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Monday, April 18, 2016

Things I've Read Recently (31)

If you're new around here, Things I've Read Recently is a series of posts I do that are basically mini-reviews of books that I either forgot to review, didn't have enough to say for a full review, or just didn't want to do a full post about for whatever reason.

I have a loose theme here, but nothing too strict. Mostly it's reading old books to try and see what I want to keep and what I want to get rid of. I have way, way too many books, and trying to weed through them is an on-going project of mine... for probably ever, but here's four!

Maudie and Me and the Dirty Book by Betty Miles

Published: Originally published in 1980, this edition was released in 1981 by Avon Camelot.
Genre: Contemprary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 144 plus a bunch of advertisements for other books.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: Garage sale, I think, because there are no library marks, but there are a couple names. It's pretty beat up, so somebody obvious read it a lot.
Amazon / AbeBooks

Summary (from goodreads): To look at me, you'd probably think I was pretty ordinary - except for my feet, which are size 9½M. You wouldn't expect me to get into trouble at school, or wreck little children's minds with dirty books.

For Kate Harris, getting used to life in middle school means figuring out where to sit in the cafeteria, and avoiding kids like Maudie Schmidt. But then Kate and Maudie are thrown together in a school reading project, and a book that Kate reads to some first graders sparks an angry controversy. Kate finds herself in the middle as the whole town takes sides and demands for censorship grow. And in the midst of the uproar Kate discovers that Maudie is not only her stauncest ally, but a true friend.

Thoughts: Man, I thought I was going to be getting rid of this one with no sweat off my nose, and then it had to go and, like, teach me the whole message of its tagline up there, which reads, by the way, "You can't tell a friend by her looks or a book by its cover."

This is actually a really clever little book.

Okay, first things first, the girl on the... left? Is apparently supposed to be "a little bit fat". Yeah, neither of those girls is fat. But apparently Maudie is, and is somewhat isolated/unliked because of that. Having grown up as a fat kid, I fully believe that. Other kids in the book make fun of her once or twice for her weight. But I do like that as Kate becomes her friend, she realizes that, hey, that's kind of a jerk way to think. Maudie is also never stereotyped as eating huge amounts of food, or being gross, or any of the other things that happen that really stigmatize fatness in old books (or new books, let's be real). The only line that really irked me was when Kate says, "For no reason, it suddenly occurred to me that I'd stopped thinking of her as fat."

Because... she's your friend now? It's not bad to be fat, Kate. Here, we can fix this really easily! "For no reason, it suddenly occured to me that I'd stopped thinking it was bad she was fat." I wish it had gone that route, but otherwise... it's not bad in that aspect. Maudie's mother is said to be "tall and heavy" and is also described as beautiful, and Kate thinks Maudie will look like her when she's older. Maudie isn't stereotyped at all, really. It's a lot more fat positive than some modern books I've read.

Now, as for the actual plot - this is still really relevant. Book censorship is still a huge deal, and people still act like this when a book is challenged. The fact that this book actually has Kate talk frankly about sex, although not in graphic detail, and names genitalia by their proper names was probably a huge deal in the 80s, and honestly, I was a little surprised reading it in 2016. There's a scene where she talks about how cutesy names for genitalia makes it so kids think there's something to be ashamed of those body parts. It also asks what happens if parents don't want their kids to learn about sexual education, and talks about how they deserve to know that.

It's a surprisingly progressive book, and I'm actually sad how relevant it is considering it's thirty-five years old. I don't know if I would let a kid who I didn't get to keep because awkward questions, which is kind of hypocritical, but you can't fight every battle. I do think I'm going to keep it, though, because I like a lot of the discussions about censorship in this, and I don't have anything else like it. I am honestly surprised by how much I enjoyed this one, and I would be interested in checking out the author's other book if I ever came across them in a sale or something. She seems like she was kind of ahead of her time. (Like with this one!)

The Great Science Fair Disaster by Martyn Godfrey

Published: 1992 by Scholastic. It's the same vintage as me!
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 122, plus an about the author, and other books listed in the back.
Part of a series? I don't believe so.
Got via: It's a library reject.
Amazon / Abebooks

Summary (from goodreads): Marcie, the principal's daughter and a student in his seventh-grade science class, has witnessed her father's disastrous science projects before, so she shudders when she hears him announce the First Annual Fifth Street School Science Fair.

Thoughts: This is funny. It's a little overly clever at times, like a lot of the characters are a little too quick to come up with a smart reply, but it's not exactly high literature, so I'm fine with that, honestly. It's funny, it's cute, and sometimes it is quite smart. One part has favoritism discussed, and how Marcie struggles with the reverse as the principal's daughter. She talks about how she's expected to be better than other kids, how she's treated differently, and how she's punished for things that happen at school in a way other kids aren't.

