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The Too-Scary Story: Bethanie Deeney Murguia

Book: The Too-Scary Story
Author: Bethanie Deeney Murguia
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

Too-ScaryStoryThe Too-Scary Story by Bethanie Deeney Murguia is about a father telling a bedtime story to his young son and slightly less young daughter. The daughter, Grace, presses for the story to be scarier. The son, Walter, wants it to be less scary. So the father has to keep switching back and forth, leading into something scary and then pulling back and offering something more cozy instead. Like this:

"Beyond the fireflies,
deep in the bushes, crept all kinds of ...

creatures.

"I can hear them all breathing," whispers Grace.

"Too scary!" says Walter.

Don't worry.
Those creatures were just settling into bed for the night."

Here we see a picture of Walter and Grace petting safe, sleepy creatures like rabbits, though their Toto-like dog still looks a bit scared. Only late in the book do both kids have the chance to be scared. And brave. As with all of the best bedtime stories, The Too-Scary Story ends with the kids cozily in bed. 

This is a fun book to read aloud, with lots of changes in tone, communicated through both the fonts and the illustrations. In the above example, "creatures" is in large, bold font, while the "Don't worry" font is smaller and less intimidating. The font used for Papa's story is different from the font used for the dialogue with the kids, making it easier for the adult reader to use a special, spooky voice for the story within the story. 

I like that the family is brown-skinned (exact ethnicity vague, though we know the dad is "Papa" instead of "Daddy"). I also like that the brother and sister share a room, with twin beds, something you don't always see in books these days, and that it's Papa who is reading to them. There's a well-stocked bookshelf in their room, and, at the end, a jar of fireflies. 

The Too-Scary Story captures the difficulty inherent in creating a bedtime story for kids of two different ages. It celebrates family, and fathers in particular. It provides a lovely mix of scary (with dark palette to match) and cozy (fireflies!). It's different in style from Murguia's other picture books (e.g. Zoe Gets Ready and sequels), but with the same understanding of sibling relationships. And, if anything, this new book is more fun to read aloud. Recommended for anyone looking for a new bedtime book! 

Publisher:  Arthur A. Levine Books (@Scholastic
Publication Date: June 27, 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).


Lights, Camera, Middle School: Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Book: Lights, Camera, Middle School! (Babymouse: Tales from the Locker, Book 1)
Author: Jennifer L. Holm
Illustrator: Matthew Holm
Pages: 208
Age Range: 8-12

BabymouseLockerLights, Camera, Middle School! is the first title of a new novel / notebook novel / graphic novel hybrid series by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm featuring Babymouse, now in middle school. Although Babymouse is in middle school, I think that readers of this series will begin in elementary school. My seven-year-old, who is out of town with my husband, asked me to read it to her over the phone. I declined. But I'm certain she'll read it when she can. 

Anyway, Lights, Camera, Middle School! begins as Babymouse is acclimating to middle school. She has a few friends (especially BFF Wilson) from elementary school, but she's struggling to adjust to things like the cafeteria, and the quest for popularity. She wants fame, but she also wants to be herself and to be appreciated. She still has issues with monsters in her locker, and being on time for class. When it comes time to sign up for some sort of Club, Babymouse decides on film club. She ends up the director of the student film (an epic saga), and finds the experience to be challenging but ultimately character-building. 

Here are a couple of snippets:

"If this was a monster movie, Felicia would be a Zombie. At middle school, Zombies traveled in packs and dressed the same. Instead of hunting brains, they wanted stuff: whatever was cool and "in." It could be wedge sandals or ruffled scarves or sparkly lip gloss. They just had to have it." (Page 5)

This is accompanied by a sketch of four zombies in wedge sandals moaning "STUUUFFFFFFF!!!!" and the like. 

Also:

"Chapter 2: Laws of the Jungle Cafeteria

The hardest subject in middle school wasn't science or social studies or literature. 

It was friendship.

And there was no textbook or helpful study guide. In elementary school, if kids didn't like you, they were just flat-out mean. But here, figuring out who your friends were was harder than a quadratic equation.

