1,308 posts categorized "Reviews" Feed

Pigeon P.I.: Meg McLaren

Book: Pigeon P.I.
Author: Meg McLaren
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-7

PigeonPIPigeon P.I. by Meg McLaren is a hardboiled picture book mystery in which the characters are all birds. Private Investigator Murray MacMurray, a pigeon, is taking things easy following the departure of his partner. But then a little yellow canary shows up, trying to get Murray interested in the disappearance of a number of birds (and the canary's own near-capture). The jaded Murray rebuffs "the kid", but when he later learns that the canary is missing, he is on the case. 

Pigeon P.I. is filled with old time P.I. novel tropes, from Murray's fedora to his gruff attitude to the thief's hideout being "the Red Herring Bar and Grill." There are phrases like "it looked like my wings were clipped for good" and "sticking your beak where it doesn't belong" that extend the noir style to the bird community. All of this offers tremendous fun for me, a long-time fan of P.I. stories.

But I think that the Pigeon P.I. will work for young kids, too, even if they are less versed in noir. The end pages feature a handy "Beginner's Guide to Private Investigation", from different types of detecting hats to a ranking of different snacks for stakeouts to a series of general tips. These are illustrated with humorous images of the little canary asking things like "Am I a clue?" The interior illustrations are also full of detail to reward close reading, from old newspaper articles on the wall of Murray's hideout to descriptions of missing birds on milk cartons. There's a fun bit in which the police are on a big case that seems to involve nothing more than eating donuts (which are quite large relative to the birds, adding to the visual humor). 

There are little jokes. Like this:

"Have you seen this canary? We suspect she has been bird-napped by a cream ring." (says an officious police bird)

"A crime ring, Sarge." (adds a smaller assistant police bird)

In short, Pigeon P.I. is total kid-friendly (and adult-friendly) fun, and a perfect introduction to the old-style private eye genre. This would be a great book for kids to read prior to launching into the various chapter book mystery series (A to Z Mysteries, etc.). Highly recommended, and sure to become a family favorite in my house. 

Publisher: Clarion Books (@HMHKids)
Publication Date: October 3, 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).


Big Sister, Little Monster: Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum & Edwin Fotheringham

Book: Big Sister, Little Monster
Author: Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum
Illustrator: Edwin Fotheringham
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

BigSisterLittleMonsterBig Sister, Little Monster, written by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum and illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham is the latest in a long line of picture books about rivalries and loyalties between siblings, especially sisters. In this instance, big sister Lucy considers her messy, pesky, attention-seeking little sister Mia to be a monster. But when Mia makes herself scarce, Lucy eventually misses her. She finds her sister playing merrily in a hidden world behind a strange door, a world populated by colorful monsters. The monsters have no interest in relinquishing kindred spirit Mia, until big sister Lucy puts her foot down. And then the loyal sisters play together happily ever after. 

I have to say that for me, the introduction of actual monsters, with a "Where the Wild Things Are" dynamic, made Big Sister, Little Monster rise above the ordinary. Sure, the ending is a little sappy, but before that we have this:

"Sister? Shmister!" growled a grimy monster. "You're not like Mia!"
"Mia prances in puddles," snorted a scaly monster.
"She paints with pudding," sang a fangy monster.
"She's rule-free and ready to romp," bellowed a furry monster.
"Monster Mia is our queen!" they hollered. 
"We're keeping her forever!"

FOREVER?"

I like the alliteration, as well as the sheer joy in Mia's antics. I also like Lucy, when she gets "VERY MAD" at the monsters, finding her own "INNER MONSTER". Her determined expression, hands on hips, hair flying, is a joy to behold. 

Fotheringham's illustrations render the items in the day to day background of the girls' lives in muted colors, while the monsters are brightly colored, set against a dramatic black background. This contrast visually echoes the change in the entire dynamic between the girls, as Mia goes from supplicant to treasured sister, in one fell swoop. 

Big Sister, Little Monster is a fun yet empowering take on the pesky little sister / annoyed yet protective older sister dynamic. It is fun to read aloud, with monster voices and plenty of drama, as well as being visually pleasing. I think libraries will want to give this one a look for their picture book collections. Recommended!  

