I have a six-year-old daughter, which, ten years ago, would have been the death of me. I would have been reading Babysitters Club or Mary-Kate and Ashley books until I died from stupidity. (Our library still has Full House-based chapter books. Do girls that age even know who Stephanie Tanner is?) The good news for me is that my high school girlfriend made me wait ten years (and a wedding) before knocking her up, and in that time young girl literature (or, as I'm sure all the trade publications are about to start calling it once it's featured on my highly-influential literary review blog, pre-tween lit) has become down-right tolerable. I've read (or listened in the car to) Sara Pennypacker's Clementine books, Barbara Park's Junie B. Jones books, Megan McDonald's Judy Moody books, Nancy Krulik's Katie Kazoo books, and a lot of Beverly Cleary for old times' sake. Now we've begun Annie Barrows's Ivy and Bean series, and both my daughter and I like them.
Bean is a girl named Bernice who has a new girl move across the street. Although at first she distrusts this stranger, they end up meeting and discovering that they like each other. Not that they have much in common, because they don't, but it seems more like each is attracted to the character traits that the other has more of. They devise a plan to get revenge on Bean's older sister Nancy, who is mean to Bean.
What my daughter liked about this book was that Bean was funny and Ivy was crafty. My daughter's got a soft spot for kid detectives and kid spies. Ivy specializes in potions from a secret book. My daughter wanted to divide her room into several smaller stations, like Ivy's room, but I talked her out of it when I pointed out how much larger Ivy's room is. (Thanks to the illustrator, Sophie Blackall, for drawing Ivy's room incredibly large on pages 58-9.)
What I liked about this book was that the girls didn't say any "bad" words, the writing was pretty funny, and the book managed to have a message without beating you over the head with it like an after-school special. I remember wanting to read Louis Sachar's There's a Boy in the Girls Bathroom only to realize it was about a kid with self-esteem issues and thinking, "What the crap is all this for?" The same thing happened when my sister bought Paul Zindel's Pardon Me, You're Stepping on My Eyeball for me because she thought the title was funny and I ended up having to read about a boy with depression. Ever since then, I've been wary of the kids book with a message.
Ivy and Bean, though, which I took to be about making friends with new kids and appreciating kids with very different interests, was confident enough that it didn't need to hit you over the head with its point. I don't imagine I'll be reading many more of these, though, because my daughter has become good enough of a reader to get through them on her own, and she doesn't want to wait for me to work them into our chapter book schedule.
Rating: 6 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.