24 posts categorized "Graphic Novels" Feed

Literacy Milestone: Obsession with a Series: #LunchLady

LiteracyMilestoneA My daughter is planning to be a combination architect and ninja spy when she is an adult (if not sooner). We sent her to spy camp for a week last summer. We frequently find her sneaking around the house. Until she lost it, she used to leave her camera stealthily recording us while we were talking. (Once you are a parent of an elementary school kid, privacy becomes an illusion.) She is especially obsessed with spy gadgets. She makes them herself out of things like q-tips and paper towel rolls. 

LunchLadyBook1Recently I introduced my daughter to Jarrett J. Krosoczka's series of graphic novels about Lunch Lady. For those of you who are unfamiliar with her, Lunch Lady is an elementary school lunch lady who has a secret identity as a crime-fighter. She knows various ninja moves and has an assistant, Betty, who creates various food-themed gadgets for her (spork phone, fish stick nunchucks, etc.). I have reviewed various Lunch Lady titles over the years, and had kept copies of most of the books. [See Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta, Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown and Lunch Lady and the Bake Sale Bandit, Lunch Lady and the Mutant Mathletes, and Lunch Lady and the Video Game Villain.] 

I am here to report that my daughter became immediately obsessed with the Lunch Lady books. She's not quite ready to read them on her own, so she had my husband and I reading them to her. For the past week, this is pretty much ALL we've read aloud to her. At breakfast, after school, before bed. You name it. We got through the 10 books in the series in just a few days. She would use a charade-like ninja move to tell us what she wanted. I had to order the one book that I didn't have, so that we could read it as soon as possible. 

When we finished Book 10 on a Sunday afternoon my daughter groaned aloud, with the lament familiar to book lovers everywhere. "There aren't any MORE!?!" Alas, no. Monday morning she was ready to start re-reading the books. To her credit, she was aware that since my husband had read her some of the books, these were books that I hadn't read to her yet myself. So we started with those. But I'm sure we'll be re-reading all of them before we are through. She likes picking up on details that she might have missed the first time around. 

And yes, for anyone wondering, she is in first grade, and probably would be ready to read the books herself soon. But I say, why make her wait? What if her obsession with gadgets wanes in the meantime? It's simply not worth the risk. And she can read them again on her own whenever she likes. In the meantime, we've been having a fun time enjoying Lunch Lady's antics as a family. 

It's not that this is the first series she's been interested in. We've read her Elephant & Piggie, and the Magic Tree House books, and quite a number of Arthur Chapter Books. And she adores the Princess in Black books. But this is the first time she's devoured a whole series in a week, and then mourned the inevitable end. This made me feel like I'm doing my part here - I'm growing a reader. 

Do you remember the first obsession-inducing series for your kids? 

© 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Literacy Milestone: Reading Babymouse

LiteracyMilestoneAOne of my favorite possessions is a stuffed Babymouse doll that was a gift years ago from Babymouse's author, Jenni Holm. I keep it on a moderately high bookshelf in my office. For a few months now, my daughter has delighted in climbing up to said shelf (there's a counter that she can stand on - it's not as dangerous as it sounds), and rearranging Babymouse (along with some other books and stuffed animals that also reside there). 

FullSizeRenderToday, she proudly showed me how Babymouse was sitting on a stuffed elephant's trunk. (The elephant is also a cherished possession.) I asked: "Did you know that there's a book series about Babymouse?" She had not known, and we immediately (never mind that I was still trying to work) had to go downstairs to get the first book, and start reading it.

This is my daughter's first graphic novel. It seems fitting to me that her first listen of a graphic novel should be to Babymouse: Queen of the World, because I adore Babymouse. I've given the early Babymouse books as gifts to a number of seven-year-old girls over the years, and would certainly have pointed them out to my daughter eventually (she has just turned five, and reading them on her own would be beyond her at this point).

In truth, I think that this book is a tiny bit beyond her comprehension level. There's a whole riff in which Babymouse is imagining herself as a hard-boiled private investigator that was completely over my own Baby Bookworm's head. But she's enjoying Babymouse: Queen of the World anyway. She immediately grasped the idea that some scenes (the pink scenes) are Babymouse's imagination. And she had no problem at all understanding the concept of Queen Felicia as a representative of "mean girls."  

