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Ninja Bunny: Sister vs. Brother: Jennifer Gray Olson

Book: Ninja Bunny: Sister vs. Brother
Author: Jennifer Gray Olson
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-7

NinjaBunnySister

Ninja Bunny: Sister vs. Brother is the sequel to Ninja Bunny. I haven't read the first book, but in this installment, a young bunny is on a quest to find The Golden Carrot of Awesomeness, the world's largest carrot. He wants to lead his friends on the quest, only to be pestered by his tag-along sister. In the grand tradition of parents everywhere, mom tells him to "Play with your sister, dear." There's a classic back and forth, as the sister keeps following, saying "Me too!" and the brother says things like "Only BIG bunnies can be super awesome ninjas." But the sister finds a way to use her small size to her advantage in the end. 

Ninja Bunny: Sister vs. Brother has a deliciously melodramatic tone. My favorite page is when the bunnies find "The Golden Carrot of Awesomeness", only to also find "the insurmountable vines of protection." Bonus points for a picture book that uses words like "insurmountable." The latter is accompanies by an image of the bunnies, all of whom look pretty small, confronting a huge tangle of vines, and various unfriendly signs.  

The book is also full of ninja moves, of course. I know that my own six-year-old loves all things ninja, and I think that this book will be a hit. It's a nice mix of cool ninja stuff ("Ninja chop", etc.) and classic sibling dynamics. Most of the illustrations are minimalist, with vignettes of the bunnies doing ninja moves against a white background. The boy bunny is in blue, while his sister is in red, making it easy to tell them apart. The brother's friends are just bunnies, without ninja costumes, keeping the visual focus clearly on the siblings. 

Ninja Bunny: Sister vs. Brother is a nice addition to the recent ranks of books about ninjas, with plenty of dynamic jumps and kicks, and a small but determined sister. Fans of the first book will definitely want to give this one a look, as will libraries serving preschoolers. Recommended. 

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: September 13, 2016
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

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


The Bronze Key (Magisterium, Book 3): Holly Black & Cassandra Clare

Book: The Bronze Key (Magisterium, Book 3)
Author: Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Pages: 256
Age Range: 8-12

TheBronzeKey

The Bronze Key is the third book in the five-book Magisterium series, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, following The Iron Trial and The Copper Gauntlet. This is a fine series for fans of middle grade fantasy. It has echoes of the Harry Potter series, but with plenty of unique attributes, too. We have a boy who is special (and connected intimately with someone evil) because of something that happened to him as a baby. We have a magical school, fleshed out via inventive world-building. We have two best friends, one male and one female. And we have, in this installment, an overhanging threat, a spy to be uncovered, and dating dynamics between young teens. Yes, this is a must-read series for fans of epic middle grade fantasy, school stories, and/or twisty plots. 

I don't feel the need to recap the plot of this third book. If you haven't read the first two, any description will contain spoilers for those. And if you have read the first two, you don't need me to tell you what to expect. You already want to read The Bronze Key. So I'll just say that The Bronze Key does not disappoint. I liked it better than the second book, probably because more of it takes place at the atmospheric Magisterium and I quite enjoy spending time there. Here it is:

"The caverns were humid but cool. Water dripped down from the jagged icicle stalactites to the melted-candle stalagmites below them. Sheets of gypsum hung from the ceiling, resembling banners and streamers from some long-forgotten party. Call walked past it all, past the damp flowstone and the pools shining with mica, where pale fish darted. He was so used to it that he longer found it to be particularly creepy." (Page 57)

Black and Clare are masterful at characterization (especially for main character Call), and at blending action, mystery, and humor. I especially like Call's dry, self-deprecating voice. Like these examples:

"Call knew they were in trouble when he saw there were chairs up on the dais. Chairs meant a long ceremony. He wasn't wrong. The ceremony went by in a blur, but it was an extended and boring blur." (Page 19)

"Yeah I've been..." Call's voice trailed off. He wondered if it was possible to have a conversation entirely in sentences that trailed off. If so, he and Celia were definitely on their way to an epic example." (Page 83)

I also appreciate the way that the authors incorporate Call's disability (from an infant leg injury) throughout, without making it feel like a big deal. Each of the characters has something that makes life difficult for them, but they continue moving forward. The dynamics between Call and his friends remain complex (particularly in light of developing dating interests, an area in which Call seems to lag a bit). 