Publisher: Scholastic  (@Scholastic
Publication Date: September 12, 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).


When a Wolf is Hungry: Christine Naumann-Villemin & Kris Di Giacomo

Book: When a Wolf is Hungry
Author: Christine Naumann-Villemin
Illustrator: Kris Di Giacomo
Pages:  34
Age Range: 4-8

WhenAWolfIsHungryWhen a Wolf is Hungry was originally published in France, and maintains a certain French tone, I think. Written by Christine Naumann-Villemin and illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo, it's the story of lone wolf Edmond Bigsnout, who leaves his home in the wood because he has "a hankering for some rabbit." Specifically, a city bunny. He finds an apartment building in which dwells such a rabbit. However, when he accidentally leaves his knife in the elevator, another resident borrows it. After that, the wolf keeps going home for different implements with which to kill or cook the bunny, but he keeps running into building residents who borrow them. By the end of the book, Edmond is very hungry, but won over by the kindness of the residents who, we just know, are gong to become his neighbors. 

Naumann-Villemin's text is humorous, with a dark slant. Like this:

"In no time at all, Edmond was back.

Ding!

The bear from the fourth floor!

"Good day, sir! Are you our new neighbor?"

"No ... uh ... I mean ... yes ..." said the wolf, lying through is teeth.

"Welcome to the building! My, that's a nice chainsaw you have there. What did you need it for?"

"To slice a rab ... uh ... to trim my ..."

"Would you mind terribly if I borrowed it until this evening? I have a hedge to trim on the roof."

"Not at all..."

Argh."

Di Giacomo's illustrations are also dark in tone, but again with flashes of humor, as when "Miss Eyestopper" bats her eyes at the stammering Edmond. It's not completely clear whether the other animals are actually onto Edmond's scheme, and are deflecting him, or whether they are just rather pushy neighbors, assembling a fun rooftop party. 

When a Wolf is Hungry is an entertaining take on the thwarting of the big, bad wolf. Here he's stymied by friendly but presumptuous neighbors, and his own reflexive politeness. This book reminded me in theme of A Well-Mannered Young Wolf by Jean Leroy and Matthieu Maudet, though with a different feel. This book won't be for everyone, but it worked for me, and I think that anyone who likes fractured fairy tales will want to give it a look. Recommended!

Publisher: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (@ebyrbooks)
Publication Date: August 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).


Ally-saurus & the Very Bossy Monster: Richard Torrey

Book: Ally-saurus & the Very Bossy Monster
Author: Richard Torrey
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

Ally-SaurusBossyAlly-saurus & the Very Bossy Monster is the sequel to Ally-saurus & the First Day of School (which my daughter and I enjoyed but which I didn't review for some reason), both by Richard Torrey. The books feature a little girl named Ally who is obsessed with dinosaurs, and wants to be called Ally-saurus. In this installment, Ally and her friend Kai, along with Kai's little brother, Petey, are having a perfectly lovely time playing in the Ally's front yard. Ally is stomping around and roaring like a dinosaur. Kai is dancing "across a grand stage". And Petey is wandering about with his clearly precious teddy bear.

This live and let live fun stops when the bossy new girl who lives next door comes over and insists not only that they all play monsters, but that they play her way. Ally is not allowed to be a dinosaur and Kai is not allowed to dance. Because Maddie declares herself rule-maker in chief. Flashbacks illustrate other instances of Maddie's over-the-top bossiness. But when Maddie messes with Petey's teddy, Ally-saurus finally strikes back. 

In truth, Maddie's bossiness is a bit over-the-top. One wonders why on earth Ally and Kai put up with it for as long as they apparently did. And the resolution is a bit pat, with Maddie folding instantly once the other three put on a united front. But I do think that Ally-saurus & the Very Bossy Monster gives parents a vehicle for talking with their kids about what to do when another child is too bossy.

