Marshmallow reviews Dear Student by Elly Swartz

Today Marshmallow reviews Dear Student by Elly Swartz, published in February 2022.

The book bunnies received this book as a review copy.

Marshmallow reviews Dear Student by Elly Swartz.
Marshmallow reviews Dear Student by Elly Swartz.

Marshmallow’s Quick Take: If you like books about family, friendship, and school, then this might be the book for you. 

Marshmallow’s Summary (with Spoilers): Autumn Blake’s father left her, her sister, and her mother to work in the Peace Corps. He wanted to “seize the day”, but Autumn doesn’t see why he has to go to Ecuador with the Peace Corps to do so. Now she, her sister Pickle, and her mother are living without her father.

Her father is not the only important person who has left Autumn. Her best friend Prisha has also just moved to California. So Autumn is starting middle school without a good friend.

The book starts on the first day of school. Autumn is starting sixth grade and neither her father nor her best friend will be there. But it turns out that the first day is still quite eventful.

On that first day of school, a boy runs over an iguana’s tail. Autumn and the boy, named Cooper, take the iguana to the veterinarian. Autumn’s mom is the vet, and she starts to try to save the iguana. Autumn then starts spending time with Cooper every day at lunch, and they become friends quickly. They decide to do a whoopie pie stand to raise money to take care of Cooper’s dog, Mr. Magoo. 

On that first day of school, Autumn also makes friends with a girl named Logan. Logan’s mother is a famous human rights lawyer. Logan is nice, but Autumn feels that everything she does is forced: her smile, her words, her agreements.

Unfortunately, Logan dislikes Cooper. She thinks he is weird. Autumn starts to have trouble choosing between which friend she will spend time with.

On top of this, Autumn has become the writer of Dear Student, the famous advice column in the student paper, following the advice her dad gave on her first day to “do one thing”. Her job is to respond to questions sent anonymously by students, and her own identity is also to be kept secret. But one piece of advice she gives ends up forcing her to choose between her two friends. Will she be able to make it through with both her friends?

Marshmallow is reading Dear Student by Elly Swartz.
Marshmallow is reading Dear Student by Elly Swartz.

Marshmallow’s Review: Dear Student is a great book and a quick read. Written in fifty-four short chapters, it tells us a compelling story about friendship, family, and finding one’s voice.

The character Autumn is a nice person (her mom calls her “a gentle spirit”) and a great sister. She is relatable and she has a realistic personality. The other characters are also very realistic.

I think the author Ella Swartz did a great job of showing Autumn’s dilemma in the book and also her confusion and hurt about her father’s departure. The whole story is told through Autumn’s perspective (except for the student letters she reads and responds to, the postcards from her dad, and the messages from her friend Prisha), and in the present tense, and both these help make Autumn and her feelings come across as very real and almost urgent.

Ella Swartz’s Dear Student does not have a big mystery like Carl Hiaasen’s Hoot or Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me or any of the FunJungle books, but when I was reading it, I still wanted to read on to find out how things would turn out. The plot is not completely predictable and keeps you wanting to read further. The central dilemma of the book involves animal rights, just like in Hoot, but in Dear Student, we get a human dimension, too, complicating the issue further.

I thought that the questions addressed to the Dear Student column were sometimes related to how Autumn was feeling, which worked really well. And the column responses give the reader good advice on all types of topics. It was also neat to see a reference to a book Caramel read and reviewed before: Drawn Together by Minh Le and Dan Santat.

All in all I really enjoyed reading Dear Student. I look forward to trying the whoopie pie recipe at the end of the book…

Marshmallow’s Rating: 95%.

Marshmallow rates Dear Student by Ella Swartz

Marshmallow reviews Soof by Sarah Weeks

A few months ago Marshmallow reviewed Save Me A Seat, a 2016 novel by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan. Today she wanted to talk about Soof, a 2018 book by Sarah Weeks that she has read recently. As this was an exceptionally busy week for Marshmallow, Sprinkles is taking notes and asking questions.

Marshmallow reviews Soof by Sarah Weeks.
Marshmallow reviews Soof by Sarah Weeks.

Sprinkles: So Marshmallow, tell me a bit about this book.

Marshmallow: Soof is about a girl named Aurora. Aurora has grown up hearing about this girl named Heidi, who brought Aurora’s family a lot of good luck. Heidi was apparently the main character of another book Sarah Weeks wrote, and in Soof, Heidi is now a grownup and is pregnant. She’s going to come to visit Aurora’s parents, and so Aurora is feeling a bit weird about it all. She is excited to meet this Heidi. but she is also a bit jealous of how much her mom likes her. I think this is totally understandable, because her mom and her dad keep telling her about Heidi and how she seemed to bring good luck to the people around her. And Aurora, she doesn’t feel lucky at all. Especially when her house burns down and she loses her dog.

S: Hmm, that is quite a setup for a story. I did not know this book was a sequel. Did you read that other book?

