"review" · Children's · concenter · Illustrator · Picture book · recommend · wondermous

things I love about this picture book

30 DAYS OF PB 2013 aDay Seventeen: All the Things I Love About You

by LeUyen Pham

Balzer + Bray, 2010.

all the things i love about you coverAll the Things I Love About You reads like love letter from a mother to her young child, in which she tells him all the ways she loves him. LeUyen Pham dedicates the book especially: “For all those many mamas who love their little boys, this book is just for you.”

My eyes may have welled up at least twice; which is an achievement easily attributed to the picture book because I had just finished an assigned reading and discussion on “The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale” beforehand. I was so moved by All the Things I Love About You, that I may have let an expletive slip; which is how I tend to punctuate that simultaneity of awe and incredible envy. Fortunately, the daughter was downstairs being 13, probably listening to someone else’s less holy expletive slip.

All the Things I Love About You is beautiful. It isn’t precious and it won’t make the teeth ache. It will be heart-warming and deep-sighing, because LeUyen Pham does not hit one false note. Her sense of humor and impeccable timing helps. She’ll places especially funny moments among the affectionate smiles and those sentiments that catch your heart in your throat. There is this wonderful build-up of emotion using a compound sentence spread across three double-page spreads at the end. Your heart and lungs fill up and then you find there is room for just one more breathe. However, said breathe will not be with you long, because Pham leaves us with the most agreeable ending: the truth these kinds of love letters want to be sure their child understands.

There are a lot of familiar childhood activities, and yet you needn’t identify specifically with each and every thing the mother loves about her child in the book. For instance, N never “skip[ped] the letter “Y” in the alphabet because “Z” [was] so much fun to say.” But it does find correlations. Actually, that is the only part I couldn’t place Natalya’s round-cheeked visage. Natalya was the cutest little bug in her fuzzy footy-pajamas!

The colors, textures, lines, energy, movement, expression (face/body)–I tend to go on about how much I appreciate Pham’s skill as an illustrator. I love her work and I do not think it bias to suggest that her work is highly accessible (read: appealing) to everyone. Her use of the white page focuses attention on legible illustrations and directs their sequence and scale. It does the same for the text. Not only will the adult reader see recognize the mother and child (and father) on the page, but so with the little one(s) snuggling close–if you’ve caught them into stillness (there is a lot of running and chasing in the book, too).

After I finished the book and decided on love not hate (after my moment of envy). I had this immediate and overwhelming urge to buy out Powell’s supply (all 16 copies) and distribute this  book to each parent of a young child that I know (or don’t) until I run out. At $15.00 each, I will be limited in purchases for family (blood relative or no); children whom I will no doubt be reminded that they are all in (at least) grade school now. Hmmm, I may need to get Logan’s new address, Callum isn’t in college yet, is he?

{browse inside of book here}

Mary Harris Russell, briefly reviewing this book for the Chicago Tribune (in 2010) writes,

Many “I-love-you” books emphasize a cute and quiet newborn bundle, snuggled up close. LeUyen Pham shows early on that quietly cute isn’t on the list. “I love the way your hair looks in the morning,” the narrator says, and the picture shows a jaunty boy with spiky hair. This little boy is in action, wrestling out of clothes, holding hands or running off. The pages remind us that the story isn’t just what the boy does; it’s how his mother experiences him. […]The child grows – literally speeding across the pages – but so does his mother’s love.

"review" · Children's · Picture book

mid-CHLOE-dle

30 DAYS OF PB 2013 aDay Eight: Chloe

by Peter McCarty

Balzer+Bray, 2012

chloe coverChloe has ten older brothers and sisters and ten younger brothers and sisters. She’s in the middle and she loves it—especially when they all gather for family fun time.

But when Dad brings home a surprise one evening, Chloe finds she is not in the middle anymore . . . but not for long!

