117 posts categorized "Early Elementary School" Feed

Publications for Kids from the US Government Bookstore

This summer I received a packet of books and interactive booklets from the US Government Publishing Office (GPO). Basically, the GPO has an online bookstore where you can purchase children's books (and adult books) that have been published by various government agencies.  Who knew? They actually have a Government Book Talk Blog where you can learn about the books, with posts often keyed to holidays and other relevant events. You do have to buy the books from the government (via website, phone, at their retail store in Washington, etc.). But they have some cool stuff. 

WhereIsBearThey sent me a couple of paperback picture books from the CDC that were designed for parents to help understand their children's developmental milestones. They are include lots of prompts for parents to interact with two and three year olds, and they have little "Milestone Moments" on each page to tell parents what to expect as their children's literacy develops. These types of books are not really my sort of thing, but the two that I received (Where Is Bear?: A Terrific Tale for 2-Year Olds and Amazing Me: It's Busy Being Three) were cute, and certainly put together with attention to detail. I could see value in, say, distributing them as part of a Reach Out and Read type program. You can read more about them here

JuniorPaleontologistThey also sent me several softcover activity booklets from the National Park Service, a Junior Ranger Activity Booklet for Haleakala, a Junior Paleontologist Activity Book for Ages 5-12, a Junior Ranger activity guide for California-Zephyr, and a Junior Ranger Night Explorer booklet for the Midwest Region. The website shows various others, for all sorts of activities and locations. These activity books would, I think, be extremely handy for keeping a child busy when visiting a National Park. They are chock full of word searches, board games (where you just use a pebble or something for playing pieces), fill in the blank quizzes, journal entries, and connect the dots. They have clearly been extensively researched and are full of details about the topic at hand. Here's one example:

"Native Hawaiians are incredible scientists. Scientists learn best by just watching, hearing, and feeling how things around them interact. They observe many things: rocks, plants, birds, air, sun, stars, and much more. Pre-European contact Hawaiians did not have a written language. They had to memorize everything that they learned." This is followed by questions like "Think of ways you can help yourself memorize things without writing them down." 

Some of the content is more fact based, while some of it leans towards passing on positive messages about National Parks, nature, etc. The Haleakala one has required activities that you need to do. If you do them you can get a park ranger to sign your certificate. The Junior Paleontologist one was more general, without the associated certificate. I think my daughter will enjoy working with this one from home. 

HaleakalaMy general impression of the activity books was that they all had a LOT of content, and could keep kids busy in the car for quite some time. They are lightweight but are full color, and sturdy enough to survive a road trip. If I were headed to a National Park or other landmark I would consider checking online ahead of time for associated publications. At the very least, if saw said publications in the visitor's center on checking in, I would definitely pick one up. We'll keep the Haleakala one for our next trip!

And just to point out the wide variety of government agencies producing children's publications, the last booklet in my packet was Understanding Marine Debris: Games & Activities for Kids of All Ages, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This has a glossy cover and a black and white interior with sturdy pages. There's everything inside from coloring to dot to dot to Mad Libs. This one is, as you would expect from the title, fairly didactic in terms of the content ("How your packed lunch can make less trash", etc.), but it's been my observation that many kids love this sort of thing. They can use the knowledge against their parents and show how smart they are ("Mommy, the book says you should be using reusable grocery bags", or whatever). I also thought that they did a nice job of keeping the activities fun. Which is the point, of course. 

Bottom line: the US Government Publishing Office has a wide range of publications designed to inform and educate kids (and parents). If you are looking for activity books for your kids on some particular topic (a trip you are taking, a point you want to make to them about the environment, etc.), their website would a good place to start. And if you are out in a Visitor's Center somewhere, take a look at the kids' publications. I think you'll be surprised by the level of effort that's gone into making them entertaining. 

© 2018 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).


Spy Toys: Mark Powers & Tim Wesson

Book: Spy Toys
Author: Mark Powers
Illustrator: Tim Wesson
Pages: 224
Age Range: 8-12

SpyToysSpy Toys, written by Mark Powers, with frequent black and white illustrations by Tim Wesson, is the first of a new chapter book series from Bloomsbury (an epilogue points to future stories, at any rate). Spy Toys is set in a slightly futuristic world in which a company called Snaztacular Ultrafun makes intelligent toys, each with "a tiny computerized brain that gave it a personality and allowed it to walk and talk as if it were alive."

