93 posts categorized "Early Elementary School" Feed

Literacy Milestone: Reading Her First Elephant and Piggie Book Aloud

LiteracyMilestoneAThe other night I was downstairs while my husband put our daughter to bed. I heard her intermittently yelling, but couldn't tell what she was saying. I finally went up to see what was going on. I found them snuggled together, with my daughter reading aloud from We Are in a Book! by Mo Willems. When I asked about the noise she said: "Well, there's a lot of yelling in the book." What could I say to that? I stayed to listen for a while, and sure enough, she was reading aloud to Daddy about Elephant and Piggie being in a book.

Now, there may have been a bit of memorization going on, because my husband told me later that he had read it aloud to her first. At the end of the book, Gerald asks: "Hello. Will you please read us again?" My husband didn't want to read the same book again, and told her that if she wanted to read it again, she would have to read it herself. So she did. It's not a case where we've read this book aloud to her 50 times, though. We do read the books from this series aloud from time to time, but I've kind of had in mind to save them for her to read them herself, so I've tried not to wear them out.

This is incidentally an example of a "meta" book working to engage kids. Gerald asked her to read the book again, and this made her want to do so. I will also add that having your child read Elephant and Piggie books aloud right before bed is not the best choice, in terms of inducing sleepiness. My daughter got so into the book (hence the yelling) that it took her a while to calm down and go to sleep. But for earlier in the day? Perfection!

There's a reason that books from this series have won various Cybils and Geisel Award mentions over the years. [This title won the Cybils Award in 2010, for example.] I'm going to be very sorry when there are no more new Elephant and Piggie books (alas, soon!). But I'm glad that my daughter still has most of the titles ahead of her to read aloud for the first time. 

© 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


Mouse Scouts: Books 1 and 2: Sarah Dillard

Books: Mouse Scouts and Mouse Scouts Make A Difference
Author: Sarah Dillard
Pages: 128 and 144
Age Range: 7-9 (illustrated early chapter books)

When I received the first two books in the new Mouse Scouts series I immediately set them aside to read with my daughter. They were a hit with both of us, but especially with her. My daughter is five (nearly six) and just started in a Girl Scout Daisy Troop, an activity which she flat-out adores. The Mouse Scouts books are aimed directly at my daughter's demographic - kids who are new to being scouts of some sort, and are devoted to it - though I would expect kids reading this on their own to be more in the 7 to 9 range. 

In terms of reading level, they are early chapter books (10 chapters each) with good-sized text and at least a small black and white illustration on every page. They could probably ever so slightly precede the Clementine and Ivy and Bean books. They are less realistic than those series, being about mice vs. humans, but they are cute and kid-friendly, with a nice sprinkling of more advanced vocabulary words. Excerpts from the Mouse Scout Handbook are included after each chapter. The illustrations are well-integrated with the text, and add considerably to the stories for this age range. 

In Book 1, Mouse Scouts, readers meet best friends Violet and Tigerlily, who, with four other mice, have just advanced from Buttercups to Acorns. Their new Acorn leader, Miss Poppy, is rather strict. Timid Violet lives in fear that she will not measure up, and will be sent back to Buttercups, while the more brave and impulsive Tigerlily is less concerned. The other four mice are a bit more two-dimensional (at least so far), but they have sufficiently distinct traits for readers to tell them apart (one who cares about how she looks, one who eats a lot, one who is an allergy-prone bookworm, and one who is a follower).

The bulk of the book is taken up by the scouts' quest to obtain their Sow It and Grow It badge by creating and maintaining a garden over the summer. They have to scavenge for seeds, sow them, take care of them, and cope with unexpected challenges, like other rodents digging into the eventual vegetables. There's a nice mix of mouse-specific detail (e.g. only selecting vegetables that are small enough for them to carry) and concepts that are more generally applicable to readers (working together, Mouse Scout values, relying on each person's strengths, coping with demanding leaders, etc.). 