With gorgeous colored-ink drawings and funny, spare text, Peter McCarty tells a winning story of family, imagination, and love.—Publisher’s Comments

If you thought for at least a moment that “the not for long” meant Chloe would be dealing with a new sibling or cousin or someone–you were mistaken. No, the surprise Dad brings home is–ta-da!–a television!

chloe

So, what does the arrival of the television have to do with Chloe being the middle child? Are we to be sad she is no longer the center of attention and/or the go-to girl for stellar ideas for familial “fun-time” activities? I think the story is supposed to be about how television-watching affects family fun-time. Chloe certainly disapproves. She and Bridget would rather sulk behind the couch–that is, until she and Bridget block the television and declare: “This is the worst family fun time EVER!” Apparently, watching giant pound cakes threatening the city is not a gratifying family activity.

“Bridget and I know how to have fun,” Chloe continues to proclaim on the next page while Bridget discovers: “What was this? What did Bridget find in the box?” gee–it isn’t hard to guess since the only image on the white expanse involves a large open box with bubble wrap. Clearly this is a picture books for our youngest children, because need the text actually ask these questions? It is doing well enough with cute bunny illustrations and spare text.

Bubble wrap becomes the thing to do, except when the Parents want to actually hear the television. So Chloe comes up with a quieter activity: become actors in the television box. She is all about the found object and the imaginative play–and being in the middle. “Everyone wanted to be with Chloe,” the story says–literally and figuratively.

chloe in the middle

It is soon bedtime, brother Bobby expresses his delight over the evening activities (sans mention of the television) to Chloe (and Bridget), and then all the girls are piled asleep in bed around…you guessed it.  I was too nauseated by this point to find that quaint ending with the father and the bubble wrap worth the chuckle it intends. Since the story is not told from a first-bunny perspective, I am not entirely sure what to do with the egocentrism. [Was/am I, as a middle-ish child this pretentious/annoying? Is that the lesson in the book? Like witnessing the spectacle of a someone else’s temper-tantrum, am I to identify myself, cringe in horror, and change my ways?]

Chloe saves the family fun-time from the evil television and rescues her position in the family thanks to her imagination and persistent need to be Chloe in the middle. The weird thing about the book is how the heroism of the imagination competes with the heroism of triumphing over the attention-stealing competition. In that contest, I would judge the latter to win.

The color-ink drawings are charming and fresh against the white page. I also get, as the publisher’s comments observe, how the story is one of family and imagination, but I am still working on the “love” part. I found Robin Smith for The Horn Book had a different reading, which I am having a hard time reconciling to my own experience. Do check it out. I would recommend that if you are really taken with the illustrations, mute the text and have a go with the visual narrative.

If you are looking for a book about family time and the struggles w/ technology, I recommend John Rocco’s Blackout as one. feel free to list more in the comments.

{images belong to Peter McCarty}

"review" · Children's · Picture book · recommend · Tales

{book} extra yarn

DAY 27

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett.

Illustrations by Jon Klassen.

Balzer+Bray, 2012. ages 4-8.

I’ve not heard a bad thing about this book and spying it on the shelf (face-out, front and center, on a little table display) I had to see what the fuss was all about. Yeah, it’s pretty good–and not only as a sweet gift to the knitters in your family. This one took me by surprise–though one should never underestimate Barnett or Klassen by now.

 

This looks like an ordinary box full of ordinary yarn.

But it turns out it isn’t.—publisher’s comment

It was a colorless wintry world “where everywhere you looked was either the white of snow or the black of soot from chimneys,” before a resourceful young girl Annabelle finds a box of yarn and begins to knit. She knits a colorful sweater for herself, then her dog, then her family members, community members, animals, and community objects and before long the wintry world is awash with color. One day an evil Archduke arrives upon the shore to purchase this box and Annabelle refuses to sell, but will this stop him? And has her endless and ambitious knitting project finally come to an end?

 

note how lacking in color the Archduke’s apparel/accessories. an easy glimpse at how much the girl influences the yarn and its magical box, but it isn’t our first glimpse.

I love the girl’s industriousness as well as some of the exasperation by those about her—until they fall under the spell of extraordinary yarn and Isabelle’s ability to knit anything let alone her willingness to do so. And really, it is her determination to share her longing for color, creativity, and warmth that transforms the community and its landscape. It is no small thing to see how the yarn links one to the other in some of the illustrations.

