110 posts categorized "Early Elementary School" Feed

Barkus: Patricia MacLachlan and Marc Boutavant

Book: Barkus
Author: Patricia MacLachlan
Illustrator: Marc Boutavant
Pages: 56
Age Range: 6-8

BarkusBarkus is the first book in a new early chapter book series by Patricia MacLachlan and Marc Boutavant. Red-headed Nicky, apparently a first grader, is thrilled when her favorite uncle unexpectedly gives her a large, grown dog named Barkus. Nicky's parents are a bit more apprehensive, but they all come around, and Barkus becomes part of the family. In subsequent brief chapters, young readers follow Barkus as he sneaks in to Nicky's school, has a noisy birthday party, adopts a kitten, and participates in a backyard campout.

Barkus is not especially realistic (e.g. a scene in which a couple of unknown dogs are let into the house to celebrate Barkus' birthday with a crazy dance party, and the fact that Nicky's teacher just accepts Barkus and makes him the class dog), but it is a lot of fun. It's perfect first-grade wish fulfillment (including a snow day). 

Each page has a moderate amount of text, but also a large font, short paragraphs, and color illustrations, making Barkus suitable for relatively new readers. There's enough complexity to the story to keep slightly more experienced readers entertained, too. Here's a sample page, the beginning of Chapter 2, Barkus Sneaks, to give you a feel for the reading level:

"It was Monday morning.

I put on my sweater and coat and boots.

Barkus watched me.

I put on my gloves

Barkus watched me.

"Goodbye, Barkus. I'll see you after school."

I patted him on the head.

I went out the door.

When I looked back Barkus was watching through the window."

See? Not overly challenging, but the astute reader will know that Barkus has something up his sleeve (or would, if had sleeves). 

[As a tiny side note, I appreciated the fact that the teacher, Mrs. Gregolian, has an Armenian last name, as do my husband and daughter.]

Boutavant's illustrations give Nicky and Barkus both bright-eyed, mildly cartoonish looks. While the illustrations are relatively spare, with plenty of white space (or simple, primary-colored backgrounds), there are occasional details to reward closer inspection. For instance, in the Barkus Sneaks chapter, careful observers will notice a brown tail sticking out from behind a tree, as Nicky hears a suspicious noise on her way to school. The noisy birthday party scene will make any reader smile. 

Barkus is a lively addition to the ranks of early chapter book series, with a pair of easy-going protagonists (well, a trio, once the kitten comes along). As a well-made, nearly square hardcover, it stands out relative to the swarms of slim early chapter book paperbacks. While my first grader, near the end of the school year, is already a bit further along than this in reading level, I still she'll still enjoy meeting Barkus. Libraries will want to give this one a look, especially once there are a couple of other books in the series (as is planned). Recommended for readers who are just ready for the satisfaction of a book with chapters, and who still seek dynamic and colorful illustrations. 

Publisher: Chronicle Books (@ChronicleKids
Publication Date: June 6, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Charlie & Mouse: Laurel Snyder and Emily Hughes

Book: Charlie & Mouse
Author: Laurel Snyder
Illustrator: Emily Hughes
Pages: 48
Age Range: 4-8

CharlieAndMouseCharlie & Mouse kicks off a new early reader series by Laurel Snyder and Emily Hughes. It's the story of a day in the life of two small brothers, told in four chapters. In the first, Charlie waves up the lump who shares his bed, otherwise known as Mouse, and the boys proceed to wake their parents, too. In the second chapter, the two brothers eagerly tell their parents that this is the day of the neighborhood party. The family trundles off to the park, gathering an array of children along the way. When they arrive, they find no one else there, but by that point "It was the best party ever!". In the third chapter, the boys decide to sell rocks as a way to make money. Things don't work out quite as expected, but there is enough money for ice cream. The last chapter, coming full circle, has Charlie and Mouse going to sleep. But not without a bit of mischief, and a plan for more in the morning. 

The text in Charlie & Mouse is fairly brief, with short paragraphs and straightforward text. I noticed that the author refrains from using contractions, despite the extensive dialog. Here's a snippet:

"HURRAH! Today is the party!"
shouted Charlie.

"Today is the neighborhood party!"
shouted Mouse.

"Everyone will be there!" shouted Charlie.

They danced around the kitchen.

