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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).


Charlotte the Scientist is Squished: Camille Andros & Brianne Farley

Book: Charlotte the Scientist is Squished
Author: Camille Andros
Illustrator: Brianne Farley
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

CharlotteScientistCharlotte the Scientist is Squished, by Camille Andros and Brianne Farley, is about a rabbit who is a scientist, but has trouble focusing on her work because her home is so crowed (rabbits being the way they are). At her wit's end, Charlotte decides to apply the scientific method to her problem. Her lack of space ends up leading her to outer space, where it is quite, but, perhaps, just a bit lonely. Can the trusty scientific method, applied one more time, help Charlotte to come up with a better solution to her problem? 

I was, of course, thrilled to see a picture book featuring a young female scientist. The listing of, and following of, the steps of the scientific method was an additional bonus. The book even includes a bit more detail about the scientific method and some followup questions as end material. My six-year-old, science-minded daughter had no interest in the end material. As an only child, she also couldn't relate very well to Charlotte's difficulty in finding alone time. But, like me, she liked Charlotte anyway, and enjoyed her adventure. 

Camille Andros' text features direct sentences and a matter-of-fact, let's-get-it-done feel. This tone is appropriate to the science-based theme, but also a nice counter-point to the ridiculousness of a rabbit building a carrot-shaped spaceship. Here's a snippet (over two page spreads):

"She tried an experiment to make everyone disappear...
... but it didn't work.

She tried another experiment to make herself disappear.
But that didn't work either."

Brianne Farley's illustrations add both humor and heart to the story. The opening scene, in which a stoic Charlotte stands surrounded by her family, is priceless. The family ranges from babies to clingy young siblings to a male rabbit who is clearly an aloof teenager. They all have personality. The spaceship is delightful, as is Charlotte's joy when she runs across a completely empty moonscape. 

While the conclusion of Charlotte the Scientist is Squished is not surprising, I think that preschool and early elementary readers will find it satisfying. Most readers with siblings, especially younger siblings, will be able to relate to Charlotte's quest to find a bit of quiet space for herself. Charlotte is an engaging heroine, serious and science-minded, but also appreciative of things like blowing bubbles in the bathtub. And despite her differences from her family members, their mutual affection for one another comes through clearly. Libraries and classrooms serving early elementary school readers will definitely want to take a look at Charlotte the Scientist is Squished. Recommended, and going on our "keep" shelf!

Publisher: Clarion Books (@hmhkids)
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).


Otter Loves Easter!: Sam Garton

Book: Otter Loves Easter!
Author: Sam Garton
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8

OtterLovesEasterOtter, lovable protagonist of a series of books by Sam Garton starting with I Am Otter, is back with a new adventure. In this installment, we learn that Otter loves Easter! Otter is a young otter who lives with an adult male known as Otter Keeper, and surrounds himself with a slew of stuffed animals. [Hmm, I never before thought about the parallels to Curious George, though Otter's adventures are far more domestically-centered.] In Otter Loves Easter!, Otter awakens excitedly on Easter morning to find a bounty of candy. He overeats, of course, finding it simply too hard to share his candy with his (stuffed) friends. After the inevitable stomachache, and a nap, Otter sets up an Easter egg hunt as a way to atone to his candy-less friends. 

It really struck me in this installment how much Otter Keeper pampers Otter. Though Otter takes the lead in every scene (we catch merely a few glimpses of Otter Keeper's feet), as a parent I found it impossible not to notice the huge pile of Easter treats at the foot of Otter's bed. And the adorable Easter breakfast waiting for him on the table, complete with bunny ear pancakes and a decorated hard-boiled egg in a cup. The Easter egg hunt, too, had to involve significant effort on the part of Otter Keeper ("Otter Keeper helped a little too, because even an Easter expert needs help from a grown-up sometimes). This Otter-centered Easter celebration is sure to appeal to young children, most of whom delight in feeling essential to their parents (particularly when lots of candy is involved). 

Otter's messy, occasionally flawed, but well-intentioned antics are full of kid-appeal, too. He puts a hand to his mouth after spilling a dye-filled cup. He looks positively miserable after binging on candy. He regrets the realization that "All the Easter eggs were in my tummy, and my friends hadn't gotten any." He is, in short, both lovable and relatable. 

