Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Reisfeld, Randi, & H. B. Gilmour. Making Waves;
Wasserman, Robin. Callie for President (3 out of 4 stars).
One of the joys of librarianship is the variety of styles in fiction, non-fiction, reference, periodicals, etc. that our patrons ask for. Popular items come and go, but I have noticed that series have a life of their own. For example, I did not even think Star Wars was popular anymore, but a few students continued asking me for books. I finally bought about 20 titles for a 5-6 school of 850 students, and I cannot keep them on the shelf! A popular series inspires fierce loyalty; I’m usually telling everyone about the new novel by Laurie Halse Anderson or Avi or Edward Bloor, but my students ask me when the new Darren Shan (Cirque du Freak, Demonata), Dav Pilkey (Captain Underpants), or Stephenie Meyer (Twilight vampire series) books are arriving. Based on the two books I read, Making Waves by Randi Reisfeld and H. B. Gilmour, and Callie for President by Robin Wasserman, Candy Apple books’ language and content are the antithesis of Cecily von Ziegesar’s Gossip Girl; they are younger and less racy, making them perfect for my 5th and 6th graders. Although they do not break any new literary ground, and they do occasionally contain overly-recognizable minor characters, this fresh new girls’ series is great for the pool, the beach, the couch, or any cozy summer reading spot.
In Making Waves by Randi Reisfeld and H. B. Gilmour, Emily, LJ and Jenna are beginning their summer swim club season when a new girl, Aubrey, emerges onto the scene. Spurned by the “popular” Sara Livingston and her Ice Queens, the bffs adopt Aubrey into the group as they spend their last summer before middle school begins. Aubrey seems great, with charisma and élan, but she always seems to disappear because of “emergencies” with her mom, even though she has been spotted in the city (New York). After she ditches Emily during a babysitting nightmare, Emily is just about fed up; she wants to like Aubrey, and she is dying to tell someone about the recent progress of her hoped-for hook-up with not-so-secret-crush Tyler, but she is torn: “Emily was bursting with the news. She wanted to tell Aubrey about it. But the moment she’d heard Aubrey’s voice on the phone, she realized how upset she was at her flaky friend” (112). With the important swim club talent show coming up, will Aubrey’s secret and erratic behavior destroy the girls’ friendship or strengthen it?
In Callie for President by Robin Wasserman, Callie Singer is bamboozled into running for Susan B. Anthony Middle School’s 7th grade class president versus Brianna Blake, the phoniest, meanest, richest, most ruthless girl in school. At first, the free-spirited, unself-conscious Callie jokes with one of her two best friends/campaign manager Max (Maxine) about competing against perennial incumbent Brianna and her band of middler sycophants, but when Brianna courts Callie’s other bff, artist Jacob Fisher (Fish), to make posters for her campaign, and Brianna outspends and outclasses every one of Callie’s and Max’s moves, an embittered Callie becomes determined to win by any means necessary: “I was going to prove to Fish that I was the better candidate—and the better friend—even if I didn’t have shiny blond hair and a big-screen TV . . . I was going to beat Brianna Blake. No matter what” (85). As the race drags on and Callie learns more about herself and her opponent, she is forced to make tough decisions that may affect more than just the election.
I will add the Candy Apple series to my Intermediate School (grades 5-6) collection; I will ask some of my middle school language arts teachers if they think the style will be appealing to older, lower readers. The central New Jersey suburban setting may be a bit too elitist for some readers, and not everyone will relate to these girls’ problems when they may be fighting for a regular pattern of good meals, a two-parent family, or a night without abuse or fear, but they are good, light fare to entertain readers, not challenge them. Both Making Waves and Callie for President feature sassy, individualistic, creative, clever girls who may not always win their battles but do win their wars, girls unafraid to speak their minds about everything from boys to ice cream to school to friendship. Many of the boys are presented very obnoxiously, but not entirely unrealistically (I can speak from experience—we do shoot milk out of our noses and belch musically more often than the fairer sex). Overall, the books are fun reads; I’ll recommend them widely to my female patrons.


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