Friday, November 16, 2012

Frankie Pickle and the Pine Run 3000 by Eric Wight

Title:  Frankie Pickle and the Pine Run 3000
Author:  Eric Wight
Publisher:  Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
Year:  2012
Pages:  96
Genre:  Realistic Fiction, Graphic Novel
Themes:  Teamwork, Setting Goals
Age Range:  2nd-5th Grade

Summary:  (from Goodreads)
Frankie Pickle returns for another imaginative adventure and this time it all comes down to race cars. Well, not quite race cars, but the Pine Run Derby for scouts. Frankie is in danger of not advancing to the next ranking with the rest of his troop unless he can win the Pine Run 3000. But Frankie wants to do everything on his own so he imagines himself as a world-class sculptor, a mad scientist, and of course, a pro-racecar driver. In the end, Frankie learns that team work is the only way he won't get left in the dust.

Frankie is a character that a lot of kids can relate to.  He is messy and clumsy and always seems to get himself into trouble.  He really wants to do the right thing, but sometimes his impulsive behavior gets in the way-which pretty much describes almost every nine-year-old boy I've ever met.  Frankie is determined to do everything himself, despite the fact that his father wants desperately to help him.  Turns out, there is a family tradition of racing model cars in the Pine Run 3000, and Frankie realizes that sometimes teamwork is better than going it alone.

The ending is good, mostly because he doesn't actually win the race, which is more realistic than an awful lot of books.  But he still gets his desire to move up in the ranks of the marsupials, because his hard work was recognized even though he didn't come in first.  Considering the competitive nature of our society, and the fact that most kids think if they aren't "first" they are losers, this is a nice message.  Good addition to a classroom library.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Year the Swallows Came Early, by Kathryn Fitzmaurice

Title:  The Year the Swallows Came Early
Author:  Kathryn Fitzmaurice
Publisher:  Harper Collins
Year:  2009
Pages:  288
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Themes:  Family, Loss, Parent/Child Relationships
Age Range:  4th-8th Grade

Summary:  (from Goodreads)
Eleanor "Groovy" Robinson loves cooking and plans to go to culinary school just as soon as she's old enough. But even Groovy's thoughtfully--planned menus won't fix the things that start to go wrong the year she turns eleven--suddenly, her father is in jail, her best friend's long-absent mother reappears, and the swallows that make their annual migration to her hometown arrive surprisingly early. As Groovy begins to expect the unexpected, she learns about the importance of forgiveness, understands the complex stories of the people around her, and realizes that even an earthquake can't get in the way of a family that needs to come together

Love, loved, loved this book!  Fitzmaurice did an excellent job taking a very difficult subject and making it something accessible to younger readers.  Groovy is a girl with goals.  She knows exactly what she wants to do with the money that her great-grandmother, the famous writer, left for her.  Groovy is going to be a chef.  She keeps a cooking notebook, and tries out new recipes for her family and friends.  One day, on the way to help her friend at his brother's store, her father is arrested.  When she finds her mother to deliver the bad news, her mother tells her that she is the one who called the police.  It turns out that her father stole the money that was meant for her education and gambled it away on one bet.

Obviously, Groovy is devastated.  And feels betrayed.  And generally hates life.  Around the same time, her best friend's absent mother returns.  He is devastated, and feels betrayed, and generally hates life.  Both of these characters are living situations that go beyond the usual "my parents just don't understand" that populates much of children's literature, especially for this age range.  But there are children who might read this book that also have awful parental situations.  And, like this book, their stories do not always end up with a happy ending tied up in a bright shiny bow.  Fitzmaurice has written a book that tells children that being deeply angry at a parent is OK, but that eventually you are going to have to make some kind of peace, either with your parent or inside of yourself, in order to move forward.  The book also highlights the healing power of forgiveness, but with the recognition that sometimes forgiveness is hard, or not possible at all.

Teacher Resources:
HarperCollins Reading Guide