The Easter egg hunt scene is particularly delightful. Otter's stuffed friends are strategically located around the yard, and the careful reader will enjoy looking among the clutter for the Easter eggs. There are also various live animals, most watching the hunt with wide eyes, and occasional disapproval. One squirrel worriedly clutches a decorated egg, his arms barely fitting around it. A cat lounges on the shed room with sunglasses, holding a drink with a straw, for some reason. This page spread is bright, chaotic fun from corner to corner. 

One other small visual touch that I liked in Otter Loves Easter! is that the end pages are decorated with Easter-egg like patterns in yellow, white, and lavender.

Fans of Otter will not want to miss Otter Loves Easter! And if you are not a fan yet, this is a good place to start. Libraries will certainly want to add Otter Loves Easter! to their holiday collections. Focused entirely on the secular aspects of Easter, Otter Loves Easter! celebrates the delights of Easter eggs and baskets, as well as the safety that comes with being a cherished child. Recommended!

Publisher: Balzer + Bray (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: January 24, 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).


Upside-Down Magic #3: Showing Off: Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins

Book: Upside-Down Magic #3: Showing Off
Author: Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins
Pages: 208
Age Range: 8-12

ShowingOffShowing Off is the third book in the Upside-Down Magic series by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins. I enjoyed the first book in the series (review here) and seem to have missed the second, but the third book has enough background that I didn't feel like I had  missed anything significant. The Upside-Down Magic books are set in a world in which everyone has one of five types of magical abilities. In some people, however, these abilities are "upside-down" and don't work correctly. When Nory, the son of a controlling school principal, turns out to have upside-down abilities, her father sends her away to live with a more free-spirited (and tolerant) aunt. The books center around the trials and tribulations of Nory and her friends in the Upside-Down Magic (UDM) classroom at their local middle school. 

In Showing Off, Nory and her fellow UDM 5th grade classmates are worried about how to participate in the school Show-Off event, basically a talent show with group performances by each class. Nory is particularly concerned because her father is likely to attend the event, the first time she has seen him since he sent her away, and she knows that he expects her to display conventional, rather than upside-down talents. Nory's friend Pepper is also worried about the performance, because her upside-down talent involves being unable to avoid terrifying animals (of which there will be many present). The story shifts between the viewpoints of Nory and Pepper as they work to master their unruly talents, and navigate various interpersonal relationships. 

Showing Off is a fun book that combines magical challenges with universal middle school issues. If it occasionally strays near to the territory of being lesson-y (as when one girl tells another that her friends never make her feel badly about herself), the overall light tone keeps it on safe ground (like when a character who has turned into a piano feels a bit "off-key"). 

I do like Nory's voice. Like this;

"Now here she was, six weeks into the school year at Dunwiddle. It was the first day of serious rain and her feet were soaked. But what was a girl to do? Wet feet were wet feet. Nothing to be gained by moping." (Page 5)

I also appreciated Nory's personal growth over the course of Showing Off, as she comes to realize her father's limitations. I think that the goofiness of the UDM kids' abilities in general will resonate with any middle school kid who has ever felt different or awkward. Which, I imagine, is most of them. The ending of Showing Off is satisfying on multiple levels, and represents a kid-friendly wish fulfillment that will leave readers eager for the next installment. This is certainly a series that belongs in libraries everywhere that serve kids heading off to middle school. Recommended!

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic
Publication Date: December 27, 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).


The Fox Wish: Kimiko Aman and Komako Sakai

Book: The Fox Wish
Author: Kimiko Aman
Illustrator: Komako Sakai
Pages: 32
Age Range: 2-5

TheFoxWishThe Fox Wish was originally published in Japan in 2003, and was brought to the U.S. this year by Chronicle Books. Written by Kimiko Aman and illustrated by Komako Sakai, The Fox Wish is about two children who find magic in what might have been an ordinary day. The first-person narrator, a little girl, realizes that she has left her jump rope at the playground. She heads out to get it, taking her little brother (barely more than a toddler) with her. This is the first fanciful aspect to the story, really, since two children that young would not, today, be likely to just head out on their own without a word to any adult. Anyway, the children discover that the jump rope has been taken by a group of foxes, who are attempted to jump rope and singing a fun song. The girl ends up helping them (they are having problems with caught tails). At the end of the book, the girl has a chance to help a young fox's wish come true. 

