Aliens on Vacation Book Review

Aliens on Vacation by Clete Barrett Smith

Scrub doesn't get it. Why does he have to spend the summer with his grandmother? Sure, his parents are busy but surely he is old enough to stay home or at least with a friend. Instead he has been shipped off across the country to his grandmother who runs the 'Intergalactic Bed & Breakfast'--a place for all those weird sci-fi nuts to come hang out. Except there's something mighty odd about those sci-fi nuts. Soon Scrub is being sucked into the mania that is a real bona fide bed and breakfast for aliens on a backwoods planet where the only requirement is that the "guests" look vaguely human. With a nosy little girl, an angry sheriff, a stretched-too-thin grandmother, and a couple of giant tree-like children, Scrub finds himself in way over his head.

Although the story took a little bit to get rolling, once it did, it was going at full speed. Scrub isn't what I would call the smartest kid, especially considering it takes someone explaining the 'situation' to him for him to fully "get-it", however he is a quick thinker and amicable by nature so it hard to like him. His grandmother is the spacey type, but considering her line of work, that is understandable.

The writing is crisp, quick, and fun, giving me the same feeling I get when I read Roald Dahl or Eleanor Estes. Smith really knows his audience and although girls could read this novel, this is one novel that would be great for boys. From basketball to camping, summer challenges to first crushes, everything most boys like is here. After reading a number of very serious and dark books, Aliens on Vacation was a nice getaway to something a little more lighthearted and fun.

I was also excited to see that the author, Clete Smith, graduated from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Always nice to see a fellow MFA children's writing graduate out there publishing. It gives me hope.

Picture Books: New and Noteworthy

Mo Willems is at it again, with this picture book with chapters that is vaguely reminiscent of Frog and Toad. Alligator is funny and interesting and any child with a stuffed toy will find this one entertaining and funny.

I will forever sing the praises of Elephant and Piggie. They are hysterical. Paying homage to The Monster at the End of This Book, Mo Willems creates and interactive reading experience that will have a child reading the book over and over, never mind that Piggie tells you to. All I can say is...Banana.

Pirate books are always a pleaser, but this one really made me smile. Just the image of a pirate sitting in time out on the cover made me smile, and the story is fun too. I imagine that if any parent is having some behavioral issues, this one could be used as a helpful tool.

Peter Brown's first book The Curious Garden was a beautiful book with illustrations that brought a tear to my eye. In Children Make Terrible Pets, Peter Brown uses the same style of illustration, something like a cross between fifties cartoons and advertising art. Also, how many times has a child walked in the door with some creepy crawly squeaky thing and asked if they could keep it?

This book is a very rare animal, very rare indeed. A science fiction picture book. I was pleased that Clunk, the pen pal of the child, is not some figment of his imagination nor a stuffed animal, but a true bona fide alien who shares a common hatred of the boys sister. The illustrations were cute, and I could think of a number of crafts that would go along great with this book.

With Father's Day coming up, this is a book you may want to pick up. Within the sea of Father's Day paraphernalia, this is a gem. The child is cute, the dad is awesome, the family is mixed, and the story is great. I'm sure this will not be just a holiday book.

A marvelously illustrated story about Jane Goodall when she was a child. Somehow I managed to get a poster of one of the spreads and it looks rather lovely in my office/library. I love how this book shows how deep love and passion can carry into adulthood and something as simple as a stuffed monkey could produce a life that embodies strength, courage, and dedication.

What is it about this book? It is adorable. Itsy Mitsy is so cute, she's relatable, although I think children would have a hard time stuffing their houses into the back of their wagons.

Awesome board book! This one is filled with pictures of really awesome mohwaked, rockin' out, skull wearing, leather jacketed, babies. My brother would love this book for my nephew.

Definitely a bedtime book, the beautiful illustrations and simple sing song prose really gave me a sense of gentleness.

Yet another pirate book (because I love 'em). Small Saul is a rather unlikely pirate, but he is determined, for who wouldn't want to be a pirate, even if you are the kind that cooks, cleans, and is terrible at pillaging.

A Small Free Kiss in the Dark Book Review

A Small Free Kiss in the Dark by Glenda Millard

Skip is alone. After a series of bad foster homes, he skips out, thus the name, and lives on the streets of Seattle. There he searches the faces of strangers wondering if his mother is among them. He makes friends with a homeless man named Billy and although it is unreasonable, Skip truly hopes Billy will never leave. Then the unthinkable happens. Seattle is bombed and Skip’s world is turned upside down. In what is left of a library, Skip discovers six-year-old Max who is waiting for his mother who will never return. Together Billy, Skip, and Max make their way to an abandoned amusement park where they meet Tia the ballerina and her tiny baby. All Skip wants is a family and in this time of chaos he wonders, will he have the strength to keep everyone together?

