I reviewed five new YA novels for the NYT Book Review this week: Far From the Tree by Robin Benway, Dear Martin by Nic Stone, I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erica L. Sanchez, Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert, and Nothing by Annie Barrows. Check it out HERE.
When I heard that Annie Barrows was going to be doing a young readers’ event at Symphony Space, I bought tickets for myself, S, and her friend Z. Not knowing what to expect, I didn’t sell it too hard to S — I mean, it was a book event, not the new production of Annie. I figured that at the very worst, the night would be a bit of a snooze, with Barrows reading from the new Ivy & Bean (which we’ve already read) and answering a bunch of questions. I expected S to do some fidgeting. But, eternal optimist that I am, I also hoped that seeing one of her favorite authors would spark something.
Well … as it turned out the night was a total hit. The series’ illustrator, Sophie Blackall, was there too and the pair were adorable: Barrows with short dark hair, darting eyes and a sly delivery; Blackall, looking very Park Slope boho, her blonde hair in a messy braid. Barrows read the first chapter from Make the Rules and, even though she was losing her voice, made it sound fresher and funnier than I remembered. They showed a slideshow with pictures of their own kids, their desks, early sketches of the characters, and alternate book covers. For S, it was a great introduction into the process of putting together a book. There was even a little writing exercise for the kids. Barrows read a graph of what sounded like the beginning of a new Ivy & Bean escapade and then told the girls to continue the story with the paper and pencils handed out earlier.
S immediately began scribbling away (the premise had something to do with Ivy & Bean trying to make soup) and didn’t want to stop. By the next morning, she had a chapter.
My eight-year-old daughter has not yet developed into the kind of book lover I had hoped she would turn out to be. She has, I think, pretty solid taste in writing (thumbs up Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary; thumbs down the Rainbow Magic fairy books, thank GOD). But she finds reading effortful, something school and her pushy parents make her do. She’ll happily listen to me reading a book out loud, but she’s not that kid who brings A Secret Garden to a restaurant and quietly reads while her parents have a third glass of wine. Alas…
One series S has taken to, however, is Ivy & Bean, the books by Annie Barrows about the antics of two spunky seven-year-old best friends. The books are pretty terrific: the two girls have real personalities (Bean is a little bit of a Ramona type), and their adventures manage to be both funny and surprising while staying within the bounds of the books’ realistic suburban universe. Also, the illustrations by Sophie Blackall work with the story exactly the way you always wanted illustrated chapter books to be when you were a kid, with characters who look the way you imagine them, and pictures of all the big moments you wanted to see.
This September, when we realized book 9 (Ivy & Bean Make the Rules) was out I bought it for S on the spot. She immediately broke it open and proceeded to read it with hardly a break until she reached the end. This was a first for her.