April 22, 2010


Allie Finkle’s Rules for Girls #4: Stage Fright. By Meg Cabot. Scholastic. $15.99.

Allie Finkle’s Rules for Girls #5: Glitter Girls and the Great Fake Out. By Meg Cabot. Scholastic. $15.99.

Cornelia and the Show-and-Tell Showdown. By Pam Muňoz Ryan. Illustrated by Julia Denos. Scholastic. $4.99.

     Meg Cabot’s endearing fourth-grader, Allie Finkle, continues to get herself into the same sort of trouble, time and time again, in the two latest books of her adventures. Allie has all sorts of rules to live by (there is an “Allie Finkle’s Rules” list after each story), and she keeps writing down more of them, but somehow she finds them hard to use in real life. Allie has recurring problems, and not just because many of the same characters show up in each book. She is cute, perky and smart, but never learns quite as much from the consequences of her actions as she thinks she does. Stage Fright is all about a school play called “Princess Penelope in the Realm of Recycling,” whose plot seems to be even more ridiculous than its title suggests – for instance, there is a “kindly wizard who tries to help Princess Penelope understand about wasteful plastic water bottle usage.” Allie wants to be Princess Penelope, but so do almost all the girls in class – notably Allie’s friend, Sophie, and Allie’s enemy, stuck-up and spoiled Cheyenne, and of course Allie herself. The tryouts, the role assignments and the ups and downs of rehearsals are only part of the story here. Equally important are the book’s messages, which Cabot scarcely soft-pedals, as when she has Allie explain to her helpful Uncle Jay, “I want to audition for the part of Princess Penelope. But the problem is, one of my best friends is going out for the part. And I’m afraid that if I try for it, too, she’ll be mad at me. And so will all my other friends.” So Allie learns to go for what she wants; accept what happens in life if it’s not quite what she thought she wanted; make the best of things; do what is best for the group, not just for herself; be a good friend; and so on. Along the way, she tosses about her rules (for instance, “whenever possible, try to be born into a family with no little brothers”). And everything comes out just fine.

     Until, that is, Glitter Girls and the Great Fake Out, in which Allie gets invited to the birthday party of a stuck-up and spoiled girl – not Cheyenne but Brittany, from Allie’s old school – and the party conflicts with the regional Twirltacular baton competition to which one of her best friends has invited her. The party, it turns out, will be in the big city, an hour’s ride away in a real limousine, and will feature some things that Allie just has to experience, including a visit to the ultimate store, Glitterati, and an overnight stay in a hotel. Not surprisingly, Allie opts for the party with not-really-friends over the wholesome competition with really-friends, and regrets her decision, and learns that things that seem wonderful aren’t always, and has to figure out how to make everything all right again with the people who really matter to her. And she does just that – although adults may notice, in this book, that Cabot’s lesson is a little confused, since Allie gets to have it both ways (experiencing the rich girl’s party but also, through a stroke of scheduling luck, sharing in the excitement of Twirltacular as well). Fourth-grade girl readers, though, will simply have fun with Allie’s misadventures, some of which are really funny (she makes a great pirate, turning what was supposed to be a humiliating experience into a positive one). Readers will also enjoy taking the wraparound covers off these books and doing the activities presented inside: creating a cast list for their very own play and designing their own Glitterati looks.

     Cornelia and the Show-and-Tell Showdown is for younger readers – second grade rather than fourth – but it too has lessons, suitably simplified, to teach within the context of a story. The tale here is about Cornelia’s decision to bring her corn snake to school for show-and-tell, and the problems she encounters with mean Jason, who misbehaves repeatedly even though Cornelia tells him, “It is not smart to be mean to a reptile.” Jason eventually gets his comeuppance – not being bitten, which might scare young readers, but being scared and reprimanded. But his antics result in Corny getting away in the classroom, causing a mixture of panic and worry until the snake is safely recaptured. There is some accurate snake information in the book, which is nice to have, although there is an implied inaccuracy when Cornelia sings a song and Corny peeks out at her – the implication being that the snake responded to the music, which could not be true (snakes have no ears, although they do sense vibrations through their bellies). However, Pam Muňoz Ryan never actually says that Corny hears the song; and her pleasant narrative moves along smartly and in an age-appropriate way. Julia Denos’ pictures complement the story well, making the latest Cornelia adventure a fine entry in this ongoing series.

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