So, I've promised to continue reading Babymouse: Queen of the World tonight at bedtime. I have a feeling I'd better start early, because she's likely to want to keep reading until we finish. I'm torn on the other books, though, as I would prefer to have her wait until she can read them herself. Decisions, decisions... [Updated to add: yes, we did finish the book as that evening's bedtime reading. I suggested that she wait until she could read the others herself. She responded: "Why?" Indeed. There will be no shortage of books for her to read on her own when the time comes.]

In our house, reading one's first Babymouse book is definitely a literacy milestone. 

© 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FTC Required Disclosure:

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

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

Friday, May 3 is School Lunch Superhero Day

Slshd_logo_high_resI don't believe that I've ever mentioned this before, but my grandmother worked as a school lunch lady when my father and my uncles were young. She was always quite proud of that fact. Perhaps that's one of the reasons why I enjoy Jarrett Krosoczka's Lunch Lady series so much (see my reviews here, here, here, here, and here). Certainly this is one of the reasons why I am pleased by the idea of dedicating a day to honor school lunch ladies. Yes, that's right. Jarrett Krosoczka, Random House, and the School Nutrition Association are celebrating School Lunch Superhero Day this Friday, May 3rd. 

Here are some quick tidbits about the event (from Random House):

  • INPSIRATION: Jarrett’s very own School Lunch Superhero, Jean Cariglia, inspired his Lunch Lady series. When Jarrett visited his school after the first book was published, he was astounded to see how much this recognition meant to Jean. This, and other acts of kindness he has seen while touring for the series, planted the seed for School Lunch Superhero Day.
  • WAYS TO CELEBRATE: The SchoolLunchSuperheroDay.com website has all kinds of activities to help schools celebrate – games, activities, valentines, you name it!
  • TEDx: Besides creating a really innovative take on superheroes, Jarrett is also a really amazing individual. Last Fall, he was invited to present a TEDx talk. His talk has over 500,000 combined views and is really inspirational. See the video here.
  • THAT'S A LOT OF FOOD: School nutrition professionals feed 31 million students every day.
  • NEW LUNCH LADY: LUNCH LADY AND THE VIDEO GAME VILLAIN is on sale now. This is an action-packed graphic novel series with fun food-related gadgets. The series is great for beginning readers.

Check out the SchoolLunchSuperheroDay website, as well as Jarrett's recent post on the subject at The Nerdy Book Club. And, this Friday, consider toasting my grandma with some cafeteria-style tater tots (if they still serve those). 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FTC Required Disclosure:

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

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

Diary of a Wimpy Kid #7: The Third Wheel: Jeff Kinney

Book: Diary of a Wimpy Kid #7: The Third Wheel
Author: Jeff Kinney
Pages: 224
Age Range: 8 and up 

The seventh Diary of a Wimpy Kid book, The Third Wheel, made me laugh aloud several times. Like the other books in the series, The Third Wheel doesn't follow a particularly linear plotline. The "third wheel" aspect of the book (involving a Valentine's Day Dance, a girl, and Greg's best friend) only directly comes into play quite late in the book. But it doesn't matter. Time spent peeking into Greg Heffley's diary is always entertaining. Some highlights that struck me from this installment included:

  • Greg's memories from back before he was born (already capable of being embarrassed by his mother).
  • The fact that Greg spent the first few months of his life sleeping in a dresser drawer ("which I'm pretty sure isn't even legal"). 
  • The location that baby Greg found to hide the batteries for the TV remote ("when you're a baby, you can't really get around a lot, so there was only one place I could hide the batteries.")
  • When Greg drove his father so crazy during Bring Your Child to Work Day that he was sent off to sit somewhere else, and ended up forgotten and left at work.
  • A "pantsing" epidemic among the boys at the middle school. 
  • A bizarre "bring your own toilet paper" fad at the middle school.

I think the reason that these books work so well is that although the incidents are over-the-top, there's an underpinning of universal behavior that comes through. The Wimpy Kid books will always be among my favorites, because I've known kids who were turned on to reading for the first time by Greg's exploits. I also think that there's a fair amount of humor in these books for adults, making these fun read-together books (or read in parallel, anyway) for the whole family.

The sketch-filled diary format has become fairly widespread in children's books, of course, but Jeff Kinney launched the craze, and remains a master at it. I found Diary of a Wimpy Kid #7: The Third Wheel to be a worthy installment of the series, a laugh-out-loud read for kids and adults. Recommended! (And no particular need to read the books in order, I don't think). 

