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1. Comics Squad: Recess!: Jennifer L. Holm and others

Book: Comics Squad: Recess!
Authors: Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm, Jarrett Krosoczka, Raina Telgemeier & Dave Roman, Dan Santat, Dav Pilkey, Ursula Vernon, Eric Wight, and Gene Luen Yang
Pages: 144
Age Range: 7-10

Comics Squad: Recess! is a new collaborative book produced by a team of today's top cartoonists/illustrators/graphic novelists. It features eight stories, all told in comic strip format. The stories are set in an elementary school environment, and are relevant to the concerns of younger elementary schoo kids. Oh, and they are funny, of course. 

Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm, creators of the Babymouse and Squish series, and Jarrett Krosoczka, creator of the Lunch Lady series, are the editors. Babymouse and Lunch Lady make a few cameo appearances before and between the other stories - I guess you could say that they are the informal hosts to the book. Babymouse also appears in one of the stories, repeatedly thwarted in her "Quest for Recess" ("Typical!". Lunch Lady is actually out sick, but Betty is on the job (and stocked up with new inventions) in "Betty and the Perilous Pizza Day".

As I've personally read most of the Babymouse and Lunch Lady books already, I was interested to see what the other authors would come up with. It's quite a varied lot. I enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek humor of Gene Yang's "The Super-Secret Ninja Club", and the frankly adorable cupcake in Eric Wight's "Jiminy Sprinkles in "Freeze Tag"". Ursula Vernon's "The Magic Acorn" features squirrels meeting up with a tiny alien in an acorn-shaped spaceship. "The Rainy Day Monitor" by Dave Roman and Raina Telgemeier celebrates the joys of pretending (with some pretty funny, mostly fake celebrity cameos). Dan Santat, on the other hand, mocks the idea of writing a 300 word essay on The Giving Tree, while giving the teeny-tiniest hint of a middle grade romance. 

My favorite story was Dav Pilkey's "Book 'Em, Dog Man". Pilkey writes this as if it were the work of a pair of comic-obsessed young boys. The story is introduced with a letter written by the disapproving teacher of the boys, like this: "As you will see, this comic book contains multiple scenes of stealing, violence, and unlawfulness... and don't get me started on the spelling and grammar!" Personally, I thought that the second-grade-appropriate spelling was hilarious ("desidid", "excape", etc.). 

But it's all fun. Though the tone and style of the eight stories varies, a common orange and black color palette across the book lends a certain visual consistency. 

Comics Squad: Recess! is dedicated to The Nerdy Book Club, which I thought was a particularly appropriate touch. The Nerdy Book Club members, like the authors of Comics Squad, dedicate their working lives to ensuring the kids find reading fun. 

Comics Squad: Recess! is an excellent introduction for younger kids to graphic novels. Including a range of authors ensures that each reader is bound to find at least one story that resonates. This is a book that all elementary school libraries will want to carry (probably in multiple copies). Just be prepared for requests for more of Comics Squad! Fortunately, the authors have other titles available. Comics Squad: Recess! is the absolute epitome of "kid-friendly". Highly recommended. I'll be keeping my copy for when my daughter is a tiny bit older. 

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: July 8, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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2. I Didn't Do My Homework Because... Davide Cali

Book: I Didn't Do My Homework Because ...
Authors: Davide Cali & Benjamin Chaud 
Pages: 44
Age Range: 6-9

I Didn't Do My Homework Because ... is a celebration of the ingenuity of childhood. On the first page, a teacher asks a child: "So why didn't you do your homework?" On subsequent pages, he shares a host of creative excuses, like:

"An airplane full of monkeys landed in our yard"; and

"Some escaped convicts from the local jail hid in my bedroom and wouldn't come out." 

Each excuse is accompanied by a humorous illustration. In the prior example, we see the boy surrounded by much larger prisoners in yellow-striped outfits. The boy is brining them pink lemonade, and they are looking at his books. Because why not? 

This is a small format book, about the size of an early reader. It's more like a picture book in format otherwise, though the target age range is probably solidly in elementary school. Preschoolers don't generally have much homework, after all. Nor are they likely to know what "carnivorous plants" are. There's a humorous ending in which the teacher doesn't believe the boy, because she has the same book. For me, this was just enough to make it feel a bit like a story, rather than solely a collection of excuses. The illustrations are full of detail, and include boy-friendly tidbits like giant lizards. 

Instructions on the back of the book read:

"WHEN TO USE THIS BOOK:
Whenever you haven't finished your homework.

CAUTION:
Each excuse may only be used once."

Like the excuses, I'm not sure how well this book will hold up to multiple reads. But it's definitely fun, and sure to make elementary school kids laugh. Recommended for classroom libraries, or any seven-year-old with an overactive imagination.  

Publisher: Chronicle Books (@ChronicleKids
Publication Date: March 4, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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3. Clementine and the Spring Trip: Sara Pennypacker & Marla Frazee

Book: Clementine and the Spring Trip
Author: Sara Pennypacker
Illustrator: Marla Frazee
Pages: 160
Age Range: 6-8

As I've said many times on this blog, I love Clementine. She's one of my favorite children's book characters, and I can't wait until my daughter is old enough to appreciate her. So when I was browsing in a bookstore last week and spotted this book on the shelf, in paperback, I didn't hesitate to buy a copy. And over the weekend I treated myself to a visit with Clementine and her family.

In Clementine and the Spring Trip, Clementine is a bit nervous about the upcoming field trip that her third-grade class is taking with the fourth graders. Her friend Margaret is in fourth grade, and continually warns Clementine that loud eating is not allowed among the fourth graders. Clementine worries about what she'll take for lunch that won't crunch or snick, or any of various other noise-related offenses. She also worries that her class will end up on the school bus that has "The Cloud", a truly horrific stink.

Meanwhile, a new girl in Clementine's class, Olive, has Clementine feeling a bit left out. And Clementine's family is preparing for the arrival, in a few months, of a new baby. Her mother is having cravings, and ranting more than usual about social issues. Margaret's family is undergoing changes, too, leaving Margaret more cleanliness-obsessed than ever. [Margaret is actually a really interesting character - she's going to need therapy one day, I think, but Clementine takes her in stride, and understands her issues.]

Like the other Clementine books, Clementine and the Spring Trip has some nice nods to Boston, like this:

"Mitchell acts extra Mitchelly in the spring too. Not because of the weather, but because the Red Sox are back in town. According to Mitchell, the Red Sox are the greatest team in the history of the universe, and it's just a matter of time before they ask him to play for them." (Page 5-6)

And some fun Clementine-isms, like this:

"I dropped the tape and spun around, because elevator doors are like game-show prize doors: until they open, you never know what valuable stuff is hiding behind them. Okay, fine--in our building, it's usually just the same old people, riding up and down from their condos." (Page 43)

"When you are pregnant you get to eat whatever you want, together with whatever else you want, whenever you want it, just by saying the magic words: "I'm having a craving." (Page 63)

That last quote made me laugh out loud. I also continue to adore Marla Frazee's illustrations, and the way that she completely nails Clementine and her family. 

And yet, I must admit that Clementine and the Spring Trip is not going to stand out as my favorite of the series. The conclusion felt a bit over the top to me (including the presence of a plot-resolving coincidence), and a couple of aspects seemed a bit message-y. The last couple of chapters left me a little flat.

I still love Clementine, but I didn't end up loving this particular book. I liked it, sure, but I didn't love it overall. Not to worry, I'll still be eagerly awaiting the next book. And all libraries should certainly pick up Clementine and the Spring Trip

Publisher: Disney/Hyperion (@DisneyHyperion)
Publication Date: January 7, 2014
Source of Book: Bought it at Books, Inc

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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4. The Year of Billy Miller: Kevin Henkes

Book: The Year of Billy Miller
Author: Kevin Henkes
Pages: 240
Age Range: 7 - 10

I had intended to pick up a copy of The Year of Billy Miller for a while when it received a Newbery Honor. This moved it higher up on my list, and I'm so glad that I read it. 

We've been Kevin Henkes fans in my house for quite some time. We have a boxed set of little picture books about Lilly and her friends that we received when my daughter was born. Lilly's Chocolate Heart was one of the first books that she knew by heart, even though she could barely pronounce the words. These days, she frequently selects other picture books by Henkes from the library. We both adore Henkes' early reader series about Penny. I've only reviewed Penny and Her Doll, but we have them all. 

So, when I heard that Henkes had written a book for slightly older readers, I had high hopes. The Year of Billy Miller does not disappoint. The book is, as you would expect, about a year in the life of a boy named Biller. Specifically, it's about Billy's second grade school year. Billy's confidence at the start of the year is a bit shaky. A fall has left him with a lump on his head, and he worries about whether or not he'll be smart enough (he does forget things). Being seated next to a bossy, braggy girl does not help matters. Billy's dad, who he calls Papa, tries to reassure him by declaring that this will be "the Year of Billy Miller." And in the end, of course, it is. 

