MG – Almost There and Almost Not

Urban, Linda. Almost There and Almost Not. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-47880-0. 211 p. $17.99. Grades 5-7.

Eleven year old California Poppy doesn’t know if she is coming or going. Her widowed father is heading to Alaska for a salmon fishing job and takes her to Minnesota to stay with Aunt Isabelle, who should know more about taking care of a “bra needing” child than he does. It turns out that Aunt Isabelle is not really the nurturing type and is too busy working on a meatloaf recipe for the Great Meatloaf Bake Off. So California finds herself traveling to Michigan to live with Great Aunt Monica. Her great aunt, still grieving for her late husband, broke her hand and needs help with her research on Eleanor Fontaine, an author of etiquette books from the 1920s. Aunt Monica wants to complete her husband’s planned biography of his author-ancestor and asks California to read Fontaine’s Proper Letters for Ladies and to practice writing letters to become familiar with the author. Callie soon realizes that there are two ghosts in the house: a dog who enjoys playing with her and a refined lady named Eleanor, who dissolves into a pile of dust when she gets upset. Aunt Monica is not aware of these guests, so her niece takes care when talking to them. Eleanor begins to share her story with the young girl, who notices that the ghost seems to be getting younger each time she appears.  California soon learns the truth about her father’s whereabouts and Eleanor’s secret. Just as Callie feels she has come to terms with her father’s absence, her struggles in school and having periods, she overhears a conversation that changes her life forever.

THOUGHTS: Urban has written a very engaging story about loss, grief, and resilience. Although the text is not lengthy, a lot happens and one cannot help but root for the likeable main character who narrates the story. Readers will enjoy California’s letters to Aunt Isabelle, her father, and the Playtex Company. This sensitive but humorous tale is a solid choice for upper elementary and middle school collections.

Fantasy          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

When California Poppy is 11 years old, she is dropped off at her Aunt Monica’s house while her father claims to look for work in Alaska. During her stay, she plays with the ghostly dog and talks to the ghostly woman who haunts her aunt’s home, a woman who turns out to be California’s Great-Aunt Eleanor. Eleanor teaches California about all the etiquette she thinks a proper lady should know, and California begins to unearth details about Eleanor’s past, which is not as simple as the old woman wants it to seem. As a relationship between the girl and the ghost develops, California also grows closer to her Aunt Monica by helping with research for Eleanor’s biography. Eventually, these relationships help California to confront the reality of her father’s abandonment and allow her to begin to heal in her new, more stable life.

THOUGHTS: This story, told in the first person by California herself, is about the life of two young girls who are trying to figure out who they are in a grown-up world. Magical realism, historical fiction, and a love of family and friends weave together in this book to create the story of a girl who has a lot to learn, but also a lot to offer the world. The ghosts in this book are friendly rather than scary. Kids and teens who are wise beyond their years, and those that deal with family troubles and long for a better, more stable life, will find it easy to relate to California.

Fantasy          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

Elem. – A Pig in the Palace

Bahrampour, Ali. A Pig in the Palace. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-419-74571-3. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Bobo is a little confused. He was just rolling in the mud when a note was slipped under his door. An invitation… to a dinner party… with the Queen! How could this be so? After all, he is only a pig. Bobo attends the dinner party only to do what pigs do best… make a mess out of things! With everything destroyed, the palace a mess, and lots of angry people, how can Bobo face the Queen!?

THOUGHTS: The ending of this book had me rolling with laughter! A delightful story that young readers will enjoy!

Picture Book          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

New Nonfiction – Etiquette for Teens

Doherty, Meghan.  How Not to Be a Dick: An Everyday Etiquette Guide.  San      Francisco: Houghton Mifflin, 2013.  978-1-936976-02-7. 176 p.  $16.99.  Gr. 7-12.

Everything about this book, from the title to the illustrations, seems to imply that this is going to be a different kind of guide to manners.  In many ways, this is true.  The language is slanted toward teens, and the “Dick & Jane” illustrations are both humorous and relevant.  How Not to Be a Dick addresses situations at home, school, work, transit, and on the Internet.  Some of the suggestions seem very basic; always say please and thank you.  Walk to the right of the sidewalk.  Ask before bringing guests to a friend’s house.  Other suggestions deal with the complexities of a modern world; social media, sexting, and online dating are discussed.  This book- and its title- will appeal to students who need to deal with social situations but would never consider reading a standard etiquette book (i.e. the works of Emily and Peggy Post).

395; Etiquette               Susan Fox, Washington Jr. / Sr. High School

This book is difficult to classify.  It is definitely aimed toward an adolescent audience, but the topics discussed deal with the concerns of different age groups.  For example, there is a lengthy discussion of workplace behavior that seems geared toward college graduates.  One section even talks about being a “good boss”.  Other segments of the book mention living with roommates, going to the Laundromat, and the best way to run errands.  The discussions of sexting and internet porn could prevent this book from being used at the Junior High level. These complicated topics are difficult to reconcile with the simplistic advice offered in the bulk of the book.  How not to be a Dick could be useful for students with Asperger’s Syndrome, or other conditions, who need to have social norms spelled out.  The discussions of personal space and active listening are excellent.  All in all, this is a book that seems to want to be relevant to many different patrons, but it doesn’t quite succeed.