Junie B. Jones #28: Turkeys We Have Loved and Eaten (and Other Thankful Stuff) by Barbara Park

Junie B. Jones: Turkeys We Have Loved and Eaten (and Other Thankful Stuff)

Barbara Park (J Fiction)

Dear first-grade journal,

This week Room One is making a list of the stuff we are thankful for. And the room with the bestest thankful list will win. Also we are having a Thanksgiving feast on Wednesday. Thanksgiving is a lot of work.

Junie B., First Grader

Junie is thankful for a lot of things. May, the girl who sits next to her, is NOT one of them. While families are preparing their homes for families and feasts, Junie and her classmates are working hard to win the school’s coveted Best Thankful List…even if the prize IS a homemade pumpkin pie that makes almost half the class vomit. What happens next is a list that ranges from exploding biscuits and Nipsy Doodles to toilet paper and stuffed elephants and leads to a lesson in what Thanksgiving is really all about.

Barbara Park’s Junie B. Jones series consisted of 29 books that ran from 1992 to 2013. Young fans will delight in the authenticity of Junie and her classmates as they rank what is the bestest things they are thankful for—much to the chagrin of their teacher, Mr. Scary. From minor disagreements to elephant scuffles, Junie will learn that even when people are different, they can still have things in common.

This book (#28) is a short read with big lessons…especially for adults. Junie may not yet be six years old, but she is wise beyond her years and teaches us that names always sound funnier when you add the word pants at the end, that teachers are just like normal people…almost, and when a teacher smiles, everything feels better. Now that is something we can all be thankful for.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to: www.abebooks.com

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Start Without Me by Joshua Max Feldman (Adult Fiction)

Start Without Me

Joshua Max Feldman (Adult Fiction)

Adam Warshaw is an ex-keyboardist and recovering alcoholic who is muddling along at his job at a bank. Marissa Cavano is a flight attendant who fled an alcoholic mother, married into a wealthy—albeit classist and racist—family, and is currently struggling to save her marriage. Both are heading home for Thanksgiving and their paths are about to intersect in what would be the start of a highly unpredictable and tumultuous day that would send each of their lives in unexpected directions.

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover. Well, you can’t judge it by its BACK cover either. Joshua Max Feldman’s Start Without Me is described as A darkly comic novel. Nope. …the quintessential Thanksgiving novel. Let’s hope not. …a unique solidarity between two strangers as they help each other… More like one constantly saves the other one’s bacon. …Feldman’s novel excels in his crafting of extraordinary dialogue. OK. Nailed that one.

This was an extremely difficult book to get through as Adam’s character is insufferable, unrepentant, oblivious, ungracious, selfish, self-absorbed… The list is long and would take me until Thanksgiving to get through them all. I think the difference between Adam and some other awful main characters that have completely destroyed a book for me (I’m looking at you Kathy Nicolo) is that Adam KNOWS he’s a dumpster fire, the author knows he’s a dumpster fire, and everyone around Adam knows…well, you get the idea.

A friend once told me of a co-worker who said that she HATED a certain restaurant (both shall remain nameless) because she got food poisoning there four times. Four. Times. So, at that point, do you blame the restaurant or do you blame the patron? Who’s the knucklehead? The same with this book. Is it Feldman’s fault that I was totally frustrated by his book or is it mine? I mean, just like the knucklehead co-worker, I kept going back expecting a different outcome only to be confronted with the same mess over and over again. Was I thinking that if I JUST ordered the dessert, I’d be safe?!

The good news is that there are a few bright spots. Feldman really is a master at writing dialogue. It was one of the few things that saved this story and if he had done more of this and less of Adam waxing poetic about his past days in his rock band, I could’ve saved myself a lot of time from having to pet the neighbor’s dog in order to get back into my happy place. The only other glimmer was Marissa, whose backstory is an absolute trainwreck. She is the only character worthy of our sympathy and the only true adult in the room. She extends Adam more grace than he deserves and although she’s been the victim of many bad choices, she’s determined to learn from them and move forward stronger and wiser.

Before this book, Feldman wrote The Book of Jonah. After all of the negative emotions still coursing through my veins after dealing with Adam, it might take me some time before I’m strong enough to tackle this book. In the meantime, you better start without me.

Rating: 3/5

* Book cover image attributed to: http://www.thriftbooks.com

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Mallory Makes a Difference by Laurie Friedman (J Fiction)

Mallory Makes a Difference

Laurie Friedman (J Fiction)

Mallory McDonald, no relation to the restaurant, had a rotten Halloween. She had two places to be on Halloween and rather than choosing one, she tried to do both and quickly realized that instead of having it all, she ended up with nothing. That’s why Thanksgiving was going to be better…it had to be! Mallory decides that she would feel better if she could make others happy so with the help of her friend Joey, Mallory organizes a school-wide canned food drive to help the community food bank. Soon the entire student body at Fern Falls Elementary is on board…especially since the winning grade gets one homework-free week as a prize! But soon things start going wrong and as the thrill of competition overshadows the spirit of giving, can Mallory still make a difference when everyone around her seems to hate her?

Mallory Makes a Difference is the 28th and final book in the Mallory McDonald series, which ran from 2004-2017. In this last installment, author Laurie Friedman has Mallory facing a fracture in her relationship with Mary Ann where she discovers, as most girls her age do, that your friendships from childhood evolve and change. Even as our young heroine puts aside her own wants by doing something for others, she still craves approval from friends who don’t share her own views or desires. Readers are sure to empathize with Mallory as she navigates between doing the right thing while still wanting to please her peer group.

