106 posts categorized "Early Elementary School" Feed

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).


Agatha Parrot and the Odd Street School Ghost

Book: Agatha Parrot and the Odd Street School Ghost
Author: Kjartan Poskitt
Illustrator: Wes Hargis
Pages: 160
Age Range: 7-10

AgathaParrotAndGhostThe Agatha Parrot books by Kjartan Poskitt are illustrated (by Wes Hargis) early chapter books originally published in the UK, and now being issued in hardcover in the US by Clarion Books. The first book, Agatha Parrot and the Odd Street School Ghost, is a humorous and only very slightly scary ghost story involving an excessively ringing school clocktower, a mysterious glowing face, a spunky narrator, and a quirky cast of characters.

Agatha Jane Parrot lives on Odd Street, close to her school. She has a competent mother, a hapless father, and two siblings. Her friends are helpfully drawn and captioned at the front in the book, and soon introduced by Agatha as she rates each of their lunches with points out of ten for "interestingness." All of them are odd. One of them doesn't even make sense most of the time, and one of them is unrepentantly "big and hearty" (with a running joke about how much she eats). When the friends start hearing the school clock ringing and ringing during the night, and then see a strange glowing face in the window, they decide to investigate. Hijinks, including a late-night school ghost watch organized by the principal, ensue.

Agatha's narrative style is unconventional and kid-friendly. She speaks directly to the reader, and uses a lot of asides, exclamation points, and capital letters. Like this:

"My name is Agatha Jane Parrot and I live on house number 5, which has a red front door if you want to color it in." (Page 2)

and:

"Good old clock. No wonder I went straight back to sleep with a smile on my face. (Although I couldn't see the smile, of course, because I was asleep.) (And it was dark.) (And it was my own face and I didn't have a mirror, so I couldn't have seen it anyway.) (This is getting silly -- ha ha!) (Sausage pie.) (Just thought I'd put that in for no reason!) (I bet the printers take it out.) (The meanies." (Page 10)

The book overall has a bit of an over-the-top Dahl-esque feel, with one teacher who imposes ridiculous contradictory rules, a kid who can climb anything, and a disgusting cereal called Fish Popz. Hargis's illustrations, full of exaggerated and sometime unpleasant characters, contribute to this feel. This over-the-top feel also helps keep the book from being too scary for young readers. Even when scary things are happening, Poskitt regularly lightens the mood. 

Agatha Parrot and the Odd Street School Ghost gives kids an entertaining narrator and ghostly mystery to solve. It stands out from more ordinary  chapter book series, while maintaining a school and home setting. I think it will be a welcome addition to the ranks of chapter books here in the US. Libraries serving 7-10 year olds will definitely want to give this one a look.

Publisher: Clarion Books (@HMHKids) 
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).


Mister Cleghorn's Seal: Judith Kerr

Book: Mister Cleghorn's Seal
Author: Judith Kerr
Pages: 96
Age Range: 7-10

Mister Cleghorn's Seal is a new illustrated chapter book by Judith Kerr (who wrote the very first book that we read aloud to my daughter after she was born: One Night in the Zoo). Mister Cleghorn's Seal is a quick and lovely read, set in a time when cigarettes are "newfangled". I think it would make pretty much a perfect first chapter book to read aloud to a preschooler, with a short length, no chapter breaks, and Kerr's black-and-white illustrations on just about every page. 

Mister Cleghorn's Seal is about a retired shop-owner who, while visiting his cousin's family by the sea, ends up adopting an orphaned sea cub. While it is not common that children's books have an adult protagonist (and even a quiet romance), children will know from the earliest pages of the book that Mister Cleghorn is a kindred spirit. He plays with his cousin's children. And when the seal is refusing to eat, he holds it like a baby, with no concern at all for appearances or anything else. He tricks the narrow-minded janitor in his building. He is wonderful. 

Kerr's gentle illustrations bring Mister Cleghorn, the seal, and the time period to life. My favorite is a page spread in which Mister Cleghorn is sitting in the luggage compartment of a train, bringing the seal home, holding onto his hat, and clearly wondering how he got into this mess. But one could look at any illustration on any page to get a sense of the tone of Mister Cleghorn's Seal. 

Mister Cleghorn's Seal is the perfect next step to read-aloud to kids who enjoy picture books, and have the attention to handle a bit more text. It is a book that will make the reader, and the listener, happy. I'm going to try it with my daughter soon. Recommended!

Publisher: Harper Collins Children's Books (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: June 7, 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).


