28 posts categorized "Graphic Novels" Feed

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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© 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.


Lunch Lady #4 and #5: Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Books: Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown and Lunch Lady and the Bake Sale Bandit
Author: Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Pages: 96
Age Range: 8-12

I've enjoyed Jarrett J. Krosoczka's Lunch Lady series of graphic novels for elementary school kids (see reviews of prior books here and here). They're excellent escapist reading, featuring a crime-fighting school lunch lady and her gadget-inventing sidekick, Betty. My grandmother was actually a school lunch lady at one time, so I have a special fondness for this premise. Lunch Lady is no-so-ably assisted by the efforts of three friends known as The Breakfast Bunch. This week I read books #4 (Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown) and #5 (Lunch Lady and the Bake Sale Bandit) of the series.

9780375860959Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown finds Lunch Lady, Betty, and the three Breakfast Bunch kids all attending the same two-week summer camp. This is a bit of a departure for the series (generally set in a school). But not to worry, Breakfast Bunch nemesis Milmoe and his minion are at the camp, too. Things get off to a scary start when one of the counselors is attacked by "the terrible swamp monster." Lunch Lady and the Breakfast Bunch independently take it upon themselves to investigate (and naturally save the day).

I actually didn't care for this one as much as I have the others in the series. It felt a bit like a Scooby Doo episode for me, and I had to flip back and forth to keep track of the various new characters (camp counselors, directors, etc.). But it's still a fun read. We find Lunch Lady and Betty "Salisbury-staking out the pond", and undertaking explorations using "an Underwater Bendy-Straw Breathing Apparatus and an Underwater Mixer-Propulsion Backpack".

There's also a fun cameo by an over-the-top arts and crafts instructor ("Become one with your clay pots!" "Knead the clay, love the clay!"). My favorite character is the sole girl in the Breakfast Bunch, Dee, who reacts cynically to her peppy counselor ("This is all so lame...") and air-headed bunkmates. The contrast between the conversation in the boys vs. girls cabins is also entertaining (fart jokes vs. discussions of cute male counselors). Authentic if perhaps a trifle over the top.

In any event, kids seem to love it. Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown received this year's Children's Choice Award for Third to Fourth Grade Book of the Year (Krosoczka also won last year's award in this category).

Bakesalebandit In Lunch Lady and the Bake Sale Bandit, everyone is back at school and excited for a bake sale/fundraiser. Until, that is, the baked goods are stolen. Lunch Lady and the Breakfast Bunch investigate a variety of leads before closing in on the culprit. It's possible that I liked this one better than the Summer Camp Shakedown because it includes the school's cranky janitor, one of my favorite characters. I love his Boston accent ("Theyah the bane of my existence", "I'll be cleanin' them up fah weeks") and his grouchiness.

There's more classic Lunch Lady rhetoric, like "It's as dark as the inside of a chocolate doughnut in here!", and "Porridge!" and "Brussels sprouts!" as expressions of disgust. And of course there are inventions, like the "Mac & Cheese cannon". I also love this from the end of the book (not a spoiler): "Justice is served!" say Betty and Lunch Lady. "And baked goods!" adds Hector.

The Lunch Lady books are perfect for third or fourth graders, including reluctant/dormant readers. They are fun, action-packed, over-the-top fare, while staying true to the day-to-day issues of elementary school kids. Krosoczka's black, white, and yellow illustrations are boy-and-girl-friendly, and excellent crutches for relatively new readers. Highly recommended, and a must-have for libraries.

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: May 11, 2010 (#4) and December 28, 2010 (#5)
Source of Book: Review copies from the publisher

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).


The Memory Bank: Carolyn Coman and Rob Shepperson: #48HBC

Book: The Memory Bank
Author: Carolyn Coman
Illustrator: Rob Shepperson
Pages: 288
Age Range: 9-12

9780545210669_xlg My second book for the 48 Hour Book Challenge was another quick read, finished in about 50 minutes. The Memory Bank is an illustrated chapter book, along the lines of the Invention of Hugo Cabret, in which portions of the story are told through pictures. It's an over-the-top story reminiscent of Roald Dahl (with aspects of Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). It's a fun, imaginative story, with wonderful visuals.

