Archive for Middle Readers

La famille Mennym: « C’était juste une famille unie, une famille de poupées de chiffon grandeur nature. »

The following review is the second of three previously posted reviews to be translated into French. Again, credit to Guillaume Bariou for the translations, with special thanks to Marielle Brehonnet and Deborak Kacik for facilitating the process.

 

La famille MennymTheMennyms

 

Jeunes adultes

Âge : de 10 à 14 ans

Par Sylvia Waugh

224 pages

Greenwillow Books

1994

 

Qui est, ou plutôt qu’est-ce que la famille Mennym ? Ces quelques lignes extraites du Chapitre Trois le résument très bien : 

« Elles n’étaient pas humaines voyez-vous, pas au sens normal du terme en tout cas. Elles n’étaient pas faites de chair et de sang. C’était juste une famille unie, une famille de poupées de chiffon grandeur nature. »

À la mort de Kate Penshaw, il y a de cela quarante ans, les dix poupées qu’elle avait créées s’animèrent. Mademoiselle Quigly et neuf autres Mennyms « revinrent à la vie » apportant avec elles leurs histoires et leurs personnalités. Ensemble, elles s’occupent de la maison mais font en sorte de ne pas attirer l’attention sur leur existence singulière. Pour se donner figure humaine, elles « miment » différentes activités, comme prendre des repas en famille par exemple, alors qu’elles n’ont pas besoin de se nourrir.

Sir Magnus, aussi appelé Grand-père Mennym, est plein de bonnes manières et très respecté. Il écrit des articles, parfois sur ses faits d’armes, à des fins de publication universitaire. Il gère toute son activité par courrier et réussit ainsi à rester discret. Sa femme, Tulip, supervise les finances du foyer. Leur fils, Joshua, travaille comme gardien de nuit dans une usine du coin. Il est passé maître dans l’art du déguisement et ne noue contact que très rarement, ce qui le fait passer pour un grand timide. La femme de Joshua, Vinetta, confectionne des vêtements qui seront vendus dans les magasins locaux. Les commandes sont faites par téléphone et Appleby, un des cinq enfants du couple, s’occupe des livraisons.

La jeune fille, âgée de quinze ans, est l’exemple type de l’adolescente difficile. Elle est insolente et intrépide. C’est aussi la seule qui peut se fondre parmi les humains, ce qui rend son audace d’autant plus dangereuse pour sa famille. Soobie, seize ans, est le plus âgé des enfants et possède un grand sens pratique. Confectionné de fil bleu, il est le seul à ne pas adhérer aux « simulacres » de la famille. Les jumeaux, Poopie et Wimpie, ont entre cinq et six ans et font preuve de beaucoup d’imagination. Googles est un bébé et dort beaucoup mais, lorsqu’elle est réveillée, elle est d’une nature enjouée et joviale. 

La pauvre Mademoiselle Quigly vit dans le placard de l’entrée et ne « rend visite » que toutes les deux semaines. Les Mennyms, à l’exception de Soobie, font mine de ne pas remarquer lorsqu’elle s’éclipse du placard, sort par la porte de derrière, fait le tour de la maison et sonne à la porte d’entrée. Après avoir passé quelques heures dans la famille, Mademoiselle Quigly quitte la maison par la porte d’entrée, se faufile à nouveau dans la maison et regagne son placard jusqu’à sa prochaine visite.

Les Mennyms vivent dans la même maison depuis qu’ils ont vu le jour. Depuis quarante ans, ils paient le loyer à l’héritier du domaine de Kate, par le biais d’une société de gestion. Lorsqu’un jour, ils reçoivent une lettre d’Albert Pond, le neveu du propriétaire de la maison, ils craignent d’être découverts. Oncle Chesney est décédé : Albert est le nouveau propriétaire de la maison des Mennyms et il tient à leur rendre visite. Pour des raisons évidentes, ce n’est pas envisageable.

La famille a d’autres affaires urgentes à régler. Joshua a été licencié et doit trouver un nouveau travail qui lui permette de rester caché. Appleby, de son côté, doit gérer un secret bien à elle tandis que Soobie a déniché une poupée inachevée dans le grenier. C’est non seulement une autre Mennym, mais surtout sa sœur jumelle !

Waugh est une conteuse pleine de talent, capable de happer les lecteurs dans la vie de ces improbables protagonistes. Elle a donné naissance à des personnages captivants dans lesquels les lecteurs se retrouvent et relate des situations familières et bien réelles, même si les Mennyms, eux, ne le sont pas.

Je suis impatiente de vous faire partager d’autres aventures de la famille Mennym. Je les ai toutes beaucoup appréciées.