Jon Klassen adds so much personality to Mac Barnett’s creation. [It is nice to see some of the cast of Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back lined-up and sweatered, too.] The two really work well together in that Barnett enriches the illustrations as much as Klassen does the text.Fans of Klassen’s work will be pleased, this is my first exposure to his ability to draw humans oddly enough and he does a nice job. He is so spare in a lot of ways and in really emphasizes the quality of what we do get in color, texture, line, posture and composition.

Extra Yarn is a lovely tale for winter, but can be suited to any season because of the delightful quality to this quiet and deceptively simple story. I highly recommend it.

{images belong to Jon Klassen}

Shelf Elf’s review. 7 Questions over Breakfast w/ Jon Klassen at 7 Impossible Things…

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend · series

after Fox Street

Mo Wren, Lost and Found by Tricia Springstubb

Illustrations by Heather Ross.

Balzer+Bray, 2011

Hardcover, 256 pages. Juvenile Fiction (ages 8-12)

This is the story of what happened after Fox Street.

Mo Wren knew that eventually she, her dad, and her sister, Wild Child Dottie, would have to move from beloved Fox Street. She just never expected it to happen so soon.

At the Wrens’ new place, things are very different. The name of the street—East 213th—has absolutely zero magic. And there’s no Mrs. Petrone to cut her hair, no Pi Baggott to teach her how to skateboard, no Green Kingdom to explore. She’s having trouble fitting in at her new school and spending a lot of time using the corner bus shelter for her Thinking Spot. Worst of all, Mo discovers that the ramshackle restaurant Mr. Wren bought is cursed. Only Dottie, with her new friends and pet lizard, Handsome, is doing the dance of joy.

For the first time in her life, Mo feels lost and out of place. It’s going to take a boy who tells whoppers, a Laundromat with a mysterious owner, a freak blizzard, and some courage to help her find her way home for good.

Feeling displaced? Tricia Springstubb has the story for you in this sequel to the sweet debut What Happened on Fox Street. Mo has to move, and like many a moving story, the adjustments are hard. And she isn’t the only one who was going to miss Fox Street. (sigh). Fortunately, Springstubb creates the old kind of charm in a new kind of place. Maybe change can be for the better.

With a protagonist who thinks, and who worries, the moving is going to be especially dramatic, thus she will be a great narrator–a great voice for the worries that haunt us. How do we find our way around, make new friends, interact with the old friends, finesse the changes with family members who are changing, too, and survive a curse. Okay, the curse is more of the mysterious twist that moves the plot, and a brilliant explanation as to why things just can’t seem to go right—because we are all questioning Mr. Wren’s decision-making. But sometimes following dreams are not easy, whether they are yours or someone else’s.

The widower Mr. Wren was an absent sort in the first book, he continues to be so in this second novel as he struggles to fulfill the dream of becoming a successful restaurant owner. But in What Happened on Fox Street, Mo had her community to keep an eye out for her and her younger sister Dottie, for whom Mo is oft made responsible. His leaving Mo alone (and forgetting her once) is horribly problematic in Mo Wren, Lost and Found. He is striving to provide a life where she can have the opportunity to be a little girl, to be carefree. We just have to hope they all survive it. We have to hope that Mo again finds herself capable.

There are all sorts of lost objects and lost people and lost feelings and lost memories to be found. This is an ambitious little novel and there were moments I wondered if there was a little too much. We learn people move on. Change is hard but sometimes necessary and for a number of reasons. Sometimes we need to let things go for the sake of another person, to give someone else an opportunity (Fox Street, Parenting roles). New friends await, and could use the new face. And “Fortune favors the brave,” Mo and Da, the elderly neighbor from Fox Street, remind themselves rather determinedly.

As those people and objects that always held center for Mo Wren shift out from under her, we have Dottie who not only seems to be just fine, she’s thriving. Dottie is growing up to be quite capable and wise herself. But she has Mo. All Mo has to do is keep herself together, and find some new anchors, or perhaps remember some old ones. Maybe her dad will prove to be there for her after all? Maybe she will find a community of people she can depend on, a new extended family on East 213th.