Due to quality control policies at the manufacturing plant, however, two toys are rejected: a Snugaliffic Cuddlestar teddy bear named Dan who is vastly too strong to cuddle any human and a cranky rag doll named Arabella who can't stand people. When Dan and Arabella escape the plant, they meet up with an escaped mechanical police bunny named Flax, and the three toy-like intelligent creatures are recruited into the Department of Secret Affairs. Before they know it, the three Spy Toys are sent on an assignment to hide in plain sight and protect the spoiled son of a senator. 

I found Spy Toys to be entertaining, with a wry humor that especially appealed. Like this:

"When you hugged one of these bears, it actually hugged you back. In a world where many parents were simply too busy to do trivial things like hug their children, the teddy bears sold in their millions." (Chapter One)

There's also a scene in Chapter Five in which a set of toddler triplets is used to test the resilience of the Spy Toys, because "No destructive force has yet been found that's greater than a toddler." 

I especially enjoyed the sharp-tongued Arabella. After she and Dan escape she at first tries to abandon him. When he asks what he should do know she says:

"How should I know? You're a bear. Go and eat a marmalade sandwich or something." (Chapter Three)

It's just fun. Tim Wesson's illustrations lend additional humor. Dan's kindness is visible in his big, soft eyes, even as the tiny Arabella wears a frequent scowl, despite heart-decorated cheeks. Even a minor jump rope character has a face and a personality. 

The plot flows swiftly. There are plenty of sound effects and cartoon-style exploits to keep younger elementary school readers engaged, while the mild social commentary (e.g. a burger place that even fries the buns, and is hence very popular) keeps Spy Toys relevant for older readers, too. Spy Toys is a promising start to a new series, and should be a welcome addition to library collections serving elementary school kids. Recommended!

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BloomsburyKids)
Publication Date: January 16, 2018
Source of Book: Advance 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).


Ellie, Engineer: Jackson Pearce

Book: Ellie, Engineer
Author: Jackson Pearce
Illustrator: Tuesday Mourning
Pages: 192
Age Range: 8-12

EllieEngineerEllie, Engineer is an early middle grade novel by Jackson Pearce, lightly illustrated by Tuesday Mourning, about a girl named Ellie Bell who loves to design and build things. She's a more grown up (~10 years old), more confident version of Rosie Revere, Engineer. Ellie has turned the playhouse portion of her backyard playset into a workshop. She walks around wearing a tool belt. Her prize possession is a small drill. Her best friend, Kit, also likes to build things, though Kit is more interested in things like staying clean and attending beauty pageants than Ellie is. 

Ellie, Engineer begins with Ellie furious because the neighborhood boys refuse to let her play soccer, because she is a girl. She builds a water balloon launcher and uses it to wreak a successful revenge. However, when Kit's birthday present (a French-braiding machine) goes awry, Ellie finds herself needing a to build a new present in secret and on short notice. Her ambitious plans to build a dog house (for the dog that the eavesdropping girls believe that Kit is getting) require help. And that means that Ellie has to reach out to other kids, including one of the dreaded neighborhood boys. 

As a woman who studied engineering in college and graduate school, I, of course, found Ellie irresistible. I liked her parents' free range attitude towards her pursuits, and I liked that even though she was into building things she also liked to wear things like fluffy purple skirts. I loved that she built a balloon launcher, and that she was able to seek out help where her own strengths were not a match (like in decorating the inside of the dog house). I loved this:

"The drill was one of her favorite tools because it was the only electric tool she was allowed to use without her mom and dad watching. She'd written Ellie Bell's Drill across the side in purple paint pen, then drawn some flowers and some dragons, which had mostly rubbed off by now since she used it so much." (Chapter One)

The combination of wanting to build things, but also wanting to decorate a drill with flowers and dragons, felt realistic to me. Contrived, maybe, a tiny bit, but I'll give it a pass because I think that readers will like it. 

I also liked the illustrations, consisting largely of Ellie's designs, drawn on graph paper. Oh, how I loved graph paper when I was young, all through school. The sketch of the balloon launcher, made out of a spare yard sign, two brooms, exercise bands and a funnel, was delightful, especially little instructions like "SOAK BOYS!".

