Book Review: Ivy + Bean

My seven-year old, Janie, doesn’t like to read books.

She’s all over short stories,  comic strip collections,* and checks a square  eclectic ton of non-fiction out of the library every time she visits.  But she isn’t sure that reading a Real Fiction Book—as defined by her second-grade teacher—is a wise investment of her time.

However, her ongoing assignment this year is to read at least 100 minutes worth of Real Fiction Books per week and record the titles and the time with parental initials so that the teacher knows that her students aren’t just reading the same book over and over again.

Magic Tree House series (by Mary Pope Osborne) has been a staple so far, but since Janie’s idea of “reading”—especially when it’s not her idea—is to skim through 115 or so pages in ten minutes, deciphering the story from the occasional illustration in case I ask questions, I’m on a mission to find books that will spark her interest enough to have her read and retain the majority of the words.

Enter Ivy + Bean by Anne Barrows** and Sophie Blackall.

I was searching the library shelves for Beverly Cleary, thinking a little Ramona Quimby, age 8, might help, when I saw a nearby collection of slender, numbered hardbacks.  I pulled the first one and read a couple of pages.  More specifically, I read about a seven-year old girl who acted and sounded and thought (as far as I can ever tell) almost exactly like mine.

Bean’s mother keeps telling her she should go play with the nice little girl across the street.  Bean’s not big on shoulds—and in her experience, “nice” means “boring.”  Bean is sure that she has nothing in common with Ivy, who wears dresses every day, doesn’t talk much, and reads huge books all the time.  Instead, Bean decides to play a richly-deserved practical joke on her older sister.

When the joke backfires, Bean is given asylum by Ivy, who seems less and less boring by the minute.  Ivy even says she’s a practicing witch—well, she’s practicing to be one, out of a book —and the two girls decide to cast a spell*** on Bean’s sister.  The rest of the afternoon is filled with excitement, imagination, discovery, danger, a bucketful of worms, and the cementing of a true friendship.

My daughter and I read alternate pages  to each other, but after ten pages or so, Janie forgot to hand it to me . . . and then she forgot to read it aloud, except when she wanted to share something with me.  She read by herself for a whole hour and complained when we wouldn’t let her read at the table.  Right now, she’s already halfway through the second book, Ivy + Bean:  the Ghost Who Had to Go.

It looks like she wasn’t switched at the hospital after all.

In the end, I had to swipe Ivy + Bean from her room to finish it for myself.  These are eminently readable stories, even for someone who is, shall we say, several years (cough, cough) outside the intended demographic.  And there are seven of them, with more, I hope, on the way.

The only complaint I have is that Janie now wants to rearrange her bedroom just like Ivy’s . . . but if that gets her to clean it first, I will be sending Ms. Barrows flowers.


*Comics and comic strips like Calvin & Hobbes have taught Janie about arms races, perspectives (both visual and mental) , gender struggles, and  (with a little help) how not to behave.  Some may be a waste of time, but not all—just like Real Books.

** Yes, this would be the same Anne Barrows who co-authored (with her aunt, Mary Ann Shaffer) The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society—a book that I would have blogged about in a heartbeat, if I had been blogging when it was released.  If you haven’t read it, yet, please do—it’s brilliant.

***Have to share:  there’s an invisibility spell that Ivy wants to try, but it calls for a dead frog.  She doesn’t want to kill a frog—that’s mean—so she digs a little puddle-pond in her back yard, hoping an elderly frog will come to see it and then die.  For some reason, Janie and I found this wildly funny.