Author: Gillian Neimark
Publication Date: 7/26/11
Blurb (GR): Ten-year-old Flor Bernoulli is your typical kid, who especially likes buying delicious spiral pies from the Sky High Pie Shop every Wednesday. The owner of the pie shop is the wonderfully mysterious, eccentric and charming Dr. Pi. His knack for making pies is not his only talent--he is also a wizard and one of the guards of the universe, who is in charge of making sure he keeps the fire of life going into specific equations that keep the earth and nature in balance. Without him, the marvels of life and nature that contains spirals, such as seashells, sunflowers and hurricanes would cease to exist. But then, Dr. Pi, (who owns a magical spiral seashell that allows him to peer around the curve of time and into the future), discovers that his two nemeses, Mr. It and Mr. Bit, are hot on his trail again. They have tried to put out the fire for the spiral many times before--and this time they might just succeed. Can Flor help save Dr. Pi and the universe as he fights to keep nature in check--or will she be too late?
Before you have kids, you can daydream about how awesome your potential kids could be. I don’t have any kids so I can confidently tell you that my future kids will be the baddest badasses that ever were…that is, until I actually have them and they spend their time being obsessed with Justin Bieber’s successor or watching (upchuck) Two and a Half Men or something equally disgusting. I’ll name them all Flannery like George Foreman named all his kids George regardless of whether they are boys or girls and I will make sure they can identify Paul Simon’s entire catalog (a masterpiece) within the first 15 seconds of hearing it. What? That’s weird? Obviously this is why I’m single—I don’t think there are a lot of guys out there that want to start a mutant race of Paul Simon fanatics. I have a point here (or do I?) and that is that math is important. Why shouldn’t that be where my nonsensical ramblings are leading? I wish more kids were into math. I was so pumped to read this book before I started because it sounded like a Douglas Adams-type whackadoo adventure that taught kids about the importance of math. I guess it sort of still was…it just came off as a little lackluster.
Flor Bernoulli lives in New York City with her single mother. Her neighborhood has a few oddballs including Mrs. Plump, who was once plump but is no longer and who runs a restaurant that serves only tea and toast to devoted ladies intent on weight loss, and Dr. Pi, who wows oodles of customers with his so-called Sky High Pies made from his secret recipe. One day, while visiting the pie shop, Dr. Pi shows Flor a nautilus shell in which a person can peer around the curve of time and see images from the future. In it, Dr. Pi sees two men eating dinner at Flor’s house and Flor meets a girl her age. Dr. Pi also tells her he is the guardian of the secret spiral, to which the Bernoulli family has a special connection. After Dr. Pi thinks someone is after him and the spiral, he gives Flor a special hat that aids her in her travels and several people join her on a journey all over the place. Seriously, all over the place.
The story was interesting but the writing lacked fluidity and it just felt choppily put together. I know children’s and middle grade books cannot be filled with descriptive prose but for heaven’s sake, don’t take it ALL out. This was just action, action, action, and no explanation of why things were the way they were or how anything was happening. Take Madeleine L’Engle for instance—she masterfully told a tale of time and dimensional travel and explained everything well, whilst still describing everything in a way that I still remember over a decade after reading it. Here, I came away with an image of the protagonist wearing funny yet stylish outfits and vague images of the supporting cast. I also thought that a sense of fun was outweighing the importance of actually dealing with serious issues when they arose—namely meeting an absentee father (which was glossed over in a few pages) and allowing strangers into your house, telling them everything about everything, going off with them, and leaving your mom behind with no word of where you are going. I guess I forgave the kids in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler for disappearing with no word to their parents…only I think they notified their parents they were okay, didn’t they?
I still think this book is somewhere around 2.5 stars for me. Gillian Neimark weaves an interesting story with underlying mathematical concepts that will subversively teach children about the importance of math in the world around us. I learned some fun facts about spirals in nature! (which I’m not going to spoiler—go read the encyclopedia! Or Wikipedia!) Also, I learned who the heck Bernoulli was, after awkwardly asking my sister if she “knew anything about math.”(She informed that her chemical engineering degree, her MD, and her PhD probably qualified her as “knowing something about math.” Jerk.) Incidentally, we were having breakfast in an oldey-timey reproduction town in Washington and if you are still reading this review, you probably read my other ones and know how much I loooove reproduction towns and reenactors. (Sadly, there were no reenactors in this Wild West-type deal) so I was already in a happy mood. I was happy to read this story but I’m also fairly confident that my memories of it will fade rather quickly.
Thanks to S & S Galley Grab for teaching me a thing or two about math! And making me want some pie!