In Mouse Scouts Make A Difference, the mice are striving for their Make A Difference badge. This one is a bit more overtly message-y, particularly in the Mouse Scout Handbook excerpts. But no more so than the actual Girl Scout material that I've seen, and not so much that the message overwhelms the story. More in this case that the message is a main part of the story. Like this:

"One of the greatest ways that a Mouse Scout can make a difference is to help those in need. Whether you are assisting a neighbor stack a pile of nuts, bringing some cheese to a mouse who is sick, or simply clearing a leaf away from someone's door, your consideration can make another mouse's life easier and brighter." (Mouse Scout Handbook, end of Chapter 9)

What I think makes these books work is that Dillard never loses sight of the mouse-ness of her characters. When they clean up trash in a park they have to work to figure out a way to get the trash into the trash can (too high and smooth to reach). When the park is cleaner, Violet can "imagine mouse families spending happy afternoons building tunnels in the sandbox or napping under the shade of the daisies." There is advice for staying safe from cats, as well as for dealing with specific garden predators. She also never loses sight of the importance to the girls (especially Violet) of being Mouse Scouts, and trying to uphold the values of the troop and the organization. 

The Mouse Scout books are probably not going to work for everyone. But for my daughter and me, they hit just the right note, a fun mix of fantasy (little creatures in a bigger world) and reality (getting scout badges and learning to work together in teams, etc.). I think this will be a nice addition to the ranks of early chapter book series. While the Mouse Scouts are girls, I don't see why you couldn't try them on boys, too. There's not much that's unique to the mice being girls - the books are more about their bravery and determination than their gender. 

The last page of each book includes a table showing 16 Mouse Scout patches, including the ones depicted in the first two books. My daughter is very much hoping that there will be 14 more books in this series. Knowing about publication lead times, I fear that by the time many other books are published, my daughter's interest will have waned. But the Mouse Scout series is going to be a great fit for the next generation of new young scouts. Recommended for home or library purchase. 

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: January 5, 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).


Austin, Lost in America: Jef Czekaj

Book: Austin, Lost in America: A Geography Adventure
Author: Jef Czekaj
Pages: 40
Age Range: 6-9 (picture book for older kids)

Austin, Lost in America: A Geography Adventure is a picture book that seems best suited to first through third-graders. Austin is a dog in search of a home. He breaks out of his pet shop and embarks up on a criss-cross country journey through all 50 states, looking for the one that feels best. As he visits each state (usually over less than a page), author Jef Czekaj shares tidbits about that state. Each spread also includes a small map of the state with the capitol labeled. 

The tidbits about each state are quirky things that kids are likely to find amusing or interesting, like: "Every year, Brattleboro, Vermont hosts the Strolling of the Heifers, a parade of cows down its main street." Austin is displayed in some scene that matches the tidbit (e.g marching down the street ahead of a pack of cows, waving a baton). 

There's also an over-the-top narrative tying together the facts about each state and indicating why that state isn't the right one for Austin. Like this:

"Florida had to be it! It was warm. It was sunny. Austin ate oranges. He sunbathed. He swam with manatees. This would be the perfect place to live. (Image of Austin with sunglasses on a beach)

He even got invite to a dinner party. (Image of an alligator opening the door for Austin)

But when he discovered that he was to be the main course, he knew it was time to go." (Image of Austin lying on a dining room table, surrounded by alligators and crocodiles)

Austin, Lost in America is vividly illustrated and full of unusual and or amusing facts. It is, however, rather lengthy for a picture book. I can't imagine that preschoolers would have the patience for it. I myself was a bit daunted at the idea of reading about each and every state, with only a minimal thread tying the different sections together. But I do think that for first to third graders who are interested in learning more about the United States, Austin, Lost in America offers a plethora of facts in a non-intimidating context. It's probably more a book to dip into occasionally than a book to read through, cover to cover. But it is a fun and informative ride across the country. 

Publisher: Balzer + Bray (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: September 1, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2015 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).


West Meadows Detectives: The Case of the Snack Snatcher: Liam O'Donnell

Book: West Meadows Detectives: The Case of the Snack Snatcher
Author: Liam O'Donnell
Illustrator: Aurelie Grand
Pages: 128
Age Range: 7-10 (illustrated early chapter book)

The Case of the Snack Snatcher is the first book in the new West Meadows Detectives early chapter book series from Owl Kids. The Case of the Snack Snatcher is told from the perspective of Myron, who is starting as a new third grade student at West Meadows Elementary. Myron, who is autistic, spends his mornings in a special class, Room 15, though he is in a regular class in the afternoons.

On his very first day, Myron, who fancies himself a detective, sets out to solve a mystery involving the theft of the morning's snacks. He is soon joined in mystery-solving by fellow Room 15 denizen Hajrah (there because she "bounce(s) around too much"). Myron and Hajrah look for clues and experience intimidation by a couple of school bullies. They are supported and encouraged by the school's staff, particularly their teacher, Mr. Harpel.

