New Book Reviews

Carol Hurst's Children's Literature Newsletter, Summer '99, page 2, by Carol Hurst and Rebecca Otis.

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One Monkey Too Many by Jackie French Koller and Lynn Munsinger (Harcourt, 1999. ISBN 0152000062. Order Online, Library Binding.) is a combination counting and story book done in playful rhyme with pictures that suit it perfectly. A bear offers a bicycle to one monkey stating that it's just right for one monkey but not for two. Peering from behind the bear is a second monkey which gives no doubt how long that rule will hold. The second monkey jumps on board and, for a time the two monkeys on the one monkey bike do all right. That's when they hit the bump in the road. The golf cart would be better for two they are told but not for three. So here comes the third monkey. And so it goes through a canoe, a restaurant table for four, a bed for five, and a too many monkey visit to the author at the end. This is a book for the youngest in which both the text and the illustrations are necessary to figure out what's going on here. The math connection is obvious and that little bit about the author at the end can lead to this or any other author study.

Richard Peck has been giving us thoughtful young adult novels for many years. Last year his A Long Way from Chicago (Dial, 1998. ISBN 0803722907. Order Online, Hardcover.) received the Newbery Honor Book Award. I do think it's his finest work. Peck takes us through more than a decade of Americana as witnessed by two kids from Chicago and, in the process, he has given us one of the most delightfully wacky, crafty characters in young adult literature in this grandmother. If you're looking for a sweet, soft and diminutive storybook grandma in the country, look elsewhere.

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Every August from 1929 - 1942, our narrator, Joey, and his sister Mary Alice come from Chicago to their grandmother's home in rural Illinois. We join them there every year from 1929 - 1935 and then again, for a last look, in 1942. In the interim the children grow into adulthood but their grandmother remains a constant eccentric presence. Those eccentricities bother the children at first, but they learn to expect them and even enjoy them with her. She cheats and lies or at least twists the truth. There is, beneath all that, a loving and wonderful person, but don't tell her I said so.

Read this one aloud to kids anywhere from fourth grade up. The episodic nature of each chapter makes it ideal and the discussions that may follow should be good ones. There are similarities here between this book and Gary Paulsen's Harris and Me: A Summer Remembered (Bantam, 1993 ISBN 0440409942. Order Online, Paperback, Hardcover.). They both involve eccentric relatives, are episodic in nature and laugh out loud funny.


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