Franny and Zooey

17 08 2012

If you Google J.D. Salinger right now, I bet you come up with two major things before you see anything about Franny and Zooey.  First, you’ll get tons of information about The Catcher in the Rye, his classic novel that is read by pretty much every single high school student in America AND the fact that he was a little bit kooky as far as public figures go.

The Catcher in the Rye has become THE book for teen readers.  Holden Caulfield, the protagonist in the story, is the perfect picture of a disaffected, angry-at-the-world, dropping out of society teenager.  When the story was written in 1951, teens all over the world could relate to Holden and his problems.  In 1989, when I first read the book, teens all over the world could relate to Holden and his problems.  In 2012, teens all over the world can relate to Holden and his problems.  Salinger’s book is brilliant, but that might just be part of the problem – he could never top it.

That book became so popular, so famous, and so well-respected, that Salinger couldn’t write anything else without it being compared to his first novel.  So, in 1965, Salinger walked away. He never published anything ever again.  People think he kept writing, well, they hope he kept writing for the next 45 years, but we don’t know, because he didn’t talk to anyone either.  After 1980, Salinger didn’t give any more interviews, refused to talk to the press, and lived a very private life until he died in 2010.

One of the few works that Salinger published between Catcher and his retirement was Franny and Zooey.  Franny is a short story about Franny Glass, a 20 year old college student who seems to have a nervous breakdown from dealing with the social pressures of college life.  In a lot of ways, Franny is a female (slightly older) version of Saliger’s most popular character, Holden Caulfield.  Zooey is a short novel, packaged in the same book, about Zachary “Zooey” Glass, Franny’s older brother.  Zooey is a 25 year old actor, and his story is mainly about his reaction to and conversations with his little sister during her breakdown.  Zooey also resembles Holden in a lot of ways.

Franny and Zooey, along with quite a few of Salingers short novels and stories, follows the Glass family – a fictional family that allowed Salinger to explore family dynamics from many different angles.  It’s a character driven book without much plot, but paints and amazing picture of two young people that college and post-college aged kids in 1961 could relate to, just as today’s 20somethings can find a little of themselves in both Franny and Zooey.

Franny and Zooey was the 74th book I read this summer as I try to read 90 books in 90 days.  

Rhyming Dust Bunnies

17 08 2012

I’ve seen children’s picture books where the main characters are just about any animal you can imagine – birds, fish, dogs, cats, mice, hippos, elephants, bears…  I’ve seen the less cute, less popular animals star in their own books – manatees, jellyfish, yaks… I’ve seen inanimate objects as the protagonist in a kids book – toasters, cars, candles, tea cups, a tug boat, and countless choochoo trains.

However, never in a million years did would I have ever thought that the protagonists in a kid book would be a group of dust bunnies.  Yet, it works.  In Rhyming Dust Bunnies by Jan Thomas, the four main characters are little blobs of dust, dirt, and debris that you’d sweep out from under your couch, with bunny ears and a fondness for rhyming.  Ned, Ted, Ed, and Bob love to rhyme.  Alright, Bob doesn’t play along with the others.

Every time Ed, Ned, and Ted try to teach kids a new rhyme, Bob shouts out some nonsense that doesn’t rhyme, doesn’t fit in the lesson, and appears to come out of nowhere.  It’s not out of nowhere.  Bob’s trying to warn his pals that the natural enemy of the dust bunny, the vacuum cleaner, is out on the prowl.

This is a funny, clever little book that my kids really enjoyed.  I’ll definitely be looking for more Jan Thomas books on our next library visit.

I’m on a mission.  I’m trying to finish 90 books in the 90 days over summer break.  Rhyming Dust Bunnies was #73.  

The Big Fat Cow That Goes Kapow!

12 08 2012

Apparently there’s an award called the Monarch Award.  Who knew?

Named after the butterfly to symbolize the growth, change, and freedom that becoming a reader brings to kids, the Monarch is an annual award given to kindergarten through third grade level books.  As a sixth grade teacher, I was well aware of the Rebecca Caudill Award, but the Monarch and the Bluestem (named after some type of grass and given to 3rd through 5th grade books) were new to me when I stumbled across a really cool section of the library in my new town.

I decided to read a few of the Bluestem list, because some of my students read at a slightly lower level and might enjoy them.  I also grabbed a few of the Monarch Award nominees, because they caught my eye and I thought they’d be fun to read with my 1st grade son.

I was right.

Rather, the Monarch folks were right.  They pick some good books.