There's an innocent impishness to the boys that feels real (and the author notes in her biography that she is the mother of two sons). There's also an old-fashioned feel to the story. There are kids just playing outside by themselves, able to follow Charlie and Mouse to the park without a word to anyone. Charlie and Mouse go door to door with their wagon, offering to sell rocks the neighbors. There are also hints that the family, while clearly stable, may not be exactly well off (the boys sharing a bed, and needing to sell rocks in order to afford ice cream). 

While the text gives no particular information as to the book's location (beyond being clearly suburban), illustrator Emily Hughes (who is from Hawaii) drops some hints of Hawaii, particularly a sign offering "Shave Ice" outside the ice cream store. These aren't strong enough to feel foreign for mainland kids, but they add some extra visual interest. 

As for the Charlie and Mouse, they are adorable, wide-eyed, mess-haired, and freckled. They are full of joy, as is the book overall. Charlie and Mouse is an early reader / very early chapter book that is both kid- and parent-friendly. I look forward to future books in the series, and certainly recommend that libraries give this one a look. 

Publisher: Chronicle Books (@ChronicleKids)
Publication Date: April 11, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Stinky Spike: The Pirate Dog: Peter Meisel and Paul Meisel

Book: Stinky Spike: The Pirate Dog
Author: Peter Meisel
Illustrator: Paul Meisel
Pages: 80
Age Range: 5-7 (Illustrated early reader, full-color)

StinkySpikeStinky Spike: The Pirate Dog kicks off a new series in Bloomsbury's Read & Bloom line of early readers with full color illustrations. Written by Peter Meisel and illustrated by Paul Meisel, the book introduces Spike, a dog who works at a shipyard chasing away birds, and who excels at chasing down bad smells. One day, in the course of his duties, Spike falls in the water and is swept out to sea, saved only by an old wooden bucket full of bits of rotten fish. After some adventures on the high seas, Spike is taken in by a crew of a rather inept pirates, who christen him Stinky Spike. But can Stinky Spike's strong nose help the pirate crew in their quest for treasure? 

Peter Meisel's text is kid friendly, full of strong, alliterative sentences, not too difficult for newer readers. Like this:

"Spike was in trouble. "Scram, flappers!" he howled as he bolted at the birds.

But there was a patch of slippery, slimy seaweed on the dock. Spike's paws slid out from under him. He skidded off the edge of the dock.

SPLASH! Spike landed in the ocean." (Page 18)

And here are the pirates talking:

"Crusty clam shells! This sea dog stinks worse than rotten anchovies." Zip gagged.

"Or spoiled sardine stew!" Zelda choken.

"Blimey, that's quite a stench. What be your name, mutt?" Fishbeard scowled.

Bonus points for the ship having a female first-mate. With an eye patch, no less. 

Pirates, a dog, and a host of bad smells. What is not to like for the kindergarten and first grade crowd? Stinky Spike: The Pirate Dog has three chapters, wide text spacing, and at least a half-page of illustration for every page spread. Paul Meisel's illustrations are full of entertaining details, like fish literally poking out of Captain Fishbeard's beard. He uses wavy lines to indicate the presence of bad smells, of which there are many. The pirates are ragged but not at all intimidating, and Spike himself is an intrepid, if pungent, figure. In short, this is a fine addition to the ranks of early readers. A second installment, Stinky Spike and the Royal Rescue, releases on the same day as the first (though I have not seen that one). I suspect that Stinky Spike will be a hit with the primary-grade crowd, and that other titles will be forthcoming. Recommended, especially for libraries serving new readers. 

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BloomsburyKids)
Publication Date: March 14, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters: The Jolly Regina: Kara LaReau + Jen Hill

Book: The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters: The Jolly Regina
Author: Kara LaReau
Illustrator: Jen Hill
Pages: 176
Age Range: 8-12

BlandSistersThe Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters: The Jolly Regina is the first of a new apparent series of illustrated chapter books written by Kara LaReau and illustrated by Jen Hill. I hope it's a series, anyway, because it's a fun book featuring unusual characters. 

The Bland sisters, Jaundice and Kale, live on their own in Dullsville. They lead a very quiet, predictable life, eating the same food every day and reading from a single book. Their parents left on an "errand" several years earlier and have not returned. But the girls, who only dimly remember their parents, are managing just fine. Right up until the day that a female pirate comes to the door and kidnaps them. Kale and Jaundice end up dragged along on an adventure that is not at all comfortable or predictable, but that young readers are sure to find entertaining.