Myron's voice works well. He clearly thinks in a different way than other kids do, but not in such a different way that young readers will find him hard to connect with. Some of his particular autistic traits serve him well as a detective (such as keen senses of smell and hearing). I was reminded of The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd, but The Case of the Snack Snatcher is more accessible for young readers. Like this:

 ""Stop digging your heels into the sidewalk," Mom said. "Let's go!"

I wasn't really digging my heels into the sidewalk. That would be impossible. The sidewalk is made of concrete. My heels are made of skin, bone, muscles, and blood. And I only had running shoes on. It was an expression. I don't like expressions, either." (Page 8)

And:

"I was also too busy thinking about the Meadows Fireballs.

Apparently, they are a big soccer team in town. I didn't know anything about them. I'm not a big soccer fan. I'm not a big any-sports fan. I don't see the point in kicking a ball across a field. It would be much easier to pick it up and carry it." (Page 94)

Hajrah is simply delightful, buoyant and impervious to rejection, she is the perfect foil for Myron. Like this: 

"Hajrah didn't walk down the corridor--she zipped. She had one speed: fast. She did not zip in a straight line. She carved high-speed curves down the hallway, like a downhill skier. And she talked the whole way." (Page 35)

I did think that the adults in The Case of the Snack Snatcher were implausibly slow on the uptake at times, but I don't think that will be a negative with the book's target audience. The mystery itself, while not complex, was not obvious, either. The Case of the Snack Snatcher has a nice mix of action and character development for the target age range. Aurelie Grand's occasional black and white illustrations help by highlighting Myron's somewhat fussy personality, as well as the diversity of the other characters. 

So we have a literal-minded kid who sets himself up as a detective. We have another kid who can't sit still (and, bonus, comes from an ethnically diverse background). These characters are set against a cozy elementary school setting. And there's a mystery involving the theft of snacks. Who doesn't love snacks? The Case of the Snack Snatcher is total kid-friendly fare. I look forward to seeing future books in the West Meadows Detectives series. This title is well worth a look for library purchase, or for home use by mystery-loving newer readers.  

Publisher: Owl Kids (@OwldKids) 
Publication Date: October 13, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2015 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).


Mr. Putter & Tabby Smell the Roses: Cynthia Rylant and Arthur Howard

Book: Mr. Putter & Tabby Smell the Roses
Author: Cynthia Rylant
Illustrator: Arthur Howard
Pages: 40
Age Range: 5-8 (early reader)

Mr. Putter & Tabby Smell the Roses is the 24th book in this early reader series written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Arthur Howard. In this installment, Mrs. Teaberry celebrates a birthday. Mr. Putter, her long-time best friend, wants to do something different and special for her this year. After much reflection over cups of cocoa, Mr. Putter decides to take his plant-loving friend, together with their respective pets, to the local Conservatory. Even after Mrs. Teaberry's dog, Zeke, causes a bit of chaos, the friends have a wonderful day together. 

There are amusing moments in Mr. Putter & Tabby Smell the Roses, like when Zeke is able to behave himself "for five minutes" and when Mrs. Teaberry ends up with "a head full of leaves". The book also displays quiet heart. My favorite passage was this one (right after entering the Conservatory):

"Mr. Putter sniffed the air.
It smelled all wet and flowery.
It reminded him of going outside
in the rain when he was a boy.
It smelled so green."

Lovely! Howard's illustrations share the same mix of warmth and humor, from Mrs. Teaberry smiling on receiving a compliment on her appearance to Tabby's rear end visible from the heights of a lemon tree.

I also liked the overall message (delivered in a non-didactic way) that a) the way to celebrate someone's birthday is to think about what they like and b) that what's most important is just being together with your favorite people (or animals). Reading this book to my not-quite-reading-on-her-own daughter, it was enough for us to slide into a discussion about what our own family members might want to do to celebrate their birthdays. 

Of course, Mr. Putter & Tabby Smell the Roses is meant to be read by new readers on their own (perhaps with a bit of help for words like "Conservatory". Rylant is expert at keeping her sentences short and vocabulary accessible, while making the story interesting. Mr. Putter & Tabby Smell the Roses is another fine installment to this long-running series. A must- purchase for libraries serving new readers, this particular title would also make a nice birthday gift for a five or six year old. Recommended. 

