{books} saving summer & certain allergies

Today is the last day of the school year for N and we are looking forward to summer. She has already signed up for the Summer Reading Program at the local Library. I need to sign up (they have awesome drawings–even for adults!). So I hope you’ve signed up with your Library. There is Scholastic’s program on-line. And Barnes & Nobles has a program for up through 6th grade, too (w/ forms in English & Spanish). I’m sure there are many more.

We rarely chose books for their Summeryness. But I have read two summery juvenile fictions to add to those summer reading suggestions you’ve been (maybe) hearing about. (recommended both boys & girls, ages 6-10)


How Tia Lola Saved the Summer (Tia Lola Stories, bk3) by Julia Alvarez, (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011; hardcover, 141 pages) I had been missing this one from the quartet, so now you will have all my thoughts on this fantastic series.

Miguel Guzman isn’t exactly looking forward to the summer now that his mother has agreed to let the Sword family—a father, his three daughters, and their dog—live with them while they decide whether or not to move to Vermont. Little does Miguel know his aunt has something up her sleeve that just may make this the best summer ever. With her usual flair for creativity and fun, Tía Lola decides to start a summer camp for Miguel, his little sister, and the three Sword girls, complete with magical swords, nighttime treasure hunts, campfires, barbecues, and an end-of-summer surprise!–publisher’s comments.

How Tia Lola Saved the Summer is magical and full of fun summer activities and adventures. It also continues with Alvarez’s flair for handling tough issues with a deft hand. As with previous books, Alvarez begins with Miguel, but effortlessly shifts between the perspectives of other characters in following chapters. 7 of the 10 chapters are dedicated to each family member’s troubles they must overcome : Juanita wants to feel special; Victoria, the eldest and maternal daughter wants to be able to be young and carefree sometimes; Mami fears making another mistake (still dealing with her divorce and confronted with a new chance at love)… The chapters hold to a time-line and a quick procession through the week of the Espada’s visit. Miguel’s worries and struggles find some resolutions without being pat. He (and the others) are growing throughout the series–it’s really nicely done.

Tia Lola has a way of making people feel brave. It isn’t that she creates possibilities necessarily, but she makes others aware of them. She is also fun and fosters creativity and community. Alvarez has a way of depicting magic, possibility, humor, and fun without diminishing the sincerity of her characters emotions or situations.

Did I just turn that into a grown-up book? (sigh)…It really is a fun read. And you can bet treasure hunts and smores will ensue!


Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disasters by Lenore Look, Pictures by LeUyen Pham, (Schwartz & Wade Books, 2009; hardcover, 170 pages). I adore this series, too.

Alvin Ho back and his worst fear has come true: he has to go camping.What will he do exposed in the wilderness with bears and darkness and . . . pit toilets? Luckily, he’s got his night-vision goggles and water purifying tablets and super-duper heavy-duty flashlight to keep him safe. And he’s got his dad, too. -Publisher’s Comments

Alvin Ho is so freaking hilarious. The binds Alvin finds himself in, and the sweet rescue by his father–and all this before the idea of going camping forms. Believing his older brother Calvin to be wise, Alvin seeks his advice and gear his purchased (via plastic–‘so nobody has to pay for it’). An Uncle shows up to offer his own advice, and amusingly you begin to see a parallel between Uncle and Calvin, and an alignment between Alvin and his father. All set to go, fears still intact, Alvin and father are packed to go–but so is little sister Anibelly.

My favorite parts: The boys playing out camping only to be one-upped by the girls and stranded in school playground trees in their underwear. The steps for setting up the tent. The new friend Alvin makes. Why the children’s insistence on using a toilet instead of a pit was a good idea.

It’s cool to see Alvin overcome fears when it really counts, when we really need him to be heroic. He loves his father who isn’t a superhero but always comes to the rescue anyway. Alvin is able to save his father; of course, how his father gets into trouble in the first place…

Look’s sense of characterization and that comedic timing finds a way to make us laugh with Alvin and his fears without demeaning his fears or his character. These books are silly and sweet and full of tension and marvelous adventure that feels all too gloriously possible.


both of these books are a taste of childhood. they are good and fun options for summer reading.

