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Monday, October 6, 2014

Things I've Read Recently (13) Older MG edition!

So if you're new around here, Things I've Read Recently is a series of blog posts I do that are basically mini-reviews for whatever reason. I think I'm scheduling this for October! It's only July! I'm actually really proud of that!

Alice Whipple, Fifth-Grade Detective by Laurie Adams and Allison Coudert

Published: 1987 by Bantom-Skylark
Genre: MG Mystery
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 102 pages
Part of a series? It's apparently the 3rd book of a 5 book series, but it functions fine as a standalone
RL: 4
Got via: I think it came from a library sale, but I'm not sure. It has library stamps, but no bar code and it doesn't have my library stamped on it
Amazon / Abebooks

Summary (from goodreads): Alice Whipple's English class essay on "My Future Career" is due tomorrow! All her friends at Miss Barton's School for Girls know exactly what they want to be when they grow up, but Alice doesn't have a clue. Finally, she decides she'll be a painter, and offers to help her art teacher, Miss Slade. One day, Alice sees the teacher doing some very suspicious things with owls, small packages, and a gold necklace. Could Miss Slade be a jewel thief? Even though her friends think she's being silly, Alice decides to investigate. And that's when Alice discovers her true career - as a world-famous detective!

Review: I decided since I had no computer again (yeah, so much fun) and I was averaging at least two books a day that I'd switch it up a little and also read some older books. So I went onto my bookshelf and since I didn't want to really bend over and dig through a bunch of books, I ended up with 4 books out of the A's and B's that fit together quite nicely into a little themed post. Neato.

Anyways, this is super cute. It is a third book, but it wasn't a big deal. Kids are great at reading random books sometimes with absolutely no respect for how a series should go (hooligans), and it doesn't rely heavily on the reader having too much knowledge of previous books.

Obviously this is dated. The idea of kids having this much freedom in New York City at the age they are is adorable. The computer Alice has and is pretty unique among her friends in having is an Apple IIe which I've never even heard of and the programs are laughably simple compared to nowadays. There are mild 'isms (although it's better than some things these days - the worst is probably using a rude word for little people/dwarfs).

But it's cute. As a kid, I loved mysteries and actually the kid I used to baby-sit would have liked this. There was a hilarious moment talking about bras and in general, it was funny. It's out of print, but as I already own it, I'll keep it, and if you ever found a cheap used copy, totally check it out if you're looking for kid books. It gets to keep its spot on my shelf.

Also I don't know if my copy like never got read or something, but it only has one due-date stamp (from August 25th, 1987!!) and our system generally stopped doing stamps around... maybe eight years ago? Anyways, my copy is like brand new. There's next to no wear and tear. So that's neat. Oh, and I think the cover's cute. It's not WOW, but it's okay and the fashion isn't terrible, plus I like that it shows a scene from the book.

The Copy Cat Mystery by Carol Adorjan

Published: February 1990 by Avon Camelot
Genre: MG Mystery
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 119
Part of a series? It's a sequel to The Cat Sitter Mystery
Got via: My library weeded it. Our weeded books get sold. I bought it.
RL: 5
Amazon / Book Depository / IndieBound / AbeBooks

Summary (from goodreads): As far as Beth Carew was concerned, this summer was a major BOMB - and it was only just getting started. First her friend Paul backed out of their pet-sitting business. Next the sweet old Goodalls next door moved away with their five cats - including Copy, Beth's favourite feline in the whole world.

And then some really creepy things started happening - strange noises in the night, toys starting up all by themselves. Not to mention the mysterious appearance of a stray that looks exactly like Copy Cat. Maybe obnoxious Tiffany Tanner was right. Maybe Mrs. Goodall was a witch who had left a ghost-cat behind to guard her house. And to Beth, that could mean only one thing - cat-astrophe!

Review: This is another cute book. Like I've said, totally loved mysteries as a kid and the animal lovers would like this. It's a little dated (check out the jeans on that cover, baha), but not too bad. It reminds me a little bit of Anastasia At Your Service (and those are all wonderful books, by the way). Beth is clever and responsible and it was an enjoyable read.

It is definitely cute and the writing is solid. I'm totally keeping this one.

(Also I totally cheated and added stuff to goodreads. I couldn't find a picture of the old cover anyways so that's why you get my very bad one. Sorry! Just had to show you those jeans!)

Just As Long As We're Together by Judy Blume

Published: 1987 by Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers (for this edition, there are lots)
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 296
Part of a series? Yes, there's a companian novel
Got via: Garage sale, I think
RL: 4.9
Amazon / Book Depository / IndieBound

Summary (goodreads): Rachel is Stephanie's best friend. Since the second grade they have shared all their secrets, good and bad. So when Alison moves in, Stephanie hopes that the three of them can be best friends because Stephanie really likes Alison. After all, they have even more to share now, including seventh grade and Jeremy Dragon, the cutest boy in junior high.