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (@HMHKids)
Publication Date: September 15, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2015 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 Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party

Book: The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party
Author: Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
Illustrator: LeUyen Pham
Pages: 96
Age Range: 5-8

The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party is the second book in the Princess in Black series, by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale with illustrations by LeUyen Pham. This second book is even better than the first. My daughter and I both hope that there will be many more. 

The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party is an early chapter book with frequent color illustrations. It is perfect for newer readers, but also works well as a read-aloud. As this installment begins, "prim and perfect Princess Magnolia" is about to host her own birthday party. She is interrupted, however, by a ring of her "glitter-stone ring", indicating that her presence, as the top-secret Princess in Black, is needed to fight monsters. As the story progresses, the calls keep coming, and the poor princess wonders if she will ever be able to open her birthday presents. 

I read this to my daughter in a single sitting. She had enjoyed the first book, The Princess in Black, but this one she found hilarious. She was simply choking with laughter as the glitter-stone ring kept interrupting Princess Magnolia's party. She was sitting up in bed, tapping on the pages, saying things like: "Another monster!! This one is pink!". She was completely engaged. [This proved to be a less than perfect book for bedtime reading because she was so excited that she wouldn't settle down. But these are the risks we take.]

There's a passage late in the book which emphasizes the repeated nature of the interruptions. Several, but not all, of the sentences are followed by "Again." My daughter chimed in after every sentence with "Again." As soon as we finished the book she wanted to read it again, with Daddy. I was concerned when reading the beginning of the book that it was going to be too much like the first Princess in Black book. Little did I know that this repetitive structure was part of the story, the part that would make my own small child giggle uncontrollably. It's brilliant.

What I especially liked about The Perfect Princess Party was the extensive, though not overwhelming, use (as hinted by the title) of alliteration. This makes The Perfect Princess Party a delight to read aloud, though one might not notice so much if reading silently. Magnolia has a "favorite fluffy dress". She "slid down the secret chute." The "ballon bobbed." And so on. The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party is in any case sprinkled with enjoyable words to read aloud. Like "faithful steed" and "Frimplepants." The princesses who attend Magnolia's birthday party have fun names like Princess Euphoria and Princess Sneezewort.

As in the first book, LeUyen Pham's bright illustrations add humor and drama to the story. Young readers will especially enjoy watching Magnolia become increasingly disheveled after fighting a sequence of monsters. The visiting princesses are a multicultural lot, compete with the trappings of various cultures (dragon, giraffe, etc.). The party-related illustrations are generally pink and frothy, while the monster fight scenes are more bold and comic book-like. The drama of the fight scenes prompted an "Oh my!" from my own young listener. 

The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party has everything a young reader (or listener) could ask for: a butt-kicking heroine in black, a lovely party with pink cupcakes and a beautiful young hostess, party games, and monster defeats. This second installment is a bit more pink than the first, which could turn off male readers. But I hope it doesn't. Because Princess Magnolia's struggles to do her duty, despite the pain of denying herself presents, should resonate with all kids. As should the laugh-out-loud humor and rich vocabulary in The Princess in Black and Perfect Princess Party. This party is not to be missed, and would make a pitch-perfect fifth birthday gift for any child. Highly recommended, and a must-have for libraries. 

Publisher: Candlewick 
Publication Date: October 13, 2015
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2015 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).


Upside-Down Magic: Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle and Emily Jenkins

Book: Upside-Down Magic
Author: Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle and Emily Jenkins
Pages: 208
Age Range: 8-12

Upside-Down Magic is the first of a new middle grade series by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle and Emily Jenkins. After attending an ordinary elementary school, ten-year-old Nory applies to start fifth grade at the prestigious magical academy that her brother and sister attend, and where her father is principal. Unfortunately, Nory's magic, though strong, is a bit, well, wonky. Nory ends up being sent away to live with her aunt, and attend a special Upside-Down Magic class. Missing her family, Nory is determined to fix herself, so that she can go home. But, of course, things are not quite so simple when your magic is Upside-Down. 

The Upside-Down Magic class reminded me a bit of the Island of Misfit Toys from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The magic for the kids in the class works backwards or differently from what people expect. While it's normal for Flares to be able to control fire, Elliott can't help freezing things instead. And poor Andres has to be attached to a leash, otherwise he will simply float away. As for Nory, she can't seem to shift into one animal at a time - she ends up turning into creatures like a beaver-kitten that eats everything in sight. 

