Monday, December 29, 2014

You Shouldn't Have To Say Good-bye (1982) by Patricia Hermes

Sarah feels lucky to have such a fun, happy mother. Her best friend Robin's mother is suffering from clinical depression and rarely leaves the house. This causes Robin to act out by engaging in risky behavior like walking on a ridge on Sarah's roof and planning to perform a dangerous stunt at the school gymnastics show.
Sarah's luck soon runs out when her mother becomes ill with advanced melanoma. Both Sarah and her parents go through periods of anger and denial. There comes a time when Sarah's mother is sure she can beat the cancer and the family has a Christmas party for all their friends.
The good times can't last, however, and Sarah's mother is rushed back to the hospital. Sarah tunes out what is happening by ignoring the ringing phone and going to Robin's house while her mother is being admitted. While at her friend's house, Sarah learns that Robin's mother not only suffers from depression, but from agoraphobia and other fears as well. (She seems to have some anxiety that Sarah is there...This author was pretty cutting edge. Another one of her early books mentioned the "fainting game" that kids play to get high.)
Because of the uncertainty she feels about her own parents not attending the gymnastics show, Sarah plans her own risky stunt (jumping from the top of the ropes to the trampoline), but the girls cancel their plans when both sets of parents show up in the audience at the last minute.
The book reaches its tearful conclusion as Sarah's mother gets weaker and eventually dies on Christmas Eve. The dying scenes are quite emotional, with Sarah yelling in anger at what is happening and her parents equally upset. After her mother is gone, Sarah's father reveals that she had been writing in a diary for Sarah to read. An epilogue taking place a few months later finds Sarah reading the book and taking care of a new kitten.
Sarah's mother might have been a little more memorable had she not been quite so perfect, but the book was still pretty sad for a kids' book. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Sixth-Grade Sleepover (1986) by Eve Bunting

Janey is both nervous and excited about her school reading club's upcoming co-ed sleepover. For one thing, she has been eyeing a boy in her class and the sleepover sounds like the perfect opportunity to get to know him better. The class cute girl, Sylvie, is also crushing on Blake, and without Janey there to make sure they don't get too close, she might lose her chance with him.
There's one thing stopping Janey from attending the sleepover: she's deathly afraid of the dark. Janey's fear started when she was a baby and had a sitter who would lock her in the closet when she was bad. Her parents tried sending her to a counselor, but it appears Janey wasn't ready to accept help and nothing changed.
After discussing the dilemma with her parents, it is decided that Janey's mother will call the school and suggest night lights be put up around the cafeteria where the sleepover will be taking place. However, after visiting the school at night, Janey decides the lights aren't enough and she'll just have to hide out in the restroom until morning.
It turns out that Janey isn't the only one with this plan. A strange new girl also takes refuge in a restroom stall and she and Janey bond over their respective problems. (Rosie can't read very well and just joined the club to make friends). The girls conclude that hiding from a bad situation can only make it worse. Janey hints that she'll take up counseling again and Rosie will get help with her reading. There is also some thing about the class rabbit, who was thought to be male, having bunnies in Janey's sleeping bag.
Throughout the book, there is an appreciative nod to the wonderfulness of reading. Several real titles are mentioned, the members of the Rabbit Reading Club appear to be the cool kids at school, the kids are in awe of their teachers because of their shared love of reading and books even help Janey get closer to Blake.    

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Fifth Grade Magic (1982) by Beatrice Gormley

Gretchen is jealous of a long blond-haired classmate named Amy. Amy is Mrs. Sheppard's favorite student. She doesn't do stupid things like pass around a signed picture of the teacher drawn in an unflattering light.

Worst of all, Amy was chosen over Gretchen for the lead in Polly's Pies in Peril, the fifth grade spring play. No auditions were held for the play, so Gretchen didn't have the chance to show off the acting she'd been practicing with the other girls every day at recess.

While Gretchen is in her room crying over this turn of events, she remembers something Mrs. Sheppard always says about a fairy godmother not magically appearing to solve all your problems. Gretchen spontaneously calls out for her godmother, and a child sized fairy dressed in a too large uniform appears. After the obligatory initial shock, Gretchen explains her situation and asks Errora for help. The first order of business is to cut off Amy's hair. This, Errora says, will break the spell the girl has over the teacher and secure Gretchen the lead role in the play. The next day at school, Amy's hair is so short that she resembles class clown Dennis Boyd. Mrs. Sheppard is weirdly disapproving of the haircut, but she doesn't take away Amy's part in the play.
Errora's next attempt at getting Gretchen into the play is a little more invasive. She suggests that the girls switch bodies, a la Freaky Friday. The only problem is Amy doesn't know what's going on and her outbursts about being Amy trapped inside Gretchen's body have everyone thinking she's gone crazy. Also, Gretchen can't abide Amy's overbearing stage mother, who forces her daughter to audition for underwear commercials. Gretchen quickly rushes back home to reverse the spell.
Errora's last magic trick is to give poor Amy the chicken pox (Gretchen is her understudy). Unfortunately, Gretchen used her class photo for the spell and Errora got Amy and Dennis mixed up. Dennis, who didn't want to be in the play at all, had been assigned the role of the villan. With Dennis out sick, Mrs. Sheppard is forced to beg Gretchen to take over his part. Gretchen is hesitant at first because she'd really had her heart set on the lead, but she ends up doing a great job. In a clever twist, Errora turns out to be a child fairy who snuck out with her aunt's "injuctulator" (magic making device). This was one of my favorite books as a child. There is a sequel focusing on Amy (who turns out to be a very nice girl) called More Fifth Grade Magic.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Ready or Not (1953) by Mary Stolz + Giveaway

