1,258 posts categorized "Reviews" Feed

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).


Rain: Sam Usher

Book: Rain
Author: Sam Usher
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3-7

RainUsherRain by Sam Usher is one of those picture books that one appreciates a little bit more in each reading. It's a lovely little story of a boy and his grandfather on a rainy day. The boy wakes up and desperately wants to go outside to play in the rain. But Granddad asks him to wait for the rain to stop. The boy spends the interminable waiting time reading, looking out the window, and asking Granddad again and again. Granddad, however, is distracted by his apparent attempts to respond to a love letter (hand-written, in this timeless story). And then, at last, the rain stops, just in time for Granddad to mail his letter. Just in time for an adventure involving "acrobats and carnivals and musical boatmen." 

Rain's mix of reality and fantasy may be a bit confusing to the youngest readers, but observant older readers will spot the elements of the fantasy adventure inside the boy's home, as toys and models and book illustrations. Only observant readers (and perhaps only adult readers) will pick up on the reason for Granddad's distraction. But all readers will simply love the cozy scene at the end of the books, as the two damp companions sit in the kitchen "with warm socks and hot chocolate." 

Usher's text is relatively minimal. This is a tale told more in pictures than in words. Usher's ink and watercolor illustrations perfectly capture the wavy colors of the rain, the kindness of Granddad, and the eagerness of the red-headed narrator. The reflections of various people and objects in the rain puddles, upside-down and blurred, will make any young reader long for the next rainy day. 

It's nice to see a picture book reflecting an unconventional family structure in which a small boy apparently lives alone with his grandfather. The bond between the two stands out. As does the rain. The rain practically leaps from the pages. In fact, the jacketless cover of Rain features raised raindrops, a tactile experience invites the reader in. Rain celebrates family, adventure, and a cozy home. It is simply lovely, and belongs in homes and libraries everywhere. Especially here in California, where we've learned to really appreciate the rain. Highly recommended, and one of my recent favorites. 

Publisher:  Templar (@Candlewick) 
Publication Date: March 28, 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).


Vampirina at the Beach: Anne Marie Pace and LeUyen Pham

Book: Vampirina at the Beach
Author: Anne Marie Pace
Pages: LeUyen Pham
Age Range: 4-8

VampirinaBeachVampirina at the Beach is the third book in the Vampirina series, written by Anne Marie Pace and illustrated by LeUyen Pham. Vampirina is a joyful young vampire with fangs and pale skin. In this entertaining picture book, Vampirina and her parents, along with a host of ghoulish friends, go to spend a full moon-lit evening at the beach. Pace's text doesn't directly address the fact that the various people in the story are non-human. She just shares things that are fun about visiting the beach, together with practical safety tips, leaving Pham to provide the visual, and unconventional, details.

For instance, we have this text over a couple of page spreads:

"When the waves are breaking, just right,
give surfing a whirl.

Practice your best ballet posture:
catch a wave,
demi-plie,
and ride,
ride,
RIDE!"

This spread is accompanied by vignettes that show Vampirina dragging a new, apparently human, friend out onto a gravestone-like surfboard. As the kids are trailed by a green octopus, the moon comes out from behind the clouds, and the friend is revealed to be not-so-human after all. Other spreads show sunken ships, pirate ghosts, and treasure maps, as well as supernatural creatures of all sorts doing relatively ordinary things, like playing beach volleyball and building sand castles. Turns out that being able to turn into a bat is useful in adding decorations to the tippy top of a castle. A fold-out spread in the middle of the book ramps up the action with a dance party. 

Vampirina at the Beach is full of entertaining monster details that will reward multiple inspections. These are set against a comforting backdrop of family fun and friendship. The closing image, of Vampirina and her friend sitting back-to-back eating roasted marshmallows beneath a full moon will make any kid smile. Pham manages to make the various monsters a mix of grotesque and cute, with Vampirina herself falling on the cute side, of course. 

Because so much of the fun of Vampirina at the Beach is visual, mainly in the form of multiple small illustrations per page, I think this is a better book for reading alone, or with a parent, rather than for a larger storytime. I think that first and second graders might be more receptive to the humor than preschoolers will, too, which also supports the read-alone, pore over it time and time again, hypothesis. Fans of the earlier two books will certainly want to give Vampirina at the Beach a look. It stands alone just fine, however (I have not read the other two books), and is a fun choice for celebrating the start of summer and beach season. Recommended! 