I like that what tipped Ally over the edge was a threat to her friend's younger brother, rather than meanness to herself. And I like the way that Ally and Kai, when left to their own devices, are free spirits. Kai is a boy who just wants to dance and perform. Ally is a girl who wants to roar like a dinosaur. So be it. I also like that the kids are playing on their own in the front yard, apparently for the whole day, and have to resolve their own conflicts. [This may not be realistic in 2017, but it should be.]

I also love Torrey's illustrations. The kids are drawn in black and white, but each has colored lines showing how they see themselves in their imaginations. Ally-saurus has spikes and a tail. Kai has a top hat and bow tie. And Maddie has a monster outline, and a crown (showing her self-appointed ruler status). The colors used for each child are picked out in the children's own drawings, too, lending a pleasing visual coherence to the story. 

Ally-saurus & the Very Bossy Monster is a whimsical take on an issue that all kids struggle with at some point - how to manage when a bossy kid comes along and tries to take over. Fans of the first book will certainly want to give this one a look. It might even inspire them to stand up to low-level bullying. Paired with the first book, these could make a nice classroom read aloud for early elementary schoolers. Recommended. 

Publisher: Sterling Children's Books 
Publication Date: August 8, 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).


My Life with the Liars: Caela Carter

Book: My Life with the Liars
Author: Caela Carter
Pages: 288
Age Range: 8-12

MyLifeWithTheLiars

My Life with the Liars by Caela Carter is a middle grade novel about a girl who has been rescued from a cult. Zylynn is a few days shy of her thirteenth birthday when she is removed from the compound of the Children Inside the Light by a man who tells her that he's her dad, though she can call him Louis. Zylynn, who spent her entire life inside the compound, is baffled by everything around her. She doesn't even know what a "dad" is.

As her story unfolds, the reader learns from Zylynn's first person thoughts just how poorly she's been treated, though she doesn't even fully realize it herself. Even as Louis and his sympathetic wife Charita try to help Zylynn, they have no idea how deeply damaged she is inside, and how hard she is fighting to get back Inside the Light, where she has been programmed to believe that she belongs. A deadline involving a ceremony that must be performed inside the compound by her thirteen birthday, if she is ever to return "home" adds tension to the story. 

I read this book in pretty much a single sitting. I couldn't put it down because Zylynn felt so real to me. I kept thinking things like: "This poor child. How could they do that to children?" Here she is smiling for the first time in her birth father's home:

"I feel a strange pinch in my cheeks, an ache in my jaw. I move my fingers to my lips and that when I realize it: I'm smiling too." (Chapter 10)

And here she is laughing for the first time:

"She pokes me again right above the belly button. And the strangest thing happens. It starts at that point. A little bubble, a movement of my muscles. Not indigestion or cramps. Not painful. It bounces from my belly through my windpipe and it's already out my mouth before I know what it is.

I laugh." (Chapter 16, ~70% of the way through the book)

She is stunned by simple things, like being given the choice of what t-shirt she wants to buy at Target. It's heartbreaking. 

I do think that My Life with the Liars is middle grade reader appropriate. Having read a number of young adult and adult novels about cults, there were things I was waiting, dreading to see revealed that were, happily, not. Kids will likely be baffled by the things that the leaders of the Children of the Light did to children, but I don't think it will give them nightmares. And for certain My Life with the Liars has the potential to make kids appreciate the things that they do have, from parents who hug them to the ability to choose what kind of sandwich they want for lunch.  But the reason to read it is that Zylynn is an unusual, compelling character, and her experience feels real and immediate. Highly recommended for kids and adults. 

Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: March 8, 2016
Source of Book: Personal copy, purchased on Kindle after reading Kate's review at Opinionated Book Lover

© 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 Adventurers Guild: Zack Loran Clark + Nick Eliopulos

Book: The Adventurers Guild
Author: Zack Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos
Pages: 320
Age Range: 9-12

AdventurersGuildI accepted a review copy of The Adventurers Guild because I think it's a great title. After reading it, I do think that it's a fun book. The Adventurers Guild is set in a world in which most of civilization has fallen to various Dangers (monsters, etc.). Teenage friends Zed and Brock live in one of the few remaining safe places, a walled town called Freestone. As the story begins, Brock and Zed are preparing for the annual Guildculling, a ceremony in which teens are assigned to a profession. Both boys hope to be assigned to one of the four High Guilds, though this is a stretch for Zed who comes from poverty and is the only person in town who is half-elf. Brock, son of two Merchants, expects his path to be more smooth. However, the Guildculling offers surprises for both boys and (could this possibly be a spoiler, given the book's title) they end up in the Adventurers Guild.

