The Truth About Stacey? You can’t HANDLE The Truth About Stacey!

Title: The Truth About Stacey
Author: Ann M. Martin
Illustrator: Raina Telgemeier
Published: Scholastic (Graphix), 2015

 

You guys might’ve heard that I’m a wee bit of a BSC fan (BSC, yeah you know me). Karl heard that too and ended up getting me the first four graphic novelizations of the original series. Initially, I was apprehensive. Would the graphic novels live up to my memories? Would having the girls right there in front of me, in living colour, take away from my the pictures of them that live(d) in my mind?

The answers are: yes to the first question and no to the second! The books are fantastic. I love them. Here’s why:

    1. Raina Telgemeier is a genius. I said to Karl the other day that she’s the Kate DiCamillo of graphic novels. After remembering who Kate DiCamillo was, he readily agreed. I just finished reading Ghosts (written and illustrated by the talented Raina) and I LOVED it. Anything this artist/writer touches turns to gold. I already have (and adore) Smile and Sisters. And Drama is on its way, thanks to a Chapters gift card! I’m a Raina fan, is what I’m saying. Her art style is just PERFECT for the BSC. I love all the character designs, but I especially enjoyed Claudia. I love the purple hair. It’s just something she totally would’ve done. The girls look the way you’d imagine them (although, TBH, Claudia’s room is far less messy than I envisioned, and her clothes are waaaay tamer than I figured they’d be).
    2. The BSC series has some terrific books (looking at you, Kristy’s Big Day) and some real duds (looking at you, Claudia and The Phantom Phone Calls – book two in the original series, but not at all used in the graphic novels. Why not? Well, because now everyone has call display. So…you know…if the phantom phone caller phoned, Claudia could just check the number, block it and…er…story over. Things were potentially scarier in the eighties, kids.) The first four books they made into graphic novels are really solid. That’s why Claudia and Mean Janine is in there, although it was book 7 in the original series. It’s a really good book with a lot of drama and an interesting, emotionally charged story. And although I didn’t do a side-by-side comparison (yet), I found the graphic novel versions lacked any of the draggy bits that the originals tend to have. And also? No long chapter two intro to the club members in EVERY SINGLE BOOK. OMG, we know MaryAnne is the shy one with the boyfriend! Kristy is mouthy and short! Stacey has diabetes and is from New York! Claudia can’t spell for beans and wears clothes she found on an abandoned scarecrow! Dawn loves the environment and would totes marry it if she could! Jessi is a ballet star and reads horse books! So does Mallory (who has braces and glasses and her life is SOOO hard)! Gotcha, loud and clear!
    3. Vivi adores the books. Anything that my six-year-old enjoys and reads on her own makes me happy. She is reading a couple of grade levels ahead, so finding books that appeal to her, are age-appropriate but not boring, and that she can read independently is a bit of a challenge. These fit the bill perfectly. She devoured Kristy’s Great Idea in literally two hours. I thought she might’ve skimmed it/skipped bits of it, but after a thorough grilling to make sure she understood what she had read, I had to admit: her comprehension was 100%. She read the whole thing. And she has re-read them. Vivi is also presently into Phoebe and her Unicorn, but those are a bit over her head, joke-wise. She gets about 70% of the book, but enough of it is above her that we end up answering a lot of questions.

 

Anyway, this post is supposed to be all about Stacey. So, the review: The Truth About Stacey is terrific. It’s enjoyable. It’s…well…let’s hear from Vivi:

“It’s one of my favourite BSC books. I just love the art and the story is really good. My favourite part is when Stacey and Laine meet up and eventually become friends again. It’s just so sweet. By the way, the truth about Stacey is that she has diabetes. Diabetes is when you can’t eat too much sugar or you’ll get sick. Stacey doesn’t always handle it well, but she learns to deal with it more by the end of the book.”