On thing I like about this book is that, despite the fact that everyone has some sort of magical ability (or disability), Upside-Down Magic is in many ways an ordinary school story. There is a caring, if quirky, teacher. There are friendships to be made, humiliations to be suffered, and bullies to be confronted. Nory is homesick, but learns to appreciate the lax rules in her aunt's household. The book's central conflict doesn't involve saving the world, but rather, whether or not Nory will find a way to graduate from Upside-Down Magic class. This makes Upside-Down Magic a great book for younger readers who like the idea of reading about magic, but aren't ready for complex world-building or epic crises. 

One other nice thing about this book is the authors' treatment of diversity. One learns part-way through the book, in matter-of-fact manner, that Nory's dad is black, while her (deceased) mom was white. Hence she looks black, but is living with her white aunt. Whenever any character is introduced, Nory notes the person's skin color and (sometimes) ethnicity. Even if the character is white. There's no judgement about this one way or the other. Nory notes people's appearances just as she notes their likely magical classification (Flare, Flyer, etc.). I found it quite refreshing. Here's an example:

"Elliott tapped his big-hair head at a boy a few years away, floating in the air. He was brown, probably Latino, Nory thought. He had shaggy hair and wore a stripy shirt. He was a Flyer, obviously, but he was much higher up than any beginner flyer Nory had seen."Every so often his body jerked forward. He flailed his arms. Around one ankle was a red rope. An older girl held the other end and chatted with her friends." (Page 52)

Upside-Down Magic is a quick, accessible read, perfect for elementary-age kids, with a direct take on diversity, and a surprisingly realistic setting. It should particularly appeal to those kids (most kids?) who have fantasized about being able to fly, change shapes, or talk to animals. I look forward to reading future titles in this fun new series. 

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic
Publication Date: September 29, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2015 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).


Milo Speck, Accidental Agent: Linda Urban

Book: Milo Speck, Accidental Agent
Author: Linda Urban
Pages: 272
Age Range: 7-10

Milo Speck, Accidental Agent, by Linda Urban, is a lightly illustrated fantasy for early middle grade readers about a boy who is sucked through a clothes dryer into a land of ogres. In Orgrgon, Milo learns that his fencing-salesman father has secrets, and that the long absence of his mother might have a more complex explanation. He finds himself on the run from ogres who want to eat him, or smash him, or both. He meets up with the (human) head of a secret organization, discovers that he has a way with turkeys, and struggles to make a difference as a tiny boy in a very large world.

Milo Speck, Accidental Agent is filled with kid-friendly, humorous details. Author Linda Urban leaves no stone unturned in her world-building. The ogres are greedy, near-sighted, and none too bright. Pun-like spelling errors abound, like the "Out of Odor" signs on a drinking fountain and an elevator, and the "Keep Calm and Carrion" inspirational banner. The local newspaper is called the Ogregonian, with a banner "All the News We Feel Like Printing."

Milo is a relatable character, longing for more attention from his traveling father, insecure about his small size, but with a core of steel when he needs it. His prickly relationship with a human girl he encounters in Ogregon will make readers like him even more, I think. 

Here's an opener sure to pull in young readers:

"Milo had read about magic before. He knew that kids in stories sometimes found magic in secret drawers or hidden away in attics, and he had always hoped that if he were to find magic, it would appear in the form of a mysterious silver coin or a doorway to an enchanted world. But when magic came to Milo Speck, it came in the form of a sock.

"Figures," said Milo."

And right there we see his idealism and his sense of humor. Perfect. 

There's also a bit of a technical bent to the story, involving the way that dryers are constructed. I like it when magic is mixed (or explained by) science, and Urban does a fine job here. As a small bonus, Urban also uses Milo Speck, Accidental Agent to explain what's happened to all of the socks lost in clothes dryers (see Chapter 2).

Mariano Epelbaum's pencil illustrations bring Milo to life, and convey the scale of the story (e.g. a tiny Milo peeking out from between the fingers of a gnarled hand with long, cracked fingernails).  

A note from the author at the end of Milo Speck, Accidental Agent says that Urban was inspired by the works of Roald Dahl and Edward Eager. I could  see the Dahl influence in the over-the-top nastiness of the ogres (for whom a primary delicacy is "boy"), as well as in the setup of a corporate headquarters that included rooms like "the Office of Bragging About Stuff". Eager's influence is more subtle, but there in the way that magic is more complicated than the characters expect, or are prepared for. 