The tone of The Jolly Regina reminds me a bit of Maryrose Wood's Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series, in which a relatively prim person is surprised to find herself in the midst of unlikely and dangerous circumstances. I found the Bland sisters also to be a sort of fun house image of Pippi Longstocking. Like Pippi, they are self-sufficient and happy to live alone without a parent. Unlike Pippi, they are utterly dull and not even a little bit brave. When something seems perilous, they simply close their eyes and (never successfully) wish the situation away. Here's a snippet:

"Jaundice and Kale pride themselves on their exacting routine. After breakfast (plain oatmeal with skim milk, a cup of weak, tepid tea on the side) they tend to their business of darning other people's socks, which takes the better part of the day. Each allows herself one ten-minute brea, during which she eats a cheese sandwich on day-old break and drinks a glass of flat soda while gazing out the window, watching the grass grow.

The Bland Sisters look forward most to the evenings, when they entertain themselves by reading the dictionary to each other, then staring at the wallpaper until they fall asleep." (Page 3, ARC)

The vocabulary in The Jolly Regina is quite advanced for what a book with short, heavily illustrated chapters.  I'd put this one more in the middle grade than early chapter book camp. Each chapter begins with the definition (and a short sketch) of a word that will be used in the chapter, such as "paraphernalia", "vehemence", and "anthropology". Other rich words, like "fiasco" are used in the text but not necessarily defined. 

There's also a fair bit of wordplay that almost borders on inappropriate - I think that it will make young readers giggle and feel mature. For instance, a pirate ship manned by men is called the Testoroso, while the female-crewed ship is the Jolly Regina. There are a lot of references to "booty" in the context of the male/female battle (of words and swords) between the two ships. We learn that "the crew of the Jolly Regina were not only pillagers and plunderers. They were also ruthless depantsers" and that "Cap'n Ann had the biggest booty ye ever laid eyes on! The Bland Sisters tried to imagine this, with mixed results."  

It is, of course, nice to see that the strong characters in this book (pirate captains and such) are all female, without the book having any hint of sparkly pink that could turn off male readers. This is a book featuring rat stew and pirates marooning people on deserted islands, albeit with the added humor of a singing ship's cook, and puns like "Captain Ann Tennille".

Also worth noting are various hints that the sisters are (or at least Kale is) on the autism spectrum and/or have OCD. Here are a couple of hints:

""Hmm," Kale said. "I seem to recall crying whenever our mother tried to coax us into venturing outside. The sun always felt so harsh and the flowers seemed too fragrant, and the laughter of other children hurt my ears."" (Page 46, ARC)

and

"Kale sighed. She was enjoying counting sand, as it gave her the same feeling she had when she watched the grass grow at home. She felt peaceful, almost sleepy, as if she were not really thinking, or using her brain at all." (Page 131, ARC)

 

I think it's a triumph that LaReau was able to create two heroines who are smart but also intellectually quirky, and who are determinedly NOT interesting, without making the book itself the least bit boring. I especially appreciated the Bland Sisters' choice at the end of the book. 

 

The illustrations in the advance copy that I read were not complete, but there's enough to suggest that they add humor and action to the story. I flagged quite a number of passages and illustrations as I went through, and certainly laughed aloud on more than one occasion. I think that The Jolly Regina is a fun addition to the ranks of not-so-realistic (in a good way) illustrated fiction for middle grade readers. I hope to see future books in the series. Recommended!

Publisher: Amulet Books (@AbramsKids) 
Publication Date: January 10, 2017
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2016 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, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


The Kid in the Red Jacket: Barbara Park

Book: The Kid in the Red Jacket
Author: Barbara Park
Pages: 144
Age Range: 8-12

The Kid in the Red Jacket is a reissue of a 1988 early middle grade title by Barbara Park. The Kid in the Red Jacket is a quick read that does not feel dated, despite the absence of cell phones and computers. What keeps this book feeling fresh, I think, is Park's keen sense of what kids really think. The Kid in the Red Jacket is a book that brought childhood back into focus for me as an adult reader. It's about a boy named Howard Jeeter who has to move from Arizona to small-town Massachusetts at age 10. To say that Howard is unhappy about leaving his home, school, and friends would be a huge understatement. The Kid in the Red Jacket is the story of Howard's adjustment to his new life. It's both funny and true. 

