El Deafo by Cece Bell

El Deafo by Cece Bell (2014)

This graphic memoir is beautifully written and illustrated, and is really great for readers of all ages.  (I read this book just after Christmas and before New Year’s after being on hold for it at my local public library.)  Cece is growing up in the 1970s and 80s and has a hearing impairment after an illness as a preschooler.  She also believes that she is a super hero.  This is really a powerful story about navigating the world of school and friends with a hearing impairment.

Notes from a Totally Lame Vampire by Tim Collins

Notes from a Totally Lame Vampire by Tim Collins

I picked this book up off the new book shelf at the local public library branch. It was a vampire book I hadn’t seen before. It’s an easy, fun read. It is a juvenile/teen fiction title, but that did not stop me, of course. The author basically makes fun of all of the various vampire legends and lore – including Twilight. (Anything that makes fun of Twilight makes me laugh.)

Nigel is a nearly 100-year-old teenage vampire. He has been going to school all of this time, to blend in, but he slacks off in certain subjects (hey, he’ll be learning it all again in the years to come!) He still has the typical and not so typical arguments with his parents (after all, they are hundreds of years old). Nigel did not get the beauty, the speed, and the power that most vampires acquire when they become vampires. It may have been due to his age. When he is exposed to the sun, he even breaks out in pimples! So this is what makes him “totally lame.”

Because he has no natural vampire attractions, how does he get Chloe to go out with him?

This book is written in diary format (Nigel is a talented writer, painter and musician, but he can’t show his talents to the world, or people might become suspicious as to the family’s vampire natures), and really well done. It becomes obvious that Nigel has followed the times . . . he loves various video games and game systems.

I won’t give away the ending! I look forward to reading the sequel.

Title: Nothing’s Fair in the Fifth Grade

Nothing’s Fair in the Fifth Grade by Barthe DeClements, Copyright 1981, Apple Paperbacks

Summary: Jennie is in the fifth grade. She hangs around with her two best friends, Diane and Sharon. Their teacher, Mrs. Hanson, asks Jennie to show Elsie, the new girl, around the school. Jenny wishes she hasn’t been asked. . . Elsie is the fattest girl she has ever seen, and doesn’t want associated with her. Through a series of events throughout the book, Jenny learns about Elsie’s life (and Elsie is great in math, and tutors Jenny), and becomes more compassionate. Eventually Jenny and Elsie really become friends.

Doctors making house calls (page 40 – “I’d drink it and throw up. The doctor came. He told mother I was dehydrated”) : I thought it was funny back when I first read this, too. I was aware that doctors used to make house calls back in “the olden days”, but I was around in 1981 when this was published. My doctor didn’t make house calls back then. No, we had to go wait in the waiting room for three hours to be seen finally, because they were always so behind with their appointments. When would the doctor have had time to get in a car and drive to our house? This is something that today’s kids really wouldn’t get at all, either.

Pop Culture References:
They liked to watch “Mork and Mindy”. Even by the mid-80s when I read this book, I really was not familiar with that show. This was first time we had cable tv in our house, and we enjoyed whatever was being shown on Nickelodeon – mostly shows such as The Monkees, as well as programming like You Can’t Do that On Television, Double Dare, etc. Anyway, part of my point is that this could be relevant today, to today’s 10 year olds, but because of the references to shows that were on 30 years ago now, this almost seems like historical fiction at times to someone reading it today. I just looked up Mork & Mindy on IMDB – It was on the air from 1978 to 1982. It seems that the DVDs have been released.

Then there is the music. I love record players and old records. However, it’s funny when they listen to the Bee Gees, and they are changing records. At the time I didn’t blink an eye when Elton JJohn was mentioned, because he was still popular and records were still around though on their way out. Jenny’s mom buys a Burl Ives record for Jenny’s little brother Kenny. Burl Ives? Even as a kid at the time, I had no idea who Burl Ives was.

Jenny’s Dad: He’s very opposed to Jenny’s mom getting a job, even though her job will help pay for a new car, which they need. He wants her there at home when he wants to eat. Also, he wanted her there to be with the kids, because he goes bowling. He’s a very one-dimensional character who is very ’50s TV father-like (like the one brought to life in the movie Pleasantville). As a kid, I thought this was just odd, because of course women could work, and in my experience up until the time I first read this book, my dad never went bowling. I thought that was silly. Dads performed weddings and took moms to wedding receptions. Jenny’s dad didn’t cook. Mine did on occaison, and would make stuff my mom never would – like rhubarb pie.