The Year of Billy Miller is a perfect book for kids who are ready to move beyond early readers and entry level chapter books, but aren't quite ready for true middle grade. Although it's longer than some books written for this age range, at 240 pages, and has fewer illustrations, the structure of the book helps to keep it accessible. As, of course, does Henkes' pitch-perfect understanding of the lives of second graders.

The book is divided into four sections, each featuring an important person in Billy's life (his teacher, his father, his little sister, and his mother). Each section consists of five short chapters. The print is wide-spaced, and there are small sketches mingled directly within the text, a few per chapter. The sentences are short, and the vocabulary is new-reader-friendly, but with some stretch words, too ("embedded", "plopped").

The situations described in The Year of Billy Miller are ordinary and relatable. A misunderstanding with a teacher, a sister who damages an art project, a bout of late night fears. The situations are age-appropriate, but Henkes doesn't talk down to kids, either. Billy's father is grouchy when his art isn't going well. Billy gets blazingly angry at his sister sometimes. He figures out on his own the best way to deal with the annoying girl at school - he doesn't go to anyone for help. 

Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

"Grace Cotter slipped into her chair. Billy had known Grace since kindergarten. She was so shy she seemed almost invisible. Like vacuums, her wide eyes were sucking in everything." (Page 21)

"There's a girl named Hamster in my class," he said.
"Boy or girl?" asked Papa.
"Girl."
"Maybe her parents are celebrities," said Papa. "They often give their kids unusual names."
"Huh?" said Billy. (Page 28)

"And Sal had asked Papa if she could please, please, please use glitter, which was kept in a secret hiding place out of her reach." (Page 64)

OK, those last two passages pleased me as an adult, I must admit. But all of it is kid-friendly. I also enjoyed seeing the occasional echo of Henkes' other books (the use of "Mama" and "Papa" for one thing). I think that readers who have grown up with Henkes' books will enjoy this, too. 

In summary, I highly recommend The Year of Billy Miller. It would make a great classroom read-aloud for first or second graders, or a perfect bridge book for kids almost but not quite ready for more complex middle grade novels. This is a must-purchase for libraries (of course), but I'm glad that we have a copy to keep. I look forward to reading it with my daughter when she is just a little bit older. And to seeing her read it herself a bit after that. I hope that Henkes writes more books for this age range, and above, so that my daughter can grow up with his books. 

Publisher:  Greenwillow Books (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: September 17, 2013
Source of Book: Bought it

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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5. Ten Eggs in a Nest: Marilyn Sadler

Book: Ten Eggs in a Nest (Bright and Early Books for Beginning Readers)
Author: Marily Sadler
Illustrator: Michael Fleming
Pages: 48
Age Range: 3-7

Ten Eggs in a Nest is an early reader from the Bright and Early Books collection. In my house, we've found it to be quite educational (and fun) for a pre-reader, too. The premise of the story is that Gwen the chicken and Red Rooster are going to be parents. Out of supersition ("It's bad luck to count your eggs before they hatch.") Gwen won't tell Red how many eggs there are. As the eggs hatch, in increasing size batches (starting with one), Red rushes off to the worm store. Each time, before he gets back, there are more chicks, with a total of ten. 

This book works as an early reader. The words and sentence structure are simple (though not boring), and there is plenty of repetition. It also works as a counting and simple addition book. Like this:

"ONE plus TWO makes THREE baby chicks!" said Gwen.
ONE! TWO! THREE!"

And, laterL

"ONE plus TWO plus THREE plus FOUR makes TEN baby chicks!" clucked Gwen.

As a read-aloud, it's enjoyable, though I did find myself skimming by the fourth or fifth read. I think for new readers the repetition will provide scaffolding, and work well. The capitalizing of the text of the numbers helps to highlight those, too. 

I think what made my daughter ask to read it again (and again) was a combination of the fun of doing the counting, and the charm of Red Rooster. He's so proud when his babies are born - it's really adorable. Like this:

"Red strutted into Worm World.
He held his head high.
He puffed his chest out.
Pinky Pig was behind the counter."

There's also repeated humor when Red is surprised and says that you could have knocked him over with a feather. That, together with the "don't count your chicks before they are hatched" gives parents a chance to introduce the idea of sayings.

Michael Fleming's illustrations are boldly colored and inviting, with thick outlines and a spare use of texture. The birds are not representational, but they are all cute, especially the strutting red. My daughter noticed that the sign in Worm World is written with worm shapes, and she was quite charmed by this detail. 

all in all, Ten Eggs in a Nest is an early reader done well. It's definitely worth a look, and worth adding to school and public libraries.I look forward to trying it again when my daughter is actually ready to read. 

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids
Publication Date: January 28, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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6. Moldylocks and the Three Beards: Noah Z. Jones

Book: Princess Pink and the Land of Fake-Believe: Book 1: Moldylocks and the Three Beards
Author: Noah Z. Jones
Pages: 80 (illustrated early reader)
Age Range: 5-7

Moldylocks and the Three Beards (yes, Beards) is the first book in a new heavily illustrated early chapter book series by Noah Z. Jones called Princess Pink and the Land of Fake-Believe. Princess Pink has seven older brothers, and her parents were so happy to have a girl that they named her "Princess." Their last name is "Pink." She is the exact opposite of her name:

"Princess Pink does not like fairies. She does not like princesses. And she REALLY does not like the color pink.

Princess Pink does like dirty sneakers, giant bugs, mud puddles, monster trucks, and cheesy pizza." 

When her refrigerator turns into a portal to another world one late night, Princess finds herself in the Land of Fake-Believe. Her hair turns pink, but her new friend Moldylocks thinks that it looks cool. Hungry, she sets out with Moldylocks to visit the home of three Beards she knows, in the hope of sneaking some chili. A mix of expected and unexpected events follow, culminating in a daring rescue. And at the end, when Princess is back in her own bed, there's a suggestion that it just might have all been true. 

This series is designed to appeal to first and second grades, with a grade 2 reading level. But I have to say that my just-turned four-year-old adores Moldylocks and the Three Beards as a read-aloud. When she realized that it was a satire on Goldilocks and the Three Bears, she didn't quite get it, but she pealed with laughter anyway. She liked trying to predict what would happen next. 

But really, I do think this this is going to be a very nice series for new first and second grade readers. It's funny, and just a little gross. (Eating chili that a spider has been bathing in? Yuck! Green, moldy hair? Yuck!) It riffs on standard fairy tale tropes (there's a Mother Moose, for example, with a Tunacorn), and has entertaining illustrations. It's a nice introduction for kids to the concept of fractured fairy tales, and the way that they confound expectations. 

Princess is about as non-stereotypical as she she could be, with medium brown skin, ragged shorts, and multi-colored socks. And I have to say, she looks pretty cool with the pink hair. She runs away from the Beards at first, but goes back bravely when her new friend needs her. In short, she's a delightful heroine for the modern primary schooler. And really, despite being about a girl named Princess Pink, the story is certainly boy-friendly, too. 

Moldylocks and the Three Bears is something of an early reader/graphic novel hybrid. Much of the story is told through colorful, comic-like pictures and text call-outs. But there's traditional narrative on every page, too. Princess's words are shown in pink, while Moldylocks' are green. The girls are wide-eyed with expressive features. The Beards are a little odd, but funny. The spiders are surprisingly cute. And Moldylocks' green-tinged apron, well, that's a bit gross, but funny, too. The vocabulary is quite straightforward, and should be accessible to second graders. There are plenty of clues in the pictures as to what is going on anyway. 

In short, I think that The Land of Fake-Believe series is going to be a nice addition to the ranks of early chapter books. I've even checked online already to see when the next book will be out (not until August, alas). School and public libraries will definitely want to give Moldylocks and the Three Beards a look. Recommended!

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic
Publication Date: April 29, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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7. The Big Bad Wolf Goes on Vacation: Delphine Perret

Book: The Big Bad Wolf Goes on Vacation
Author: Delphine Perret
Pages: 64
Age Range: 4 and up 

I'm not quite sure what to make of The Big Bad Wolf Goes on Vacation, but it is definitely entertaining. It's sort of a cross between an early chapter book and a coffee table book, if you can imagine such a thing. Written by Delphine Perret, this book is a sequel to The Big Bad Wolf and Me, published in 2006. In the first book (which I haven't read), the Big Bad Wolf, named Bernard, moves in with a boy and is kept a secret from the boy's family.

In this sequel, Bernard helps the boy, Louis, with his homework and eats a lot of cookies. Bernard also begs to go along on a road trip to the beach with Louis and his grandfather. Disguised, sort of, as a dog, the Big Bad Wolf, Louis, and a tolerant grandpa, do typical road trip things (stopping for lunch, sticking their heads out of the window, pushing cows out of the road, etc.). This is all conveyed via a series of small panels on each page, with a mix of dialog and chapter titles (Chapter 9: Every five minutes, Bernard asked, "Are we THERE yet?") telling the story. 

