Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Gift of Books: Savvy by Ingrid Law

When my kids were younger, I wrote several children's and young adult book reviews on the now defunct Epinions web site. Since the holiday season is upon us, I thought I would republish some of these older reviews on this blog as a way to highlight some great gift ideas for the young readers on your list.

The following review of Savvy by Ingrid Law was originally published on Epinions in May 2009 under my user name "gliondar" ("Joy" in Irish). Note that at the time of writing, there was no sequel, but now there is a companion book available about Mibs' cousin Ledge and his particular 'savvy,' called Scumble. A third book in the series, Switch, is scheduled for release in Fall 2015.

A Savvy Coming of Age Story
May 27, 2009
Review by gliondar 
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros: Creative, humorous, touching story that uses the unusual to elucidate the ordinary
Cons: There isn't a sequel available yet.
The Bottom Line: This is a quirky, quick read that is creative, humorous and poignant. Law uses the extraordinary to elucidate the ordinary and believably explores complex issues.

Turning thirteen can be awkward for anyone, but for members of the Beaumont family, it can be downright dangerous. As her own thirteenth birthday approaches, Mississippi Beaumont (called "Mibs" by family and friends) anticipates a most peculiar rite of passage with a mixture of excitement and dread. In addition to eccentric names, Mibs, her siblings, and her mother's side of the family all share a secret--they all develop extraordinary abilities, called "savvies," on their thirteenth birthdays (though on rare occasions some family members develop a savvy when younger). Mibs's eldest brother, Rocket, creates his own electricity. Fish, another brother, can influence weather, particularly in the presence of water. On his thirteenth birthday, he inadvertantly caused a hurricane, which caused the family to move to a remote area between Nebraska and Kansas that they alternately call "Nebransas" or "Kansaka." Mibs's mother is practically perfect--she excels at whatever she does. Mibs's late grandmother could collect radio waves from the air and store them in jars to be enjoyed for years to come the way other grandmothers might capture the season's harvest in jams and sauces.

While the idea of developing a special power has a mysterious appeal, there are complications that need to be dealt with. Rocket and Fish can cause mayhem with their savvies if their mood isn't under control. Adolescence for the Beaumonts involves not only the typical growing pains, but learning to control whatever power one might develop, as well as dealing with the isolation necessary to protect outsiders from harm and themselves from prying eyes. Once a savvy emerges, a Beaumont child leaves public school for homeschool, where their mother can safely teach them reading, writing, 'rithmetic, and reeling in (or "scumbling") their savvy. Mibs doesn't really mind this notion, since kids at school tend to see her as a freak, the meaner ones making fun of her and creating rude versions of her name.

If this all weren't enough to cause Mibs stress, a car accident occurs just two days before Mibs's birthday and her beloved father is hospitalized in a coma. Mibs's mother and Rocket need to travel to Salina, Kansas, where her father is hospitalized (Rocket has to go because he can make the old car run). Fear for Mr. Beaumont's well-being eclipses Mibs's big day. Fish, Mibs, and their younger siblings, Samson and Gypsy are left at home with Grandpa Bomba (who can move mountains).

Miss Rosemary, the well-meaning but uptight preacher's wife inserts herself into the situation, showing up to cook and clean and care for the kids while their parents are away. She brings along her two kids, Bobbi, a teenager with a crush on Rocket who uses sarcasm and disdain to mask her own insecurities, and Will Junior (whose name perplexes Mibs--the preacher isn't named "Will"), a genuinely friendly and understanding boy who clearly has an interest in Mibs. The presence of these outsiders is problematic, since no one can anticipate what Mibs's savvy will be and how or when it will manifest itself. The situation is made worse when Miss Rosemary learns about Mibs's birthday and takes it upon herself to plan a big birthday party at the church, despite the family's objections, using her "connections" to wrangle parishoners and Mibs's classmates into showing up.

