappointed (no really) that they broke their format of all the dates ending in 4, but it did open them up to things like the War of 1812, which we learned sadly little about in school.  (The other one, so far, is Cecile and Marie-Grace in New Orleans in 1853.)  But it doesn’t have any bearing on what I thought about these stories, I just wanted to throw it out there.

Some of the early dolls/books were period specific but didn’t really have a lot to deal with/understand.  What I noticed in these three books is that they have gotten a little bit more serious in what they’re talking about.  Caroline is captured by troops, Rebecca is dealing with religious persecution and Kaya gets into a lot of cultural stuff that we may not be that familiar with – family/community obligation, behavior affecting everyone (at one point, something she does causes all of the children of the village to get whipped), etc.

Caroline and Rebecca feel similar, despite being 100 years apart, because they’re dealing with the same sorts of things.  They both have family in really precarious positions – Caroline’s father in a POW camp, Rebecca’s cousins trying to get here from Russia – and they’re both in New York and family centric (although that’s a common theme in all American Girl books).

Interesting, though, was that even though Rebecca’s book starts in 1914, there’s absolutely no discussion about WWI.  For now, I give it the benefit of the doubt, as the assassination of Frans Ferdinand didn’t happen until the end of July, but the way the series starts out, it doesn’t feel like they’re planning to talk about it at all, and that’s my interest in the era.  What I did find curious was that the Russians were persecuting the Jews way back then and that’s not something I’ve *ever* learned in history class.  Public Education Fail for sure.  America seriously needs to stop being so selfish and start teaching about the world.

Kaya’s book, on the other hand, was so totally different.  Her story takes place in 1764, and aside from the Small Pox epidemic being a fleeting comment (her grandmother has the scars and the story to tell), her family doesn’t really have much to do with anything outside her tribe.  What I did like, however, was how close the tribe was.  Even the ones who weren’t blood relation were considered cousins and part of the extended family.  When Kaya’s actions (leaving her little brothers in the care of a blind person so she can go off and race her horse) cause the Whipping Woman to come out and punish all the children of the village, Kaya learns humility and to be a team player.  I have to say, I kind of like the Nimiipuu (nee-MEE-poo aka Nez Perce) culture.  I like how the focus is for the greater good and having a group of people that are family even when they’re not; too often in modern culture, we have families who don’t speak to each other, people who move apart and then let distance cause an emotional separation as well, etc.  Kaya’s motivation was to be a citizen that her tribe was proud of.  If only we had that today.

In all, I love that these books deal with serious topics, but do so in a way that kids (well, girls anyway) can relate to.  In all of these books, we get to see that girls, even if they’re expected to do submit to the female roles of society, can be strong, courageous, and awesome.  Women are more than the cooking and the cleaning, and even if that’s what’s expected of them, they can rise to any occasion, and that is a lesson that I hope every girl gets – you can be amazing, you just have to do it.

I’m going to give these books a 4/5.  I know they’re geared towards 10-year-olds (all the characters turn 10 in their birthday books), but I think they have a broader range than that (easily 7-12, but beyond that), and they’re great as topics of conversation.

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