Mary Stolz was quite a prolific author back in the day, though she never reached the popularity level of Judy Blume or Norma Klein. In this, one of her earlier books, Stolz explores what it's like to be young, poor and in love.

Morgan (named after Morgan la Fay, but still seems like a modern name for 1953) is sixteen years old and lives with her widowed father and younger brother and sister in a cramped NYC apartment. The family moves every year or so when the father is able to find cheaper digs to better support his children. When her mother died three years ago, Morgan took over her role and runs the house as meticulously as she can on such a tight budget.

When Morgan's nine year old brother Ned asks to have dinner unsupervised at his college age friend's home, Morgan agrees, but only after a brief meeting with said friend. Don't tell me these were the good old days, people. This was after the Albert Fish murders. But I'll cut Morgan some slack since she is young and na├»ve. Morgan is unimpressed with Tom (Ned's friend) at first, although she notes that he is handsome. She has always had fantasies about a fictional boy named Colin sweeping her off her feet. She is also concerned that Tom is patronizing the family by befriending a boy from the wrong side of the tracks.

However, one day Tom's mother invites Morgan and her siblings over for doughnuts and it is love at second sight for Morgan. We learn that Tom, besides his habit of befriending little boys in parks, is a guy who cares deeply about issues such as war and the unfairness between social classes. Morgan, while intelligent, is more of a simple-minded kind of gal who's main concerns are what she's going to make her family for dinner and what movie she'll see with her friends.

Morgan and Tom's relationship progresses despite their differences. You'd think that, given the year the book was published, their courting would be very chaste, but the subject of waiting for sex until marriage is actually dealt with briefly. I'm not sure if the author intended the romance to be the most important part of this book, though, because there's not much to it. Morgan displays some unwarranted insecurities a few times and then Tom goes away to camp (presumably as a counselor) while Morgan gets a job in a cafeteria. They write letters, but because Tom will be going to college and then into the Army, their future together isn't set in stone.

While the novel is chiefly about Morgan, we also get peeks into the other characters' minds. We explore the problems of Morgan's father, a subway employee who would rather be a poet and Verna, Morgan's friend who must deal with an emotionally abusive father. A lot of time is also spent on younger sister Julie's growing pains. (Dark and brooding Julie, if she had been a few years older, would have been a better match for Tom than Morgan, in my opinion).

I'm offering the book I just recapped plus another surprise juvenile vintage book as a giveaway. All you have to do is be the first to email me ( with your name and shipping address. Don't be shy. This blog doesn't get very many visitors currently, so odds are you'll win! I have too many books as it is, so if this giveaway gets any response there will be a few more in the future.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Too Much Trouble aka Tink in a Tangle (1984) by Dorothy Haas

Tink is a creative kid who is always getting ideas, most of which only come to trouble. She blames this on her red hair. Her mother is a beautician and is also the reason I have known from a young age that pink is death on red heads. An elderly neighbor refers to Tink as the "Daughter of the Harvest Moon." Tink finds a old book that tells of superstitions to bring luck and other things. For example, seeing twins is supposed to bring good fortune. Tink decides to combat her red hair curse by practicing what she reads in the book.

One of Tink's ideas is to make a home beauty salon for her friends while her mother is away at work. An annoying girl named Jane Ellen invites herself in on the fun and Tink accidentally gives her a very bad, very real haircut. Jane Ellen hardly reacts gracefully to the mishap. She accuses Tink of wanting to make Jane's hair ugly like hers. However, Tink's mother teaches Tink to be the bigger person and makes Tink invite Jane Ellen to McDonald's as an apology. This results in Jane Ellen thinking she and Tink are best friends. More bad luck.
Tink reads that dancing with a broom will bring good luck. She chooses the largest broom she can think of: the janitor's broom at school. She gets in trouble again. Tink has all her friends use some of the suggestions in the book and they all have bad outcomes. Tink's self worth begins to suffer as she reviews all the trouble she has caused. In the end, the principal and Tink's mother reaffirm her belief in herself and reassure her that they appreciate her just the way she is. Tink is signed up for dance lessons, where she is required to wear pink leotards and dance slippers. She also gets to see the harvest moon.
Stay tuned, because in my next post I'll be featuring a free giveaway of two of my old books.