Even though the three of them live in a quiet Connecticut neighborhood, there's a lot going on in their lives. Stephanie wishes her father didn't have to work so far from home and she worries that Rachel's talents will get in the way of their friendship. Rachel and Alison have to deal with the changes in their own lives, yet Stephanie is sure everything will work out fine - just as long as they're together.

Review: I never read this one as a kid. I read every Judy Blume book my school had, but it basically stopped buying books in 1985 (well, not really, but it sure feels that way looking back!) and I just never read this one. So I figured since I had this and the sequel and I had no computer, I'd go for it!

This was really sweet. It's Judy Blume, after all, which says a lot of what you need to know. They're classics for a reason. The things that happen in the book are very realistic. New friends, old friendships changing, parents having marriage problems.

I do think that it kind of fails on the weight front, though. Stephanie is a chubby kid. When her parents tell her they're having a "trial separation", she begins emotionally eating, sometimes to the point of feeling sick. She gains some weight. And the book does not handle it well. A kid in her class calls her "El Chunko" and her mom's response is "You have gained weight". That's not right! When your kid is being bullied, you don't side with the bully.

And then her mom puts her on a "sensible diet" which means cleaning all the cookies, chips, pretzels, etc., out of the house and gives it to Stephanie's cousin Howard. When Stephanie questions since this is about her "health", doesn't her mom care about Howard's health? Well, "Howard is as thin as a flagpole" and that is a direct quote. Later, Stephanie gets a school lunch packed by her mom made of, wait for it, a hardboiled egg and carrot sticks. Sounds incredibly healthy to me!

Need I remind you this is a 12-turning-13-year-old girl? During the book, she gets her first period. Kids going through puberty gain weight. It's normal. You know what isn't normal? Fatshaming your growing daughter and putting her on a super restricted diet.

Here's a quote that really illustrates how infuriating it is. Steph's dad has been away on business/separation in California. Steph and her brother visit him at Christmas, the first time they've seen him since Thanksgiving (American, not Canadian) when they found out that their parents had separated. This is the first day they're there.
Before we went out to dinner that night Dad looked me over and said, "Wow, Steph... you've really been putting it on."
I was hoping he would add something else. Something like, But you still look great to me! When he didn't, I said, "I haven't gained an ounce. You've just forgotten what I look like."

Way to make your daughter feel more self-conscious about her growing and changing body. Not to even mention that tons of kids gain weight right before a growth spurt.

And then when Steph does lose weight after getting her first period, she says she's not as hungry as she used to be and "Mom says my hormones are adjusting." GEE YOU THINK? But congratulations on punishing your kid for growing!

A lot of you probably think this is nitpicking, but this is a RL 4.9. That means that kids in 4th grade, 5th grade, sometimes even younger, are reading this. Those kids are entering puberty. They're most likely going to gain weight as their bodies change to an adult's. Most of them will probably have a growth spurt and as they're starting to grow so fast, they'll need to eat more and they'll probably gain weight from that. It's normal.

If they read this, are they going to come away with the message that their bodies are bad, that they're doing something wrong by eating when they're hungry? By growing? And what about the kids that don't lose weight? That can't? Should they live on carrot sticks and hardboiled eggs for the rest of their lives, never daring to think about a doughnut again, crash dieting, or be condemned to binging out of guilt after not being "good" enough at eating "right?"

The rates of eating disorders in kids are terrifying, and the ages are younger and younger. Things like that quite honestly terrify me. And ideas like this, as far as I'm concerned, don't exactly help.

I love Judy Blume. I thought this book was super sweet and very realistic. And I'll keep it, for sure, but I don't know if I'd recommend it, or, especially, give it to kids because they don't really have the capacity to realize when something like this isn't okay.

The rest of the book is somewhat dated, too. Stephanie wants a phone with a long cord for her room for her birthday. Her house doesn't have cable. "The Orient" is mentioned. Her mom "forgets" that their separation is hard on her (seriously???). Steph has an allergic reaction to a bee sting pre-book and gets 3 pills to put in a locket on a necklace. She has a poster of a young Richard Gere in her room.

Judy Blume books are always very well-loved. In my experience, by the time they're weeded, they're just falling apart. But this one does feel dated in both some of the references and the attitude to some of the issues in the book. Between all of that, I just don't think I would give this to a kid nowadays. It's really more of a nostalgic than anything. I love Judy Blume and I really thought the book was adorable and charming, but it's not... current, I guess. Now, there have been editions released in recent years and I don't know if they updated anything as I do only have my edition. OH WAIT LET ME TRY SOMETHING.