Developments at the end of The Bronze Key left me surprised, and certainly wanting more. The Bronze Key is a strong addition to a solid series, one that will be, and should be, eagerly awaited by fans everywhere. Highly recommended!

Publisher: Scholastic Press (@Scholastic) 
Publication Date: August 30, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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


This Is My Dollhouse: Giselle Potter

Book: This Is My Dollhouse
Author: Giselle Potter
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

ThisIsMyDollhouseMy daughter brought This Is My Dollhouse by Giselle Potter home from the library, and we both enjoyed it very much. It's about a girl who has made her own dollhouse out of a cardboard box. She's made most of the furniture and other items, too. There's a block with burners drawn on it to make a stove, a couch made from a green and yellow kitchen sponge, etc. The girl plays with the cobbled-together dollhouse family every day, making them foods like noodles from cut pieces of yellow string, and singing them to sleep.

Her friend, Sophie, in contrast, has a "perfect" dollhouse, with plastic people and plastic food. Acceptable play with Sophie's dollhouse is dictated by the available, pre-made accessories. No creativity is allowed. When Sophie comes over to play, the narrator worries about the potential rejection of her home-made dollhouse. Instead, however, Sophie is charmed, and the two girls take the dollhouse family on a delightful vacation. 

This Is My Dollhouse is a celebration of creativity and imagination. It feeds the child reader's fascination with making things, and with little things. My own daughter was inspired to make a cup of "popcorn" (tiny balls of rolled-up toilet paper), like the one in the book. I'm rather surprised that she has yet to build her own dollhouse, though she has been asking to make some dioramas out of old shoeboxes. 

Potter's text is straightforward, written in the first person, and demonstrates occasional flashes of humor. Like this:

"I made a TV by cutting a hole in a little silver box and gluing a picture inside. I can change the picture whenever I want.

The rug is a very small piece of carpet I cut off the one in my room. (So far, no one has noticed.)" 

That last aside made me give a little snort of laughter. Here's one more snippet:

"Mommy makes them fried eggs (circles cut from white paper, with yellow colored centers),

and then the twins take the elevator up, up, up and 
swim in the rooftop pool in their bikinis."

Potter's illustrations fill in more of the details, such as the method of making the popcorn, the girl's choice to use a shoe as an airplane, etc. Her distinctive illustration style, with its old-fashioned feel and sometimes skewed perspectives, is a perfect fit for this story. The expressions of the two girls, when bored at Sophie's house, are priceless, as is the narrator's look of quiet satisfaction on the book's final page. 

This Is My Dollhouse would be a great choice for any child who enjoys making things. It belongs in libraries everywhere, particularly those serving early elementary school children. It would make a wonderful birthday or holiday gift, especially if accompanied by a large cardboard box. Highly recommended. 

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (@RandomHouseKids
Publication Date: May 10, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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


Steg-O-Normous (Oodlethunks, Book 2): Adele Griffin and Mike Wu

Book: Steg-O-Normous (The Oodlethunks, Book 2)
Author: Adele Griffin
Illustrator: Mike Wu
Pages: 160
Age Range: 7-10

Steg-o-normousSteg-O-Normous is the second book the The Oodlethunks series of illustrated early chapter books, following Oona Finds an Egg. In this installment, Stacy, the stegosaurus that hatched in the previous book, is growing by leaps and bounds, causing challenges for Oona Oodlethunk and her family. When she learns that her parents are going to banish Stacy from the family cave (due to her advanced size), Oona bravely seeks the help of the local witch. But in the end, it is Stacy who saves herself, and various citizens of West Woggle. 

The premise of this series requires more than the usual suspension of belief, as Oona's Neanderthal family includes a mother who works in marketing, a father who is a gourmet chef (of sorts) and two kids who attend school (complete with field trips). Then there's the coexistence of dinosaurs (one, at least) and Neanderthals. There's also a running joke that someone in the family has invented the wheel, but they have yet to find anything useful to do with it. But the seven-year-old new readers who are The Oodlethunks' target audience will not care about any of that. Instead, they will enjoy the idea of living in caves, running around barefoot with clubs, dodging predators, and, of course, owning a pet dinosaur. 

