New to Me: Kat, Incorrigible

Kat, Incorrigible
Stephanie Burgis
First published 2011

My history with this book
None, since it was only published a few years ago.

My thoughts
Kat, Incorrigible is a delightful middle grade book about a 12-year-old girl in Regency England who has magical talents. It’s an alternative Regency England where magic exists. Katherine Ann Stephenson is the youngest of four children. Her mother, from whom she inherited her talents, died shortly after she was born, and her father later remarried. Kat’s stepmother values propriety above all else and wants to restore the family’s social position, which was damaged because Kat’s mother was a witch.

Kat spends a lot of time getting into trouble, and she’s often at odds with her stepmother and her older sisters, prim and proper Elissa and spitfire Angeline. The family’s financial situation is dire. Kat’s older brother Charles has incurred huge gambling debts and will be sent to debtor’s prison if he can’t pay them. The family can’t afford to bail him out, but if he goes to prison, it will ruin the family’s reputation and make it impossible for the sisters to make good marriages. The family’s best hope is for the beautiful Elissa to find a rich husband, and the stepmother has her eye on Sir Neville Collingwood, who is very rich, but also very creepy and his first wife died under mysterious circumstances. Kat is determined to save her sister from marrying Sir Neville, and she’s willing to use her newfound magical powers if needed.

So, basically, you’ve got all the social pressures of Pride and Prejudice against a backdrop of magic. Even with magical powers, Kat and her sisters are at the mercy of society. I enjoyed the social aspects of the book very much. I was less impressed with the magical system, which felt a little vague to me, but this is the first book in a trilogy and I assume the magical side of things will be explored in more detail in the subsequent books. Kat is a great heroine, a feisty kid who strains against the conventions of society. She’s very bright, but she’s still a kid and she often misinterprets situations, sometimes to hilarious effects. I also enjoyed the subversion of the evil stepmother trope. In this case, Kat’s birth mother was an actual witch, and although Kat can’t stand her stepmother, the woman isn’t evil and she’s stuck in a difficult position.

I think this book would be good for kids who are interested in history and/or magic. Depending on your child’s age and interest in history, you may need to provide some context about Regency England. You could have an interesting discussion with your child about women’s roles during this period and how constricted their lives were.

Would I want my kid to read it
Yes.

Is there any objectionable content?
No. Obviously, there are historical attitudes toward women that are offensive, but they are well done in the historical context, and Kat rebels against the constraints of society.

Availability
It’s available in print and ebook.

New to Me: Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing
Judy Blume
First published 1972

My history with this book
I loved Judy Blume as a kid, but I had never read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.
My husband loved this book as a kid and recommended it to me.

My thoughts
I feel liked I missed out not reading Takes of a Fourth Grade Nothing as a kid, because I enjoyed it so much as an adult, and I wish that I could have experienced it as a kid. It’s a fantastic and very funny book. It’s quite similar to another one of my favorites, Beezus and Ramona, with a long-suffering older sibling and an adorable but annoying younger sibling.

Peter is 9 and his little brother Fudge is almost 3. Fudge is widely adored, but he’s also a holy terror, and poor Peter feels insignificant and ignored. Fudge’s adventures are hilarious, but being the nice, stable, normal kid isn’t always easy.

Judy Blume is so good at capturing a kid’s voice. Peter feels so real, and there’s nothing precious or precocious about him. The book doesn’t really have a plot. It’s mostly hilarious episodes of Fudge behaving badly and Peter making funny observations. In one chapter, the mother takes the boys to buy new shoes. She’s horrified that Peter has a hole in his sock, but she’s fairly blase about Fudge having a meltdown. “How could my mother have been so embarrassed over a little hole in my sock and then act like nothing much was happening when her other son was on the floor yelling and screaming and carrying on!” Peter’s mother ends up convincing him to trick Fudge into trying on new shoes, and Peter is torn between thinking it’s funny that Fudge is so easily fooled and feeling bad for him.

Fudge’s third birthday party is probably the funniest part of the book, although it does seem slightly dated. Fudge’s father isn’t there, and the other mothers just drop their kids off. Having given and attended of small children’s birthday parties, I can confirm that drop offs are not a thing nowadays, and dads no longer get to skip their own kids’ parties. Attending the party are a crier, a biter, and a kid who eats everything in sight. The party goes about as well as you’d expect.

Does it hold up?
Not having read this one as a kid, I don’t have a point of comparison, but Judy Blume is pretty timeless. There are some minor dated elements (references to daytime muggings in Central Park, their building has an elevator operator, the dad is clueless about most aspects of child-rearing, Peter mentions “dope pushers,” Fudge gets saddle shoes), but otherwise, it holds up well.

Is there any objectionable content?
Just some mild fat-shaming of a chubby toddler.

Can you read it aloud?
Yes. The audiobook would be great for a car trip with kids.

Would I want my kid to read it?
Yes, definitely

Availability
It’s widely available, in print, ebook, and audiobook format.