Book Review: Masterpiece by Elise Broach

October 31, 2008

I recently read Masterpiece by Elise Broach and was totally delighted with the story and the characters. Mother-daughter book clubs with daughters aged 9 and up should enjoy reading it—there’s a sprinkling of art history scattered among the broader theme of friendship, and you can even pair it with a trip to a museum. Here’s my review:

Masterpiece by Elise Broach is a delightful story of the unlikely friendship that develops between a lonely young boy named James and a beetle named Marvin. In the tradition of E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web and The Trumpet of the Swan, Broach takes this human/insect encounter out of the wild and into New York City, where Marvin lives with his parents and other relatives behind a kitchen cupboard in James’s home.

The two characters meet when Marvin draws an ink rendition of the skyline outside James’s window as a birthday present. When everyone thinks that James is the artist, of course he can’t tell them who really drew what’s being hailed as a masterpiece. The two are drawn into a staged art heist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where officials hope to recover previously stolen masterpieces by a well known artist from the early Renaissance.

You’ll happily follow the adventures as James and Marvin work to unravel the complications of their deception while they learn the true value of art and friendship. The publisher, Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, also features an excellent companion discussion guide on its Web site,

Jen Robinson’s Book Page

October 27, 2008

When I attended the Kidlit Blogger’s Conference in Portland last month I met Jen Robinson and heard about her blog, Jen Robinson’s Book Page. Jen has reviews of books for both kids and adults, and her blog has some really great features that can help you find something to read on your own or with your mother-daughter book club.

I particularly like Jen’s list of Cool Girls of Children’s Literature link. This is a list of some of the best female characters in books from classics to current. Jen also has an easy to scroll through index of all her reviews, which include picture books, independent reader books and young adult books. You can look by title or just check out something that catches your eye. You can also have fun checking out some of her other links, like the one for the Santa Clara library, and a link to a PBS Parents article she wrote about helping kids learn how to enjoy reading. I hope you have as much fin visiting Jen’s site as I did.

Inkdeath by Cornelia Funke is Now in Bookstores

October 24, 2008

If you have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of Inkdeath, the third in the Inkheart trilogy by Cornelia Funke, you probably already know it’s arrived. I found out a few days ago and picked up a copy that I plan to read to Catherine when we finish our current book club book, The Secret Life of Bees.

There are 11 reviews for Inkdeath on so far, most of them positive, but a few people were disappointed. We plan to read it regardless, because we’ve enjoyed Inkheart and Inkspell so much. I always like to have a book to look forward to reading during the holidays, and Inkdeath will be our Thanksgiving book. I’d love to hear from anyone else who has had a chance to read it already.

Book Review: Call Me Hope by Gretchen Olsen + Mother-Daughter Book Club Library Meeting

October 22, 2008

Last Saturday I was happy to be invited as a guest to the Hillsboro, Oregon, public library mother-daughter book club meeting. Gretchen Olson, author of Call Me Hope, was also there to talk about her book and the Hands & Words Are Not For Hurting Project, which received a portion of the advance for Call Me Hope. A great group of moms and daughters had gathered that morning to meet Gretchen and hear her perspective on the book while also talking about their own thoughts. I loved being in on the conversation. And I admired the commitment of group members who came out at 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning to be part of the meeting. I know how difficult it can be to get kids out of bed and out the door on a non-school day.

Gretchen is a passionate supporter of the Hands & Words Are Not For Hurting Project, and she hopes that her book will inspire readers to take on a service project involving the group, which provides educational materials that can be used in schools among other things.

Here’s a picture of the group with Gretchen, who is in the middle wearing purple.

And here’s my review of Call Me Hope.