I was not quite as keen on the friendship dynamics of the book. When Ellie started telling unnecessary lies (because of what she thought other people would think about her co-conspirators), I gave a little sigh. The conflicts were resolved rather easily in the end for my taste, though I do think that the book is appropriate to kids in the target age range. I'm interested to test it out on my seven year old daughter. I did laugh out loud at this bit:

"Ellie frowned. This was turning into a big project, with so many people wanting to help. Plus, she wasn't so sure she trusted the neighborhood boys when they were all together like this. Boys, as far as she could tell, were sort of like rabbits. One was fine and maybe even interesting to play with, but a whole bunch of them would just be a lot of jumping and running and smelling." (Chapter Six)

This last quote does suggest a rather direct targeting of Ellie, Engineer toward girls, though I would think that boys would find Ellie's projects interesting, too. 

Parents who want to encourage their girls to be interested in STEM fields should certainly pick up a copy of Ellie, Engineer for their daughters. It's a shame this is releasing in January, instead of in time for Christmas. It would also be a good addition to elementary school library collections. The back matter suggests that this book is the first of a new series, so I expect that we'll see Ellie and her friends in future books. Recommended and entertaining!

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BloomsburyKids)
Publication Date: January 16, 2018
Source of Book: Advanced 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 Uncanny Express: Kara LaReau + Jen Hill

Book: The Uncanny Express (The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters, Book 2)
Author: Kara LaReau
Illustrator: Jen Hill
Pages: 176
Age Range: 7-10

UncannyExpressThe Uncanny Express is the second book in the Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters series, written by Kara LaReau and illustrated by Jen Hill. The Bland sisters, Jaundice and Kale, love on their own in a boring house in Dullsville. In the absence of their parents (who have been gone for years, having adventures), Kale and Jaundice darn people's socks for a living. In The Uncanny Express, however, they are drawn into an adventure involving a train ride, a lady magician named Magique, and a mysterious disappearance. They find themselves co-opted twice as assistants, first to Magique, and then to detective Hugo Fromage. It's quite an adventure for two girls who would prefer to stay home, eat cheese sandwiches, and watch the grass grow. 

Here are a couple of snippets, to give you a feel for the girls:

"I don't like train stations," Kale decided. "There's too much hustle. Not to mention bustle." (Page 19, ARC)

and:

"Well, this is the mother of all plans," said Magique. "This time, my act is even bigger, even more astonishing than it was before! And it all starts with the very thing the audience hated so much last time: mind reading. Would you like to see a little bit of it?"

"As long as we can keep eating," Jaundice said, taking another bite of her croque madame. Once she scraped off the fried egg on top and removed the ham inside, it almost tasted like a cheese sandwich from home." (Page 39, ARC)

Although this will go over the heads of new readers, I enjoyed the way the book spoofs Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot with Hugo Fromage. His prior cases included "The Mysterious Affair at Kyle's" and "The Murder of Roger Adenoid." Magique is also something of a spoof of stage magicians, admitting outright that everything she does is an illusion (though a hint of actual magic does appear, too). In fact, all of the characters fill locked room mystery stereotypes of one sort or another (jaded reporter, limping ex-military officer, ditzy rich blonde, etc.). This would make a great read for an 7-year-old who has recently discovered the joys of playing Clue, and appreciates the joys of the Fluffernutter (marshmallow fluff plays a surprisingly important role in the story). 

Kara LaReau sprinkles light humor throughout the book. Like this:

"Just remember, mademoiselles, the key to being a good detective is to be observant," said the great detective.

"'Observant?'" repeated Kale. On these occasions, she sorely missed her dictionary.

"It means we must pay close attention to everyone and everything," Hugo Fromage explained.

"Sorry, what did you say?" asked Jaundice, still considering the clipboard.

The great detective sighed." (Page 65, ARC)

It made me laugh. Jen Hill's black and white sketches also add to understanding of the story for new readers, particularly a schematic of the train labeled with occupants of the various compartments. Little quotes from the books that the girls are reading begin each chapter, adding humor and/or insight, depending on the chapter. 

All in all, The Uncanny Express is a worthy successor to The Jolly Regina. This one is a quirky, fun book, perfect for introducing newer readers to the joys of mysteries. Kale and Jaundice are unusual heroines, in their desire for sameness and stability, but this makes then stand out compared to the various plucky heroines typical to most children's books. In The Uncanny Express the two sisters do experience personal growth, but they do so without changing their basic natures. There's also a setup to Book 3, which is sure to be welcome. Recommended! 