In any event, I think that kids will enjoy Milo Speck, Accidental Agent, and will look forward to Milo's future adventures (one significant mystery remains unsolved - there will surely be at least one more book). And if, as Urban suggests, this book leads them onward to Dahl and Eager, that's a happy outcome, too. Milo Speck would make a fun classroom read-aloud, and is definitely one to look at for elementary school libraries. 

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (@HMHKids)
Publication Date: September 1, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2015 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).


Confessions of an Imaginary Friend: A Memoir by Jacques Papier: Michelle Cuevas

Book: Confessions of an Imaginary Friend: A Memoir by Jacques Papier
Author: Michelle Cuevas
Pages: 176
Age Range: 8-12

Confessions of an Imaginary Friend: A Memoir by Jacques Papier is, as you would expect from the title, the first person tale of a boy who learns, gradually, that he is in fact the imaginary friend of a girl named Fleur. Jacques starts out telling the reader about his twin sister and his parents. He laments the fact that people don't seem to like him, not picking him for the soccer team, or calling on him in class. When another imaginary friend clues him in to reality, he resists for a while, and ends up in group therapy, but eventually accepts his fate. From there, a slightly surreal journey of self-discovery ensues. 

I found this to be a kid-friendly premise, well-executed. The story calls to mind the recent Caldecott winning picture book The Adventures of Beekle: An Unimaginary Friend, by Dan Santat. I was also reminded a bit of the Toy Story movies. But Michelle Cuevas' rendition of life as an imaginary friend offers a variety of unique twists, like the fact that the dog can apparently see the imaginary friend. There is even a bureaucracy involving moving from one imaginary friend position to another, with an after hours hotline for "imaginary emergencies". It is fun stuff!  

Despite not being technically real, Jacques is a fully rounded character, with his own interests and a distinctive voice. Like this:

"Maurice was old. I don't mean grandparent old or even great-grandparent old. I mean old. Old like the candles on his birthday cake cost more than the cake. Old like his memories were in black and white. (Page 10)

"I became very blue.

Okay, I'll be honest, that's an understatement. I was way beyond blue. I moved into shades of navy and indigo and midnight. I got so low, my insides must have turned the color of deep space, of burned campfire, of the dark up a dragon's nose in a dungeon." (Page 41)

I liked Jacque's "parents", too, especially the dad. They've supported Fleur's imaginary friend ideas to an impressive degree (bunk beds, a place at the table, etc.). But as Fleur reaches 8 years old, as convinced as ever that Jacques is real, they start to have their doubts:

"THAT'S IT! I've had it! This is just ... just ...  too much imagination!" he yelled. He stood in his robe, his hair on end like a madman. "It's just too many layers," he continued. "A girl having an imaginary friend is one thing. But an imaginary friend who has his own imaginary friend? No, no, it's too much. It's like a nesting doll of imagination! It's like a painting of a painting! It's like the wind catching a chill from the wind, or a wave taking a dip in the ocean. It's like reading a novel that merely describes another novel." (Page 30)

While much of Confessions of an Imaginary Friend involves over-the-top humor, this is a story that addresses profound questions about one's sense of self. When Jacques learns that he isn't real, Fleur wonders if she might also be imaginary. Because if Jacques always thought that he was real but wasn't, why couldn't that happen to anyone? Then later, Jacques has to figure out what makes him himself, even if the details of his appearance change. Some of this may be beyond the comprehension of the eight-year-old reader, but I believe that Confessions of an Imaginary Friend will still work, even without a full grasp of the subtleties. 

Confessions of an Imaginary Friend is a middle grade title that welcomes newer readers. The sixty chapters are extremely short (~3 pages each), the lines are wide-spaced, and the book is lightly illustrated with small sketches by the author. However, I think that Confessions of an Imaginary Friend will also work for older readers, particularly those who are starting to wonder what it is that makes them special. It would make a wonderful classroom read-aloud, and it's one that is going on my keep shelf for when my daughter is a bit older. Definitely recommended!

Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers (@PenguinKids) 
Publication Date: September 8,2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2015 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 Bumpers vs. the Perfect Little Turkey: Bill Harley

Book: Charlie Bumper vs. the Perfect Little Turkey
Author: Bill Harley
Illustrator: Adam Gustavson
Pages: 160
Age Range: 7-10

I liked Bill Harley's first Charlie Bumpers book, Charlie Bumpers vs. the Squeaking Skull. So I was happy to give Book 4, Charlie Bumpers vs. the Perfect Little Turkey, a look. Charlie Bumpers is a third grader with an annoying younger sister, the Squid AKA Mabel, and a bossy older brother, Matt. The Charlie Bumpers books are highly realistic illustrated early chapter books, with a likable and imperfect hero. 