Mo’s friend Mercedes is back, and is as issue-laden and self-absorbed with it as in the past book. Their dynamic is unusual in novels, though not unfamiliar in life; which is nice, even as it is uncomfortable. Besides being the BFF, Mercedes provides another perspective, another facet to this difficulty that is change—again. Pi Baggott reappears and is sweet and Mo is all aflutter. Yet there is an all-too-convenient (though not unrealistic) turn to accompany the other turns that facilitate Mo’s ability to move on. And while it is fantastic that the story doesn’t slough off Fox Street too easily, East 213th has a story and a character to develop as well. Mo and novel must move on. And the pacing in the progression of this move is good. As to how one speaks to the balance, it depends on the Reader. However, I don’t think the young reader will be overwhelmed; the thinking one might. We are meant to be overwhelmed. The tension is in the weight and the compounding of multiple anxieties. And just when we think it could all go right—finally!—no! Oh no!

Does Mo Wren find everything she needs, all she’s lost? Fortune does favor the brave–and bravery is needed. Because, in the end, Change is good. It’s necessary. Everyone benefits from the opportunity it brings in some form or another. Mo Wren, Lost and Found finds its optimism, its hope. Not that it was ever truly lost, as with many things, it just went missing for awhile.

***********************

Mo Wren, Lost and Found was a good sequel. It reflected back upon the first story in small ways, and was consistent with characters and voice, but Springstubb definitely worked to present a story that could be read on its own. The writing is good. As in the first novel, the clever metaphors are inspiring; a smile for the Reader. The characters, whether human, object, place, or lizard, feel original, and the eccentricities are charming. This is good middle-grade fiction. I can see openings for another installment. I liked What Happened on Fox Street a lot, and I enjoyed Mo Wren, Lost and Found, but I am not eager for another. While good, it was exhausting. I hope Springstubb is working on a new project, an other new project.

Mo Wren, Lost in Found should find connection with eldest children, more likely girls, the serious-minded, and those needing to be more serious-minded; for middle-grade, for anyone who has moved or will move or undergo a big change: though the end message is optimistic, Springstubb commiserates, it isn’t nor will it be easy [it’s refreshing that way].

Regardless of having read the final book in Lucky’s Hard Pan trilogy by Susan Patron recently, the series would have still come to mind (but please, for the sake of fairness, do not read these two series close together). Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn Dixie, Lauren Child’s inimitable Clarice Bean books, Rita Garcia-Williams’ One Crazy Summer, Belle Teal by Ann M. Martin, and How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O’Connor come to mind as well. If you enjoyed What Happened on Fox Street and Mo Wren, Lost and Found, keep an eye out for these reads—even if you didn’t, you should anyway.

**************************

my review of What Happened on Fox Street. Aforementioned other reads should have reviews linked on my “Books (remarked)” page, if you are curious.

