Monthly Archives: February 2013


     I said this blog post would take us back to 1996, but actually it’s a 1996 book that takes us back to 1855.  Jip is a novel by two-time Newbery winner Katherine Paterson set on a poor farm in small town Vermont.  It was a great read-aloud for my daughter and I, and she insists I review for all you good folk.  In the past we read Patterson’s Bridge to Terabithia, an amazing short novel that can make a tough hombre like me cry.

The story is about a boy who’s come to be known as Jip who fell out of a speeding wagon when he was a little tyke and has lived on the poor farm for the eight years since.  He wonders how his family could not have noticed that they had a boy they lost.  In the meantime Jip has become the most valuable worker on the farm.  He has a way with animals that calms and comforts them.  In fact he even milks the cow because the cow likes him so much more than the mistress.

           Paterson is a marvel.  She has the knack to take us right there to the muddy roads and bland gruel of the poor farm.  Jip is unassuming but amazing, helping Sheldon, who’s simple, be happy and do his work.  And when the lunatic is brought to them, tied up, screaming and filthy,  it is Jip who calms him.  Jip discovers old Put is a great person who, except for his spells, is very sane.

But  a man Jip instinctively dislikes comes to visit and  tells Jip he may know where he came from.  The mystery of Jip’s past haunts us all along.  When the story is still leisurely, we see Jip fall in love with school and his first shot at book learning.

But soon enough we get to the climax of a breathless, life and death adventure.  I won’t say too much and spoil it.  It’s fantastic.



Filed under Age: Middle Grade, Age: Young Adult, Fiction, Reviews

Penny Lee and Her TV

I try not to live in the past, even though it had some really good parts.  But recently the three members of my nuclear family each commanded me to review a book on this blog.  Each one an old book, as it happens.  So here we go, to 2002, then to 1996 and 1965.

Since my wife is the technical brains behind Patterson Picks, I think she deserves for me to do her book first.  It’s a 2002 book I found subbing at Ventura Park Elementary a few weeks ago.  And it got big laughs from the almost-seven-year-old, the almost-ten-year-old and both of the adults in this house.

Penny Lee and Her TV , written and illustrated by Glenn McCoy, introduces us to only two living characters:  Penny Lee and her dog, Mr. Barkley.  And it is pretttty boring to be Mr. Barkley.  Here’s why:  “Penny Lee didn’t have any friends.  She didn’t need any.  The TV was her best friend.”  She even sleeps on top of it and dreams commercials.

Poor Mr. Barkley tries everything his dog brain can think of to get a little attention.  Even when he puts ramps on both sides of the TV and rides his motorcycle through a flaming hoop mounted on the TV, Penny doesn’t even notice.  (But the readers do.  We all cracked up at the dog with his giant nose and American flag motorcycle helmet.)

Then one morning Penny wakes to a cold, dark TV screen.  She’s hysterical ‘til Mr. Barkley shows her a TV repair ad in the newspaper.  They set off rolling their TV down the sidewalk, and Penny can’t get over how bright and colorful the real world is.  And she’s flummoxed by how she can’t use her remote control to switch the “channel” she is walking through.  Would you believe they have fun on the way to the shop?  They go for rides on the TV down steep hills, use the cord for a jump rope, and play hide and seek at the park.  (Penny is easy to find because she has to hide by the big TV.)

It’s a quick, satisfying story replete with sight gags like when Penny and Mr. Barkley do chalk drawing on the sidewalk.  Penny draws her favorite TV superhero and her TV; Mr. Barkley draws a bone, a tree and a fire hydrant.  They have so much fun on the way to the shop that it’s closed by the time they get there.  And Penny isn’t even mad!

After Penny goes to sleep in her own bed for a change, we find that Mr. Barkley has a little secret that ends the story perfectly.

Next time, a trip to 1996.  Don’t change that blog channel…


Filed under Age: Early Elementary, Age: Preschool, Fiction, Picture Books, Reviews

Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch

Want a cozy, miraculous feeling for Valentine’s Day?  Have I got the book for you!  Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch is a gripping picture book for all ages.

Mr. Hatch was not a happy man.  The book begins, “Mr. Hatch was tall and thin and he did not smile.  Every morning at 6:30 sharp he would leave his brick house and walk eight blocks to the shoelace factory where he works.”  Mr. Hatch lives a drab, isolated existence.  But then on Valentine’s Day the postman delivers him an enormous heart-shaped box of candies.  Mr. Hatch is stunned.  And a little white card with it says, “Somebody loves you.”  Finally it sinks in:  he has a secret admirer.

Mr. Hatch is transformed in the way our hearts come alive when we have people to care about and be with.  Pretty soon he does something he had never done before:  he laughs.

At first the neighborhood is stunned as he greets them from the sidewalk.  In fact, Mrs. Weed trips over her dog and little Tina Finn spills all the toys from her wagon.  But quickly everyone gets used to wonderful, new Mr. Hatch.  He shares his candy with everyone at work, he helps the man at the newsstand whom he’s never spoken to before, and he has brownie parties with all the kids in the neighborhood where he plays his harmonica.

Then just about the most mortifying thing in human history happens:  the postman sadly returns and tells Mr. Hatch he delivered the candy box to the wrong address.  Mr. Hatch brings the postman the empty box and the little card that says “Somebody loves you”.  Mr. Hatch returns to his drab, gray existence.

So have I just shared the biggest bummer in literature with you since Old Yeller bit the big one, or will things turn around?

This is a miracle of a book.  I read it jealously, wishing I’d dreamed it up myself.  Eileen Spinelli is the lucky scribe the universe gave the story to.  And Paul Yalowitz’s colored pencil drawings maintain the perfect-itude of this 1991 classic.

            Happy Valentine’s Day.


Filed under Age: Early Elementary, Age: Preschool, Holidays: Valentine's Day, Picture Books, Reviews


Why to read the graphic novel Hereville:  How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch (2010):

Teaser on cover:  “Yet Another Troll-Fighting 11-Year-Old Orthodox Jewish Girl”

Terrific story-telling centering on Mirka and her little brother.  Reads itself!

Yiddish words with definitions at the bottom of the page.

Great characters like her stepmother Fruma who loves to argue an intellectual point.  If you agree with her she’ll start arguing the other side!

Varied page layouts that keep your eyes entertained.

A big, unforgiving pig who talks.

Memorable witch dispensing advice.

Homely, beautifully-weird troll.

Can our hero out-knit the troll so he doesn’t eat her? Summary:  winner.

Look for  brand new sequel:  Hereville:  How Mirka Met a Meteorite.


Filed under Age: Middle Grade, Age: Young Adult, Fiction, Reviews