Vivi: A+
Mama: A+

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole

 

Title: Sam and Dave Dig a Hole
Author: Mac Barnett
Illustrator: Jon Klassen
Published: Candlewick Press, 2014

 

We’ve talked here before about books that certain members of the family like and certain other family members…don’t feel as strongly about. Today’s book falls into that category: it’s OK, and I don’t DISLIKE it, but it’s not SUPER (although it IS super creepy…stay tuned for more).

Lily disagrees and really enjoys the story.

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole is written by the talented Mac Barnett and illustrated by the always awesome Jon Klassen. Lily immediately recognized the art style and said, “Hey! That’s the guy who did the I Want My Hat Back book!” She was enthused to read the book, especially when I reminded her that this dynamic duo penned/illustrated Triangle and Square, two books she adored this summer (as part of our ‘let’s borrow all the books from the library and see if they notice’ project).

So we read the story. It can be summarized thusly: 2 brothers (Sam and Dave) decide to dig a big hole in search of something spectacular.  Unbeknown to them, every time they dig in a new direction, they miss discovering a large jewel. They then fall asleep (due to exhaustion and lack of snacks) and their dog (who seems to be quite wise) digs a bit further. Sam and Dave fall through it and end up outside their grandfather’s house. They go in for a snack. A simple, kinda meh ending, right?

WRONG.

The house at the end (where they fall through and end up) is NOT the same as the house they started at. Want proof?

Prepare to have your mind BLOWN:


Oh, look! A nice apple tree. Grandpa must grow apples! How sweet.

 


Oh, look! A nice pear tree. Wait, Grandpa doesn’t grow pears! That’s not Mr. Whiskers! Where the hell are we, Sam?!

(Also: sorry my camera is potato-quality.)

So now I’m kinda freaked out. Where did you end up, Sam and Dave?! Will Grandpa have button eyes? Are you in the upside-down? WHERE ARE YOU?!

Ahem.

What works:

1. The illustrations are, of course, fantastic. The subtle glances the dog gives, both trying to point out the jewels and trying to point out that they ARE NOT IN THE SAME PLACE THEY STARTED are good…and creepy. Every page is lovely. Jon Klassen is a master. Although Dan Santat is my #1 art homie, Jon Klassen is top five.

2. The freaky ending. I did NOT see that coming. In fact, truth be told, I’ve owned this book for a while now and hadn’t noticed it until tonight. And now I’m so creeped out.

What isn’t my favourite:
1. The super-simple story. Lily thought it was hilarious that the boys kept missing the jewels – and this seemed to be a common kid-reaction on Goodreads (I like to see what the general populous thinks of a book before I weigh in). I found it kind of frustrating. What does that say about our personalities? Type-A, Type-B? Fun/no-fun (I’m the no-fun, naturally)? Without the super-freaky ending (which is subtle), the story just feels really basic. Kind of meh overall. When you realize that it’s actually Black Mirror-esque, it gets much stranger. I wonder how many people actually did as I did, and simply missed the subtle details because they were too busy reading the book to a kid, who like the simplicity of the story.

LIly wanted me to add that she also really liked the cat character. Because, well, it’s a cat.*

So the book is interesting. Simple, but interesting right at the end. Chilling, even. Downright freaky, if you will.

I’m sleeping with the lights on tonight.

Lily: Let’s read it again!
Mama: The apples are pears! The apples are pears!

*The cat at the end is not the cat at the beginning. The dog knew everything. Always trust the wise-looking dog.

 

 

Ode to the BSC

I’m not sure I’ve ever mentioned it here, but I’m a die-hard, #1 Babysitters Club fan. Like, for real, forever.  (Team Claudia, in case you’re wondering.) I read all the books up to number 60-something when I was a kid/past the time I should’ve been reading them. (In all fairness, I was reading a lot of complicated, interesting, age-appropriate stuff too. But the BSC habit dies hard.) Then, as I’ve become a full-fledged mama, I’ve downloaded and read a whole bunch more later in the series because…uh…when my girls get old enough…I’ll be able to tell them about the characters and…something, something.