Hope Marie Elliot is eleven years old and in sixth grade. She has a lot to hope for: that her verbally abusive mother will stop calling her stupid and making her feel as though everything she does is wrong, and that she will get to go to Outdoor School at the end of the school year. But Hope is aptly named, and while her mother’s insults continue unabated, she begins to form a refuge for herself. She throws her energy into school work and takes on a challenging project related to Anne Frank’s diary, which her class is reading. She forms a friendship with two women who own a consignment clothing shop, and works to earn clothing for herself. She makes new friends at school, and begins to see her school counselor as someone she can open up to.

She is surprisingly independent for a girl her age, but much of her independence is forged from neglect. When Hope could be drawing inward and closing up, instead she reaches out and sees that the wide world is not necessarily like the one she experiences at home. And that gives her courage to reach out for more. Underlying much of the book is the recognition that while physical abuse is no longer accepted, verbal abuse is often still ignored or dealt with awkwardly.

Call Me Hope is told simply through the words of the young protagonist, and it is richly layered with many themes. Some of the questions it asks readers to ponder: What is verbal abuse? How does a parent’s verbal abuse affect members of the whole family, especially when it’s directed at only one sibling? How do voices from the Holocaust have meaning for and inspire us today? What impact does a loving community have on a child’s emotional well being? Is there hope for change?

Author Gretchen Olson has written a book that shines a light on an issue that isn’t talked about much, while giving us a character, Hope, who will burrow into your heart and stay for a while. Highly recommended for ages 9 and up.

Unraveling—Watch Interview with Lynn Biederman and Her Mom

October 20, 2008

In my latest newsletter I reviewed a book called Unraveling by Michelle Baldini and Lynn Biederman. Unraveling is a heartbreaking and hopeful book of a family that is coming apart around the difficult relationship of Amanda Himmelfarb and her mother. The book especially lends itself to conversations between mothers and daughters about issues of communication and the pressures teens face.

There’s a very interesting interview with Lynn Biederman and her mother, Judith West, talking about the book and mother-daughter issues. I enjoyed listening to it, and you may too. It’s with Good News Broadcast and it’s on YouTube. Here’s the link.

Book Review: Getting the Girl by Markus Zusak

October 16, 2008

Regular readers of this site know that I’m a big fan a Markus Zusak’s books. The Book Thief is one of my all time favorites, and I also really like I Am the Messenger. I recently finished one of Zusak’s earlier books, Getting the Girl, and it confirmed for me once again why I like his writing so much. The voice of Zusak’s characters is so real, so easy to empathize with, that as you’re reading you almost think of yourself as the main character. I’m certainly not a high school boy like Cameron Wolfe in Getting the Girl, but I really felt like I knew what he was going through and knew his character very well. Here’s my official review; I highly recommend it for readers aged 14 through adult.

In Getting the Girl, Markus Zusak takes us into the world of Cameron Wolfe, a high school boy living in the shadow of his older siblings: Steve who’s smart and driven and successful at everything he does, Sarah who works hard, and Ruben, a fighter who earns the respect of all the guys in the neighborhood and who easily gets any woman he wants.

But Cameron is a loner, with no friends outside his family, no girls to go out with, and nothing to do at night but wander the streets around his home. Things start to change for Cam when Octavia comes into his life. Octavia is the latest in a long line of girls dumped by Ruben. Cam sees her as different from the rest, and when she makes it known she’s interested in him, Cam doesn’t hesitate. But how does he open up to someone when he’s so used to being alone? And how does he tell Ruben that’s he’s dating one of his ex-girlfriends?

Cameron is an unlikely hero. Quiet and unassuming, he’s caught between wanting to find someone who appreciates him for what he is and wanting to be more than what he lets others see of him. Getting the Girl delves into complex issues of family and the roles played by different members, and finding a way to be true to yourself while not being overshadowed by more forceful personalities.

Share Your Mother-Daughter Book Club Story

October 15, 2008

I have exciting news about a new guidebook for mother-daughter book clubs I’m writing. There will be lots of helpful tips on how to start a new club and keep an active one thriving for the long term. But I also need your input. I’m contacting moms and daughters in mother-daughter book clubs around the country to include their stories in the guidebook. These personal stories will help to bring the advice to life.

