Absolutely Almost

  • Author: Lisa Graff
  • Publisher: Pengin/Philomel                        Pub date: 2014
  • Intended for: Ages 8 to 12
  • Perfect for: Ages 8 to 12 and anyone looking for a realistic look at life from the perspective of an average 10-year-old kid.

51paTf2xL2LAlbie is the ten-year-old protagonist in Absolutely Almost and at the beginning of the story he’s just been kicked out of his private school in Manhattan for not performing well enough academically. Of course his parents don’t come out and tell him this, but he overhears enough of a conversation between his mother and grandfather to know what’s going on.

So from the beginning of the story we learn that Albie’s life is filled with lots of people telling him he’s not good enough. His father tells him that “almost” isn’t good enough—he wants perfect spelling test scores. His mother is hoping that Albie tests positive for dyslexia because that would give her a reason for his less-than-spectacular grasp of reading and math. On top of that, Albie’s best friend for the past six years is moving from across the hall to across the park. To top it all off, a mean boy at his new public school calls Albie “dummy” from day one.

That’s a lot for a young boy to deal with. A naïve young boy who believes people have the best of intentions.

There are so many good things about this book and one of them is that Albie isn’t your normal storybook hero. Throughout the whole book he struggles. He struggles with school. He struggles with friendships. He struggles with knowing the right thing to do. He tries really hard, but in the end he’s an average kid who is working his way through life and I love that readers get to read about someone like him.

Another one of the good things about this book is that the story told in short chapters that are great for young readers. Digestible chapters that aren’t intimidating. Each chapter is a snippet from Albie’s life, which gives readers a good look into how he navigates the murky waters all around him.

Yet another good thing is that Graff has created some really human, multi-dimensional characters, with the parents being realistically flawed, Albie’s math club teacher being patient and understanding, his best friend being true to himself, and his babysitter Calista being sympathetic, supportive, and encouraging.

It is through Calista that Albie begins to see that maybe he is good enough just as he is. She is patient and kind and never preachy with him, which is just the kind of approach Albie seems to need.

This book is the whole package—great writing, solid, well-developed characters, an interesting story, and a good deal of fun as well. Highly recommended.

Claude at the Beach

  • Author/illustrator: Alex T. Smith
  • Publisher: Peachtree                        Pub date: 2014, first published in the UK in 2011
  • Intended for: Ages 7 to 9
  • Perfect for: Young children, as well as anyone looking for a fun, silly read.

Claude at the Beach cover

Ooh la la! Claude is such a fun character! My first foray into this ongoing early chapter book series is Claude at the Beach, but after reading this fun book, I’m happy to see that there are previous entries (Claude at the Circus, Claude in the City), as well as later ones (Claude on the Slopes).

What makes this series stand out to me is its absolute silliness. The premise is that Claude is an ordinary dog in his owner’s eyes (Mr. and Mrs. Shinyshoes). They live in the city and always have an errand to run or somewhere to run off to, leaving Claude behind to nap. But Claude is not napping—he’s just waiting for his owners to leave so he can go on his next trip.

Claude interior 1

Claude interior 2Claude takes his best friend, Sir Bobblysock (yep, his best friend is a sock), on each of his adventures and the two of them get into both a mix of trouble and a lot of fun. For instance, when they go to the beach, Claude not only becomes a hero and saves a boy from being eaten by a shark, but he also gets some sun time in, runs into some pirates, finds treasure, and gets home before anyone wonders where he may have wandered off to.

The artwork is attractively retro, washed in black, white, pinks, and reds. Claude is drawn with a French flair, always wearing his beret. The digital artwork is both detailed and simple, making the artwork accessible to a wide range of readers.

Claude interior 3

 

Claude interior 5The silly best friend, the over-the-top adventures, and plenty of fun words that roll off the tongue make this a must-read for young readers. Highly recommended.

The Farmer and the Clown

  • Author/illustrator: Marla Frazee
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books              Pub date: 2014
  • Intended for: Ages 4 to 8
  • Perfect for: ANYONE! Really. Both children and adults will enjoy this book.

Farmer and Clown cover

I had mixed emotions picking up this book. On the one hand it’s Marla Frazee! One of my absolute favorite author/illustrators. Her books always make me laugh, smile, and make me behold the wonders of life. On the other, the title of this book and the cover left me worried. A clown? I just don’t like ‘em. Too creepy. And that barren landscape on the cover? It looked a bit depressing. But, as I should have known, Marla Frazee wouldn’t let me down. This book is BEAUTIFUL.

It’s a wordless account of a farmer who befriends a young boy who is a clown with a traveling circus. The lone farmer brings the young boy in with no hesitation and his world is instantly brightened with the play, laughter, and wonder that the boy brings into his life.

Farmer and Clown interior 1

Farmer and Clown interior 2

Farmer and Clown interior 4

Farmer and Clown interior 5Holy moly does Frazee know how to tell a story. The emotion and beauty that comes through in her work is amazing to me. I got choked up when I was reading this book. She’s THAT good, people. And of course she is also great at subtle humor—the ending illustration is a great example of that.

Farmer and Clown interior 6

Farmer and Clown interior 7Words really don’t do this book justice so I’ll stop here and just tell you that it’s fabulous all around (although that cover isn’t winning any awards in my book) and I recommend it very highly.