M: No. But it does not seem necessary to have read that first book. (I think its name is So B. It.) I thought the story stood on its own.

S: Hmm, sometimes authors like a character in a story and then bring them back to life in different ways in other books. Maybe that was what happened here too. A girl who brings good luck would be a good plot device I’d say.

M: Well, I don’t want to say she brings good luck, and I don’t think it is magic or anything. It’s just that she is extremely lucky. But anyways, the story is mainly about Aurora and her life.

S: And Aurora is not very lucky and she is curious to meet Heidi but also slightly jealous. Okay, I think I get it. So now you have to tell me, what is the meaning of the word in the title?

M: Soof apparently means love. One of the main plot lines is for Aurora to learn what soof really means.

Marshmallow is reading Soof by Sarah Weeks.
Marshmallow is reading Soof by Sarah Weeks.

S: Looking it up online there seems to be some explanation of that in the first book too, so maybe it was good you had not read that one.

M: Yes, I actually found it interesting to meet Heidi from Aurora’s perspective. I’m intrigued by the other story too. Apparently they made a movie about it. Shall we put in the trailer here?

S: Sure.

Trailer for the 2017 movie So B. It, from YouTube.

M: I think we should tell our readers that there is a movie named Soof too but it is not the same Soof.

S: Yes, I think that is a good idea. Okay, let us get back to the book. Did you like the book?

M: Yes. I liked the characters, I thought they were very realistic. I too would be kind of jealous if my mom kept talking about this other person Heidi who was so awesome.

S: Okay, I will keep that in mind. So was the book also funny?

M: Not really. I think it was more emotional than funny. But I did like it.

S: You have read and reviewed Save Me A Seat, which the author of Soof cowrote with someone else. Do you see any similarities between the two books?

M: I think they are quite different. I think the author was able to create a totally different story with totally different characters.

S: That is a good thing! They are both aimed towards middle grade readers. but other than that, the author is versatile enough to create totally independent stories. That is neat.

M: Yes. I think she actually has several other books besides these two. Her website is an interesting place to visit.

S: What would you like to ask her if you could?

M: I’d ask her where she got the ideas for all of Aurora’s quirks. She likes tapping her nose and things like that. I think it is interesting.

S: That’s a good question Marshmallow. And it is clear you enjoyed reading this book. I’m assuming you’d recommend it to other readers?

M: Certainly. I rate it 95%, only because Aurora feels so different from me, so I have some difficulty completely understanding her.

S: Well that’s fair. After all you are a little bunny and she is …

M: Yes. That must be it.

S: Okay, so let us wrap up this review then. What would you like to tell our readers?

M: Stay tuned for more amazing reviews from the book bunnies!

Marshmallow loved reading Soof by Sarah Weeks and rated it 95%.
Marshmallow loved reading Soof by Sarah Weeks and rated it 95%.

Caramel reviews Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Today Caramel reviews the first book in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney: Diary of a Wimpy Kid, published first in 2007. As usual Sprinkles is taking notes and asking questions.

Caramel reviews Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney.
Caramel reviews Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney.

Sprinkles: Caramel, let us start with you telling us a bit about this book.

Caramel: This book is about Greg Heffley, who is just starting middle school. AS he writes, he is “stuck in middle school with a bunch of morons”.

S: Hmm, so Greg does not like his school friends much.

C: He does not like most of the other kids in school, that’s right. All except for his one friend, Rowley. Greg is not very happy at school.

S: Hmm, so this Greg does not sound like a very good role model for a little bunny.

C: Greg is definitely not a good role model.

S: But I think a lot of kids sometimes feel out of place and maybe they have some unpleasant feelings about other people. So maybe Greg is in some ways representing the unsatisfied and unhappy part of being a kid.

C: I guess so. He is kind of a jerk actually.

S: Hmm, how so?

C: He is mean to Rowley, and he does write a lot of mean things about people. Like would you ever say your school friends are all morons?

S: Well, moron is a pretty bad word.

C: Then again there are two bullies in the school and they are really really mean to Greg and Rowley.

S: So I can then understand Greg being upset and angry towards those kids, but no, we would not say all kids in our school are morons. Greg is pretty unfiltered that way.

C: Well, it is his diary after all. He uses some bad words in there too.

S: That is true, we can assume he is not planning to say any of the bad words in real life but uses this diary as an outlet for all his negative feelings.

C: Yes, but he calls it a journal, not a diary.

S: What is the difference?

C: I don’t know. I think he thinks diaries are for girls.

S: Hmm, not sure if I like that! You recently reviewed a book about a writer’s notebook, and there, too, we tried to make a distinction between a writer’s notebook and a journal. So maybe Greg thinks calling it a journal rather than a diary makes it sound more serious.

C: Yes, I think he wants to sound all grownup and mature.

Caramel is reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney.
Caramel is reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney.

S: But he is in middle school!

C: That is pretty old for me!

S: That is true. Then since you are so far away from middle school, did this book feel alien to you?