Publisher: Amulet Books 
Publication Date: January 9, 2018
Source of Book: Advance 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).


Bug Blonsky and His Very Long List of Don'ts: E. S. Redmond

Book: Bug Blonsky and His Very Long List of Don'ts
Author: E. S. Redmond
Pages: 80
Age Range: 6-9

BugBlonskyBug Blonsky and His Very Long List of Don'ts is a full-color early chapter book by E. S. Redmond about a boy who is the ultimate annoying little brother. Benjamin is called Bug by all, either because he is super-wiggly like a bug or because he is super-annoying like a bug, depending on who you ask. He is the bane of his older sister Winnie's existence. The book consists of Bug's list of things not to do, learned from a series of painfully bad choices. For example:

"#19 DON'T tell Dylan Farkler that Winnie wrote his name with hearts all around it in her diary.

Because if you do, Dylan will look like someone just punched him hard in the stomach and his best friend, Billy Butcher, will laugh and make kissy-face sounds the whole way home.

And Winnie will wonder later why Dylan has suddenly stopped talking to her."

Each of 21 don'ts makes up a short chapter with multiple illustrations. Redmond's illustrations add humor throughout. For instance, Bug's grouchy teacher is shown sitting at a desk with stacked books titled: "Silence is Golden", "Coloring Inside the Lines", and "The Joyless Classroom", She's sipping from an "I Love Cats" mug and staring into space. Where love (or like) is in the air, there are hearts shown above the relevant child. Sometimes the hearts are broken. 

I will say that I didn't love the way that Redmond draws women. Bug's mom has ginormous hips, and his teacher has prominently sagging breasts. If a man had drawn them, I would have said that they were misogynistic. The recess monitor, Mrs. Killjoy, is also cartoonish, with a large torso and very thin legs. I suppose kids will find these illustrations funny. For me, they were a distraction (though I was less bothered by Bug's dad's beer gut). 

Overall, though, I think that Bug Blonsky and His Very Long List of Don'ts is super boy-friendly, from the early sketch of Bug as "Bug-Boy with the Power to Annoy" (complete with "two sets of armpits for twice as many fart sounds") to the classroom's unabashed glee when Bug produces fart sounds as Ms. Munster bends over. Bug is a boy whose dad calls him "impulsive and distractible", and who can make his sister literally cry with rage. He makes mistakes, but is capable of learning, as when he says the wrong thing to the principal and recalls his mother telling him "THINK it, DON'T say it!". 

Bug's concerns and mishaps are age-appropriate and relevant for first and second graders, as is the book's vocabulary. The font is nice and large, and the color illustrations will be sure to draw in young readers. Adults might find Bug Blonsky a bit annoying, but luckily, this is a book perfectly suited for kids to read on their own. And kids, especially boys, are going to love it. Bug Blonsky and His Very Long List of Don'ts is well worth a look for home or library purchase. 

Publisher: Candlewick (@Candlewick)
Publication Date: January 2, 2018
Source of Book: Advance 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 & Grumpy: Laurel Snyder + Emily Hughes

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

CharlieMouseGrumpyCharlie & Mouse & Grumpy is the sequel to Charlie & Mouse, written by Laurel Snyder and illustrated by Emily Hughes. Both books are full-color illustrated early readers consisting of four chapters. There is a fair bit of text on each page, but the text is wide-spaced and dialog-heavy, keeping it accessible to younger readers. 

Charlie & Mouse & Grumpy is a fun, kid-friendly read. In this installment, brothers Charlie and Mouse are excited to welcome houseguest Grumpy (apparently their grandfather). Their adventures with Grumpy are quite ordinary. He checks in on how they are, and how they are growing. They "pounce" on him when he's napping. He babysits one evening, and they eat pizza and build a blanket fort together. And when he leaves at the end of his visit, there are sad goodbyes (though lightened with humor). 

When Grumpy first arrives, he pronounces older brother Charlie "big", to which Charlie agrees. Younger brother Mouse, however, declares himself to be getting "medium." I especially liked this bit:

"When you are medium," said Mouse,
"you can read some books. But also, people
read books to you."
"What else?" asked Grumpy.
Mouse thought again.
"When you are medium, you can swim.
But your mom sits on the steps and watches.
Just in case."
"Ahh," said Grumpy. "It sounds very nice
to be medium."
"It is," said Mouse. 

