June Minireviews – Part 2

So, like I said, I read a lot of children’s books in June.  I was in the mood for some comforting rereads!!

The Pink Motel by Carol Ryrie Brink – 4*

//published 1959//

In this adorable book a family inherits a motel in Florida.  They go down over winter break to get things in order to sell it.  Of course, the children love it and want to stay, especially when they arrive and find that the motel is painted a bright, vibrant pink – which, in turn, seems to attract unusual residents, some of whom have been coming to stay there for years.  All the characters in this book are great fun, and there is just enough mystery to keep things moving.  This is an old favorite that I highly recommend.

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell – 4*

//published 1960//

I hadn’t read this book since high school, but it’s held up pretty well over the years.  I was always a sucker for books about people living on their own in the wilderness, and that’s the premise of Blue Dolphins as well.  This book covers a weirdly long amount of time (I realize it was based on a true story and the author was working within those parameters but still) so it somewhat lacks urgency, but was still an interesting and engaging story.

The Snarkout Boys & the Avocado of Death by Daniel Pinkwater – 4.5*

//published 1982//

Wow, I love this book so much.  Pinkwater is absolutely insane and his books are not for everyone, since they frequently read like a weird dream, but I honestly love every page of this book.  It had been a long time since I’d actually read it all the way through and it’s even more ridiculous than I remembered, but in a way that made me super happy.  If you’re looking for something that is complete and utter nonsense, look no further than Pinkwater. This book may also appeal to you if you: love avocados, have ever known a mad scientist, think high school is biggest waste of time ever, ever used to sneak out of the house, or wish you had a 24hr movie theater in your neighborhood.

The Snarkout Boys & the Baconburg Horror by Daniel Pinkwater – 4*

//published 1984//

If you enjoy Avocado of Death, you’ll enjoy Baconburg Horror as well.  This one is a little more scifi trope-y (it involves a werewolf), but the main reason I don’t enjoy it quite as much is because Avocado is a first-person narration and the narrator is a huge part of what makes that book entertaining.  The same kid is narrating in Baconburg, but he only narrates part of the book – other parts jump around to third person randomly, which makes the whole story feel a lot more choppy and not quite as fun.  Still, Baconburg is well worth the read if you enjoyed the first book, and this photo of Pinkwater’s “biography” in the back of the book may give you a small clue as to whether or not you will find him entertaining!

O the Red Rose Tree by Patricia Beatty – 3.5*

//published 1972//

Believe it or not, I’m still slowly working my way through all the books that I own, many of which I haven’t read since high school!  This is one of those books that I purchased back in the mid-90’s and hadn’t read since then.  This is a perfectly nice historical fiction about a group of friends who help an elderly neighbor complete a quilt she’s always dreamed of making. Set in Washington state in the 1890’s, the challenge to the girls is to find several different types of red cotton (that doesn’t bleed) at a time when that type of cloth was rare and expensive.  This leads to several entertaining adventures and a few life-lessons.  While I enjoyed this one just fine, I don’t really see myself rereading it – so it has headed off to a new home, giving me one more spot for a new book on my shelves!!

Family Grandstand


by Carol Ryrie Brink

published 1952

I’m not sure what has happened to our society, but I can’t seem to find books like this any more.  This is a happy book about a happy family.  There are two parents and several children.  The parents have rules and the children obey them.  Everyone respects and loves everyone else.  The adventures are funny and not stressful, and emphasize kindness, selflessness, inclusiveness, the importance of a good attitude, and respect for those in authority (like parents, the elderly, and teachers), all without sounding preachy.  There’s no divorce, no discussion of sexual orientation, no realization that parents are actually evil and stupid and selfish.  Instead, it’s everything that a children’s book should be:  innocent and fun.