Steg-O-Normous is full of kid-friendly details, including a sick Stacy being "sick on both ends" and the need to always bring something (like a cool rock) for potential barter. Or this:

""Good job, Stacy!" Bonk banged his Bonk-It club. "Zucchinis taste like snot, only without the good boogery flavor!" He leaned down and scratched Stacy behind her ear." (Page 2)

Bonk, Oona's little brother, is a fun character, irrepressible and loyal. There's a great illustration of him stomping gleefully in a bowl of "bone broth", as mom looks shocked and dad cringes. Bonk tags along and drives Oona crazy, as little brothers have surely done throughout time. 

Mike Wu's illustrations, included every couple of pages, a mix of full-page spreads and smaller drawings, bring Oona and her family (including Stacy) to life. There's kind of a Flintstones feel to them, with stone tables and animal pelt clothing, but labeled jars on the shelf of the witch's cave. The addition of pages showing things like the various foods fed to Stacy (each item carefully drawn and labeled) adds a bit of a notebook novel feel to Steg-O-Normous

The chapters in Steg-O-Normous are short, and the action is frequent, making this a nice bridge book for new readers ready to dabble in chapter books. The Oodlethunks series has a quirky, entertaining premise and a nice mix of action, family dynamics, and humor. This should be a welcome series for parents and librarians looking to engage new readers. I look forward to Oona and Bonk's future adventures. Recommended!

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic
Publication Date: September 13, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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


Where, Oh Where, Is Rosie's Chick?: Pat Hutchins

Book: Where, Oh Where, Is Rosie's Chick?
Author: Pat Hutchins
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8
WhereIsRosiesChickWhere, Oh Where, Is Rosie's Chick? is the sequel to Rosie's Walk by Pat Hutchins. The first book was published back in 1971 and is still in print. My daughter's kindergarten class did an activity centered around Rosie's Walk last semester. When my daughter saw this book she was thrilled.

Both books feature a kind of slapstick humor in which a hapless chicken walks through a farm yard, blissfully unaware of being followed. In this new book, Rosie is looking for her just-hatched chick. She marches all through the farm, never realizing (until the end of the book) that her chick is actually behind her. Meanwhile, various predators attempt to snatch the chick, but are unsuccessful due to accidental interventions. For instance, when Rosie knocks some apples out of a wheelbarrow, she kicks one of them right into the mouth of a large fish that might have swallowed up the chick. These near-misses offer spot-on preschooler-friendly humor. 

The actual text of Where, Oh Where, Is Rosie's Chick? is straightforward and minimalist. Like this;

"She looks in the basket,
but here little baby chick isn't there."

(next page spread)

She looks behind the wheelbarrow,
but her little baby chick isn't there, either."

This repetitive text lends itself to reading by themselves for kids in kindergarten and first grade. When reading the book to a child, it's a bit difficult to get into a rhythm because one wants to stop and point out the various additional things that are going on in the pictures. ("Where is the chick?" "Who is that watching the chick?" "What do you think that animal will do?", and so on.)

The illustrations are gorgeous, filled with brightly colored patterns and cheerful farm trappings. It's like an Amish quilt of a picture book, if that makes any sense. Rosie's obliviousness and her chick's hapless but determined following with both appeal to young readers. Even the apparent predators turn out to be rather friendly, as the fox is revealed to be a parent, too. 

Parents who loved Rosie's Walk (currently available in paper and board book formats) as children will not want to miss out on the chance to share Where, Oh Where, Is Rosie's Chick? with their kids. These two books together would also make a nice addition to a kindergarten or preschool classroom library. Recommended and sure to please!

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (@SimonKids)
Publication Date: August 30, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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


Two Skinnybones Books by Barbara Park

Books: Skinnybones and Almost Starring Skinnybones
Author: Barbara Park
Pages: 160 each
Age Range: 8-12

Random House recently reissued (with new covers and eBook editions) two middle grade novels about a twelve-year-old boy nicknamed Skinnybones. The Skinnybones books were originally published in the 1980s, but I found them to be nearly timeless, with only a very few anachronisms that modern-day kids might notice (like not being able to DVR a TV commercial, and it being unusual for one's home to be locked). I don't believe that I had ever read these as a kid - I would have been a bit old for them by the time they came out - but I thoroughly enjoyed reading them now. 

