Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami
Book Uncle and Me is the winner of the 2011 Scholastic Asian Book Award (SABA), so perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised to enjoy it as much as I did. I have to admit that the cover put me off a bit – I just didn’t care for the illustrations, both on the cover and within the book itself. But I did enjoy the story, which is about a bookish girl named Yasmin who is determined to read one book a day for the entire year. Aiding this goal of hers is the Book Uncle, who operates a free, no-hassle lending library. Every time someone brings in a book, they can pick out something else to read, which is what Yasmin does every day. But then one day, soon after the Book Uncle gives her a book that she doesn’t quite understand, the Book Uncle packs up, announcing that his lending days are over. Yasmin learns that the mayor have been receiving complaints about the library, and is asking the Book Uncle to pay for a permit to continue his services – which, since he doesn’t charge anything, he can’t afford. At first, Yasmin reacts badly, thinking about how she won’t be able to borrow any more books, and saying her friends won’t understand, but she soon realises that all of them could work together to get Book Uncle’s lending library back. When I was a kid, I used to go to rental bookstores, which I’m reminded of when I read about the Book Uncle, so this book does give me the warm fuzzies. And then there’s the part about the children deciding to work together and make a change in their community, which may not be a new thing, but is a thing I love to see in a children’s book, especially one with Asian characters.
The Haunting of Cassie Palmer by Vivien Alcock
Cassie Palmer is thirteen years old, and the seventh child of a seventh child. Her mother, who’s a psychic, tells her that this means she has the gift of second sight. She’s heard this all her life, but she isn’t really sure if she believes it, and after an argument with her siblings she decides to test her ability in communicating with spirits at the cemetery. Her attempts in talking to Charlotte Emma Elizabeth Webb (Born 1840, Died 1847) didn’t seem to work, but soon Cassie finds herself haunted by a mysterious man, who may be Deverill (1720-1762). While Deverill scares Cassie in the beginning, she does get used to him as she tries to find out how to get rid of him. Perhaps because of the intended age group (this is a book for intermediate readers), it isn’t scary or creepy at all, but I do find it an interesting read. What I liked best was the depiction of the Palmer family, from the psychic mother to the relationships between the siblings, and the older sibling that reminds me very strongly of Percy Weasley (they’re as similar as Harry is to the illustrations of Timothy Hunter from Books of Magic). There is some neglect going on in the way the mother treats the children, which isn’t handled as I would’ve liked (it has that “parent repents and all is well” thing going) but it does end well for everyone. Well, almost everyone.
The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy
This book was inspired by family stories by authors like Sydney Taylor (All-of-a-Kind Family) and Elizabeth Enright (The Melendys), all of which I haven’t read, so I don’t have much to compare it to. Which is probably fine, because it’s a pretty awesome read even without any point of reference. The Fletcher children are Sam (12), Jax (10), Eli (10), and Frog (6) who are the adopted children of “Dad and Papa”. (Yes, I’ve forgotten their dads’ names.) They’re a multiracial family, and their fathers try to teach all of them about each other’s cultures and encourage their interests, but even with a cool family things can sometimes go wrong. Eli is starting the school year at the Pinnacle, a special school for smart kids. He’s excited to be there, until he realises that at the Pinnacle, there is no brainstorming or sharing of ideas, no recess, and absolutely no fun. But after trying so hard to get into a school that challenges him, he didn’t think he could ask to leave. Frog has an active imagination, and insists that his best friend, a girl with three sisters and two mothers, is real, even though she never turns up at his school events. Jax’s best friend had changed so much now that he’s decided to go with the cool kids, and as for Sam, who is funny and well-liked and great at soccer, developing an interest in broadway musicals may not seem like the best idea if he wants to maintain his reputation at school. Add their new, cranky neighbour to the mix, and their family is set to have an interesting year. I really enjoyed reading about all of the Fletchers – from the dads to Frog to their pet turtle, and love that it shows a mixed-race family with same-sex parents without making an issue out of it, showing that they’re really just like any other family. I would have probably given it a much higher rating on GR except for one thing – it uses ableist language. Like, a LOT of times. Which is NOT okay, and makes me annoyed because this book was SO CLOSE to having it all!