Nah, I’m still a fan.

(Side note: do you know what happened to Mallory? Her story line got a bit weird later on! She ended up participating in this ‘students-teach-students’ kind of program at Stoneybrook Middle School – what school does this?- and, in true Mallory fashion, messed it up. Her cruel-but-kinda-accurate name was Spaz-Girl! She got hella depressed about school and decided to apply at a boarding school. And she was accepted there on a scholarship. Which is good, because she has eighty-billion siblings and I can’t see Mr. & Mrs. Pike being OK with forking over a crap-ton of money for ol’ Mal’s education. Anyway, then she went off to boarding school, never to be heard from again, except on one of the seventy-four summer vacations the BSC enjoyed over their two-year friendship).

Anyway, here’s what I love about the BSC:

  1. The outfits. These are SO quintessentially eighties-early-nineties that it HURTS. Claudia dressed like it was Halloween every damn day, and no matter what kind of crazy nonsense she wore, it “would’ve looked insane on anyone else, but on Claudia the outfit just worked.” Did it, Ann M? Did it REALLY?
  2. The timelines. OK, so you went to California, Hawaii, New York, summer camp, a trip across the USA, multiple Sea City visits and a few more New York and California trips just for kicks in TWO years? Dude, when did you go to school? There are SO many summer/spring/winter vacations over the course of the series. I think they literally just gave up when it came to making any sense of what happened when.
  3. The wacky-near-impossible stories (especially the mysteries) intermixed with the super-boring, nothing really happens books.
  4. The misunderstandings that could’ve been SO EASILY RESOLVED by talking to an adult (I’m looking at you, Claudia and the Great Search. If you thought you were adopted, C-Kish, why didn’t you ask your parents?)
  5. The candy. The hiding of candy around Claudia’s room. Candy in general.
  6. The fact that almost everyone’s dad was named John. It’s kind of weird, but true! Other than Watson, I think most of the dads were John.
  7. The ghostwriters and their fairly obvious styles. They all TRIED to sound like the OG, Ann M. Martin, but their voices were quite distinct. No matter, I would’ve read the BSC written by Stephen King as long as it had a Claudia outfit description in it.

So I love the BSC. It’s in my blood, it’s in my past, it’s in my present, on my Kindle and, since Christmas, the graphic novels (illustrated by the ridiculously talented Raina Telgemeier) are on my shelf. Vivi has absconded with book 1 (Kristy’s Great Idea), but I’ve hidden The Truth About Stacey in my office for later reading.

I will read it and report back. All in the name of helping you, of course. Not because I love it dearly and am so happy to see Vivi as obsessed as I was.

Not at all. All for you.

Santa Bruce

 

Title: Santa Bruce
Author/Illustrator: Ryan T. Higgins
Published: Hyperion, 2018

 

Guys, how is it that Christmas is 13 days away? Less than TWO WEEKS! We’re finally TOTALLY ready. (I thought I was ready, then I remembered other people that I was going to see before the holiday…and we had to get a few gift cards for Vivi’s awesome teachers and…long story short, we were NOT done. But we are now!)

Anyway, we’ve been continuing our ‘let’s read about Christmas!’ tradition with this fantastic book: Santa Bruce! I told you I was going to hunt out all the other Bruce books, and I wasn’t kidding. I really like this one. Bruce’s surliness, his disdain for everyone and everything, the mice trying to persuade him to be Santa…it’s all good!

Here’s the story, in a nutshell:

Bruce normally skips Christmas by hibernating, but this year his family members (the mice and geese) want him to stay up. So he does. He is not exactly into the Christmas spirit, and he finds the weather nippy. So he wears long underwear and a hat (both red) and is immediately mistaken for the big man himself: Santa. With this case of mistaken identity comes a slew of forest animals and their holiday wishes. And then the forest animals’ parents, thanking Bruce for playing the role of St. Nick.

