Children’s Book Blog Tour – Savvy, a Review

Yesterday I promised a full review of Savvy, the current Children’s Book Blog Tour feature by award-winning novelist Ingrid Law. A proper review, I’ve discovered, is best if it starts with presentation, since that’s often the way book buyers come to a product.

Clearly Savvy‘s cover is flamboyant and attracts attention. What this image can’t show you, however, is that this picture is on the jacket of a hardback, a purple-covered hardback. More flamboyance. 😉 The pages are rough cut, the thick paper a cream, the font a little different than usual but not hard to read. In other words, everything about the look of this book works. It is attractive even as it prepares readers for the different kind of story they will find between the covers.

The Story. Savvy is Mibs Beaumont’s coming-of-age story. What makes this book a cut above other stories that fall into the coming-of-age category is Ms. Law’s use of the fantastic. Upon turning thirteen, members of the Beaumont family acquire their own personal “savvy” or power. Mibs’ brothers, for instance, can brew up a storm or create electricity. If these powers aren’t controlled, however, they put everyone nearby at serious risk. Consequently, the Beaumonts live somewhat reclusive lives.

Days before Mibs turns thirteen, her father is in an automobile accident. He’s hospitalized in another town and her mother hurries to his side. Mibs and her siblings are left in the care of the pastor and his wife. When Mibs’ special birthday finally arrives, the well-meaning Miss Rosemary decides to throw her a party.

During the chaotic activity, Mibs hears mysterious voices. As she searches for some quiet, she realizes that what she wants most is to go to her parents. She even believes she knows what her savvy is and that she will be able to help her father. Outside she sees a bus, the name of the town where her father lies in a hospital bed painted on the side. She hops on board with no other thought than to reach her parents. However, she doesn’t go alone. Her brothers join her, as do the pastor’s teenager son and daughter.

And so, the adventure begins.

Strengths. Ms. Law has crafted a timeless story, and she’s done it using the vehicle of the tall tale, reminiscent of the American era of storytelling (with the likes of Pecos Bill and Johnny Appleseed) that relied upon exaggeration as the main device. Here’s one of the best samples:

The top of the picnic table was covered in Grandma’s clear glass jars, each one with its own white label and metal lid. She’d given us kids the job of labeling the jars as she filled them. But it wasn’t peaches, tomatoes, or pickles that our grandma canned, it was radio waves. Grandma only ever picked the best ones—her favorite songs or stories or speeches, all broadcast by the local stations—but still, our basement was crowded with high shelves of dusty jars filled with years and years of radio programs. How Grandma Dollop put radio waves into those jars and got them to stay there was a mystery to me; she just had a way of reaching out and plucking them from the air like she was catching fireflies.

On Monday I mentioned some of the serious subjects Savvy touches on. That this book filled with whimsy and humor could also deal with topics of import makes it special.

Ms. Law also has given her first person narrator, Mibs, a strong voice. She is easy to identify with because her emotions are real, though not always likable.

Weaknesses. That brings me to the debit side of the ledger. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I found Mibs, a work in progress, not easy to like at the beginning of the book. I wanted to like her. After all, her father was in the hospital. But she seemed to overreact when snooty girls called her a seemingly harmless name. She seemed haughty in her glee about leaving school behind. She seemed unnecessarily resistant to Miss Rosemary and to Will when they treated her with kindness. It all makes sense as the picture of the reclusive family comes together, but my initial reaction was that Mibs was a tough little girl to like.

A second problem that also rectified itself was the middle of the book. When Mibs makes the decision to go to her father, there is a long stretch of bus riding. Important things happen, but there was a point where I started worrying that the rest of the story would take place aboard that bus. It doesn’t, and I was thankful for the way the action picked up. I would liked to have seen … not sure what, conflict? forward action? I think I would like to have seen Mibs do something rather than be taken somewhere. The story gains momentum as soon as she becomes the initiator again.