 

La famille Mennym et le Monde Sauvage

La famille Mennym Assiégée

La famille Mennym Seule Contre Tous

La famille Mennym en Vrai

 

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The Twenty-One Balloons: A rollicking adventure.

The Twenty-One Balloons

Middle Reader

Ages 5-12

By William Pène du Bois

192 pages

Viking Press

1947

1948 Newbery Award Winner

 

I once took a class in Oceanography; the class was incredible and the professor was very energetic and animated. During one of our classes he discussed Krakatoa and its famous volcanic eruption in 1883. I was fascinated! Many years later I found myself picking up a copy of The Twenty-One Balloons, a fictional story which takes place (mostly) on the island of Krakatoa, just days before the famous explosion.

William Pène du Bois (1916-1993) was both a writer and an illustrator. In addition to winning the Newbery award for The Twenty-One Balloons, he also won a Caldecott Honor in 1951 for Bear Party and again in 1957 for Lion. His captivating writing and imaginative stories, combined with his elaborate illustrations, make for absorbing and entertaining books.

Professor William Waterman Sherman has recently retired from teaching. He’s built an extravagant hot air balloon, packed provisions for a year, and plans a nice, long, quiet adventure around the world. His departure is met with little fanfare. In fact, only four of his closest friends arrive to see him off. But three weeks later, when a steamship picks up Professor Sherman floating amongst twenty balloons in the Atlantic Ocean, the whole world wants to hear his story.

Professor Sherman insists he will only reveal the details of his short, but fascinating, adventure in front of the Western American Explorers’ Club in San Francisco, of which he is an honorary member. He even turns down a visit to the White House to share his story with the president himself! Undeterred, the president offers his personal train to transport the Professor to San Francisco. Thus, the whole world must wait the five days it takes to cross the country before they can hear the tale of wonder.

And a tale of wonder it is! Just seven days into his voyage, Sherman’s balloon is brought down by a flock of hungry seagulls. Fortunately, just before the fateful seagull incident, he’d spotted an island in the distance. As it is his only hope of survival, he dumps all his belongings from the balloon, and gains just enough height and speed to reach the island before he crashes. Battered and exhausted, he immediately falls asleep on the beach.

Hours later he is awakened by a well-dressed man, known as Mr. F, who offers fresh clothes and informs Sherman of his whereabouts—he’s landed on the island of Krakatoa, long believed to be uninhabited. Much to his surprise, Sherman soon learns that Krakatoa is home to twenty families.

Eight years prior, after surviving a shipwreck, Mr. M found himself on the island and soon discovered the island’s vast diamond mines. Mr. M gathers some diamonds, fashions a raft and sets sail. A ship headed for the US soon picks him up. He arrives in San Francisco, sells his diamonds and chooses twenty families to bring back to Krakatoa. In addition to having creative talents, each family chosen must have one boy and one girl between the ages of three and eight, and all the families would share the vast wealth of the diamond mines.

The new inhabitants set up a “restaurant government” with every family running their own establishment. Each family is assigned a letter of the alphabet; the corresponding letter becomes not only the family’s surname but also correlates to a cultural style, though technically all the families come from America. The A family represents America, cooking and serving only American food and designing their house in an American style. The D family is Dutch, the E family Egyptian and the T family Turkish.

“We made it law here that every family shall go to a different restaurant every night of the month, around the village square in rotation. In this way no family of Krakatoa has to work more than once every twenty days, and every family is assured a great variety of food.”

Together they have built large, elaborate homes for each family, full of amenities and inventions the world has never seen. They have also made plans for quick evacuation should it ever be necessary to leave the island. That necessity proves true just three days after Professor Sherman’s arrival. As the volcano begins to erupt, the families go into full evacuation mode.

The inhabitants of the island safely depart on a giant platform equipped with twenty hot air balloons, which they themselves have designed.  As they drift over land, one by one, the families jump from the platform, outfitted with carefully connected parachutes.

Professor Sherman, having no parachute of his own, is the last one on the platform as it lands in the ocean, soon to be discovered by a passing steamship.

The Twenty-One Balloons is a fantastic book, whether read aloud and shared with the whole family or read quietly alone.

 

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The Hundred Dresses is a powerful book to read and share.

The Hundred Dresses

 

Middle Reader

Ages 5-12

By Eleanor Estes

Illustrated by Louis Slobodkin

96 pages

Harcourt

1944

1945 Newberry Honor Winner

 

Eleanor Estes (1906-1988) was awarded the Newberry medal for Ginger Pie. Three of her other nineteen books—The Middle Moffat, Rufus M, and The Hundred Dresses—won Newberry Honors.

