Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie

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Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie

By Julie Sternberg, Illustrated by Matthew Cordell

 

Published by: Amulet Books; 1 edition (March 18, 2011)

Available in: hardcover, paperback, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review there were three books in a “juice” series by this author.

 

Tender.

Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie is something wonderful. There’s a lot more going on than in most chapter books, and where first appearances speak to simplicity, thoughtful craft rules the end product.

little-girl-pickleOur protagonist is the dry-witted Eleanor, a city girl who has to explore the sadness of someone important leaving, the hurt of missing as time goes on, and the reluctance of a new relationship. She also learns acceptance, and even discovers unexpected joy.

Eleanor is somewhat reminiscent of Charlie Brown, Billy Crystal and Woody Allen in her dry, somewhat pessimistic tone. But this is never a downer. And the comparison is especially poignant as artist Cordell’s illustrations are nostalgic and unassuming. Power to those who draw softly.taxi

The real gem, though, is writer Sternberg’s spare, poetic prose. The rhythm, pace and sheer elegance of emotions are stellar. For example, see one section in chapter 17:

It was bad because

Natalie ran my bath

and checked the water

and checked it again

to make sure it wasn’t too hot.

Just like Bibi.

When Bibi stayed late.

To make it complete, the art direction is unfussy and clean. The no-nonsense, blunt, sans serif typeface perfectly captures the first person voice of our young narrator. And the quick chapters make this an ideal fit with the sensitive independent reader.

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What do you say teachers, parents and writers? Use the comment below and let’s chat….

The Life of Ty

ty cover

The Life of Ty: Penguin Problems

By Lauren Myracle, Illustrated by Jed Henry

 

Published by: Puffin; Reprint edition (May 2, 2013)

Available in: hardcover, paperback, library binding, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review there were two books in The Life of Ty series.

 

 

Displaced.

Young Ty is a sweet and tender heart, and oh so very seven. Not the stereotypical seven-year-old boy who is all bravado and action, but a real boy who is innocent and guileless and still needs his mother. Problem is, she has a new baby, and this takes all of her time.

This brings a story slim on plot, long on character. The point of view is squarely in Ty’s mind, which is refreshing. And at times, a little hard to follow. Stream of consciousness can be a bit clunky when a new character is in his first book, since we have no past reference for friends, actions or feelings. Thus, anytime something comes up, Ty’s narrative explains it. Which can get in the way of forward progress.

That’s my only criticism. Once the reader gets in the groove of the writing, The Life of Ty: Penguin Problems is a glorious book. Ty’s school world feels utterly real with little details, such as “crisscross applesauce” and morning meetings instead of rote lessons. His family is absolutely believable in the complicated way of families: love them and hate them, depending on the moment. And his friends are interesting, crazy and touching.

Two friends in particular will hit a chord with most readers. Lexie, the girl with whom he plays most often, is sometimes a little too wild. This bothers Ty. Also, another girl wants Lexie as her best friend, which pushes Ty to the sidelines. That’s hard for Ty, and hard to watch. And then there’s Joseph, Ty’s best friend, who happens to be in the hospital with leukemia. When they interact, it is to have fun scaring each other with funny noises, make jokes or talk about goofy stuff. Nowhere does this get maudlin. The reality of this health crisis is grounded and eye opening.

Author Myracle does a stellar job embracing the ultimate writing rule: we are shown Ty’s world, not told about it. That visual and honesty is both charming and heartbreaking. Real life, real problems, real boy. The final scenes involving a penguin stretch the believability factor, but it’s a comic plot twist that readers will enjoy.

The illustrations by Jed Henry maintain the easy ambiance of the text. But with just one or two per chapter, I only wish there were more.

What do you say teachers, parents and writers? Use the comment below and let’s chat….