When everyone leaves his cave, Bruce decides to head to bed…but the mice step in and convince him to be Santa. He delivers gifts (wrapped boxes of crackers, actually) to all the forest critters. They all have an excellent Christmas and then celebrate with a big feast (that Bruce is forced to attend and generally doesn’t enjoy).

I know Bruce is surly. I know Christmas is all about being jolly. But dang it, I like the cut of his jib.

My kiddos know that Santa isn’t real. That is, that Santa is a concept and anyone can be Santa. Vivi kinda figured it out when she was two. I was wrapping gifts and planning a whole surprise for a friend who was having a tough year. Out of the blue, she turned to me and said, “Mama, you Santa?” and I decided, in that split second, to ruin childhood for my kid.

Kidding! I decided to explain that Santa is an idea and a spirit and anyone (anyone!) can be ‘him.’ And that yes, I was one of the many Santas she’d meet in her life. I know people who are die-hard pushers of “you must believe in Santa, dammit!” but it just didn’t feel right to me. I didn’t want to have to eventually admit to lying to my child, even if it was just about Santa. I also wanted her to understand that it was in her power to make other people’s lives better/happier/more comfortable. It wasn’t up to a random stranger to pop down a chimney one time a year and bring gifts – it was up to her to pick up the baton and get out there and help, darn it.

Ahem.

Anyway, it’s worked out rather well. Since she was two, we’ve really encouraged the giving part of Christmas. Give to the food bank. Give to homeless people. Give to kids who are sick in the hospital. Give of your time, your talent, your money – whatever it is, just give. And the happiness my girls have felt because of that…well, it’s pretty close to magic.

Mama’s review: 5 surly bears/5
Vivi’s review: “Bruce is so grumpy! I kind of love him.”
Lily’s review: “I can’t believe he gave them all crackers.”

Bear Stays Up For Christmas

 

Title: Bear Stays Up For Christmas
Author: Karma Wilson
Illustrator: Jane Chapman
Published: Scholastic, 2004

It’s official: I can start playing carols on the radio all day long! I can leave the Christmas tree lights on from dawn till dusk! I can force my family to join me in a carol sing. A pioneer carol sing, no less! Yes, it’s finally December and I am no longer considered crazy for my love of Christmas. Hooray!

To get the girls into the spirit of the season, I’ve been reading a bunch of really great picture books. Today’s is Bear Stays Up For Christmas and it’s adorable.

Bear has starred in other books as well, but this is definitely my favourite one. The basic premise is that Bear (sometimes called “the bear” and sometimes simply “Bear”) never stays up for Christmas. He’s always busy hibernating…until this year! His friends are bound and determined to keep him up and show him what Christmas is all about. So, despite his exhaustion, Bear sticks it out for his friends. They get a tree and decorate it. They have tasty foods. They sing carols. And then, after all his friends have dozed off, Bear makes some gifts of his own (and Santa shows up, unbeknownst to Bear).

The book is all in rhyme, which you know I love, and the art is simply fantastic.

The message is very sweet: it’s worth making sacrifices/staying up (when you should be hibernating) just to be with your friends. And Bear’s friends clearly adore him and just want to have him around for the big day. It’s all about love, friendship, and the real meaning of Christmas: being together with the people we love.

Mama’s review: 5/5 Christmas trees
Vivi’s review: “I really like the rabbit!”
Lily’s review:  “This book is great!”

Hotel Bruce

 

Title: Hotel Bruce
Author/Illustrator: Ryan T. Higgins
Published: Scholastic, 2016

 

There’s something you should know about me: I’m a sucker for bear stories. I love them to an absurd degree. I’m also a sucker for grumpy animal stories. So when I found Bruce Hotel, a story about a grumpy bear, I was immediately enamored. And THEN I did a bit of research and found out that there are several more Bruce books…

Which are presently wrapped up under our Christmas tree. (Yes, I know it’s still November…but it’s ALMOST December, which means it’s high time for several Christmas trees!)

The girls loved Bruce Hotel. And why not? It’s hilarious! A quick recap? Don’t mind if I do!