Hope Scroggins is devastated when her parents abandon her younger sister, Honey, by the side of the road. They declare that they now only have one child, and never want to hear her sister's name again. Hope retreats to a world of dreams, spending all of her time asleep, where she can at least dream about her sister. (Her parents respond to this by selling her day clothes at the thrift store.)

As a result of the excessive dreaming, Hope is eventually hauled off to the World Wide Memory Bank (WWMB), and asked to account for her deficit of new memories. There, she learns of the conflict between the and the Clean Slate Gang, a group that seeks to destroy memories, and the WWMB, guardians of memories. Meanwhile, Honey's story is shown via multi-page illustrated sections. The reader can gradually see how the stories will intersect.

Even young readers will clearly get that this is a melodrama, and not to be taken too seriously. The utter unsuitability of Hope and Honey's parents to be parents is made evident from the start (I was reminded a bit of the parents in Lois Lowry's The Willoughbys, and, of course, of Matilda Wormwood's parents). Hope is touchingly grateful for the tiniest bit of attention paid to her by the people she encounters through the WWMB.

Shepperson's black and white pencil illustrations are detailed and engaging. The trappings of the WWMB are delightfully fantastic, while the human characters display heart and hope. This would be an excellent book for a relatively new reader, with pictures telling part of the story (not just illustrating the story as an afterthought), even as the text uses some relatively advanced vocabulary.

The use of pictures is particularly helpful in conveying Hope's dreams. I mean, aren't dreams a series of pictures anyway? Why should one try to ever convert them into words? The hybrid word/picture format is perfect for this story.'

Coman's writing style is deadpan and quietly entertaining. Like this:

"Springing up on her cot, she asked, "Who are you?" It would never have occurred to Hope to call for help, as only her parents were home. (Page 42)

""Precisely," Sterlling said. "With nearly daily incidents of vandalism and trickery occurring, we cannot be too careful. Believe you me, it's no laughing matter," he continued, even though no one was anywhere near laughing. "I'm sure you can understand our position."
Hope was glad he was sure." (Page 101)

"It had all happened so fast! She could have been run over, mowed down. She could have died! And the instant she had that thought, Hope realized just how much she wanted to live! To find Honey! To eat more coffee cake!" (Page 166)

The Memory Bank has creative world-building, entertaining text, an appealing heroine, and the perfect illustrated format. It is pure fun for middle grade readers.

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: October 1, 2010
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).


Squish #1: Super Amoeba: Jennifer L. Holm and Matt Holm

Book: Squish #1: Super Amoeba
Authors: Jennifer L. Holm and Matt Holm
Pages: 96
Age Range: 7-10

Squish The Babymouse series has a new spin-off. Arising out of a sample of pond water in Babymouse #14: Mad Scientist we have Squish: Super Amoeba. Although Squish is an amoeba, and lives in a world filled with paramecia, slime molds, flatworms, and the like, he's also just a regular guy. He goes to school. He likes comic books. He wears a baseball cap. He tries to be brave. He loves Twinkies. And he has two best friends, mooch Pod and relentless optimist Peggy.

As with the Babymouse books, my favorite parts of Squish: Super Amoeba are when the narrator makes smart-aleck remarks (this is probably because I can never resist the smart-aleck rejoinder myself). Like:

  • In a drawing of Squish's room, showing his dresser: "What's in there, anyway? It's not like he wears clothes."
  • And, in a panel showing Squish in science class we see: "smart at science"; "bad at paying attention"; and "never learns."

I also quite like Peggy ("she's like a ray of sunshine", says the narrator). Her exclamation points and sweetness are completely over the top, but they work, somehow. Pod is a total mooch, and an unrepentant geek - the kind of kid that a nice guy really can end up best friends with. For a bow-tie-wearing amoeba, he's a pretty realistic kid.

In Squish: Super Amoeba, there is a bad guy, because "Amoebas come in all shapes and sizes, just like snowflakes! (Some are pure evil!). There are some fantasy sequences, in which Squish imagines himself to be the comic book hero Super Amoeba. The fantasy sequences are helpfully colored in gray, while the main narrative is black, white, and green - this helps the reader to keep things straight. After all, when one is reading a book about an amoeba who sits in a beanbag chair and reads comic books, it's helpful to know which sequences are meant to be fantasy, and which are the everyday reality ;-)

Squish: Super Amoeba is, as you would expect, pretty much along the same mold (no pun intended) as the Babymouse series. It's a bit more of a buddy story (Babymouse is pretty much the total star of her show), and I think that's a good addition. And, of course, the green coloring, and the presence of molds and worms, makes Squish a bit more boy-friendly than the pink-and-black Babymouse books (though I personally think that either series could work perfectly well for kids of either gender).