Oh, I can totally do this! Okay, hold on, my library has an ebook copy of this! Okay, the ebook that we have was only released in 2012, so that's great. Okay, I checked a bunch of things and none of them were changed, not even the Richard Gere poster (I'm having a hard time believing kids know who Richard Gere is these days). Well, now that I know that it has not been edited, then I maintain that it's dated and I would not feel comfortable recommending it to a kid this days. Shame, because I am glad I read it and I will keep it on shelves for my personal library, but not to give to kids in my care, say.

Man, this is supposed to be mini! I've had, through it, a doctor's appointment (I'm healthy! B12 deficient, apparently, so I have shiny new pills. But otherwise I'm fine. My cholesterol even went down.), went to the grocery store, got mail, ran out of notebook pages, and my pen died and I had to look through four places to find one I liked. While not wearing pants. As you do.

Moving right along!

Here's to You, Rachel Robinson by Judy Blume

Published: 1993 by Bantom Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 196 pages
Part of a series? Yeah, it's the sequel. Well, they throw around the word companian a lot, but this one is chronologically later than JALAWT
Got via: I think a yard sale, but I've had it forever so I'm not sure
RL: 4.5
Amazon / Book Depository / IndieBound

OKAY I'M TOTALLY CHEATING WITH THE COVER. My version is actually this one, with the blue cover with the three girls on it, but I can't find a decent picture of it, so I'm just going to go with something cute. And it's blue, that counts, right?

But while we're talking covers, can we talk about this one?

This kid is supposed to be like thirteen. That model looks like she's twenty five! What were they thinking? *cackles*

Summary (from... the back of the book because I like that one better than any of the goodreads ones, but they're all pretty similar): Rachel's a straight-A student, on every teacher's wish list for Natural Helpers. She practices the flute forty-five minutes a day. But she grinds her teeth at night and dreads dinnertime now that her troublemaker brother, Charles, has been expelled from boarding school and is back home, acting up to get attention from Rachel's parents.

It's the end of seventh grade and the stress of trying to be perfect is getting to Rachel. Plus she's busy dealing with her sister's acne problem, enjoying her secret crush on her brother's tutor, going on a surprise date with the gorgeous Jeremy Dragon, and keeping her friendship with Stephanie and Allison strong. Could it be that real life is much more interesting than perfect life?

Review: I find it amusing that this is on a lower reading level than the first one, but it handles a lot of much more intense things. There's underage drinking and drug use (like 14 and 15 year olds!), talking about how Accutane can cause birth defects and that, you know, pregnancy is a thing, Rachel's brother making a crack that he could be a lot worse, be a rapist or a serial killer... oh and there's an F-bomb! What a difference six years can make, huh?

I liked this one better, honestly. I think the massive amounts of anxiety Rachel was dealing with between her problem brother, being in advanced classes, extracurriculars, pushing herself to get straight A's, and just in general feeling she needed to be perfect. She grinds her teeth at night and also at one point has an episode that really reads like a panic attack. I honestly think a ton of kids these days could understand that.

But nobody ever seems to realize how stressed Rachel is. They tell her to relax, but the only techniques she has are from a Psychology Today article, and they keep pushing more and more things on her while telling her to relax. At one point, her family starts going to a family counsellor and I love therapy in books, but it's focused on Rachel's brother, really. And at the end of the book, she doesn't have new coping methods for dealing with stress. No one's said, "Hey, you okay?" Even her friends just say she's weird or not normal. She's added at least one more extracurricular for the next school year and is thinking about going for much harder school courses. The book basically ends with her running away to music camp.

It feels unfinished. And honestly, it feels like the kid's going to have a breakdown by fourteen. And she's only thirteen! That's scary and a little sad, frankly.

If this was written now, I think it'd be a much different book. As it is, JALAWT and HTYRR are very different with the six year gap between them. They don't really feel like they really match, either. While I still love Judy Blume books, and this one doesn't have the same dated references as the first, it still does seem somewhat dated. More importantly, I think these two just aren't as relevant today as others of hers can be.

Also through both of these books, there's a character they refer to as "the eighth grade slut". Really, Judy? That more than anything, I think, disappoints me. It's never corrected. The girls never think, "Hey, this is mean." Do we really need to teach kids to slut shame this young? They have the rest of their lives for that.

I will keep this and the other, but again, not one I'd recommend to kids. I also wish there had been an Allison book. This would have made a fun trilogy to have one book from each girls' POV. It's a bummer there never was.

Alright! This got long, wow! Hope you enjoyed it anyways!

Peace and cookies,