Friday, 20 April 2018

Friday Funnies: Grover, The Count and the Hot Dogs



You must watch this one to the end. This classic Sesame Street sketch has had a little extra added.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Review: Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

I'd heard of American author Jennifer Niven, but I'd never had the slightest inclination to pick up one of her books--the two that are currently in print in Australia are both YA titles that fall squarely into the unlikely high school romance category and I've read my fair share of books like that already. I only picked this one up because my local bookstore was having one of those buy two books from this table and you can get a third free promotion. It was one of those deals where the table had two books that I was itching to read, and this one looked nicer than some of the other titles available.

What I got was a YA novel about an unlikely high school romance.

Fortunately, this unlikely romance was written quite well. Jack is one of the popular kids. He can be a bit of a jerk at times, but he's not really a bully like some of the others he hangs around with. He's struggling with a surprising secret though--he cannot recognise other people's faces and this often lands him in trouble and he can sometimes do the wrong thing by someone without intending to. He has a horrible on-off relationship with a mean, manipulative girl from his class which only contributes to his problems.

Libby Stout, who is quite possibly the most unfortunately named character since Dickens, is attending high school for the first time. Three years ago, she was so overweight that she had to be cut out of her house by emergency services and taken to hospital. She's lost half of that weight and she's ready to tackle high school. And she's not going to take any nonsense from bullies--and they certainly try to cause trouble in her first few days at school. This leads to an unpleasant encounter with Jack, and the pair find themselves on a sort-of corrective behaviour programme at their school, which in turn leads the pair to becoming closer than what anyone expected.

This was an interesting take on the genre, which raises questions about identity, bullying and standing up for oneself. Although a little far-fetched in that special way that only American novels can be, this one delivers an interesting enough message to its target audience and to anyone else who cares to join in. I'd never heard of face-blindness, and found it quite interesting to read about Jack's struggles and the lengths that he goes to in order to hide it from his loved ones.

Recommended.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Review: Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Self-belief and the changing nature of childhood friendships are the core themes of this quirky graphic novel. After seeing a Roller Derby demonstration, Astrid knows that this is something that she wants to get into--and better still, summer is coming and there is going to be a Roller Derby themed day camp happening in her town. Astrid signs up and assumes that her best friend Nicole will be signing up too--after all, the pair do everything together. Astrid gets an unpleasant surprise when she discovers that Nicole is going to attend ballet camp with Rachel, a mean girl from their class. And then she discovers that Roller Derby isn't anywhere near as easy as she first thought. This summer might just turn out to be the loneliest of all. 

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this short novel. I read it all in one sitting and found myself laughing and crying along with Astrid. She's not perfect, but being ditched by her best friend without warning was certainly a bitter pill for her to swallow. (As is the point where she realises that most--though perhaps not all--of Nicole's reasons were valid.) Actually, to be honest, I hated Nicole for not being upfront and for wanting to be the best friend of a horrid manipulator, but Astrid is able to resolve the situation with maturity ... eventually. 

I loved reading about how she devoted herself to her chosen sport and was able to develop new friendships with her teammates. There is a particularly touching part toward the end where it becomes obvious that she's learned more about being a better friend, and does something to help Zoey, a girl who might just become her new best friend. There are sound morals about having a strong work ethic and how if you want something, you have to be prepared to work for it. This one would be an excellent book to give to girls of a certain age, whose friendships are beginning to change.

Recommended.  

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Review: Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

The Upside of Unrequited was such a winner for me that I knew I just had to go back and read Becky Albertali's first novel, Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda. And, even better, it turns out that the book has just been made into a film called Love, Simon which I really want to see at some point. Anyway, the book has just been re-released in Australia and it includes some bonus interviews behind the scenes movie content and a sneak peak at Albertalli's next novel Leah on the Offbeat which will be released in Australia on April 30. 