There are running gags about Bernard's sensitivity. He doesn't like being mistaken for a dog, or being seen as not scary, even if he doesn't eat children anymore. But when he successfully chases away a yappy poodle, he is the picture of satisfaction. 

The grandfather is delightful, taking everything in stride, with only the slightest bit of teasing. At the end, when Bernard and Louis are both acting too mature to run into the ocean, the grandpa shows them how it's done.

As for Louis, he reminds me quite a lot of Willy from I MUST Have Bobo! He is drawn in a similar minimalist sketch style, with a big smiling mouth and a hint of touseled hair.  The wolf, on the other hand, is shown dark brown, with a big, toothy mouth and no visible eyes. He's a bit like a shadow. I wasn't sure at first whether or not Bernard was supposed to be imaginary. But the grandpa, and even a woman working the drive-thru, seem to see him. So I think Perret is playing this straight up. 

There's a Calvin and Hobbes feel to the panel-style illustrations, and to the quirky humor. When Bernard tells the grandpa that he's the Big Bad Wolf, grandpa responds that he is the queen of England. Or maybe King Kong. The toll ticket ends up being used as a gum wrapper. Bernard goes foraging in the woods, and comes back with ... chocolate chip cookies from a nearby vending machine. 

The Big Bad Wolf Goes on Vacation has 11 brief chapters across 64 pages, with comic-strip style illustrations. It's not quite an early reader, not quite a graphic novel. But it is funny and visually appealing. I still think it could work as a coffee table book. But it's also one that might draw in reluctant new readers (especially boys). It's definitely worth a look. Fans of the first book will certainly not want to miss it. 

Publisher: Sterling Children's Books (@SterlingKids)
Publication Date: March 5, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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8. Lunch Lady and the Video Game Villain: Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Book: Lunch Lady and the Video Game Villain: Lunch Lady #9
Author: Jarrett J. Krosoczka (@studiojjk)
Pages: 96
Age Range: 7-10 

Lunch Lady and the Video Game Villain is the ninth in Jarrett J. Krosoczka's Lunch Lady series of graphic novels. There is a lot going on in this installment. The main plotline involves Lunch Lady and Betty investigating a rash of technology thefts from around the school (including Hector's X-Station Mobile). This is set against Hector's battle with bully Milmoe in the election for class president. Milmoe has mysteriously deep-pocketed support, and his friends discover that an enemy from a previous book may be involved. Meanwhile, Principal Hernandez is concerned about an upcoming tour of the school by the new, reform-minded superintendent, a tour which turns out not to bode well for our heroic Lunch Lady. The book ends on a cliffhanger regarding Lunch Lady's future. 

In Lunch Lady and the Video Game Villain, Krosoczka spends a bit more time on plot, and a bit less time on cafeteria-themed inventions than the previous books in the series. Or so it seemed to me. There is a "Crazy-Straw Earpiece", but the spork phone is missing in action. There are also, instead, various other, more traditional, forms of technology mentioned (many of them missing), like "the latest ePad" and a "stepometer." 

However, the book still has the same feel that young readers will expect. Milmoe is still a bully, surrounded by sycophants. He says things like:

"HA! That twerp? The only thing he can beat is the latest video game of "Nofriendo"!"

There's a funny scene in which Lunch Lady and Betty set up a sting operation, and tumble out of a locker. There is byplay with the grouchy janitor, and a battle with a villain near the end of the book. It's all vintage Lunch Lady, albeit with slightly fewer gadgets, and slightly more continuing plotlines. I think that young fans will enjoy it. I know I did. Recommended!

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids
Publication Date: April 23, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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9. Starring Jules (As Herself): Beth Ain

Book: Starring Jules (As Herself)
Author: Beth Ain
Illustrator: Anne Keenan Higgins
Pages: 160
Age Range: 7-10 

Starring Jules (As Herself) is the first book in a new early chapter book series by Beth Ain. I've been hearing good things about this series, and after reading the first book, I think that Jules is going to join the ranks of Clementine and Ivy and Bean as early chapter book staples.   

As you can see on the cover image, seven-year-old Jules is full of joy. As the book begins, she sings a jingle about fizzy ice cream to her family in a cafe, catching the attention of a casting director for a mouthwash commercial. After that, realistic and over-the-top worries about her audition mix with friendship dynamics, as we spend a week in the life of Jules. 

Jules makes witty lists. She rails against the former best friend who has become too interested in sparkly, girly things. She loves turquoise. She defends her four-year-old brother (and does n-o-t call him by vegetable names, like some protagonists we know). She has a mother who is an artist, and a father who is a chef. While I don't find her quite as authentic as Clementine, she's more dramatic, and I think that kids who pride themselves in not being mainstream will particularly enjoy her. 

Here are a couple of examples of Jules' voice:

"To me, Teddy is kind of like a bouncing Super Ball. The kind that bounces so high and crazy you have to cover your head once you've let it go just so it doesn't hit you when you aren't looking. Right now, the bouncing ball is coming right for Charlotte, and Teddy bumps right into her as he comes to a stop." (Take Two)

"Both my parents talk about palates a lot, but when my dad says it, he means taste buds, and when my mom says it, she means colors. Sometimes, wonder if they know they are not talking about the same thing." (Take Three)

Fun, yes? 

The advanced  copy that I read of Starring Jules (As Herself) didn't have most of the illustrations yet in place. But if the picture on page 3 of Jules and her little brother, Big Henry, blowing bubbles in their milk is any indication, the illustrations will be as lively and vivacious as the cover image (though the interior art is not in color). Jules' quirky sense of style comes across (striped leggings, sneakers, a short skirt, and a polka-dotted shirt), as does her apparent need for constant movement. I look forward to seeing the final version, with all of the pictures. 

From talking with parents of voracious new readers, I have the impression that there is a boundless need for early chapter books with strong characters and relatable adventures. Starring Jules (As Herself) will be a welcome addition to the genre, with a likable, energetic heroine. Kids who enjoy school plays, and are enraptured by the idea of being on television, will be particularly pleased with Jules. The second book in the series, Starring Jules (in Drama-Rama) will be out in late August, just in time for the new school year.  

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic
Publication Date: March 1, 2013
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

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© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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10. Otis Dooda: Strange but True: Ellen Potter

Book: Otis Dooda: Strange but True
Author: Ellen Potter (@EllenPotter)
Illustrator: David Heatley (@heatley)
Pages: 240
Age Range: 6-10

Otis Dooda: Strange but True is, as the author told me herself, a bit of a departure from Ellen Potter's usual middle grade fare (see my reviews of Olivia Kidney and The Kneebone Boy, and also, though I have not read it, Slob). Otis Dooda is a aimed squarely at six to ten year old boys (and even more specifically at Potter's eight-year-old son and his friends). It's a heavily, cartoonishly (in a good way) illustrated chapter book, with plenty of dialog, and (if the ARC is any indication) nice big print. 

Otis Dooda is chock full of things that boys are likely to find humorous and/or cool. There is a horse disguised as a dog, with a propensity for really awful farts. There is a boy who lives in a potted plant, and casts curses on his neighbors. There is a catapult into a vat of marshmallow fluff. How does anyone think of such things? 

But let me back up a bit. Otis Dooda is an elementary school-age boy who moves with his parents and older brother (and his brother's pet rat, Smoochie) from "a dinky little town called Hog's Head" to New York City. There, Otis finds himself living on the 35th (top) floor of an apartment building populated with unusual characters. He makes friends with some kids approximately his own age, learns to ride to subway, and worries about the curse that Potted Plant Guy has called down on his head. 

There's a hint of a Diary of a Wimpy Kid feel to Otis Dooda, but Otis is aimed more directly at younger kids (younger kids read the Wimpy Kid books, but Greg Heffley is a middle schooler). Otis Dooda also has a much tighter narrative arc than the Wimpy Kid books, too, told in linear fashion over a five day period. 

Let me give you a feel for Potter's writing in Otis Dooda.

""That's it, little man," Julius said to me. "Just put it out of your mind."

He gave my shoulder a quick squeeze. 

I've seen that shoulder squeeze in movies. It's the shoulder squeeze people give to the guy who is about to walk into the Cave of Doom to fight the giant spider with the T. rex head and the mucus-dripping fangs. I'm sure you know which shoulder squeeze I mean." (The Curse of the Potted Plant Guy)

What I like about the previous quote is that you have the boy-friendly trappings, dinosaurs and mucus-dripping fangs and so on. But you also have something universally insightful. Can't you picture that shoulder-squeeze?This is what you get when you take an author who has written more traditional novels, but also has an actual 8 year old son, and a sense of humor. 