The Adventurers Guild is made up of fighters who protect Freestone's citizens, and who are the only ones to ever venture outside of the city's walls. Becoming Adventurers thus exposes Zed and Brock to exciting new things, as well as unexpected dangers. Each boy has a secret, also, which complicates his situation. 

The world that Clark and Eliopulos has created is basically medieval (with guilds, hand-crafts, armored soldiers and flagons of ale), with the addition of magical characters such as elves and dwarves. Magic is certainly not ubiquitous, but it can be learned, and the elf-blooded Zed turns out to have innate abilities. Freestone is protected by magic, and part of the plot involves a quest to an abandoned druid shrine to acquire a powerful protective artifact. These things are set against a post-apocalyptic world in which the boys, traveling outside the wall, are scared the first time they see a squirrel. The occasional references to a long-gone world (like worn stone that was once a road between cities) added enjoyment to the story for me. 

The Adventurers Guild is clearly aimed at boys, with the two viewpoint characters male and regular references to "breaking wind", spitting, and belching. There are strong female characters, though, as well as economic and other diversities that should make this book appeal to a wide range of kids. There's a minor plotline to do with one of the boys having a crush on a girl, but this is far from central to the storyline. Loyalty to friends and comrades is a much stronger theme in the book. 

The Adventurers Guild ends on something of a cliffhanger, and it's clear that Zed, Brock, and their friends will be experiencing other adventures. I expect this novel, with fighting, scary creatures, politics, and magic to be a hit with fantasy-loving middle grade readers. Recommended, and certainly one that libraries will want to purchase. 

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion (@DisneyHyperion)
Publication Date: October 3, 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).


Give Me Back My Book!: Travis Foster and Ethan Long

Book: Give Me Back My Book!
Authors: Travis Foster and Ethan Long
Pages: 56
Age Range: 3-6

GiveMeBackMyBookGive Me Back My Book is the story of two friends, Redd and Bloo, who fight over ownership of a green book. Only when the rather smug Bookworm makes off with the book do the two friends find a way to work together. Give Me Back My Book is part celebration of reading, part illustration of the way kids sometimes bicker, and part introduction to the components that make up books. 

Personally, I found the third element, the instructive bits about what makes up a book, a tiny bit off-putting. But when I read the book aloud to my daughter, the humor outweighed that. Here's an example (Redd is making the case that the book is his book):

"There are letters on each  page
and they are gathered together
to form words that have meaning
when you read them!"

Then on the facing page, Bloo basically has a tantrum, stomping his feet, shaking his fists, and saying: "ALL books do that!" You just have to smile as you read it. 

Bloo's reactions are definitely read-aloud-friendly. My daughter pronounced the book "hilarious" (though, interestingly, she didn't feel that it was necessary for me to write about the book).

The illustration style of the book is unusual. According to the front matter, Travis Foster created Redd and Bookworm digitally, while Ethan Long created Bloo. Mr. Long assembled the images, adding photos for the green book and various art supplies that are used later in the story. So we have cute, cartoon-like characters reading and interacting with real books. 

Give Me Back My Book! is a bit quirky, but I think that librarians will find it useful for preschool storytime. And kids, if they are anything like my daughter, will pronounce it hilarious, even as they are learning about table of contents, spine, and illustrations. Recommended for library purchase. 