And I had a failing grade."

Graphic elements in the book range from full-page, multi-panel comic to full-page illustrations to small cartoon-like images included with the text (like a muffin with a face crying "ButI'm so lovable!" after the movie's star rejects muffins in favor of fresh croissants. The characters from the Babymouse graphic novels have grow up ever-so-slightly. Babymouse is taller and thinner, but otherwise looks (and acts) pretty much the way kids will expect. 

The text has plenty of dialog, short paragraphs, and bolding, along with the occasional French phrase, making it a nice transition book for kids who are not excited about reading something too text-dense. There’s a cute product placement for the Holm siblings’ Squish series (which Babymouse’s little brother Squeak enjoys). Fans of the Squish books will get a kick out of it. Although there's no interior color, there are cute heart and star symbols providing within-chapter section breaks. There are also occasional lists and other written supporting materials, in notebook novel style.

In short, you have the familiar and lovable characters from the long-running Babymouse early graphic novel series experiencing slightly more grown-up problems now that they are in middle school, and with the addition of some narrative and notebook novel-style text. If this isn't the perfect, seamless next step for fans who are ready to progress from the quick graphic novel reads, then I don't know what is.Highly recommended, and a must-purchase for libraries serving middle grade and younger middle school readers.

I wonder if we'll ever progress to reading about Babymouse in high school...  

Publisher: Random House (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: July 4, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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


Emily and the Spellstone: Michael Rubens

Book: Emily and the Spellstone
Author: Michael Rubens
Pages: 288
Age Range: 9-12

EmilySpellstoneEmily and the Spellstone is a middle grade / middle school fantasy novel by Michael Rubins, one that could be the first of a series. The fantasy elements are layered over middle school angst, including bullying, and shared in an over-the-top style. 12-year-old Emily is having a tough time, after moving cross-country with her family. She misses her friends, doesn't like her new home, is ignored by her older sister and tormented by her six-year-old brother, and is bullied by mean girl Kristy. All of these problems fade into the background, however, when Emily discovers a mysterious stone device on the beach that turns out to be a powerful Stone. The Stone contains an enslaved demon-like creature who must become Emily's servant, but also attracts interest from an evil and powerful family living in another dimension. 

I found the fantasy elements of Emily and the Spellstone to be creative and tween-friendly.  The Stone is basically a magical cell phone, filled with apths that Emily could control, if she could understand them. There's a Librarian who understands magic (though she's not able to be a huge amount of help), and a surprisingly good-natured demonic creature. There are clone versions of Emily and her brother that are cooperative to the point of worrying everyone around them. It's all in good fun.

I could relate to Emily as an extremely reluctant heroine. Here's a snippet that tells you everything you need to know about her personality:

"Adventure, she had learned, was an adult code word that actually meant "disruption and discomfort and change," none of which Emily was partial to. Last year in school the students had had to create personal profiles. Under hobbies Emily put hibernating and collecting rocks. Hibernating because Emily's idea of an ideal evening was to wrap herself up in a cozy blanket and read a book (preferably one without too much adventure.) Collecting rocks because she had a vague affection for geology: it was for the most part stable and slow-moving and trustworthy and comforting." (Page 3)

I also quite liked Angela, the only person at her new school to befriend Emily:

"She was quiet, observant, serious. The sort of student of whom other students might say, Oh, right, her. What was her name again?" (Page 50) 

Rubens' understanding of middle school social dynamics seems apt, if hopefully slightly exaggerated. Similarly with Emily's relationship with her clueless parents and annoying siblings. Like this:

"Her sister sat in the third row of the minivan and listened to music, occasionally singing out loud in her off-key voice. Dougie sat next to Emily in the second row, sometimes poking her in the ribs to wake her up and once dipping his finger into his yogurt shake and then sticking his finger in her eat, until she screamed at him and her parents scolded her and ordered her to sit in the back row with Hilary." (Page 77)

In terms of the fantasy elements of the book, I especially appreciated the role of the library and the librarian. There's a secret bookshelf that is only noticed by kids (like Angela) who read a lot. I am certain that my 10-year-old self would have been looking for that bookshelf after reading Emily and the Spellstone

In truth, the voice of Emily and the Spellstone was a little over the top for me personally. But I think that for tweens the book provides a very nice blend of middle school concerns and epic fantasy adventure. Emily is a likable heroine who manages to grow in strength without changing her core personality as the book progresses. I think this one is well worth a look for elementary and middle school libraries. 