In short, I think that Squish is going to be a hit with the early-to-middle elementary school set. He's a likeable character, with entertaining sidekicks, in a setting that's a fun mix of typical and unexpected. I'll be interested to see how the series evolves, in terms of taking advantage of unique traits of amoebae and their microscopic brethren. Recommended, and a must-purchase for libraries.

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: May 10, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).


Babymouse: Cupcake Tycoon: Jenni Holm and Matt Holm

Book: Babymouse: Cupcake Tycoon
Author: Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
Pages: 96
Age Range: 7-10

Cupcake I've said it before, and I'm sure I'll say it again: I LOVE Babymouse. I don't review all of the books, because, honestly, how useful is it to my audience for me to keep saying the same thing over and over again? Periodically, however, I give in to the urge to gush about these books. And given that the 13th installment of this series is about cupcakes, libraries, and the love of books, how could I possibly resist?

In Babymouse: Cupcake Tycoon, our intrepid heroine, in typical fashion, allows her imagination to run away with her while climbing the stacks in the library (she's Indiana Jones in the Tomb of the Unknown Fraction). To replace the books lost in the resulting flood (groan), the school decides to hold a fundraiser. In a dream come true for Babymouse, the students will be selling cupcakes to benefit the library. Not only that, there's a special, top-secret prize in store for the person who sells the most cupcakes.

Babymouse, needless to say, is on the job. She finds herself in fierce competition with nemesis Felicia, and she suffers mightily in her quest. Will she prevail? Will the library get lots of great new books? Will Babymouse be the school's hero, and become a famous cupcake tycoon? I can't tell you the ending, can I? Go and read the book.

Things I especially liked about this installment:

  • The library as bucolic, book-filled paradise (complete with a river of letters) (page 15)
  • Image of Babymouse's jaw literally dropping to the floor in surprise (page 50)
  • Image of it literally raining cats and dogs (page 76)

I think that my favorite thing about these books, besides the indomitable character of Babymouse herself, is the dry exchanges between Babymouse and her narrator. For example, she's all excited to sell cupcakes, and he comments: "Because of your track record of excellent salesmanship?" (after reminders of less than successful prior fundraisers) (page 27)

Fans of the Babymouse series won't want to miss this installment. Neither will fans of books and libraries, elementary school graphic novel afficianados, or anyone who likes the color pink. And if you love cupcakes, well, Babymouse: Cupcake Tycoon is the book for you. If somehow you don't fall into any of these categories (is that possible?), then I fear you can't be helped. No cupcakes for you!

In all seriousness, though, Babymouse: Cupcake Tycoon is wonderful. It should provide further incentive for all of us not to outgrow an appreciation for Babymouse. And cupcakes.

Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: September 28, 2010
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2010 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).


Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta: Jarrett J. Krosoczka: Middle Grade Graphic Novel

Book: Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta
Author: Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Pages: 96
Age Range: 8-12 

LunchladyLunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta is the third book in Jarrett J. Krosoczka's series of "Lunch Lady" graphic novels for middle grade readers. I reviewed the first two books back in September, and found this one quite similar (as early elementary school kids are likely to want from their series reading). In this installment, school lunch lady and secret crime fighter Lunch Lady notices odd behavior by a visiting children's book author, Mr. Scribson. This behavior may or may not be tied to the mysterious disappearance of the school gym teacher, Coach Birkby. Meanwhile, the three students in the Breakfast Bunch track down Mr. Scribson's home, in an attempt to right a wrong done by Scribson to long-time fan Terrence. Danger ensues.

Scribson is an entertaining character, a hilariously atypical children's book author. He doesn't eat cafeteria food (only gourmet for him), doesn't allow photos during his visit, and says things like "Now, children, I am an author--one who writes books. Some say that I am the greatest author all time." He also lives in a huge, gated mansion, attended by servants. [I'm sure that many of the children's book authors reading this will find Scribson's financial success familiar -- grin. You'll also suspect that he's up to no good when the gym teacher says "I have a few ideas for some books" and Scribson says "I'd love to hear about them."]