I’ve already heard from many of my readers who have shared stories about activities that have worked for their groups, and I’m hoping to talk to more in the next few months.

Would you or members of your club like to have your story included? If so, I would love to get a note from you. Please send an email to, and answer a few preliminary questions for me. This will help me decide where your story fits in best and target more questions for your club.

Just cut and paste the questions below into a new email, and add the answers. Many require only a yes or no for now. Thanks for your help. I look forward to learning more about you.

Best regards,

Cindy Hudson

  • How long has your group been meeting?
  • How many mom-daughter pairs are in your club?
  • How old are the girls now? How old were they when you started?
  • Where do you meet?
  • Have you been to events outside of your regular meetings?
  • Have you gone away together for one or more nights?
  • Do you or have you chosen books according to a theme?
  • Are any of your daughters home schooled?
  • Do you play games or make crafts at meetings?
  • Have you ever volunteered as a group?
  • Has anyone left the group?
  • Has anyone joined the group after you had been meeting for a year or more?
  • Have you changed the structure of your meetings? (i.e. activities, place, time, frequency.)
  • Anything else you’d like me to know about your group?

Teen Read Week Celebrates Books With Bite

October 14, 2008

Teen Read Week is officially here. Go on over to the American Library Association’s Teen Read Week page to vote for your favorites today. I was tempted to turn in my own votes, but since the Teens Top Ten is designed to note favorite books that teens select, I held back to wait until my daughters come home.

If you’re looking for ideas about what to read, you can check the site for this year’s nominees as well as winners from years past. Some of the past favorites include some of my favorites as well, including The Thief Lord and Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale, Twilight by Stephenie Myer, and Abhorsen by Garth Nix. Looking at this year’s nominees made me realize that while I’ve read a lot of teen books, there are many I haven’t even cracked the covers of yet.

As the saying goes, so many books, so little time.

Book Review: Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman

October 9, 2008

Fans of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series will find Ruby in the Smoke very different, but in many ways just as pleasurable to read. It opens with sixteen-year-old Sally Lockhart visiting her deceased father’s shipping firm and accidentally causing one of his associates to die of a heart-attack when she ask him if he knows of the Seven Blessings. The phrase was on a piece of paper dictated by her father before his death and sent to her in secret.

Fearing that her life is in danger, Sally seeks to unravel the mystery of why her father died, who would like to see her dead, and where to find the famed ruby of an Indian maharajah. Set in Victorian London, the Ruby in the Smoke takes the reader into the dark underworld of the times, where opium dens, disreputable boarding houses and seedy characters abound, while poverty forces many into a life of crime. Pullman keeps us guessing right up until the end, when the facts of several mysteries building during the story are revealed.

Listen to Podcasts with Authors at Just One More Book

October 8, 2008

I recently attended a conference that was all about bloggers who focus on Kid Lit. I was very happy to meet so many people who are passionate about, and who write about, children’s literature. I plan to highlight lots of new sites I learned about in the weeks ahead, to give my readers more ideas on where they can look for books to read. First is Just One More Book

Just One More features book reviews and interviews with authors and illustrators offered as podcasts. You can listen to the sessions on your computer or you can download them to an ipod. And Mark and Andrea, who review books and interview authors, have been at this a while. There are more than 300 podcasts in their archives. The Just One More Book site is very easy to use. Podcasts with authors are listed alphabetically by first name. Book reviews are listed alphabetically and by age level recommendation as well, so you can scroll through the possibilities for your child’s age.

You can also subscribe to receive all of the new updates, updates for reviews only, or updates of interviews only. It’s a very easy site to navigate. I just listened to an archive copy of the interview with Chris Raschka and Jack Prelutsky about ” the role of musical styles and rhythms in their writing, and inspiring children to write.” Look for your favorite author or for new books to read at Just One More