In the midst of her anguish over her father, Mibs practices wishful thinking. On the morning of her birthday she convinces herself that her savvy is the ability to wake things up, after her baby sister wakes up early and Samson's turtle (that everyone thought was dead) comes out of hibernation. With such a power, Mibs believes she could save her father and help him emerge from his coma, if only she could get to him. An avenue to Salina seems to present itself in the form of a bible delivery bus driven by a kind but browbeaten deliveryman named Lester. Mibs notices the company's name and the location of its headquarters (Salina, Kansas) on the side of the bus and decides she will stow away aboard so she can sneak away from Miss Rosemary and get her ailing father. However, Fish, Bobbi, and Will Junior catch her and when they all dive on board the bus to avoid being caught by Miss Rosemary, they all end up going along for the ride when the bus takes off. Samson ends up coming along too, since it is his habit to hide in quiet places, and he had been hiding on the bus when this happened.

Lester soon discovers their presence, but being meek, kindhearted, and somewhat dimwitted, he is easily convinced that they have a legitimate purpose and aren't sneaking away from anyone and allows them to come along. However, he isn't headed directly back to Salina and insists on completing a few deliveries first. Along the way, Mibs slowly comes to realize the surprising true nature of her savvy while Fish tries to control his own as they approach a body of water and Bobbi and Will Junior puzzle over and try to come to grips with what makes the Beaumonts different from everyone else. Mibs also has to deal with the attraction between herself and Will Junior, avoiding the authorities who are all on the lookout for the missing kids, Lester's conniving girlfriend, and Lill, a kind but troubled waitress who Lester stops to help when he sees her broken down on the side of the road.

This story is a wild ride, quite literally, and the quest to Salina forms a wonderful metaphor for the passage of Mibs from childhood to adulthood. There's never a dull moment in this story, but amazingly it never seems rushed, and while the situations are certainly unlikely, they manage to seem somehow plausible. The author, Ingrid Law, genuinely impressed me with her ability to portray the complexities of adolescence, the struggles of dealing with the potential loss of a loved one, learning to be comfortable with yourself (no matter what your age) and coming to terms with abilities that make one necessarily an outsider in a humorous, poignant, and believable way. I really enjoyed this book, and by the end I felt like the Beaumonts were my own eccentric family members and had come to appreciate the strengths and flaws of all the motley characters. I appreciated the less than perfect nature of the ending because it was more realistic and I liked the indication that there could be a sequel. If Law writes more stories about the Beaumonts, I will be eager to read them.

If you appreciate stories that teach you something about everyday human experience by focusing your view through the lens of the extraordinary, you'll enjoy this book.

Recommend this product?

Monday, September 12, 2011


The kids and I enjoy stories involving monsters, ghosts, witches, etc., and we're already getting excited for Halloween. Recently we read a hilarious book written and illustrated by Frank W. Dormer called Socksquatch.

There isn't much to this story, as Socksquatch, and his fellow-monster friends, are people of few words. But the few words used are well-chosen, and along with Dormer's simple, child-like illustrations, they create a rich running gag that my kids giggled through from beginning to end.

Poor Socksquatch has cold feet, but only one sock. He goes on a bit of a rampage, much like a toddler in search of comfort. Visiting his monster friends one by one, he asks, "Got sock? Foot cold." But Wayne (a werewolf) has no sock, just fur. Frank sloooowly responds that he has a sock and is happy to share, but because this monster has such big feet, the sock doesn't fit our furry friend. He trips on the over-large garment. This results in a screaming fit as Socksquatch expresses his dismay, again in a rather child-like fashion, arms in air, tears flying ("AAAAAAAAAAA!"). Martin (a mummy), hears the commotion and comes to see how he can help, dragging along the damsel he was terrorizing at the moment. He of course has no sock to offer, but Damsel, who is one heck of a good sport, comes to the rescue of the monster in distress. In the end we see Socksquatch happy at last--for now. Kids will delight in the twist that foreshadows another tantrum somewhere on the horizon. Dormer's other books, as listed on his web site, look as giggle-inducing as this one, so I'll be on the look out for them on our next trip to the library.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Cavalcade of Cats: The Cat Who Walked Across France

Next up on our list of cat-related books is The Cat Who Walked Across France, written by Kate Banks and illustrated by Georg Hallensleben.

