A Reader Rescues a Bully’s Love

GibbsAuthor, B. S. Gibbs, summarizes this as a “chapter book for kids … illustrated with a dozen intricate, beautiful drawings.” True. The attorney/storyteller inspired by Jane Austen, light fantasy, “and all things medieval,” goes on to tout Janetta and the Book Thief  as a trove of positive pleas for reading, kindness, inclusiveness, and anti-bullying. Those things are apparent. What is not immediately evident, yet makes the 47-page story stand out, is its elegant plot, straightforward prose, and ability to be a great discussion-starter.

The story is largely uncomplicated. That makes the read ideal for third- to fifth-graders whose energy levels almost forbid them to focus on anything that moves slowly. Gibbs’ mystery tale about someone who takes the last chapters of books is easy to follow and grasp, which is the book’s strength and weakness.

Janetta, the main character, chases down the who and why behind the thefts, which first struck me as a weird story element. What is the value of the last chapter of a book?

I then looked at the work from some other angles. I considered what life might be if the last chapter of every story disappeared. The incompleteness hit me. I was able to connect with Janetta’s motivation. The character says, “I can’t imagine my life without reading!”

To that extent, Gibbs’ heroine might interest a reader, yet comes off as too perfect (apologies, but that is the only word that comes to mind) to square with reality. An average 8- to 12-year-old is not obsessed with reading, despite most parents’ wishes.

The fairies who invite Janetta to Eloria, the book-fairy land, Queen Esmeralda and the villain, Sir Grumpsalot, do not have enough edge to compete with the kinds of characters contemporary grade-schoolers find in other books and on television. Gibbs’ chapter book reminded me of plots and characters I have read in works from some Latin American writers. That is the book’s major shortfall.

A minor one is a slip in the digital layout. In the Kindle version I perused, several of artist Anca Gabriela Marginean’s illustrations slid into the lines above them. Sentences were obscured, which distracts the reader. The saving grace is that the story is pretty easy to grasp, so the gaffs do not cause a person to get lost.

Those elements aside, teachers and parents will find that the message about the effects of bullying in Janetta and the Book Thief  and the power of one kind act to change a person’s life overtakes most of the work’s weakness.

Janetta tells her fairy friend Violetta that Sir Grumpsalot, “rejects all of you so that you cannot reject him.” That defensive stance is at the heart of many rubs and scrapes, even in adult life. The line is a great place to launch a discussion with young people on a bully’s motivation, or offer them insight as to why they indulge in brusque acts.

Fear is powerful, as the story makes clear. “I believe he also tells himself that he doesn’t like any of you. But, I believe he desperately wants to be friends. He just doesn’t know how and he is scared to try.”

I won’t give away the end. Gibbs’ story is a saga about loves. Janetta loves books. Book fairies love to inspire writers. Grumpsalot loves to be mysterious. As those elements collide the reader comes to a happy conclusion. The path is worth a glance. Violetta and the other fairies learn that no one is beyond redemption. For youth today, that is a most important lesson.

Advertisements

Find More than You Think in Fink

A one-eyed, brown cat. and rhyme so tight a reader is roped into fanciful beliefs, or memories of a past when life and fear seemed huge, simple and quick. I  am sorry regret it took me so long to discover Rick Felty’s writing. The three-book, early reader series about TabCat_Ninjaitha Fink yielded a book each year since 2015. I am overjoyed, now to be caught up. The stories filled me with admiration as a children’s author, and as a reader let me see the world again like a wide-eyed kid. The most recent work, Tabitha Fink: Ninja at Night, proves that a story told well in rhyme can bring a smile and even anticipation to adults. Readers will see the author’s progress through the narratives.

His first book, Tabitha Fink The Cat With One Eye, is less clever in its prose and scenario. In the dedication of his third book, Felty talks about his stories as a “journey of discovery.” That is the most apt description of the way the word play appears in the 45-page work.  

“I am Tabitha Fink, somewhat hard to ignore,” he writes. “with only one eye where some others have more. I’ve still got one tail and four paws on the floor. I am still Tabitha Fink as I have mentioned before.”

The 39-page second book, Tabitha Fink on a Mission to Mars, spins a taleCat_Mars that is more playful. “I am Tabitha Fink on a mission to Mars,” the book says, “where they don’t fly blue planes, and they don’t drive red cars. But I know they do something to travel about so I’m going to Mars , to figure it out.” The adventurous makes the trip in a “cat rocket ship.” She discovers a Martian family and says, “And it turns out they do things like all of us do, with a few minor changes. I
will show them to you.”

I imagined youngsters’ fascinations with those simple unadorned sentences. The words have a blunt feel that hit the mind with a clarity that offers a moment-to-moment I get it! There is a completeness in the main character’s description that ushers listeners and readers into familiarity with the feelings and a desire to almost reach out and pet the furry hero.

Felty, who is an Emmy-winning television producer, writes prose so lyrical that the smooth word play pulls a reader into the tale. At some points wildly alliterative in the Cat_Eyeways of a Dr. Seuss or Shel Silverstein, Tabitha Fink The Ninja at Night has a conflict that appears so trivial. Tabitha’s mouse playmate Bartholomew Blink is stalked by a slew of night terrors – a big furry monster, an evil witch, a dragon, some blue bears, and a smelly troll.  Yes, the problem is simple, but Tabitha’s struggle tugs at the memory. The unique character modeled after his family pet is pushed into the eerie situations that seemed a big deal when I was a kid. I began to recall what it felt like to face fear of the dark. – in the lack of light, and Felty’s cyclops hero confronts her friend’s fright as a ninja with a flashlight.

Tabitha Fink books are the kind of imaginative and fanciful explorations that children scream for at bedtime or story time in school. Felty’s clever use of language and plot sets a pleasant diversion for adults, too. Before I was aware, page after page flipped as I rushed to see the ninja’s deeds. At the last of 68 pages, like Bartholomew the mouse, I was satisfied by the charming conclusion of the darkness dilemma. As many readers, I was only disappointed that I might have to wait another year for more.

 

Hamilton in Love for Young Hearts

New York Times best-seller Melissa de la Cruz, noted for the critically acclaimed Blue Bloods series dives into the 18th Century romance of Alexander Hamilton and Eliza hamiltonSchuyler. Out flows a historical saga that teens and young adults are sure to find filled with intrigue and delight. Read an excerpt of Alex and Eliza: A Love Story, due for release by Penguin Random House on April 11.

“Hamilton,” the Broadway play is likely to be on the must-see list for years to come. The popularity of that representation of George Washington’s brash young aide and statesman bodes an even greater reception among youth. Hamilton is now back on many Americans’ radar.

De la Cruz targets Eliza, a rebel as the youngest of three daughters one of the fledgling nation’s leading families, and shows how that nature drew her to the rakish Col. Alexander Hamilton. She is part of one of New York’s most elite families. Hamilton, born on the West Indies island of Nevis, is exuberant that his appointment as chief aide to the leader of the Colonial Army in 1777 affords him a chance to marry into a high society.

Orphaned by an unwed mother, Hamilton, whom John Adams once described as, “the bastard brat of a Scottish peddler,” is from the wrong side of the blanket, yet bright and ambitious. Eliza Schuyler is a child of privilege to the manor born. What happens when they met according to historians became an epic love story.

Cruz is more than able to excite young hearts. Her Blue Blood series sold more than three million copies. Also, her Witches of East End series became an hour-long television drama on the Lifetime network.