There is certainly a message to this book, about how lovely it is watch someone else's wishes come true. But the message comes only at the end of a charming, if somewhat quirky, adventure. Kimiko Aman's text is quiet and contemplative, like this:

"But there wasn't anything left hanging from the tree branch where I'd left it.

Where could it be?

A big wind blew.

"What's that?" Lukie asked.

From somewhere nearby we could hear other kids laughing."

And:

"Lukie and I were quiet all the way back through the park.
The light was golden and the air was warm, and in our footsteps I kept hearing the rhythm of the jump-rope rhyme."

Komako Sakai's acrylic gouache, oil pencil, and ballpoint illustrations did not originally grab me, but they've grown on me as I spend more time with the book. There's a remote quality to the illustrations, the children's faces just barely drawn in, that adds to the fanciful feel of the story. The Fox Wish feels like a tale that might be told at bedtime to children in Narnia. 

The Fox Wish won the Japan Picture Book Award, and it certainly has an international feel (though the children look more American than Japanese). I'll be interested to see how it's received by children in the U.S. Personally, I found the story charming and unusual. It left me with a good feeling, and a desire to see people's wishes come true. Recommended. 

Publisher: Chronicle Books (@ChronicleKids
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).


Hats Off to You!: Karen Beaumont and LeUyen Pham

Book: Hats Off to You!
Author: Karen Beaumont
Illustrator: LeUyen Pham
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

HatsOffToYouThe just-released Hats Off to You! is a companion book to the glittery Shoe-la-la!. In the first book, four girls declare their love for shoes. In this new title, the same girls are enamored of hats: dramatic, sparkly, eye-catching hats. The story begins with Emily, Ashley, Kaitlyn, and Claire in an attic, dressing up in fancy clothes, but lacking hats. They go down to a street fair conveniently located below and find a tent called "Chez Chapeaux" (yes, this is one of those books that will have the reader rhyming everything by the end of a read-through). They try on a plethora of hats before returning to the attic to add extra decorations to their selections. Only at the end of the book does the reader learn that the outfits are for a mother-daughter tea. 

Beaumont's bouncy text is read-aloud friendly and unabashedly glamour-focused. Like this:

"Oo-la-la! This hat's tres chic.
Mine was made in Mozambique.

Funky hat, to match my shoes.
I like the girly curlicues." 

She does vary the meter occasionally, to keep things from getting too sing-songy. Like this:

"Emily, Ashley, Kaitlyn, Claire!
Need to choose new hats to wear.

Hats and more hats piled up high.
Which hats do we want to buy?

Oh, my!"

There's almost a Dr. Seuss feel to the above example, paired as it is with LeeUyen Pham's jaunty illustrations of the girls dancing around the store, following the vendor. Each ends up with a leaning stack of multiple hats atop her head. The vendor's clown-like attire adds to the over-the-top feel of the celebration. 

As for the girls, they are adorable, with big smiles, and apparently boundless energy. They represent a range of ethnicities, with the hat-seller adding yet another gradation of skin tones. Each mom strongly resembles her daughter, and the book ends in warm hugs and thanks to the moms for all that they do. What mom wouldn't want to read this with her daughter? What six-year-old wouldn't delight in the crazy hats that end up on the moms' heads? 

Hats Off to You! is a delightful celebration of friendship, motherhood, and dressing up. It is multicultural without being "about" diversity, which is, I think, a great way to go when you can pull it off. While clearly aimed at four to eight year old girls, I could see Hats Off to You! appealing to that segment of little boys who like dressing up, too. It is read-aloud friendly and one that I look forward to sharing with my own six-year-old. Recommended!

Publisher: Scholastic  (@Scholastic
Publication Date: February 28, 2017
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History: Walter Dean Myers and Floyd Cooper

Book: Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History
Author: Walter Dean Myers
Illustrator: Floyd Cooper
Pages: 40
Age Range: 5-9

FrederickDouglassFrederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History is a picture book biography written by Walter Dean Myers and illustrated by Floyd Cooper. In straightforward fashion, it traces the life of a man named Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, born a slave in Maryland, who eventually (changing his name along the way) becomes a writer and leader of the abolitionist movement, as well as an advocate for women's rights. Myers gives particular focus to Frederick's quest to learn to read. His owner's wife starts to teach him, but her husband fears that learning to read will "make (Frederick) unfit to be a slave." He's right about that, in fact, and Frederick eventually escapes to Massachusetts. 