In this installment, Thanksgiving is approaching, and Charlie's parents have inadvertently ended up with slightly too many guests expected for Thanksgiving dinner. Charlie is particularly aggrieved to learn that he'll be expected to share his bedroom with his annoying younger cousin, Chip (much to the amusement of Matt and Mabel). Charlie's dissatisfaction with his parents and siblings lead him to submit a snide response to a school assignment about defining family. However, over the course of the long holiday weekend, Charlie has occasion to reassess. 

I quite liked this story. I found the core family dynamics to be realistic, even as some of the actual events were a bit over the top (a good things for this age range). Charlie's parents are strict, and when distracted, are not always completely fair. But they mean well. The relatives, particularly Chip, are flawed, even Charlie's beloved Uncle Ron. The ending involves some degree of redemption for Charlie's suffering, but not in an overly-saccharine way. His revised definition of family is true to Charlie's own voice. 

And here are a couple of snippets, to give you a feel for Charlie's voice:

"Mrs. Burke was sneaky. She'd fooled us again. She had gotten all of us interested in something, and now we had to write about it. What a horrible way to ruin a perfectly good learning experience." (Page 15, ARC)

"Mom was acting like a marine sergeant. She always gets like this when relatives come. But you don't argue with a marine sergeant--especially when it's your mom." (Page 43, ARC)

"I looked at Mom. If we'd been in a cartoon, there would've been little puffs of steam coming out of her ears." (Page 107, ARC)

As an adult reader, I could sympathize with Mom, but the above passage still made me chortle. 

One other thing I enjoyed in this book. Charlie's little sister has just learned to read, and spends the entire book spelling things, and sounding things out. I think that the relatively new readers who are this book's target audience will find this funny. 

Charlie Bumpers and the Perfect Little Turkey reminded me a bit of The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, albeit for a younger age range, and with a bit less diversity (though there is some). It's the story of an ordinary kid in the midst of the chaos of extended family and friends, coping with a difficult cousin and, ultimately, bonding with his own siblings. Charlie Bumpers and the Perfect Little Turkey would be a great read for any early elementary schooler this fall, prior to the Thanksgiving holiday. It's not necessary to have read the earlier books in the series to enjoy this one. Recommended!

Publisher: Peachtree Publishers (@PeachtreePub)
Publication Date: September 1, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2015 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 


Piper Green and the Fairy Tree: Books 1 and 2: Ellen Potter

Books: Piper Green and the Fairy Tree and Piper Green and the Fairy Tree: Too Much Good Luck 
Author: Ellen Potter
Illustrator: Qin Leng
Pages: 112 / 128
Age Range: 7-9

Piper Green and the Fairy Tree is the first book in a fun new illustrated early chapter book series written by Ellen Potter and illustrated by Qin Leng. Piper is a second grader who lives on tiny Peek-a-Boo Island, which is apparently off the coast of Maine. Because there are only eight K-8 kids on Peek-a-Boo island, Piper rides a lobster boat every day to attend school on the slightly larger Mink Island. She also has a Fairy Tree in her front yard. 

Piper reminds me quite a lot of Clementine. She gets funny ideas in her head, and doesn't hesitate to speak her mind. Her enthusiasms sometimes get her into trouble. Her trials in the series opener include her sadness over the departure of her older brother, who has gone to live on the mainland to attend high school, and her adjustment to having a new, slightly crabby, teacher. But the Fairy Tree, discovered via the guidance of a quirky elderly neighbor, offers a significant consolation. 

Here are a couple of snippets, to give you a feel for Piper's voice:

"I tried not to look over at the empty chair. It's the chair that Erik usually sits in. But my eyes have a mind of their own. They peeked.

It was the saddest-looking empty chair I had ever seen." (Page 10)

And:

"Leo (Piper's little brother) tells everyone that he is married. His wife is named Michelle and she is a piece of paper. Their children are three yellow Post-it notes that he stuck on Michelle." (Page 16)

Qin Leng's black and white illustrations show Piper as tow-headed and a bit dirty, with (at least at times) a stubborn set to her posture. There are lovely maps of the islands at the front of the book, sure to fascinate young readers. 

