I love this one to (Reese’s) pieces

Better Nate Than Ever, by Tim Federle (2013)

Opening line: “I’d rather not start with any backstory. I’m too busy for that right now: planning the escape, stealing my older brother’s fake ID (he’s lying about his height by the way) and strategizing high-protein snacks for an overnight voyage to the single most dangerous city on the earth.”

Sometimes when the author reads his/her own audiobook, it’s not great (see: Lord of the Flies). But sometimes it is. And this is one such example. So, so great. (And the Odyssey Award committee agreed.)

Nate is a budding actor. He loves musical theater and has been working for the past two plus years with his bff Libby to develop into the next Broadway star. When Libby tells him about the newest show to head to Broadway, E.T. the Musical, is looking for young male actors for the role of Elliot, Nate is willing to do whatever it takes to get that job. Including hightailing it out of Jankburg, Pennsylvania without his parents’ knowledge or permission and hitting the Big Apple all on his own. Of course, things don’t go exactly how he and Libby had planned, and hijinks ensue. But all along the way, Nate maintains his A-plus attitude readers can’t help but love.

There is some hi-LAR-ious writing in this book, and I basically never stopped grinning throughout the entire thing. The tween dialogue between Libby and Nate is spot on and I found myself wanting to be able to have Nate as one of my students. Loved it to pieces, and probably need to read the sequel now, Five, Six, Seven, Nate.

2.5 stars

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Slapstick and Watercolor: a Match Made in Heaven

Bluffton: My Summers with Buster Keaton, by Matt Phelan (2013)

Opening line: “Life in Muskegon, Michigan was quiet. Ordinary.”

Anyone who knows me can probably guess why I picked this one up. Because it has an elephant on the cover, right? WRONG.

Okay, partially right. But also because it was featured in a Best of Middle School hour long book talk I went to last year! I remember the book-talker mentioning the beautiful watercolor illustrations that accompany this graphic novel, and boy, was he right. They are GORGEOUS. (My instagrammers might have seen my grams.) The colors make you long for midwestern summers on the lake.

Bluffton starts in the year 1908 when young Henry Harrison notices a train full of vaudeville performers arrive in his sleepy town. One of the vaudeville families are the Keatons, one of the premier performing families in the country. The oldest son’s name is Buster. (For old Hollywood fans, this name is probably familiar to you. For those who it is not, no worries.) The Keaton family act is known for their slapstick comedy, and Buster is the best at it. Later, he would go on to become one of the greatest silent film actors ever known, including his film The General, which AFI ranked #18 in their list of 100 greatest American films ever made.

A lot of readers on Goodreads gave this just an okay review. They said that the intended audience wouldn’t appreciate it, that today’s kid readers don’t even know who Buster Keaton is, etc., etc. I however, disagree. Frankly, as a junior high librarian, I had a hard time not selling any graphic novels to kids. They fly off the shelves no matter the subject matter. Attach a good recommendation to it, and I’m likely to have a hold list on it for weeks. Plus, a lot of kids, at least my students, loved seeing glimpses into “things that were real.” They think non-fiction graphic novels are awesome, and while this is historical fiction, I think it would have the same appeal. Lastly, the ART IS AMAZING. The watercolor work is just beautiful, regardless of the story. And actually lastly, who cares what the “intended audience” was? I’m a 27-year-old non-Buster Keaton fan, and I enjoyed it! In fact, it made me want to check out some of his films! Honestly, I’m guessing that is much more the intention of the author — to get a new generation interested in something he finds wonderful.

Lovely. Plus, there’s an elephant on the cover.

2.5 stars