Publisher: Clarion Books (@HMHKids) 
Publication Date: June 13, 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).


Into the Hurricane: Neil Connelly

Book: Into the Hurricane
Author: Neil Connelly
Pages: 240
Age Range: 12 and up

IntoTheHurricaneInto the Hurricane by Neil Connelly is the story of two troubled teenagers who meet  in a lighthouse on Shackles Island, Louisiana as a major hurricane looms. Green-haired Max has absconded from New Jersey with her father's ashes, planning to release them at the lighthouse. Local boy Eli is haunted and berated by the ghost of his dead sister, Celeste, and is considering killing himself to end the visions. Things don't go as planned for either teen when they encounter first a violent backwoods family/borderline religious cult and second, Hurricane Celeste. 

Into the Hurricane is a survival story, full of perils and twists. But it's also a character study into two damaged kids, and a look at the redemptive power of second chances. Into the Hurricane is told in alternating chapters from Eli's first-person viewpoint and Max's limited third-person viewpoint. I suspect that this format would work well as an audiobook with two narrators, especially given the different regional accents of the two characters. 

It's not clear whether Eli's sister's ghost actually appears to him, or whether (as seems more likely), her presence is a manifestation of his guilt over his role in her death. The circumstances of this death are a mystery revealed only slowly through the course of the book. Max's relationship with her stepmother, though less dramatic, is also revealed gradually. Both teens are working on understanding themselves, even as they seek to understand each other. 

Connelly's bio says that he "weathered five hurricanes in Lake Charles, Louisiana" and this authenticity of viewpoint does come across in his representation of the storm. Details about the wind and waves, and the storm's destruction, fill the book. Here's a snippet, from Eli's viewpoint:

"The wind picks up, just a bit, like the storm's decided I'm worth noticing again, a genuine threat to the way she wants things to be. I clutch the metal, press my body and face into the beam. She's pulling at me good now, blowing at me from the front and sucking from behind. I close my eyes and think what Sweeney said before ended that deer's suffering. When a thing has got to be done, it's best to get on and do it." (Page 110-111)

My favorite quote in the book is this one (with an ellipsis to remove spoilers):

"Maybe the Shacks just makes people crazy. Chemicals in the air, some ancient voodoo curse. But when I think about the kind of folks who live out here--the Odenkirks (backwoods family), Sweeney (quirky local veteran), me--there's hardly a sane one in the bunch. So maybe back when she lived in New Jersey, Max was something like normal. Or at least as normal as a girl with green hair can be. Whatever the case may be, this thing she's doing now..., that's certifiably insane. So make no doubt about it. She's one of us now." (Page 172)

I like this quote because it captures the fact that none of the characters in the book are exactly stable. But they all fit together, with the hurricane, to form an intriguing story. Into the Hurricane is a great pick for those who enjoy survival and natural disaster type stories, but it's more than that, too. Max and Eli, facing the storm, undergo a tremendous amount of personal growth in a short period of time, in a plausible manner. I recommend Into the Hurricane for anyone who enjoys suspenseful young adult fiction or books that make readers think. And shouldn't that be just about anyone? Into the Hurricane is well worth a look, and has a great cover.  