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion 
Publication Date: April 4, 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).


Mosquitoes Can't Bite Ninjas: Jordan P. Novak

Book: Mosquitoes Can't Bite Ninjas
Author: Jordan P. Novak
Pages: 32
Age Range: 2-5

MosquitoesCantBiteNinjasMosquitoes Can't Bite Ninjas, by Jordan P. Novak, is just what it sounds like, a picture book that celebrates the triumph of a young ninja over a garden variety mosquito. Novak first recaps the categories of people that mosquitos do bite (swimmers, etc.). Then he shows that, despite being sneaky, quick, and persistent, mosquitoes are no match for the stealth, speed, and creativity of the ninja. He even introduces a baby ninja-in-training who has skills of his (?) own. The ending, in which the ninja ends up accidentally eating the mosquito, is a little bit disgusting, but definitely kid-appealing. It adds a nice twist to a story that might otherwise have been a bit too straightforward. 

This is a picture book for younger listeners. The text is minimal, and the digitally colored illustrations are bold and simple. I like the fact that the little we can see of the skin of the ninja siblings is brownish in color - not terribly dark, but at least dark enough to give some ambiguity. I also like how Novak can convey the ninja's attitude through his stance, when all we can really see of his face is his round eyes. 

Even though, at seven, she's a bit older than the target age range for this book, my ninja-obsessed daughter loved this book. What budding ninja wouldn't want to read:

"Mosquitoes try...
and try...
and try...

but a mosquito is no match

for a ninja."

Mosquitoes are universal. Ninjas are universally cool. Mosquitoes Can't Bite Ninja's belongs in libraries serving preschoolers. It would make an excellent start-of-summer storytime book. But parents should beware. It may awaken in their children the desire to become ninjas. In my experience, there are worst things. Recommended!

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BloomsburyKids)
Publication Date: March 28, 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).


Duck, Duck, Dinosaur and the Noise at Night: Kallie George & Oriol Vidal

Book: Duck, Duck, Dinosaur and the Noise at Night
Author: Kallie George
Illustrator: Oriol Vidal
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3-6

DuckDinosaurNoiseNightDuck, Duck, Dinosaur and the Noise at Night is the sequel to Duck, Duck, Dinosaur by Kallie George and Oriol Vidal. Both books feature a family with three siblings: two little ducks, Flap and Feather, and a much bigger dinosaur, Spike. In this installment, Mama Duck tells the siblings that it's time for them to "sleep all by themselves in their very own nest." They are initially proud and "only a little scared." Until a big, scary noise wakes them up, that is. They try hiding from the noise, and running away from the noise, and even scaring the noise. But the noise keeps following them. Sleep is impossible until they figure out just what the noise is.

My favorite part? At the very end of the book, we see that Mama Duck has been keeping watch all along, leaving it to the kids to solve their own problem. 

This is a text that calls out for reading aloud. The noise is rendered in huge block letters, to show how loud it is. There are calls from Spike to "HIDE!" and sound effects when their knees knock and teeth chatter. There is some repetition to the text which my six-year-old eventually had me skip over, but which I think will work well for preschoolers. Like this:

"They shared a story. They shared a snuggle. They sang a song. They counted the stars.

Then, at least, they fell asleep." 

This bedtime ritual repeats throughout the story. 

Vidal's digitally created illustrations are eye-catching and slightly stylized (particularly the backgrounds). He captures the coziness of the snuggling, and the utter exhaustion of the siblings as their night keeps being interrupted. The round eyes of all three after each scare made me laugh, and the fond smile of Mama Duck at the end made me smile, too. 

The source of the noise will be readily apparent to adult readers, but I don't think that kids will catch on. Duck, Duck, Dinosaur and the Noise at Night is a book that has an age-appropriate hint of scary for preschoolers, but ultimately will leave young listeners with a warm, safe feeling. It is fun to read aloud, and kids will enjoy poring over the illustrations. Fans of the first book will certainly want to take a look at this one, and librarians will find it well worth a look for preschool storytime. 

Publisher: HarperCollins (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: February 7, 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).


Tugboat Bill and the River Rescue: Calista Brill and Tad Carpenter

Book: Tugboat Bill and the River Rescue
Author: Calista Brill
Illustrator: Tad Carpenter
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3-7

TugboatBillTugboat Bill and the River Rescue by Calista Brill and Tad Carpenter is about a small tugboat named Bill and a rather beat-up barge named Mabel who work in the Hudson River. Bill and Mabel are friends, but they are essentially bullied by larger, newer ships. When the opportunity comes to rescue a kitten, however, it's the small, beat-up boats who really shine. 

