Tag Archives: school

The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg

If The Story of Arthur Truluv was a movie, you’d find it on the Hallmark Channel. Elizabeth Berg has created one of those melodramatic, heart wrenching, over the top dramas filled with the angst of loves both lost and found as three disparate characters find comfort as they form an unusual sort of alliance.

You have the teen girl who doesn’t know where her life is headed living with a father who has been disconnected from his daughter since the tragic death of his wife. Maddy doesn’t seem to fit in with anyone at school and even the new boy indicates he is not interested. Since everywhere she goes her peers whisper and mock, she skips school to spend time reflecting at a local cemetery. She’s not the only one who finds the locale soothing. It is here that Maddy meets octogenarian Arthur Moses, an elderly gentleman who every day brings a bag lunch to his wife’s gravesite to enjoy a meal with his long gone mate. Somehow the two form a connection and Arthur lets Maddy know that he’ll be there for her if she ever needs a friend. Then there’s Arthur’s elderly neighbor, Lucille, who spends her days sitting out on her porch keeping track of all the doings, collecting gossip the way some people collect stamps. Her opinionated manner is excused by her skill in the kitchen, freely sharing her creations with Arthur. Arthur, who mostly eats canned beans and franks (which he divvies up with his cat), sympathizes with the lonely woman as he eats her mouth watering butter orange blossom cookies. Somehow, through a series of events, the three end up facing the future together finding comfort and even happiness as they create a unique sort of blended family transcending the usual mother, father, child homelife.

Add in a kind hearted teacher who reaches out to his artistic, though lackluster student, a lost love who finds his way home, and a skeevy boyfriend who just wants a good time without any commitments, and you have a charming little story perfect for a rainy afternoon.

While the simplistic style fits the subject matter and the rotating point of view between the three main characters gives us a decent grasp of their motivations, I had a problem with the use of present tense to tell the story. Very few are able to use this technique successfully, and Berg, unfortunately, is not one of those authors, at least not in this book. Perhaps modifications were made before publication, since my copy was an ARC provided by Netgalley (in exchange for an honest review). I also felt the ending was too abrupt, I would have liked a little more closure, especially considering the book was only 220 or so pages (and give us some dates, not just clues from the headstones). Of note, however, were the sweet little vignettes from the graveyard, where Arthur was able to relate telepathically with the deceased and share bits and pieces of their life and death with the reader. Three and a half stars.


Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Calamity! Yes, it’s one calamity after another in the small seaside resort area in Pirriwee, Australia when Madeline sprains her ankle on her way to kindergarten orientation with her precocious daughter Chloe. New resident Jane with her son Ziggy assists the injured woman as they both drop their children off to meet the prospective teacher. Madeline and Jane end up on the beach at the Blues Blue coffee shop where Celeste, the mother of twins, joins them to help the injured party celebrate her birthday. The gift of champagne and flutes are perfect, despite the early hour, because Madeline is now f-o-r-t-y. The party atmosphere continues as they go to pick up their darlings until little Amabelle accuses Ziggy of choking her. Despite the tot’s denial, the parents end up sorting themselves into team Renata (Amabelle’s mum) vs Team Madeline. Amidst the conflict and resulting bedlam, the families deal with the normal chaos of raising children. While behind the scenes each couple has secrets which are slowly revealed, it is the flamboyant, gutsy Madeline who meets life head on, guiding her friends through their individual crisis. She even tries to be “civil” to her ex husband and new wife who also have a daughter attending the same kindergarten program, (although on PMS days, her behavior might not be “quite polite” towards those who have slighted her or her friends).

As the story progresses, bad behaviors escalate until the climax on Trivia Night, a costumed fundraising competition, where an altercation and death occurs. The event is alluded to via short vignettes placed at the beginning or end of a chapter, with various participants giving their take on exactly what happened through the questioning by Investigating Officer Quinlan. The reader is left trying to sort fact from fiction and figure out exactly who the victim might be.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty is an amusing, witty romp dealing with societal pressures, spousal abuse, infidelity, love and loss, bullying, blended families, teen angst, working mothers, and fragile egos. Who knew a story about a class of kindergarteners could be so much fun!

Five stars for a “can’t stop reading” book. (For a real treat listen to the CD expertly read by Caroline Lee who makes each character your personal friend or enemy). We will have to wait and see if the upcoming version on HBO retains the flavor of the original novel when the locale is moved from Australia to California.

This review also appears on Goodreads.