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


Seven Rules You Absolutely Must Not Break If You Want To Survive the Cafeteria: John Grandits & Michael Allen Austin

Book:  Seven Rules You Absolutely Must Not Break If You Want To Survive the Cafeteria
Author: John Grandits
Illustrator: Michael Allen Austin
Pages: 32
Age Range: 6-9

SevenRulesYouMustNotBreakWhen bossy school bus mate Ginny learns that Kyle will be buying school lunch for the first time, she tells him Seven Rules You Absolutely Must Not Break If You Want To Survive the Cafeteria. She makes him write them down, though the reader does not learn the rules right away. As Kyle goes through his lunchtime experience, however, he breaks the rules, one right after the next. It is total chaos. And yet, by the end of the day, Kyle considers his cafeteria experience a success. 

This is a text-dense picture book, with illustrations that are a complex mix of reality and fantasy. This is a book that will work well as a read-aloud to first or second graders, but would likely be intimidating for younger readers. Here's a snippet:

"We got to school, and the morning went along as usual. Then, at 11:25, it was time for lunch. My class scurried down the hall like a column of starving army ants.

I was last in line once we reached the cafeteria, and another class got in line right behind me. They were sixth graders, and they were as scary as a swarm of yellow jackets. I didn't turn around. It's best to ignore wasps. They sting when they're angry." 

This passage illustrates several things that repeat throughout the book:

  • Relatively advanced vocabulary ("scurried"). This makes the book more a read-aloud than read-together, though advanced readers could manage it. 
  • Concrete details, like lunchtime being at 11:25, which will help primary kids relate to the story.
  • Insect analogies. Kyle is obsessed with bugs, and he sees many things through an insect-eye filter. Austin's highly three-dimensional illustrations capture this, as we see a line of upright ants wearing t-shirts moving down the hall ahead of Kyle, while yellow jackets fly behind him. On the next page Kyle, confronted by a bully, says: "I felt like a little snail faced with a giant meat-eating water bug."

Seven Rules You Absolutely Must Not Break... is a visual treat throughout, with the rules displayed in variable banners throughout the story (Rule Two: Don't Take Too Many Things), and the wide-eyed Kyle walking around with a bug book under his arm, much smaller than the intimidating sixth graders. The boldness of the illustrations would make this book work for a classroom read-aloud for first or second graders, I think, despite the relatively lengthy text. Certainly the relevance of the subject would make it work for that age range. For kids who, like Kyle, are interested in bugs, Seven Rules You Absolutely Must Not Break... should be downright irresistible. 

While not, perhaps, of strong interest to me personally as an adult, I think that Seven Rules You Absolutely Must Not Break If You Want To Survive the Cafeteria absolutely belongs in elementary school libraries and in the home of kids who are fascinated by the social dynamics of insects and/or grade schoolers. A standout title. 

Publisher: Clarion Books (@HMHKids)
Publication Date: June 27, 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).


Morris Mole: Dan Yaccarino

Book: Morris Mole
Author: Dan Yaccarino
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

MorrisMoleMorris Mole by Dan Yaccarino is about a mole who is smaller than all of his brothers but proves that he can still do "big things." Morris isn't just smaller than the others. He's also different in style, wearing a checked suit and jaunty hat to his brothers' hard hats and boots. He eats at his own small table, and sleeps in his own small bed, reading while the others snore away. When a food crisis arrives, Morris is the only one who thinks to dig upward instead of downward, as they've always done before. And thus he discovers a world of sunshine, other animals, and delicious new foods. Morris's quick wits and his digging ability together are able to save the day. 

The text in Morris Mole is minimal, with most pages containing just a brief sentence or two. Like

"He dug up.

And this is what he found."

Yaccarino's signature colorful digital illustrations are where the details of the story are told. "And this is what he found", for example, is set at the bottom of a glorious page spread filled with sunshine and colorful birds, flowers, and insects. We see Morris sticking is head out of a hole in the ground, umbrella to protect him (as shown on the cover, but with a much different background. Why he needed an umbrella to live underground isn't clear, but the umbrella somehow works with Morris's frumpy style. 