Or take this:

"The subway zombies really freaked me out. Plus, I started thinking about how there were only four more days until the next full moon, and then I got even more freaked out. So when I came home I started working on my Lego inventions. That always calms me down. I think it's the way everything fits together so perfectly. I wish my life was more like that." (Psycho Weiner Blaster).

Ah, Otis, who doesn't wish that? Then he builds a Psycho Weiner Blaster and shoots soy weiners at a new (fortunately nimble) friend. I think you get the idea. While not all of the humor in Otis Dooda quite resonates with me as an adult female reader, I suspect that the target audience is going to love it. 

Otis is a protagonist (I really can't call him a hero, exactly) who kids will be able to relate to. He declares himself "sort of average." He doesn't get along with his older brother. He gets made fun of, but not mercilessly. He learns from his mistakes (and they are over-the-top, hilarious mistakes, not at all "sort of average"). 

I have some slight concern that, as drawn by David Heatley, Otis might be a little too cute. Can you see him on the cover? Blond hair and big eyes and a little smirk on his face? I think he's adorable. Which may or may not resonate with your average 8 year old boy. Not to worry, though. His mom and brother are unattractive enough to create balance.

In all seriousness, though, the illustrations are perfect for the book, and perfect for an audience that might not be quite ready for non-illustrated novels. My favorite picture is a scene in which Otis has trouble sleeping (spooked by the Potted Plant Guy's curse). Four panels show Otis lying in bed, then dumping out a cardboard box, cutting eye holes in it, and then sitting in it on his bed, worried eyes visible. He's saying: "I hope there are no illustrations of this." Snort!

Setting out to make 8 year old boys laugh, as Ellen Potter has done here, is a great goal, I think. And I think that Otis Dooda: Strange but True succeeds in that goal (though I have no young boys on which to test that theory directly). I would say that Otis Dooda is a must-purchase for elementary school libraries. It's also well worth a look for parents trying to find the right book to hook their young boys on reading. I hope that it will be the first of a series. Highly recommended for the target audience (though perhaps not so appealing, for, say, 10 year old girls who like realistic fiction). I'll be keeping it on my list of gift books for boys.

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends (@MacKidsBooks)
Publication Date: June 4, 2013
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the author

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© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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11. The Five Series I Most Look Forward to Reading with My Daughter

FiveSeriesI wrote a couple of weeks ago about my three-year-old daughter's newly expressed interest in being read chapter books, in addition to her regular diet of picture books and early readers. I asked people on the post and on Facebook to share titles that they had read with their children while were still pre-readers. I collected a number of titles, and was especially pleased to be reminded of a post that Melissa Wiley wrote a couple of years on this very topic (Chapter book suggestions for a four-year-old). Out of these suggestions, and my own opinions, I've come up with a list of the top five series I most look forward to reading with my daughter. They are (in approximate age order):

1. The Clementine Books by Sara Pennypacker (ill. Marla Frazee). I absolutely adore Clementine. I think she is a wonderful character, and that the books are spot on in terms of both realism and humor. Frazee's illustrations perfectly capture Clementine for me, too. And there are enough illustrations that I think Baby Bookworm will be ready for the first book soon. In fact I just ordered a new copy, because I apparently gave mine away (back in the days before I knew that I'd have a daughter to read it to, I suspect). And as a bonus, the books are set in Boston, where my family's pro sports loyalties will forever lie. 

2. The Pippi Longstocking Books by Astrid Lindgren. My daughter has a 3-year-old's love of the ridiculous. I think that she'll be as charmed by the irrepressible Pippi as I was. And perhaps she'll be inspired by the way that Pippi solves her own problems. Pippi gives new meaning to the term "strong girl." My second grade class did Pippi as a class play, with my friend Holly as Pippi (her real braids manipulated out to the sides with a coat hanger or something). I was Annika, and I'll never forget it. 

I also splurged on the DVD boxed set of the four Pippi movies from the 1970s. This was more for me than for Baby Bookworm, in truth (though she adores movies), because I have fond memories of my dad taking my siblings and I (or probably just my next-youngest brother and I) to see them in the theater. Pippi in the South Seas was my favorite of the movies, and I look forward to seeing it again (after we read the book). 

3. The Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder (ill. Garth Williams). This was the first series that I remember reading on my own, devouring book after book. Little House in the Big Woods will forever be the first middle grade title that Baby Bookworm expressed a serious interest in reading (admittedly inspired by Little House in the Big Woods paper dolls). So it is naturally on our Top 5 list. But as we've progressed in attempting to read the first book, it's become clear that she's more interested in hearing the stories associated with some of the pictures than in actually listening to the whole book right now. No worries. The books will wait. 

4. The Penderwicks Books by Jeanne Birdsall. I adore The Penderwicks. To me these books are modern classics, with the characterization and emotional resonance of the Elizabeth Enright books (childhood favorites of mine), but with a more up-to-date feel. Clearly 4-year-old Batty will be Baby Bookworm's favorite character, if we read the books any time within the next few years, but I imagine that one day she will identify with Jane or Skye or eventually Rosalind. These are books I'd like to read with her while she's in elementary school, when she's old enough to discuss Rosalind's crush, and Jeffrey's loneliness. But young enough to feel the endless potential of summer in the first book. 

5. The Harry Potter Books by J.K. Rowling (ill. Mary GrandPre). OK, this one is a bit of a cliche. But really, who doesn't look forward to reading the Harry Potter books with their child? I did, in fact, read Baby Bookworm the first book when she was an infant, but I look forward to her being old enough to appreciate the story. I don't want to start too soon, because the later books are pretty dark, and I know that once we start we're likely to want to keep going. But I do look forward to spending time with my daughter in Harry Potter's world. In fact, I think this one will be a family affair, because I can't imagine my husband not wanting to participate, too. 

There are lots of other books that I hope to read with my Baby Bookworm when the time is right. I hope that she will be as captivated by the work of Elizabeth Enright and Zilpha Keatley Snyder as I was, and am. I imagine that she'll love The Borrowers. I hope that she doesn't find A Little Princess or The Secret Garden dated. I hope that we are able to read book after book after book together. I think that there are some books that she'll enjoy more if she discovers them on her own (though I can't say which ones off the top of my head). But the above five are the series that I am most looking forward to sharing with her. Perhaps in a future post I'll look at some standalone titles (Matilda, perhaps?).

What books do you look forward to reading aloud with your children? What books did you enjoy when they were younger? If you've already been through it, don't you kind of envy me, having all of these books still ahead of us? An unintentional upside to having a child late in life. Thanks for reading!

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate. 

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12. Iggy Loomis, Superkid in Training: Jennifer Allison & Mike Moran

Book: Iggy Loomis, Superkid in Training
Author: Jennifer Allison (@GildaJoyce)
Illustrator: Mike Moran (@MikeMoran_illo)
Pages: 208
Age Range: 7-10

Iggy Loomis, Superkid in Training is a very fun early chapter book for kids. The narrator is Daniel, an elementary school age boy, and the title character is Daniel's toddler brother, Iggy. Daniel has enough trouble sharing a room with Iggy when the main issues are broken toys, temper tantrums, and, well, pee. But after an encounter with aliens leaves Iggy with superpowers, things get really out of hand. 

Iggy Loomis, Superkid in Training is a perfect transitional book for kids ready to move on from easy readers, but not quite ready for text dense middle grade titles. The print is big enough to be easy on the eyes (while still feeling grown up), and at least every other page spread features one of more of Mike Moran's cartoon-like illustrations. 

Jennifer Allison's writing is kid-friendly in both level of action (high) and tone. Here are the first few sentences of the book:

"I knew it would happen eventually, but I didn't think my nightmare would come true quite so soon. Well, it happened today: My parents decided to move my little brother, Iggy, into my bedroom.

Big deal, Daniel, you're probably thinking. Lots of kids have to share bedrooms with their brothers and sisters and they don't whine about it. A few of them even like it." (Page 3)

I liked how she slipped in Daniel's name without it being boring: "Hi, I'm Daniel, and..." This is quite a departure from Jennifer Allison's Gilda Joyce series, but I do think that her experience in plotting shows through. 

There's also a fair bit of dialog from Iggy and his twin sister, Dottie, which I found reasonably toddler-realistic, without being annoying. Like this:

"Why dis not working??!!!! Dis make me so angwy!!!: (Page 5, but shown in the book in all caps in a text bubble)

The text in general isn't slapstick-funny, but it is has kind of a world-weary humor to it that I think will work well with 7 and 8 year olds. Like this:

"Chauncey owns night-vision goggles, high-powered binoculars, and disguises, but playing spy games with him is never fun because he won't share any of his cool spy gear. Besides, he only spies on people who already know he's watching them and who wish he would just leave them alone. What Chauncey enjoys most about spying is making other people mad." (Page 42-43)

And, of course, as long as we're discussing kid-friendliness, there are cool gadgets, weird-looking aliens, and a spaceship that reflects the mental priorities of a two-year-old.