Howard could be any 10-year-old boy. He wants to make his parents feel badly about ruining his life. He misses his friends. He kind of likes his baby brother, Gaylord, though he won't admit this to anyone. And he desperately wants to fit in at his new school. When the lonely six-year-old girl across that street interjects herself into his life, Howard worries that people will find out, and that friendship with her will cause him to become an outcast. But the irrepressible Molly, recovering from an unfortunate family situation, is hard to avoid. 

I could have highlighted dozens of passages. Funny, true, and occasionally profound. Here are a couple of examples:

"My mother just sighed. She probably would have yelled, but I had been making her yell so much lately, I think she was getting sort of sick of it. Normally, parents really enjoy yelling. But I guess it's like anything else--too much of a good thing, and it's not as fun anymore." (Page 2)

"A lot of mean stuff had been been done to me--by my parents, by the moving men, and by my father's stupid company. And even though sometimes you can control your anger, you can't control your sadness And that's what I mostly was, I guess--sad. Sad about leaving my friends and my school and my room and my soccer team and a million other things." (Page 13)

"She (his new teacher) seemed nice, but I knew that didn't mean much. Teachers are always nice when you first meet them. Their true personalities don't come out until something goes wrong in the classroom, like when a fight breaks out during a spelling bee." (Page 46)

The Kid in the Red Jacket belongs in elementary school libraries everywhere, and is a must-purchase by any parent who is moving an elementary-age child to a new school. This is a book that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages. I may well read this one aloud to my almost-six-year old. I think that she, like me, will empathize with Howard. Recommended. 

Publisher: Yearling (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: August 12, 1988 (new reissue edition)
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 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, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


The Infamous Ratsos: Kara LaReau + Matt Myers

Book: The Infamous Ratsos
Author: Kara LaReau
Illustrator: Matt Myers
Pages: 64
Age Range: 5-8 (illustrated early chapter book)

InfamousRatsosThe Infamous Ratsos is a very early chapter book about two motherless brothers who aspire to be tough guys. Their father, Big Lou, is "tough, tough, tough. He drives a truck and a forklift and sometimes a snowplow. He hardly ever smiles." Big Lou reminded me a lot of Big Mean Mike from the picture book by Michelle Knudsen and Scott Magoon. Every day when he leaves for work, Big Lou tells the boys to "Hang tough." Louie and Ralphie try their very best to be tough. But all of their bad guy schemes backfire, and to their chagrin they end up praised instead of feared. 

As an adult reader, I found some of the coincidences that turned things around for the Ratso brothers to be a bit implausible, like when they try to pile snow in front of a local business but have difficulty seeing what they are doing, and end up clearing the sidewalk instead. But I think that Louie and Ralphie's failed efforts will make kids giggle. 

One thing I really like about this book is that although the characters are animal instead of human, the Ratso family is clearly from the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum. Big Lou struts around in his uniform shirt and hat. They live in a not at all posh apartment. They live in a city, and walk past graffiti on their way to school. Most of this is not overtly addressed in the story, but it's there for kids to absorb anyway. 

I also like that Louie and Ralphie WANT to be tough guys. Even though it doesn't work out as planned, I think that their desire will speak to young readers, especially boys. They have hot chocolate mugs that say "Hug Someone Today". They've each crossed out and replaced the first letter of "hug", so that one mug says "Slug Someone Today" and the other says "Bug Someone Today." If you ask me, this is a completely plausible rebellion by two boys with no mother and a strong but silent father. 

Kara LaReau's text is at a reasonable difficulty level for new readers, with a mix of longer and shorter sentences. Like this:

"As for the Ratso brothers' mother, she's been gone for a little while now, which is very sad. The Ratso brothers don't like to think about Mama Ratso. Big Lou doesn't like to think about Mama Ratso either." (Page 2)

and

"When they climb the steps of the front porch, the Ratso brothers can see that Mrs.Porcupini's sour-pickle expression is gone. In its place is an expression that looks very much like delight." (Page 42)

I love "sour-pickle expression" and the way that LaReau uses vivid description, while maintaining an accessible vocabulary. 

The font is large and wide-spaced, and there are illustrations every couple of pages, all of which also helps to keep the book accessible to younger readers. Matt Myers' illustrations add detail and humor to the story, as when Florinda Rabbitski is shown with droopy long ears and ill-fitting but glamorous glasses. Older brother Louie Ratso wears a tough-guy scowl most of the time, but the younger Ralphie is less able to pull this off. 

In short, The Infamous Ratsos is a fine addition to the ranks of early chapter books, with humor, heart, and socioeconomic diversity, all in a new-reader-friendly package. This would make a great addition to classroom libraries serving first and second graders, and is one that I think my six-year-old will be ready for fairly soon. Recommended! 