The story starts with Bruce reluctantly accompanying his ‘kids’ (four Canada geese) south for the winter. The problem is, when they return they find that three mice have taken over their house and are now running a hotel! Bruce is not the type of bear to stand for a rodent invasion, so he boots the mice…but there are other animals to contend with.

Many other animals.

Suffice it to say, hilarity ensues and Bruce ends up finally losing his cool (he IS a bear, after all). He gets rid of ALL of his unwanted guests…only to have his four geese convince him to take the mice back in.

So he does. Oh, Bruce. You do have a sweet heart after all!

We purchased this at the school book fair on Friday…and we have read it about ten times since then. One thing I immediately realized is that the mice in Bruce Hotel are the same mice from Be Quiet! (Another really funny book.)

Our reviews? Here goes:

Jess: 9/10 bears
Vivi: “This book is hilarious!”
Lily: “I like the mice!”

Thelma the Unicorn

 

Title: Thelma the Unicorn
Author/Illustrator: Aaron Blabey
Published: Scholastic, 2015

 

Many times, I buy books based on their reviews.

Occasionally, I hit up Chapters and take a look around the children’s section. Then something inevitably catches my eye and I *must* have it.

And then sometimes…just SOMETIMES…I end up buying a book for a silly reason. A frivolous reason. A reason that might include “it’s about a unicorn” and “the unicorn is pink” plus “the title is SPARKLY.”

I bought Thelma the Unicorn for the third reason. Obviously. Well, that and one other thing.

A few years ago, I wrote a book called Phoebe the Unicorn. I really loved it and so did an editor at a local publishing house. The issue we ran into was the art: she couldn’t figure out how to make it work. I was *kinda* heartbroken because it was as close as I’ve ever been to having a REAL publisher publish something I’ve written. So when I saw Thelma the Unicorn I felt I should support an author (and illustrator) who was able to get their unicorn to market. Makes sense, non?

Non?

Well, anyway, Thelma is a superstar.

But what’s the story actually about? Let me break it down in five easy-to-digest points:

  1. Thelma is BFFs with a donkey named Otis, but she’s getting kind of tired of her life – she wants to be more fabulous than a regular pony. She wants to be a unicorn (Otis, for the record, thinks she’s great as she is).
  2. Thelma finds a carrot and straps it on her head like a unicorn horn. She then gets sprayed by pink paint and glitter in a freak pink-paint-and-glitter-carrying-truck accident.
  3. Thelma becomes famous! Fabulous! She is the unicorn she always dreamed she’d be.
  4. Unfortunately, with great fame comes great stress. Her fans are kind of crazy and Thelma realizes that some of them are actually jerks. She isn’t happy being super-popular and really misses Otis. She decides to change from unicorn back to pony.
  5. Thelma returns home and is super-happy to see her BFF. Her life is pretty great after all.

I like many things about this book, including:

1. The art – it’s super-cute and I love, love, love the design of Thelma. The sparkly text on the front cover is fabulous.

2. The rhyming – I’m a sucker for a rhyming book, it’s true. This one is pretty solid. There’s only one page that makes me sort of cringe…it’s this part: “And some were not her fans at all. No some were really mean. And some did just the meanest things she’d really ever seen.” I have issues with the whole “really ever seen” thing. It feels forced and a bit awkward. It reminds me of Giraffes Can’t Dance – I have a similar issue with part of that book.

3. The moral of the story. I read this to Vivi and asked her “So what did you think?” And she said (and this is a direct quote): “I think the take-home message has to be to just be true to yourself. You can’t be happy if you’re being someone else. You have to be comfortable with who you are.” Boom! Any picture book that nails that message home to my five (almost six) year old is a total winner

If you’re looking for a book that appears to be all about being sparkly and pink but is really about something much, much deeper, pick up Thelma. You’re gonna love her.

Mama’s review: 4/5 sparkly horns
Vivi’s review: “Total A+”