Friday, October 30, 2009

Review: Dear Pen Pal

Summary: For the mother-daughter book club, everything changes in eighth grade. Could the book club break up? When Jess is offered an anonymous scholarship to a prestigious boarding school, she's not sure that leaving home -- and her friends -- is what she wants to do. Meanwhile Megan's grandmother comes for a long visit and turns everything in the Wong household upside down; Emma crusades against hermiddle school's new uniforms; and Cassidy finds out there's a big change ahead for her family.

Inspired by Jess's unexpected opportunity, the book club decides to read Jean Webster's classic
Daddy-Long-Legs, and there's an added twist this year when they become pen pals with the girls in a book club in Wyoming. There's plenty to write to their new friends about, from a prank-filled slumber party to a not-so-secret puppy -- and even a surprise first kiss.

In this third book in the beloved Mother-Daughter Book Club series, the girls learn that as long as they have one another -- and a good book -- they're ready for whatever eighth grade has in store! -- Simon & Schuster

Welcome to the last day of the Mother-Daughter Book Club Festival! I hope you've had as much fun as I have reading about all the terrific books out there for mother-daughter book clubs. In case you missed any of my prior posts, here they are: Review: THE MOTHER DAUGHTER BOOK CLUB, Book Club Exchange: Cindy Hudson & Huge Giveaway and Book Club Exchange: Heather Vogel Frederick, Review: Book by Book, and Review: Much Ado About Anne. Also, make sure you enter to win the big Mother Daughter Book Club gift pack!

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the Mother-Daughter book club series by Heather Vogel Frederick the past few days; and the third book in the series DEAR PEN PAL is another wonderful middle-grade book. I feel as if I already know (and love) the girls in the book club, and I just really enjoy reading about their middle school experiences. In fact, I was a little sad when I finished this book because there isn't another one waiting for me. I am going to have to wait awhile for book 4 (and book 5) in the series.

In DEAR PEN PAL, the girls are now in 8th grade and their last year of middle school. I love to read about middle grade girls because I think they are at such an interesting age. There are so many changes going on in their lives (as well as their bodies) during these years. I think so many young girls are starting to figure out who they really are; and I thought it was quite appropriate that the author chose to have "change" as a central theme in this novel.

All of the girls experience some type of change in this book. One of the girls, Jess, ends up going to a local boarding school instead of the public middle school that all of her friends attend. Of course Jess' life has drastically changed because she is attending a new school, but she also has to deal with not seeing her friends on a daily basis and she has to learn to adjust to a difficult roommate. In addition to Jess, Cassidy has to deal with her mother's marriage as well as another huge surprise; and Megan has to handle being caught in the middle when her grandmother comes to live with her family. And finally, Emma (my favorite) not only misses her best friend Jess but finds that she is the first girl in their group to get a real boyfriend!

As is the case with all of the books in the Mother-Daughter Book Club series, DEAR PEN PAL had a classic book tie-in. This time it was DADDY LONG LEGS by Jean Webster. I wasn't familiar with this book prior to reading DEAR PEN PAL, but I am totally sold on it now. It sounds fantastic, and I can't wait to read it and see the little drawings. I really appreciated how the author not only had the girls read this book for their book club, but she also incorporated some of the characters' actions and story lines into the girls' 8th grade lives.

Another part of this book that I really liked was how the girls became pen pals with another mother-daughter book club in Wyoming. Since this was the mothers' idea, some of the girls weren't entirely sure that they wanted to hand-write letters to total strangers. I loved how the author not only tied in letter writing to the book DADDY LONG LEGS, but she also pointed out how valuable letter writing can be and why we shouldn't stop just because we have modern (and instantaneous) technology. Pen pals almost seem to be a thing of the past, and I think that's kind of sad. So I was so excited to see that Cindy Hudson, author of BOOK BY BOOK, has set up a pen pal exchange service on her website to further the art of letter writing to pen pals. Click here to read all of the details.

It's difficult for me to express why I love these books so much (because there are so many reasons), but I think the main one is because of the characters. They are just sweet girls who experience typical middle grade life like school, friendships, boyfriends, family dynamics, etc. (and of course lots of change!) As a mother, I appreciate that these stories all have nice girls (although they have been known to play some not-so-nice tricks on each other); and that the stories are all clean -- I don't have to worry about what my daughter is taking away from these books.

And best of all, these books all have such wonderful messages! By seeing the actions of these girls and their families, I think readers will see that it's okay to make mistakes and learn from them -- no one is perfect. I also think that young girls will realize that there are other people out there experiencing similar things and having the same fears and insecurities; and that's it absolutely normal! I also hope that girls will not only see that it is "cool" to be in a mother-daughter book club (and read) but that it is also important to respect others and treat them as you would want to be treated.

By now, you know how terrific I think these books are and how perfect they are for mother-daughter book clubs. They are discussion questions in the back of the book, but I couldn't find a link for them (probably because the book is still so new.) DEAR PEN PAL has so many wonderful things for girls and their moms to discuss like: what change is happening in their lives, what character do you most relate to in this book, have you ever had a pen pal (or would you want one), have you ever had a friend move away or have you ever moved away just to name a few. What is so great about DEAR PEN PAL is that the girls (and moms) will love the story, but there are also a lot of issues that you can discuss with each other.

Thanks to the author for sending me a copy of this book.


Pam said...

This series sounds like a lot of fun. I think I may check it out for my middle grade challenge list.

bermudaonion said...

I'm not familiar with Daddy-Long-Legs either so now I'm really curious about it and Dear Pen Pal. Great review, as always.

Beth F said...

I'm definitely keeping this series in mind for gifts and suggestions.