Skinnybones introduces sixth grader Alex Frankovitch. Alex is an undersized kid who learned back in kindergarten that he could have an outsized impact by being funny. Sometimes his humor works, and sometimes, well, not so much. But his humor turns out to not be much compensation for his near total lack of effectiveness at playing baseball. When a new kids in school turns out to be an ace Little League pitcher, the central rivalry of Skinnybones emerges. 

I love Alex's ironic, generally low-key parents. When he declares after a humiliation that he's never leaving his room again, they wait him out (though they conveniently do make some delicious-smelling fried chicken after a day or so). When his ego gets a little too large, they calmly bring him back to earth. Alex's relationship with his best friend, who never fails to laugh at Alex's misfortune, and mostly puts up with his garbage, is also enjoyable. 

But the reason to read Skinnybones is that Alex's voice is both dead-on perfect and laugh-out-loud funny. Like this:

"In the summer, a school principal spends his time composing lists of all the kids in the school who hate each other. Then he  makes sure they end up in the same class together." (Page 18)

and

"Every single year, I am always the smallest kids on the team. I mean it. For the first five years of my life, I thought I was a leprechaun. 

I remember when I was in kindergarten, our teacher asked us to cut out magazine pictures of what we thought we would be when we grew up.

Most of the boys in my class brought in pictures of baseball or football players. A few others brought in pictures of policemen. 

I brought in a picture of the Lucky Charms guy. I cut it off the front of the cereal box." (Page 27)

and

"Baseball caps are probably the greatest invention of all time. No matter what you look like, as soon as you put on a baseball cap you automatically look like a ballplayer. A real ballplayer, I mean." (Page 57)

The middle quote really did make me laugh out loud. The action n Skinnybones is a little over-the-top, but without skating into the territory of fantasy. I think that kids, especially those who play Little League, and fans of books like  The Terrible Two and The Terrible Two Get Worse will love Skinnybones.

In the sequel, Almost Starring Skinnybones, Alex is a bit full of himself due to having won a contest, and been to New York to film a television commercial as a prize. Despite the humiliations that follow, and the damage to his relationship with his best friend, Alex continues to seek out the limelight. But in the end, he grows up a tiny, plausible bit. Just enough that we leave him knowing that he will probably turn out ok.

Almost Starring Skinnybones takes place during Alex's seventh grade year, as he transitions to middle school. Although this means that there are new characters, and that Alex has different teachers for different subjects, the story remains solidly middle grade. Alex's nemesis in this installment is female, but there are no love interests or the like. There is a school play, however, and young thespians will particularly enjoy this one. 

Here's my favorite quote from this one:

"My mother just shook her head. I worry about my mother's head. She shakes it so much, one of these days it's going to get real loose, and she won't be able to hold it up anymore. It'll just roll around on her shoulders and become an embarrassment to the family." (Page 13)

But I do like this one, too:

"She screamed it so loud, our teacher, Mrs. Ballentine, stopped taking attendance and started glaring at me. Mrs. Ballentine has one of the deadliest glares in the business. There's a rumor going around that a few years ago she actually glared a hole in a kid's head." (Page 52)

If they were being originally published today, the Skinnybones books would most likely have pictures. They feel like literary antecedents of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, as well as Gary Paulsen's Liar, Liar series. As it is, they'll make great step-up books for kids weaned on Barbara Park's Junie B. Jones books who are ready for a slightly more challenging read. Bottom line: Skinnybones is hilarious. Recommended for readers 8 and up. 