Moran's illustrations add tremendously to the book. They bring to life wide-eyed Daniel, underpant-wearing, bug-eating Iggy, and a refrigerator full of foods made only from broccoli. Most of the pictures are small, integrated into the text, a la today's notebook novels, while others are more like full panel graphic novel excerpts. Fans of the Lunch Lady series will certainly enjoy Iggy Loomis, Superkid in Training. It would also pair well with Ellen Potter's Otis Dooda, Strange But True

Elementary school librarians will definitely want to scoop up Iggy Loomis, Superkid in Training. It's terrific fun for newly independent readers looking to branch out on their own. It's also boy-friendly without resorting to much potty humor, which the adults may find refreshing. My only real complaint is that while Iggy and Daniel are fairly well fleshed out, I would have liked to know more about Dottie. But perhaps that will be remedied in a future book. And I do hope that there are future books. Highly recommended. 

Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers (@PenguinKids)
Publication Date: September 12, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the author

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This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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13. Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry: Jennifer Ann Mann

Book: Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry
Author: Jennifer Ann Mann (@jenannmann)
Pages: 208
Age Range: 8-12

Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry by Jennifer Ann Mann is the start of a new series featuring an older sister (5th grade) and a younger sister (1st grade), with an amped-up level of sibling rivarly. There are Beezus and Ramona references on the cover, and I can see the comparison, but I found Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry to be more over-the-top than Cleary's books. Fun, to be sure, but not the most realistic of realistic fiction. 

Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry begins as older sister Masha (the first-person narrator) wakes up to find her head glued to the pillow, and a bunch of plastic flowers glued to her head/hair. Way up at the root, where they can't be cut out. She learns that her genius of a younger sister, Sunny, has invented a new, and basicallly impossible to unstick, glue. Needless to say, Masha is not happy. What follows are a series of escapades over the course of the day involving Masha and Sunny, their elderly Chinese neighbor, the local hospital, and Masha's problematic hair. 

Things I liked about this book:

  • Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry could actually work for a fairly broad age range. Masha is in 5th grade, but she's kind of a young fifth grader, and this book is accessible to 7 and 8 year olds. There are a few illustrations, perhaps one per chapter, but not so many as you would find in Clementine or the like. Masha does have social problems fitting in at school, too. This means that Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry is ok for younger kids, but should also work for 10 year old readers who want something light. 
  • Although there are modern touches, like cell phones, Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry has an old-fashioned feel, particularly in the relative freedom that Masha and Sunny experience throughout the day (though it's not that their mother intended this freedom). Sunny is a particularly competent (if annoying to her sister) six-year-old. 
  • Sunny and Masha live with their single mother, but any mentions of their dad indicate that he's an upstanding member of society, not some deadbeat. It's apparently not clear to Masha why her mother divorced her father, but I thought it was a realistic single-parent situation. 
  • Later in the book, Masha meets a number of hospitalized children, and becomes friends with one of them. The descriptions of the children's ailments are realistic, but not overly scary. It's nice to see disabled or sick children as regular kids.

I did, knowing a bit about hospitals, find some of the hospital dynamics a bit implausible. For instance, the hospital staff goes to quite a bit of trouble to try to remove the plastic flowers from Masha's head, when it's not really clear that there's any medical issue (let alone discussion of insurance or payment). Actually, this all added to the old-fashioned feel of the book for me. I can imagine a community hospital of years gone by working this way, perhaps... This didn't really take away from my enjoyment of the book, but it certainly contributed to my impression of it as over-the-top vs. strictly realistic fiction.

Anyway, I did like Masha. She's plausible as the put-upon older sibling of a child who is not normal (Sunny's over-sized IQ). Here's Masha's voice:

"Sunny had to go to school, and my mom had to go to work. She had some huge meeting that she was stressed about. She always had some huge meeting she was stressed about. you could never say this to her, though. If you did, she'd remind you about how she's got a lot on her plate, blah, blah, blah, and make you feel all guilty--like it was my big idea to divorce my dad and move to another state." (Page 24, ARC)

"An ER waiting room is such a weird place. All the people are quiet, as if they're in a library, but they aren't working or reading, they're just slumped in chairs. It's like some kind of misery library." (Page 47, ARC)

Masha is not popular. She's actually pretty much invisible at school. But she maintains a healthy sense of self. And Sunny... Sunny is an "evil genius", but she's also a six year old who cries if her sister hurts her feelings. She figures things out, and has reasons (even if they are unusual) for the things that she does. I look forward to seeing what she's going to come up with next. Book 2 is due out in May, and appears to take up immediately where Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry leaves off. 

I think that Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry will be a welcome addition to the ranks of early chapter books, bridging the gap between Clementine and The Penderwicks. Masha and Sunny's adventures are funny, and they are both strong-willed and independent. Recommended in particular for elementary school libraries. 

Publisher:  Bloomsbury USA Children's (@BWKids)
Publication Date: October 1, 2013
Source of Book: Advanced review copy from the publisher, picked up at KidLitCon

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This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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14. Spark: Kallie George & Genevieve Cote

Book: Spark
Author: Kallie George
Illustrator: Geneviève Côté 
Pages: 44
Age Range: 5-8

Spark is a delightful easy reader by Kallie George and Geneviève Côté, the first of a new series from Simply Read Books. It consists of five short chapters, with extensive color illustrations. Spark is about a young dragon who struggles to control his flames. His parents attempt three lessons (the middle chapters) to teach him flame-breath management, but nothing works. Spark is simply not ready. But sometimes time is all you need. And when Spark's birthday rolls around, he's ready to give it another try. 

What I like about Spark is that although it's meant for new readers, it's plenty interesting enough to hold a child's attention. Spark is a sympathetic character. Five year old readers will probably be savvy enough to understand the parallels with potty training or learning to ride a bike, but the message of waiting until you are ready remains secondary to Spark's personality. There's humor in Spark aimed at parents, too, which is always appreciated in a book that's likely to be read over and over again. For example:

"Spark tried to be careful.
It was hard.

ACHOO!
He set his hankie on fire.

COUGH! COUGH!
He set some leaves on fire.

Mama got a book:
How to Tame Flames

Mama and Papa both read it."

Yes, what parent hasn't turned to a book for help with something?

Spark is relatively advanced in terms of vocabulary for an early reader. There are words like "crackle", "marshmallow", and "phoenix". But many of the more challenging words are repeated multiple times through the book, and are made clear by Côté's illustrations. 

These illustrations are beautiful. The dragons are drawn with a thick pencil outline, and then filled in with watercolor. This gives the pictures the appearance of something a child could have done. Except that your average child won't be able to use facial expressions to convey mood, and add humor. Spark's birthday party is a particularly joyous celebration, populated by whimsical creatures (including a "troll" who looks a lot like a regular boy). I challenge any five year old not to relate to and enjoy Spark. 

Highly recommended for home or library use. I look forward to future books in this planned series. I also look forward to reading Spark with my daughter tonight before bed. Simply lovely. 

Publisher: Simply Read Books (@simplyreadbooks)
Publication Date: November 30, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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15. Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta: Jarrett J. Krosoczka: Middle Grade Graphic Novel

Book: Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta
Author: Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Pages: 96
Age Range: 8-12 

LunchladyLunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta is the third book in Jarrett J. Krosoczka's series of "Lunch Lady" graphic novels for middle grade readers. I reviewed the first two books back in September, and found this one quite similar (as early elementary school kids are likely to want from their series reading). In this installment, school lunch lady and secret crime fighter Lunch Lady notices odd behavior by a visiting children's book author, Mr. Scribson. This behavior may or may not be tied to the mysterious disappearance of the school gym teacher, Coach Birkby. Meanwhile, the three students in the Breakfast Bunch track down Mr. Scribson's home, in an attempt to right a wrong done by Scribson to long-time fan Terrence. Danger ensues.

Scribson is an entertaining character, a hilariously atypical children's book author. He doesn't eat cafeteria food (only gourmet for him), doesn't allow photos during his visit, and says things like "Now, children, I am an author--one who writes books. Some say that I am the greatest author all time." He also lives in a huge, gated mansion, attended by servants. [I'm sure that many of the children's book authors reading this will find Scribson's financial success familiar -- grin. You'll also suspect that he's up to no good when the gym teacher says "I have a few ideas for some books" and Scribson says "I'd love to hear about them."]

Like the previous books, Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta is filled with clever, kitchen-themed gadgets designed by Lunch Lady's sidekick, Betty. I especially liked the Hamburger Headphones and the Mustard Grappling Hook. Of course the Mole Communicator remains a hit, too. Lunch Lady still sprinkles her speech with food-themed exclamations, like "Good Gravy!" and "Great Brussels sprouts!". And the three children remain brave and resourceful (young boys will especially appreciate their technique for saving the day in the Author Visit Vendetta).  

