We had a large group at our last meeting and we discussed our picture book first: My Favorite Pets: by Gus W. for Ms. Smolinski's Class by Jeanne Birdsall. All of our comments were favorable. Many liked the book, some loved it, and one reader liked it but thought it was a little too "comic-bookish' due to the dialog balloons in many of the illustrations. But -- that being said, we all loved the illustrations, including the expressions on the sheep. We thought they were humorous, and perfectly fit with the text which was Gus' actual report on sheep, done in 2nd-grade-type manuscript writing, shown realistically on each page. We liked the arc of the story as the sheep's activities became more and more ridiculous, and the way Gus teased his little brother and the way his parents reacted. We thought the book could be useful in a classroom setting as an example of writing a simple report, and even as an introduction to the study of animals on a farm. We liked the ending, where the teacher's grade (B+) and remarks were shown in red pencil on Gus' report. Basically positive reactions all the way around.
We had a great discussion of the novel, Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder. Everyone said they loved the beginning, and were brought immediately into the story by the descriptions of the nine orphans on the seemingly perfect island, and the various personalities and interactions between them as they learned about using elements of their natural world to survive, and followed a hierarchy of 'power' according to age. When Jinny's best friend, Deen was called to leave in the green boat, and was replaced by the newcomer, Ess, a little girl, Jinny suddenly had new responsibilities as a caretaker, since she was now the oldest. As her character was developed,and various crises occurred, it became more and more obvious that this role was difficult for her, and she learned many things about herself. But -- when the green boat returned (we assume a year later) for her, she decided not to leave. Suddenly things became very chaotic on the island, and she felt responsible since she had disobeyed the rules. This is when many of our opinions about the story changed. Many of us felt that the remainder of the book was not so much fun to read, as the narrative was more and more in Jinny's head -- the angst of a 12-year-old girl -- and it just became cumbersome. No-one liked the ending, although it was obvious that there would be a sequel. Some said they would never read it; others would. We also had many questions about how the island got 'organized' in the first place, who decided which children went there, who made the rules that everyone followed, where the green boat went when it left, and more. Perhaps a prequel would have been a good idea? Everyone agreed in their dislike for the character Ben, who was a year younger than Jinny, did all of the cooking, and seemed to know everything and always have the answer. He was just too perfect for words! So....mixed reviews altogether, and some curiosity about what might come next from this author.