Publisher: Candlewick Press (@Candlewick)  
Publication Date: August 2, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 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, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Steg-O-Normous (Oodlethunks, Book 2): Adele Griffin and Mike Wu

Book: Steg-O-Normous (The Oodlethunks, Book 2)
Author: Adele Griffin
Illustrator: Mike Wu
Pages: 160
Age Range: 7-10

Steg-o-normousSteg-O-Normous is the second book the The Oodlethunks series of illustrated early chapter books, following Oona Finds an Egg. In this installment, Stacy, the stegosaurus that hatched in the previous book, is growing by leaps and bounds, causing challenges for Oona Oodlethunk and her family. When she learns that her parents are going to banish Stacy from the family cave (due to her advanced size), Oona bravely seeks the help of the local witch. But in the end, it is Stacy who saves herself, and various citizens of West Woggle. 

The premise of this series requires more than the usual suspension of belief, as Oona's Neanderthal family includes a mother who works in marketing, a father who is a gourmet chef (of sorts) and two kids who attend school (complete with field trips). Then there's the coexistence of dinosaurs (one, at least) and Neanderthals. There's also a running joke that someone in the family has invented the wheel, but they have yet to find anything useful to do with it. But the seven-year-old new readers who are The Oodlethunks' target audience will not care about any of that. Instead, they will enjoy the idea of living in caves, running around barefoot with clubs, dodging predators, and, of course, owning a pet dinosaur. 

Steg-O-Normous is full of kid-friendly details, including a sick Stacy being "sick on both ends" and the need to always bring something (like a cool rock) for potential barter. Or this:

""Good job, Stacy!" Bonk banged his Bonk-It club. "Zucchinis taste like snot, only without the good boogery flavor!" He leaned down and scratched Stacy behind her ear." (Page 2)

Bonk, Oona's little brother, is a fun character, irrepressible and loyal. There's a great illustration of him stomping gleefully in a bowl of "bone broth", as mom looks shocked and dad cringes. Bonk tags along and drives Oona crazy, as little brothers have surely done throughout time. 

Mike Wu's illustrations, included every couple of pages, a mix of full-page spreads and smaller drawings, bring Oona and her family (including Stacy) to life. There's kind of a Flintstones feel to them, with stone tables and animal pelt clothing, but labeled jars on the shelf of the witch's cave. The addition of pages showing things like the various foods fed to Stacy (each item carefully drawn and labeled) adds a bit of a notebook novel feel to Steg-O-Normous

The chapters in Steg-O-Normous are short, and the action is frequent, making this a nice bridge book for new readers ready to dabble in chapter books. The Oodlethunks series has a quirky, entertaining premise and a nice mix of action, family dynamics, and humor. This should be a welcome series for parents and librarians looking to engage new readers. I look forward to Oona and Bonk's future adventures. Recommended!

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic
Publication Date: September 13, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 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, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Two Skinnybones Books by Barbara Park

Books: Skinnybones and Almost Starring Skinnybones
Author: Barbara Park
Pages: 160 each
Age Range: 8-12

Random House recently reissued (with new covers and eBook editions) two middle grade novels about a twelve-year-old boy nicknamed Skinnybones. The Skinnybones books were originally published in the 1980s, but I found them to be nearly timeless, with only a very few anachronisms that modern-day kids might notice (like not being able to DVR a TV commercial, and it being unusual for one's home to be locked). I don't believe that I had ever read these as a kid - I would have been a bit old for them by the time they came out - but I thoroughly enjoyed reading them now. 

Skinnybones introduces sixth grader Alex Frankovitch. Alex is an undersized kid who learned back in kindergarten that he could have an outsized impact by being funny. Sometimes his humor works, and sometimes, well, not so much. But his humor turns out to not be much compensation for his near total lack of effectiveness at playing baseball. When a new kids in school turns out to be an ace Little League pitcher, the central rivalry of Skinnybones emerges. 

I love Alex's ironic, generally low-key parents. When he declares after a humiliation that he's never leaving his room again, they wait him out (though they conveniently do make some delicious-smelling fried chicken after a day or so). When his ego gets a little too large, they calmly bring him back to earth. Alex's relationship with his best friend, who never fails to laugh at Alex's misfortune, and mostly puts up with his garbage, is also enjoyable. 

