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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Children’s Book Blog Tour – Savvy, Day 2

    Don’t forget to participate in the poll to determine the winner of the April CSFF Top Blogger Award. Round one ends Wednesday.

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Since I posted yesterday about Savvy, Ingrid Law‘s award winning middle grade fantasy featured this week by Children’s Book Blog Tour, I thought considerably more about the book. (I think that’s one reason I like blog tours—they force me to me more thoughtful about what I’m reading).

In this case, my thoughts centered on the main character, Mibs Beaumont. Here’s the thing—in the first fifty or so pages, I didn’t like her so much. She seemed quick to judge, even those who were sympathetic to her and were trying to be a help. She also seemed like a social misfit, and happy to be so.

As it turns out, she is a social misfit. Members of her family each receive a “savvy,” a superpower, when they turn thirteen. Because her older brothers are still in the process of learning to control their newly obtained powers, the family stays to themselves for the most part.

As the story opens, Mibs is days away from her first teen birthday. But things don’t go as she’d dreamed. Her father is in a serious automobile accident, and the doctors don’t know if he will survive.

Mibs’ reaction?

For half of a half of a half of a second I hated Poppa. I hated him for working so far away from home and for having to take the highway every day. I hated him for getting in that accident and for ruining our pot roast. Mostly, I realized that my perfect cake with its pink and yellow frosting was probably not going to get made, and I hated Poppa for wrecking my most important birthday before it had even arrived.

Though Mibs immediately feels shame, for me, the damage was done. This honest reflection made me see Mibs as a selfish, immature girl, not as a struggling almost-teen.

But that changed. Ironically, my sentiments toward her changed because of her relationship with her father. Before his accident, he bought her a special party dress. As she describes the gift, it’s clear her father thought it was beautiful and she thought it was beautiful, but in reality, it was … less than fashionable.

“I thought my little girl deserved something pretty and new to wear for her special birthday,” he had said the night he handed me a big white box held closed by a thin, round strand of stretchy gold elastic. The dress inside the box was pale yellow with a high sashed waist and a full skirt that was sewn with deep pockets. Double rows of white rickrack zigzagged its way around the hem and around the seams in the short cap sleeves. But the very best part of the whole dress was the big purple flower made from soft silk ribbons that was pinned up high on the shoulder like a corsage.

Because of the dress, Mibs finally sees herself a bit like her peers see her.

Bobbi looked at the big purple flower on the shoulder of my dress and rolled her eyes. “Happy birthday,” she said in a tone that sounded more like “Drop dead.” Then the other girls began to whisper and laugh as they mixed ginger ale and rainbow sherbet into pale yellow pineapple juice that was the same color as my dress …. Suddenly, as I looked at those teenaged girls in their teenaged clothes, I felt younger than twelve-turning-thirteen and my special-occasion dress felt not-so-special. I realized that I had just turned into a teenager myself, and there were changes coming in my life that didn’t have anything to do with my savvy.

By the time Mibs rips from her special-occasion dress that purple flower she had liked so much, I’m feeling for her and wishing she’d never had to see herself differently.

Is the early portrayal of Mibs a serious flaw? Not a serious one because I was wholeheartedly rooting for her in the end. But to capture a reader’s heart in the beginning, to make a character lovable from the first page, even in the face of realistic revelations of the ugly thoughts … that’s what I think makes a book special.

I’ll give a full review of this good book tomorrow. In the meantime, I recommend you enjoy an excellent interview with Ms. Law over at All About Children’s Books or read the review at The 160 Acre Woods.

In fact there are several other interviews and reviews, so visit as many of these participating blogs as you can squeeze in:

Children’s Book Blog Tour – Savvy, Day 1

    Don’t forget to participate in the poll to determine the winner of the April CSFF Top Blogger Award. Round one ends Wednesday.

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I suspect some of you are curious why I am participating in the Children’s Book Blog Tour hosted by Kidz Book Buzz. No, I’m not a children’s author, but I taught middle school kids for so long, I’m pretty invested in that age. And I have teacher friends still in the business (that’s a phrase I picked up from writing—I never thought of education as “the business” before 😉 ). Not to mention that my writing partner writes for kids—middle grade and YA.

In fact, when I first decided I wanted to write fantasy, I planned to write a story for the just-turning-into-a-teen crowd. For years it was a neglected age group, and the books that were available seemed to pander to the foibles of the target audience, not to their strengths, hopes, or aspirations.

Happily, there are many more books for those kids now. Some still play to the greed and fears and brashness often associated with teens, but some, like this month’s Children’s Book Blog Tour feature, Savvy by Ingrid Law (Dial Books for Young Readers in conjunction with Walden Media), take a serious look at what’s behind those off-putting qualities.

Here are some of the topics Savvy tackles obliquely:

    how a parent’s illness and/or absence affects kids
    how being on the outside of a clique feels
    how family secrets can separate kids from their peers
    how children have noble desires and aspirations
    how negative input can tear down a person’s belief in his ability to do the noble things he dreams of
    how a person can appear to be a lot more cocky and confident on the outside than she is on the inside
    how insisting on personal boundaries can be scary but necessary
    how people express caring in different ways

The point is, Savvy is the kind of book that makes the reader think. Yes, it is also a fun story, a fantasy of sorts, along the lines of Paul Bunyan with Babe, the Blue Ox. But in the midst of entertaining young and old, Ms. Law gives the reader some meat to go with the dessert.

Take some time this week to read what other bloggers participating on the tour have to say about this delightful middle grade book:

Published in: on April 27, 2009 at 11:47 am  Comments (3)  
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