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Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2006

ON THE BOOK TRAIL

"Bad Kitty," "Junie B. Jones ... is on Her Way!"


"Bad Kitty," Michele Jaffe, Puffin Books; 2006; 294 pp.

It's ha-ha-hard being a teenager, particularly if you're Jas Callihan, all of 17, half-Jamaican half-Irish, with a height to rival King Kong's and a nonexistent chest. In author Michele Jaffe's hands, nothing could be more hysterical than the gaffes of adolescence.

Bad Kitty

And if it isn't bad enough coping with her stick-insect body, Jas finds herself on holiday in Las Vegas with a father who disapproves pretty much of everything she does; a 25-year-old stepmother who works as a body-double in Hollywood; and a bubblegum-chewing cousin called Alyson who is pure evil in teenage form. No wonder Jas calls it the annual "End-of-Summer-I-Know!-Let's-Torture-Jas-by-Making-Her- Leave-All-Her-Precious-Pals-and-Spend-Time-With-Her-FamilyVacation."

Things are about to get worse (because wouldn't we be bored reading only about adolescent angst?). A three-legged cat digs her claws into Jas, and what ensues is a long and wildly funny story best read on your own. Let it suffice to say that Jas stumbles upon a crazy criminal plot involving a Hollywood star called Fiona Bristol; her 8-year-old son, Fred; a muscle-head who talks like Arnold Schwarzenegger; and a dreamboat called Jack whose behavior is highly suspect. When Jas isn't dodging attempts on her life, or extricating her foot from her mouth, she's trying to stop herself from falling in love with the bad guy.

This is a sassy detective novel about a girl with a flair for clues and a bigger flair for comedy. The constant repartee of smug one-liners can be pretty exhausting, but this is teen terrain, isn't it? The story is peppered with Jas' "little life lessons" (60 of them, actually), such as: "When you go to prison, try not to be wearing a bikini" or "Las Vegas is an EXCELLENT place to engage in amateur crime fighting." And with teen lingo, ranging from the corny -- "Wow, that is totally American Express" (meaning, priceless) to the even more corny -- "You're so beef!" (meaning, cool or excellent). Of course, there's a glossary at the end in case you need help.*

What's more, the regular momentum of the story is broken by e-mail exchanges between Jas and her friends back home; and later, little numbered foot notes that make you feel privy to the unedited behind-the-scenes exchanges between them. Cool format, really, which is why we're ending on a footnote here.

* You might not need help, but I did. I stopped being a teenager 12 years ago!

Note: For teenagers.

"Junie B. Jones ... is on Her Way!" Barbara Park, Chicken House; 2006; 69 pp.

Junie B. Jones ... is on Her Way!

Oh for a 69-page novel with a humongous print and easy-to-read sentences about the uncomplicated life of a 5-year-old girl called Junie B. Jones. (Contrast that with the travails of Jas Callihan, above, and you'll agree.)

Junie B. Jones is the bestest girl in the world, except when you drop the B in her name. ("The B stands for Beatrice. Except I don't like Beatrice. I just like B and that's all.") Or when you force her onto the smelly yellow school bus full of "meanies" -- like the girl who won't let Junie B. sit where she wants because that seat is saved, or the boy who won't let her touch his rucksack, well, because it's his. Now things like that can make a 5-year-old real sulky.

So let's just say things haven't gotten off to a bright start on Junie B.'s first day of school. It gets worse when the red chair in class is already taken, and Junie B. is forced to sit on the "stupid yellow chair. The same stupid color as the stupid yellow minibus." The head teacher turns out to be a "baldy," and the boys' toilet is strictly off-limits, even though all Junie B. wants to do is take one peek. So when school ends and the teacher asks everyone to get in line for the smelly school bus, guess what Junie B. does? She doesn't.

She hides in the stationery cupboard and then does a private school tour of her own. The only thing that makes her run outside again is a certain "emergency" and the fact that all the toilets inside school are locked! With expressive little illustrations by Denise Brunkus and simple text you can read out loud, this is a wonderful adventure story for early readers.

How can the simple act of missing the school bus bring out fire engines and police sirens? Junie B. would call it a typical grownup fuss over nothing at all -- and something tells me that every 5-year-old in the world would agree with her.

Note: For children 5 to 7 years.


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