A Small Free Kiss in the Dark is a rather melancholy book. Skip sees things through the eyes of an artist, with color and light, and even in the good times, I always saw a rather sullen child whose smile was always offset by some deeper sadness. I remember reading an interview with Suzanne Collins who said her Hunger Games series was really about war, which may be the reason why she lost sight of her characters. Millard never loses sight of the characters. This is a novel about war, but it is about how people handle war and what it does to us. Once you move past the fear, what is left? For Skip, the need for family is stronger than any ties he would have to a structure or a place. He is happy as long as they are all together whether that be under a table in the library or in a train car of a ride at an amusement park.

My two small issues with the book, that should by no means belittle the enjoyment of it, is the setting and adjectives. Although this story is set in Seattle, I always had the vague impression that the author had either not visited Seattle or had not been there in a while. I may be wrong, but in the beginning I kept wondering if perhaps this was a town in England or Australia, and soon discovered that the author hails from Australia and somehow that did not surprise me. This does not change what the book is about or how it reads at all, and since place means so little to Skip, it would have been okay if it had been anywhere in the world I should think. The other small issue is adjectives and similes. Although I was well aware that this was Skip’s story and he does see the world in a different way, the constant adjectives (sometimes strange ones) did throw me off. Iris-colored eyes, like a shattered stained glass window, the skyline was a bleeding mouth of broken teeth, peacock sea, violet sky, flyspeck-small. I began to grow tired of the strange adjectives and it reminded me of when you are taught poetry and they want you to describe items in a way that is different and unique. That’s how it felt, as if Millard was trying to be poetic. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it drove me bonkers. Why not just say ‘the sea’…we all know what it looks like, if it looks different, then tell us why.

Aside from those two (rather drawn out) points I found the story poignant and fascinating. It isn’t action packed or full of twists and turns, it’s just one boy’s simple journey to find a family even in the worst conditions.

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life Book Review

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts

Rafe isn’t much good at anything, as his best friend Leo the Silent reminds him. He will never be president, not even class president. His grades were never that great. Top that off with a mother who works two shifts to pay for her dead beat boyfriend and a nosy little sister, and Rafe isn’t sure he will even survive sixth grade, especially since the beginning of the story begins with Rafe and his sister in a police car. So Rafe comes up with a plan, one that could make middle school history, he is going to set out to break every single rule in the school rule book. No foul language. Easy. No inappropriate dress. Do boxers count? But what if your rule breaking hurts someone else? And what if it means not graduating?

In this witty, insightful, and surprisingly deep novel, the reader is taken on a fun ride with a character that really knows how to draw outside the lines. Colorfully illustrated by “Rafe” and “Leo”, this is clearly a book that wants to appeal to the Wimpy Kid crowd and I think it is a perfect addition to this new graphic novel genre for middle grade readers.

Although I think the Wimpy Kid books are funny, I think this book pulled me in, in a way that Wimpy Kid didn’t. Rafe is dealing with more than lugheads, stinky cheese, and goofball moms. His mother is working two shifts and Rafe doesn’t hide his disdain of Bear, her boyfriend, who spends most of his time sleeping and the other portion of his time yelling. There is a menace there too, a silent fear that not even Rafe states, that Bear may actually have a bite to go with his bark. The other important thing about Rafe is that although he is a rule-breaker, he isn’t bad, mean, or selfish. He’s likeable, and I was really struck by how upset he became when he realized that his failing grades may mean repeating the sixth grade. Rafe’s reactions to the events surrounding him were honest and genuine, and although he may not be as goofy as the Wimpy Kid, he has real heart.

I do think the credit for this book should probably go to Chris Tebbetts (correct me if I am wrong) as I suspect it was he and not James Patterson who wrote this book. At this point I am quite certain that James Patterson’s name is being stamped on many books as a way to help sell a novel by a first time author or whatever. My cynical nature believes that James Patterson probably looks at the novel a few times and edits it and hands it back to whomever really wrote the novel, but that is about as far as he goes as being the “author” of these books. Whatever the case may be, this is a wonderful novel with a witty character and some really touching moments.