Thursday, January 28, 2016

What I Read in August 2015 Part VI

What I Read in August 2015 Part VI ...

Al Capone Does My Homework
Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko-- Middle Grades Historical Fiction

January 1936: Moose's dad has been promoted to Associate Warden - ahead of Darby Trixel. Darby was sure he'd get that promotion and he is super mad. Moose knows he has to look out for his dad and protect him against Trixel and the cons, but how can he do that and be a normal kid? He also has to look after Natalie, who is home on vacation. Natalie is supposed to be working on eye contact and she stubbornly refuses to do it. Moose is frustrated by his sister's "funny business" but he's quick to defend her when their apartment burns and fingers point to Natalie as the arsonist. Moose knows his sister didn't do it but a niggling thought in the back of his mind fears she DID do it and they'll all get kicked off the island and Natalie won't be allowed back at school. On top of all this, there's a mysterious note in Al Capone's handwriting on Moose's essay and Annie is turning from "one of the boys gal pal" into a beautiful young woman. He's sort of Piper's boyfriend, or is he? What's she up to anyway acting so unusual? Moose has a lot on his shoulders!

The plot of this story was a little less compelling than the previous two. I figured out the mystery pretty much right away. I thought it was mentioned in the beginning and I connected the dots. There are some surprises in the plot though.I was a little surprised by the final reveal. I was frustrated by the attempts to force Natalie to make eye contact and act out of her comfort zone. I know this is hard work. The Mrs. Kelly reveals the reason why and it made sense. This story focuses less on Natalie and more on Moose, Annie, Jimmy and Piper. Theresa appears for comic relief and Natalie does play a larger role as the story goes on.

I liked Moose a little better in this book now he's stopped mooning over Piper. His worries are valid this time though I still wish he would confide in an adult. He always feels better once he does! The Al Capone business is very minor in this one compared to the previous two books. It doesn't really make a lot of sense until Moose suddenly figures it out. His growing feelings for Annie develop very slowly and the romance is very sweet and almost non-existent.

Piper is less annoying but she does something stupid she should have known not to do. I didn't really feel that bad for her. Jimmy's new scientific study is on cockroaches. It's pretty gross but funny and ingenious.

The Trixels are the most awful people. Their actions go from bad to worse in this novel. I just hate them. The villain I didn't like them from the first and suspected that everything was connected. Moose had a niggling suspicion too but wanted to like this person and with everything else he was going through, just didn't figure it out. This character is the only new character central to the story. Annie's dad and Theresa and Jimmy's dad make cameo appearances and there are some new cons but we don't get to know them too well.

I like the reader for this book. He doesn't sound 13 but he pitches his voice differently for each character and makes me believe he's a woman, a girl and a 13 year old boy.

The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate (Calpurnia Tate, #2)The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly-- Middle Grades Historical Fiction

Callie Vee, the endearing heroine from The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is back. It's spring 1900 and Callie Vee has high hopes for the new year and new century. She continues her scientific studies but it isn't always easy with her younger brother Travis tagging along. Travis loves nature too, but his love comes in the form of obsession with animals. He's searching for the perfect pet and Callie knows that Travis's idea of a perfect pet may get him in trouble and she can't let that happen. After a devastating tragedy, Callie's cousin Aggie comes to stay and Callie has high hopes Aggie will be the older sister she never had. Along with Aggie, the tragedy introduces Callie Vee to someone new who will influence her future life plans. Her parents of course, have other ideas.

I didn't quite enjoy this story as much as the first. The primary reason being Callie's scientific studies have progressed to dissection. Being more like Travis, I'm a real animal lover and squeamish about blood and guts. I did enjoy the science project ideas and if this book had been around when I was a kid, I may have been a bit more enthusiastic about science. I also enjoyed the history of scientific study and how the processes we take for granted were quite new in 1900. There's also a great description of the largest natural disaster in U.S. history. Young readers may make the connection to a certain natural disaster that occurred 10 years ago. The story features less of Grandpa and Callie and Grandpa's relationship, which is what made the first book so special.

Callie is as spunky as ever. Her vocabulary is growing bigger and she narrates her story in a scientific manner. She does occasionally act like a normal 12 year old girl which is funny and makes her sympathetic. She faces challenges as a girl and as a girl who wants to be a scientist. I think girls interested in STEM will relate but at least no one expects a girl today to limit her expectations to marriage. I really felt for Callie. It was tough to be her in this story and I would love to see her succeed some day.

The story is largely about Travis. Travis is a sweet, warm-hearted boy whose heart is bigger than his common sense. I both loved and cringed at his numerous adopted pets. As an adult I know better. As a child I probably wouldn't have crossed my parents but it wouldn't have stopped me from wanting to try. His adventures are sweet and funny.

Aggie is one of two new characters introduced in this story. I was hoping she would be an unexpected ally for Callie. Callie learns a few things from her cousin but largely I found Aggie predictable and stereotypical. Callie is a more interesting character. Dr. Pritzker, a veterinarian, is the second new character in the novel. At first he isn't any different from any other man of his day but as he comes to know Callie and her grandfather, he becomes more interesting. I found the scenes with his actually practicing veterinary medicine a bit too graphic.

Fans of the first book will enjoy this one too and if you haven't read the first one, this works OK as a stand-alone.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave comments and or suggestions for QNPoohBear, the modern bluestocking.