Like the previous books, Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta is filled with clever, kitchen-themed gadgets designed by Lunch Lady's sidekick, Betty. I especially liked the Hamburger Headphones and the Mustard Grappling Hook. Of course the Mole Communicator remains a hit, too. Lunch Lady still sprinkles her speech with food-themed exclamations, like "Good Gravy!" and "Great Brussels sprouts!". And the three children remain brave and resourceful (young boys will especially appreciate their technique for saving the day in the Author Visit Vendetta).  

Some of the humor in Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta, as is fitting for a graphic novel, lies in the pictures, rather than the words. For example, a glimpse into Couch Birkby's living room reveals a rack of basketballs. Krosoczka's illustrations are active and engaging, with people's expressions particularly well-rendered.

In short, Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta is an excellent addition to the Lunch Lady series, sure to please young graphic novel fans. As I said in my review of the previous books in the series, I highly recommend the Lunch Lady books for Babymouse fans (especially boys, since the Lunch Lady books are, well, less pink). This book in particular is also sure to entertain children's book authors of all ages, and would make a nice gift for them, too.

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: December 22, 2009
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: None that I found. But did you hear that Lunch Lady is going to be made into a movie?

© 2010 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).


Lunch Lady: Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Book: Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute and Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians
Author: Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Pages: 96 (each)
Age Range: 7 to 10

51k7CoWcebL._SL500_AA240_The Lunch Lady books are a new series of graphic novels for early elementary school readers. They're aimed at the same audience that's been gobbling up the Babymouse series, though the Lunch Lady books are a bit less, well, pink. The palette is an easy-on-the-eyes combination of yellow, black, white, and gray. But the important thing is that these books are a lot of fun! I mean, what right-minded elementary school kid could resist the premise that the lunch lady is a secret crime-fighter? Or the idea that the substitute teacher is actually a cyborg? Go ahead. Ask the closest 8-year-old, and come back if you find them intrigued.

Back? OK. On to the reviews. The first book in Jarrett J. Krosoczka's Lunch Lady series is Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute. This small-format graphic novel introduces our hero, Lunch Lady and her tech support sidekick Betty. Lunch Lady rides a motorscooter, wears a yellow apron and yellow rubber gloves, and has a gadget-filled hideout in the boiler room. When you set the fridge in the kitchen to "coldest", it slides over to the side, revealing a hidden staircase down to the hideout. Betty's clever inventions range from the "milk-cam" to the "lunch tray laptop" to the "spork phone". My favorite, though, is the not-to-be-missed "Spatu-coper". Although she keeps a watchful eye on things at her school, Lunch Lady does, as you would expect, care deeply about food, too. She's constantly using expressions like "I'm on him like cheese on macaroni!" and "Good gravy!".

In the first book, a popular teacher is unexpectedly out sick, replaced by an enormous, oddly formal teacher. Suspiciously, he turns down fresh cookies! As Lunch Lady begins investigating the substitute, three friends (known collectively as the Breakfast Bunch) decide to learn more about Lunch Lady. A dangerous conflict ensues (think chicken nugget bombs and attacking robots). There's also a sub-plot involving the Breakfast Bunch's interaction with a bully. The blending of school cafeteria dynamics and clever spy tools had me giggling. I imagine that kids will love it, too. The Breakfast Bunch kids (Hector, Dee, and Terrence) have regular problems, mixed in with their dangerous cyborg encounter. I think that young readers will be able to relate to them.

613UvrlJ8jL._SL500_AA240_ Book 2 has a great title: Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians. In this installment, a league of power-mad librarians uses the book fair as a cover for an evil plan. It's up to Lunch Lady and the Breakfast Bunch to stop them. I must admit that I found it a little disturbing to read about librarians as bad guys. But I did like the names that Krosoczka used for the librarians: Rhonda Page, Edna Bibliosa, Vivian Bookwormer, and Jane Shelver.

Book 2 includes a bit of character development for Dee, Terrence, and Hector, as well as some new spy tools for Lunch Lady. I loved the hover pizzas. School bully Milmoe remains a thorn in everyone's side, adding a nice second layer to the story. I was also entertained to notice that the janitor (Mr. Kalowski) has a Massachusetts accent, a fun little in-joke from a Mass-based author ("Yah kids had bettah staht headin' home"). There's also a continuing gag whereby lunch lady Betty offers to put gravy on everything (even pizza! Yuck!).