Publisher: Chronicle  (@ChronicleKids
Publication Date: September 5, 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 Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match: Elizabeth Eulberg

Book: The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match
Author: Elizabeth Eulberg
Pages: 240
Age Range: 8-12

ShelbyHolmesMeetsThe Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match is the second book in Elizabeth Eulberg's series about Shelby Holmes, pint-sized but brilliant detective, following The Great Shelby Holmes: Girl Detective. The narrator of the books is 11-year-old John Watson, who moved recently to Harlem, and lives in the same apartment building as Shelby (where the building manager is named Mrs. Hudson, of course, and Police Inspector Lestrade is Shelby's nemesis). Shelby, as any astute reader would expect, solves mysteries large and small through her powers of deductive reasoning. Sometimes, however, her rather oversized ego does get in the way.

As The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match begins, Watson and Shelby are starting a new semester, Watson first, at the Harlem Academy of the Arts. Watson has balance making new friends with his growing loyalty to Shelby. Shelby, for her part, is showing increasing reliance on and loyalty to Watson, even as she tries to teach him to be more observant. Shelby finds a new teacher's behavior suspicious, and soon teases out a mystery to be solved. This reveals a new and unexpected rival, and real danger for Watson and Shelby.

I'm not sure how many middle grade readers will be familiar enough with the Sherlock Holmes stories to appreciate the Holmes-related details in The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match (Shelby's use of a disguises and a school called Miss Adler's, for example). I'm sure there were other details that went over my head, too, as I am far from from an expert. But I think that the Shelby Holmes books will hold up for middle grade readers anyway. 

Shelby is annoying, but her deductive reasoning is spot and, as she tries to teach Watson, informative. Watson is wholly likable, with multiple dimensions of realistic but not overdone diversity (he's black, his parents have recently divorced and he misses his dad, he's Type 1 diabetic, and he loves to write). Watson humanizes Shelby, and provides an accessible entry point into her world of mystery-solving for young readers.  Here they are, talking together:

"Shelby pointed a finget at me. "There's something off about him. He looks at me in a weird way."

WHO DOESN'T? I wanted to ask, but I bit my tongue. But seriously? I'd seen nothing but weird looks for Shelby from kids and teachers today.

"Hold on." I narrowed my eyes at her. "What exactly were you doing after school?"

Her eyes darted sideways.

Oh, she was so busted.

"Please tell me you weren't stalking our new teacher."

"It's called tailing a person of interest," she replied with a sniff." (Page 28-29, ARC)

I did find Watson's ability to make friends right away a bit unrealistic, in light of his friendship with known weird girl Shelby. But of course his much nicer personality is part of the whole point of the Watson/Holmes dynamic, so I'm prepared to let that go.

I enjoyed The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match (as I did the first book). I appreciated the characters, I didn't see all of the twists coming, and I thought that the stakes of the mystery were aimed just right for middle grade readers. I also liked Watson's relationship with his busy but concerned single mother, and I liked Watson's identify as someone who wants/needs to write. I certainly recommend this series for middle grade mystery fans, and I think that adult Holmes fans will enjoy it, too. 

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books 
Publication Date: September 12, 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).


The Daybreak Bond: Megan Frazer Blakemore

Book: The Daybreak Bond (Firefly Code #2)
Author: Megan Frazer Blakemore
Pages: 352
Age Range: 8-12

DayBreakBondThe Daybreak Bond is the sequel to Megan Frazer Blakemore's The Firefly Code (my review). Both books are about a group of children who live in a protected community in a dystopian future suburban Boston. The children are partially genetically engineered, some more than others. Narrator Mori is a "natural" in that she wasn't designed, but she has had some modifications to improve her vision. She also has had a modification that she laments, to make her less brave (so that she won't take risks).

Mori's friend Ilana, on the other hand (SPOILER for the first book) was completely created in a lab. And now Ilana's creators have decided, because of a few glitches, to destroy her. Mori and her friends Theo, Julia, and Benji escape New Harmonie on a quest to take Julia to a scientist in Cambridge, who they believe will help. The Daybreak Bond covers the kids' journey through a perilous outside world that none of them has previously visited. 

The Daybreak Bond has lots of nods to Boston, most of which fly over the heads of Mori and her friends, but which I found entertaining. These include a boy wearing a hat with a shamrock on the back, an automated boat called "Tessie" that crossed the Charles River, and an old woman who refers to the children as "my ducklings." Mori and her friends are also quite surprised to encounter Concord children who do strange things in pronouncing, and not pronouncing, their R's. 