Elsie loses weight, eventually, as the book goes on. The teacher at school has to help “police” Elsie’s diet, because Elsie would beg for food from her classmates. I am sure this was easier, because the students ate their lunches in the class room. I keep pointing out the weird stuff, but I always thought that would be fun, to eat in the classroom. In none of my schools did we ever have to eat in the classroom. We had lunch room space elsewhere in the school. I always wondered in what school DID kids get to eat in their rooms. I always thought that would have been easier, because then you already have your assigned seating, and you wouldn’t have to worry about who to sit with, and all of the other anxiety-producing issues that come with the lunch room.

There is perhaps more to say about this book, and I will work on it if time allows. The cover above is my own original copy from back then. I wrote my name on the cover page five times with a variety of writing utensils (a multi-colored pencil, blue ballpoint pen, and two Magic Markers – blue and brown). My mother was tutoring a girl one summer, and used this book. I wanted to make sure I got my book back! I was not trusting it with anyone else.

Title: Barbie’s Adventures To Read Aloud

Barbie’s Adventures to Read Aloud by Jean Bethell and Illustrated by Claudine Nankivel
Copyright: 1964 by Mattel, Inc. Cover price: $0.39

Did you know that Barbie circa 1964 had brown hair? I did, but that’s only because I sometimes got to play with my aunt’s old Barbie doll. As you can see on the cover (Barbie is to the right, and her BFF Midge is on the left), she does!

Did you know that Barbie has a last name? She’s Barbie Roberts! And Ken’s last name is Carson. In re-reading this book, I find that Midge does not have a last name. Are there still Midge dolls available in stores now?

The front cover, near the bottom, says: “America’s favorite foll, Barbie, comes alive in a series of fast-moving, madcap adventures that will have boys and girls alike begging for more. Join her and her friends and let the fun begin!” Really? Boys, too? The cover itself calls out for girls!! Where’s Ken on the cover?

This book is really a series of ‘episodes’ really, a chapter takes us a little farther into 9 months of teenage Barbie’s life. I was given this book by my grandpa about 25 years ago. (He and my grandma also brought me another book at the same time, but I will discuss this one later.) I think they thought that I would enjoy this book, and at the time, I was the only granddaughter (they had five grandsons otherwise). I was just about 8 years old. I was the proud owner of one Barbie doll with blond hair. It was fascinating to see a brown-haired Barbie in the midst of 1980s Barbie-blondness. At the time, it was only about 20 years since the book was published.

The first chapter is about Barbie’s birthday. It is apparently her sixteenth birthday, and it strikes me as very funny now how this was — “Overnight you’ve become a grownup. You’re not a baby any more. Of course, Barbie had noticed that when people become very ancient-when they reach twenty-two, for instance – they aren’t as happy about having birthdays as they used to be. But she thought she understood why. After you’ve lived twenty-two whole years, you’re probably very tired and feeble” (6). She thinks everyone who’s “tired and feeble” and even her not so feeble BFF (in today’s parlance) Midge have forgotten her birthday! Oh no! Barbie shouldn’t have been worried, however, because her parents have planned a marvelous surprise party for her. Surprise!!

In “The School Play”, their English teacher Mr. Sutton announces the tryouts for the school play, which is going to be a fairy tale. In light of all of the recent Barbie movies where Barbie is the princess, this chapter is really very funny and a bit ironic. Barbie spends most of this chapter preparing for the audition – making sure she looks princess-like in her looks, how she walks, and so on. The night before she puts her hair in curlers and goes to bed after lounging like she expects a princess would do. Guess what happens next. . . when she wakes up in the morning, she is all stuffed up, and her voice is hoarse! She can hardly speak! Oh dear! Every thing seems to go wrong. During her audition, the heel of her shoe breaks, so now she is walking oddly, too. What else can go wrong?

Well, luckily for Barbie, Mr. Sutton keeps in her in the play. She’ll have the opportunity for stardom that she’d dreampt of. . . but as the “Wicked Old Queen”, instead. Mr. Sutton says that she will definitely be the star of the play with this role if she is as terrible in the performance as she was in the audition! Meanwhile, the sterotyping in this book is rather blatant: When Mr. Sutton gives the Princess role to Marcia Nolan, he tells her, “‘We can’t have a Princess with a short read crewcut'” (67).

How about Barbie’s Adventures in High School Musical style? Hmmm. . .

