Book Review: Baby-Sitting is a Dangerous Job by Willo Davis Roberts

Title: Baby-Sitting is a Dangerous Job
Author: Willo Davis Roberts
Publisher: Aladdin
Paperback: 161 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

From the moment she set eyes on the three Foster kids, Darcy knew being their baby-sitter would be no picnic. But the pay was twice her usual rate, and the job was only for a few hours a day – surely an experienced baby-sitter like her could handle it.

But Darcy hadn’t counted on the mysterious things that started happening at the Fosters’ home after she took the job. She did everything a good baby-sitter was supposed to do: she didn’t let the stranger claiming to be from the gas company into the house and she called the police when the burglar alarm went off in the middle of the afternoon. But that wasn’t enough to prevent a baby-sitter’s worst nightmare from coming true. Now it’s up to Darcy to rescue the Foster kids – and herself – from three ruthless kidnappers.

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Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

This was a book that somehow ended up in my family’s bookshelves when I was a kid and I never got around to reading it, but the title stuck around with me, so I finally decided to request it from the library.

Overall, it was fine. It’s a children’s thriller about a young teenage girl named Darcy who baby-sits to earn herself a little extra money. She decides to take on the Foster job, even though she knows the kids are going to be bratty, but she’s getting a lot of money out of it, so why not? Right from the start, weird things start happening in the book — she and her brother seem to be followed by a black car on their way back from the Foster home to their home; and later, while walking with her friend, Darcy sees the same black car. At the same time, her friend has run away from home to escape her father’s abuse, so she tries to help her out. The main conflict of the story, though, is that Darcy and the Foster kids get kidnapped to earn a ransom and they want to figure out a way to escape from the kidnappers before they get hurt, or worse.

Basically, there’s a lot going on in this book and I’m not sure it holds up. It was written in the 80’s, and a lot of stuff is thrown out that isn’t taken very seriously. And yes, this is a thriller and not a Judy Blume book, but it’s troubling to see abuse get thrown out and not really addressed properly. It seems like the book’s message is: no, don’t talk to the proper authorities, running away is a good option sometimes, which isn’t a great message for kids. Even later, when the kidnapping is resolved, Darcy talks about it like she just had a daring adventure, calling her friend late at night to fill her in on all the “drama.” No mention of trauma? No parental check-ups? They hug her, give her an extra dessert, and let her talk on the phone. It’s all very strange.

With that said, it’s a fairly enjoyable story if you don’t think about it too much, which pretty much fits into the thriller genre overall, in my opinion. It’s nice to see Darcy realize that the kids she watches are more than burdens, so her character growth is interesting in that she starts actually caring for the kids she baby-sits rather than inwardly complain about how spoiled they are. And it’s nice to see the kids go through a change with how they treat her. This is an entertaining story, but not one I think kids today would enjoy, and not something I’d recommend as a “good read” to anyone, but it’s not bad either.

Book Review: A Spy Called James by Anne F. Rockwell

a spy called james
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Title: A Spy Called James: The True Story of James Lafayette, Revolutionary War Double Agent
Author: Anne F. Rockwell
Illustrator: Floyd Cooper
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books
Hardcover: 32 pages
Source: NetGalley
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Told for the first time in picture book form is the true story of James Armistead Lafayette, a slave who spied for George Washington’s army during the American Revolution, and whose personal fight for freedom began with America’s liberation.

* I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.*

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I very much appreciate this book for existing in the first place — it’s a wonderful idea to introduce children to stories like these at a young age, especially stories like James’s are hardly ever told in schools. At least, they weren’t very often told in my schools when I was younger, but I hope that’s changing. As the description says, James Lafayette was a spy for George Washington’s Army during the American Revolution, and had to fight to obtain the rights that were given to other former slaves who served in the army because “spies” were not generally covered under the agreement that was made between slaves and the newly formed American government.

The story itself is simply told in a language that children will understand, but covers all the details. And I love the illustrations. They’re soft water-color type illustrations with a lot of blended colors and soft lines. It’s very child-friendly and I know I enjoyed looking at the pictures, so I think they might, too.

I could see this being in a classroom for children to enjoy during free reading time, or even have it being read aloud to children as part of a history lesson. And, of course, it’s a nice addition to the home library, especially for a history-lover.

Audiobook Review: Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery

anne-of-green-gables-post-hypnotic-press
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Title: Anne of Green Gables
Author: LM Montgomery
Narrator: Colleen Winton
Series: Anne of Green Gables, Book 1
Publisher: Post Hypnotic Press
Duration: 10 hours, 8 minutes
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Anne, a young orphan from the fictional community of Bolingbroke, Nova Scotia, is sent to Prince Edward Island after a childhood spent in strangers’ homes and orphanages. Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, siblings in their fifties and sixties, had decided to adopt a boy from the orphanage to help Matthew run their farm. They live at Green Gables, their Avonlea farmhouse on Prince Edward Island. Through a misunderstanding, the orphanage sends Anne Shirley. And Anne brings all sorts of surprises in her wake.

