Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Simply Sarah

Simply Sarah: Patches and Scratches
by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, illus. Marcy Ramsey
Marshall Cavendish, 2007
Review copy courtesy of the publisher

Simply Sarah: Anyone Can Eat Squid
by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, illus. Marcy Ramsey
Marshall Cavendish, 2005

Simply Sarah: Cuckoo Feathers
by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, illus. Marcy Ramsey
Marshall Cavendish, 2006

In a move that was quite revolutionary (for me), I read the three books in this series out of order. (I know. Amazing.) But because of that, I can say that they all stand alone quite nicely, and unlike some other early reader series books (Magic Tree House comes to mind), the way Naylor weaves in the common background information never feels formulaic.

I did have a disturbing sense of de ja vous as I started Patches and Scratches. Sarah is a spunky little girl of an unspecified age (maybe it's in there, but I can't recall it) between 2nd and 4th grade. She lives in an apartment in a big city (Chicago), her mom is an artist, and she has a little brother and a friend who lives on another floor in the apartment building. Her father is not the building manager, but Mr. Gurdy, the man who lives in a room in the basement of the building, does feature prominently in this book. In the book Cuckoo Feathers, the problem centers around pigeons. Echoes of Clementine?

Maybe Clementine-ish. There's nothing in any of the three books of the Simply Sarah series that has the flash and splash of the Clementine books, but the writing in the three books in this series is more consistent and even. (I liked the first Clementine book a WHOLE lot and the second one so-so. The same was true for my 5th graders.)

The basic premise in all three books is that Sarah wants to be anything but ordinary. She wants to be special. In all three there is a satisfying plot twist and things work out in the end...but definitely not the way Sarah or the reader thought they would work out. I think this structure of the text will support beginning readers who need to learn to pay attention to clues in the text as they read so that they can modify their predictions as they go along.

There's a lot going on with the characters in these books, but it is all woven very naturally into the story, so that it doesn't seem like the laundry list that I'm going to make it into: Sarah's father is out of the picture -- he is overseas building bridges and we only meet him through his weekly phone calls. Sarah's best friend Peter is black, and he lives with his grandmother. Sarah's two newest friends, Mercedes and Leon, live in the apartment building across the street. Mercedes is Leon's cousin. She was born in Mexico, and is now living in Chicago with her aunt, uncle and cousins. Mercedes and Leon attend Catholic school via a school bus; Sarah and Peter walk to their neighborhood public school. One of Sarah's friends at school is Tim, who is Chinese. In Anyone Can Eat Squid, Sarah comes up with the idea that saves Tim's family's Chinese restaurant from closing. Like I said, as a laundry list, it seems like a bad case of "what other element of diversity can we include?" But when you read the books, it comes off quite naturally.

I give Sarah a stamp of approval, and nominate her to be a part of the new Spunky Girl Character Club along with Clementine, Moxy, and Grace.

1 comment:

  1. Mary Lee-
    I am an order reader too and so is my son. I enjoyed reading your insights and put Simply Sarah's on my older elementary reads (for me)!

    ReplyDelete

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