Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Ivy and Bean

Titles:  10 in the Series

Author:  Annie Barrows

Rating:  0 stars out of 3 possible, "D/F"
              Not Recommended

Audience:  2nd-4th Graders

I've been putting this review off for awhile, as I find it somewhat agonizing to have to "not recommend" this series.  I've been curious about this series for 2-3 years as it was clearly popular at the elementary library where I volunteered.

The harmless dust jacket picture of two 7-year-old playmates belies the fact that one of the girls, Ivy, longs to become a witch and is actively, although playfully, "training" for it.  (A closer inspection of the cover will reveal silhouettes with Ivy holding a wand and Bean holding a crystal ball.)

This is a shame, as these books have come the closest in terms of clever humor, character development and engaging childhood plot lines of anything I've read since Beverly Cleary.  For this review I read 5 selections:  #1 (Ivy and Bean), #2 (The Ghost that Had to Go), #4 (Take Care of the Babysitter), #5 (Bound to Be Bad) and #8 (No News Is Good News).

"Bean" (she only goes by Bernice Blue when she's in trouble) endures the typical travails impressed upon her by her older sister, Nancy.  Her mom encourages her to befriend "that nice girl across the street."

Ivy's mother has been suggesting the same thing.  The two finally meet by chance while Bean is trying to teach Nancy "a lesson."  Bean's trick goes awry and she escapes to spend the day at Ivy's house.  Activities include:  improving Ivy's magic wand and witch's robe, adding bloody face paint and planning spells.  All this could be harmless child's play until Ivy pulls out the spell book given to her by an aunt.

Barrows quickly and comically moves the plot along.  Naturally, Nancy is eventually mortified by the girls' tricks, Bean is disciplined and a lesson is learned.

Here's an excerpt of Barrows' sly writing style:

"For a minute, Bean felt happy.  She loved making Nancy mad.  But when Nancy was gone, Bean began to worry.  Mom hated it when she did more than one bad thing at a time.  Bean counted:  taking the money, lying about her ankle, leaving the yard without asking, and wiggling her behind at Nancy.  Four things.  Five if you counted pretending to be a ghost.  Bean was going to be in big trouble.  How big?  No dessert, for sure.  No videos for a week, maybe.  But it could be even worse.  Her mom might send her to her room for the rest of the day.  Bean hated that."

Bean's parents provide patience (mostly), common sense, discipline and humorous insight into childhood follies.

At the end of the first book, when Ivy and Bean discuss developing some secret potions, Bean's mom states:  "No matches.  No poison.  No explosions.  No deadly fumes.  No bugging Nancy.  Is that clear?"

Oh, as every parent knows, if it were only that simple!

Clearly, I was going to have to read more selections before I made a snap judgment on this series.

In The Ghost that Had to Go, the school ghost in the bathroom is mostly imaginary, yet still frightening:

"It's a portal.  A door.  To the Underworld.  That's where the ghost is coming in."

"The school was probably built on top of graves.  When they do that, it disturbs the spirits, so they wander around all sad and miserable, haunting whatever was built on top of them."

"We'll make a ceremony--we'll tell it that we know it's not evil.  We'll tell it that we just want it to rest peacefully."

"Ivy took her magic book from it's special hiding place and chanted magic words."

Ivy and Bean Take Care of the Babysitter and Bound to Be Bad departed from the paranormal and featured more typical childhood play scenes.  Bound to Be Bad even illustrates our sin nature as the girls try mightily to think nice thoughts about mean people and be nice all day long!  Bean's mom says "Think about whether you're making a good choice or a bad choice, Bean."

No News Is Good News has the industrious duo starting a neighborhood newspaper to earn money for buying the latest childhood fad:  wax cheese!

Although the book speaks to integrity:

"Listen girls.  You promised people news about Pancake Court.  You took their money.  You have to deliver what you promised.  Once you've made a real newspaper with real news you can have your cheese.  Not before."  "That's not fair!  cried Bean."  "It's perfectly fair," said her dad.

It also clarifies another of Barrows' themes:

"Ivy had been practicing to become a witch for a long time.  She was gong to be one when she grew up for sure.  She had already learned a lot of important witch things like spells and potions."

Ultimately, you'll have to decide for your family whether Ivy and Bean offers a harmless, mischievous view of childhood or a portal to the occult!  With such clever, creative writing, one wonders why Barrows even has to dabble with the supernatural.  My next review, however, will leave no room for misinterpretation.  (Poison Apple Books)

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