The Magical Animal Adoption Agency, Book 2: The Enchanted Egg: Kallie George

Book: The Magical Animal Adoption Agency, Book 2: The Enchanted Egg
Author: Kallie George
Illustrator: Alexandra Boiger
Pages: 144
Age Range: 7-10

The Enchanted Egg is the second book in Kallie George's Magical Animal Adoption Agency series of illustrated chapter books, following Clover's Luck. These books are simply perfect for younger elementary age kids who enjoy books about caring for animals, and/or books about magic. In this installment, young Clover is once again left in charge at the Magical Animal Adoption Agency, where she started working three weeks earlier. Her boss, Mr. Jams, has gone off to find any expert who can help them care for whatever comes out of a mysterious large egg. Trouble ensues during Mr. Jams' absence, and Clover fears that as a small, non-magical being, she may not be up for the challenge. Young readers will, of course, know better. 

Clover is an engaging heroine, insecure but determined, and slowly coming to a stronger sense of her own strengths. She has largely absent parents (necessary for this sort of story), but at least there are two of them, and they do make sure to leave her with food.

The book is filled with delightful magical tidbits, like a ghost baker who makes cupcakes so light that they float and a little Leprechaun girl dressed all in rainbow colors. These are lovingly captured by Alexandrea Boiger's pencil illustrations, large and small. One of my favorite details is on page four. The text says: "The back door of the Agency was hidden by dark green vines. The vines gave the door a secret feel, which Clover liked." On this page, a delicate drawing of vines covers the left and top margins. Small drawings bring to life everything from cupcakes to magical animal bathing apparatuses, while full-page illustrations bring the reader into Clover's world. 

Really, what's not to like about a book that starts with this:

"An egg is full of possibilities. Especially an enchanted one. The tiniest egg can hold the most fearsome dragon. The biggest egg, the shiest sea serpent."

and includes a tiny green kitten who can form his tail into the shape of a question mark? The Magical Animal Adoption Agency series belongs in classrooms and libraries everywhere. I look forward to sharing these books with my daughter when she is just the tiniest bit older. Recommended!

Publisher: Disney Hyperion (@DisneyHyperion)
Publication Date: November 3, 2015
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).


Weekends with Max and His Dad: Linda Urban

Book: Weekends with Max and His Dad
Author: Linda Urban
Illustrator: Katie Kath
Pages: 160
Age Range: 6-9

Weekends with Max and His Dad is the first of a new illustrated early chapter book series by Linda Urban. The book is divided into three multi-chapter sections. Each section recounts a weekend that third grader Max spends with his dad in his dad's new apartment (following his parents' separation). In other hands, a book for kids about adjusting to such a new family circumstance could have been didactic. In Linda Urban's hands, Weekends with Max and His Dad is flat out adorable. 

In the first section, Max sees his dad's bare, white apartment for the first time. Max is in a spy phase, and he learns about the new neighborhood, and helps out a stranger, while playing spy. All I could think when I was reading this section was how much my spy-obsessed five-year-old daughter would love it. On the second weekend, Max and his dad meet a couple of neighbors, and add a couch to the apartment. On the third weekend, Max's best friend comes for a sleepover, and the boys have to go on a quest to find necessary supplies for a school project. The entire book is filled with kid-relatable issues, sprinkled with Urban's trademark slightly quirky characters.

While many of the illustrations in the advanced copy that I read were still "to come", there were enough to see a light treatment of multi-culturalism. Max and his dad are white, but their turban-wearing neighbor Mrs. Tibbet appears to be dark-skinned, as is Max's best friend, Warren. The denizens of the coffeeshop frequented by Max and dad are realistically varied. The pictures also add plenty of humor, especially in the first section, when Max and dad are wearing spy disguises. There are maps and charts, and a delightful sketch of a porcupine. 

Here's a sample of the text:

"This disguise is so good even I don't know who I am," said Dad.

"That's okay." Max patted Dad's elbow. "I will remind you."

"Thanks, Pal." Dad smiled and his mustache fell off.

"You can't smile, Agent Cheese. You need to remain inconspicuous."

"Inconspicuous, eh?" Dad as careful not to smile with his mouth, but his eyes smiled anyway." (Weekend One, Chapter Two, ARC)

And here's a scene with neighbor Mrs. Tibbet, who is wonderful. Max and his dad have offered to take Mrs. Tibbet's dogs for a walk:

"A caution: These are not greyhounds. Their pace is not swift, and they like an intermission."

"Don't walk too fast and let them rest sometimes?" said Max.

"Exactly." (Weekend Two, Chapter Two, ARC)

All three sections end with scenes that are heartwarming without being cloying. As I finished the first of these I though, "Yep, my daughter is really going to love this book."And did you know that baby porcupines are called "porcupettes"? Linda Urban is the queen of kid-friendly. Max's dad is kind and thoughtful, but uncertain and prone to mistakes, too. He and Max feel real. I look forward to their further adventures. Highly recommended for schools and libraries serving elementary-age kids. 

Publisher:  HMH Books for Young Readers (@HMHKids)
Publication Date: April 5, 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).