Anyway, the novel tells the story of Simon and how he falls in love with Blue, the person he has been exchanging email's with for the past few months. This is something of a big deal, because Simon is gay, but he isn't out to his family and friends (and it's not one of those stories where it turns out that everyone knows already--they're all completely clueless.) Even though Simon thinks that his loved ones will support him, it's still big and scary. And there are two other problems--he's being blackmailed by a fellow student who has found his emails, and that he has no idea who Blue is, apart from the fact that they go to the same school.

This was an interesting glimpse of the life of a sensitive and occasionally off beat teenager who is struggling to find himself. Simon's circle of friends made for an interesting group, his best mate Nick, the effervescent Abby who has only been at the school a few months and his BFF Leah who has a bit of attitude and is somewhat jealous of Abby. It also raises the issue of how gay or bisexual people come out--shouldn't they have the right to do so in their own way and on their own terms, and also, how come people who are straight don't have to declare their preference? Why is it just assumed. There is also another issue raised about assumptions that we make about people, but I can't reveal much of that without giving away spoilers.

Simon vs the Homo Sapien's Agenda is very definitely a YA novel that will have broad appeal from readers well outside of the target audience. It's topical, well written and a lot of fun. I'm really looking forward to reading Leah on the Offbeat. The first chapter certainly suggests that there are some deeper truths behind Leah's behaviour.

Highly recommended. 

Monday, 16 April 2018

Review: Jessi and the Mystery of the Stolen Secrets (BSC TV Series Episode 9)



We had to wait until episode nine for Jessi to get top billing, but it's worth the wait considering that Nicole Leach proves herself to be one of the more talented actors on the series. She was also one of the more experienced actors on the show, having previously appeared on several episodes of The Cosby Show and was a regular on a television series titled Shining Time Station. Much like Meghan Andrews who played Mallory, Nicole Leach is still a working actor. 

Within the Babysitters Club universe Jessi stories often featured a variety of social justice issues--the first novel to be narrated by Jessi had her learning sign language so that she could communicate with a character from the series who was deaf. In later books she would help a kid with a life threatening illness, apologise to a teacher who was being bullied and help a friend who was suffering from Anorexia Nervosa. Jessi was always portrayed as being fairly mature for her age, though it was obvious from her debut in the series that had to be that way. When she first moved to Stoneybrook she and her family encountered their fair share of prejudice as they were the only black family in town. She was also a talented ballerina, but feared that same prejudice may stop her from being cast in lead roles, as she explains to Mallory in Hello, Mallory. Of course, there is a bit of artistic licence at play with her character--in real life, even a very advanced eleven year old would not be able to have quite as many responsibilities and the same insight into people as Jessi did. Within the confines of a series that has strong messages about responsibility however, a character like Jessi is a perfect fit.

Anyway, Jessi and the Mystery of the Stolen Secrets touches on themes of responsibility. For once, Jackie Rodowski isn't the main sitting charge--that honour goes to Matt Broderick a boy of about eight or nine, who is deaf and one of Jessi's regular sitting charges. In this episode some top secret information about the Babysitters Club goes public, which leads to the girls jumping to conclusions before the truth is revealed--and both sides learn an important life lesson. 

I couldn't help but notice in this one that some of the kids looked a bit older, and wonder if there had been a break in filming between episodes. Sadly some of the actors, particularly the ones who played Claudia and Mary Anne, are beginning to look too old for the parts they played. I was also amused in one scene to discover that Claudia had a Goosebumps book in her bedroom, beside her Nancy Drew books. (Goosebumps being, of course, the other major series that was published by Scholastic during that era. Goosebumps would also get its own TV series a few years later.) Later in the library, Jessi and Mallory walk past a shelf filled with what looks like Babysitters Club books. (But they may have been other Scholastic titles I suppose ...)

Anyway, this was a fun though slightly predictable instalment in the series. The only part I really remember is where the girls thought that their headquarters may have been bugged ... 

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Friday, 13 April 2018

Friday Funnies: Woah! A Blue Car



Just another classic Homer Simpson moment.