I especially liked how Blakemore handled the children's encounters with the kids from outside, actually. Mori and her friends have grown up protected, told that the people outside of New Harmonie are diseased, and not as bright as they are. Only gradually do they learn that the people outside of their town have strengths of their own. The interpersonal dynamics between Mori and her friends are also interesting, particularly as she confronts the fact that her taller, stronger "designed" friends seem almost compelled to protect her. She, and they, struggle throughout the books with questions of design vs. free will. 

I also liked how Mori's friend Julia calls the adults in their world on preaching one thing and doing another. Like this:

"I was thinking about the people who built Ilana. I was thinking how they all worked together on this project and when it started to go wrong, they didn't really take responsibility. They just tried to shut her down, to hide their mistakes. And that's like the exact opposite of what they teach us. When you make a mistake, you have to own it." (Page 94)

Most of the adults in The Daybreak Bond are weak and/or flawed. But the kids are multi-dimensional, with strengths and weaknesses, bonds and tensions. And with the kids on a quest through a dangerous futuristic landscape for most of the book, they are the ones who matter. 

The Daybreak Bond is a worth sequel to The Firefly Code. It has suspense and humor. But most of all, it will make kids think. It's science fiction about genetic engineering that raises big questions in an age-appropriate way, and has characters that young readers will care about. Recommended for anyone who enjoys science fiction or quest novels, and a must-read for fans of the first book. (And yes, do read the first book before reading this one.)

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books  
Publication Date: September 12, 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).


Dazzle Ships: Chris Barton and Victo Ngai

Book: Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion
Author: Chris Barton
Illustrator: Victo Ngai
Pages: 36
Age Range: 7-10

DazzleShipDazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion is a non-fiction picture book about a strategy that Great Britain and America used during World War I in an attempt to prevent supply ships from being torpedoed. Author Chris Barton provides a brief introduction to World War I before outlining the risk to Great Britain of losing the war because its citizens were at risk of starving (due to the loss of supply ships). A Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve lieutenant-commander named Norman Wilkinson came up with the idea of basically reverse camouflaging the ships, painting them with patterns that would "dazzle" the German submarine crews into not being able to determine the ships' directions of movement. A desperate British navy actually followed this plan, as did, later, America's navy. Ultimately more than 4000 ships were "dazzled", though Barton reports that evidence as to the specific success of the dazzle ships is unclear. 

Dazzle Ships is a fascinating window into a little-known story about World War I. 100 years later, Dazzle Ships gives gives kids background information about the war and also provides an example of the power of creativity in problem-solving. Or, as the book concludes:

"Times change. Technology changes. Torpedoes get faster, submarines get computerized, challenges of all kinds get replaced by new ones. But a willingness to tackle problems by trying the unlikely, the improbable, the seemingly bonkers will always be needed."

I especially love "the seemingly bonkers". 

Dazzle Ships is quite text-dense. And, of course, it's about ships being bombed, with reference to people starving. This is certainly a picture book for older kids, something one would put in a second grade or higher classroom or a school library.

Visually, Dazzle Ships is stunning, particularly Victo Ngai's rendering of the dazzle ships themselves. She uses a mix of digital and analog media that works particularly well in conveying backgrounds, like the waves of the ocean, and golden skies. A page spread illustrating the concept of camouflage is sure to both entertain and educate young readers, while a futuristic image at the end is inspiring. 

Dazzle Ship is a nonfiction picture book for older readers that educates and informs, captures an incident most adults won't be familiar with, and has eye-catching illustrations. I will not be surprised to hear more about this one come Cybils-time. Recommended!

Publisher: Millbrook Press 
Publication Date: September 1, 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).