So begins the classic tale of a girl who, through trying to find her place in the world, ends up bringing love and adventure to Green Gables.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.*

It has been over a decade since I’ve visited the world of Green Gables, so when I saw this title available to review, I just couldn’t pass up a chance to revisit it.

Anne of Green Gables is a classic coming of age story about a young girl named Anne who gets sent to siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert by mistake — they wanted a boy to help with farm work. But when Marilla agrees to keep the talkative child and raise her up, she certainly gets more than she bargained for. Anne is energetic and over-the-top imaginative, but she is also full of love and generosity.

This book is about being a kid and, oftentimes, learning lessons the hard way. It also shows that even though adults are the ones in charge, they also learn just as much from children as children do for them — I love that balance of perspective. There are also lovely lessons embedded in this story about friendship, forgiveness, and making the most out of life.

But don’t take that to mean that you’re hit over the head with moral after moral! The events flow naturally together, and to make things better, this book is funny. I laughed out loud on numerous occasions because of the ridiculousness of Anne’s antics or Matthew’s attempts to go against Marilla’s wishes and spoil Anne.

I’ve only ever read the book, so listening to this story as an audiobook was a new experience for me. In some ways, it was more difficult for me to let go and enjoy listening to the story, because I’d already made my own assumptions about these characters in my head. However, Colleen Winton is an excellent narrator and I was hooked within a couple of chapters. She’s able to see into the heart of the characters and reflect their personalities in her narration, which made for an entertaining experience.

The excellence of the performance is in the details. When the book says that Anne’s friend, Diana is the kind of girl who always laughs before she speaks, Winton is sure to give a bit of a laugh before Diana’s dialogue throughout the entire audiobook. It’s the added thoughtfulness that really makes the narration stand out. And of course, all the standard marks for a good narration apply: there are distinct voices for each character and the tone of the exposition is reflected in Winton’s voice. Winton brings this story to life, making this an audiobook well worth listening to. And if you want a taste of it yourself — check out below, where I’ve shared the publisher’s sample track.

In short, if you haven’t read it, go read it! Anne of Green Gables is by far one of my all-time favorites. But if you have read it, consider giving it another go. This one is definitely worth revisiting. And if you’re audiobook-minded, definitely consider listening to this edition — it is delightful!

A big thank you to Audiobook Jukebox for their Solid Gold Reviewer program, through which I found this title.

A second big thank you to Post Hypnotic Press for providing me with a copy.

Picture Book Review: Don’t Push the Button! by Bill Cotter

Title: Don’t Push the Button!
Author: Bill Cotter
Illustrator: Bill Cotter
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

There’s only one rule in Larry’s book: don’t push the button.

(Seriously, don’t even think about it!)

Even if it does look kind of nice, you must never push the button. Who knows what would happen?

Okay, quick. No one is looking… push the button.

Uh, oh.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher at BookExpo America.*

This is one of the cutest books I’ve read in a long time. The illustrations are simple, but pleasing, and the premise is classic — if someone says not to push the button, you’re going to push the button. And Cotter has included some great interactive reading that children are going to absolutely love.

When we were little kids, my sisters and I loved a picture book that involved doing various movements and actually interacting with the text and the story. Don’t Push the Button! is that sort of book — you have to push the button, shake the book to fix what the button has done, and various other movements. The character talks directly with the reader, which simulates and actual conversation/relationship. My baby cousins and niece in my life lit up while following along with this book, and I think that the same will be true for all children.

Book Review: Magic for Marigold by LM Montgomery

Title: Magic for Marigold
Author: L.M. Montgomery
Publisher: Starfire
Paperback: 274 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

The eccentric Lesley family could not agree on what to name Lorraine’s new baby girl even after four months. Lorraine secretly liked the name Marigold, but who would ever agree to such a fanciful name as that? When the baby falls ill and gentle Dr. M. Woodruff Richards saves her life, the family decides to name the child after the good doctor. But a girl named Woodruff? How fortunate that Dr. Richards’s seldom-used first name turns out to be . . . Marigold! A child with such an unusual name is destined for adventure. It all begins the day Marigold meets a girl in a beautiful green dress who claims to be a real-life princess. . .

 

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

If you’ve read any books by L.M. Montgomery before, then you pretty much know what to expect with this one — and adventurous child growing up during the 1920’s in Canada. She likes to daydream, has a little bit of sass, and gets into quite a bit of trouble. I don’t think that this novel is as strong as Montgomery’s other novels, but Marigold and her family members are still enjoyable characters who get into some fun predicaments.

What I think was missing from this novel was a central theme or focus; the book didn’t really go anywhere and while there was some small amount of personal growth for Marigold, it wasn’t enough to warrant the length of the book. But that was the only thing that I had trouble with — I loved reading about Marigold’s adventures, and this book certainly has some laugh-out-loud moments. Basically, it’s a decent enough read if you have the time or if you’re a Montgomery fan. But I would suggest that you read Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables or Emily of New Moon series before you pick up this one.