Some of the humor in Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta, as is fitting for a graphic novel, lies in the pictures, rather than the words. For example, a glimpse into Couch Birkby's living room reveals a rack of basketballs. Krosoczka's illustrations are active and engaging, with people's expressions particularly well-rendered.

In short, Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta is an excellent addition to the Lunch Lady series, sure to please young graphic novel fans. As I said in my review of the previous books in the series, I highly recommend the Lunch Lady books for Babymouse fans (especially boys, since the Lunch Lady books are, well, less pink). This book in particular is also sure to entertain children's book authors of all ages, and would make a nice gift for them, too.

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: December 22, 2009
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: None that I found. But did you hear that Lunch Lady is going to be made into a movie?

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16. Clementine: Friend of the Week: Sara Pennypacker

Book: Clementine: Friend of the Week
Author: Sara Pennypacker (blog)
Illustrator: Marla Frazee
Pages: 176
Age Range: 7-10

Clementine I'm a big fan of the Clementine series (see here and here). I consider all of the books must-read titles for early elementary school kids (say, first to third grade). When Clementine: Friend of the Week showed up on my doorstep, I figured "it's never too early to introduce Baby Bookworm to Clementine." So I read it aloud to her over the past few weeks. Reading aloud in small doses (babies will fall asleep when you read to them) is a different experience than swallowing a book in one sitting. But equally satisfying.

Clementine: Friend of the Week finds our heroine on top of the world, happy to have been named "Friend of the Week" in her third grade classroom. That person "gets to be the leader of everything and tell all about themselves. And everybody has to say why it's so great to have that person around." At the end of the week, they write down good things about the person for a take-home booklet.

Although Margaret convinces Clementine that she's going to have to ingratiate herself with her classmates, to encourage them to write nice things about her in the booklet, Clementine fans won't be worried about that. They will worry, however, when Clementine's beloved cat, Moisturizer, goes missing.

The second part of the book, in which Clementine searches for her lost cat, is both emotional and nerve-wracking. A friend warned me on Facebook (I don't recall who it was now) that for older kids, this book probably needs to be read in one sitting. Not a problem when reading to a 10-month-old, but good advice for teachers and librarians reading the book aloud.

And you should read Clementine: Friend of the Week aloud. Because the true beauty of this series is Clementine's voice. She is funny and witty and has the biggest heart in the world. She still calls her brother by vegetable names (which is only fair, since she has to have a fruit name), and considers him to be a bit of a disappointment. She sounds like a real third-grader (though perhaps a bit more creative than most). 

Here's my favorite passage:

"I could feel my inside face melting into a big secret smile, and I forgot all about the compliment-thinking-up." (Page 37)

I didn't flag any other passages as I was reading aloud, because I figured that I could always go back, flip through the book at random, and find something worth quoting on any page. Let's try (opening book at random):

"Mrs. Rice sighed. "How about this. How about, the next time you decide to share your artistic talents with your friends, you do it on paper?" (after Clementine draws tattoos on her classmates)

I didn't want to embarrass Mrs. Rice by pointing out that tattoos don't work very well on paper, so I just said, "Sure, next time I will. Thanks for the great idea." Then I told the great idea I'd had." (Page 73-74)

And one more (again choosing a page at random):

"Anyone who

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17. Squish #1: Super Amoeba: Jennifer L. Holm and Matt Holm

Book: Squish #1: Super Amoeba
Authors: Jennifer L. Holm and Matt Holm
Pages: 96
Age Range: 7-10

Squish The Babymouse series has a new spin-off. Arising out of a sample of pond water in Babymouse #14: Mad Scientist we have Squish: Super Amoeba. Although Squish is an amoeba, and lives in a world filled with paramecia, slime molds, flatworms, and the like, he's also just a regular guy. He goes to school. He likes comic books. He wears a baseball cap. He tries to be brave. He loves Twinkies. And he has two best friends, mooch Pod and relentless optimist Peggy.

As with the Babymouse books, my favorite parts of Squish: Super Amoeba are when the narrator makes smart-aleck remarks (this is probably because I can never resist the smart-aleck rejoinder myself). Like:

  • In a drawing of Squish's room, showing his dresser: "What's in there, anyway? It's not like he wears clothes."
  • And, in a panel showing Squish in science class we see: "smart at science"; "bad at paying attention"; and "never learns."

I also quite like Peggy ("she's like a ray of sunshine", says the narrator). Her exclamation points and sweetness are completely over the top, but they work, somehow. Pod is a total mooch, and an unrepentant geek - the kind of kid that a nice guy really can end up best friends with. For a bow-tie-wearing amoeba, he's a pretty realistic kid.

In Squish: Super Amoeba, there is a bad guy, because "Amoebas come in all shapes and sizes, just like snowflakes! (Some are pure evil!). There are some fantasy sequences, in which Squish imagines himself to be the comic book hero Super Amoeba. The fantasy sequences are helpfully colored in gray, while the main narrative is black, white, and green - this helps the reader to keep things straight. After all, when one is reading a book about an amoeba who sits in a beanbag chair and reads comic books, it's helpful to know which sequences are meant to be fantasy, and which are the everyday reality ;-)

Squish: Super Amoeba is, as you would expect, pretty much along the same mold (no pun intended) as the Babymouse series. It's a bit more of a buddy story (Babymouse is pretty much the total star of her show), and I think that's a good addition. And, of course, the green coloring, and the presence of molds and worms, makes Squish a bit more boy-friendly than the pink-and-black Babymouse books (though I personally think that either series could work perfectly well for kids of either gender).

In short, I think that Squish is going to be a hit with the early-to-middle elementary school set. He's a likeable character, with entertaining sidekicks, in a setting that's a fun mix of typical and unexpected. I'll be interested to see how the series evolves, in terms of taking advantage of unique traits of amoebae and their microscopic brethren. Recommended, and a must-purchase for libraries.

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: May 10, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinso

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18. The Fenway Foul-Up: Ballpark Mysteries: David A. Kelly

Book: The Fenway Foul-Up: Ballpark Mysteries, Book 1 (WorldCat)
Author: David A. Kelly
Illustrator: Mark Meyers
Pages: 112
Age Range: 7-10

Fenway Regular readers of this blog will understand that I was unable to resist reading The Fenway Foul-Up, the first book in David A. Kelly's new Ballpark Mysteries series. This is a Stepping Stone book for newer readers, with roughly two illustrations per chapter. There are also "Dugout Notes" at the end of the book that fill in more details about Fenway Park.

Cousins Mike Walsh and Kate Hopkins have great seats and all-access passes to Fenway Park during a Red Sox game against the Oakland A's, courtesy of Kate's mom, a sports reporter. When someone steals the lucky bat of star slugger Big D, Kate and Mike set out to solve the mystery. They follow clues (including a red herring or two), while lamenting Big D's poor performance without the lucky bat. Then hasten to solve the mystery in time to give Big D a chance to save the game.

As a Red Sox fan, I personally didn't learn too many new things about Fenway (except about some secret writing on the scoreboard, hidden in plain sight, which I had never heard of). But I appreciated the fact that there was a knuckleball pitcher (with "field" in his name), and that the presence of Wally the monster played a part in the events of the story. I enjoyed passages like:

""The field looks so much bigger when you're down here," Kate said. "I can't imagine hitting a home run all the way over that wall."

Kate was right. The field did seem bigger. Mike couldn't believe he was walking on the same grass that the Red Sox played on. It was like a dream come true." (Page 92, ARC)

I especially liked one scene in which the kids are able to visit the pressroom, with open windows out to the infield. The behind-the-scenes look at the park is a lot of fun. Overall, I think Kelly did a good job balancing information-sharing (about baseball in general, and Fenway park specifically) with plot (a challenge in books for this age group).

As for the plot itself, I thought that the solution to the crime was inventive, and the aftermath satisfying for young readers. I did identify the culprit quite early, which is not my favorite thing as an adult reader, but I think that if any young readers do this, it will probably make them feel smart. And even once you know who committed the crime, there's still a question of how, which resolves much later in the book. There's a nice "clue follows from clue logic" to how Mike and Kate go about solving the crime.

Mark Meyers' black and white sketches help bring the characters to life (especially secondary characters like Bobby the Bat Boy). There is plenty of white space, and reasonable amounts of dialog, italics, and exclamation points, all of which should make this book non-threatening to relatively new readers.