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series

colin meloy’s Wildwood

Wildwood by Colin Meloy w/ illustrations by Carson Ellis
Balzer+Bray, 2011
Hardcover, 541 pages (w/ full-color plates).
Prue McKeel’s life is ordinary. At least until her baby brother is abducted by a murder of crows. And then things get really weird.
You see, on every map of Portland, Oregon, there is a big splotch of green on the edge of the city labeled “I.W.” This stands for “Impassable Wilderness.” No one’s ever gone in — or at least returned to tell of it.
And this is where the crows take her brother.
So begins an adventure that will take Prue and her friend Curtis deep into the Impassable Wilderness. There they uncover a secret world in the midst of violent upheaval, a world full of warring creatures, peaceable mystics, and powerful figures with the darkest intentions. And what begins as a rescue mission becomes something much bigger as the two friends find themselves entwined in a struggle for the very freedom of this wilderness.
A wilderness the locals call Wildwood.
Wildwood is a spellbinding tale full of wonder, danger, and magic that juxtaposes the thrill of a secret world and modern city life. Original and fresh yet steeped in classic fantasy, this is a novel that could have only come from the imagination of Colin Meloy, celebrated for his inventive and fantastic storytelling as the lead singer of the Decemberists. With dozens of intricate and beautiful illustrations by award-winning artist Carson Ellis, Wildwood is truly a new classic for the twenty-first century. ~Publisher’s Comments
************
It was unfair of me to suppose that a songwriter’s novel would be lyrical or prone to poetic fancies. Colin Meloy proves that he needn’t be contained to singular voices or talents. His Wildwood is rather staid. It is very cleanly written. No waxing, a little waning, and not an awkward sentence anywhere. He transports the reader and translates Portland culture without melodrama, without romanticism (well, maybe some). Yet, it isn’t technical writing either. Comparisons with C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia have more to do with the way the story is told, than even in the passing into another fantastical world with an evil witch, a struggle for power, ecological threats, and children who need to find they are courageous and resourceful. Wildwood feels like a classic story, and one which, coincidentally, should become a classic, especially for those in the North West, and the Hipster crowd.
<possible spoilers hereafter>
There is a lot of praise for Wildwood, and not without merit, but Publisher’s Weekly eloquently touches on something with which I, too, had some difficulty:
“Meloy, the lead singer of the band the Decemberists, delves into middle-grade fiction with a story that pairs classic adventure novel tropes with cool, disaffected prose. The book opens as 12-year-old Prue McKeel loses her baby brother to a murder of crows, and sets off to rescue him from the Impassable Wilderness, a strange country alongside Portland, Ore., (where the actual Forest Park lies). Her classmate Curtis tags along, and the two are soon separated. Prue takes refuge with the postmaster in his delivery van, while Curtis is captured, then suddenly made an officer in an army of talking coyotes led by the beautiful and intimidating Dowager Governess. It becomes apparent that Prue and Curtis have landed on opposite sides in a war — and neither side may be right. Without a good side to cheer for (disappointments and betrayals abound), the story lacks a strong emotional center, and its preoccupations with bureaucracy, protocol, and gray-shaded moral dilemmas, coupled with the book’s length, make this slow going. Ellis’s spot art, not all seen by PW, is characteristically crisp and formal, further lending the story a detached quality. Ages 8 — 12. (Sept.)” Publishers Weekly
I was drawn into the story rather quickly, easily charmed having lived/schooled in and around Portland, Oregon. And Meloy is a whiz with the setting. I could practically taste the damp, hear the bicycle wheels on the pavement. It was when Prue and Curtis become separated and the story is drawn into the political struggles of the Wildwood that I found myself prone to distractions.
“The [Pittock] Mansion has, for years now, been looking for ways to curtail the freedoms of the Avians. It worries me that this may give them even more reason.”
“Why?” asked Prue.
The owl shrugged. “Distrust. Intolerance. Fear. They dislike our ways.”
This was baffling to Prue. The birds she’d met so far in this strange place seemed very kind and accommodating.
[…]
“Gone are the days when the Mansion could be seen as a place of wise counsel and just governance. It is now a den of political opportunists and would-be despots, each grabbing desperately for every possible shard of power.” (180)
The current state of political affairs in the the four regions of the Impassable Wilderness drives most if not all of the plot and Meloy takes his time with it. C.S. Lewis (for me) drags in the same ways–the traveling, the setting, the actions that seems to occur in real time. Meloy doesn’t choose sides until the story forces his hand–many many pages in. In a way, this is brilliant: who doesn’t like the guessing game of whether the Dowager Governess really is scary or whether she is just misunderstood. But the awe inspired in the Reader is in the idea of this other society living and breathing in this impenetrable wilderness right next door. The “cool, disaffected prose” do not produce this sense. So when the idea has settled in, the awe dissipates and you are drawn into a long fable, a typical adventure. We’ve dealt with the White Witch, Edmond, Prince Caspian, and talking animals before. Granted, this isn’t England and there have yet to be an inclusion of mythical creature.