Publisher:  Yearling Books (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: 1982 and 1988 originally, reissued with new covers 2016
Source of Book: Review copies from the publisher

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


Sofia Martinez: My Family Adventure: Jacqueline Jules

Book: Sofia Martinez: My Family Adventure
Author: Jacqueline Jules
Illustrator: Kim Smith
Pages: 96
Age Range: 5-7

Sofia Martinez: My Family Adventure is a collection of three early chapter books about seven-year-old Sofia and her close-knit extended family. Sofia's adventures in this book (there are several others) include standing out on school picture day, making a piñata for her Abuela's birthday, and recapturing an escaped class mouse. I found the tales to be realistic, if occasionally predictable for the adult reader (of course the mouse was going to escape). I think that kids in the target age range will find Sofia's adventures to be both accessible and relatable.

But what makes Sofia Martinez: My Family Adventure stand out is the author's representation of a tight-knit Hispanic-American family. My Family Adventures is sprinkled throughout with Spanish words and phrases. These are shown in a muted red font, and are all included in a glossary at the end of the book. While I knew some of the words, and found others to be clear from context, I did find the glossary necessary in some cases. 

Sofia has a strong personality, as is evident from her jaunty cover image shown above. She is plausibly jealous of the attention received by her baby cousin, and desirous of attention herself. She is confident in her opinions ("No one is too old for a fun birthday party") and ready to take action where needed. But she knows when to ask for help, too. In short, Sofia is a character that I will be happy to have my six-year-old daughter spend time with. The fact that she'll also get a refresher on some Spanish words that she learned in preschool will be an added bonus. 

Recommended for home and especially for library use. Sofia is a great addition to the ranks of early readers. 

Publisher: Picture Window Books  
Publication Date: February 1, 2015
Source of Book: Personal copy (bought at KidLitCon 2015)

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


Curse of the Boggin (The Library, Book 1): D.J. MacHale

Book: Curse of the Boggin (The Library, Book 1)
Author: D.J. MacHale
Pages: 256
Age Range: 8-12

CurseOfTheBogginCurse of the Boggin is the first book of a spooky new middle grade series by D.J. MacHale. MacHale previously wrote the Pendragon and SYLO series, both of which I enjoyed. With Curse of the Boggin, MacHale introduces a new world, promising a variety of other adventures set in the same world and featuring the same primary characters, but lacking a continuous narrative arc. Curse of the Boggin should be read first, however, as it introduces the world, and the characters. 

Curse of the Boggin is the first person story of Marcus, a boy who delights in being a nonconformist, and in standing up to bullies. Marcus has two friends named Annabella Lu and Theo McLean, and a somewhat fraught relationship with his adoptive parents. Marcus's life becomes more challenging when he starts to see things that apparently aren't there. This includes a vision of a man in a bathrobe, who Marcus learns from the newspaper is a recently deceased firefighter from New York City. Marcus sneaks off to the city, learns some unexpected truths about his own background, and acquires the key to a magical library. Danger and wonder follow, in a fast-paced plot that focuses on ghosts and unfinished stories (and an evil boggin).

I was hooked on Curse of the Boggin from the first page. Marcus is a likable character, strong-willed and imperfect but with good instincts. He has a breezy voice that keeps the book from being too scary for kids, even when scary things do happen. And they do - this is a great book for middle grade kids who delight in eerie dangers. 

Here's Marcus:

"I didn't have a lot of friends at Stony Brook Middle School. Okay, I had exactly two. Lu and Theo. I wasn't a group guy. The three of us didn't care about being on the "popular" track, which meant you had to wear the same clothes as everyone else and make fun of everyone who didn't conform. We did whatever we wanted because we didn't care what anybody else thought about us. It was total freedom." (Page 19)

I don't know if it can really be that easy in middle school, but I appreciate the sentiment. Here are Marcus, Lu and Theo:

"We were like three different pieces of a very odd puzzle. Between Theo, a black guy who looked as though he should be rubbing elbows at a yacht club; Lu, with her Asian roller-derby-girl look, black tights, plaid shirts, and bold makeup; and me, a white guy who wore the same jeans and T-shirts every day until they were so stiff, they could stand up in the corner, we looked like the cast of some kids' show trying to cover all its ethnic bases. It would be a grand slam if we had a Hispanic friend. Or maybe a Tongan." (Page 36)

And here's the key:

"This key fit into only one lock, but which one? It was definitely something from a long time ago, like the big old door of a castle or a giant pirate's chest. It didn't look as though it would fit anything that was made in this century." (Page 83)

There is a fair bit of illusion to Curse of the Boggin, and young readers will enjoy trying to figure out what is real and what isn't. They may come away from Curse of the Boggin with a fear of something scary bursting out from beneath their beds. But I think that they'll also come away looking forward to future books about The Library. Recommended for fans of supernatural stories and mysteries, and for anyone who appreciates books. Curse of the Boggin is a promising start to what I expect will be a long-running series. 