Calista Brill's writing is read-aloud friendly, with short sentences but strong vocabulary words. Like this:

"The river is home to other ships, too.
They are big
     and graceful.
They are fit
     and prime.
They are haughty
     and vain
almost all of the time.

(They think they are so great.)"

and:

"Mabel
squares her shoulders
braces her hull
and pretends she doesn't hear.

But she does.
And so does Bill."

She uses sound effects, too, like "BLURB!" and "KERPLUNK". 

Tad Carpenter's illustrations are bright and friendly, with a graphic design feel. Both Bill and Mabel are engaging and distinctive, while the mean big boats are delightfully nasty. The crowd on the shore is multicultural, if you count blue and green people mixed in with the yellow ones (which I do). 

My only complain about Tugboat Bill and the River Rescue is that the ending, in which the big boats are regretful and hordes of people cheer for Bill and Mabel, is a bit ... easy. Sure, any reader will expect that the nice Mabel and Bill will do the right thing, and will be glad that they get a happy ending. But just because one gets public credit for doing the right thing doesn't mean that one's bullies will immediately come around. Still, just because my adult sensibilities had a hard time accepting this doesn't mean that it's not going to please preschoolers. And I do like that this is a subtle portrayal of bullying, masked as it is by the personification of the boats. And I think it's good to show kids characters who don't hesitate or waffle, but just go ahead and do the right thing without even thinking about it. 

Between the fun of the word choices and sound effects, the accessibility of the pictures, and the inherent coolness of tugboats, I think that young listeners will be captivated by Tugboat Bill and the River Rescue. It would make a great library read-aloud for preschoolers, and is a must for any kid who is obsessed with boats and/or rescues. Recommended!

Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: February 21, 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).


Mrs. White Rabbit: Gilles Bachelet

Book: Mrs. White Rabbit
Author: Gilles Bachelet
Pages: 32
Age Range: 6-10

MrsWhiteRabbitMrs. White Rabbit by Gilles Bachelet is the picture book diary of the decidedly grumpy wife of the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. Mrs. White Rabbit shares her concerns about her children (including a daughter who wants to be a supermodel), unwanted visitors, neighborhood gossip, and a husband who does not pay her enough attention. 

This is definitely a picture book for older children, with dense text and relatively mature themes. I didn't want to explain to my six-year-old daughter why someone wanting to be a supermodel would spend all of her time on a scale and essentially stop eating, for example. I feel like she has plenty of time to learn about such body image issues as she gets older. There's also a toddler who "seems to be quite advanced for his age" and is seen peeking under the skirts of a pretty doll. Sigh. And, of course, a major theme is the relationship between an unappreciated wife and her neglectful husband, hardly a preschool-appropriate concept. 

There is certainly humor to the book, as when the aforementioned toddler wants to wear a bunny costume for Halloween. As an adult and a mother, I could relate to certain aspects of Mrs. White Rabbit's sardonic attitude. And, of course, there are Alice in Wonderland references, including an invisible cat from Cheshire that the family adopts, and a young girl who turns up who has "an unpleasant tendency to change size at the drop of a hat." I think that Mrs. White Rabbit would be wasted on readers lacking at least some familiarity with Alice in Wonderland. My six year old, who has seen the Disney animated movie once, and never read the book, recognized enough detail to find this book interesting. 

Bachelet's illustrations are full of whimsical details that harken to traditional stories but add a modern edge, such as Humpty Dumpty sitting on a wall all in one piece holding what looks like a beer bottle. Mrs. White Rabbit is shown shell-shocked and frequently angry, but she does get a moment of happiness in the end. My daughter and I were both a bit grossed out, though, when the impish twins are shown holding and playing with rabbit poop because they are "interested in everything" and able to "have fun with almost anything."

Mrs. White Rabbit is a creative and unusual picture book that demonstrates a mature sense of humor and adds hitherto unknown depth to the character of Alice in Wonderland's white rabbit. While I will admit that this book isn't quite my own personal cup of tea, my six year old found it hilarious and interesting. And I think that fans of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland will be quite pleased to visit the White Rabbit's home though this book. 

Publisher:Eerdmans Books for Young Readers 
Publication Date: February 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).


