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Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
"It's Diary of a Wimpy Kid if the mom died." BAM! Now that's grabby, ain't it? If I were a Hollywood executive I suppose that might be how I'd sell Alan Silberberg's newest novel about a boy and his issues. It's not how I'd sell it to an actual kid, though. Alan Silberberg has managed something that I would have deemed near impossible. He's penned a funny novel that deals with the very real issue of how a family copes when one of its family members passes on and he's do ...more "It's Diary of a Wimpy Kid if the mom died." BAM! Now that's grabby, ain't it? If I were a Hollywood executive I suppose that might be how I'd sell Alan Silberberg's newest novel about a boy and his issues. It's not how I'd sell it to an actual kid, though. Alan Silberberg has managed something that I would have deemed near impossible. He's penned a funny novel that deals with the very real issue of how a family copes when one of its family members passes on and he's done it with a combo of art and prose. Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze combines interstitial comics with a fun text and a gripping story to come up with a book that manages to be all things for all readers. Humor fans will like it, but so too will those kids who need a little extra meat in their fiction. This is a book that isn't afraid to get a little sad and serious once in a while. A dead mom book that kids will really gravitate towards.

Once again, Milo has become the new kid at school. Ever since his mom died his dad has been moving both him and his older sister into different homes. Everything from the "Apartment of Endless Stairs" to the appropriately dubbed "Stink Hole (The mystery smell was never found!)". Milo has found that his dad just sleepwalks through his days, and our hero's not doing so hot himself. There's this weird girl at school that keeps bugging him, and then there's gorgeous Summer Goodman. The kind of gal who would never give a boy like Milo the time of day. However, once he makes a new best friend in a kid called Marshall and finds that the strange girl isn't that strange after all, Milo discovers that there might be a way to come to terms with his mom being gone, and maybe find a way to remember her too.

Comparisons to Diary of a Wimpy Kid (as I've done in the very first sentence of this review) are inevitable. It's never really all that fair to compare illustrated novels to Kinney's books, though, since with the exception of Big Nate by Lincoln Peirce most novels are like Milo. They use the illustrations in the book the same way a good musical uses songs. The comics are there to highlight and advance the plot, while offering a bit of color to the narrative. Silberberg is clearly comfortable with this style of writing... and then he takes it a step farther. We're dealing with some pretty heavy issues in this book, and it would jar with the readers' senses if you were hearing about a particularly dark point in Milo's life only to find that emotion alleviated by a sappy cartoon. Yet that's a trap Silberberg miraculously manages to avoid time and time again. He always knows the best possible time to include a little cartoon or illustrated piece. He even manages to complement serious scenes with a drawing, once in a while. There's one image of Milo seriously telling his problems to Hilary's rescued doll collection that is just as serious as any moment of prose.

And the book handles the question of how a kid comes to terms with the death of his mom with great skill. It creeps into the narrative slowly, and then takes it over by the end. Milo's vast dislike of men who shave their heads is explained when his narrative voice suddenly launches into a talk about how "some" people go bald because they can't help it. Later he starts thinking about Hillary's dolls and says, "I picture doll family funerals and the sad dollhouses where now a doll dad has to deal with his doll kids and the doll mom who isn't coming home." Silberberg gets so very close to overplaying his hand. He could go smarmy in an instant, but he holds off. The emotions are raw and very real for a children's book, and somehow he manages to offer comfort without becoming schmaltzy. No mean feat.

Which isn't to say that the man hasn't a sense of humor worth noting. Sometimes you turn to the first page of a book and you instantly know that you're going to want to read it through to the end. That's how Milo was for me. The first two sentences of the book are, "Summer Goodman never knew what hit her. That's because it was me, and as soon as I collided with her in the hallway - scattering every one of her perfectly indexed index cards - I disappeared into the mob of kids who'd arrived to help realphabetize her life." These lines are accompanied by an images of Milo running hell-for-leather down the hall as a now airborne Summer Goodman finds herself unexpectedly horizontal. And while you're not going to find that the book is the joke-a-page kind of title some kids have been trained to expect, when it's on it's on. For example, one of my favorite moments is when Milo complains that his neighbor has carved her pumpkin way too early in the season. By his reasoning, that pumpkin will be decaying squash by the time Halloween finally comes around. This is accompanied with a picture of said pumpkin, thinking to itself "I'm toast". And honestly, Silberberg's got a great talent for one-liners. I was particularly fond of "Apparently, my teeth, which no one was paying attention to while my mom was dead, have kind of gone their separate ways and finally it's time to rein them in before they migrate into someone else's mouth."

