Jane Eyre dons a jean skirt and college experience in Jane: A Modern Retelling of Jane Eyre by April Lindner. Jane Moore is a quiet, introspective college student who tragically has to drop out of school when her parents are killed. Desperate for a job, she turns to Discriminating Nannies, Inc. where her lack of interest in all things celebrity lands her a job at the estate of rock star Nico Rathburn--whose tumultuous personal life has been well documented in the papers--as the nanny to his five-year old daughter, Maddy. Estranged from her siblings, Jane soon begins to think of Thornfield Manor as her home and comes to love Maddy as well as the other servants. When Nico returns from one of his many business ventures, Jane soon finds that he is not what she expected. He proves to be not only a fair employer, but also a loyal friend. As time passes and Jane becomes entrenched in Nico’s world, it becomes obvious that they have intense feelings for each other. However, the mysterious presence of the seemingly useless servant Brenda, and the wailings that can be heard coming from the third floor often make Jane ill-at-ease. Why does Nico continue to employ Brenda? What is he hiding on the third floor? Can a new love overcome the sorrowful events of the past?
Jane is surprisingly true to the original Jane Eyre and is thoughtfully updated, though it does fall short of the classic. Jane Moore is someone who would be considered old-fashioned in today’s world, but in order for the story to translate it was necessary for her to take on that characteristic. This does not make her a weak character—on the contrary; she is very opinionated and has her own ideas about how the world should work. Thinking of the character of Mr. Rochester as a rock star can be a bit disconcerting at first, but since there is no “noble” class to speak of in the United States, it is a solid choice for Nico’s profession.
Jane is compulsively readable, but what is truly lacking is the gothic, creepy quality that surrounds the original Jane Eyre. Anyone who reads Jane and has not yet read Jane Eyre will undoubtedly want to read Charlotte Bronte’s original novel, and it will surely be highly circulated in any teen collection.
In The Willoughbys, Lois Lowry gives readers a playful romp that is a parody of “old-fashioned” novels. Written in a style that is reminiscent of classic children’s literature, The Willoughbys focuses on the four Willoughby children: Tim, Barnaby A and Barnaby B (twins), and demure little Jane. Throughout the book, the children find themselves in situations that are identical to those of classic tales such as Hansel and Gretel, Pollyanna, Little Women, and many others. The comedic part in all of this is that the children actually point out the parallels between their lives and those of the characters from the classic tales. The story really takes off when the children and parents simultaneously devise plans to get rid of each other. The parents leave the children with Nanny and try to sell the house and the children send their parents on a vacation of life-threatening activities so they can become “deserving and winsome” orphans. As the plot develops everything that has happened from the arrival of the baby leads up to an interweaving of various sub-plots. We learn the story of the candy inventor, who tragically lost his family in an avalanche near the Alps years ago…or did he? We also follow the dangerous adventures of the Willoughby parents.
Ingeniously crafted and ridiculously humorous, The Willoughbys is a delight. Many parts of the story are predictable, but they are supposed to be since most of the book is based on various stories of classic children’s literature. There are vocabulary words that many young (and even some adult) readers may not be familiar with. However, the author has provided a glossary in the back of the book that light-heartedly explains the meaning of each of these words. There is also a bibliography of the titles and authors of the classic works referenced in the novel that could help point young readers in the direction of those classic books. This novel is best suited for middle-grade readers, and would appeal to those who enjoy A Series of Unfortunate Events. Recommended for grades 4 - 7.
Jeremy Jacob is just a normal young boy building a sand castle on a beach—until he sees a pirate ship, and then his whole life changes in Melinda Long’s How I Became a Pirate. Jeremy tries to warn his parents that there is a pirate ship approaching the shore, but his father is too preoccupied with setting up the beach umbrella, and his mother is wrestling with getting sun block on his little sister. So, when the pirates come to shore, note that Jeremy is a “good digger,” and ask him to join him on their search for a place to bury their treasure, Jeremy accepts. Captain Braid Beard and his crew are a friendly group of pirates, who teach Jeremy all about what it takes to be one of them. Jeremy is thrilled that no one has to say “please” or “thank you,” and that eating spinach is not required on board, since they don’t even serve it! They even let Jeremy teach them how to play soccer. But when bed-time comes, Jeremy discovers that no one tucks you in or tells you any bed time stories. The next day, when a storm blows up on the high seas, none of the pirates comfort Jeremy, and he knows that even though manners aren’t required on the pirate ship, he would much rather be home. So when the mast breaks and the pirates don’t know where to go to bury their treasure, Jeremy comes up with the perfect solution, and leads them straight to his backyard.