Filled with charming, colorful paintings, this book tells the story of an un-named, dainty grey and white cat who lived a peaceful, companionable life with an old woman in a cottage by the sea. Sadly, his woman dies and all of her possessions are shipped away. The cat is forgotten and very lonely. He becomes a stray and roams from place to place. We see France through the cat's perspective, and experience how loneliness feels slightly different from one environment to another, farm to city, park to bridge. We also see how he survives, always moving, always in search of the happiness he once knew in the cottage by the sea. Eventually, he makes his way back to that stone cottage, and walks inside the open door to curl up and rest. When he awakens he finds that the cottage is now inhabited by a kind family with two small children, who are delighted to find the stray and give him food and affection. Unbeknown to them, the cat has found home again, in more ways than one.

This is a poetic, vividly descriptive tale that explores loss, healing, and what makes a house a home. Children will learn that experiencing loss, and learning to love again, is very much a journey--one that is sometimes lonely and difficult. But if one perseveres and keeps hope alive, happiness can be found again.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Cavalcade of Cats: Mr. Pusskins

My kids love cats, so it's not unusual for us to read books about them, as you could tell from my previous post on Halloween Cats. Over the next few days I thought I would share some of the more memorable cat-related books we've read recently.

In our latest batch from the library, we have a book written and illustrated by Sam Lloyd called Mr. Pusskins: A Love Story. This book is worth your time if only for the amusing illustrations of the constantly cross Mr. Pusskins, a shaggy, chubby, rather spoiled ginger cat with a trouble-making streak. Emily, his little girl, absolutely loves him, as evidenced by her ample attention. She is always playing with him, brushing his fur, reading him stories in bed at night and telling him what a handsome boy he is. None of this sits well with Mr. Pusskins, who finds Emily, and his life with her, boring and annoying. He wants more from life, and decides to go after it one night by running away. At first he has a glorious time indulging in all sorts of naughty activities, but in time, a life without a nice warm house to go to at night and someone to give him genuine affection wears thin. He realizes that he should have appreciated Emily and the life he had. A surprise and a choice to be more humble and grateful lead Mr. Pusskins to redemption, and there is a satisfying happy ending. This is a funny story that gently teaches children to return kindness and be thankful for what they have. I've since learned that there are sequels, and I definitely intend to share them with my kiddos.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A New Chapter & the Harper Collins Gift Guide

Hello All. It's been a horribly long time since I've written. Life is crazier than I can describe, and not really in a good way. I'm facing a divorce and dealing with separation from my husband. We've only been married for a couple years, but have been together as a couple for over nine years, and in addition to my own heartbreak (I'm not the one who wants to end things), I'm trying to ensure that my children have stability and feel safe and loved throughout this ordeal.

Part of moving on and trying to stay positive for me is going to involve becoming more active in my writing again. And since this blog is devoted to things I share with my kids, it's all the more appropriate that I turn to it as I enter a new chapter of my life with the Light and Seal in tow.

Today is Black Friday, and frankly I hate shopping on normal days, let alone days when the whole world seems to be willing to kill each other to obtain a good deal. I do, however, enjoy looking at online catalogs and gift guides and am starting to consider what I can do for my kids' Christmas within a limited budget.