The Hundred Dresses has never been out of print. And don’t think that silver sticker has anything to do with it—no medal can save a book from going out of print. This book strikes a chord with children. Perhaps it was Estes’s background as a teacher and librarian that afforded her that ability. Besides being a story about the timeless topics of acceptance and kindness, it’s one that nearly everyone can relate to.

Estes’s writing is absolutely lovely. She’s created sympathetic characters, a familiar setting and uses clear language.

Louis Slobodkin (1903-1975) illustrated nearly ninety books. In 1944, he was awarded the Caledecott Medal for Many Moons, written by James Thurber (1894-1961). His art in The Hundred Dresses switches between black and white and color. His lines and colors are sparse giving you enough information, but allowing space and light to filter though.

This book is a wonderful read-aloud for younger children—at just ninety-six pages and widely illustrated—and something the whole family can share. This story provides such a fantastic opportunity for discussion that when giving this book to a child to read alone, I feel strongly that adults should read it first.

Peggy and Maddie are the first to notice Wanda Petronski’s absence because she’d made them late for school. They’d been waiting for her on their walk to “have fun with her.” They didn’t realize she’d already been absent for two days.

Wanda lived with her father and her brother Jake in Boggins Heights. As poor, Polish immigrants, the family was often teased for their “funny” name and obvious lack of means. Mostly, Wanda kept to herself. Mostly, the girls in class didn’t notice her: they noticed her outside of class, on the way to school, and in the yard during recess. All the girls talked to her, or at her, but Wanda didn’t have any friends.

It all started the day Cecile came to school in a brand new red dress, with socks and cap to match. It was a beautiful October day and all the girls had gathered around to admire and compliment her. Some discussed how they would be getting new dresses too, others talked about new dresses they already had at home. Everyone was in good spirits. Even Wanda, who rarely smiled, seemed happy; she whispered something to Peggy.

‘“What?” asked Peggy. For Wanda had spoken very softly. Wanda hesitated a moment and she repeated her words firmly. “I got a hundred dresses at home.”’

The girls had seen Wanda every day in the same faded, ill-fitting, blue dress. Surely a girl with a hundred dresses would not wear the same one every day! Thus began the laughing. And the teasing. From that point forward, Wanda faced daily taunts about her hundred dresses.

The students were abuzz over the drawing and coloring contest. The boys were to design motorboats, the girls designed dresses (remember, this was written in 1944). Peggy would probably win the girls medal since she drew better than anyone in the room.

Wanda was still absent the day of the contest. When the other children entered the classroom they were stunned. Drawings covered the walls, the blackboard, and the window ledges; one hundred different dresses, all drawn by Wanda Petronski, illuminated the room.

Wanda won the contest but she was not there to hear the applause; she was not there to receive the award. Miss Mason instructs the students to take their seats so she may read them a letter from Wanda’s father.

“Dear teacher: My Wanda will not come to your school anymore. Jake also. Now we move away to big city. No more holler Polack. No more ask why funny name. Plenty of funny names in the big city.”

The teacher, distressed by the letter, asks the children to think about the role they may have played in making Wanda, and the Petronski family, feel unwelcome and unaccepted.

Maddie takes this especially hard. She and Peggy go to the Petronski house hoping that perhaps the family has not yet left. Maybe they’ll see Wanda and tell her she won the contest! They want to tell her how beautiful her one hundred dresses are, and that they are sorry for their thoughtless behavior. Maddie vows to never stand by and allow another person to be teased again. Though she had never instigated the taunting, wasn’t she also to blame for not stopping it?

She and Peggy decide to write a letter to Wanda. They tell her about school, how much everyone liked her dresses and that she won the contest. They asked if she liked her new teacher, her new home, and they ended the letter with several X’s for love.

As Christmas approaches, the class receives a letter from Wanda. The children had mostly forgotten about her, including Peggy. Maddie, however, has been consoling herself to sleep each night by making speeches defending Wanda, putting a stop to the teasing.

Maddie cherishes her drawing. She takes it home, pins it to her bedroom wall and admires it. Tears in her eyes, feeling as though her behaviors may have been forgiven, she notices a resemblance in the drawing. The girl wearing the blue dress looks likes Maddie! When she rushes to Peggy’s house to tell her, the two girls notice that Peggy’s drawing looks like Peggy too.

The Hundred Dresses is powerful book to read and share. It’s always important to be kind, and sometimes necessary to remind children and adults how their words and actions can affect others. And while actions can never be reversed, it’s never too late to make a change.

 

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