But the reason to read Skinnybones is that Alex's voice is both dead-on perfect and laugh-out-loud funny. Like this:

"In the summer, a school principal spends his time composing lists of all the kids in the school who hate each other. Then he  makes sure they end up in the same class together." (Page 18)

and

"Every single year, I am always the smallest kids on the team. I mean it. For the first five years of my life, I thought I was a leprechaun. 

I remember when I was in kindergarten, our teacher asked us to cut out magazine pictures of what we thought we would be when we grew up.

Most of the boys in my class brought in pictures of baseball or football players. A few others brought in pictures of policemen. 

I brought in a picture of the Lucky Charms guy. I cut it off the front of the cereal box." (Page 27)

and

"Baseball caps are probably the greatest invention of all time. No matter what you look like, as soon as you put on a baseball cap you automatically look like a ballplayer. A real ballplayer, I mean." (Page 57)

The middle quote really did make me laugh out loud. The action n Skinnybones is a little over-the-top, but without skating into the territory of fantasy. I think that kids, especially those who play Little League, and fans of books like  The Terrible Two and The Terrible Two Get Worse will love Skinnybones.

In the sequel, Almost Starring Skinnybones, Alex is a bit full of himself due to having won a contest, and been to New York to film a television commercial as a prize. Despite the humiliations that follow, and the damage to his relationship with his best friend, Alex continues to seek out the limelight. But in the end, he grows up a tiny, plausible bit. Just enough that we leave him knowing that he will probably turn out ok.

Almost Starring Skinnybones takes place during Alex's seventh grade year, as he transitions to middle school. Although this means that there are new characters, and that Alex has different teachers for different subjects, the story remains solidly middle grade. Alex's nemesis in this installment is female, but there are no love interests or the like. There is a school play, however, and young thespians will particularly enjoy this one. 

Here's my favorite quote from this one:

"My mother just shook her head. I worry about my mother's head. She shakes it so much, one of these days it's going to get real loose, and she won't be able to hold it up anymore. It'll just roll around on her shoulders and become an embarrassment to the family." (Page 13)

But I do like this one, too:

"She screamed it so loud, our teacher, Mrs. Ballentine, stopped taking attendance and started glaring at me. Mrs. Ballentine has one of the deadliest glares in the business. There's a rumor going around that a few years ago she actually glared a hole in a kid's head." (Page 52)

If they were being originally published today, the Skinnybones books would most likely have pictures. They feel like literary antecedents of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, as well as Gary Paulsen's Liar, Liar series. As it is, they'll make great step-up books for kids weaned on Barbara Park's Junie B. Jones books who are ready for a slightly more challenging read. Bottom line: Skinnybones is hilarious. Recommended for readers 8 and up. 

Publisher:  Yearling Books (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: 1982 and 1988 originally, reissued with new covers 2016
Source of Book: Review copies from the publisher

© 2016 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, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Sofia Martinez: My Family Adventure: Jacqueline Jules

Book: Sofia Martinez: My Family Adventure
Author: Jacqueline Jules
Illustrator: Kim Smith
Pages: 96
Age Range: 5-7

Sofia Martinez: My Family Adventure is a collection of three early chapter books about seven-year-old Sofia and her close-knit extended family. Sofia's adventures in this book (there are several others) include standing out on school picture day, making a piñata for her Abuela's birthday, and recapturing an escaped class mouse. I found the tales to be realistic, if occasionally predictable for the adult reader (of course the mouse was going to escape). I think that kids in the target age range will find Sofia's adventures to be both accessible and relatable.

But what makes Sofia Martinez: My Family Adventure stand out is the author's representation of a tight-knit Hispanic-American family. My Family Adventures is sprinkled throughout with Spanish words and phrases. These are shown in a muted red font, and are all included in a glossary at the end of the book. While I knew some of the words, and found others to be clear from context, I did find the glossary necessary in some cases. 

Sofia has a strong personality, as is evident from her jaunty cover image shown above. She is plausibly jealous of the attention received by her baby cousin, and desirous of attention herself. She is confident in her opinions ("No one is too old for a fun birthday party") and ready to take action where needed. But she knows when to ask for help, too. In short, Sofia is a character that I will be happy to have my six-year-old daughter spend time with. The fact that she'll also get a refresher on some Spanish words that she learned in preschool will be an added bonus. 

Recommended for home and especially for library use. Sofia is a great addition to the ranks of early readers. 