All in all, I think that The Fenway Foul-Up is a solid start to The Ballpark Mysteries series for new readers. Baseball fans will like the behind-the-scenes peek at the parks, and the extra information in the Dugout Notes. Mystery fans will like working alongside Mik

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19. Ghost Buddy #1: Zero to Hero: Henry Winkler & Lin Oliver

Book: Ghost Buddy #1: Zero to Hero
Author: Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver
Pages: 176
Age Range: 8-12

ImagesZero to Hero is the first book in the new Ghost Buddy series by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver (who are also partners in the Hank Zipzer series). When 11-year-old Billy Broccoli (go ahead, make whatever joke you feel compelled to make) moves into an old house with his new step-family, he quickly learns that he'll be sharing his room with a ghost.

Fourteen-year-old Hoover Porterhouse the Third, 99 years dead, is on probation. According to the higher-ups, he has one more year in which to improve his scores in Responsibility and Helping Others, or else. Meanwhile, Hoove isn't allowed to leave the original boundaries of his family's ranchero. He is, however, strongly encouraged to help Billy Broccoli. And Billy, who is starting a new middle school, and lacks even an ounce of coolness, can definitely use the help.

What follows is part buddy-story, part middle-school makeover tale, and part "how will we triumph over the neighborhood bully?" adventure. Although Billy is in middle school, Zero to Hero appears to be aimed more at 8-10 year olds. There aren't illustrations in the book, and the vocabulary is reasonably advanced, but there's still a younger feel to the story (helped out by the occasional pun). Here are a couple of examples:

"Billy was relieved, because he was not a guy who loved danger. At the top of his list of least favorite things were scary movies, bumpy airplane rides, bungee jumping, roller coasters, creepy or sad clowns, and anything that popped up at him. As a matter of fact, when he was five and a half, he'd smashed his jack-in-the-box to bits with his slipper." (Page 18)

"The thumping sounds of five girls playing the bass all at once streamed out of the basement window and hung in the air around the Hoove's tree. He covered his ears to block out the sound, but didn't do any good because his hands had no matter to them. They just didn't matter." (Page 75)

""Oh, sorry," he started to say, until he realized it was Ruby Baker, the girl with the bouncing blond ponytail who had witnessed not one, but two of the most embarrassing moments of his entire life. Billy realized that this was a perfect opportunity to create a different impression on her, and he racked his brain for something to say. Ruby beat him to it." (Page 77)

Ghost Buddy #1: Zero to Hero is not a literary novel. The characters tend toward stereotypes (particularly Billy's parents and stepsister). The setting is only lightly sketched in. There's a bit more telling vs. showing than one might prefer. However, Zero to Hero is highly kid-friendly. Billy is relatable, in all his insecurities and mis-steps. Hoove's ghostly pranks are funny, and especially likely to appeal to boys. Zero to Hero reminds me a bit of Jordan Sonnenblick's Dodger series (see my reviews of Dodger and Me and Dodger for President), though not quite so over-the-top.

I thi

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20. Lunch Lady and the Mutant Mathletes: Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Book: Lunch Lady and the Mutant Mathletes
Author: Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Pages: 96
Age Range: 7-10 

LL7~~element69Lunch Lady and the Mutant Mathletes is the 7th book in Jarrett J. Krosoczka's Lunch Lady series of graphic novels for younger readers. I reviewed several of the earlier books in the series (see here for a review of Books 5 and 6, for example). I find myself without much new to say about Book 7, so I shall be brief.

In this installment, the Breakfast Bunch (Hector, Terrence, and Dee) are punished for a previous infraction (skipping out on a museum tour, see Book 6) by being forced to join the school Mathletes team. Though initially resistant ("Who would voluntarily choose to do math after school? You'd have to be insane."), the trio soon rises to the challenge (inspired by the nastiness of a cut-throat team from a nearby private school). Their success turns into danger, however, when their competitors turn out to be ... mutant mathletes.

Although it's been a while since I read the other books in the series, this one struck me as a tiny bit more lesson-y than the others, with text like "Like it or not, math is everywhere you go", and page after page of (kid-friendly) examples of math questions in the competitions. 

Still, Krosoczka maintains his trademark humor. When Dee answers her first competition question correctly, she says: "It's seventy... Not like I care." The janitor is still grouchy (even as he saves the day). The cafeteria food is still sometimes questionable (powdered eggs, gravy for fish sticks). And Lunch Lady and her sidekick Betty still have tons of food-themed spy inventions. Like the "Pineapple Mace", the "Mustard Grappling Hook", and a "Licorice Rope". 

I also have to say that as someone who was briefly on the math team (in 7th grade), it is nice to see the Mathletes emerge as the heroes of the school. The Lunch Lady books tend to put a positive spin on geek-dom (with the school bully a not-so-bright football player), but Lunch Lady and the Mutant Mathletes goes a step further, making the math team downright cool.

Fans of the series won't want to miss Lunch Lady and the Mutant Mathletes. If you haven't read the previous books, I do recommend going back to the beginning. Not that you won't be able to figure out what's going on in Book 7, but you'll miss out on a lot of fun. Recommended for younger readers, ages 7 and up. 

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: March 27, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

21. Oddfellow's Orphanage: Emily Winfield Martin

Book: Oddfellow's Orphanage
Author: Emily Winfield Martin (@MsEmilyApple)
Pages: 144
Age Range: 7-10 

Oddfellow's Orphanage is a quick read aimed at younger chapter book readers. While not a traditional fantasy, Emily Winfield Martin incorporates fantastical elements, such as carriages drawn by trained bears, and a boy with the head of a large onion. There are frequent illustrations intermixed with the text (and drawn by the author), which help to bring these elements to life (particularly the portraits of each character). 

Oddfellow's Orphanage begins as young Delia, a newly orphaned albino girl who doesn't speak, arrives at the orphanage. A series of small domestic events follow (such as Delia's recovery of a lost baby bear, and a bout of bad temper on the part of one of the other boys). The orphanage itself is highly idealized (in an entertaining contrast with most books about orphanages). The children are fed delicious food (including pancakes shaped like tiny rabbits) and are cared for by loving adults. Their rooms are given warm personal touches. And if one of the "children" is actually a hedgehog, well, this is taken in stride by everyone. 

The tone of Oddfellow's Orphanage is a mix of over-the-top humor and nostalgia. Like this:

"Felix came to the orphanage after his parents were laid low by a poisoned cake that came as a gift from one of his father's business rivals. He hid in the kitchen cupboard when the ambulance came, and then lived alone (rather well) until neighbors spotted him sneaking home with a sack of groceries. When Oddfellow Bluebeard came to fetch him, the scrawny boy kicked and shouted and then promptly dissolved into a puddle of tears over the headmaster's great shoulder." (Page 40)

While I found "puddle of tears" a bit trite, I liked the mental image of the orphan just quietly living on his own until being discovered.

Oddfellow's Orphanage is not your typical early chapter book. The vocabulary is relatively advanced ("vermilion", "scattered", "rippled", etc.), and pictures have an old-fashioned feel. But there is plenty of age-appropriate wish fulfillment (a midnight adventure, a "grand picnic", a lake monster). The characterization, while not deep, is consistent, and sufficient to enable young readers to keep the various children distinct in their minds. And the illustrations are delightful.

Oddfellow's Orphanage doesn't really have a plot. It's a string of events from when Delia arrives at the orphanage one spring night up to the arrival of another orphan on New Year's Eve. There are a few small conflicts, but these are resolved VERY quickly (as when one child almost runs away with the circus, but realizes on his own that his family is at the orphanage). Most of the scenes depicted are (metaphorically speaking) rose-colored (particularly those surrounding Christmas). Like this:

"As Delia climbed into bed, she saw snow falling outside the window. She felt so cozy tucked in her bedcovers, she imagined she was a tiny girl nestled inside a warm matchbox. Delia heard the nighttime peeps of the finches and heard Ava whisper "Good night" before they all drifted off to sleep thinking of Christmas morning.

Ava dreamed she lived in a giant gingerbread house, and Delia dreamed she was small enough to ride on the back of a finch." (Page 109)

Oddfellow's Orphanage is a gingerbread house of a book, really, filled with quirky sweetness. While I personally prefer books that have more of a plot, and more conflict, I think that younger readers of quiet temperament will enjoy spending some time at Oddfellow's Orphanage

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: January 24, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

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22. Clementine and the Family Meeting: Sara Pennypacker

Book: Clementine and the Family Meeting
Author: Sara Pennypacker (@sarapennypacker)
Illustrator: Marla Frazee
Pages: 176
Age Range: 7-10 

I've said it before, and I'm sure that I'll say it again. I LOVE Clementine. The Clementine books, written by Sara Pennypacker and illustrated by Marla Frazee, are hands down my favorite series for early elementary school kids. They are perfect for second or third graders, either for a classroom read-aloud or for independent reading. 

In Clementine and the Family Meeting, Clementine and her brother learn (this is not much of a spoiler - the reveal happens in chapter two) that their mother is going to have another baby. Brussell Sprout doesn't know how to react to this news, but Clementine does. And she is N-O-T NOT happy. Will the best efforts of Clementine's Dad, her school principal, and her understanding teacher be enough to help Clementine to accept the coming change? Fans will just have to see.