I understand when people say that there need to be children’s book where children are in the same situations as the potential readers, e.g. story-children whose parents are divorced.  That’s well and good, but at the same time, we have to remember that books are, in many cases (possibly even most cases in children’s literature), a presentation of an ideal.  I don’t think that normalizing divorce (which is just one of many examples; extra-marital sex amongst under-15-year-0lds would be another) by presenting it in every single story for every single child in that story is a good trend.  What you’re saying is not just “Hey, it’s okay if you’re in this situation,” but also, “Hey, this is the way everyone is, and it’s all you can really hope for for your future, too.”  I’m really over modern children and YA literature insisting that it’s impossible for two adults to get married (without having sex first to “make sure it’s going to work”…  because yes, I think we should tell young adults that your marriage is going to work or not work based on whether or not you like to bang…  that could be what’s leading to the high divorce rates later..???), and then stay married…  you know, forever.  Until one of them dies.  Like they promised to do when they got married.

Books like Family Grandstand aren’t trying to insist that every family in 1952 was perfect.  But in 1952 the ideal was still perfect:  a happy family with happy parents in a happy home full of love and respect.  I think that modern literature could do with a bit of an idealist lesson from those “hopelessly old-fashioned” 1950’s.

Baby Island



by Carol Ryrie Brink

Published: 1937

As I may have mentioned, I love Carol Ryrie Brink.  Her children’s books are everything a child’s book should be.  A happy story with just the right amount of tension, wonderful read-aloud quality, quirky characters, family values, and happy endings.

In Baby Island, two sisters, ages 12 and 10,  are shipwrecked on a (supposedly) deserted island with three toddlers and a baby.  How the survive, and befriend the island’s “Man Friday,” is an adorable tale.

I’m not sure that two modern-day girls of the same age could accomplish the same thing.  So many children these days seem disinterested in babies, and so many families only have one or two children.  In 1937, babies were, perhaps, far more important.  I love Brink’s foreword:

When I was a small girl, it was the fashion in our circle to borrow the neighbors’ babies.  I myself was never a very accomplished nursemaid, although I had many happy hours pushing the perambulator of a young cousin; but some of my friends had a positive genius for taking care of and amusing babies.  They never thought of receiving pay for this delightful pastime.  Minding a baby was its own reward.

It is more difficult to borrow babies now, I understand.  Whether this is due to a scarcity of babies or to more particular mothers, I am unable to say.  But I am quite sure of this: there are just as many little girls who love babies as there ever were, and it is especially for them that I have written the story of Baby Island.

This is a very, very happy little tale, and definite read for any little girls who love babies.


Magical Melons


by Carol Ryrie Brink

Published: 1939

This book, the sequel to Caddie Woodlawncontains several new adventures of the Woodlawn family, based on the tales told to the author by her grandmother.

I actually like Magical Melons better than Caddie Woodlawn, and I’m not sure why.  I think it’s because in Caddie Woodlawn, the author seems to be trying to connect all the stories, but it doesn’t work very well, because they are all just individual vignettes.  But in Magical Melons, it’s as though Brink realizes this, and just tells each tale independently, and the whole book flows better because of it.

Overall, super happy little stories, fun historical context.  3/5.

Caddie Woodlawn


by Carol Ryrie Brink

Published: 1935

This story, set during the 1860’s in the west, is based on the author’s grandmother’s life.  The book is anecdotes from  a year of Caddie’s life and is full of interesting history and a glimpse into everyday life during the time.  The book is a lot of fun, although sometimes the jumps in the story seem a bit abrupt.  There isn’t much of an overall plot tying things together, which can make the book seem a bit choppy at times.  Still, it’s a happy story and very readable.  3/5.

Two Are Better Than One


by Carol Ryrie Brink

Published: 1968

This is one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors.  Carol Ryrie Brink creates the happiest little stories.  While not long on plot, they are full of just delightful, knowable characters.

Two Are Better Than One is about two girls who are best friends, and many of the adventures in which they become involved.  Throughout the book, they are writing a story of their own (“The Romantical Perils of Lester and Lynette”), which adds to the fun.

I love this book.  :-)  5/5.