Saturday, March 25, 2017

What I Read in December 2016 Part VI . . .

What I Read in December 2016 Part VI . . .

Mischief Season: A Twins StoryMischief Season: A Twins Story by John Bemelmans Marciano, illustrated by Sophie Blackall--Middle Grades Historical Fiction

Emilio and Rosa are twins living on a farm outside the village of Benevento, an ancient town famous for its witches! Mysterious and bad things are happening on the farm. Rosa blames the Janara, the witches but Papa blames Rosa! Rosa has blamed witches on her own laziness one too many times. Papa doesn't want to hear another word about Janara. The twins and their cousins set out to find out how to stop the Janara.

This is a really cute story. The introduction by the demons explains the different types of witches in Benevento. The charming illustrations show the village as it looked even before the time of my great-grandparents who were from a nearby village. The plot moves quickly. At first it's ambiguous whether the mischief is Rosa's laziness or something supernatural but it soon becomes clear which it is. Very little overlaps with Primo's story so it doesn't feel repetitive when read out of order. I wasn't crazy about Rosa. She's lazy and eager to blame anyone else for her slacking. Not that I'm not lazy but I found her a little naughty, like her cousin Primo. Emilio is much more level headed! Amerigo Peg-leg and Zia Pia add to the quirky old world charm of this story.

This series is best for kids 8+. My second grade niece can read some of it herself and is eager to try on her own. Her 3 year old brother finds it too scary.

The All-Powerful Ring: A Primo StoryThe All-Powerful Ring: A Primo Story by John Bemelmans Marciano, illustrated by Sophie Blackall--Middle Grades Historical Fiction

Lazy Primo discovers a gold ring hidden inside a fish. He becomes convinced the ring is magic and will save him from the evil witch known as the Manalonga. He tries any number of things to prove the ring is magic but his annoying sister and cousins always seem to intervene. Then something horrid happens and proves to Primo the ring is magic, or is it? You must read Maria Beppina's book to get her side of the story.

This is a cute story for early middle-grade readers. Primo is a little naughty, a lot lazy and believes in superstition in order to avoid responsibility. Or is he? For children, Primo will be a likeable character and they will believe firmly in what they're told is happening. Adults might question whether there are such things as witches and adults might find Primo a not very good role model for their children. The plot engaged my attention enough to read it all in one sitting. I wish my Nonnie was still alive to ask her about the Manalonga, et. al. She grew up in a village very near Benevento about 100 years later.

The best part of the book is the illustrations. They are incorporated into the story as part of the book and not just to point out a few key scenes. The illustrations are so charming and fun. I also really liked the letter from the magical being that lends some credence to the villagers' superstitions. There's also a historical note and witch glossary in the back.

Beware the Clopper!Beware the Clopper! by John Bemelmans Marciano, illustrated by Sophie Blackall--Middle Grades Historical Fantasy

Maria Beppina likes living above her cousin Primo's family. It makes her feel like one of the family. Yet, she isn't sure her cousins actually like her. Maria Beppina is the odd duck in the family. She's the slowest runner, wears shoes and can read books. She is also very curious about The Clopper, the witch that chases children through the old Roman theater. Her father tells her to ignore such superstitions but Maria Beppina can't help but be curious. One day she decides to stop running ...

This is such a cute book. This is more of what I was expecting with Primo's story. There's a good dose of supernatural, which makes this story a little scary for young readers but I liked it. I was really curious as to what happened when Maria Beppina stopped running from The Clopper. I wasn't disappointed. The sweet story teaches a gentle lesson.

I really liked Maria Beppina. She's the sweetest of the cousins. I can relate to her being the slowest runner and the most bookish in a group. She seems to have a more gentle personality than the other girls. I liked the juxtaposition of her more citified father versus the superstitious villagers. I can relate to that because my great-grandmother was educated so I didn't grow up with the stereotypical Italian superstitions. (Though I do remember my great-aunt using an eel for warding off evil eye or something once). I wish my Nonnie was still alive to ask what some of the words mean. It was great to finally meet the demons who wrote the introduction! That was perplexing not to know who they were. My only complaint was the rehashing of what happened in Primo's story. It's both good- because this works as a stand alone- and bad, because I already read Book 2.

The illustrations in this series are so amazing! I just love the village. I wish I could show this book to my Nonnie. Like the twins she lived on a farm outside the main village. I wonder how much her village resembled the one in the illustrations. I like the full page illustrations and am curious to see how the framed ones go together like a puzzle. I can easily picture my ancestors now.

I can't wait to read the rest of the series and have my dad read these to my nieces and nephews.

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