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January 30, 2007 > Children's book reviews

Children's book reviews

By (reviewed by JP)

"Who is Melvin Bubble?" written and illustrated by Nick Bruel, Roaring Brook hardback, $16.95. (2006)
Jimmy writes Mr. Bruel that his best friend Melvin is someone worth writing about. Who is Melvin really? It depends on who you ask. His father seems to think his son is just like he was as a boy (but the pictures tell a different story). His teddy bear says he likes hugs, but the monster in his closet thinks that he's only good for having over for dinner. His dog sure likes him, although it's hard to interpret all the "arfs." Santa says he's good. The tooth fairy says he snores. There's something missing here - surely someone can tell us about Melvin Bubble!
"Who is Melvin Bubble?" is an excellent way to introduce the idea that people are rarely seen just one way. Very funny pictures make this book something you'll want to share with your young ones again and again.
Recommended for 1st graders. (reviewed by dh)

"Invention of Hugo Cabret" by Brian Selznick, Scholastic Books hardback, $22.99. (2007)
Twelve-year old orphan Hugo is in trouble. He's been living with his uncle in the walls of a Paris train station (this takes place at the beginning of the 20th century). His uncle is the man who goes throughout the station every night and maintains all the clocks. The problem is that Hugo's uncle went off one night and never returned. Hugo has been maintaining the clocks in his uncle's absence, but he has no money for food, and supplies are running out. When he steals to survive, he gets caught by the cranky man who runs the toy counter. Hugo's troubles go from bad to worse.
On top of everything else, Hugo has a secret project, one his father was working on before he died. Hugo is obsessed with trying to make his father's project work. Hugo doesn't know that the cranky man who now has his destiny in his hands holds the key to the secret project as well. Hugo's life is about to change dramatically, but you the reader will have to decide if it's for the better!
Selznik, famous for his illustrations in books such as "Frindle" and "Amelia and Eleanor Go For a Ride," fills this book with marvelous, meticulous drawings. They convey a whole series of events and compel the reader to side with Hugo during his trials. Hugo's life in the station, though lonely and bleak, is at least a secure one. When he is caught by the toymaker the reader feels his acute stress at all the upheaval. More and more changes and frustrations build the tension until the story's satisfying climax as the toymaker's surprising identity is revealed. This story was a real page turner. Recommended for 5th graders. (Reviewed by dh)
"Gossamer" by Lois Lowry, Hougton Mifflin hardback, $16.00. (2006)
Newbery Award winning author Lois Lowry has a talent for tackling tough subjects with a terse prose that pulls young readers into the minds of her characters. In "Gossamer," she creates a fantasy world that convincingly explains how dreams are made. In this way, the reader enters the human characters - an older lonely woman who has taken in a foster child named John, who's living apart from an abusive father and fragile mother who desperately wants him back.
Dream-givers creep around in the middle of the night, touching objects to gather good memories which are later bestowed on humans as healing dreams. Littlest was very small, new to the work, energetic and curious. She is paired with two mentors - she soon wears out the patience of Fastidious and is given a new partner, Thin Elderly, a much better guide and teacher than Fastidious. Readers will identify with Littlest, who is discovering her own special talents (her touch is so sensitive and delicate that she is renamed Gossamer).
The dream-givers' counterparts are the strong and wicked Sinisteeds, who inflict nightmares and sometimes travel in frightening Hordes. Littlest and Thin Elderly try to protect their humans by fortifying them with good memories. The vulnerable John is the main target of the Sinisteeds. He is in need of the most potent positive memories.
At first, the reader may dislike John who is guarded and mean; later, as you gather information about his dysfunctional family life, there is empathy as well as sympathy. Lowry allows the reader to absorb just enough of the bitter details of John's life to be disturbed but not so much that it dominates the book. Lowry's books always acknowledge evil in the world, yet still convey hope and large measures of tenderness.

Recommended for 4th - 6th graders. A great book to discuss with your child.

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