Monday, November 3, 2008

Minn and Jake's Almost Terrible Summer

Wong, Janet. Minn and Jake’s Almost Terrible Summer. 2008. New York: Frances Foster.

This is the second in a series of books about two unlikely friends, Minn – a tall, lizard- loving girl, and Jake, a very small boy. Separation, misunderstandings, and Jake’s often meddlesome little brother, Soup, almost combine to ruin Minn and Jake’s fifth grade summer; but honesty and a little dose of humility help to save summer.

This book has a lot going for it, including the humorous sketches by Geneviève Côté. Its short length and minimal text on each page make it a good choice for reluctant readers. Additionally, protagonists of both sexes make this series appealing to boys as well as girls. The revelation that Jake is part Korean, adds a hint of multiculturalism and interest.
When Minn meets Jake’s grandmother,

“She whispers,
You didn’t tell me you were Asian!
Jake whispers back,
Did you ever tell me that you’re white?

Jake explains his hapa heritage.
Hapa = slang for half-white, half-Asian.
His mother is half-Korean, half-Norwegian.
His father is half-German, half-French.

Minn points out that Jake is not hapa, then,
but three-quarters white,
and only one-quarter Asian.

OK, then, Jake says. Quarpa, I’m quarpa.
Jake likes the sound of quarpa.
It sounds like something with superpowers.”

The best feature of Minn and Jake’s Almost Terrible Summer, though, is humor that children can relate to – as when Jake vomits at the all-you-can-eat buffet and is forced to wear his mother’s pink shirt.
“MINN: Yup. (Your mom’s shirt?)
JAKE: (Can you believe my mom?)
She put the stupid pink shirt on me,
she buttoned the buttons (daisy buttons!),
she wiped my chin like a baby. PINK!
(I can’t even stand to think about it now.)”

The free-verse style is appealing, but the choice of punctuation distracted me. In most instances, dialogue (including unspoken thought) is differentiated solely by the use of italics. However, Minn and Jake’s phone conversations and conversations between Jake and the boys from his old neighborhood, are written in script format,

Of course, maybe I’m just showing my age! Today’s kids are not hung up on punctuation – or spelling, and perhaps they’ll find Wong’s format refreshing. Minn and Jake are believable fifth grade friends.

The first title in this series, Minn and Jake was a Bank Street College Best Children's Book of the Year and A Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Blue Ribbon Book.

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