Publisher: Picture Window Books  
Publication Date: February 1, 2015
Source of Book: Personal copy (bought at KidLitCon 2015)

© 2016 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, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Piper Green and the Fairy Tree: The Sea Pony by Ellen Potter + Qin Leng

Book: Piper Green and the Fairy Tree: The Sea Pony (Book 3)
Author: Ellen Potter
Illustrator: Qin Leng
Pages: 128
Age Range: 7-9

SeaPony

The Sea Pony is the third book in the Piper Green and the Fairy Tree early chapter book series. (See my review of Books 1 and 2 here.) Piper is a seven-year-old girl who lives on a small island off the coast of Maine. Her island is so small that the younger kids take a lobster boat every morning to another island to attend school. Piper's older brother attends high school on the mainland, and can only come home on weekends. The other thing that's noteworthy about Piper is that she has a Fairy Tree in her front yard. She leaves small gifts for the fairies inside the tree, and they sometimes leave gifts for her. These gifts are mysterious at first, but generally turn out to be exactly what Piper needed.

In The Sea Pony, Piper finds a necklace in the tree. I won't spoil the surprise, but the necklace leads directly to Piper's discovery of the Sea Pony, as well as to the recovery of a lost family item. I'm never 100% clear on whether the Fairy Tree actually is magic, or whether a kindly neighbor might be intervening. But the sequence of events in The Sea Pony certainly have a magical quality to them. There's also a horse, and the chance for Piper to show up her nemesis. Seven-year-old readers will love it!

I quite like Piper. She's independent and resourceful, but with realistic capabilities and shortcomings. She tries to make a special meal for her brother and the result is something of a fiasco. But (living on a small island) she can go to the store by herself and get a missing ingredient. She helps her dad on his lobster boat. She's savvy enough to request payment, but young enough to think that at 10 cents a bait bag she'll earn enough to buy a horse in no time. She reminded me of my daughter in her optimism, willingness to work, and unrealistic larger expectations. Here are a couple of snippets:

"I'd never had a fancy necklace before. The only necklace I owned was made out of folded-up potato chip bags. My best friend, Ruby, made it for me." (Chapter 2)

and:

(On learning that a surprise will be arriving on the ferry) "I wondered what it could be. A candy-vending machine, maybe? Or a gigantic turtle?

Then I thought of something.

"I'll bet it's a CIRCUS!!" I said in my whistle language." (Chapter 3)

Isn't Piper perfect? I also like Ellen Potter's occasional use of Maine lingo. The title of Chapter 7 is: "A Wicked Bad Gullywhumper" (a big storm). 

Qn Leng's black and white illustrations (one per chapter, a mix of whole and half-page pictures) convey Piper's movement and enthusiasm, as well as the coziness of the island. The expression on Piper's face as she stuffs smelly fish into a bait bag in Chapter 7 is priceless. 

The Piper Green and the Fairy Tree series, and The Sea Pony in particular, has a nice mix of "stuff kids think are cool" (living on a small island, taking boats, a Fairy Tree) and realistic family/community/kid dynamics. Piper's family is not the most well-off on the island, and her father doesn't hesitate to take her to task when she uses bait injudiciously. But the island also acquires a horse! The Sea Pony strikes a nice balance, I think. I'm happy to see this series continuing strong. I think it's a perfect fit for kids just starting to be ready for chapter books. Recommended, and definitely a nice addition for libraries serving new readers. 

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids
Publication Date: August 16, 2016
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2016 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, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Snoop Troop: It Came from Beneath the Playground: Kirk Scroggs

Book: Snoop Troop: It Came from Beneath the Playground
Author: Kirk Scroggs
Pages: 176
Age Range: 7-10

SnoopTroop1It Came from Beneath the Playground is the first book in the Snoop Troop series of mysteries for early elementary school kids. I found it to be highly entertaining, with kid-friendly humor and a non-obvious mystery. When sources of fun (including a local merry-go-round and the school playground) start disappearing, a mystery-obsessed girl named Logan Lang races to help. In the face of inept adult investigators, Logan reluctantly joins forces with a police-obsessed boy named Gustavo Muchomacho (previously her "arch-nuisance"). The two each bring complementary mystery-solving skills to the table, and their differences lend humor along the way. 

It Came from Beneath the Playground is a heavily illustrated  chapter book, with multiple pictures on every page, much of the information conveyed in text bubbles, and seek-and-find type activities throughout. There are also bonus puzzles and visual games included at the end of the book. It reads like a graphic novel, but does include some narrative text, too. The narrator talks directly to Logan from time to time, and readers are directly encouraged to find clues along the way.

