Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Book Report

My fifth grade Language Arts teacher decided to liven up book reporting... by making us write our reports on scoops of paper ice cream. She made a bulletin board featuring construction-paper ice cream cones inscribed with every student's name. Each time we read a book, we'd write a short description on a scoop of ice cream and staple it atop our cone.

Nothing motivates children to read like paper ice cream!

I, of course, had the World's Tallest Paper Ice Cream Cone. Because I was super cool. The following are a few extra credit book reports I turned in at the tail end of fifth grade (June 1989). Did I need the extra credit? Of course not! I was strictly in it for the glory.

QUICK DISCLAIMER: Most of these books I read only once, 20 years ago, so my commentary is largely based on the reports themselves. If you read any of these, have mercy and let us know what happened! Especially if you know the fate of the Gray Ghost or exactly how the Mystery Cat began a life of feline crime-solving.

Where Evil Is
Carol Beach York

You know where evil is? In her hair, you guys. In her HAIR.

I'd read several other creepy-ass Carol Beach York books involving dead people and/or murderous plots (Remember Me When I Am Dead and Secrets in the Attic, I'm looking at you), so I was pretty psyched about this one.

My report: When Marjore is invited to stay with her cousin, Charlene, she's thrilled. Charlene is her idol! Then Charlene gets strange letters in the mail saying how her husband's first wife's death wasn't an accident. But the one night in the house by the lake, Charlene shoots at a robber in the dark and Marjore comes to a startling conclusion.

How can you tell I didn't plagiarize this from the back cover? Because her name is really Marjorie, not Marjore.

Here's some copy I found online:
Sixteen-year-old Marjorie is the unknowing accomplice to her glamorous cousin's elaborate plot . . . to murder her husband. But her cousin makes the fatal mistake of underestimating Marjorie's ability to unmask Where Evil Is.
Way to school me, marketing team. My reports would be SO much better if I figured out a way to incorporate the book's title!

Mystery Cat
Susan Saunders
Animal Story

This was the first book in another series by the author of Sleepover Friends, only instead of binge eaters, this was about a crime-busting cat. No, really. It actually says that on the cover.

"There's a new crime-busting cat in town!"

Move over, OLD crime-busting cat! This cat has a really weird face and is straddling a fat mound of cash! And what's with the girls peeking in on him? I find something about this cover very unsettling.

My report: A mysterious cat with a nick in his ear and a kink in his tail, lives at Kelly Ann's and Hillary's. They found out that he's M.C. (Mystery Cat). Now the girls are following M.C. to find the counterfeiters. When Hillary goes out alone, she is kidnapped by the counterfeiters. Can Kelly Ann and M.C. find Hillary... and solve the mystery?

WHAT? It's like Ann M. Martin wrote a BSC Mystery where Tigger cracked the case. The mind reels. Plus, how did they "find out" that he's Mystery Cat? By reading his tags? Watching him analyze some DNA samples? Can someone please explain this to me??

The Diary of a Young Girl
Anne Frank

I read another Jewish-girl-hiding-from-the-Nazis book this same year, although I can't remember the title. Instead of a secret annex, the protagonist and her sister hid in a closet. For YEARS. Turns out it was a good hiding spot, because the Nazis never found them, although I remember that when the girls finally got out and went to a victory parade, it was hard for them to walk because their legs had atrophied. (Thanks, Nazis! You guys were awesome!) We had an assignment to dress up as a character from a book, and this was who I picked. I think I limped? I remember someone else was Leslie from Bridge to Terabithia—which I hadn't read yet—and she totally ruined the ending by being all, "Hi, I'm Leslie. And I'm dead."

You can't really snark Anne Frank.

My report: The diary of Anne Frank, who lived in hiding during World War II. The story of how she left her home and lived with another family that she couldn't stand for years until they were discovered by the Nazis. How she never got along with her mother, always clinging to her father. How she fell in love. How her life changed.

I got a little Angela Chase with this one, didn't I? If Angela Chase were 11 and wrote only in fragments, that is.

Middle School Blues
Lou Kassem

Cindy = A Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael–era Winona Ryder?

My report: Cindy never wanted to start middle school. [Oh yeah. Staying in fifth grade for seven more years is a way better idea.] Right off, she makes two enemies, Miss Kilper and the pretty, popular Brandy Wine. Cindy's losing her best friend, Becca, to Brandy. Then Cindy's sisters, Grace & Ellen, move away to college. So Cindy makes a new friend, Margo. When her old friend, Jeff, disappears, Cindy takes charge. It's all up to her, can she sort out her life and survive middle school too?