The following page, in which Morris gets acquainted with the above-ground world, in a series of vignettes, is delightful. I also loved the final page spread, in which Morris's brothers praise him, and he says: "I may be small, but I can do big things." OK, so that particular text isn't groundbreaking. But we see that Morris now does sit at the table with his brothers, propped up on a pile of books. And while he still has on his suit, he has a little hard hat to match theirs. So, even as they celebrate the way his unique idea helped them, his own personal growth also leads him to fit in with his family a bit better. Subtle but important, I think. 

My daughter and I are big fans of Dan Yaccarino's work. She especially likes Lawn to Lawn and Doug Unplugged, while I favor All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel. We both agreed that Morris Mole was one worth my writing about. She liked the direct written message, and I liked the details revealed by the illustrations. Overall, I think that Morris Mole is like its protagonist: something small that can do big things. Recommended, especially for library or classroom storytime. 

Publisher: HarperCollins (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: May 2, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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


Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls: Beth McMullen

Book: Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls
Author: Beth McMullen
Pages: 304
Age Range: 9-13

MrsSmithSpySchoolMrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls, by Beth McMullen, features an elite boarding school that is actually a cover for a hidden spy agency with female teen agents. Who could resist that? Not I. Narrator Abigail knows none of this when her mother strong-arms her into attending Smith School for Children, but she finds out soon enough when a late-night escapade and an escape attempt go awry. As the story progresses she learns self-defense moves from a mean girl super-agent, is sent to California as bait for a trap, is kidnapped (more than once), and escapes again to undertake a quest of her own. There are cool (if slightly glitchy) gadgets, unexpected bad guys, and loyal friends. Fans of Kiki Strike will definitely want to give Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls a look. I believe it may also work for fans of the Gallagher Girls series, though Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls is aimed more at middle grade than YA readers. 

What made Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls work for me was not so much the strong girl looking to be a spy premise (though that was certainly the hook), but rather Abigail's understated yet snarky voice. I'm not supposed to quote from the ARC, but she uses phrases like "smartphone blackjack", and she keeps her snarkiest responses to herself (shared in italics, to differentiate from regular dialog). There's a little more of a "trappings of rich kids" vibe than I personally love, but I suppose that's hard to avoid when setting a book in an elite boarding school. And it's certainly more plausible that rich kids would be able to skip about the country for adventures than otherwise. 

Abigail is a goofier, more realistic, more female version of young James Bond. She has a crush on a boy who likes someone else, but it's all very PG, and not especially "girly". I see no reason why boys wouldn't enjoy this book just as much as girls would. Beth McMullen takes a bit of time in Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls to set the stage for the further adventures of Abigail and her crew. Hopefully other books will be forthcoming soon, because this is going to be a fun series, sure to please middle grade fans of spy/adventure stories. 

Publisher: Aladdin (@SimonKids)
Publication Date: July 4, 2017
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the author

© 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).


Super Slug of Doom: Matty Long

Book: Super Slug of Doom
Author: Matty Long
Pages: 32
Age Range: 5-8

SuperSlugOfDoomSuper Slug of Doom is the sequel to Matty Long's Super Happy Magic Forest (reviewed here). In this installment, an evil slug named Zorgoth is accidentally released and sets out to find and drink The Potion of Power. If Zorgoth is successful, the Super Happy Magic Forest will be destroyed. The same band of five heroes from the previous book sets out to follow Zorgoth's (slime) trail, and prevent disaster. Their travels lead them deep beneath the earth, where they encounter one-eyed miner trolls, hot lava-soaking dragons, and culinarily-obsessed ogres. But, in the end, the heroes manage to save the day. 

What makes Super Slug of Doom fun are tongue-in-cheek moments. For example, at one point four of them are sitting around a campfire when they realize that Trevor, their mushroom companion, is  missing. Then Blossom the unicorn says: "Come to think of it, I remember seeing Trevor in a cage back in Ogre Village...". And off they go to undertake a rescue. Observant young readers will have already noticed Trevor in the cage, next to a sign that says: "DINNER: Mushroom toast. DESSERT: Low-fat yogurt."