Despite the many illustrations, I would place It Came from Beneath the Playground as more a book for second graders and up than for first graders. It's relatively long, and many of the illustrations are small and detailed. Readers hoping to solve the mystery will need to keep track of hints from different parts of the book. There are also some strong vocabulary words, as well as puns that I don't think the newest readers will get. (e.g. an amusement park owner named "Izzy Hurling"). And there are ransom notes in the form of word jumbles. 

But for kids who are ready for it, It Came from Beneath the Playground is a lot of fun. I laughed out loud several times while reading it. Like this:

Narrator: "That's fourth-grader Logan Lang sitting in the dark, dank library, just like she does every day after school, surrounded by her friends...

And when I say "friends," I mean mystery books, crime novels, and twisted tales of suspense...

They're all she has in this cold, lonely world." 

Logan (via text bubble): "Okay, I think they get it. I'm a little too into mystery books."

and:

Police detective (via text bubble, at the amusement park crime scene): "You again? I've warned you about trespassing on crime scenes. This place is crawling with stuffed animals, candy, and arcade games--it's no place for a kid!" 

and:

Narrator: "Gustavo jumps onto one end of the seesaw to save Bobby Bing, but for some reason, Bobby goes sailing into the air without even saying good-bye."

Gustavo (via text bubble): "Wait! Don't go. I'm trying to rescue you!"

Gustavo is not too bright, but he does mean well. He has a bunch of gadget-enhanced mustaches, which are pretty funny. Logan has a combination police scanner/lunchbox. Her office is a retired ice cream truck. 

Snoop Scoop: It Came from Beneath the Playground is perfect for kids who enjoy the Lunch Lady series and are ready for something a little bit more challenging. It's highly interactive and dynamic, and a great introduction to how to solve mysteries. Recommended for library or home purchase, with a slight plus for home purchase because kids may want to write in the puzzle and game section at the end. 

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (@LBKids)
Publication Date: September 9, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the author (via my friend Miles)

© 2016 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, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer: Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud

Book: The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer ...
Author: Davide Cali
Illustrator: Benjamin Chaud
Pages: 44
Age Range: 6-9

A couple of years ago I reviewed I Didn't Do My Homework Because ... by Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud, saying that I thought that it was fun, but wasn't sure if it would hold up to repeat reads. I didn't review the second book in the series, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to School.... But I have to say that my six-year-old daughter and I both really enjoyed the newest book in this series: The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer... It is a perfect book for elementary school kids to dig into over summer vacation. 

In The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer..., a teacher asks a suit-clad boy "what did you do this summer?" The boy launches into a lengthy story  about how he found a message in a bottle containing a treasure map, which was stolen out of his hand by a magpie, launching him on a world-wide quest to find the magpie, and follow the map to the treasure. There are pirates, sea serpents, balloons, and bookstores, among other scenes. The boy visits countries like India and China, and travels via everything from skis to jetpacks, always accompanied by his dog. 

Cali's text is minimal, but descriptive and fun to read aloud. Like this (across three pages):

"At just the right moment, my uncle passed by in his latest invention.

Since it was still experimental, there were some surprises.

My uncle dropped me off on a deserted island, where the magpie stole my map again." 

But it's the illustrations that really bring the boy's story to life. We see that the "invention" is a kind of spaceship, and that the uncle picks up boy and dog using hooks on ropes. We see the boy, led along a rooftop by a costumed actress. We see him fall from a bookstore ladder, with books flying. It's all just pure, kid-friendly fun. 

This book is aimed at six to nine year olds. It's sort of a cross between a picture book and an early reader. It's shaped like a hardcover early reader, but features full-page illustrations with a single sentence (usually at the bottom) on each page, like a picture book. The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer... would work as a read-aloud to a six-year-old, or as a book for a slightly more advanced reader to enjoy on her own. 

There was only one part that my daughter had trouble following, when the boy says that he traveled back in time, but it was really just some people making a movie. Both of us loved a twist at the end. 

In short, I think that The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer... is the best installment so far of this quirky series. Recommended for any six to eight year old kid who likes reading about travel and pirates and adventure in general. This would, of course, make a fun summer read. 

Publisher: Chronicle Kids (@ChronicleKids)
Publication Date: July 5, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 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, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).