Friedman ends her series with a nice story that shows young people the benefits of giving back to your community and being a force for positive change. At the end of the book, Friedman provides readers with a 10-Step Guide to Planning a Great Community Service Project that anyone wanting to make a difference can use as a template. Through Mallory, readers are shown the value of planning and teamwork, as well as the rewards of getting different ideas and being open to new approaches. Something that all of us can appreciate and should take to heart.

All through the food drive, as Mallory watched the spirit of the event deteriorate as the prize became more important than the purpose, she kept reminding all involved (even herself) that helping other people was the true important thing. Maybe if more of us kept that in mind, we—like Mallory—could make a difference, too.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to: www.amazon.com

The Autobiography of Santa Claus by Jeff Guinn (Adult Historical Fiction)

The Autobiography of Santa Claus

Jeff Guinn (Adult Historical Fiction)

Think you know everything there is to know about Santa? Well think again. Now, for the first time—in his OWN words—is the true story of Saint Nicholas, Kris Kringle, Father Christmas, or whatever name you call the man in red who travels around the world delivering presents to good girls and boys on Christmas Eve night. We get to know the REAL man—from humble beginnings to worldwide notoriety—whose simple philosophy of it being better to give than to receive has touched the world all over.

Jeff Guinn, the ONLY person (that he knows of) to have ever written a book WITH Santa Claus himself, has finally provided answers to the questions that have been asked for centuries: how did Santa attain his garments of red trimmed with white; why did Santa start giving toys and why were they put in stockings; why does he live at the North Pole; how can reindeer fly; and how can he travel the entire world in just one night? Those and so many other questions are answered, along with some interesting facts that you didn’t realize were even related to Santa such as his historically famous “helpers”, how he helped Charles Dickens restore Christmas in England, and how he inadvertently brought about the end of the American Revolution. Guinn packs a LOT of information into 280 pages, not including Santa’s favorite recipe found at the end of the book.

Guinn takes us from 280 A.D. (the year of Santa’s recorded birth) to present day. Because he’s covering over seventeen centuries of information, the story often gets deep in the weeds with geographical, theological, historical, and social anthropological references; however, Guinn is clever in connecting Santa to everyone from Attila the Hun to Amelia Earhart so we’re quickly drawn back into the story again. What is not mentioned on the cover of the book but is certainly worth mentioning is the beautiful artwork of Dorit Rabinovitch. She beautifully captures the old-world and magical appeal of the jolly old man and gives Guinn’s work an instant classic feel full of warmth and charm.

Through Guinn, Santa reminds us of the simple power kindness and that the real magic of Christmas involves love and a little baby born in a manger on what became the most holy of nights. Upon reading this book, I do feel a sense of obligation to bring to everyone’s attention that Santa is NOT an elf, he does NOT like to be reminded of his weight, and—on Christmas Eve night—if you were to set out some homemade chocolate chip cookies and perhaps some goat cheese, he would be most appreciative.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to: www.thriftbooks.com

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The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare (J Fiction)

The Sign of the Beaver  

Elizabeth George Speare (J Fiction)

“Dance,” Attean commanded. He seized Matt’s arm and pulled him into the moving line. The men near him cheered him on, laughing at Matt’s stumbling attempts. Once he caught his breath, Matt found it simple to follow the step. His confidence swelled as the rhythm throbbed through his body, loosening his tight muscles. He was suddenly filled with excitement and happiness. His own heels pounded against the hard ground. He was one of them.

It was the summer of 1769 when twelve-year-old Matt Hallowell’s father left him alone in Maine to protect the family’s cabin and corn field while he returned to Massachusetts to bring back his mother and two siblings. His father told him to make seven notches in a stick (a notch a day) and by the time that he was on the seventh, he’d be back and they’d once again be a family. Bad luck seemed to follow Matt soon after and when he found himself the target of some angry bees, a Penobscot chief and his grandson jumped in to save his life. Wanting his grandson to learn the language of the white man, the chief made a treaty with Matt: teach his grandson, Attean, to read in exchange for food. Eventually, the two boys formed an unlikely friendship and as more sticks began to pile up, Matt was faced with having to choose between joining the tribe and heading north or waiting for a family that may never come.  

A Newbery Honor Book recipient in 1984, The Sign of the Beaver is really a love letter to the Penobscot, an Indigenous people in North America and a federally recognized tribe in Maine. Speare gives her readers insights into tribal culture and customs and exposes their devotion and respect for nature, wildlife, and boundaries of the surrounding tribes. Time and again Matt questions Attean’s actions and every time his response centers on recognizing the value and worth of the land they walk, the animals they’ve killed, and  the life they’ve been given. By learning Attean’s ways, Matt begins to realize that he is just a very small part of a very big picture and as his confidence as a hunter grows, so does his world view and his new understanding of why the white man is so despised and mistrusted by these native peoples.

The Sign of the Beaver isn’t just a story about one boy’s resilience, bravery, and sense of duty, it’s also a lesson in how we should never take more than we are given, that we should appreciate differences and look for commonalities, and that empathy and kindness can do more for bridging a gap and forging a relationship than signed treaties and firm handshakes. This is a great story for young readers and a fascinating look into the Indian way of life. Although there are a few scenes of animal cruelty and suffering, Speare sticks to keeping this book authentic by not avoiding the uncomfortable thus making this book a valuable read. Although it has plenty of action and the characters are well developed, the story seems to lose a bit of steam near the end and tended to drag.

As a way of showing the chief his gratitude, Matt offered him his one prized possession—his beloved Robinson Crusoe. It was from this book that Matt read passages to Attean and where he discovered that Attean was just as passionate about storytelling as he was proving once again that a beautifully told story not only has the ability to draw us in, but it can also connect us as well.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to: www.goodreads.com

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