My other favorite scene comes late in the book. The text says:

"Eventually, the heroes
arrived at the foot of a great
mountain. Somehow, they knew
that the Potion of Power
must be close."

The illustration shows a huge sign in the shape of an arrow that says: "POTION OF POWER THIS WAY". Yes, somehow they knew. 

So the heroes are a bit hapless. But this is going to work perfectly for young readers, who can feel superior. The illustrations in Super Slug of Doom tend towards complex page spreads filled with small pictures, and plenty of dialog bubbles to read. This is more a book to pore over than a book to read aloud. Certainly it is better one-on-one than in a group read-aloud setting, where the small images would be too hard to read. My daughter was especially pleased to notice an "Ogre Yoda", and also appreciated a cameo from two penguins seen in the first book. 

Fans of Super Happy Magic Forest will probably be as thrilled as my daughter was to see that there is now a sequel. While I'm not sure the second book completely holds up to the fun and inventiveness of the first (because that would be difficult), Super Slug of Doom is still well worth a look, and a must-purchase for libraries serving the K-2 set. Recommended. 

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


And Then There Were Four: Nancy Werlin

Book: And Then There Were Four
Author: Nancy Werlin
Pages: 416
Age Range: 13 and up

ThereWereFOurWow. Nancy Werlin's And Then There Were Four is a suspenseful young adult novel that had me on the edge of my seat. It's about five teens, brought together under misleading circumstances, who are thrust into peril. While I can't say I found all of the details completely plausible, I was nonetheless riveted. And Then There Were Four reminded me a little bit of the Lois Duncan suspense novels that I loved as a young adult, albeit with more detail and with a more modern sensibility (social media plays an important role, a major character is gay, there's some racial and socioeconomic diversity, etc). 

And Then There Were Four is told in alternating viewpoints by Saralinda, who struggles with a couple of physical challenges, and Caleb, who struggles with the apparent presence of a secondary personality that does bad things. Saralinda's chapters are told in a first person viewpoint with an occasional stream of consciousness lack of punctuation, while Caleb's are in an unusual second person viewpoint. This makes it very easy to tell the narrators apart. Here's Caleb:

"I could not have done this, you think. Could I?

Unsteadily, unsure, you get to your feet. Did you maybe rig something? Somehow? On the root? During the daytime? No, that's crazy. Also, you haven't had any intervals of blank time recently. But then again, you've never realized you've had an episode until you're confronted by proof." (Page 31, ARC)

And here's Saralinda:

"I wish she wouldn't criticize my reading about which she knows nothing because she doesn't read novels, my books are excellent and some have romance yes and also they have themes and interesting people in them and so much to learn. And if I were going to die (am I going to die? (I would not care about requesting a last meal, I would request a last book that is how important books are." (Page 332, ARC)

The characters are all interesting and complex, and the relationships that they form are realistically difficult, but made strong by common trauma. I don't want to say more here, because this is a book you should experience knowing as little about it as possible. Just trust  me. And Then There Were Four is book that will make readers think, and certainly keep readers turning the pages. I'm glad that I was able to read it over a 24 hour period, in two sittings, and suggest that other readers try to do the same. Highly recommended, and an excellent YA thriller for summer reading!

Publisher: Dial Books (@PenguinTeen)
Publication Date: June 6, 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).


Kid Amazing vs. the Blob: Josh Schneider

Book: Kid Amazing vs. the Blob
Author: Josh Schneider
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-7

KidAmazingBlogIn Kid Amazing vs. the Blob, a boy named Jimmy has a secret identity as a crime-fighting superhero. When the "emergency catastrophe alarm" goes off with "an extremely annoying howl", Jimmy heads down through a secret elevator to a high-tech base hidden deep below his otherwise ordinary home. There he dons his special gear and transforms into Kid Amazing! The Commissioner sends him off on a mission that involves confronting his "arch-nemesis, the Blob!". After dangerous encounters with a stink cloud and a slime-covered floor, Kid Amazing finds a way to silence the Blob and save the day. 