I think that the romance of Piper's island life, combined with the magic of the Fairy Tree, make Piper Green and the Fairy Tree highly kid-friendly. There are also delicious baked goods, adorable kittens, and comfortable friendships. As a special bonus for me, a New England transplant, there are people who say "wicked" (meaning "excellent"). (All that is missing is references to watching the Red Sox. Perhaps in later books...)

Book 2, Piper Green and the Fairy Tree: Too Much Luck picks up shortly after Book 1. Piper thinks that she is having a great day when she has not one, two, or three but FOUR pieces of good luck. Unfortunately, her friend Jacob tells her that according to his dad, "four lucky things is TOO MUCH good luck. And too much good luck equals bad luck." 

New trials include the finding of only one earring (vs. a pair) in the Fairy Tree, and, more importantly, the arrival of a new student who is allergic to Piper's beloved class pet. Piper's attempt to scare the new student away does not go well, but it all turns out ok in the end. As a parent, I like that all of Piper's authority figures come down hard on her - reasonable punishment and profuse apologies are a given.

Here's my favorite quote from Book 2:

""Ruby, Ruby! Guess what?" I ran right up to her and did a binky. A binky is this thing that Nacho does when he's happy. Nacho is our class bunny and he is the sweetest, most adorable bunny you have ever seen in your life. When he does a binky, he pops right up in the air and kicks out his hind legs. Ruby and I started doing binkies, too, whenever we're happy. It makes you look like a total madman, but we don't care." (Page 28-29)

Side bonus_ a cheerful illustration of Piper and Ruby doing binkies, while a younger boy hides under the slide, watching. Incidentally, small islands off the coast of Maine are not likely to be bastions of diversity, but as another small bonus, Leng has rendered Ruby Asian-American. 

I think that the Piper Green series is a promising addition to the ranks of early chapter books. Librarians serving new readers will definitely want to take a look at these. The setting is inherently interesting, and there's just the tiniest hint of magic to add an extra thrill. Piper is not a very "girly" girl, and I see no reason why boys wouldn't enjoy this series just as much as girls do. There are boats, and smelly fish, donuts, and class pets. What's not to love? Recommended for newly independent readers, age 7 to 9. 

Publisher: Yearling Books (Knopf Books for Young Readers) (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: August 4, 2015
Source of Book: Review copies from the publisher

© 2015 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).


I Will Take a Nap!: Mo Willems

Book: I Will Take a Nap! (Elephant & Piggie)
Author: Mo Willems
Pages: 64
Age Range: 5-8

We are huge Mo Willems fans in my household, reading everything from the Knuffle Bunny books to the Pigeon books to Willems' standalone titles. Willems was, in fact, the first author that my daughter could name. As in, "let's read a book by Mo Willems now". She loves, loves, loves the way that Willems gives his series characters cameos in other books.  

The Elephant & Piggie books are a fabulous and multiple Cybils Award-winning series of early readers. Although they are meant for new readers to read themselves, my daughter and I frequently read them together. These days she'll have me do most of the reading, but will chime in herself with the occasional word. The books are so fun that this is not at all boring for me as an adult reader (unlike some early reader series). 

The latest Elephant & Piggie book is I Will Take a Nap!. In this installment, Gerald the Elephant decides to take a nap (with his stuffed animal, a Knuffle Bunny). He lies down, all comfortable and sleepy. And the next thing you know, there's his friend Piggie, interrupting him. Gerald's cranky response makes Piggie cranky, too, and she also decides to take a nap. But it turns out that someone snores, making napping together very difficult. Then, a surreal twist arises, which led us to go back to see the twist telegraphed from the beginning. The twist makes this a particularly enjoyable installment to the series. 

As in the other Elephant & PIggie books, much of the fun lies in the way Willems conveys the characters' emotions through both their expressions and postures and through fonts. When Piggie is interrupting, Gerald proclaims: "I am NOT napping!". His eyes are red. His forehead is wrinkled. His body is twisting in agitation. And his words are shown in large letters. Kids get Elephant and Piggie. And they love them. As do I. 

I Will Take a Nap! has some cute details, like Piggie's security stuffed animal being in the form of an elephant (to Gerald's blushes), and the turnip-headed Elephant and Piggie (and Pigeon) on the end pages. The crankiness that telegraphs the need to nap and that escalates when a nap is interrupted are universally relatable. I Will Take a Nap! is a must-purchase title for libraries, and a fine addition to anyone's home collection of early readers. Highly recommended! And now, I'm off to take a nap. 

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion (@DisneyHyperion)
Publication Date: June 2, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2015 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).