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September 18, 2007 > Footnotes


"Clementine" by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Marla Frazee, Hyperion hardback, $14.99. (2006)

Clementine has a unique way of viewing the world, and sometimes it takes a while for adults to keep up. For example, when her best friend Margaret gets something stuck in her hair, Clementine arrives just as the offending bit is cut out. Since the rest of Margaret's hair is really long, it's really obvious something is...not right. Clementine offers to help by trimming the other side just as short, but it's still not quite right. More trimming, more upset until all the hair is gone! Next thing you know, Clementine is talking to Mrs. Rice, the principal, who is wearing her "I'm-trying-to-be-patient" look.

I was absolutely delighted with this little book. Clementine is a hoot; and the characters she interacts with ring true. Ms. Frazee's images were irresistible! This series is the closest in feel to Ramona that I've ever found. The first book was so much fun I went and bought the second - "The Talented Clementine" (Hyperion hardback, $14.99). Clementine's class has to put on a talent show, but poor Clementine is convinced she hasn't got one (a talent, that is). Her father points out all sorts of talents, like making her little brother laugh, but that's not a talent for the stage! It'll actually be another visit with Mrs. Rice, the principal, that will reveal Clementine's hidden talent - and the readers will be really surprised at the results. Wonderful to read, even better to share with a young friend.

Recommended for 3rd grade. Reviewed by dh.

"The Name of This Book is Secret" by Pseudononymus Bosch, Little Brown hardback, $16.00. (2007)

The author of this book tells you right off the bat you probably shouldn't read it - it's dangerous. Then he x's out the whole first chapter so that you can't read it! He doesn't even give you HIS real name, sheesh! See, there's a secret in this book. There are two kids, whose real names we aren't told, and whose faces we never see. They could live in any town, my town, or even yours. At any rate they find out that there used to be a magician living in a peculiar house, and that he died in a mysterious way. When the kids discover a "HELP" message hidden in a box of smelly things, they have to investigate.

They find the hidden house, discover a secret way downstairs, then a secret room, and then a secret set of papers...Wait! What was that? Someone else is here! Someone's coming downstairs! Hide, but where? There's no place they won't be spotted. An evil someone is coming closer...closer. Oh no!

Run! RUN!

There are mysteries to be unraveled, secret codes to figure out and evil to be vanquished as you travel this fun adventure with "Cass" and "Max-Ernest" (not their real names, of course!). Have a good time, but be careful! Secrets can be dangerous!

Recommended for 5th grade. Reviewed by dh.

"Chew on This" by Eric Schlosser & Charles Wilson, Houghton Mifflin paperback, $8.95. (2006)

Kids love fast food. And the fast-food industry loves kids: it couldn't survive without them. In "Chew on This" Schlosser ("Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal") and Wilson share with young readers the fascinating and sometimes frightening truth about what lurks behind those sesame seed buns. The book begins with a historical look at the beginnings of the fast-food industry, illustrating how its growth helped determine the urban and rural landscape of America and paved the way for the chain stores and malls of today. Young readers will get an intriguing bit of business history when they learn how high school dropouts and traveling salesmen started these restaurants. They'll see how the introduction of chain restaurants both benefits and harms small communities all over the country.

The disgusting facts - and there are plenty of them - will surprise and scare readers.

For example:
A single fast-food hamburger may contain meat from hundreds, even thousands, of different cattle.
Each can of soda contains more than ten teaspoons of sugar.
A single animal infected with E. Coli 0157:H7 can contaminate thirty-two thousand pounds of ground beef.

The negative effects of high-fat, high-sugar, high salt fast foods on health takes years to develop, too far in the future for most kids to care. "Chew on This" goes beyond the health issues, explaining other reasons why kids need to be informed. The authors profile real teens whose lives have been affected by the fast-food industry - an eighteen-year-old boy who decides to have gastric bypass surgery; a twelve-year-old girl in Alaska who launched a "Stop the Pop" campaign to remove soda machines from her school; a teenage boy who helped unionize the McDonald's franchise where he worked; and two sisters living on a traditional ranch.

The average American child views forty thousand television commercials per year, almost half of which promote junk food. Although this entertaining, lively book cannot possibly counteract all the marketing directed at us to indulge, it is a start. An informed consumer has at least a rationale for making better choices. Change can only come about when young people themselves decide to think twice before they order a fast-food hamburger, fries, and a soda.

Recommended for preteens and up. Reviewed by jp.

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