The Most Frightening Story Ever Told: Philip Kerr

Book: The Most Frightening Story Ever Told
Author: Philip Kerr
Pages: 320
Age Range: 8-12

MostFrighteningStoryThe Most Frightening Story Ever Told is a middle grade novel by Philip Kerr about a boy named Billy Shivers. Billy starts spending time in a small-town bookstore called The Haunted House of Books. Taken under the wing of the store's quirky owner, Mr. Rapscallion, Billy learns about the store, goes on a trip, and helps to run a contest. The contest involves five children (selected by lottery)  who will listen to "the scariest story ever told." The winner will be the one who doesn't run screaming from the store. 

Here are a few thoughts: 

  • Isn't this a great title? It's not that this book is all that scary, but it's a title to totally hook young readers. My six year old wanted to read it, though it was definitely a bit advanced for her. 
  • The homages to Roald Dahl are everywhere in The Most Frightening Story Ever Told, from the contest to the group of terrible children who are selected to the inclusion of poems. Mr. Rapscallion bears more than a passing resemblance to Willy Wonka, though he has a bit more backstory (a slightly estranged daughter and even an eventual love interest). 
  • There are lots of other references to books and movies (bringing the book Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein to mind). These references range from Alfred Hitchcock to Stephen King to Edgar Allen Poe to It's a Wonderful Life (and doubtless many others). Many of these references will be over the heads of 10-year-old readers, making this an excellent choice for a family read-aloud (and a book that adult gatekeepers will enjoy. 
  • Like both Grabenstein and Dahl, Kerr repeatedly laments (to an exaggerated degree) the fact that people don't read books as much as they used to, due to other distractions. Librarians are particularly likely to enjoy this one. 
  • The plotting of The Most Frightening Story Ever Told is a bit disjointed, with the inclusion of several stories-within-the-story. It takes quite a while for Kerr to get to the contest itself. It took me a fair bit of time to get through the book, but I did get hooked and finish quickly once the contest kicked off.
  • What kept me reading was that from the very first page, I liked Billy's voice. I flagged about a dozen passages in the first quarter of the book and then stopped marking them because I knew that I couldn't quote them all anyway. 
  • There's a twist at the end that I did see coming from early on, but Kerr did a good job of keeping me from being 100% sure about it throughout the book. Wondering about this also helped keep me hooked on the story. 

Here are a couple of quotes, to give you a feel for Billy and Mr. Rapscallion's voices:

"Now, some shop doors have a little bell that rings when you open them. The Haunted House of Books was a shop that had something very different--a hollow, wicked laugh, like something from an old horror movie. Not only that, but when you walked in the doorway, you stepped onto an old subway grating and a current of cold air came gusting up from below the floor. All of this was meant to give someone entering the bookshop a bit of a fright. And Billy was no exception. He yelled out loud and then he chuckled as he saw the funny side of what had happened." (Page 7)

and:

"They're too busy with their nerdy electronic games and their stupid televisions and their annoying cell phones and their geeky computers to think of reading books," said Mr. Rapscallion. "It makes you wonder why people even bother to teach reading in schools." Mr. Rapscallion sighed loudly. "It makes me worry for the future of the human race. Always supposing that I do actually care about something like that." (Page 25)

There's also a chapter in which Mr. Rapscallion tells a scary story. Under the chapter title is: "Note: This chapter should be read out loud to your little brother or your small sister, immediately before bedtime."

So you see, it's right up my alley, with literary references and sarcastic humor. And scary books and more scary books. 

The Most Frightening Story Ever Told is not so frightening that it will disturb middle grade readers, but it does have some scary moments. It is a book that will please Dahl fans, book fans, and anyone who loves the trappings of spooky stories (especially haunted houses). The vocabulary is somewhat advanced, and there is a British feel to the story, making this a book that might suit middle schoolers more than elementary school kids. I'm certain that it's a book that adult fans of children's literature will find engaging, as I did. Recommended for home and library purchase!

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids
Publication Date: September 6, 2016
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).


Charlotte and the Rock: Stephen W. Martin & Samantha Cotterill

Book: Charlotte and the Rock
Author: Stephen W. Martin
Illustrator: Samantha Cotterill
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-6

CharlotteAndTheRockCharlotte and the Rock by Stephen W. Martin and Samantha Cotterill is about a girl who wants a pet, but instead is given a large rock. Charlotte tries to make the best of her unusual pet, celebrating the positives (hypoallergenic, good listener), but she can't help noticing that the rock is not good at eating her leftover broccoli from the table. Nor is the rock at all helpful in getting her out of trouble in school. ("You said WHAT ate your homework?") Charlotte adapts, but she never stops wishing that her pet could offer her more affection. A surprise twist at the end delighted me, and is sure to please young readers. 

