30 June 2013

The Wonder-filled Secrets of Odette and Mr. Lemoncello

School's out and the girl is free, free at last! Instead of some formal iteration of "camp", this summer she's in Daddy Day Camp. Swim team practice in the morning, a mess of swim meets throughout July, a viola lesson once a week (and viola practice every day), a horseback riding lesson once a week, and a whole lot of bicycle riding up and down the next street. Beyond that, she's got a math workbook to work through (to keep her brain in shape) and a veritable pile of books to read. And I ask you, is there anything better than a kid with her nose buried in a book?

It's a mixed bag, her book pile. There are a handful of crappy books (stuff she picked out at the library book sale), and some classics (because I can't help myself), and some good new books - like Wonder, and Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, and Odette's Secrets. And it's funny for me, getting new books for her. Since she doesn't need me to read to her any more (though we still do, because it's nice), I am in what I find to be the awkward position of feeding her book habit without having read them all first.

Both Odette and Mr. Lemoncello came to me by way of a publicist, and the ethical blogger/reviewer in me decided that the proper thing to do would be to read both before turning them over to the girl. I have to say, reading them wasn't a chore, far from it.

Chris Bravenstein's Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library strikes me as the kind of book that a child will read and remember and pass on to future children. It's a quirky tale about the opening of a new library sponsored by a rich eccentric. For the inaugural festivities, 12 kids are chosen to be locked into the library for an overnight extravaganza - which turns out to be a competition wherein the kids have to solve lots of puzzles to earn things like dessert. And to win? "Simple: Find your way out of the library using what's in the library." The book is calls to mind Willy Wonka and Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and even The Phantom Tollbooth in its inventive questing wordplay and journey through the Dewey Decimal system. It's fun, it's creative, and it celebrates smarts, collaboration and invention. Intrigued? Read the beginning on the author's website.

Maryann Macdonald's Odette's Secrets is rather the polar opposite of Lemoncello, elegiac and moving. Odette's a Jewish child living in Paris in World War II. Written in the first person, in a sort of free-verse narrative poetry, Odette tells of daily life in Paris and then in the countryside, keeping secrets all the while. Her child's voice comes through loud and clear, reminding me even of the imperious echt-child Eloise in declarations like "If I had a pet, / I would never give it up!" Her life is hard and complicated, and to survive in the Vendée, she and her cohort have to pretend to be Christians - hiding in plain sight. "I know the reason I feel safe in the country. / It's because here, / I am not a Jew. // In Paris, I am a Jew." Oof. The book's a gentle introduction to the horrors of war, Nazis, persecution, and why sometimes lying is the necessary thing to do. It's worth mentioning that it's a fictionalized version of a true story - Odette was a real person and her family photos appear through out the book.

The girl hasn't yet read Mr. Lemoncello (she wants to finish Wonder first), but I read Odette aloud to her. It's a lovely read-aloud, and she pointed out that it's a bit like The One and Only Ivan - a lyrical first person narrative with beautiful phrasing.

So, if you need some summer reading for your nine year old (give or take a couple of years), I liked these. I can't say anything about Wonder though; I haven't read it!


Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

You had me at a similarity to From the Mixed-up Files--one of my favorite childhood books. I used to love taking my kids to the bookstore at the beginning of summer.

Nadine said...

Young boy is buried in "Holes" by Louis Sachar right now. It's something I picked for him (thought he might get a message, LOL!) and happily he loves it.

His school requirement is to read "Ramona Quimby Age 8".

I'm going to load the 2 books you recommend onto his Kindle Fire right now. And I'm also going to go back to reading TO HIM which we sort of stopped doing. Great idea for down time at the pool!

Good luck to M at her swim meets!!!

leanne said...

I've pretty much given up on trying to keep up and read books before passing them on to my son -- most of the time I'm now reading them after he's done with them :) So I appreciate the suggestions for books!

Jeanne said...

My son would have loved the book about getting out of the library when he was that age; I was always looking for books like that for him. He's been reading Douglas Hofstadter to feed that longing, lately.

Catherine said...

In between the first time I read this and now, our library system acquired a copy of Mr. Lemoncello's Library! Yay.