Professional Crocodile: Giovanna Zoboli and Mariachiara Di Giorgio

Book: Professional Crocodile
Author: Giovanna Zoboli
Illustrator: Mariachiara Di Giorgio
Pages: 32
Age Range: 5-8

ProfessionalCrocodileProfessional Crocodile is wordless picture book originally published in Italy and brought to the US by Chronicle. Written by Giovanna Zoboli and illustrated by Mariachaira Di Giorgio, Professional Crocodile follows a crocodile as he wakes to his alarm clock in an urban apartment, gets ready for the day, and takes the train to work. Along the way he purchases some flowers and a roasted chicken. His destination for the flowers is a mild surprise, while his workplace is completely unexpected. 

I didn't see the ending coming, which is quite saying something. Kids will, I think, be both surprised and delighted. The illustrations consist of a series of small, detailed vignettes in sepia tones. We see the crocodile using the toilet (younger kids will like that, picking out a tie to wear, and eating a healthy breakfast. When he's out and about in the city, observant readers will notice some people taking him in stride, while others look at him askance. Though he's surrounded mostly by people, other clothed, upright animals are visible on the train, to careful observers. Some passersby are seen more than once. 

The illustrations maintain an international flavor. Signs and posters are in Italian, and the city streets have a European feel to them. There are a myriad of details to reward careful attention, making this book a better fit for early elementary school kids than for preschoolers (who also might not appreciate the payoff of the crocodile's occupation). 

Professional Crocodile is a quiet story, a bit quirky but ultimately satisfying. Because it is a wordless story, it would make a great choice for kindergarten and first graders to look through on their own, adding their own words to tell the story. Recommended, and one that I expect to read again in the future. 

Publisher: Chronicle (@ChronicleKids
Publication Date: August 1, 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 Bodyguard Series: Chris Bradford

Books: The Bodyguard #1: Recruit, The Bodyguard #2: Hostage, The Bodyguard #3: Hijack, and The Bodyguard #4: Ransom
Author: Chris Bradford
Pages: 272, 224, 272, 224
Age Range: 10 and up

BodyguardBooks1to4Over the past couple of weekends I binge-read the first four books in Chris Bradford's Bodyguard series (helpfully released all together by the publisher for just such a purpose). The Bodyguard series is about a British teen named Connor Reeves who is recruited into a secret organization called Guardian. Guardian trains teens to act as stealthy bodyguards, especially for teenagers, providing a last line of defense that bad guys will never suspect.

The first four books actually consist of two separate adventures, each broken up across two books and marked by, of course, a cliffhanger in between. In both cases I found the first book, involving descriptions of training, as well as introduction of Principals (protectees), to be a little slow. The conclusions, however (books 2 and 4) were fast-paced and suspenseful. I read each of those in a single sitting. They have short chapters, and occasional surprising twists, making them a good fit for reluctant YA readers. 

In the first book, Connor learns that his father, who died when Connor was eight, was a military bodyguard who died in the line of duty. This understanding, combined with the Guardian program's offer of help for Connor's ailing mother and aging grandmother, pulls the boy in. He is, of course, a natural, though he makes mistakes, and has rivalries with the others from his team of Guardian trainees. He also struggles once or twice with flirtatious interest from his Principals (who are attractive teenage girls in both stories), though he also is interested in Charley, a wheelchair-bound slightly girl from his Guardian team.   

The books offer a fair bit of luxury, with descriptions of the trappings of rich, beautiful, powerful people. These are set against dangerous elements, including terrorists and pirates (the two primary types of organizations that kidnap the children of rich, powerful people, of course). While I personally found the descriptions of Connor's training less than enthralling, young readers who have read fewer adult thrillers than I have will likely find them more interesting, with tidbits about alert levels and self defense. And certainly young readers will be on the edge of their seats at the dramatic climaxes of both storylines.

The Bodyguard series is aimed squarely at fans of the Young Bond series and other relatively PG thrillers. It's timely, with a focus on terrorists and other dangers. There are deaths, but none of them (besides that of Connor's dad) are heartbreaking. There are plenty of guns and other weapons, as well as miraculous tech tools (bulletproof t-shirt anyone?). In short, these books are pure summer reading fun for kids age 10 and up. Recommended, and well worth a look for libraries serving middle schoolers.  

Publisher:  Philomel Books
Publication Date: May 9, 2017
Source of Book: Review copies 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).