The “preoccupations” lose the chase with which you are drawn into the adventure, where is the baby and what do the crows want with him? What does he to do with everything else going on? I must’ve put the book down too often, but I couldn’t puzzle it out. Then there were the points I didn’t care, my mind caught in the intrigue of something else, like the mystery of why Prue could come through the impenetrable barrier. Nothing was going to unfold fast enough, I realized early on. And it doesn’t.
What Meloy does for the Reader to repent for the slow unfolding is to hold pace and interest by quickly and continually alternating between Prue’s adventures and Curtis’. Neat little segues are provided, little cliff-hangers to keep the Reader eager to return to a story line. This is a very very smart move. The Reader doesn’t have to wait for the next chapter, just a small run of paragraphs. And when Curtis is fairly stationary, Prue is constantly moving, going, seeing.
Prue is the capable heroine. She is independent and has a good moral center. There is less tension expended on her than Curtis who undergoes the greatest amount of change, and who is subject to the most self-deprecating kind of humor. Meloy makes use of Curtis’ abilities and then makes him something more–someone more daring and potential is surely in the offing. Meloy plays with the Reader a bit. It is lovely. Curtis is a wonderful surprise, always.
Other characters find dimension quite well. The most impassioned parts of the read, the most persuased toward a political position, is in meeting and becoming acquainted with the Wildwood bandits, most especially the heroic figure of the Bandit King. The bandits provide the trademark Decemberist Shanty. Meloy captures the dialog; personalities are fitted with a dialect, the most rhythmic infusion into the novel.
I mentioned Narnia, but there are other wonderful stories that come to mind; though nothing so much as to rob Wildwood of being its own on the whole. The clockwork boy (Frankenstein, necromancy) was very sad–too bad that complicated urge for compassion doesn’t hold; I suppose it really coudn’t.  I especially like Meloy’s take on the Rapunzel-story and the moral dilemma there (330+, 380-1). It is very creative and works into the plot beautifully.
Wildwood inspires the Reader, especially the young, to consider the real possibility of real magical places still thriving just beyond the pavement. Wildwood suggests that the magic that fuels fantastical adventure can be still found, in the wild places, in nature. There is a call to preserve the possibility, and to participate in a bit of wildness of your own.
“I saw in Wildwood, this forsaken country, a model for a new world. An opportunity to return to those long-forgotten values that are programmed deep within us, the draw of the wild. I thought if I were able to corral and focus this powerful law of nature, I could bring to the Wood a sort of order out of disorder and govern the land as it was always intended to be governed.” (133)
“You Outsiders,” said another bandit, on who had remained silent during all the invective. ‘You’re always looking for a way to conquer and despoil things that ain’t by rights yours, huh? I heard about what you do. […] I heard you about ruined your own country, nearly ran it into the ground poisoning your rivers and paving over your wild lands and such.” (238)
There is a lot of commentary on protecting the earth and her inhabitants. With regards to the Robin Hood-like bandits, Edward Abbey comes to mind: in that part of protecting our wilderness is to protect our wildness. Wilderness provides a space of refuge for the anarchists or other unpopular political/religious beliefs. With regards to Prue over her younger sibling and the resignation of the parents, I think about how much of our earth and resource we sacrifice for our immediate kin, our immediate needs, to the sacrifice and detriment of our future generations–our near-future generations.
“A satisfying blend of fantasy, adventure story, eco-fable and political satire with broad appeal; especially recommended for preteen boys.” Kirkus Reviews
I agree that the greatest pleasure in the read will likely be found with the male audience. The battle scenes, Curtis’ interests and angsts. Curtis moves from the fantasy of being the strong and brave and capable hero in the face of a beautiful woman, heady drink, bloody battle, and the rescue and protection of the vulnerable, to the becoming of these things. He will no longer be seen as the coddled boy with comic book themed bed-sheets, the sibling of only sisters, awkward and gawky, and will disappear into the wild and into the wildness therein.
Colin Meloy evidences ambition in this thoroughly written fantasy adventure. For lover’s of Portland, Wildwood is marvelously steeped in the region’s cultural concerns and responses. It is exciting when the rare North Western piece of literature is taken up by those outside. When the Easterners, or even Midwesterners, enter Wildwood they begin to see and taste Portland (and her greater environs), but when they enter the “Impassable Wood,” they become privy to so much more. Perhaps the absence of lyricism and waxing heat is so as to not mistake Wildwood and its environs and concerns as an impenetrable Fantasy, but as a probable and possible place.
*******************
a note : on Carson Ellis’ contributions to Wildwood. She has a recognizable style and voice of her own, fans of her work will be glad to see so many illustrations, especially the number of color plates in the novel. Both the b/w illustrations and the color plates (inserted full pages) illustrate moments in the story, images Meloy competently breathes life into with text, so the enhancement via their presence is other.
"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend · wondermous