In “Barbie’s Big Adventure”, we find out this: “Barbie had a job! It was the first job she had ever had, and she was enjoying the new experience very much. She was working as a leader at the summer camp in Willow Community Park” (87). Ken was working at the summer camp, too, as a swimming instuctor. He has a group of little boys, one of whom is very naughty. Barbie takes her group of girls on a hike. The girls have never been in the woods before, and one girl asks if they’ll see an elephant. First: “Barbie made sure each girl was wearing comfortable rubber-soled shoes” (89). They use markings of various kinds to mark their path so they can find their way back out of the woods. Then the naughty little boy whom by now Ken has kicked out of the pool due to his naughtiness has wandered into the woods and begins destroying the trail markers.
Never fear – the girls are not lost for a long time. Barbie does a good job with the girls. Ken does try to come to the rescue, though, when a rock with Barbie’s lucky hair ribbon is brought back to camp by the naughty little boy.

In a previous chapter, “A Present for Mother”, Barbie wants to give her mother something homemade for Mother’s Day. However, a ‘naughty little boy’ comes into play here, too. Barbie buys leather and leather working tools to make her mother a purse. She takes the supplies to Midge’s house so she can work in secret. This is when we learn that Midge has a little brother, Albert. When Barbie and Midge take a break from their ‘hard work’ (Midge is wrapping a bottle of perfume for her mother, which is just such hard work apparently. . .) to drink milk and eat the cookies Midge’s mom had freshly baked, Albert slips into Midge’s bedroom to cut up all the leather. We just learn that Albert is “naughty” and we never learn anything else about him. I wonder if there was an Albert doll?

There are more chapters that I have not covered, but really you’re not missing that much. There is the trip to the beach and the story of the lost little dog. We do learn that Barbie’s father, Mr. Roberts, is allergic to dogs, so that’s something.

I will probably be reviewing Joan Lowery Nixon’s The Other Side of Dark next time.

Title: The Dollhouse Murders

(Cover of my signed copy in 1986. It was signed inside on the front cover.)

The Dollhouse Murders
by Betty Ren Wright was copyrighted in 1983. I didn’t read it until 1986 at age 11. I don’t know if I would have ever read it, except for the fact that I had a chance to meet Ms. Wright at the author fair at the Lake Geneva Public Library (Wisconsin) on November 15, 1986. I believe that my mom bought me the book there, and then I took it into the room where the various authors were waiting to sign their books for their adoring readers. At that point in time, I was sure that I was going to be a Writer when I grew up. My mom asked Ms. Wright to tell me that I needed to have another profession, too, so I could earn money and have health insurance as an adult. At the time, I said, no, I was just going to write and become famous. (I know it’s still not too late. I can continue working at this. . . )

Ms. Wright was a very kind and gracious woman. I felt more shy than usual in her presence. She was an Author! I couldn’t believe that Authors were really very real people. It was quite intimidating for me, but she was very nice (which made me think all Author as nice people, which didn’t seem to be the case the next year when I met a different Author – a YA writer – who seemed very put out – but that will be another entry in the future). After meeting her, and reading Dollhouse Murders, I proceeded to borrow the rest of her juvenile/pre-teen books from the library, and to read her new books as the came out even as I got older. I loved her style.

On to the actual book —
Amy finds an old dollhouse in the attic of her aunt’s house. It looks completely like her aunt’s house, too, inside and outside. Lots of strange thing happen, such as the dolls moving on their own (and this gave me a taste for creepy doll stories – in high school I moved on to Ruby Jean Jensen horror paperbacks, particularly her book Baby Doll.) The back cover blurb says, “Amy knows the dolls are trying to tell her something – but she’s terrified to find out what.” I had to read to find out what, of course.

The books begins with Amy with her best friend Ellen, and they are out in public trying to look for Louann, Amy’s younger sister who is larger than she is but Amy has to take care of because she is mentally retarded. She resents having to take care of her all the time (which some things later in this book resolve – things with their mother, mostly), and runs away to her aunt’s house. Her aunt is great, and offers to let her stay there a little while, to get away, even offers to host Amy and Ellen’s joint sleepover birthday party. However, her aunt gets angry and upset when she finds that the dollhouse (which was hers when she was younger) has been played with, and the dolls, who represent her aunt’s murdered grandparents, are in the positions they were in when they (the grandparents) died. She does not believe Amy when Amy says that she is not the one moving the dolls. It is finally when Louann witnesses it and corroborates the story that Aunt Clare finally believes. They figure out that the dolls/the grandma’s spirit is trying to show them where to find the answers to what happened all those years ago. The grandma doll leads them to the house’s library room – and a letter is found in a book. It turned out that Aunt Clare thought that she was responsible for the death of her grandparents – that her boyfriend at the time killed them. It turned out it wasn’t him at all. Aunt Clare starts looking very young again, and stops beating herself up over it.