When you read a book where a new kid with issues moves to town and suddenly the "weird" girl wants to befriend him you have to ask yourself one question: Why does this girl want to be friends with this boy in the first place? Well, in the case of Milo you can make the argument that Hillary is hanging around Milo because she feels sorry for him. I mean the guy lost his mom, after all. That might explain her initial overtures of friendship, anyway. Now I'm reviewing this book off of a galley, so maybe this problem I've noticed won't show up in the final copy. Whatever the case, let's talk about the character of Hillary. On the cover you can see that she's pictured with straight black hair. She may even been Asian American. Look inside the book, however, and her hair appears to be as blond as Summer Goodman's golden locks. Which is it then? Inquiring minds want to know. This is our heroine, after all.

A word on Summer Goodman. It would have been so easy for Silberberg to have written the girl off as a stuck up popular girl. And certainly there are elements of that to her personality when Milo is humiliated by her on Valentine's Day. But as you read the book you sort of come to realize that Summer's a great example of how people only want what they want. So when Milo meets Summer again at the end of the story (I won't ruin how) she sloughs off any fantasies Milo may have harbored about her. She's not a bad person, just one that's more interested in herself than in Milo. Is that a crime? Is it even all that unsympathetic?

There's a great deal of debate out there as to whether or not "bibliotherapy" works. Which is to say, if you encounter a kid with a dead mother, would you hand them Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze? I'm not usually a real bibliotherapy proponent, but Milo may prove to be the exception that proves the rule. I've rarely encountered a book that understands grief and grieving as well as this title. One person already wrote me about the book saying, "My husband suffered the same loss that both Milo and Alan [the author:] did, and reading this book was healing for him like nothing I've ever seen, even all these years later." Some books for kids that talk about grief and closure feel manipulative in how they chose to tug at the heartstrings. Milo, in contrast, is an honest, original, and effectively moving title. Silly packaging on the outside. Big heart and emotional core inside.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on October 26, 2010
I lost my husband to cancer 2-years ago. I have read countless grief books regarding children and grieving. They are all so clinical, and often only mirror what I am living, not a lot of insight into the world of my children.

I have been reading Milo:Sticky Notes- Brain Freeze with my two sons 7 & 9. It is a great story to read with your children. When I first bought the book, I thought; 'Oh this will be good to help my son open up and talk'. As it turns out, it's been a great book for all of us. It has given me a glimpse into their side of grieving. I have always been able to look at my son's and tell they hurt, but it's impossible to get into their heads and know how they are feeling. My son's can't always put their feelings into words, and Milo does a great job of telling what it's like losing a parent.

This book has brought me to tears and made us all laugh. When I start to cry, my 9-year old will take the book out of my hands and continue reading. After the passage is read, we talk. I tell him why it made me cry and ask if he has felt the same way...a huge eye opener.

By all means, this book should not be limited to children who have lost, but it's a great story about a boy learning to deal with his problems.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 2010
I was a fan of this author after reading and loving his previous book - Pond Scum - so I had high hopes for his latest book. I had heard that it was illustrated throughout with cartoons, so I figured that it was going to be like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, which was fine by me.

In fact, I was quite unprepared for how wonderful, emotional, and yes, timeless, Milo turns out to be. The book starts out as if it will indeed be a Wimpy Kid-type school comedy: Milo is a slightly awkward, self-conscious kid entering middle school and drawing cartoons about his experiences. Sounds pretty familiar, but soon small details begin to suggest we are in deeper waters here. Milo's father is emotionally absent. His older sister is never home. His math teacher's shaved head bothers him for reasons he cannot fully explain. And then, gently, Milo lets us know that he lost his mother to a brain tumor two years before the book began.

And the book, although laugh-out-loud funny throughout, reveals itself to be a powerfully moving, emotional story of how Milo learns to deal with his mother's death by embracing her memory rather than rejecting it.

Sounds like a downer? It's not, at all, although I cried (not just choked up but sobs and everything) at least three times. In fact this is an uplifting book, and again -- it's funny a lot. And I have not even lost a parent - I can only imagine that a young person facing a loss similar to Milo's might find real comfort here.

But this is not a "message" book. It is not about the lessons that Milo learns. It's a story, and what makes it work is how perfectly Silberberg captures Milo's voice. Not a cartoon, Milo is a real kid, a quirky, funny kid you like, a kid that you want to see succeed.

