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How to Train Your Dad–the art of dumpster diving
How to Train Your Dad
by Gary Paulsen
Carl is the twelve year old narrator of this middle grade book which has a very conversational style. The vocabulary is somewhat advanced for a twelve year old, but that is because Pooder, Carl’s best friend who helps him write the story, goes through phases of interest (British, Navy seal, etc.). His various fascinations show up in his speech. Pooder admires Carl’s dad who, besides a few odd jobs, lives by bartering. Carl’s dad is very intelligent, mechanically inclined, and very kind. He trades energy (labor) for goods. He considers himself rich as he recycles from dumpsters or his neighbor Oscar’s junk piles. He built a whole truck from discarded spare parts. He prizes function over form; so if an invention works, it doesn’t matter how it looks.
His dad’s philosophy has been fine with Carl until he reaches middle grades and suddenly becomes aware of Peg as “the” girl. His summer goal is to become “lookatable” by the time school starts which is hard to do when your dad barters for XL camo T-shirts and pink bib overalls decorated with words like “juicy.”
The book explores Carl’s efforts to train his father using the methods in a puppy training pamphlet. His efforts are hilarious as are the contraptions his father builds and the objects he brings home. A lot of the dumpster diving food goes to the pigs and chickens. Carl and his dad have a rescue pit bull Carol who is an integral part of their family and, despite her stinky habit of shredding skunks, is allowed to accompany them everywhere.
How to Train Your Dad is a fun story that tweenagers will enjoy. Its casual style and over the top anecdotes are sure to appeal.
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Category: Children’s Fiction, Middle Grades
Notes: Contains a very small amount of cussing
Intended ages: 10-14
Publication: October 5, 2021—Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group
She’s in my grade at school and everyone likes her and I have never ever ever seen her be catty or crabby or phony to anyone ever which is something like a miracle in middle school, if you ask me.
Sometimes Pooder jumping from phase to phase without warning can be a little confusing. He might start things off an English lord before suddenly becoming an advertising mogul looking to make some coin and then turn into a Viking biting deep on a tomato-apple so the juice runs down into his beard-if-he-had-one while he’s thinking of pillaging a coast somewhere.
My father loved to barter. To trade, as he thought of it, energies, abilities, knowledge. Trade everything he could so as not to use money. “I have a widget,” he explained to me when I was very small, “and John Doe has an extra electric frying pan he doesn’t need, but he needs a widget and so we trade. We barter. Simple and clean. It’s the very best and purest way to do business.”
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe–a classic
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
by C.S. Lewis
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is the book most people think of when there is mention of C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. It is, in fact, the first book he wrote in this popular series, although later he wrote a prequel. I had read the fantasy many years ago. Reading it again was an absolute delight. The erudite medieval literature professor (at Oxford and later at Cambridge) and Christian theologian was a premier storyteller. He engages the reader regardless of age, in the plot, characters, and setting from the first page where he explains that air-raids during the war send four children out of London to live with an old Professor. While playing hide-and-seek, the youngest discovers a magical world accessed through a wardrobe.
From there proceeds an enjoyable story centered around the forces of good and evil. The White Witch is the epitome of evil—beautiful, but cold and cruel. She is a mistress of trickery ensnaring Edmund, the next to the youngest, in a web of deceit, captivating him with delicious Turkish Delight. Aslan is a lion, and he stands for good, rescuing those turned into statues by the White Witch and sacrificing himself.
Part of the beauty of this masterpiece is that it can be read on several levels. C.S. Lewis says in his dedication of the book that “some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” That is where I found myself during this reading, but I also read it for its theological underpinnings. Whatever your purpose in reading, you will find The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe both entertaining and fulfilling.
Category: Fantasy, Christian
Notes: I read the 50th anniversary edition of the book. The backline illustrations were by Pauline Baynes who was the first illustrator for The Chronicles of Narnia, and the cover art was by Chris Van Allsburg.
Publication: 1950—Harper Collins
“And she has made a magic so that it is always winter in Narnia—always winter, but it never gets to Christmas.”
“…if, I say, she had got into another world, I should not be at all surprised to find that the other world had a separate time of its own; so that however long you stayed there it would never take up any of our time.”