Publisher: Amulet Books (@AbramsKids)
Publication Date: November 13,2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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

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

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

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

Some highlights for me in Extreme Babymouse included:

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

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

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

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

Lunch Lady and the Mutant Mathletes: Jarrett J. Krosoczka

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fangbone: Third-Grade Barbarian: Michael Rex

Book: Fangbone: Third-Grade Barbarian
Author: Michael Rex
Pages: 128
Age Range: 7-10

9780399255212HFangbone: Third-Grade Barbarian launches an entertaining new graphic novel series for early elementary school kids. The premise is that Fangbone, a young boy from a primitive planet (where they happen to speak English), is sent via a wormhole of sorts to our world. Fangbone is tasked with laying low while protecting the all-important Big Toe of Drool. Told to blend in and not attract attention, Fangbone ends up in room 3G, a classroom full of misfits. But his enemies are not far behind...

Fangbone is pure, boy-friendly fun. Fangbone marvels at the wonders of indoor plumbing. He starts a trend of wearing fur underwear to school. Although not viewed as much of a warrior on his own planet, he turns out to be pretty fantastic at "beanball". The enemies that he fights include dirt devils, hound-snakes, squirrels, and atomic hot wings. He also struggles to balance his mission against the needs of his new friends.

Fangbone's frazzled teacher and hapless principal lend humor for older readers, too. Like when the teacher, confronted with the other kids copying Fangbone, mutters: "Where do you even get fur underwear?". Or when Principal Bruce, popping in to see the students dressed in odd clothes, responds with "Fantastic! Learning about other cultures through their clothing." Everyone wonders if Skullbania is in New Jersey.

Michael Rex's illustrations are in shades of mustard yellow and gray. The big toe of drool is suitably repulsive, and the battle scenes are filled with action and acrobatics. There are plenty of interesting monsters, mixed in with depictions of relatively ordinary kids. Fangbone: Third-Grade Barbarian is fast-paced and filled with classic action imagery (sound effects, etc.).

Fangbone's moral debates and logistical problems are perhaps a tad easily resolved, and the "teamwork" message perhaps a tiny bit overdone (especially at the end). But I don't think that the target audience of seven-year-old boys will mind. Fangbone after all features a third-grader who fights real monsters, set against the inherent humor of someone from a primitive society ending up in a suburban elementary school. There's a lot to like about Fangbone: Third-Grade Barbarian. If the author can tone down the friendship lessons a little bit more, I think this new series will be a success.

Publisher: Putnam Juvenile (@PutnamBooks)
Publication Date: January 5, 2012
Source of Book: Advance review copy from Ronin Publishing Services

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

Diary of a Wimpy Kid 6: Cabin Fever: Jeff Kinney

Book: Diary of a Wimpy Kid 6: Cabin Fever
Author: Jeff Kinney
Pages: 224
Age Range: 8 and up

ImagesCabin Fever is the 6th book in Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. It feels almost superfluous to review it, considering that virtually everyone in the English-speaking world has heard of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. But here are a few thoughts.

The main plotline in Cabin Fever involves Greg Heffley and his family being snowed in and without power right before Christmas. This is a bit of a reprieve for Greg, because the police are apparently after him, following an incident of inadvertent school vandalism. As with the other books in this series, however, Cabin Fever is more incident-driven than plot-driven, so lots of other things are touched on, too, such as:

  • Greg's fear that "Santa's Scout" is watching him, poised to keep him from getting presents from Santa (though how a middler schooler would still believe in Santa is left unexplored);
  • Anti-bullying campaigns in schools;
  • The degree to which Greg's youngest brother, Manny, is spoiled by his mother;
  • The absurd lengths to which schools have gone to improve playground safety, due to fear of liability ("So recess is basically like a prison yard")
  • Separate (empty) "nut allergies" sections in the cafeteria;
  • What happens when the school takes away energy drinks (a black market springs up, of course);
  • The computerized pets craze;
  • and so on.

To me as an adult reader, it felt like Kinney was skewering too many different things, without anything much really happening. The afore-mentioned main plotline didn't even start until the second half of the book. But I still laughed aloud here and there, and I still think that fans of the series will devour this one as soon as they can get their hands on it.