I quite liked Charlotte and the Rock. Though I've read other stories about inanimate pets (My Pet Book by Bob Staake, Prudence Wants a Pet by Cathleen Daly), something in the matter-of-fact tone of Charlotte and the Rock really worked for me. Like this (over two page spreads):

"But as with any pet, some things proved difficult.

Walks were not fun.

Really not fun."

Here we first see a red-cheeked Charlotte gritting her teeth, struggling to pull the rock (wearing a knitted hat) up a hill with a leash. Then (the really not fun part) she is flying down the hill behind the rock, as a squirrel jumps out of the way and people stare from inside shop windows.

Charlotte is adorable, with freckled cheeks, round glasses, and a plausible range of expressions. You can't help but feel for her when she is playing with her rock in the bath (using it to model a deserted island), wistfully wishing that the rock "could love her back." Her joy at the end of the book is a true pleasure to behold. 

Charlotte and the Rock is my favorite picture book of the year so far. Although it may be targeted a bit more towards preschoolers than to elementary school kids, I eagerly look forward to sharing it with my daughter. I'm sure she will love Charlotte (and the rock) as much as I do. Highly recommended!

Publisher: Dial Books  (@PenguinKids)
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).


Horizon: Scott Westerfeld

Book: Horizon
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Pages: 256
Age Range: 9-12

HorizonHorizon is the first of a new seven-book series from Scholastic. Scott Westerfeld wrote this one, and outlined all seven of the books, but other authors will be writing the remaining books (starting with Jennifer Nielsen writing Book 2). You can read Scott Westerfeld's announcement about the series here. Horizon is middle grade science fiction, intriguing enough that I certainly think that middle schoolers will also want to take a look. I read it in two quick sittings, finding it to be like the television series Lost, but aimed at kids. 

Eight kids are the only survivors of a plane crash. Although their flight was passing over the arctic, they find themselves in a jungle full of strange animals and phenomena. Four of the kids are engineers from Brooklyn, a robotics team on their way to a contest in Japan. After the crash they meet up with two young Japanese sisters returning home from boarding school, a Japanese-American teen also returning home, and a rather bossy Alpha male named Caleb. They have to learn to work together, while focusing on both basic survival and trying to understand what's happened. Their survival is clearly not random - they were somehow chosen by an electrical force that rejected everyone else on the plane. 

Things I enjoyed about Horizon:

  • The kids' application of engineering principles to understand things. They also find a device that disrupts basic physical principles, like gravity. This is a book that puts the science in science fiction, something particularly welcome (as far as I'm concerned) in a book for middle grade audiences. 
  • The multicultural cast. The kids from Brooklyn appear to include Hispanic and African American backgrounds. The Japanese girls don't even speak English, and end up teaching the American kids a few Japanese words along the way. 
  • The complex and intriguing setting. There are sentient vines, birds that attack humans, and other odd phenomena. 
  • The pacing of the story. Westerfeld keeps the kids in crisis, frequently separated, and often in peril. Middle grade readers will keep turning the pages to understand what happens next. 

My main quibble about the book as it stands was that I thought that the characterization could have been a bit deeper. I had trouble keeping defining characteristics of some of the characters in my head. But perhaps this is a deliberate way to allow more scope to the future authors of the series. There's definitely a videogame/movie feel to the book - it's clearly not meant to be a character study. [There's some sort of online game, apparently, but I haven't checked that out.]

As part of a seven-book series, Horizon naturally leaves pretty much everything unresolved. I think it will leave young readers eager to read the next book. I've personally not found in the past that series with different authors for different books tend to hold up for me, but I am interested to at least check out the second book. [See also Ms. Yingling's take on Horizon, she is weary of the 7 book series.]  

Science and survival, with a multicultural slant, aimed at middle grade readers. Libraries, at least those not put off by a longer series, will definitely want to give Horizon a look. Recommended for science fiction (and Lost) fans. 

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic
Publication Date: March 28, 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).