{book} fox street

7883148What Happened on Fox Street by Tricia Springstubb

Illustrations (cover/map) by Heather Ross

Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins), 2010.

218 pages, hardcover.

Saw many a great review*, so requested it from the Library.

“Springstubb centers her story around Fox Street, a dead-end road where a cast of diverse, blue-collar characters eke out existences. To Mo Wren — an analytical, practical girl who lives with her overworked father and younger sister, Dottie, ‘the Wild Child’ — Fox Street has just about everything, except the one thing Mo longs to find: foxes. Springstubb gently and wistfully describes a summer of tough changes for Mo: her best friend, Mercedes, announces she’s not coming back (she has always spent summers on Fox Street with her grandmother), just as Mo’s father threatens to relocate her own family. There is a lovely poetry to Springstubb’s writing (‘Just ahead lay a majestic, fallen tree, its bark thick and protective as the shingles on a house’), and her characters create the kind of interesting neighborhood most kids wish they had: Mrs. Steinbott, the ‘mean, spooky’ neighbor, whose ‘life was solitary as the unplanet Pluto’; Mercedes’s sensible grandmother; and the mischievous Baggott boys, who are named after zodiac signs. Mo’s journey isn’t particularly action packed, but in a singsong, lazy-summer-afternoon kind of way it’s quite refreshing. Ages 8 — 12. (Aug.)” Publisher’s Weekly

Publisher’s Weekly reviews Tricia Springstubb’s What Happened on Fox Street so very nicely. What more could I add? This novel is yet another middle-grade fiction of 2010 that deals with the loss of a parent. Mo’s mother didn’t die of cancer last year, but her absence is still strongly felt. Mo can’t keep up with her sister (whose half her age) and is tired of trying, wishing her father were more available. Mercedes’ mother married after having raised her alone for years, so the best friend is dealing with the change in lifestyle, as well as another dramatic turn from Fox Street history. And what about her grandmother’s declining health? “Mo’s journey isn’t particularly action packed,” but there is a lot going on. The charm is that it doesn’t feel too weighty. If the reader chooses to identify and delve, they could. Otherwise, the reader will be moved and entertained by the glimpse of that summer of Fox Street.

Mo finds a great deal of her identity in Fox Street, a move would signify a significant change. But as we know and Mo finds slammed home, some changes are out of our hands; and some are. Mercedes is also working through her own signifiers, having changed from eking to wealth, single-parent to two, etc. The relationships in What Happened on Fox Street look to questions of how do we bind ourselves to each other, weather out the changes. What Happened on Fox Street is a lovely story about finding ourselves, each other, and community. It is about change, both the usual and unusual sort. The fox comes to represent hope, that magic and miracle can still happen. That that which came before still exists. That Mo isn’t alone in the increasing uncertainty that surrounds her. She needs proof that what she knows to be true is.

The story comes to a head as a rainstorm breaks upon the drought-ridden landscape. And then the sun comes out, though not into an easy conclusion. What Happened on Fox Street remains marvelously consistent throughout. While the book is hardly fluff, it doesn’t slug through one drama into the next, it keeps a fairly even keel. much is due to how Springstubb invites realist portraiture with a charming affect. Her original set of characters create an interest that invests the reader in the outcome, daily and overarching. They are flawed and quirky and believable. As I read What Happened on Fox Street, I thought of Susan Patron’s Lucky, Lauren Child’s Clarice Bean, and Kate DiCamillo’s Opal (Because of Winn Dixie); which is excellent company indeed. They share similar sensibilities and characters with whom you want to spend more time.  I heard a rumor that there will be a sequel? I certainly hope so.

Tricia Sptringstubb is a storyteller I look forward to hearing more from. The writing is superb. You see none of the sweat, only the shine; the kind of effort that would easily go unnoticed if the book didn’t stand out so much from its peers.

I highly recommend this read. Girls and boys alike.

********************

* two such reviews: Welcome to my Tweendom’s review . Shelf Elf’s review .

Author website