Here are  my two favorite passages:

"See, this is the kind of nonsense I'm dealing with right now. I've seen a lot of movies where a kid my age finds out he's got magical powers and then gets invited to go away to some special school. Well, if I've got an invitation coming, now be the PERFECT time to get it." (Page 175)

"When you're used to having electricity and then all of a sudden it's taken away, you're basically just one step away from being a wild animal. And with no phone or TV, we were totally cut off from the outside world." (Page 198)

The Diary of a Wimpy Kid books have launched a whole sub-genre of journal-like, sketch-illustrated books about elementary and middle school-aged boys (and a few for girls). See, for example, James Patterson's Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life. More importantly, these books have engaged a generation of formerly reluctant readers, showing them that books can be accessible and fun.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid 6: Cabin Fever is perfectly timed for the holiday season, with Santa, holiday bazaars, and a full-scale blizzard. I suspect that it's not the strongest of the series overall. But as long as it keeps kids reading, I am a fan. Recommended for fans of the series, or anyone for whom a cartoon-illustrated, funny, boy-friendly book sounds like just the ticket (age 8 and up).

Publisher: Amulet Books (@AbramsBooks)
Publication Date: November 15, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Wonderstruck: Brian Selznick

Book: Wonderstruck
Author: Brian Selznick
Pages: 608
Age Range: 9-12

51vXowQorEL._SL500_AA300_ Wonderstruck, Brian Selznick's new book, is "a novel in words and pictures", like Selznick's Caldecott-winning The Invention of Hugo Cabret. The text begins in Gunflint, Minnesota, in 1977, and tells the story of a 12-year-old boy named Ben whose mother has just died. Ben, who is already deaf in one ear, loses his hearing completely early in the book. Despite this setback, he sets out on a quest to New York to find his unknown father. Ben's story, told in words, is interspersed with the story, told in pictures, of Rose. Rose's story begins in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1927. Selznick uses occasional sketches of notes and newspaper articles to add words to Rose's primarily visual story.

Despite their differences in geography and time, certain parallels between Rose and Ben's stories become apparent to the careful reader. Eventually, both Ben and Rose end up at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where they each encounter the Cabinet of Wonders.

Wonderstruck is the kind of book where you're never quite sure whether or not something fantastical is going to happen next. Selznick suggests otherworldly adventures even when depicting something as mundane as a bus trip or a cab ride. Ben's deafness alone lends an otherworldly quality to the book, as he (not having yet learned lip reading or sign language) is isolated from the people around him. Like this:

"Ben looked around in astonishment. Taking in all the colors and smells and movements, he felt like he'd fallen over the edge of a waterfall. He was sure he had never seen this many people in his entire life on Gunflint Lake. Everyone everywhere seemed to be a different color, as if the cover of his social studies textbook had come to life around him.... Ben tried to imagine the honking, screaming, screeching soundtrack, but to him it unfolded noiselessly, like a scary movie with the sound turned off. All he could hear in his mind was David Bowie singing about Major Tom." (Page 264-265, ARC)

The ways that Ben finds to communicate with people (a mix of notes and lip-reading and gestures) lend a mixed media element to Wonderstruck, additional to the story told in text and pictures. Wonderstruck is as much an investigation into how deaf people communicate as it is a story of a boy's quest to find his father.

Wonderstruck is also a celebration of museums and the people who love them. There are elements of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler to Wonderstruck. And there is the coolest ever model of New York City (which I had to look up to make sure was a real thing, the Panorama), completely woven in as part of the story. Libraries are magical in Wonderstruck, too. Here's my favorite passage:

"He wished that he was with his mom in her library, where everything was safe and numbered and organized by the Dewey decimal system. Ben wished the world was organized by the Dewey decimal system. That way you'd be able to find whatever you were looking for, like the meaning of your dream, or your dad." (Page 440-441, ARC)

Don't you love this kid?

Despite being 600 pages long, the illustrated sections fly by and make Wonderstruck a quick read. Selznick repeatedly does this thing where on several pages in a room he gradually zooms in on part of a drawing, taking the reader, for example, straight into the glow at the heart of a wolf's eye, or showing, with increasing detail and foreboding, a mystery man's hand knocking on a door. His illustrations are detailed and excellent at conveying mood.

The pictorial part of Wonderstruck is a veritable treasure hunt for curious readers. Rose has postcards on her wall from Walter. Who is Walter? Will we see him crop up in the story? What does the partially glimpsed title of that book mean? Who just grabbed Rose by the shoulder? Rose's sadness and determination are conveyed visually, even as Ben's are conveyed with words.

Wonderstruck is a remarkable book by a multi-talented and hard-working author. Although everything comes together seamlessly in the story, a detailed notes section and bibliography at the end give a glimpse into the research that was required to pull off this book. Wonderstruck is a triumph for Brian Selznick (definitely no one-hit wonder as a novelist), and a gift to readers of all ages. Highly recommended, and certain to be a huge success.

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: September 13, 2011
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.