There's even a discussion of sexism. Marcie gets complimented by a boy on her looks, and she comments that, especially because of his choice of words, she's not entirely sure if she finds it flattering, or insulting.

I have a favourite book by this author that I read a ton growing up (it may come up in a later post - we'll see), and I've probably read a couple others, including this one at some point, and I tend to enjoy them. There are no stereotypes or anything like that to worry about in this, and the only really adult thing is one use of "perverted". but even that is used in a pretty juvenile way, with a character calling their younger brother that over an underwear fascination.

It's funny and it's a little dated, but not terribly, so it can stick around. And I did enjoy it.

French Fries Up Your Nose by M.M. Ragz

Published: February 1994 by Minstrel Books.
Genre: MG Fantasy
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 134 plus an about the author, and listing of other books.
Part of a series? They aren't arranged in a series on Goodreads, but there is at least one other book featuring Iggy, and these books are also a spin-off of another series featuring characters who appear briefly in this one.
Got via: A secondhand sale of some sort.
Amazon / Abebook

Summary (from goodreads): With his bookbag full of stinkbombs and pepper candy and every practical joke known to mankind, Iggy Sands is every teacher's nightmare. He hates math, he hates school assemblies, and he especially hates that snooty Caitlen Cohane.

So why, all of a sudden, is Iggy running for student council president? And making speeches? And being nice to Caitlen? Drool and Ed, his best and only friends, warn him that it'll take more than a trunkful of magic to be a winner this time.

Thoughts: So there I am reading a book about a kind of jerky kid and his kind of jerky friends, and then sixty pages in, bam, there's a ghost! It's completely random, and it comes out of nowhere. That is the summary on the back of the book, and do you see any hint there's anything supernatural coming? So that was strange, and really, really random.

The basic plot is probably one you've seen before. Trouble-making kid decides to try and do something that's not trouble-making. Nobody thinks he'll be able to do it, he can, the underdog saves the day, you know. The ghost plot is random and doesn't really actually affect the main plot. Like the ghost doesn't do anything besides offer advice. It wasn't exactly bad, but it was so random, and I don't understand this at all.

Almost all of the characters are pretty unlikeable for a large amount of the book (at one point, Iggy makes a crack about how his baby-sitter is always trying to flirt with his father, and basically how hilarious it is because she's fat so haha, his handsome father would never, like, be into her or anything), and there is only basically one decent female character who isn't all backstabbing and mean. The writing in the second half of the book is pretty good, and I enjoyed it, but I don't think I'd read it again.

The fatphobia was irritating, the ghost thing was weird, and while it wasn't a bad read, it just wasn't anything terribly special. The characters are jerks for a lot of the book, and I didn't like them at first. It's not terrible, don't get me wrong, but I think I would rather have the shelf space for something I loved, something I'd read again, or something I would comfortably share with kids in my care. Hopefully if I pass it on, it'll find a home with someone who loves it.

Mystery of the Lunchbox Criminal by Alison Lohans

Published: December 1st, 1990 by Scholastic
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 89
Part of a series? I don't think so.
Got via: Library reject sale.
Amazon but yeah, the only listings are for like two hundred dollars, use the other link if you want it desperately. / AbeBooks

Summary (from goodreads): One day at school J.J. finds a disgusting surprise in his lunchbox – but no lunch. Soon other kids’ lunches are being stolen too. J.J. and his friends set out to find the “criminal” and discover more than they’d bargained for.

Thoughts: This is... this is set in Regina! That's cool. It's near me, and I'm always amused when books are set in Saskatchewan because I'm a person and people are vain and self-centered.

And otherwise it was... weird. I can't tell exactly what age range this is supposed to be for. The language feels really young, and the font is huge, but there's some really weird darkness to it. Like this kid gets nailed in the head with a rock by a bully, and his mother is really, really blase about it. Like, his little sister is sick with a fever at the same time, but dude. The kid is like seven, you left him outside for at least half an hour with no way to get inside and no supervision, and you're ignoring the fact that he's been hit in the head with a rock???

That's not a great display of parenting, yo. Some kid hits mine in the head with a rock, I don't wait until that kid beats him up and gives him a fat lip and a bloody nose to intervene!

Meanwhile, there's other weirdly dark parts that seem really mature for the age range it's aimed at like a kid with an alcoholic parent, and a kid who is like maybe eight or nine that smokes. At the end, it's stated that "she said she'd try to quit smoking, too" and this is apparently good enough for the adults in the book? What??

I did not understand this book. I really didn't understand the adults in this book, and the characters can be kind of annoying sometimes. Everyone is kind of mean, and the plot is pretty predictable. I don't feel like kids would be that into this one, and I have others I like more for this age range, so this one is also probably going to be passed along to someone else.

Well, this is a pretty good rate. Two books I liked, two books I can clean out of my collection. So what have you guys been reading lately?

Peace and cookies,

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