Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Monday, April 7, 2014

Money-Making Mayhem

There's no surprises quite like the surprises one encounters when taking care of another person's animal friend.  Many years ago I was watching my sister's new Labrador puppy for several days.  Safely gated with items given to me by my sister, food dish, water bowl and bean bag lounger for comfy naps, I was shocked to return home from the school library at lunch to see tiny white balls covering my kitchen floor.  In true puppy fashion he had chewed big holes in his bed.  It wasn't too much later when my question as to whether he had eaten any of the stuffing was answered on our evening walk.

Three years ago a lively third grade character was introduced to readers in Marty McGuire.  It was followed a year later by Marty McGuire digs worms!  I am happy to report a third title in the series has been released; Marty McGuire has too many pets! written by Kate Messner with illustrations by Brian Floca.

"How long until we get there?"
"It's just down the road," Dad says, "and please stop kicking my seat."
"Sorry." I put my feet down and try to keep them still. I don't mean to be a seat kicker, but it's hard when you've been in the car for an hour and you are going to see real live chimpanzees.   

Marty and her best friend, Annie, are riding with her parents to a chimpanzee sanctuary.  Marty's mom has been selected to work there for the upcoming week.  During the visit there Marty discovers you can adopt (sponsor) a chimp.

Before they've barely begun the trip home, the two girls are thinking of ways to raise money.  Their first idea is to collect money for the upcoming third grade talent show.  Making a spur of the moment decision during a visit to the school library the next day, Marty announces she has a pet-sitting business to the librarian, Ms. Stephanie.

On the way home, Annie agrees to the plan.  How hard can it be to babysit an African hedgehog named Lady Macbeth and two goldfish called Mango and Puck?  Of course there are two tiny little problems with this plan; Marty needs to get her Grandma Joyce's and her Dad's permission.  Grandma Joyce, her Dad's mother, is fairly conservative in her ideas but a great cookie maker...and a whiz at tuna casserole.  She's helping out for the week.

Though hesitant her grandmother says if her Dad gives it the thumbs up, it's fine with her.  Marty asks her Dad during the middle of a captivating Red Sox game on TV as he jumps up on the sofa.  Of course he says yes.

Her passion for the chimps (and pets) growing, Marty and Annie decide to increase their income by posting flyers around the school.  As the weekend approaches Mr. Klein, the custodian, is bringing his parrot, Rocky, whose language is less than appropriate, Mrs. Grimes, the principal, is bringing her two hamsters, Fluffernutter and Houdini, and a first-grade student has left her slug in the care of Marty and company.  The group of sitters has grown by three, Rupert, Alex and Rasheena. Meanwhile, Grandma Joyce and Marty's Dad have no idea how the business is expanding.  You'd be amazed (or maybe not) how creative third graders can be.

The real shock is when the lunch lady, Mrs. Baxter brings her pet.  It is definitely not a hermit crab.  Bitsy is huge!  Things quickly begin to unravel when pets start to disappear.

Adding in the daily practices at school for the upcoming talent show, burping to the ABC Song, how to saw a board, playing The Birthday Song on a recorder and how to score a hockey goal, to Marty's already hectic life gives a pretty clear picture of laugh-out-loud chaos.  Readers will wonder if the confessions have come too late for adult intervention.  Then again, Marty has a stellar support system of all ages.  She also has a heart of purest gold.

Kate Messner continues to fascinate readers with one more spirited episode in the life of Marty McGuire. Marty and the people in her life are wonderfully normal.  The conversations, the dialogue, between them are brimming with a richness based upon each of their fully-realized personalities.

Descriptions of the daily activities in Marty's third-grade classroom are spot-on; as any educator or student will attest.  Scenes depicted in Marty's home provide illuminating insights into family and friendship dynamics.  Here are a couple of examples.

But somebody didn't, so the cricket lid goes flying off the jar and rolls under Isabel's desk, and crickets start hopping everywhere.
Mrs. Aloi dives for the maracas on her desk and shakes them like crazy. "Everybody! Get those crickets!"
Everyone stops being talented and drops to the floor to chase crickets.  When we finally get the last one back in the jar, Mrs. Aloi screws on the top super tight and sinks into her chair.
"That was awesome!" Jimmy Lawson says. "Hey! We should do cricket catching as a class talent.  We could let them all go onstage and then---"

"Grandma, please don't---"
"Get moving, kids!" she hollers down the stairs. "It's time for school!"
For a couple of seconds, nobody answers.  Then Rocky breaks the quiet. 
"Back off!" he screeches.
No, no, no, I think.
But he squawks that bad parking-lot word up the stairs, clear as can be.
Grandma Joyce turns slowly toward me.  Her voice is super calm. Scary calm.  "What. Did. I. Just. Hear?"
"That...was   Alex,"   I say.
Grandma's eyebrows go up so high they disappear into her gray curls.  

The finishing touch is the black and white pictures rendered by 2014 Caldecott Medalist (LocomotiveBrian Floca.  Alternating between full page and partial page illustrations he deftly depicts the actions, people and scenes extending the narrative.  He is able to convey a range of emotions with the slightest lines.  Readers will hardly be able to contain their laughter on more than one occasion.

Marty McGuire has too many pets! written by Kate Messner with illustrations by Brian Floca is as fresh, spirited and humorous as its predecessors.  Marty McGuire is a girl who knows what she wants, going after it with the purposeful passion singular in boys and girls her age.  Readers will fall in love with her all over again.

Links to the author's and illustrator's official websites are embedded in their names. By clicking on the three titles at Kate Messner's site you can get more information about each of them.  Here is a link to a short post about this book at Brian Floca's blog.  John Schumacher, school librarian and Colby Sharp, third grade teacher, have chosen Marty McGuire has too many pets! for one of their April titles for the #SharpSchu Book Club on Twitter. Follow the link to get the evening's schedule.


  1. Love the sound of this book! How fun! I don't think you can ever have too many pets!

    1. With your mindset of never having too many pets, you are certainly going to enjoy this book. Have fun reading it!