In short, these books are pure fun, perfect for both new readers and older reluctant readers. I would classify them as a must-purchase for elementary school libraries.

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: July 28, 2009
Source of Book: Review copies from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Every Day Is Like Wednesday, Read About Comics, The Reading Zone, Book Aunt, The Excelsior File, Bookie Woogie, 100 Scope Notes, Miss Erin, and others.

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.


Babymouse #11: Dragonslayer

Book: Babymouse #11: Dragonslayer
Author: Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
Pages: 96
Age Range: 7-10 

Babymouse In need of something that would make me laugh the other night, I picked up the latest Babymouse book: Dragonslayer. And it was exactly what I was looking for. I think this might be the best of the series so far. Certainly it's the most appealing so far for fantasy fans. That's because Babymouse: Dragonslayer is chock-full of references to fantasy sagas, old and new. Where else can you find:

  • A locker that's a portal to another world (complete with fur coats);
  • The Fellowship of the Slide Rule; and
  • A geometry problem involving the flight of a boy and a dragon?

Short answer: nowhere else. (There's also a wonderful Harry Potter reference, but I don't want to spoil it.) Babymouse: Dragonslayer is full to the brim with creativity and fun. It's a perfect mix of fantasy elements (as you can see from the cover image of Babymouse, her sword and chain mail, and a menacing dragon), and the real-world problems of elementary school kids (in this case,  math). We have the mundane (a mean cat chanting "Babymouse is in trou-ble!"), the epic ("there is a prophecy that one will come..."), and the ridiculous (a bat, all of whose words are printed upside down), all mixed together. And it works, evoking snorts of laughter on virtually every page.

Despite all of these things, I think that my favorite aspect of this book, as with the others, remains the bickering between Babymouse and the narrator. Like:

Narrator: "Look on the bright side, Babymouse--you may be missing lunch, but at least you get to do math!"
Babymouse: "Sigh"

and

Narrator: "Babymouse, do you even know what a slide rule is?"
Babymouse: "No, but I want one."

There's something to the tone of these interactions (like that matter-of-fact, "That would be a no" on page 40) that never fails to please me.

There are swords. There are dragons. There are math problems. There are cupcakes. What more could anyone ask? Jenni Holm and Matt Holm are far, far from phoning it in with this series. Babymouse: Dragonslayer is my favorite yet. Highly recommended.

Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: August 25, 2009
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Book Moot, Becky's Book Reviews, The Well-Read Child. See also my reviews of Babymouse: Beach Babe, Babymouse: Heartbreaker, and Babymouse: Puppy Love

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.


Encouraging Reading through Comic Books

Ghost CirclesIn response to my recent post about tips for encouraging young readers, Thomas Hanson of OpenEducation.net sent me links to three recent posts about using comic books as a tool for teaching reading:

  • Innovative Teaching - Comic Books in the Classroom: This post, the first published of the three, references the recent NY Times article on this topic. The specific attributes of comics that make it easier for kids to learn reading and writing are discussed, with the general idea being that "if they help young readers become more fluent readers" then they are worth a look. The article concludes with a discussion of the difference between comic books and graphic novels.
  • Innovative Teaching - Chris Wilson Discusses the Comic Book Movement: In this post, OpenEducation.net interviews Chris Wilson, author and editor of the site “The Graphic Classroom”. This post had me at the following opening statements: "Mr. Wilson ... feels that comics do a great deal more than help keep students invested in learning. In fact, Wilson’s number one goal is to develop of a love for reading in all his students - for him, the comic genre is one method to develop that love." I like Chris Wilson already! The interview is detailed and well-researched, and well worth your time.
  • The Twelve Best Comic Books for the Classroom: This post provides a list of five titles for elementary school readers and seven for middle school and high school readers. The list includes titles specifically selected to increase "administrative buy-in" at the schools, mainly traditional tales set to graphic format (which "set the stage for reading the real text later in school") and stories that "truly teach students about the world around them." The list includes the "Bone" series, by Jeff Smith, which was mentioned in my recent article.

I've bookmarked OpenEducation.net - I think that Tom Hanson is someone worth listening to. I hope that you enjoy the above articles.