Daphne’s Book By Mary Downing Hahn

Jessica thinks she’ll be laughed off the face of the earth…

Mary Downing Hahn may be best known for her YA suspense novels, especially the deeply creepy, deeply beloved ghost story Wait Till Helen Comes. But sprinkled throughout her bibliography are more conventional social-problem and coming-of-age novels, including The Jellyfish Season, Tallahassee Higgins, and this one, dealing with middle-school bullies, homelessness, and tragically dead parents.

The Plot: Seventh-grader Jessica Taylor is already having a bad day when her English teacher, Mr. O’Brien, announces that the class has been selected to participate in a county-wide contest to write and illustrate a children’s picture book- the class will be working in teams of two, and HE WILL ALLOW NO CHANGES TO BE MADE TO THE ASSIGNED PARTNERS (the book opens in January, and it sounds like Mr. O’Brien has been having a tough year). Continue reading

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Camilla By Madeleine L’Engle

Her life is filled with confusion. Will it ever make sense?

In the 5+ years of this blog’s existence, this has to rate as the most difficult and frustrating book I’ve had to write about. Not because it isn’t good or I didn’t like it (it is and I do). And not because I never really warmed to Madeleine L’Engle’s combination of fantasy, Jesus and math as a young reader (…or as an old one). This is one of those books where not much happens, and yet it is completely satisfying in its not-much-happening… until we sideline the heroine for the tale of woe that is her romantic interest who ISN’T EVEN THAT GREAT, CAMILLA!

The Plot: The (misleading) back cover copy on Dell’s 1982 reissue reads in part:

Then she meets Frank, her best friend’s brother, who helps her to feel that she is not alone. Can Camilla learn to accept her parents for what they are?

Which may be the most misleading summary of a plot I’ve ever read, unless the implied answer to that question is “No, because they’re terrible.” Continue reading

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How Do You Lose Those Ninth Grade Blues? By Barthe DeClements

Will Elsie be able to accept her (beautiful!) new self?

This is the first of two (sadly out-of-print) books following up on the life of Elsie Edwards from Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade, the school fatty with a horrifying mother who eventually loses weight and makes friends with Jenifer Sawyer and her group of friends, who are then maybe-kidnapped to add some excitement at the end.

The Plot: Starts up on the first day of high school, now from the point of view of a still-slender Elsie:

“Hey, Fatty!”

That wasn’t me any more, so I kept walkin’.

While now a beautiful young woman in the 1980s mold (Jenifer says that she looks like “a thin Dolly Parton”, although on this cover she reminds me more of Horse Lovin’ Barbie), Elsie is still emotionally scarred by her experience of being loathed and resented by her mother, absentee father and entire fifth grade class. While still a mathematical genius (she finished her algebra requirements in 8th grade) and talented singer (she gets First Soprano in the school choir without breaking a sweat), as well as a GENUINELY NICE PERSON, she is completely lacking in self- confidence. Continue reading

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Barbie and Ken By Cynthia Lawrence and Bette Lou Maybee

How these popular high school classmates solve their dilemmas makes for many hours of entertaining reading!

Upon her introduction in 1959, Mattel’s Barbie doll was intended to be something of a blank slate: a glamorous avatar on which girls could project there future fashion dreams and career aspirations. Not until the doll became a massive hit (and Mattel started licensing various ancillary products in Barbie’s image) did her creator, Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler, consider what kind of personality she should have.

This was mostly done through the pages of Barbie: The Mattel Barbie Magazine which was published starting in 1961, and included short stories featuring Barbie, her boyfriend Ken, her BFF Midge (and eventually Midge’s boyfriend Allan) along with various characters who did not appear in doll-form in the Mattel line.

Beginning the following year some of the stories that appeared in the magazine were published as a series of hardcover books by Random House, which ran 12 volumes (plus a cookbook) through 1965. Continue reading

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Checking In With The Imaginary Summer Book Club: Up The Down Staircase By Bel Kaufman

(Click here for information on the 2017 edition of Molly’s Imaginary Summer Book Club Featuring Classics of Women’s Literature. As all of the four selected titles have filmed adaptations, we will be looking at the movie versions as we go along. This month, the June selection, Bel Kaufman’s Up The Down Staircase.)

It’s only fair to state at the outset that I come to Up The Down Staircase with a bias- like Bel Kaufman, I am a Hunter College alumnae who teaches in the New York City school system, so I feel I can answer with authority the question of the hour: how much, exactly, have things changed in the last 50 years?

Not. Much.

Right down to the draconian dictates on the raising and lowering of classroom shades.

Ok, I exaggerate, but slightly. In 2017, there may also be fewer H-Bomb drills than in 1964.

In Kaufman’s introduction to 1991 edition she outlines the origins of the book and her own career as a high school English teacher, first in the gray area of a “Per Diem sub” when the Board of Education repeatedly flunks her on the oral portion of the licensing exam because, as the child of Russian immigrants, she had practiced too well- apparently they feared she would make her students’ pronunciation too affected. Continue reading

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Promised Kiss (First Love From Silhouette #14) By Veronica Ladd

All her friends think Roger is weird, but Karen knows better…

Background: 236 First Love titles were published between 1981 and 1987 by Silhouette, “AMERICA’S publisher of Contemporary Romance” (distinguishing itself from its main competitor, the Canadian-based Harlequin, which would fold Silhouette into its own operations in 2012).  I have commented in the past that I thought that First Love titles compared unfavorably with the similar Wildfire, Sweet Dreams and Caprice YA Romances…

But I think I actually have to take all of that back. While Silhouette certainly released its share of dogs (talking or otherwise), I find myself surprised more often than not by the quality of writing. Or at least willing to suspend my disbelief as long as they keep the titles with bird-crazed meddling neighbors coming.

The Plot: While this one includes neither talking dogs nor perilous bird sanctuaries, it turns out to be a pretty serious and angst-filled title, as 16 year old Karen is pushed by her bitter divorced mom and older sister into following in their footsteps and campaigning for the title of Harvest Queen, in the town of Wilks, Wilks County, Kansas. Continue reading

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Magazine Madness and/or Mania: Co-Ed, May 1963

Published by Scholastic between 1959 and 1985, Co-Ed’s somewhat confusing tagline was “The High School Magazine For Homemakers and Career Girls”, which covers pretty much every group of young women except collegiate co-eds. Continue reading

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