On the blog:
I think Jeanne Birdsall’s series about the Penderwicks might just get better with every book she writes. This entry focuses on two of the younger Penderwicks, Batty and Ben, but especially on Batty, who is in mourning after her old dog, Hound, dies. Much happens to Batty this spring: she discovers she can sing; she starts a dog-walking business; she tries to keep up with the rotating cast of characters her older sisters bring home; and, most importantly of all, she discovers the truth about her birth and her mother’s death. I did struggle with how oddly isolated and alone Batty seems to be in this story. The Penderwicks are supposed to be so close and loving, yet no one notices that Batty is hurting. I realize that a little less close observation was necessary on the part of grown-ups and older siblings for the plot to actually work here, but the parents seem so careless. I think this series works best read in order, but I do think The Penderwicks in Spring could stand alone.
This nonfiction/poetry title highlights the different types of nests that birds make. Each spread features a brief nonfiction description of the bird and its nest, a gorgeous illustration by Steve Jenkins, and a four-line rhyming poem by Jennifer Ward. I didn’t love the rhyming text—I almost never do—but it did work better for me when I read the nonfiction part first, then read the poem.
A Bernard Waber title I’ve been wanting to reread in anticipation of sharing with my classes this fall. I love the repetitive “Courage is” structure and the surprise of so many of the courageous moments. There were a few that I felt fell flat, but I think this is a book my students are going to like.
The animals at the Stratford Zoo have a secret: at night, when all the visitors and zookeepers have gone home, they gather for performances of Shakespeare plays. This is really a delightful adaptation of Macbeth—not a play I would have imagined adapting for a young audience. What I loved so much and found so unique was the emphasis on the play as a performance. There are constant interruptions and commentary by the animals in the audience and a couple of hilarious scenes where mayhem in the audience subverts what is happening onstage. Lendler handles the whole “not born of a woman” plot very cleverly (and in a way that shouldn’t have surprised me but did), and the subplot with Lady Macbeth trying to get the bloodstain out is really funny, especially when she suddenly notices that she herself is covered in spots and starts scrubbing them out. I tried to imagine how this story would be experienced if the reader had no knowledge of Macbeth—if it would be as enjoyable. And I really don’t know. I found that I couldn’t forget what I do know of the play and come to the story with fresh eyes. What I do know is that it’s a total delight for readers who are familiar with the play.
Sometimes I feel like I will be trying to catch up on Eve Bunting titles until I die—she’s written that many books. Someday a Tree is a sad one: there’s a gorgeous old oak tree that dies when someone mysteriously poisons it. On purpose? By accident? What actually poisons a tree? The story doesn’t say. There is hope, however, because the main character collected acorns when she and her family picnicked under the oak tree and now she plants them in healthy soil near the dying tree. A story that could lead to some rich conversation about environmental issues.