The first one I read, along with Andy, was The Big Fat Cow That Goes Kapow!, which is a collection of ten illustrated poem stories that remind me a lot of Dr. Seuss, but only if Dr. Seuss was Australian, had a fetish for exploding bovines, and seemed to have been kicked in the head by a manatee (and yes, I’m aware that manatees don’t have legs and are unlikely to kick someone).

That’s a good review in case you were wondering.  Author Andy Griffiths and illustrator Tony Denton seem to be my kind of crazy, because every part of this book perfectly matched my ridiculous sense of humor.

I thoroughly enjoyed all ten of the poems, especially “Big Fat Cows,” “Somewhere Less Spikey,” and “Lumpy-Head Fred,” and will definitely be recommending this one to any kid that thinks they don’t like poetry because it’s all about smooshy-mushy things like love and flowers and cartoon hearts.

Sometimes poetry can also be about a cow that just happens to be exploding.

Poetry is fun like that.

The Big Fat Cow That Goes Kapow! was the 72nd book I read this summer during my quest to finish 90 books in 90 days.  

Love That Dog

12 08 2012

I love this book.

It’s brilliant.

Jack is a reluctant…





In Miss Stretchberry he has a






According to Jack, boys don’t write poetry.

Jack does.

He doesn’t realize it at first.

He grows to



and love poetry

Sharon Creech has written a beautiful book about opening your mind.  Her young protagonist doesn’t want to participate in the class poetry assignments, but a great teacher (who never actually appears in the story) coaxes and coaches him into spilling his feelings out on the page.  Along the way she introduces him to some great poetry by William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost, William Blake, and, most importantly, Walter Dean Myers.  The story you read is made up of Jack’s poems.

Jack finds his muse.  And himself.

A brilliant, brilliant, brilliant book.

In my quest to read 90 books in 90 days this summer, Love That Dog was #70.

Babymouse and Squish

12 08 2012

Babymouse never fails to amuse me.  She’s a perfect cartoon character – based in reality, but with the right quirks to make her lovable.   Her imagination, and the world’s she creates in her mind, puts her in the same category of two of my favorite comic/graphic novel characters of all time: Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes and Amelia from Amelia Rules.  Squish, the only cartoon amoeba that I know of, is the hero of his own series, and he’s quickly becoming as good a character as Babymouse.

In Babymouse’s fifth book, Heartbreaker, it’s Valentine’s Day and the dance is coming up.  Babymouse tries to figure out who might ask her to the dance, escaping often into the pink fantasy worlds she creates in her head.  There’s a long list of boys that Babymouse finds interesting, and that adds to the fun.  In typical Babymouse fashion, every one of the potential suitors and the possibility of them asking her to the dance blows up in her face.

The sixth book, Camp Babymouse, is just as good.  In this one, Babymouse heads off to camp for the summer with visions of being the greatest scout of all time.  That doesn’t quite work in her favor, and in just about every competition between her cabin and the other kids, Babymouse finds a way to screw it up.  Typical, as Babymouse herself would say.

Squish #2, Brave New Pond, is all about our favorite single celled organism trying to turn over a new leaf at school – stop trading his lunches, be more assertive, and, of course, become popular.  Squish fails at almost all his goals initially, but suddenly things start looking up when a crowd of popular kids want to include him in their group.  Just like in real life, Squish is forced to make decisions between the respect of the cool kids or being loyal to the friends who’ve always been there for him.  I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that the last few pages are very satisfying for any kid who’s ever been picked on or bullied at school.

The brother/sister team that writes and draws Babymouse and Squish is remarkable.  For them to come up with so many fun, original stories is incredible – there are now at 16 Babymouse and soon to be 4 Squish books in the last 7 years.  Jennifer L. Holm has been given the Newberry Honor award three times for her books Turtle in Paradise, Penny from Heaven, and Our Only May Amelia, so I can’t fathom how she has the time to write so many quality stories in so many different genres.  Her brother, Matthew Holm, who draws the comics, is also a graphic designer and writer – he’s also a pretty cool guy to follow on Twitter.

Babymouse 5 and 6 and Squish 2 were the 67th, 68th, and 69th books I’ve read this summer.  I’ve almost made it to my goal of 90 books in 90 days over break.  

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair

12 08 2012

The first three books in the Narnia series focused on the Pensevie siblings: Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy, in the first two, and Edmund and Lucy in the third, but C.S. Lewis left the Pensevies back at home for the fourth book, The Silver Chair.