Brandy Wine? Seriously? Like, do her parents want her to become a stripper? I like how this one ends with a question to accentuate its cliffhangerness. I don't know, CAN she survive middle school? (My money's on NO. I don't think she's making it out alive.)

And if you were like, "Hmmm, I really wish I could find out more about this Margo character who was haphazardly inserted into that synopsis," well, my friend, then today is your lucky day!

Secret Wishes
Lou Kassem

Screw cheerleading. Margo should have secretly wished for better hair.

My report: Margo's secret wish is to be a cheerleader, so her grandmother helps her lose weight and Margo helps her grandmother walk. Margo makes the squad! But her secret wish isn't what is seems. Brandy Wine is always using her, she's always busy, she has no time for her friends, and her cheerleading teacher is pushing for champions. Then Margo starts cheating for her fellow "sisters". Then Margo has to make a decision.

Want to be a cheerleader? All you need to do is lose weight and help your grandmother walk, apparently. Thanks for the tip, Lou Kassem! But beware: being a skinny cheerleader with a mobile grandma isn't all it's cracked up to be. Subtext: Brandy Wine will send you to the exotic dancer supply store and make you buy her new shoes for tonight's gig.

But I'll bet she reuses the cheerleading uniform.

Pets Are For Keeps

Virginia Vail
Animal Story

Look! The cover promises wacky animal hijinks!

My report: Val is working at Animal Inn, her father's animal hospital. It's a busy Saturday when her father gets a call saying "The Gray Ghost hurt his leg." The Gray Ghost is a champion horse jumper. His leg will heal, but he can never jump again - he's going blind! The Ghost's owner wants him put to sleep! Val won't stand for that. She's got an idea - she'll buy the Gray Ghost herself!

This would be a million times better if Val was ALSO going blind. And if Jake Ryan was somehow involved...

Right? RIGHT?

This next one I originally purchased at a school book fair for $1.95. Then a few months ago I re-bought it at Goodwill for $1.99. You heard me: a five-cent markup on a used book from 1985! About a frigging ghost in a reflective device! What crap!!! Goodwill, I love to hate you and hate to love you.

The Ghost in the Mirror

Marcia Krutchen

"Help! My mirror is possessed by the ghost of Nelly Oleson!"

The marketing team wrote:
What's wrong with Jenny Morgan? Why do strange things keep happening to her?

Jenny knows the old house her family moved into is different. She doesn't know why until she finds herself in danger. That's when she meets...

The GHOST in the Mirror
My report: Jenny has just moved and she doesn't like it. She faints and sees disappearing figures. She even hears voices. There is one nice thing, she finds a room that's perfect for her. Then she has a strange dream that helps her save her brother's life. One day she sees a ghost in the mirror, the ghost of her grandma, who helps her uncover her great-uncle's secret.
I loved this book because it involved creepiness and ghosts but nothing overly sinister. Here's a quick recap: Jenny's family inherits her great-uncle's house and moves to a Small Town That Shall Not Be Named (why, Marcia Kruchten, why?). She sees a ghost in the backyard and yet seems semi-possessed by the ghost at the same time. Like, she keeps humming this tune she's never heard before, knows how to work some old clock (I quote: "It's a shy little clock. If you bother it much, it won't run."), and knows just where everything should go in her new room, which was once her great-grandmother's. And she faints a few times. It doesn't really make sense.

Meanwhile, the dead uncle has left them a letter with this mysterious riddle:
Sunshine chases cloudy skies
Behind the face the treasure lies
Yes, he wills them something in riddle form. How obnoxious is that? After this, a prowler breaks into the house, and since there are only about four characters in the book outside of Jenny's immediate family, it's pretty obvious who it is.

Meanwhile, Jenny saves her brother from drowning during a Picnic Gone Wrong, all thanks to some dream she had the night before. So the ghost is also psychic? After the life-saving, Jenny is all feverish and some roses turn to slime and the prowler comes back trying to figure out which face the treasure might lie behind. The ghost (who is actually Jenny's great-grandma, not Nelly Oleson) alerts Jenny, scares away the prowler, and then breaks the mirror when Jenny is too stupid to realize that's where the treasure is. Then the "treasure" turns out to be bearer bonds, which according to Jenny's dad will not make them rich, but will be "enough to help out." BORING!

