Monday, January 21, 2013

Review: Amelia Bedelia Means Business by Herman Parish (ARC)

Amelia Bedelia Means Business. by Herman Parish. January 29, 2013. Greenwillow Books. 112 pages. ISBN: 9780062094988

Following the example of popular picture book and easy reader character Fancy Nancy, young Amelia Bedelia is now also the star of her own chapter book series. In the first installment of the series, Amelia Bedelia Means Business, the literal minded little girl finds herself in need of a new bike. Her parents, two very upbeat personalities who apparently don't know their kid very well, decide this will be a fun opportunity for their daughter to learn a little bit of business sense. They inform her that she can have the bike she wants when she earns half the cost. Undaunted, Amelia Bedelia heads out into her neighborhood hoping to find a job. Each time she is hired, though, she quickly loses her job because of her strange interpretations of the instructions she is given.

Up until now, I have generally held the opinion that the newer Amelia Bedelia stories, where she is a mixed-up child instead of a blundering adult, make more sense and are easier for kids to relate to. This chapter book adds a caveat to this statement; the new Amelia Bedelia should stick to the original easy reader format that made her parent series a success. What works so well in a brief story for beginning readers - plays on words and outright silliness - loses its magic in a longer deeper tale. Amelia Bedelia has always been the butt of the joke in her stories, but in a way kids really enjoy. In this book, the reader is asked to take her seriously and to believe that her parents, classmates and neighbors also take her seriously. This is too much to ask of readers who remember the original Amelia Bedelia's “date cake” from Merry Christmas, Amelia Bedelia and the way she “called the roll” in Teach Us, Amelia Bedelia. Even kids who don't know the classic stories will pick up on a sense of flatness in this book. The schtick that defines the essence of Amelia Bedelia only works if we don't try getting inside her head. This earnest treatment of her character ruins the joke and makes the reader feel oddly guilty for laughing at a character who views the world in a different way.

I think the audience most likely to enjoy this book are girls who are new to chapter books who haven’t necessarily developed an attachment to the old school Amelia Bedelia. When girls find Amelia Bedelia Means Business shelved beside the Nancy Clancy, Rainbow Magic, and Magic Tree House series, they will be drawn to the cartoonish cover as well as the universally understood desire for a brand-new bike. Six and seven year olds who don't mind heavily suspending their disbelief will laugh when Amelia makes cringe-worthy mistake after cringe-worthy mistake. For everyone else, though, it might be a better idea to look back fondly on those early days of reading Amelia Bedelia easy readers and look for some better written and more engaging chapter books. After all, we don't have Frog and Toad or Elephant and Piggie chapter books - and I hope we never do. Some characters just don’t translate well to a longer format, and based on this book, I believe Amelia Bedelia is one of those.

I received a digital ARC of Amelia Bedelia Means Business from HarperCollins via Edelweiss.

For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.

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