It was a very satisfying read. I had already liked ghost stories, but this book I would recommend easily to 8 to 12 year olds. I really, really liked the author, too, as a person. It is important for kids and teens to actually meet the author. It’s magical . . .

Title: Angie and Me

Since I mentioned this in my previous entry, I thought I would go ahead and write about it. Unfortunately, I do not own this book! Fortunately, it is available at quite a few libraries yet.

Here is the cover. As you can see, the cover looks like a pencil drawing with two other colors involved, yellow and green. It really looks very hospitalish with those colors, too. It was published in 1981, almost two years before I read it for the first time.

When I was 8 years old and in third grade, we were on our weekly visit to the school library. In my elementary school, the library was housed in the cafeteria! The stacks were around the perimeter of the room, with the rows of lunch tables in the middle. Anyway, I remember looking to see if any Judy Blume books were in (no, they were all out) and then started looking for something else that might be interesting. That’s when I discovered this book.

Right away, I was intrigued by the “blurb” on the book jacket. It begins: “Jenna is adamant.” This lined hooked me. What in the world did ‘adamant’ mean? I had to find out. It turned out that she has Juvenile Rhuematoid Arthritis, and would spend some time in the hospital over the summer to get it under control.

I started reading this book, and this is the first time that I actually stayed up really late so that I could finish the book. I even read under the covers. I had to find out what happened to Jenna and Angie. It was also the first book I ever cried while reading. However, there were plenty of funny parts. As a fairly naiive reader, this was also the first time that I realized that someone could write things in a book such as this example from page 19, “When Mrs. Anderson came around the desk to inspect me more closely, I gulped. I’d never seen such an enormous woman. Her breasts were about the size of basketballs.”

It never occurred to me until many, many years later – when I was in my 20s – that cortisone is a steroid and that is could be similar to prednisone. In my preteen and teen years, I took prednison on and off for my asthma episodes. It never occurred to me that this medication could have led to my weight gain. However, in this book, Jenna is on cortisone for her JRA, and she starts looking “puffy”. She and Angie have a whole conversation about this. I thought it was funny at the time.

On the last page (113), there was another term that I did not understand as an 8-year-old (but it never occurred to me to ask anyone about). Here is the quote:
” ‘Maybe I won’t do it today,’ I said, ‘and maybe I’ll need a souped-up wheelchair to do it, but I’m going to fly this kite all by myself.’ “

What did “souped-up” mean? I remember wondering back then what that meant. I didn’t really think that meant a wheelchair covered in soup (although that was a funny mental picture to me), but what else could it mean? And let’s look the the third to last sentence of the book: “Yoyo looked at me like she was trying to figure out what size straight jacket I should wear.” I do realize I was perhaps a very naive 8-year-old, but I really had no idea what a straight jacket was, and why one would be needed. At that time, I figured that if it was like the beautiful Scandenavian wool sweater my aunt had given me that made me break out in hives and was forever torturing me, then I wouldn’t want a straight jacket.

Really, this is a very good book. Jenna learns how to deal with different people in the hospital, and gains a lot of maturity for an almost-12 year old. She deals with making new friends and loses one to death (Jenna screams for a long time when she finds out). I have never met anyone else who has said they’ve read this book, either. I enjoyed it so much. I have to admit, it gave me a taste for Lurlene McDaniel’s books later as well as other tragic stories.

It inspired me to start writing myself. I really saw the possibilities of good writing. Yes, I was also reading the the Little House books, Heidi, Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume, but it was this one that made me think that I could write! Shortly after finishing this book, I attempted to write my first ‘novel’. It was five written pages long, and really bad, but I was proud of it then. I hid it away in my desk and didn’t let anyone else read it. It was my secret. I was proud that I wrote it, but not confident enough to let anyone else see it. It was delicious to have my secret story hidden away.

Since I have focused on books with autoimmune diseases these past two posts, I think the next post will be about Betty Ren Wright’s The Dollhouse Murders. Yes, I think a nice ghost/murder story would be good change of topic.