Timmy Failure: The Book You Are Not Supposed to Have By Stephan Pastis (Timmy Failure, #5)

Timmy Failure is a child detective, or he was until his mother forbad him to continue his agency, at least until the end of the school year. Who knew the teachers would go on strike and the school year would be extended with substitutes filling the vacancies. This all meant that Timmy would have to surreptitiously run his business and find another place to have his office so his mother doesn’t find out and ground him. He discovers the perfect location to run his operation after a visit to Home Despot – one of the sheds for sale in the store parking lot. Complications ensue – his partner is eating up the profits by snarfing down $1.00 hot dogs, his mother decides he needs piano lessons, his mode of transportation is a tricycle with a banner proclaiming “Bras For Sale”, he has to share a bedroom with two “loons” (his female cousins on a protracted visit), and his mom is getting married to Doorman Dave. When his best friend disappears and is presumed dead, Timmy must use his wiles to discover which of his many enemies did the deed. With the help of new assistant, Molly, Timmy goes undercover to examine each of the potential murderers.

Timmy Failure: The Book You Are Not Supposed to Have is the fifth book in the Timmy Failure series by Stephan Pastis, author of the syndicated cartoon Pearls Before Swine. This book is along the vein of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, not quite a graphic novel, but full of Pastis illustrations using his unique trademark style. There is quite a bit of subtle humor such as Timmy’s roly poly best friend whose last name is Tookus, and some not so subtle plot events where Timmy tears apart the orthodontist’s gift stuffed tooth looking for a microphone (Timmy dodges a bullet there because he is too young for braces). This book is sure to delight the middle schooler as they relate to Timmy’s misadventures and actions which can only be described as stupid or ridiculous. Timmy’s over the top behaviors and the adult responses to his actions are sure to tickle the funny bone of the typical preteen. However, as an adult, it was too many groans and “oh, no – you didn’t” responses to find the plot of this book truly enjoyable. I guess there is a tipping point for some where childish humor is no longer appreciated. Of course, there are many who love this sort of ridiculousness at any age and those are the fans who need to read this series.

Three and a half stars and a thank you to Netgalley for a copy of this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

Jasper John Dooley: Lost and Found by Carolyn Adderson, illustrated byMike Shiell

In Jasper John Dooley: Lost and Found by Canadian author Carolyn Adderson, Jasper’s Grandma Nan has a surprise for her grandson, a box of old toys which belonged to his dad and his Uncle Tom. Along side some toy soldiers painted with pink nail polish and a bunch of old fashioned cars (ones that were popular back when his dad was a boy), there was his father’s favorite – an orange plastic Marcel Mouse. Wanting to emulate his parent, Jasper adopts the little toy, wearing it around his neck on a long string so he can swing it back and forth. His dad excitedly teaches him the jingle and dance from this once well-loved television cartoon. Jasper can’t wait to show his friends at school and the little mouse becomes a hit. Unfortunately, while swinging the toy about, Jasper clocks his friend Leon, so the confiscated “necklace” stays on the secretary’s desk and afterwards must remain in the nurses office until the end of the school day.

Unfortunately, Marcel gets accidentally flushed down the toilet, but Jasper’s parents use this as an opportunity to visit the library and the water treatment plant to research the Mouse’s whereabouts via the ocean currents. Marcel sends Jasper emails from Alaska (a place Nan visited in Book 2 of the series, Jasper John Dooley: Left Behind), Japan, and Australia (where his uncle lives). When Uncle Tom comes for a visit to surprise his mother on her birthday, he and his nephew take a walk in the neighborhood, stopping at a yard sale where they miraculously find another Marcel Mouse.

This is book 5 of the Jasper John Dooley series which continues tales of the life of the young, irascible Jasper and his friends and family. The book is full of details with various subplots related to the previous books in the series. The title Lost and Found refers not only to the often misplaced Marcel Mouse, but also to the Lost and Found box outside the school office where Jasper and his best friend Ori hide during a game of hide and seek and then “borrow” an electronic game they find at the bottom of the bin. While playing the forbidden game, they end up lost in an unfamiliar neighborhood until a friendly dog walker points the way back towards the school which is close to their homes. Lost and Found also refers to the Treasure Hunting game the boys devise which is more fun than playing babies with the girls (Book 3, Jasper John Dooley: Not in Love).

It won’t surprise the reader that the scampish Jasper is very familiar with the Principal’s office, but all the adults – Principal, secretary, teacher, school nurse, as well as family members – are kid friendly, helping the children find solutions to the various sticky situations which pop up throughout the series.

The reader assumes the children are in first grade since there is a student of the week and a show and tell. (Book 1: Jasper John Dooley: Star of the Week). As a chapter book, there are only a few cartoonish black and white illustrations interspersed throughout the fourteen chapters. Remaining true to the original, Mike Shiell has taken over the art work from Ben Clanton who did the drawings for books 1-4, giving the reader a graphic guide to the plot and characters in the story. The chapters are relatively short (132 pages) and most of the vocabulary is simple enough for a fairly fluent beginning reader. Whether the adventures of these young grade schoolers will engage the intended audience depends upon the age of the child when they are ready to read longer books. However, this would make a good night time serial read aloud for the younger child. Not the most exciting of stories, but there are numerous common themes relevant to children that could lead to some interesting discussions of right and wrong and the results of making bad decisions (Book 4, Jasper John Dooley: You’re in Trouble). A good example of realistic fiction for the younger set. Three stars.