Here are some reasons why I loved Clementine and the Family Meeting:

  • The father-daughter relationship is pitch-perfect.
  • Clementine feels real, from her itchy skin to have bruised legs. 
  • Clementine is determinedly herself at all times. When her best friend Margaret starts to act older (wearing makeup and such), Clementine feels sad, but has absolutely no interest in making such changes herself.
  • Marla Frazee's illustrations capture Clementine, and her developing young brother, perfectly. 
  • Clementine loves science, and spends a lot of time thinking about her school science project (and worrying about her lost experiment rat). 
  • While Clementine does start to warm up to the idea of her new sibling, she does this slowly and believably. There's no magic switch turned. And no preachiness. 

Really, as with all of the other books in the series, it comes down to Clementine's voice. Here are a few of the many quotes that I flagged:

"Whenever Margaret talks about makeup, I feel exactly the way I felt when we took my grandparents to the airport so they could move to Florida: lonely. Even though Margaret isn't going anywhere, when she talks about makeup, I feel like I'm back at the airport again and she's getting on a plane for a long trip to somewhere without me." (Page 4-5)

""What's on the agenda?" I asked. Agenda is Latin for "list of stuff to talk about," so when you say it, you're saving your mouth a lot of work. Plus, you sound smart." (Page 21)

"I heaved such a deep sigh into my mug that my hot chocolate sloshed. Waiting is my hardest thing." (Page 22)

I could go on, but you get the idea. The Clementine books in general are must-read titles for new-to-chapter-book readers. Clementine and the Family Meeting lives up to its predecessors, and would be a particularly good fit for any child facing a change in their family structure. Fans of the series will not want to miss it. And if you haven't gotten to know Clementine yet, all I can say is: what are you waiting for? Highly recommended for all readers, age 7 and up (also suitable for read-aloud to younger children - I can't wait until Baby Bookworm is old enough). 

Publisher: Hyperion Books for Children (@DisneyHyperion)
Publication Date: September 13, 2011
Source of Book: Bought it with a birthday gift card

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

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23. Penny and Her Doll: Kevin Henkes

Book: Penny and Her Doll
Author: Kevin Henkes
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4 and up 

Penny and Her Doll is the second book in a new easy reader series from Kevin Henkes (after Penny and Her Song). I missed the first book, but I was happy when the second one turned up on our doorstep, because we LOVE Henkes' "mouse books" in my house. While the most famous of these is Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse, my 2 1/2 year old favors the titles from A Box of Treats, little holiday treats featuring Lilly and several of her friends. We know them all by heart.

Anyway, Penny and Her Doll is about young mouse Penny, big sister to a pair of twin babies, who receives a beautiful new doll in the mail from Gram. Penny is thrilled with the doll, but finds coming up with an appropriate name for this new family member a bit of a challenge. Not to worry, though, she finds the perfect name in the end. 

Although this story is aimed at new readers, I have to say that Baby Bookworm adores it. As do I. I think that this speaks to Henkes' considerable skill. Many easy readers are so pared down that they aren't interesting to anyone, and are instead a vehicle for a child striving to decode words. Not so for Penny and Her Doll. While certainly not complex, the three-chapter story is entertaining in a gentle way, as when gardening Mama dryly observes "I do not have a favorite weed", and when Penny rejects her parents' lame naming suggestions with "No. No. No. Nothing was right." Or this:

""Beautiful," said Mama.
"Wonderful," said Papa.
The babies made baby noises.
Penny smiled." 

I smiled. 

Of course Penny and Her Doll does work as an easy reader. Henkes uses very short sentences, and plenty of repetition, to guide the reader. Like this:

"Penny unwrapped the doll.
The doll had pink cheeks.
The doll had a pink bow.
The doll had a pink dress with big buttons."

Later Papa praises the pink cheeks, pink bow, and pink dress with big buttons. And Papa and Mama try to use these attributes to help in naming the doll. Any new reader would certainly be well-versed in the word "pink" by the end of the book. Everything in the story is pre-schooler-friendly, from Penny's mother's garden to the tour of the house that she gives the new doll. 

Henkes' warm illustrations help to make the book accessible to new readers, too. Fans of the other mouse books will be made right at home by Penny's smiling face. Henkes also fills the book with interesting and welcoming backgrounds, colored tiles in the bathroom, floral wallpaper in the babies' room, stripes in the kitchen, and so on. 

In short, this is going on our keep shelf (ok, shelves), to be enjoyed now and used later on, when Baby Bookworm is ready to start reading books for herself. I plan on picking up a copy of the earlier book, too. This is a top-notch early reader (though a bit more girl-friendly than boy-friendly, given the subject matter and the pinkish flowery cover). Highly recommended. And yes, both Penny books are on the 2012 Cybils nomination list for Easy Readers

Publisher: Greenwillow Books (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: August 21, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

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24. Babymouse #17: Extreme Babymouse: Jennifer L. Holm & Matt Holm

Book: Babymouse #17: Extreme Babymouse
Author: Jennifer L. Holm
Illustrator: Matt Holm
Pages: 96
Age Range: 7 and up 

What more is there to be said about Babymouse than what I have said already (Babymouse: Cupcake TycoonBabymouse: Puppy LoveBabymouse: HeartbreakerBabymouse: DragonslayerBabymouse: Beach Babe)? Each of these graphic novels for younger kids is a delight from start to finish. Babymouse #17: Extreme Babymouse is no exception. In this installment, the intrepid Babymouse turns her hand to snowboarding. Well, ok, technically she is driven to try snowboarding after all of her classmates become board obsessed, and she feels left out. But whatever. That's a technicality. She brings her patented blend of imagination and frustration to the slopes. 

Some highlights for me in Extreme Babymouse included:

As always, I love the narrator's deadpan insertions. In this book, I giggled over "I think we need some duct tape over here" after a humpty-dumpty-like wipeout. I was also delighted to see the sun and a cloud chiming in with their observations on the fall. 

Not to risk getting spoiler-y, but I really liked the ending of this one. While maintaining a light touch, and staying true to character, the authors give Babymouse the chance to grow a little bit. And that, as they say, is extreme. Highly recommended for fans of the series, and for anyone who could use a good laugh. You don't need to read the Babymouse books in order (although certain jokes do recur, rewarding loyal readers). I can't wait until Baby Bookworm is old enough to enjoy these. 

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: January 8, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you). 

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25. Gingersnap: Patricia Reilly Giff

Book: Gingersnap
Author: Patricia Reilly Giff
Pages: 160
Age Range: 8 and up

Gingersnap by Patricia Reilly Giff is a slim volume, suitable for younger middle grade readers. Gingersnap is historical fiction set near the end of World War II in New York. Jayna, aka Gingersnap, is an orphan happy to be living with her much-older brother, Rob, after spending her early years in the foster care system. When Rob is sent off to the war in the Pacific (chef on a submarine), Jayna is left to stay with the siblings' landlady, Celine. A clue found in an old journal, however, sends Jayna off on a daring journey to Brooklyn, in search of family and a home.

For the most part, Gingersnap is straight up historical fiction. However, Giff also includes a ghost girl who may or may not be appearing to Jayna, encouraging her to go off on the trip. Giff leaves the reader to decide whether the ghost girl is real or a hallucination on the part of Jayna. I'm not totally sure that the ghost girl is necessary to the book -- her presence muddies the genre a bit -- but I'm sure some readers will appreciate that aspect of the book.

Personally, though, I thought that the strengths of the book lay in Jayna's characterization (plucky even when insecure) and the historical details. Gingersnap feels like a World War II novel, but Giff is secure enough not to need to beat the reader over the head with details. Instead, she uses just a few to evoke the time period. Like this:

"Celine bought me a hat for Easter Sunday. Imagine, my first veil. It had little blue dots, and I kept blowing at it all through church to get it out of my eyes. I loved it!" (Page 24)

"Mrs. Murtha drew arrows on the blackboard, showing those planes diving and looping, exploding into our ships. One morning, with tears in her eyes, she told us that our president had died, and there would be a new president, a man named Harry Truman." (Page 29-30)

She also includes soup recipes throughout the book (Jayna likes to make soups to suit her mood). These are quite simple, and might entice young readers to want to try their own hands at soup-making. Other scenes (with an echo of A Little Princess, for me), are set in a bakery. The characters' appreciation for food is also, I think, an accurate representation of wartime. 

Gingersnap is an old-fashioned book, with a somewhat idealized ending. But I personally loved it. I read the last couple of chapters with happy tears rolling down my cheeks. I think that the 9 year old me would have enjoyed it, too. Although I do have some fear that this might be one of those books that adults adore more than children do, I plan to keep my copy to try out on Baby Bookworm when she's older. Recommended. 

Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: January 8, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you). 

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