"review" · chapter/series · Children's · fiction · Illustrator · juvenile lit · recommend · series

{book} Alvin Ho: Allergic to Dead Bodies, Funerals, & Other Fatal Circumstances

A cure for those hours steeped in academia ala textbooks and essays? Lenore Look’s Alvin Ho. I’ve been intrigued by the title for awhile, Alvin Ho: Allergic to Dead Bodies, Funerals, and Other Fatal Circumstances, so when I saw it face-out on the Library shelf I brought it home. This is the fourth book in a series that I’ve been assured will continue with a fifth in 2013. I picked up the other books from the Library today. Yes, I adored my first treatment that much.

Let’s face it. When it comes to death, everything is scary. Especially if your name is Alvin Ho and you maybe, sort of, agreed to go to a funeral for your Gunggung’s best friend (who was your friend too).

Alvin’s all freaked out, and here’s why:

  1. He starts seeing bad omens…everywhere.
  2. People are telling him creepy things, like how a dead body cools one degree a minute until it reaches room temperature.
  3. The dead body might wake up, like in the movies!
  4. He has to dress special for the funeral (including clean underwear!)
  5. He has to be brave. He has to look death smack in the eye.

But being brave is hard. What if Alvin’s not ready to say goodbye to someone he loves?

–inside jacket copy.

Alvin Ho is an anxious 2nd grade boy. I don’t know what is going on with him, but he seems frightened by most everything (real or imagined); which, of course, is the greatest source of the reader’s angst and amusement. The sweet comes from Alvin’s ability to articulate his anxieties with childlike brilliance (you know, that coincidental poignancy young people often express in their language).

“My vocal cords grew hair.

And the hair tangled into a hairball.

I gagged silently.

Everything in the room faded to gray.” (81)

Look has a great way of describing things.

The story surrounding a serious topic takes on the morbid curiosity and fantastic imagination of the young. For example, their living in Concord, Massachusetts, the local kids think the Historic House tours are led by the ghosts of the celebrity occupants. The story takes unexpected turns that remain consistent with the characterization—I realize this should be a given, but it feels especially organic in this instance.

 “I love it when he calls me that. Son. I love it more than my own name. I love it so much that hearing it could make me cry. So I did.” (157)

I must add my adoration for the family and friends.  Alvin has loving parents and grandparents; and his siblings are sources of frustration and affection, in other words, familiar. (Man does big brother Calvin sound like my two older brothers combined.) The school staff seem to get Alvin, and I absolutely love Flea. (“She’s a girl and she was all dressed up like a girl too, which, as everyone knows, is horrible, especially when it makes her look clean and shiny like a new car.” 179) Characters have their quirks without running risk of being cute. The father and his cursing in Shakespearean had me laughing out loud. There was a lot that had me laughing. The novel was punctuated by a deeply felt smile. Look has an excellent sense of timing. And her hand with suspense isn’t too shabby either.

 “Deep breathing helps when the heart falls out of your chest. I learned this from the psycho who is my therapist, but I could never remember to do it, until now.”(43)

I was so thoroughly charmed by this read. I don’t know how well it goes over with the young (intended) audience, but reading these with a child would be no chore what-so-ever.

The Illustrations have as much personality as the words. And LeUyen Pham does not skimp on the quantity. They are a really nice company and I think they free Look to spin lovely similes and metaphors. Want to cultivate a young writer?–or Illustrator? [check out Pham’s site.]


recommended: for any young grade-school reader (or learning to read), and even older elementary because they can probably laugh a bit more easily (having survived the earlier grades); for those who prefer books you may learn from but is not heavy-handed (obvious) with the messages. Look/Pham offer a light-hearted treatment of the subject Death and Dying without losing gravity.

of note: I noticed what seemed to be references to earlier books, but I was not lost or deprived of enjoying the read.

The different cultural responses to Death and burial (or non-) are nicely sewn in and very interesting. Not only would this make a fun read for a family, but a source of great conversation as well. Allergic to Dead Bodies is a good Readers Imbibing Peril (RIP) suggestion that will help you include the younger members of the family.


Alvin Ho: Allergic to Dead Bodies, Funerals, and Other Fatal Circumstances

By Lenore Look, Pictures by LeUyen Pham

Schwartz & Wade Books, 2011.

187 pages, hardcover. Pages 189-197 “Alvin Ho’s Deadly Glossary”

Ages 6-10.