In fact, for the first time in the series, there’s hardly any connection to the previous books.  Eustace Stubb, the cousin of the Pensevies is back, but he’s a completely different character, having grown and changed during his adventures in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  Prince Caspian, now King Caspian, and Trumpkin the Dwarf are also back, but only as very minor characters in the background, and they’ve gone from  adventurers to a feeble old men on the verge of death.

Narnia’s all new, and actually, most of the story takes place in other worlds around and underneath Narnia.  This has so much potential, it’s tough to stomach how weak the story turns out to be.  It could have been so cool.

In this story, Eustace and his schoolmate, Jill Pole, are called to Narnia by Aslan to find Prince Rillian.  The prince had disappeared nearly a decade earlier, after the sudden death of his mother, and with King Caspian fading quickly, the prince is needed or, without leadership, Narnia will fall apart.

Eustace and Jill are given a series of signs to look for that will aid them in their quest, but they have a difficult time following directions and miss most of the signs, continuously finding themselves in trouble.  Along with Puddlegum, a new character from a race of people called Marshwiggles (that’s there to replace the Beavers from book one and fan favorite, Reepicheep the mouse, from the next two, but doesn’t do it well), the two children blunder through their mission and find Rillian despite the constant mistakes.

A bit about Puddlegum, who may be the worst part of the book.  When the Star Wars prequels came out everyone complained about Jar Jar Binks.  He was no Chewbacca.  He was annoying.  There for comic relief, he was not funny.  George Lucas took a ton of flack for this character.  Well, he should have read the Narnia books, because in books 2 and 3, Reepicheep the Mouse was a favorite of almost every reader – he was brave, drove the action, and we, as readers, cared about him.  In this book, Reepicheep is hardly mentioned, and since the action takes place decades after the last story, he’s presumed to be long dead – big mistake.  Puddlegum becomes the sidekick, and with his webbed feet and scaredy-cat ways, he’s an awful lot like Jar Jar.  Puddlegum is a complete downer, always looks at the worst possibility… let’s just say some people believe a glass is half empty and some believe it’s half full, but when it comes to Puddlegum, all the people just want to throw the glass at his stupid face.

At times, this one is the best of the series – new races of people, new worlds, new legends, new creatures  – but at other times it’s the worst – it seems that Lewis has run out of good ideas through a lot of the story.  Overall, it’s an enjoyable story, but took me much longer than the first three books, because I never felt very attached to the characters or compelled by the story.  Perhaps it was a mistake to take away all the characters we loved in the first three books.  I truly believe that if the children had been given a better sidekick than Puddlegum, this could have been the best of the series instead of the worst.

I’m going to keep reading the last three books, but I sincerely hope they get back to the excitement of Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, because if they keep going downhill it’s going to be rough.

The Silver Chair was book #66 for me this summer on my quest to finish 90 books in 90 days.  

Just Like Josh Gibson

10 08 2012

Anyone who’s ever had a dream that they weren’t allowed to have come true, should read Just Like Josh Gibson.  This delightful little picture book by Coretta Scott King award winning author Angela Johnson, with illustrations by Beth Peck, is both heart breaking and warming at the same time.

The story is a flashback, grandma telling her grand-daughter how, as a young girl, she just loved to play baseball.  Grandma, so she says, could play just like Josh Gibson – she could catch anything and hit the ball a mile.

Josh Gibson was, in his day, called the black Babe Ruth.   Many say he was even better than the Bambino, and legend has it that he hit hundreds more home runs.  But, because he was black, he never got a chance to play in the big leagues, only the Negro Leagues.

Grandma dealt with the same problem.  She was a girl, so she couldn’t play in the real organized games with fancy uniforms and real meaning.  She only got to play in pick-up sandlot games, but when she did, she dominated.  Hitting a ton and catching everything that came her way.

The book parallels grandma’s dreams with Gibson’s very well, bringing to light racist and sexist ideas that prevent many from achieving their dreams.  The story is deep and meaningful, but fun, and the pastel illustrations bring you back to the time period very well.

To top it off, there’s a nice little biography of Josh Gibson at the end, giving a little recognition to the man that may have been the greatest ball player ever, but very few have ever heard of – that, in and of itself, is to be commended.

This one’s a great book for all ages.  For middle grade students it would work well as a companion to other stories from that time period, like Christopher Paul Curtis’ Bud Not Buddy or The Mighty Miss Malone.

This summer I’m on a quest to read 90 books in 90 days.  Just Like Josh Gibson was #65.