Renee Mihulka – Children's Book Reviews & Writer

Ivy and Bean, the series

ivyandbeanOVERALL: 4 Stars

Concept:4 Stars
Characters:4 Stars
Plot:4 Stars
Writing:5 Stars
Annie Barrows
Sophie Blackall
2006
Chronicle Books LLC
120

 

The date published and page lengths above refer to Book 1 – Ivy + Bean. Book 8 – Ivy + Bean – No News is Good News, is published in 2012 and is 140 pages long.

I have read books 1 and 8 in this series and so my review of the series as a whole are based on these.

Description: Ivy and Bean live on the same street but are determined (at first) to never become friends. Why would they when they have nothing in common? Ivy enjoys wearing dresses, is quiet, bookish and determined to become a witch, while Bean wouldn’t be caught dead in a dress, likes her hair short, her games fast and her conversations LOUD. However when Ivy helps extract Bean from a tricky situation they find they have more in common than they think. The series follows their friendship as they find interesting ways to solve their problems and achieve their 7 year old goals.

There are currently 10 books in this New York Times, best selling series and are great books to read together with your child as you snuggle in bed or for newly competent readers to read on their own.

Concept: The idea behind these books, that you can be great friends with someone who is different, is a great concept for kids of this age. Ivy + Bean’s differences enhance their friendship as they rely on each others strengths. The cute illustrations throughout make it accessible and welcoming for kids of this age.

Illustrations: Sophie Blackall’s illustrations can’t but help bring a smile to your face. My favourite is a depiction of Ivy and Bean in Book 8 – No news is good news, looking contrite as they face a dressing down from Ivy’s Dad about not producing their best work for the neighbourhood newspaper. I’ve definitely seen a similar look on my 7 year olds face! The illustrations are are lively and fun and work well with the story.

Characters: As I usually always mention if a book doesn’t have many females in it, I am compelled to also mention that these books don’t have a lot of boys in them. There are definitely some, but the main stories revolve around the two girls with an occasional appearance by Ivy’s sister Nancy. Having said that, there is no reason why boys wouldn’t enjoy this book. Ivy and Bean are regular 7 year olds and get up to all sorts of mischief that I am sure boys would appreciate and relate to as well.

Plot: It is hard with these short, early chapter books to include more than a basic plot. In fact, it takes quite a bit of talent to write what are in fact, extended short stories. Ivy + Bean however are an example of this done well. Each story is easy to read, captivating and funny. Perfect for this age group.

Writing: The length and complexity of these book’s sentences as well as the language used are appropriate for this age. They are enjoyable to read and the larger text makes it easier for beginning readers.

PARENTS: As mentioned above, these books are great to read with your child at bedtime. They are short enough that you can get through them in a few nights and the topics they cover – friendship, quirky school fads, sibling relationships etc make them good conversation starters.

Things to ask and discuss:

(If you haven’t read the books, don’t worry. Ask these questions anyway and coax the answers and details out. Being able to recount and articulate ideas from text they have read is an important skill for kids to learn and develop. Also, don’t worry if they don’t want to talk about some of the things listed here, it’s ok to just let them talk about the bits they want to. Bottom line is, they will love that you are showing an interest and asking for their opinion, even if they don’t always show it!)

1) How are Ivy and Bean different? Which one do you think you are more like?

2) Ask your child to recount the book in their own words. Try and get them to draw out the main themes. Summing up a book in a few sentence is a difficult but important skill to develop.

3) Book 1 Question – Why do you think Ivy helped Bean hide from Nancy? What do you think about the tricks Bean played on her sister Nancy? How do you think Bean really feels about Nancy.

4) Book 8 Question – How do Ivy + Bean go about raising enough money to buy a bag of Belldeloon cheese? Why do they want the cheese so badly?

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