I get the HarperCollins newsletter, and today was pleased to spend some time browsing through their Holiday Gift Guide for children's books. You can browse inside the books, which is always fun. I can't believe I'm so far behind in reading the books in the Septimus Heap series. Goodness. Have a look, and start thinking about the new adventures your children can have in the pages of books as they enter a new year.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Magical Book of Poems

If your kids are like mine, they love anything to do with magic, witches and wizards. I love sharing the magic of poetry with them, so what better way to do that and feed their desire for the mystical than with Magic Poems, compiled by John Foster and illustrated by the award winning Korky Paul. This collection of 18 poems deals with all things magical and humorous, from the legend of Quickspell the Wizard (by Jack Ousby), to the story of A Very Modern Witch (by Charles Thomson) with a souped-up broom, you'll enjoy the funny along with the fantastic. Other poems in the collection include:
  • Where Goblins Dwell, a celebration of imagintion by the legendary Jack Prelutsky
  • Harry Hobgoblin's Superstore, by David Harmer that describes a shop I'd love to check out
  • Willy the Wizard's Shopping Trip, by Paul Cookson, which imagines what the chain stores of the wizarding world might be
  • Dinner on Elm Street, by Michaela Morgan, a jab at school lunches that shows the lunch lady in the same vein as the Three Witches from Macbeth
  • The Ballad of the Waterbed by Max Fatchen tells the tale of a piratical boy and his nightly adventures
  • The Marvellous Trousers by Richard Edwards is the story of a magical pair of pants the adventures they gave the one who found them. These are some real traveling pants.
  • The Magician, by Gareth Owen recounts an unfortunate mishap involving a little girl's party, a father palying magician and a disappearing box
  • Maxo, the Magician, by Richard Edwards is a funny story of the revenge of a magician's hat
  • Miranda, the Queen of the Air by Doug MacLeod is the tragic story of Miranda and a levitating panda
  • Wanted--A Witch's Cat by Shelagh McGee is an ad that a witch might place in the paper for a proper familiar
  • Genie by Trevor Millum is a tale of mistaken identity
  • Sir Guy and the Enchanted Princess by David Harmer is one of my personal favorites, tells the tale of a knight in not so shining armor and a princess who rides off alone into the night
  • Mang, Katon, and the Crocodile King by Jennifer Tweedie is a heroic tale of the defeat of a the Crocodile King. It's cute by very hard to read aloud in my experience.
  • Dreaming the Unicorn by Tony Mitton is a lovely celebration of dreams
  • The Moon's Magic by Andrew Collet is a tale of the magical nature of the moon and the fate that befalls the greedy
  • The Lonely Enchanter by Marian Swinger is a sad story about the distance that power places between those with it and those without
If your kids enjoy this collection, be sure to check out the other anthologies by John Foster in this Oxford University Press Series, including Dinosaur Poems, Monster Poems and Dragon Poems.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lessons from Mother Earth

I recently shared a lovely picture book with my kids written by Elaine McLeod and illustrated by Colleen Wood called Lessons from Mother Earth. McLeod was born Mayo, Yukon and is a member of the Na-Cho Nyak Dun First Nation. This book tells the story of Tess, a five-year-old girl visiting her grandmother's cabin in the mountains. Grandmother decides to show Tess her "garden," which turns out to consist of the edible plants growing wild in the woods and meadows surrounding her home. They go for a walk with bucket and basket in hand, and Grandmother shows Tess where to find the plants and teaches her the proper way to gather from and respect the land. She explains that the plants are ready for harvesting at different times in the year, and that there is a balance to strike between harvesting too much or too little--too much and the plants won't produce for you again, too little and the plants will eventually wither and die. Grandmother also teaches Tess that she must care for the land which provides for her, never littering and being careful not to trample plants. "If you are careful and thankful, my granddaughter, our garden will care for you. There is plenty for everyone to share if we don't destroy the soil." Grandmother whispers her thanks to Mother Earth as she harvests and explains that her mother taught her about the plants, so we see the passing of the tradition to Tess. In the end, Tess has learned to be thankful for the Earth and all it provides, as well as the wisdom of her grandmother. This is a beautifully illustrated book, full of soft curves, warm and bright colors, and details (such as the many animals which follow and observe Tess and Grandmother as they harvest). Wood has a gift for portraying smiling faces--she gets the light and shadow just right. The story teaches a gentle lesson of respect and appreciation for Earth and the resources that we share with other creatures. It also provides a nice model of native spirituality, with reverance for Mother Earth and the Great Spirit.