Samson: The Piranha Who Went to Dinner: Tadgh Bentley

Book: Samson: The Piranha Who Went to Dinner
Author: Tadgh Bentley
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

SamsonPiranhaSamson: The Piranha Who Went to Dinner by Tadgh Bentley is about a "rather adventurous" piranha who likes to try new things. Most of all, Samson dreams of "eating fine food at the fanciest restaurants". Of course, fearsome piranhas are not generally welcome at fancy restaurants. Samson, however, is determined to give it a try. Only after a series of disguises fail, however, does Samson happen upon a real solution to his problem. 

Tadgh Bentley fills Samson: The Piranha Who Went to Dinner with a lush vocabulary and hints of humor, together with read-aloud-friendly enthusiasm. Like this:

"His friends were right. He couldn't get into a restaurant looking like a piranha.

But maybe he COULD get in looking like something else. He would need a disguise!

Samson checked his moustache and fluffed his eyebrows. He could almost taste the luscious lily linguine and the sizzling seaweed sausages!

"Pardon me, but I believe you have a reservation for Samson P. Rana?""

Get it? P. Rana? Five years olds will like it. I liked the alliteration in "luscious lily linguine and the sizzling seaweed sausages". I also enjoyed expostulations like "SCALEY NEPTUNE'S CRABCAKES!" on the part of the restaurant staff members. 

Bentley's illustrations use deep underwater tones, blues and greens tinged with gray, dramatized with huge red letters when the various restaurant people shriek: "PIRANHA!". There are some nice details, too. I particularly enjoyed scenes showing Samson's boring friends, sitting around an underwater living room, one of them actually resident inside of an old television set. Samson, with his huge teeth, is not exactly an attractive creature, but his expressions do evoke sympathy, and his disguises are funny and cute.

I found the resolution of Samson: The Piranha Who Went to Dinner to be a bit easy, but the final scene is humorous and apt. My daughter found this book hilarious, and will surely want to read it again. Samson: The Piranha Who Went to Dinner takes an initially unsympathetic main character (who likes piranhas?) and makes readers root for him. It has a nice mix of humor and rich, alliterative vocabulary, making it a good recommendation for storytime read-aloud. This is a fun book that I'm happy to have read, and to recommend. 

Publisher: Balzer + Bray (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: February 7, 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).


Not Quite Narwhal: Jessie Sima

Book: Not Quite Narwhal
Author: Jessie Sima
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

NotQuiteNarwhalNot Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima is a picture book about not fitting in, but being loved anyway, and finding your place. Kelp is born in the ocean, but knows early on that he is different from the other narwhals. He swims clumsily with a glass bowl on his head, wearing floaties and kicking his four legs, while the other narwhals swim gracefully about. His friends accept his differences, however, so he doesn't worry too much about it. Until, that is, his poor swimming leads to him being swept away on a strong current, ending up on land for the first time.  Where he discovers, and is accepted by, unicorns. But then Kelp has to make a choice between staying with his new-found, like friends on land, or going back to the friends below the surface, who doubtless miss him. The book's resolution is a bit sappy, but certainly joyful. 

My six-year-old delighted in knowing before Kelp did that he was, in fact, a unicorn. She also found the ending satisfying. I liked Kelp's determined and hopeful attitude, particularly in a scene where he teaches himself to walk on land by following various animals. Imitating a frog is not especially helpful for poor, Kelp, but it does provide entertainment for the reader. Here's a snippet of Sima's text from later in the book:

"Kelp swam toward home as fast as he could,
which wasn't very fast at all,
hoping that the narwhals would still like him now that he was a unicorn.

When he finally arrived, Kelp had butterflies in his stomach."

There's a mild humor in phrases like "which wasn't very fast at all" (because we've already established that Kelp isn't much of a swimmer), and in some of the dialog (as when Kelp's friends tell him that they always knew that he wasn't a narwhal). This humor off-sets what could have been a tad too much sweetness in Kelp's expression and in the trappings of unicorns (rainbows coming out of their horns, etc.). 

You can read Not Quite Narwhal straight up, as the sparkly story of a unicorn born to narwhals who discovers other unicorns, then journeys home to the narwhals who loved him all along. Or you can read Not Quite Narwhal as a parable about not fitting in (because of being gay, or transgender, or whatever else might make a person feel different) and then discovering that there are other people like you. I can envision a little bookworm living in a house of people who only watch tv discovering a world of avid readers one day in the library, and thinking "Oh, so that's what I am." The possibilities are endless, and make Not Quite Narwhal much more than it seems on the surface. Recommended!

Publisher:Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (@SimonKids)
Publication Date: February 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).