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Kids' Corner: A book for teens that deals with adult problems

”Me, Penelope” is a thrilling new novel that tackles topics like sex, death, and grieving, with originality and compassion. Plus another book and DVD for the little ones

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Kids’ Corner: A book for teens that deals with adult problems

BOOK

Me, Penelope
by Lisa Jahn-Clagh
A couple of months ago I wrote about my 15-year-old daughter’s penchant for Gossip Girl novels (ugh). Since then, I’ve been looking for something that would make both of us happy. And I think I’ve finally found it in Me, Penelope.

Sixteen-year-old Penelope Yeager — Lopi to her friends and family — faces all the usual problems of adolescence, and then some. She’d like to fall in love (and have sex). She’d like to finish high school a year early so she can get on with the business of life. She’d like to get her driver’s license. And most of all, she’d like to escape the shadows of the long-ago car accident that took the life of her little brother Adam, and drove her dad away. ”He moved across the country and I haven’t seen him since. Viv says he has a new wife and two new children. He’s moved on with a new life. I can’t say I blame him. Viv, my mother, has moved on by filling her life with activity and people, covering the memory with various substances, both legal and illegal….I have not moved on.”

At the beginning of her junior year — which will be her senior year, since Lopi has accumulated almost all the credits she needs to graduate early — she approaches her schoolwork and her boyfriend/sex quest with equal determination. School is no problem. Though she hates being in high school, since she feels on the outside of all the cliques and groups, she’s smart and motivated. But the boyfriend part is a little tougher than she’d anticipated. Oh, it’s no problem to meet boys, and to indulge in some heavy kissing. But do they like her for her? Or do they just want to have sex too? Lopi’s not sure. And she’s definitely not going to go all the way with someone for the wrong reasons. That’s for sure.

She can’t really turn to her mother, either. Viv, who likes to remind Lopi’s friends that she’s ”a very young mother,” skims lightly through life, taking very little seriously, enjoying Josh, her 14-years-younger boyfriend. She’s the kind of mom who shows up unannounced in the school office, fabricating a dentist’s appointment so she can take her daughter to spend the day at the beach. Though mother and daughter love one another, they are not close. In many ways, Lopi is the mom and Viv the child.

In the end, it’s Josh who makes Viv see how much her daughter needs her. ”You need to try harder,” he tells her. ”Every child needs her mother. You only lost one child, not two.” And it’s Josh who helps Lopi meet her mom halfway. Not surprisingly, after the two reconcile, Lopi meets the boyfriend of her dreams — the guy who’s been her best friend for years.

So: No surprises here. But the fairly ordinary plot is offset by the sparkling originality of the characters, who practically leap off the page. My daughter loved Lopi because she could relate to her trials and tribulations. I loved Lopi because she was a sensible kid with her head — and her heart — in the right place. Is there sex in the book? Yes, but not much, and it’s not graphic. A teen who’s going to have sex should have it for the reasons Lopi does. (How’s that for fudging?) Watching Lopi come to terms with her past, and with her mom, made for a thrilling and emotional read — for both me and my daughter. A-Tina Jordan
Recommended ages: 14-16

DVD

James Marshall’s Cinderella…And More Beloved Fairy Tales
(69 mins., 2007)
Some of the classic tales on this Scholastic DVD are those that kids never seem to tire of. One, not surprisingly, is Cinderella, with two particularly unpleasant and unshapely stepsisters in this version. There’s also Hansel and Gretel, narrated by Kathy Bates, which features a particularly odious and rotund stepmom, who’s so worried about her family’s food supply that she can barely keep from stuffing her mouth while plotting the poor children’s fate in the forest. There are two other stories that might not be as familiar but are as special nonetheless. Jim LaMarche’s The Elves and the Shoemaker, narrated by Patrick Stewart, is a lovely story about a poor cobbler who gets some help from some quite talented elves and returns their kindness; and The Fisherman and His Wife, a dark tale about a fisherman who meets an enchanted fish, which will have not only kids but you thinking about how much one really needs in life. A-Eileen Clarke
Recommended ages: 3-9

BOOK/DVD

A Treasure in My Garden
by Gilles Vaigneault
(Also sold separatenly as a DVD; 50 mins., 2007)
Peg this as an unusual gift for the artsy kid who has everything. This clever book, made up of stories by Quebec poet Vigneault, comes with a DVD of music videos that bring those stories and songs to life — from the uplifting (”Sleepy Sheep Hoedown for the Kid Who Won’t Lie Down”) to the sweet (”Apple Song”) to the bizarre (”Boxes”). Produced by Tooncan Productions, the same Montreal company that put forth the Oscar-winning Triplets of Belleville, the videos provide a vivid backdrop for the songs, which are translated from the original French, but thankfully are none the worse for the wear. B+EC
Recommended ages: 3-7