Book Review: Kaline Klattermaster’s Tree House

Image from Amazon.com

I read it in a day, partly because my son had broken his arm and I had to take him to the urgent care and then bring him home and receive visitors and get him all straightened out (and let him watch movies instead of do school for the day). I also read it in a day because I miss reading whatever I wanted to read and I wanted to pick up some Haven Kimmel from the shelf instead of finishing off the middle grades titles with the dying breaths of our home school. I also read it in a day because I am meaning to read all the Haven Kimmel books and have them sitting on the table next to the chair I was sitting in last night.

I also read it in a day because it’s a quick read for a grown-up.

Kaline Klattermaster is the one elementary to middle grades level book published by Haven Kimmel. It is really geared toward elementary school age and looks that way, but much of the vocab and concepts are a little older. Which is one of the main complaints you see about this under-the-radar book: the main character is a little too big for his britches. It’s actually something I find quite frequently in writing for kids. The kid is too adult-like. I’m not even sure this is a problem. I mean, would you really want a book that was written like a fourth grader wrote it? Perhaps we should be expanding the minds and maturity of children with their reading? I am with the crowd on this one, though. Kaline seems too mature, which is especially strange because his voice is decidedly kid-like. In a good way? I think so. I actually couldn’t decide if this little guy was supposed to be on the spectrum, ADHD, or just the usual hyperactive and precocious. I think it likely many kids can relate to Kaline and man, is he charming. Cute. Adorbs.

And then you have the hang-up I often have when I review these younger-audience books. I am not a kid. Will kids think Kaline is as spunky and endearing as us adults? Probably not. Will they be able to relate to him and his problems (bullies, divorce, hyperactivity, anxiety, etc.)? I think so. As long as they can read past that maturity that I was talking about earlier, which includes a pretty surprising vocabulary mixed in judiciously with his otherwise child-like cadence and thought-process. (There are many capital-letter words in the story to create Kaline’s childlike thoughts and style. Some people didn’t like it. I thought it worked. I guess I actually liked it.)

Here is the idea: Can’t-sit-still Kaline has ADHD (officially, I guess that’ the word). His COPD father has gone missing and his mother has taken over, but she is a free-spirit and an artist whereas his father kept a tight, secure ship. Now he’s in a class with three big bullies who steal his stuff systematically and his mom keeps sticking him with his neighbor who is a STRANGER. Kaline turns to his imagination and to a surprising, new friend to survive a turbulent phase of childhood.

As much as I love Haven Kimmel, I have mixed feelings about Kaline Klattermaster’s Tree House. Yes, charming. Yes, I love Kaline and some of the other characters. It doesn’t go too deep (especially with character development) which is usual for literature geared toward this age audience. It has Kimmel’s characteristic quirk and precociousness. (Kaline looks quite a bit like the “Zippy” of Kimmel’s first memoir and I wonder if he isn’t also based on her own son.) I love how imaginative this kid is, and how caught in between the worries of the adult world around him. However, the story lacks a clearer, more conventional trajectory. The title refers only to a small, and not that important, part of that story. The parents seem to make some pretty bizarre choices that seem to only be there to create a suspense that is lacking with that missing conventional trajectory. (The illustrations were fine, there just weren’t enough of them to really comment on.)

It’s an okay story with a very endearing main character which probably has a place on your bookshelf between Flora and Ulysses and Ramona Quimby, Age 8. I think it would be interesting to see how real, live kids would react to this story, but my guess is it’s best read aloud together at bedtime so everyone can take something little away from it. You’re not going to find it at every bookstore, but I think it’s worth a read.

BONUS PICTURE BOOK REVIEW: ORVILLE, A DOG STORY

Image from Amazon.com

And while I was at it, I read Haven Kimmel’s only published picture book. Kimmel is the author of Orville: A Dog Story, but she is not the illustrator. Yes, you still have some quirk here in Orville, but you also have Kimmel’s characteristic melancholy. And yes, that is a little awkward for a picture book. Again, the story is meandering. Sure, there are some interesting characters and really great word-ing, but we lose our way a bit and the great words and innovation can be distracting in this meant-for-children setting. Even so, I would probably find this story kind of endearing because of its unique way of saying things if it weren’t for the illustrations. I’m guessing that Robert Andrew Parker was paired with Kimmel by her publisher because that’s usually how it goes. Well, I do not like these illustrations and I’m not the only one. While they are colorful and artistic, they are really blurry. That’s not the right word, exactly, but they are way too abstract for meaning to be actual things, and I found them to be difficult to look at, like I was getting a migraine or having a stroke. Disturbing, that’s the word. (Take this was a grain of salt: some people love them. Not at all my cup of tea.) So, because it’s a picture book (and one that will stay on my self), I can’t get past the illustrations (which maybe I shouldn’t, actually) to recommend this book. It is entirely possible you would feel differently.

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