Recommendation. Savvy deserves the attention it has received. It’s the Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Award winner and a Newbery Honor winner. As others on the blog tour have noted, Savvy is a wonderful read-aloud. I highly recommend this book for middle grade readers, parents, and teachers of middle grade students.

Speaking of other on the blog tour, Maw’s Book Blog is giving away a copy of Savvy and so is Dolce Bellezza. Through a Child’s Eyes gives you a list of other books you might like if you also like Savvy. Here’s the complete list of participants:

Published in: on April 29, 2009 at 1:00 pm  Comments (12)  
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12 Comments

  1. The bus ride got long for me, too. “When are we going to get therrreeeee?!” 😉

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  2. Hi Becky,
    I haven’t read Savvy, but from the excerpt of Mibs’ reaction to her father’s accident, I think I would have found it hard to relate to her at that point. I talked to my sister about it. She read the book recently and she’s right in the target age group. She interpreted Mibs’ reaction as “human.” In fact, that scene made her like Mibs more, because apparently she’d been upset once when our parents went on vacation and missed her birthday. I thought it was interesting to hear her perspective. Perhaps there are a lot of girls (and boys) out there that go through a “selfish” stage, and Mibs’ reaction actually makes her more lovable to the target audience.

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  3. Oh, now I have to disagree with one thing, here. I don’t see Missy Pissy as a seemingly harmless name. Yikes. To be in middle school and to have girls call you that would be devastating–particularly if you were from an odd family and you felt out of place to begin with.

    I also felt like the book picked up at a certain point–I liked it all but wasn’t totally dragged in and flipping pages fast and furious until about a hundred pages in. I didn’t analyze why that was. That would be a good thing to study.

    Thanks for all your thought provoking posts, Becky.

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  4. […] A thoughtful review at A Christian Worldview of Fiction […]

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  5. […] A Christian Worldview of Fiction 1, 2, 3 […]

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  6. Bellezza, I’m glad to know I wasn’t the only one.

    Yodeling Dwarf (great online name, BTW 😉 ), interesting that your sister reacted differently. I think I would have seen it as “human” if I already liked her, but I didn’t. I felt her to be stand-offish, which I later came to understand was the truth but also why it was so. When I realized all that, I began to see the world as she did and I started to care for her more. I never really connected, though …

    Sally, I don’t know. I moved around a lot when I was a kid and faced a lot of “four eyes” and other nonsense. Missy-Prissy just doesn’t rank up there as one of the more brutal names I’ve heard kids call each other. Sorry. I don’t see it as something so very hateful. And it makes me think they saw her as a priss, an aloof, don’t-get-near-me, I’m-too-special-to-associate-with-you kind of person. It makes me not like Mibs as much as it makes me not like those silly girls.

    Becky

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  7. They didn’t see her as a priss. They saw her as worth as much as urine.

    Missy Pissy they called her.

    Wow, it’s amazing how one word changes your whole perception on a character.

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  8. page 47 if you want to look it up.

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  9. Yeah, OK, I misread the name calling. Maybe my reaction would have been different, but I don’t know. I’ve still heard LOTS worse thrown at kids by kids.

    Becky

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  10. Nice blog about book reviews.

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  11. I am desperately seeking a website that will offer conservative reviews of secular kids’ books. As we scan through hundreds of titles, we desire to offer conservative choices to our students, but will cross off books that do not uphold good Christian values. I am not looking for opinions on writing styles, but how much a book offends or supports Christian views. For example, books about wizardology or sorcery will not be offered to our students. We don’t have time to read all the books, but need some conservative reviews about books.

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  12. Hi, Just Me,

    Sorry this comment got buried in my inbox.

    I recommend going to Sally Apokedak’s site, All About Children’s Books. Not only does she have reviews of some books, she also has links in her sidebar that may be helpful to you.

    Also, check out the books and reviewers at her Kidz Book Buzz tour site.

    Hope that gives you a start.

    Becky

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