This is a very text-dense picture book that refers (though it doesn't dwell upon) to mature matters, including the fact hat Frederick was beaten for arguing with his master. I think it's more suitable for kids in elementary school than earlier. Reading it with kids will of course spark discussion about slavery, the causes of the Civil War, early women's rights, and the militant abolitionist John Brown. Like this:

"When he was nineteen, Frederick fell in love with a free black woman, Anna Murray. But he was a slave and could not be with her as he chose. The lure of freedom because almost unbearable, but to try to escape was a risky business. Slaveholders did not want to lose their precious "property." When slaves who tried to escape were caught, they were often punished severely.

Frederick new he had to take the chance!"

I do have one quibble about the book. The text skips over the fact that British sympathizers bought Douglass' freedom from his owner. This information is included in a timeline at the end of the book, as is the text of the document officially freeing him. But as I was reading the book I found it odd that this wasn't mentioned. I'm sure that Myers had a reason, but to me it was confusing. The timeline is helpful, though. 

I was quite pleased with Cooper's illustrations, rendered in erasers and oils on board. The old-fashioned sepia tones transport readers to the time of the story. We see Frederick as mostly serious throughout the book, but it's a picture of him as a boy enrapt as the mistress of the house reads to him that tugs at the viewers heart. 

Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History covers a lot of historical ground, educating young readers about Douglass himself, as well about America in the 1800s. Myers does a nice job, I think, of humanizing Frederick, while keeping the story focused on the facts. This, I think, is the right balance for a book for younger readers. His focus on the power of words also comes through without being didactic, and delivers a more powerful message about education because of that restraint. Frederick Douglass would be a strong addition to any library's biography collection. 

Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: January 24, 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 Goldfish Boy: Lisa Thompson

Book: The Goldfish Boy
Author: Lisa Thompson
Pages: 320
Age Range: 8-12 

GoldfishBoyThe Goldfish Boy is a very impressive debut novel by Lisa Thompson. Set on a small street in a suburb outside of London, The Goldfish Boy is about the mysterious disappearance of a toddler. The story is told by first person narrator Matthew, who is wrestling with his own demons. As Matthew strives to figure out what happened to little Teddy, he also shares clues with readers about the triggers for his own steadily worsening obsessive compulsive disorder. 

Matthew's voice is simply fascinating, unusual and distinctive, painful yet funny. So trapped by his fears of germs that he is virtually unable to leave his house, Matthew entertains himself by watching his neighbors out the window. He even takes little notes. This viewpoint and attention to detail position Matthew somewhat for putting together the clues about Teddy's disappearance, though he ends up needing some on-the-ground help from two neighbors. 

The two mysteries (Teddy's disappearance and the root of Matthew's compulsions) captured my interest. But it was really Matthew's voice that kept me reading The Goldfish Boy. You know you are in good hands when you find passages like this:

"I lived on a quiet, dead-end street in a town full of people who said how great it was that they didn't live in that big, smelly city of London--and who then spent most of their mornings desperately trying to get there." (Page 1)

and this:

"Mr. Charles could have been anything from sixty-five to ninety-five years old. He never seemed to get older. I figured he'd found an age he quite liked and just stopped right there." (Page 3) 

Here's one of many passages about Matthew's OCD:

"My bedroom was the best part of the house. It was safe. It was free from germs. Out there, things were dangerous. What people didn't seem to understand was that dirt meant germs and germs meant illness and illness meant death. It was was quite obvious when you thought about it. I needed things to be right, and in my room I had complete control. All I had to do was keep on top of it." (Page 12)

The Goldfish Boy is a book that has the potential to make young readers feel more compassion towards students who are struggling with inner demons. The other characters in the book, particularly two other twelve-year-olds living on Matthew's street, are complex and intriguing. We learn through flashbacks, for example, about Matthew's relationship with his childhood friend Jake, who is now a bit of a bully. Thompson traces Jakes's evolution from bullying victim to bully, and casts just the faintest hint of Matthew's culpability through lack of loyalty. Matthew's developing relationship with newer neighbor Melody, who has her own questionable habits, is both entertaining and thought-provoking.   

The Goldfish Boy is book that I think will intrigue both children and adults.  It has strong characters, a ripped-from-the-headlines mystery, and a protagonist with a unique and compelling voice. I was surprised to learn that it was Lisa Thompson's first novel. It is a most assured debut, and I look forward to Thompson's future work. Highly recommended. 