There's a little picture of Mouse swimming, with Mom in the background, feet in the water, book on her lap, waving. There's also a picture of Dad reading to Mouse, while Charlie looks over Mouse's shoulder. Which pleased me, because I would have thought that people would still read to Charlie, even if he can read on his own. The blanket fort scenes also feature delightful illustrations. Charlie and Mouse have spiky hair and big eyes and happy smiles in the presence of Grumpy. 

Charlie & Mouse & Grumpy captures the affection between grandparent and grandchildren, and the excitement of having a houseguest. The differences between bigger and smaller brother are there (with Mouse falling asleep in the fort), as is everyone's sadness on saying goodbye. I think that this book hits perfectly on the interests of five year olds. Highly recommended, and a lovely addition to any early reader collection. 

Publisher:  Chronicle Kids (@ChronicleKids)
Publication Date: October 3, 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 Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid: Kara LaReau + Matt Myers

Book: The Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid
Author: Kara LaReau
Illustrator: Matt Myers
Pages: 96
Age Range: 6-9

RatsosNotAfraidThe Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid is the sequel to The Infamous Ratsos (reviewed here), in what I hope will be a continuing early reader/early chapter book series by Kara LaReau, illustrated by Matt Myers.  Brothers Louie and Ralphie live with their dad, Big Lou, and the memory of their deceased mother. In this book, the brothers decide to clean up a vacant lot in their neighborhood so that they can set up carnival-style arcade games for their friends. In the course of the project, both brothers have to overcome fears. For Louie, it's a fear of ghosts in the ramshackle house next to the vacant lot. For Ralphie, there's fear of being laughed at by his peers (over an incident with a girl). Luckily, the boys get solid advice from their father that helps along the way.

Can I just say, as a parent, that I love Big Lou? He's a good example to his boys, in a matter-of-fact way. Like when Ralphie talks about a girl in his class who stinks (images reveal her to be a skunk), so that no one has even gone near her. Big Lou says: "Then how do you know she stinks?" That's all, then he drops it. Then when Ralphie claims not to be afraid of anything, he says: "Really? I'm afraid of lots of things." Only when the boys ask how he copes does he say: "By reminding myself that I'm the boss of me, not my fears." All this while he's plying them with spaghetti and meatballs. He's this big, tough guy, but gives his boys the tools that they need. It's nicely done. 

The Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid is what I would characterize as a very early chapter book. There are 10 short chapters in 96 pages, with full or partial page illustrations every couple of pages. The line spacing is wide, the sentences are mostly brief, and there is plenty of dialog to keep things moving. Here's a snippet, to give you a feel:

"Chad's stomach growls. "We'd better be done soon. It's almost dinnertime," he says. The Ratsos used to think Chad was mean, until they realized he gets cranky when he's hungry, which is almost all the time.

"Never fear," says Ralphie. "I brought emergency snacks for Carl."" (Page 15, ARC)

I feel like the formatting and vocabulary of the book overall keeps it accessible to very new readers, while the storyline itself retains appeal for slightly older kids (say first and second graders). There's a lovely vibe of kids playing unsupervised together in a neighborhood that kids and adults will find appealing. There's also a whole elementary school dynamic of kids being teased about "kissing in a tree", and the deep embarrassment that comes from being laughed at. But with a soft touch. 

Myers' illustrations lend humor to the story, and capture a lower income urban setting that is too rare in children's books (brick apartment buildings in the background with lines of laundry stretching between them, various junk in the vacant lot, etc.). We see Louie's terror when he approaches the possibly haunted house, as wavy lines show him shaking. And when Ralphie stands up on a bench at school and yells out a brave declaration, any reader will smile at the image. 

Although my daughter has moved on to reading longer, more dense books than The Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid, I'm going to give it to her anyway. I think she'll appreciate the central lesson about not giving into your fears, as well as less direct examples in the book of doing the right thing. All set against a backdrop of kids playing and working together on a fun project. What is not to love about that? Highly recommended, and well worth purchasing for libraries serving new readers. 

Publisher: Candlewick (@Candlewick) 
Publication Date: September 12, 2017
Source of Book: Advance 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).


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).