Long’s rhyming words and the lesson that is told through this adventure are an absolute delight, as are David Shannon’s illustrations, which depict over-the-top, colorful, cartoon pirates with pronounced features. The pirates look grungy, but goofy at the same time. Braid Beard’s beard is actually braided, some of the pirates have “mom” tattoos, and one sports two eye-patches (neither of which he needs). There are always pirates popping up on each page, and at one point they are all on the border of the page looking at the reader, making you feel like Jeremy must have felt when he was talking to them and they were all staring down at him. The crew always repeats what Braid Beard says, making for a fun read-aloud. The conclusion of the book brings everything full-circle, as Jeremy practices soccer in his “Pirates” jersey. This high-seas adventure is best suited for grades K-4.
What happens when a circus ship crashes in the ocean in the 1800’s? Why, the animals swim to shore of course! Abandoned during the sinking of the ship by their cruel ring master, Mr. Paine, the animals from the ship in Chris Van Dusen’s The Circus Ship swim ashore to a small town in Maine. Of course, the animals are quickly noticed by the townspeople, despite their efforts to fit in. Their reputation is not helped when they are found all over town in strange situations. After all, “…Miss Fannie Feeney found, according to the rumors—the silly little circus monkey swinging in her bloomers.” The animals are effectively shut out by the towns-people, until one day a fire breaks out in a house, trapping little Emma Rose inside. The valiant tiger, which had jumped through many fire rings during his time in the circus, comes to her rescue, thus turning the tide of the town’s attitude toward the circus animals. But Mr. Paine soon comes looking for his animals because there is a show to do in Boston. What the townspeople do to protect their new friends is remarkable and absolutely hilarious.
The Circus Ship is filled with witty rhyming prose and vivid, cartoon-like illustrations. Van Dusen makes the animals look loveable, and gives both people and animals wonderful facial expressions. A spread where the animals are hiding provides a wonderful picture searching opportunity. The plot of the story is fast-paced and entertaining. It is also important to note that the story is actually based on real events, which can be read about in the back of the book, though the animals never got as far as the town in the true story. Recommended for grades Pre-K-4.
What would you do if you suddenly found yourself in the body of your best friend’s baby sister? Cry, of course! Which is exactly what Katie Kazoo does in Katie Kazoo, Switcheroo: Oh, Baby! The third book in the series by Nancy Krulik finds Katie, who gets switched into other people’s bodies by a magic wind, in the tough position of being in the body of a baby…with a wet diaper. Even more humiliating than that is the fact that her best friend, Suzanne, is about to change the diaper! Throwing caution to the wind, Katie tells Suzanne that she doesn’t want to be changed. This shocks Suzanne, as well as their friend Jeremy, who just happens to be the editor of the class newspaper. Jeremy rushes off without explanation, but after Katie has switched back and is in school the next day, she finds out why. He ran an article in the paper about Suzanne’s three month old baby sister being able to talk! Horrified, Katie tries to prevent Suzanne from inviting their classmates over to hear her genius sister, but she fails and Suzanne and Jeremy are humiliated when little Heather doesn’t talk. Desperate to save her friends any more embarrassment, Katie takes the heat by learning ventriloquism and says that she’s the one who made Heather talk.
Oh, Baby! is slow to start, and does not pick up much steam as the story continues. Katie’s dilemma of being in a wet diaper is one that generates more of a “yuck” than an “uh-oh” response and her quick fix at the end of the book when she suddenly announces that she’s been studying ventriloquism for a year is far from convincing. There are black and white cartoon-like illustrations by John and Wendy that are cute and fun to look at, but they cannot salvage the story. If students are already into this series, they will want to read this third installment. Best suited for grades 3 – 5.