Are you in the mood for a good laugh? "Family Vacations and Other Hazards of Growing up", by Steve White, is one of the funniest books I've read!  As I was reading all of the funny mishaps and adventures of Mr. White's youth, I found myself laughing out loud.  One time I was at my daughter's volleyball game. While her team was warming up, I read about the times when the author's family would go on summer vacations together. I caught myself suddenly laughing out loud. The people around all looked at me. So, I held up the book , shrugged and said, "It's a really funny book."

When I read the comment, "Hey, your leg is touching mine. Move it!", memories of not only my 5 children complaining and bugging each other while in transit to some far off place came back to me, but I also remembered my own experiences with my older brother teasing me.  One of the great gifts that Mr. White has is his ability to bring up or dredge out experiences from his past in a way that will make everyone remember and relate to, and here's his greatest talent...make us smile.  Yes, this book is so well written with humor in practically every sentence. Not the kind of humor that is forced or sarcastic, but flowing and ebbing at every turn of the page.  I related to so many of his memories that I was quite mad at myself for having forgotten all that the author has so well remembered.

Here are some of my favorite parts of the book:
While on vacation, his dad never stopped driving for anything, not to see some sights, not to eat, not for anything. (This sounds like my family.)

Never travel with adult members of your family, including the in-laws, as it can lead to quite a journey.
I loved his references to summers in good ol' Missouri. He grew up, and still lives in, the Kansas City area. "It was another fiery August in Missouri and approximately 137 degrees outside." And, " As many of you who have spent time in the summer sun know, it can be hot. But in Missouri, hot doesn't quite fit. In Missouri, summer is more like the inside of a volcano - bubbly, steaming, molten."  He has stories about his two pet snakes and his home-made turtle-spa. He relates adventures about school, friends, swimming, Halloween, Christmas, riding his bike, and working as a teen in that "volcano" weather.  There is so much more in this book that suffice it to say, you'll just need to read it in order to put a smile on your face.

Also, there are a few sections that are very touching and beautifully written.  The chapter where he writes about the love of his dog really got to me. Again, his wonderful ability to put into words what I have always had in my heart concerning my dog, really struck me! He also wrote an eloquent section about his mom that should be passed out to every mom on every Mother's Day.

In summary, Mr. White has an uncanny ability to write about these family and friend experiences in such a humorous way that you too will find yourself laughing out loud.  His humor and insights, along with his great talent of writing, is reminiscent of Bill Cosby.  I only hope he gets an audio version of the book!  This is great reading for teenagers and older.

"The Stray Dog", by Marc Simont, is this year's Caldecott Honor book. It's based on a true story that the author/illustrator heard about many years before.

A family found a mangy little dog while eating at a park near a big city. The young boy and girl played and played with the dog and really seemed to enjoy it. They even named him Willy.  When it came time for them to go home, the children begged their parents to let them keep the dog. But the parents insisted that the dog must belong to someone else.  So, they all left the park without the dog. All through the week, the beautifully painted pictures show the family truly missing the little dog.  Mr. Simont has very cleverly painted each family member looking very distracted along with each day of the week painted in large letters. For instance, on Monday, the father is looking away while pouring the coffee over his cup. On Thursday, the little boy completely misses a baseball as he stares in another direction

When finally the next weekend comes, the family has another picnic in the same park. Again, Mr. Simont has cleverly painted the father peering around his cup as he drinks from it. It appears that he is looking for that "stray dog". When the dog does finally appear, the family has a look of joy.  But there is also a dog catcher chasing the dog. When the dog warden catches the dog, he tells the children that the dog is a stray. He has no collar and no leash.

But the children are quick to think up a remedy. The boy takes his belt off and tells the man, "Here's his collar". The girl takes her ribbon from her hair and says, "Here's his leash". They tell him that Willy belongs to them. And from then on, he does! 

This is a darling story about a dog who was meant to be with a certain family. A story that would be good for families of children up to 7 years of age.

Newton's Book News