C: Well not quite. School is school, and Greg is trying to act big and mature, and he seems to think he is better than everyone else, and that can happen everywhere.

S: Do you really think he thinks he is better than everyone else? I have a sneaking suspicion that he is actually not that confident about himself.

C: I guess he is not happy with who he is, but he is really behaving like a jerk sometimes.

S: But through the course of the year, he does learn some things about being a good friend and finding a place for himself in the school, right?

C: I guess so.

S: Did you know that this is the first of a series and there are many more books about Greg and his friends?

C: Yes, but I might want to wait a bit before reaidng those. Middle school is a long way away.

S: I know. But maybe we will watch the animated version of this book?

C: Yes! I think I’d like that. Can we insert the trailer here?

S: Sure. Here you go:

Diary of a Wimpy Kid | Official Trailer | Disney+ (YouTube).

S: The pictures are straight out of the book itself.

C: Yes they really look like the book.

S: What did you think of the illustrations?

C: They are funny, I think the author wanted to make it look like Greg is drawing things in his diary. The book is like a notebook too, there are lines on each page, each page looks like a lined notebook page, and the writing is almost like handwriting.

S: Very neat handwriting though, because I can read it.

C: Yes. I can read my handwriting too but not everyone else can.

S: It is getting much better through the years though. Practice practice practice.

C: Yep.

S: So what three words would you use to describe this book?

C: Funny, multiple plots, funny drawings.

S: Hmm, you used “funny” twice but let’s let it pass. I agree with you, the word works in both places. So what do you want to tell our readers as we wrap up this review?

C: Stay tuned for more book bunny reviews!

Caramel enjoyed reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney, and is thinking he might come back to it right before starting middle school.
Caramel enjoyed reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney, and is thinking he might come back to it right before starting middle school.

Marshmallow reviews The Other Half of Happy by Rebecca Balcárcel 

Today Marshmallow reviews the 2019 novel The Other Half of Happy by Rebecca Balcárcel.

Marshmallow reviews The Other Half of Happy by Rebecca Balcárcel.
Marshmallow reviews The Other Half of Happy by Rebecca Balcárcel.

Marshmallow’s Quick Take: If you enjoy reading books about school, friendship, and family, then this might be the book for you. 

Marshmallow’s Summary (with Spoilers): Quijana is one-half Guatemalan and one-half American. However, when her Guatemalan cousins move in to the town she lives in, she feels like she is not living up to her Guatemalan part. A main reason for this is because she can’t speak Spanish very well, whereas her cousins speak Spanish as a first language, and they speak English perfectly. But she has other issues too. Her parents have been “Spanish-izing” their house, and trying to introduce Guatemalans culture to their children. Quijana thinks that she is too abnormal as it is and doesn’t want to be “Spanish-ized”. 

In the meantime, Quijana’s grandmother is diagnosed with cancer and has to undergo treatment. Quijana loves her grandmother very much and is very worried about what will happen to her. Quijana is also having issues at school. Spanish-speaking children are very dismissive of Quijana. They seem disappointed by her lack of fluency in Spanish, and tease her for it. Another issue that Quijana has to deal with is the fact that her little brother is becoming remote and harder to reach. (Quijana has other issues too, involving a boy, who is a good friend, but she wants him to be more than that.)

On top of all this, Quijana’s parents want to go to Guatemala on vacation, but Quijana desperately doesn’t want to. She comes up with an escape plan, selling a huipil sent to her by her other grandmother. She plans to board a bus to Florida to avoid having to go to Guatemala. 

Marshmallow is reading The Other Half of Happy by Rebecca Balcárcel.
Marshmallow is reading The Other Half of Happy by Rebecca Balcárcel.

Marshmallow’s Review: The Other Half of Happy is a beautiful book that really shows its main character’s internal conflicts and concerns. The author, Rebecca Balcárcel, invites the reader into Quijana’s world. The book is narrated by Quijana and she is very open about her thoughts and feelings. Quijana feels like she has disappointed her father and her Guatemalan family, because she doesn’t know how to speak Spanish well.

I think that Rebecca Balcárcel writes in a very poetic way. Here is an excerpt, from page 1, to show you what I mean:

“I live in a tilted house. A bowling ball on our living room floor would roll past the couch, past the dining table, all the way to the kitchen sink. And if the sink wasn’t there and the wall wasn’t there and the bathroom behind that wasn’t there, the ball would roll all the way to my room at the end of the house. That’s what it’s like being twelve. Everything rolling toward you.” 

Rebecca Balcárcel, The Other Half of Happy, page 1.

I think that Balcárcel does a good job of creating unique characters. The characters have unique characteristics or quirks, which make them a lot more realistic. By the end of the book, I felt like I knew Quijana very well.

Marshmallow’s Rating: 95%. 

Marshmallow rates The Other Half of Happy by Rebecca Balcárcel 100%.
Marshmallow rates The Other Half of Happy by Rebecca Balcárcel 95%.