Thank you to Netgalley and Kids Can Press for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Starring Shapes written and illustrated by Tania Howells

Starring Shapes by Canadian author and illustrator Tania Howells, features personified shapes representing various every day items in comic form (with faces) such as a stamp, a yield sign, the moon, a kite, a calculator.

The shapes go to Shapeston Elementary School with the children and have the opportunity to try out for the school play. Each shape tells a little bit of past performances, such as triangle who once portrayed a nacho chip on a billboard and a flag on a bicycle or square who is a natural at origami and quilting. Circle’s favorite past time is pretending to be a Nursery Rhyme moon and Rectangle enjoys being a trampoline. Rhombus, nicknamed Diamond, yearns to be a baseball field. Well rounded Oval loves stretching out before a fire as a rug for story time. Everyone who auditions gets a part including the shapes who are used to enhance the Gingerbread House for the play Hansel and Gretel. A plus are the pages which display ways in which each shape is found in real life situations.

The illustrations, although simplistic, child-like, cartoonish drawings (rendered in Photoshop) featuring the basic color spectrum, are bright and appealing. By having the six shapes interact with the school aged children they take on pleasant personalities. With detailed backgrounds full of geometric scenery, there are lots of shapes to identify. Perfect for preschoolers and perhaps early elementary students, although an adult reading the story to younger kids might have to simplify the language or just focus on locating the various shapes included throughout the book. Three stars.

This ARC was provided by Netgalley and Kids Can Press in exchange for an honest review.

Stanley at School by Linda Bailey, illustrated by Bill Slavin

I loved this book, but what’s even more important is that my five year old grandson loved it, too. Linda Bailey has another winner in the Stanley series with her newest title Stanley at School. Stanley, a curious canine, has always wondered what happens to the kids who pass by his yard every day going to and from school, so he decides to take a look-see with his three friends, “Nutsy”, “Alice”, and “Gassy Jack”. Once they figure out how to open the front door they enter a whole new world full of smells. They follow the scent of salami into the coat room containing all sorts of lunch boxes where they gorge themselves silly until the delighted students arrive. What happens next is total chaos with hugs and wagging tails, that is until the custodian arrives and everyone, dogs and children, take off running. The four companions flee through the gym, music room, and art room until they are caught and end up sitting in the chairs outside the principal’s office. Luckily the school’s principal loves animals, so instead of a scolding they get petted before she shoos them out the door. What a day! They run off to the dog park to share the joys of a school full of eating and running. Wondering why kids should have all the fun, the next day when the school doors open, all the neighborhood dogs are waiting at the bottom of the front steps.

The colorful, cartoonish illustrations by Bill Slavin are full of a diverse population of students, even one in a wheelchair. The principal is a black woman who the animals refer to as “top dog” even while she shows them a bit of love. Her authority shines when she says “off”, “come”, and “go” and the four friends follow one another in a single line out the door and for an additional two blocks from the school. The dogs, a mixture of various sizes and breeds, are adorable and their illustrated antics will make the reader laugh out loud – sure to appeal to both adults and children.

A perfect read aloud for all elementary youngsters, ideal for teachers to share with their classes at the beginning of the school year. Four stars and a thank you to Kids Can Press and Netgalley for an ARC of this picture book in exchange for an honest review.

Seven Dead Pirates by Linda Bailey

An unusual coming of age story where eleven year old Lewis Dearborn is forced to develop an inner strength in order to deal with seven very lively and very dead ghostly pirates. These seven mates are the legacy from his great grandfather who grew too old to assist them with their mission of retaking the ship on display at the local maritime museum and sailing to Libertalia, a utopia for pirates. Once great grandpa dies, the family inherits the old ramshackle Shornoway, and Lewis takes over the tower room overlooking the sea which houses the seven trespassing ghosts. Now it’s up to Lewis to find a way to deal with this motley bunch. Yet Lewis has troubles of his own. His shyness makes him the target of the class bully. He is also embarrassed by his parents and scared to speak up in class. By remaining mute, he becomes a further magnet for ridicule by his classmates. When new girl, Anna, shows up in class, Lewis expects her to receive the same treatment, but surprisingly, she is accepted despite her odd behaviors. Unlike the others, Anna reaches out to Lewis who finally has someone with whom he can share his secrets, bizarre as they may be. With the help of the pirates as well as his new found friendship, Lewis discovers an inner courage and a sense of adventure hidden behind his fear of life.

Seven Dead Pirates by Linda Bailey stretches the realms of reality, especially in the book’s conclusion, but since this is a ghost tale, all scientific principles are suspended. The reader roots for Lewis and laughs at the misadventures of his pirate friends. The old historic house from the mid 1800’s along the East Coast is a perfect setting for a “spirited” tale. Middle schoolers will love this adventure, perfect for those hard to please tween boys. 4 stars.

And a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.