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers  (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: September 6, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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


They All Saw A Cat: Bernard Wenzel

Book: They All Saw A Cat
Author: Bernard Wenzel
Pages: 44
Age Range: 3-6

TheyAllSawACatThey All Saw A Cat is a new picture book by Bernard Wenzel that explores perception. Basically, each page spread shows the same cat, as "The cat walked through the world, with its whiskers, ears, and paws...". The cat looks different each time, however, depending on who is observing him. To a child, the cat is wide-eyed and cuddly. To a fox, the cat looks like soft, defenseless prey. To a mouse, the cat looks like a terrifying monster with prominent teeth and claws. In the end, the cat sees itself reflected in water. 

There's not much text to They All Saw A Cat. Lots of "and the bird saw A CAT", etc. But Wenzel's use of italics and capitalization helps to ensure that They All Saw A Cat is a fun book for read-aloud. It is repetitive enough to work as a bedtime books, and the text is simple enough that this book could also work for new readers. 

But They All Saw A Cat is really about the illustrations, which "were rendered in almost everything imaginable, including colored pencil, oil, pastels, acrylic, paint, watercolor, charcoal, Magic Marker, good old number 2 pencils, and even an iBook." Every page is different, to match the tone of how that animal (or person) views the cat. Some images are relatively straightforward, while others include more creative renderings. The bat, for instance, sees the cat as a series of white dots against a black background, which together take the shape of a cat. This page is somewhat reminiscent of a constellation. A late page that morphs the various cat images into one is a visual celebration, sure to make young kids laugh. 

They All Saw A Cat is a visually engaging, read-aloud-friendly picture book that reminded me a bit of Eric Carle's Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? It would make a nice gift for a preschooler, as well as a nice over-sized board book (someday...). It will make kids think. Recommended!

Publisher: Chronicle Books (@ChronicleKids
Publication Date: August 30, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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


Simon Thorn and the Wolf's Den: Aimée Carter

Book: Simon Thorn and the Wolf's Den
Author: Aimée Carter
Pages: 320
Age Range: 8-12

SimonThornSimon Thorn and the Wolf's Den by Aimée Carter is the first of a new series about a 12 year old boy, Simon Thorn, who learns that his ability to talk with animals is actually part of something much bigger. Simon has lived for as long as he can remember with his uncle Darryl, receiving only monthly postcards and extremely rare visits from his mysterious mother. Simon has been attempting to hide his new ability to talk to animals from everyone, including Darryl. But when a one-eyed golden eagle warns him that his life is in danger, Simon soon finds himself on the run, uncovering both secrets and relations left and right. 

There's no question that Simon Thorn and the Wolf's Den includes some fairly well-established middle grade fantasy tropes, right down to the existence of a secret school for animalgams (people who can shift into an animal form at will) and the importance of a small crew of friends. But I still found Carter's approach and world-building to feel fresh and accessible. There's a nice mix of interpersonal issues (family, bullying, betrayal), mystery (who to trust), and action which will keep kids turning the pages. Here's a snippet of the world-building:

"... Malcolm muttered a curse under his breath and pushed open the heavy door, revealing a dark hallway that looed ore like the entrance to an old castle than a school. The walls were made of stone, and a wrought iron chandelier hung above them. The low light gave the building an eerie feeling, and a chill crept down Simon's spine. Worse, while framed paintings of all kids of animals, from mountain lions to vipers to a dolphin that looked like an older version of Jam, lined the hallway, there weren't any portraits of birds." (Chapter 8, ARC)

The characters are interesting and three-dimensional. I especially liked Darryl, whose love for and loyalty to Simon come across every time he appears on the page. The characters tend to reflect their animal natures even when they are in human form, but they also have other personality traits, like the book-loving dolphin boy, Jam.