And the ghost was only in the mirror ONCE! But I guess The Ghost in the Backyard isn't that catchy of a title.

William Steig

I read this the same year that I read Anne Frank? Really?

My report: The sequel to CDB, another book full of puzzling letter phrases. A fun book to read and figure out. Packed full of silly, amusing sayings that will keep you looking for more.

Here's an example:

C D C ? = See the sea?
E-R I M ! = Here I am!
U F B-D I-S = You have beady eyes.

I'll bet you're looking for more already! The best part about this one is that I classified it as poetry. Although "U F B-D I-S"
is quite lyrical.

NEXT TIME: The trials and tribulations of Lauren Lowsky, 100% babysitter.

In the meantime, have you ever wondered what would happen if you crossed
Slumdog Millionaire with Transformers? (I mean, WHO HASN'T?) Then be sure to check out Worst of the Worst Fanfiction, the new blog of former guest author Michelle (of "Shorlock Homes the Cowgirl" fame). I think she may have taken snarking to a whole new level.


Cory said...

Back in the day, I used to have to go to this math workshop thing for people who had trouble with math, and my teacher used a similar ice cream trick to motivate us. There could be four scoops, one each for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, and we would have to go through a list of math questions before we could earn our scoop. But, there was one main difference: we actually got ice cream at the end of the year. That's right, my teacher was actually willing to give obnoxious fifth-graders up to four scoops of sugar-filled ice cream. It seemed to work for most kids, but I only earned one scoop (for addition). Apparently nothing, not even mass amounts of ice cream, could motivate me to learn basic math facts.

Michelle said...

Thanks so much for the shoutout! These book reports cracked me up, I remember reading 'Middle School Blues' over and over in elementary school. Brandy Wine stuck out in my head most of all after all these years-- if I recall correctly the characters in the book found it hilarious.

Also, the girl who went around as Leslie saying 'Hi, I'm Leslie. And I'm dead'? That is the most awesome thing ever.

Beth said...

Your blog takes me straight back to my own elementary school days, where I was also awesome and read most of these books (although I'm impressed you read Anne Frank in 5th grade - I didn't get through that until I was 13.) Also? Bonus points for My So-Called Life and Little House on the Prairie references. Hilarious, as usual.

Sada said...

We probably had an end-of-the-year ice cream party too, but that's not the part I remember. What I remember is trying to outread everyone and build an intimidatingly large tower of paper ice cream.

Kathryn said...

I remember "Pets are for Keeps"! But I don't think I actually read it...I just had a copy someone gave me and kept it around because I liked the cover.

Is the other WWII book you're trying to remember 'The Upstairs Room' by Johanna Reiss? It sounds similar...

zanne said...

This was awesome. I WISH I had saved stuff like this!! I read SO much when I was younger & now I am trying to remember what books they were & I can't remember. ugh. However, I THINK one of the books I am trying to remember is that mystery cat one! It definitely sounds like something I would have read--a cat that solves crimes!

Cory said...

Also, I remember watching Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken, and I actually thought it was a pretty good movie. I'm pretty sure I watched it while waiting at my former orthodontist's office...yeah, I was in there long enough to see most of the movie. Still, it was pretty good.

Sada said...

Kathryn: You're a genius! Yes, I think it was The Upstairs Room. Although "upstairs room" doesn't really sound synonymous with "closet"--so I may be confusing it with a third book that I read in 6th grade. Apparently I was really into hiding from the Nazis.

Cory: I loved Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken. Loved! Also, you got to watch movies at your orthodontist's?!?! We were given no entertainment whatsoever. I feel cheated.

Cory said...

Sada: Yes, there was usually a movie playing at the orthodontist's office, but only in the waiting room. So, I was waiting for my appointment for over an hour! In waiting room entertainment was the least they could do.

When the orthodontist moved into a new office, there were still movies, but patients had to proceed straight to the "brushing room," where there were only hard video games. So, don't be so jealous.

Laura @ Hungry and Frozen said...

You had ice cream, we had trees, with book reports written on large paper leaves. Guess who had the leafiest tree. Unfortunately if coolness was also a tree mine wasn't so leafy.

Laughed so hard at the cover of that mystery cat book. The cat's face! And its on a pile of money! And there was ostensibly a previous crime busting cat! It's all too much :D