What I Read in July 2016 Part III. . .
Eleven-year-old Lexie has been living with her grandparents since her Papa was tragically killed in a car accident and Mama married Toby, a jazz musician. Toby and Mama perform at nightclubs and Theo doesn't think a kid should live with people who sleep all day and work all night. Lexie misses her Mama terribly. Grandma has strict ideas about what girls should and shouldn't do and resents Lexie's Mama for wanting the shiny, new motorcar that caused Papa's death. Lexie dreams of returning to her Mama, if only she can find a way. When she learns her class is participating in a friendship doll exchange with Japan. Each girl will write a letter to the children of Japan to accompany the doll. The best letter writer will get to attend the farewell party in San Francisco. Lexie is uninterested at first until she discovers Mama will be singing at the party! Suddenly, she wants more than anything to go- to be with Mama again like they used to be. If only she could hold the doll, Emily Grace, and get an idea of what Emily Grace is like and what she wants to say, then Lexie knows she could win the contest.
This book is for younger readers ages 8-12. Adults might find it interesting if they don't know about the friendship doll exchange but I did. I know a lot about Japan and Japanese culture, so this book didn't really appeal to me as much as it would have otherwise. The plot is fairly predictable and contains the usual elements of a novel for this age group. There's a problem that has to be overcome, strict grandparents who seem uncaring, a flighty Mama and a mean girl.
How I hated Louise! I wanted Lexie to behave in an unladylike manner towards that girl. When Louise is given a backstory, she becomes like all the other mean girls in all the other stories for this age group. I felt a little sorry for her but not too much. Lexie is a more complicated character. I wasn't sure what decisions she would make or whether they were the right ones. She's not your typical super good little girl. She's herself- as she puts it- and Mama thinks she's the "bee's knees" just the way she is. I think kids will relate to Lexie because she's not perfect. She's very normal for a child her age. I liked Lexie's friend Jack and how he was a true friend to her.
The adults in the story are more than cardboard figures, which I appreciated. Lexie's grandparents remind me of Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert in their parenting approach. I liked how Grandma had complicated emotions and feelings but she seemed to change moods very quickly and I found her unsympathetic to the feelings of a lonely little girl missing her mother. It wasn't ladylike for Grandma to badmouth Lexie's mother in her hearing. Grandpa is a lot like Matthew but not shy. He knows when and how to put his oar in.
The introduction of Japanese culture into the novel is very nice. I have never heard of the song "The Blue Eyed Doll" so I learned a little something, even if I was already familiar with Hinamatsuri and the friendship doll exchange. I love the concept and I think we need to do it again and send dolls all over the world. If everyone took the time out to play dolls, the world would be a happier place! It breaks my heart that despite the best efforts of the children in the 1920s, the U.S. and Japan went to war anyway. I'm terribly sad so many of the dolls have been destroyed or lost. I hope more come to light soon!
Seacrow Island by Astrid Lindgren--Middle Grades Historical Fiction
I'm marking this historical fiction though it was contemporary when it was written in the 1960s.
The Mekerson family has rented a cottage on Seacrow Island for the summer. Their planned holiday doesn't quite go as expected at first: the island is only accessible by boat, they arrived in the pouring rain to a freezing cold, damp house with a leaky roof and the only children are girls! Once the sun comes out, however, the Melkersons discover just how charming Seacrow Island is. From the old beyond her years little Tjorven and her dog to tomboyish girls always ready for adventure, the Melkerson boys have a magical summer. It's only the eldest, Malin, age 19, who wonders when her time for a romantic adventure will come.
This story was really slow to start off with and I had a hard time getting into it. It didn't pick up for me until the last third when there was a cohesive plot to glue the story together and keep me reading. The Melkersons are not all that interesting or memorable, but the people they meet and the adventures they have are both interesting and enjoyable. With the island setting this story could have been set in Maritime Canada or New England. It felt like Maine to me.
I felt very sorry for Malin having to assume a motherly caregiver role at such a young age. Between Pelle's dependency and the older boys' teasing, she had no chance at a personal life. Pelle is the character I can relate to the most. I identified with his need for an animal companion and felt his emotions right along with him. I liked little Tjorven and her beloved pets. When I was that age I would have loved to be a part of their adventure with Moses and probably would have acted the same way. I also loved her rivalry with Stina and Stina's firm belief in fairy tales. That part was very funny. I wasn't crazy about Mr. Melkerson. He's like a big child and relies on Malin as much as the boys do- if not more. He was so absent-minded and lost to anything practical. His attempts to make the house more convenient for Malin were amusing but mostly I found him annoying. The ending is a little unrealistic but charming and just right for a children's book written in the mid-20th century.