Melanie Martin Goes Dutch by Carol Weston;
Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 2002; $15.95
How would you feel if your parents told you that you were going to Holland for your summer vacation? Happy? Excited? Well, Melanie Martin feels both until she lands 3500 miles away from her home in New York City Melanie, a ten-year-old almost-fifth-grader, keeps a daily diary, and her entries and doodles make up the pages of the book. In this story, she travels with her mom, an art teacher; her dad, an overworked lawyer; her pesky brother, "Matt the Brat"; and her best friend since kindergarten, Cecily Hausner.
This book has many good qualities. It is smart and witty. It made me laugh out loud because it was so funny. Through Melanie's eyes I learned a lot about Holland. I learned what the Dutch eat (lots of cheese, including fondue) and how they get around (by bicycle). I learned about their great artists (Vermeer, Rembrandt, and van Gogh) and a great writer (Anne Frank). I learned about their windmills, wooden shoes, and half-nude beaches. I even learned that the Pilgrims were in Holland before sailing on the Mayflower.
I also learned how jealousy and anger can make you behave badly and how important it is to try to be a good person. Melanie is a special girl. She is funny and intelligent, but she can also be stubborn and selfish. By the end, though, she learns to be kinder, especially to Cecily, who is dealing with a very serious issue. Melanie learns, with the help of Anne Frank's diary, that "being a good person cannot just mean doing nothing wrong. It also has to mean doing something right." Melanie also learns that it is stupid to complain about privileges when Anne did not complain about hardships, like having to live in a small area without making noise.
I could relate to this book a lot. I have traveled to Europe with my family and I know that traveling can be both exciting and difficult. I have enjoyed going to museums and learning about different cultures, but sometimes I get sick of walking around and want to watch TV, and sometimes I get sick of foreign food and want to eat at McDonald's. When my family travels, we are five people, two parents and three kids, just like in Melanie Martin. Most of the time we enjoy ourselves, but sometimes we argue. My brother can be annoying like Matt.
Like Melanie, I enjoy writing. I keep a journal in school. This book made me want to keep a journal the next time I travel with my family. Melanie writes lots of short, funny poems and is very interested in words. I learned some new vocabulary and the derivation (the origin) of some English expressions. For example, Melanie's dad says that "nitwit" probably came from the Dutch for "I don't know." When Dutch settlers went to school and couldn't speak English, they would answer the teacher "niet weten" which earned them the nickname nitwits.
Melanie Martin Goes Dutch is the second in a series—the first is called The Diary of Melanie Martin—but it doesn't matter which order you read them in. I read Goes Dutch first and liked it so much that I immediately read The Diary in which Melanie and her family travel to Italy. These books are real page-turners. I can't wait to read the next book about Melanie and her travels!