Crayons Unite!

Review #19

Book: The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt

Audience: C

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: bookbookbookbook

Duncan loves coloring with his crayons. So much so that some of them are starting to feel overworked. To address the issue, his crayons write him letters, expressing their exhaustion, their frustration for over- or underuse, their concerns about their friends, and even their grievances with each other. Duncan tries to appease all by creating a picture using them exactly as they wish.

The story was original and well executed. My students must think so, too. I read it to all the first graders and it hasn’t been on the shelf since. One teacher even shared with me that one of her students writes her a story every day that is a variance on Duncan’s theme. I love seeing the power of the pages in action!

Marvelous Medicine

Review #18

Book: Marketplace of the Marvelous by Erika Janik

Audience: G-U

Genre: Nonfiction

Rating: bookbookbookbook

There was a very brief period in my adolescence when I wanted to be a doctor. This was likely influenced by my love of watching M*A*S*H reruns and my nurse-mother’s interest in medicine. Whatever the reason, it led me to a summer of volunteering at the hospital (which quickly taught me that I am not doctor material) and a lifelong casual interest in things medical. That interest drew me to this book, which turned out to be an intriguing history of the medical movements that led into modern medical practices.

Chronicling “medical” trends that mostly began in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, this book took me through botanics, phrenology, hydropathy, homeopathy, Mesmerism, patent medicines, osteopathy, and chiropractic. While these various fads were quite diverse in the components used, their overarching philosophies were remarkably similar: all of them (with the possible exception of patent medicines) believed in healing of the whole body; all of them advocated what we think of today as a healthy lifestyle; all of them believed their therapies would lead to cures, better health, and social justice; and all believed that their one treatment could cure anything.

This last factor is the one that astonished me the most. Thomson (the creator of the botanic therapy) believed that his 6 plant-based medicines taken in particular doses and methods could cure both sore throats and cancer. Phrenologists believed that reading and interpreting the bumps on a person’s skull could kill pneumonia and ulcers. Got a fever? Lame foot? Gout? Hydropathists insisted that applications and ingestion of cold water would take care of all these problems. The list goes on, but you get the idea.

Another common bond, and a rather important and telling one, that these treatments share is that they originated as defiance to the contemporary medical practices, called heroic medicine. Heroic in this instance describes the “magnitude of the intervention.” Heroic measures consisted of intentionally inducing violent purging (both oral and rectal), applying intense heat to the skin in order to cause blisters to form, and, perhaps the best known of the lot, cutting or applying leeches to draw large quantities of blood from patients. Having someone give you a scalp massage or a spinal realignment sounds pretty good compared these “regular” medical practices!

I found this book to be very informative without being too academic. With the exception of the chapter on Mr. Mesmer’s ideas (I guess because I found him too wack-a-doo to believe that anyone found him credible) I was fascinated by each medical movement. I was also interested to see how threads from each of these “irregular” therapies still exist in today’s regular and alternative medicines. Relating the past to the present and demonstrating through chronology how one movement lead into the next, Miss Janik kept me engaged in what could have been a rather ponderous topic.

On a far more personal note, the fun part of this book was relating these different therapies to works of fiction in my reading repertoire. I’d encountered homeopathy in Louisa May Alcott’s Jo’s Boys, patent medicine in LM Montgomery’s Anne of Avonlea, and osteopathy in Betty Mahmoody’s Not without My Daughter (OK, that one was nonfiction, but still). But the best connection I made was with phrenology. I remember first encountering the word and practice when I was in about 6th grade reading an Archie comic. Just goes to show you that the marvelous is everywhere!

An Excellent (Dollar Word) Debut Story

Review #17

Book: Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea

Audience: C

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Rating:bookbookbookbook

Mr. Terupt is a first-year fifth grade teacher with a classroom full of interesting (if somewhat stock) characters: the chronic troublemaker, the shy new girl with a secret, the class brain, the mean girl, the kid who doesn’t do well and hates school, the girl trying to find her own voice, and the outcast. Being young, cool, and surprising to his students, Mr. Terupt gains their trust and affection and challenges them all to step out of their perceived selves and be who they truly want to be. This bears some interesting results, including some blurred vision in their view of Mr. Terupt as an authority figure. Some unintended consequences ensue from this, ultimately causing the kids some pain, some heartache, some joy, some healing, and some growth.

As I often do, I quite enjoyed the multiple perspective aspect of this book. Seeing events from the standpoints of Jeffrey, Danielle, Peter, Anna, Danielle, and Jessica made me appreciate their struggles and applaud their victories. Nothing, however, made me have sympathy for Lexie. I know there comes a time when we get her backstory and are supposed to feel sorry for her and understand why she is so hateful, but I just don’t buy it. Oddly enough, though, that’s one of the things that made this book a standout for me. I didn’t leave this story liking and understanding all the characters, just like we don’t like and understand all the characters we meet in actual life. Mr. Buyea gets points for this touch of reality.

He also gets points for the ambiguous path to the resolution of the story. A character suffers a serious accident and the prognosis is iffy for a lengthy time. I actually could see the final outcome going either way, nicely building suspense. True, in terms of the plot the timing of the reveal was a bit over-the-top, but that’s understandable for a first-time author.

There were a couple of things that were slight detractions, such as the reason Anna was an outcast (not sure how realistic it was in this day and age) and the moralizing by Jessica’s mom (not sure I agree with her). But overall, this was a truly enjoyable book, with its dollar words (read the book to find out what these are), interesting characters, skillful plot construction, and positive outlook. Thanks MM for recommending it and your skillful way of satisfying my curiosity without giving the plot away.

My New Favorite Day of the Week

Review #16

Book: A Summer of Sundays by Lindsay Eland

Audience: C

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Rating: bookbookbookbookbook

Eleven-year-old Sunday Fowler is number 3 out of 6 kids. She has two older sisters who are good friends with each other (and therefore have no time for her) and three younger brothers who, being both younger and boys, are too interested in being gross and destructive to pay much attention to her. More than anything else, Sunday longs to stand out in her family—to do something great that will make her family notice and appreciate her. When her family moves to a small town for the summer (her dad has been hired to renovate the library and her mom is itching to offer her organizational skills as well), Sunday thinks this will afford the opportunity she seeks. For one thing, she makes a new friend, Jude, who is willing to help her on her quest. For another, she meets the town crank she is determined to befriend (perhaps this will be the great thing she does!). And finally, she gets to spend a huge amount of time in her favorite place, the library, where she uncovers a mystery with potential to be greater than even she can imagine.

As evidenced from my rating, I loved this book. As I’ve said, numerous times before, I am a character-driven reader. The number of ways I identified with Sunday (the least of which was the love of a library, the happiest place on earth) was so vast as to be scary. I found her to be very realistic, a great composite of virtues and faults. When she has to step up and do the right thing, it is not obvious what she will choose to do. The characterizations of her family border on the caricature, but when seen from Sunday’s perspective that seems reasonable.

As for the secret she discovers in the library, I did figure out the mystery several steps ahead of Sunday, but then I, as an adult reader, am not the target audience. It is likely that child readers will figure it out on Sunday’s timeline. I did like that Miss Eland did not wait until the end to have Sunday put the clues together. This gave Sunday additional credibility, which only made her even more of an appealing character.

In the interest of full disclosure, I did find out that Miss Eland has another book called Scones and Sensibility. The tea-loving Janeite in me would be predisposed to admire any author of a such-titled book. However, I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed this book on its own merits. In fact, I’d be willing to spend a year in Sunday’s world, not just one summer.