I hope no one who reads this book has been quite as miserable as Susan and Lucy were that night; but if you have been—if you’ve been up all night and cried till you have no more tears left in you—you will know that there comes in the end a sort of quietness. You feel as if nothing was ever going to happen again.
No Vacancy–struggle with religious identity
by Tziporah Cohen
Life is not always easy as Miriam, an eleven year old, discovers. As her family faces financial distress, she is uprooted and transplanted to a motel in upstate New York. She leaves behind her close friends and spends her summer days helping her family revive the failing motel. Success for the motel would also mean better times for the Whitleys, a generous and kindly couple next door whose granddaughter Kate becomes Miriam’s best friend. When Miriam’s Uncle Mordy suggests it might take a miracle to keep the businesses afloat, Kate and Miriam decide to provide one!
As she is dealing with challenges at the motel, Miriam is trying to understand what it means to be Jewish and why she is different from others in her new community. She also wrestles with a fear of swimming.
Tziporah Cohen’s No Vacancy is a gentle, but thoughtful look at religion, ethics, and community. This work of fiction is aimed at middle schoolers, but I enjoyed reading it. I like Miriam and find that her interactions with other characters as she struggles with being open about being a Jew and about her aquaphobia gives the book more depth. Uncle Mordy shares differences that exist among Jews in practicing their faith. The Catholic priest acts as a counselor without being intrusive or preachy. The interactions between Miriam and Kate demonstrate that differences in faith don’t preclude a happy and healthy friendship.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Groundwood Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Children’s Fiction, Middle Grades
Notes: As an adult, I enjoyed this book, so just use this information as the publisher’s intended audience:
Publication: August 4, 2020—Groundwood Books
Miriam starts to ask herself some prickly questions. Is a lie always a bad thing, even if what comes out of it is good? Does our faith make us so different from one another? And when bad things happen, do we really all have a shared responsibility for the hate in the world?
“It’s not that we can’t get along. We just believe in different things. And while I can be friends with someone who believes in different things than I do, it’s a lot harder to be married to, and raise a family with, someone who is different in these big ways. Not everyone feels that way, and that’s okay. but I do.”
“When someone is different from us,” he says, “sometimes we jump to conclusions instead of taking the time to understand.”
The Library of Ever–unforgettable library adventures
The Library of Ever
by Zeno Alexander
Lenora is a rich, privileged, eleven year old, cared for by a nanny in the absence of her vacationing, neglectful parents. With a nanny absorbed by shopping and tech devices, Lenora is understandably bored, but that changes quickly when she escapes the nanny’s unwatchful eye in the LIBRARY. To her delight, she is hired to work there. What follows is a series of magical librarian adventures. With each one of them, Lenora proves her worth and advances from Fourth Assistant Apprentice Librarian up through the ranks.
The adventures are fun and scary in this amazing library created by Zeno Alexander in The Library of Ever. Lenora is set on tasks by Malachi, the Chief Answerer, and she bravely confronts the Forces of Darkness who want to destroy Light in the world by destroying knowledge. The scary features are appropriate to Middle Grade readers with transporting by tubes, shrinking and unshrinking, dark caverns, holes that suddenly appear, evil men in bowler hats who can chill a room, and robots with spinning swords for arms. There are lighter moments too. Lenora becomes a cat in a diorama to rescue a lost kitten. Lenora is ever helpful, for as a librarian that is her job. Her good deeds include resettling a colony of penguins and helping a kindly robot find a lost memory. The plot moves quickly from adventure to adventure and is an appropriate length for Middle Grade readers. As an adult reader I enjoyed it too, smiling over antics and anticipating each new adventure along with each promotion for Apprentice Librarian Lenora who has always enjoyed the adventures to be found in books.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Children’s Fiction, Middle Grades
Notes: Ages: 8-11
Publication: April 30, 2019—Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group
Malachi burst onto the scene looking rather disheveled, meaning a wisp of hair had escaped from her bun and her badge was ever so slightly askew.
“This isn’t the Complaints Desk,” said Lenora shortly. “The Complaints Desk is down the stairs, across the hall, over the bridge, past the waterfall, then you take the fifth left after the third right and straight on ’til morning.” Lenora had no idea if there was a Complaints Desk. “You’ll also need ice skates.”
Remember, Lenora, you are not alone in this fight, even if it will feel like that sometimes. You have allies, and you can rely on them to help you with the battles you are not yet ready to fight.