Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Mrs. Noodlekugel

Check out Mrs. Noodlekugel on Goodreads and you'll find that it has an overall rating of three stars. But the number is misleading as the majority of reviews fluctuate between one or two stars and four or five. Reviewers either exclaim how wonderful this short chapter book is--"quirky and fun"--or bemoan its undeveloped plot--"the story also kind of goes nowhere"--and stilted language. How can this be?

I'm always fascinated when a book receives wildly divergent reviews. Sometimes I'm on the side of the pro-reviews and other times I'm with the naysayers. Either way, I'm unshaken in my belief that my take is the correct one, and I suspect that's true of the reviewers of this book as well.

And while I can certainly see the charms of Mrs. Noodlekugel, I have to cast my lot with those who gave the book two stars. The book has an engaging premise. A brother and sister move into a apartment building and soon after discover a little house eclipsed by the surrounding tall buildings. Inside the house lives a cheerful old woman (Mrs. Noodlekugel) with her talking cat and four far-sighted mice. Disobeying their parents, the children visit Mrs. Noodlekugel and have tea with her. On a second visit--this one with their parents' permission--they bake gingerbread mice and listen to the cat play the piano. And that's pretty much it, although the book ends with the promise of another book in the series.

The lack of a plot, of any serious conflict, bothered me, as it did a number of reviewers. I was also put off my the simplistic, unnatural-sounding dialog. Here's a sample:

He looked out the window and down. "I see grass. I see trees and flowers. There is a little old-fashioned house."

While easy readers often eschew contractions, short chapter books usually don't. Here, the stilted sentences and formal language gave the book a dated feel.

Interestingly, a handful of reviewers mentioned that while they didn't care for the book, their child did. One reviewer, quoting her second-grader, a reluctant reader, wrote: "His review: 'It has no scary parts, only fun parts. The exciting parts are fun without being scary fun.'"

As reviewers all we can do is deliver our opinions as thoughtfully and truthfully as we can--and let the chips fall where they may.

Mrs. Noodlekugel
by Daniel Pinkwater
Candlewick Press, 80 pages
Published: April 2012

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