This is a terrific book. Strongest possible recommendation.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
This book has a sad premise (that kept my 12 year old daughter from wanting to read it, until after I told her that I think she'd like it). A couple of years ago, Milo's mom died. Since then, it's just been his older sister and his dad and him trying to navigate life through "the fog." They've moved several times and each time more and more things that remind Milo of his mom disappear. He and his dad never talk about anything real, and since he's moved around so much, he doesn't have close friends with whom he can share his thoughts.

Everything changes at this move, landing him at a new school for his 7th grade year. He meets a neighbor who lost her husband, he has two great friends, and a crush on the popular girl at school. This book reads like a typical middle-school misfit story, complete with the little line drawings that are so popular these days. Milo's sort of an odd duck, but one of the morals of the story is that all a person needs is one good friend. I loved that he got to be who he was, and with the help of his new friends, he got to wade through the fog and embrace the memories of his mom. It wasn't sad per se, but it definitely will help those who read it get an understanding of what it's like to lose a loved one.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on September 13, 2010
Milo Cruikshank is beginning seventh grade. He's in a new house--his fifth so far which means a new school. He falls head-over-heels for a girl who doesn't know he exists and tries to adjust as best he can to junior high.

At its core, this book deals with the loss of a parent and the toll it has on the rest of the family. Like any well written book, there's so much more to the story. Milo and his alter ego are laugh-out-loud funny at times, but the other characters made me smile too or maybe it was just the way Milo viewed them.

The story begins at the start of his seventh grade school year and ends on Mother's Day. With the help of his two friends, Hillary and Marshall, he's able to deal with the loss of his mother. His neighbor also plays a huge role by encouraging him not to forget her.

This book is so many wonderful things combined. It's heart-warming, cute, and yes, a little sad, but I think the characters will touch your heart as they did mine.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Many of these reviews discuss whether this book would be of therapeutic value for a youngster who has lost a parent. Maybe, maybe not. I remember losing my dad as a kid, and I don't really think Milo's musings would have been very helpful. But they wouldn't have hurt either.

I think the larger question is whether this is a good book or not. The answer to that question has to be yes. The voice is authentic. You can't, obviously, really write just like a 12 year old would. Wouldn't work. You also can't do a phony, hip, ironic fake of a 12 year old. Annoying and doesn't work. Even if it is mimetic. (See what I mean?) But, Silberberg hits the sweet spot; he channels the thoughts, feelings, and sense of a 12 year old so well that it feels right. And if it feels right to an adult reader, (me), and to a 12 year old, (grandchild), then it seems to me that's about the best you can ask.

It's funny. It's touching. It will make any reader think about the issues addressed, (loss, friendship, loneliness), and may help them understand a little more about themselves and others. Try the sample chapter; it gives a pretty fair impression of the book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 1, 2011
I read this book aloud to my 9-year old daughter several months after her dad's sudden death in an accident. She has been unwilling to talk about his death at all, but the book was so funny and she loved the cartoons so she was able to hear the "hard parts" without shutting down. I felt it opened a window into grief--Milo's and her own--in a very gentle and realistic way (kids don't grieve full-time--the alternating humor/pathos of the story mirrors the reality of grieving). It is an ideal story whether or not a family is experiencing grief; the general theme of early adolescent turmoil is timeless and handled with great wit and humor. I found myself sneaking a peek ahead because I didn't want to put it down.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 25, 2011
I picked this up at the library and wasn't expecting to get into it (being way, way, way over the age group it's intended for). But it was poignant, funny, insightful and just plain good fun to read.

Highly recommended!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 11, 2013
The title says it all. This book was terrible for me to read.

Sure, it made me laugh, and there were pictures. It was about a guy in 7th grade with few friends,trying to impress the girl. Sound familiar at all? If not, reread the title again. I like fantasy and action, and all this nonsense with him screaming out of the haunted house? It made me want to cover my face with my hands. Why do I care if he liked Summer? I felt no connection to any of the characters in this book, and there was no big goal that we can clearly see either. No get Summer to like me, or change something. Just his life ( which happens to be quite boring. ) :(

The only reason that I didn't give this book a two star is that it made me laugh a little bit. But… there are other books where I laughed much harder.

My advice? Wait for it at the library. If you like the book, buy it. At least you know you didn't waste your time and money. I read this book because I had too, because would have NEVER EVER read this book of free will.

Thank you for listening to my rantings.

~Awesomeness

Th
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 23, 2013
Great book for middle schoolers. Describes how a boy deals with the loss of his mother by collecting things that remind him of her. Dad doesn't always understand but at the end shows how talking about the loss can be a big help.
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