Audiobook Review: Jingo Django by Sid Fleischman

Title: Jingo Django
Author: Sid Fleischman
Narrator: Charles Carroll
Publisher: AudioGO
Edition: Unabridged
Duration: 3 hours 59 min
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Jingo Hawks is out of luck when Mrs. Daggatt from the orphan house hires him out as a chimney sweep to the awful General Dirty-Face Scurlock. But it’s gypsy luck that puts Jingo into the right chimney and then into the care of the mysterious Mr. Peacock, who claims to know Jingo’s scoundral father. Together they set out on a treasure hunt for buried gold. But they are not alone–those nasty gold diggers Mrs. Daggatt and General Scurlock are hot on their trail.

 

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Jingo Django is a fun adventure book that I could see kids loving — I definitely loved this sort of book when I was a kid, and even as an adult, I greatly enjoyed it. With buried treasure, adventure, and unforgettable characters (with equally unforgettable names), this is a great story for young boys and girls.

Django goes on a quest expecting to find treasure and learns so much about himself and his abilities. This story has both coming-of-age and adventure elements and would appeal to children/middle grade readers. The plot is a bit simplistic and doesn’t cover much ground, which is why I wouldn’t recommend it for a young adult audience. Django is really the only character that grows within the story, which is fine — but again, for those who like a complex story, not so great. I really loved how Fleischman is able to show seedy characters while still retaining the charm of an old-fashioned adventure — and I love how Django is able to use his intelligence to outwit some of the less-than-honest characters.

The narration is excellent: each character has its own voice and Charles Carroll really brought life and personality to all the different characters. I sometimes avoid books with children in them, because a lot of narrators tend to make children’s voices needlessly whiny, but Carroll doesn’t do that. He uses his normal voice and it works really well for the story.

Overall, I think Jingo Django is an interesting, fast-paced adventure story. It’ll be a quick read and has enough in it to keep the reader engaged from beginning to end.

*I received a copy of this audiobook through the publisher from Audiobook Jukebox’s Solid Gold Reviewer program in exchange for an honest review.*

Audiobook Review: How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell

Title: How to Eat Fried Worms
Author: Thomas Rockwell
Publisher: Listening Library
Narrator: Jay O. Sanders
Duration: 1 hr 53 minutes
Summary (taken from Goodreads):

Billy must eat 15 worms in 15 days–but the reward will be worth it: $50 for a shiny new minibike. Luckily, Billy’s friends cook up these fat juicy grubs in a variety of appetizing ways–drenched in ketchup and mustard, fried in butter and cornmeal, and the pièce de résistance, a Whizband Worm Delight (an ice-cream worm cake).

Review:
This book was short, sweet, and hilarious! I can just imagine 10-year-old boys making this sort of bet with each other. I admit, the part where he at the worms was kind of gross, but I enjoyed all the ways he tried to make the worm appetizing. It was also funny seeing how the other two try to trick Billy into losing the bet (and there are a couple of good tricks).

I do have to say that this book is somewhat dated. Written in 1973, some of the phrases used and attitudes of the parents/children just don’t fit in with how today is, but it still a great read. When it comes down to it, it’s all about dealing with peer pressure and that will stay relevant forever.

I thought the narration was phenomenal. Sanders really brings the characters and the story to life. However, I’m not a big fan of background music in my audio books, and there was a decent amount in this one. It wasn’t enough to really bother me, but I did find myself wishing they would cut out the music and just let the man tell the story!If you have a couple of hours to spare (whether for reading or listening to an audio book), then go for it and pick this one up. It’s worth it!

Overall Rating: 4/5

Book Review: The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

Title: The Chocolate War
Author: Robert Cormier
Publisher: Knopf Books
Paperback: 272 pages
Summary: (Taken from Goodreads)

Jerry Renault ponders the question on the poster in his locker: Do I dare disturb the universe? Refusing to sell chocolates in the annual Trinity school fund-raiser may not seem like a radical thing to do. But when Jerry challenges a secret school society called The Vigils, his defiant act turns into an all-out war. Now the only question is: Who will survive? First published in 1974, Robert Cormier’s groundbreaking novel, an unflinching portrait of corruption and cruelty, has become a modern classic.

My Review:

I was not a fan of this book. Many people cite it as being too violent, which wasn’t the problem I had with it. It was definitely violent, but not to the extent that it made me like the book any less.When it comes down to it, I just didn’t like the story.

The message and the theme are worthwhile — individuality, peer pressure, violence. These are all issues that are still relevant today and that kids need to read about so they can learn to deal with them. I like that Cormier made all characters susceptible. It wasn’t only the students that were putting pressure on one another, it was the teachers as well. I appreciated that he didn’t made the teachers above immorality, since I don’t think they are.

However, the way Cormier told The Chocolate War just didn’t interest me. The characters were all over-the-top. They were caricatures rather than representations of real teens. For me, this hurts the book because I wasn’t able to engage in the message and the theme since I couldn’t connect to the characters. I also felt that the ending was forced. It didn’t seem natural, and it just seemed like another cartoonish type thing Cormier added to beat the message in.

With all that said, this is still a classic. It is still banned (I really don’t know why), which is a big reason why I wanted to read it. I do think there are better books worth spending time on, but some readers may get something out of it. It just wasn’t for me.

Overall rating: 2/5