Simon Thorn and the Wolf's Den would be a good choice for kids who enjoyed the Harry Potter and Percy Jackson books, though it reminds me even more of Holly Black and Cassandra Clare's Magisterium series, with its mix of riddles, dangers, and unusual abilities. The Simon Thorn series is an appealing addition to the ranks of middle grade fantasy series. I look forward to Simon's future adventures. Recommended for kids age 8 and up, with enough complexity to please teens and adults, too. 

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BloomsburyKids) 
Publication Date: February 2, 2016
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

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


Super Happy Magic Forest by Matty Long

Book: Super Happy Magic Forest
Author: Matty Long
Pages: 32
Age Range: 5-8

SuperHappyMagicSuper Happy Magic Forest is a super-fun picture book by Matty Long, about an epic quest by a brave band of five explorers to Goblin Tower to recover The Mystical Crystals of Life. It's basically an affectionate spoof on epic quest stories. The heroes include a mushroom named Trevor, who can't climb things because he has no arms, and a naive fairy with purple wings. They show varying degrees of courage and creativity as they make their way through frozen lands and a "Super Creepy Haunted Forest" to Goblin Tower. What they find there is somewhat unexpected, but they do, in the end, save the day. 

Super Happy Magic Forest would make a perfect gift to any child of Lord-of-the-Rings-loving parents. It's also a nice introduction to the idea of the epic quest for young readers. There are dangers along the way, but these are lashed with enough humor to keep the book from ever feeling scary. 

This is definitely a book to read aloud with dramatic intonations. Like this:

"But the forces of evil were at work. One day,
the Mystical Crystals of Life were
STOLEN"

(Here STOLEN is rendered in large, bold letters)

and:

"They adventured through
frozen lands and faced scary
and terrible creatures."

Long's illustrations are busy, chock-full of entertaining details, particularly the captions. The Super Happy Magic Forest (where the heroes live, and from where the crystals are stolen includes Rainbow Falls, Happy Bunnies, a Cotton Candy Cave, and lots more. There are ghosts and witches and colorful butterflies. It's like a cross between a gloomy quest and an LSD-enhanced trip through Wonderland, sprinkled with mild humor ("With barely enough time to pack a lunch, the heroes began their epic quest.").

Super Happy Magic Forest is a book that we've had for a few months now, and have appreciated a bit more each time we read it. While it's a bit complex (and perhaps scary) for the youngest listeners, it's a great choice for early elementary schools kids. Especially if they like butterflies, rainbow unicorns, goblins, or ghosts. Highly recommended and pure fun!

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic
Publication Date: February 23, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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


Pirasaurs!: Josh Funk & Michael Slack

Book: Pirasaurs!
Author: Josh Funk
Illustrator: Michael Slack
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3-6

PirasaursWhat if the dinosaurs had been, or still were, pirates? You'd have Pirasaurs! Josh Funk's band of dinosaur pirates is on a quest to find buried treasure. They'll have to overcome a mutiny, a damaged map, and a trap first, however. The protagonist is a small, scaly orange cabin boy, uncertain of his place with the rowdy crew. The crew is headed by the female Captain Rex, assisted by Bronto Beard the lookout and Triceracook (a triceratops cook with a hook, covering many bases). 

Josh Funk's rhyming text is fun to read aloud, and sprinkled with strong vocabulary words. Like this:

"With handy hook, Tricercook
Prepares Jurassic feasts!

I love to slurp and belch and burp
With buccaneering beasts!"

and:

"Velocimate can navigate
From reef to coastal bay.

I use my smarts to map the charts.
But still we're led astray."

Bonus points later in the book for use of the words "blurt" and "scallywags".

Michael Slack brings the pirates to colorful life, with special attention to our sometimes hopeful and sometimes discouraged young narrator. A battle between rival pirate gangs is especially dynamic, full of scowling faces and a mix of swords and dinosaur horns. 

Pirasaurs! is full of interesting characters, engaging wordplay, and dramatic (but not scary) action. It is perfect for preschoolers, and recommended for libraries, homes, and classrooms, or anywhere that a pirate- and/or dinosaur-loving child might lurk. 

Publisher: Orchard Books (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: August 30, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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