Publisher:  Scholastic Press (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: February 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).


Stinky Spike: The Pirate Dog: Peter Meisel and Paul Meisel

Book: Stinky Spike: The Pirate Dog
Author: Peter Meisel
Illustrator: Paul Meisel
Pages: 80
Age Range: 5-7 (Illustrated early reader, full-color)

StinkySpikeStinky Spike: The Pirate Dog kicks off a new series in Bloomsbury's Read & Bloom line of early readers with full color illustrations. Written by Peter Meisel and illustrated by Paul Meisel, the book introduces Spike, a dog who works at a shipyard chasing away birds, and who excels at chasing down bad smells. One day, in the course of his duties, Spike falls in the water and is swept out to sea, saved only by an old wooden bucket full of bits of rotten fish. After some adventures on the high seas, Spike is taken in by a crew of a rather inept pirates, who christen him Stinky Spike. But can Stinky Spike's strong nose help the pirate crew in their quest for treasure? 

Peter Meisel's text is kid friendly, full of strong, alliterative sentences, not too difficult for newer readers. Like this:

"Spike was in trouble. "Scram, flappers!" he howled as he bolted at the birds.

But there was a patch of slippery, slimy seaweed on the dock. Spike's paws slid out from under him. He skidded off the edge of the dock.

SPLASH! Spike landed in the ocean." (Page 18)

And here are the pirates talking:

"Crusty clam shells! This sea dog stinks worse than rotten anchovies." Zip gagged.

"Or spoiled sardine stew!" Zelda choken.

"Blimey, that's quite a stench. What be your name, mutt?" Fishbeard scowled.

Bonus points for the ship having a female first-mate. With an eye patch, no less. 

Pirates, a dog, and a host of bad smells. What is not to like for the kindergarten and first grade crowd? Stinky Spike: The Pirate Dog has three chapters, wide text spacing, and at least a half-page of illustration for every page spread. Paul Meisel's illustrations are full of entertaining details, like fish literally poking out of Captain Fishbeard's beard. He uses wavy lines to indicate the presence of bad smells, of which there are many. The pirates are ragged but not at all intimidating, and Spike himself is an intrepid, if pungent, figure. In short, this is a fine addition to the ranks of early readers. A second installment, Stinky Spike and the Royal Rescue, releases on the same day as the first (though I have not seen that one). I suspect that Stinky Spike will be a hit with the primary-grade crowd, and that other titles will be forthcoming. Recommended, especially for libraries serving new readers. 

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BloomsburyKids)
Publication Date: March 14, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Pax and Blue: Lori Richmond

Book: Pax and Blue
Author: Lori Richmond
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-6

PaxAndBluePax and Blue by Lori Richmond is the story of a friendship between a small boy and a blue-tinged pigeon. Pax and Blue meet every day on a bus stop, where they greet one another with words and coos, respectively. Every day, Pax shares a bit of his toast with Blue, as a gesture of friendship. However, one day Pax's mother is late, and drags him away before he can share his customary crumbs with Blue. Not understanding, Blue follows Pax all the way onto a subway car, where his appearance causes a bit of a scene. Luckily, Pax knows what to do the, and both pigeon and friendship are saved.

Richmond's text is straightforward and just a touch sentimental. Like this:

"But this morning was different.
Pax knew little ones can get rushed along--
Especially when Mom can't be late.

But Blue didn't understand." 

The "little ones" in the above, as well as another reference to it being not "so easy being little" on the previous page, make me think that Pax and Blue is a better fit for preschoolers than for older kids. There's a pathos to statements like "Blue was lost, and didn't know the way out" that support this, too. 

For me, what makes the book are Richmond's illustrations. Pax and Blue are always shown in brighter whites and colors, while the background and most characters are in more muted shares of gray and purple. Pax, with his huge glasses and worried face, is charming, and Blue's quiet sadness when Pax passes him by is touching. A favorite page for young listeners is sure to be a spread in which we see just Blue's face, eyes enormous and white, and the text "Uh oh" (prior to Blue being noticed on the subway car). 

It's also nice to see the urban setting of the book, too, something still less common than suburbia in picture books. Pax and Blue are two friends sure to win the hearts of many preschoolers. Pax and Blue would make a nice book for a library storytime, or a comforting bedtime read-aloud. 

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (@SimonKids)
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).