The joke, of course, is that the Commissioner is Jimmy's mom, the Blob is his baby sister, and her "stink-containment unit" is a dirty diaper. Adult readers will know exactly where the story is going from the first couple of pages. Younger listeners will catch on as the book progresses.

Although I didn't find Kid Amazing vs. the Blob suspenseful, I appreciated the way that Schneider captures the hyper-dramatic way that kids interact with the world. And I liked Jimmy's mom's matter-of-fact acceptance of it. Like this:

"It's the Commissioner.

"What is it, Commissioner?" asks Kid Amazing.

"Jimmy--" says the Commissioner.

"Kid Amazing," says Kid Amazing.

"Kid Amazing," says the Commissioner. "Do you hear that howling? Could you please see what's going on?"

"I'm on it," says Kid Amazing. Who could it be?
And evil giant robot? Those space lobsters again?
No, only one thing could howl such an annoying howl:
Kid Amazing's arch-nemesis, the Blob!

"The Blob! says Kid Amazing. "Don't worry. I'll take care of her.""

And off he goes. The above text covers one side of a single page spread. On the other we see Kid Amazing at the controls of his lair, looking through a screen at the Commissioner, who is washing dishes in the kitchen but wearing a police hat. The lair is shown in blue-gray shading, making it fairly clear what is imaginary and what is real. At least, for those who choose to accept that some of this is imaginary. 

Other pages include little insets for "Kid Amazing Gadgets", like trading cards. For example, there's "#55. Mystery Cloth":

"The origin of this mystery cloth is
unknown (although it does bear a
slight resemblance to a missing black
tie). In any event, with the Kid's
brilliant addition of two holes, it
now keeps his secret identity safe." 

A small sketch indicates that the Mystery Cloth is an eye mask. 

Kid Amazing vs. the Blob is fairly text-dense, but the melodramatic tone should keep it accessible for read-alouds to preschoolers. I think it would work better as a one-on-one read-aloud than for storytime, however, because I see kids wanting to look more closely at the pages, unwrapping what is actually going on in light of what Kid Amazing says is going on. 

Kids who enjoy pretending to be spies and secret agents and the like will identify with Kid Amazing, and likely to want to draw their own secret lairs. Kids who have younger siblings will appreciate the perils of stinks and slime, and responsibility that comes with looking after babies. Kid Amazing vs. the Blob is definitely worth a look for the superhero-obsessed set. 

Publisher: Clarion (@HMHKids) 
Publication Date: June 6, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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


What George Forgot: Kathy Wolff and Richard Byrne

Book: What George Forgot
Author: Kathy Wolff
Illustrator: Richard Byrne
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-6

WhatGeorgeForgotWhat George Forgot is a very cute picture book, perfect for the pre-K-2 set. George is a young boy (my first grade daughter declares him without doubt to be a kindergartener) who is about to leave for school. The problem is that George is pretty sure he's forgotten something important. So he runs back in his mind through all of the things he's done that morning, from waking up to waking his family to eating breakfast to petting the dog. The first clue to what George has forgotten is revealed to young readers here:

"He'd gotten dressed in his favorite fuzzy sweater.
And put on his brand-new watch.
He'd even remembered clean undies.

What could George be forgetting?"

Astute young readers like my first grader will immediately notice that George neglects to put on pants over his clean undies (polka-dotted boxers). Younger listeners may take longer, but Kathy Wolff and Richard Byrne do give them other chances (particularly when George uses the bathroom). In the end, it's George's little sister and his dog who realize what he's forgotten and run after him to catch him as he gets on the school bus. Even though she knew what he had forgotten all along, my daughter still pealed with laughter at the book's conclusion. 

As for me, I got a kick of the author's clear understanding of young children. Like this:

Had he remembered to:

Use the bathroom?
Yes.

Flush? Yes.

Wash his hands? Yes.

(With soap?)

Oh, right. Yes.

Turn off the faucet?
Yes. (Just in time!)

This sequence, over three pages, is accompanies by vignettes. Any parent will smile over George first holding out his wet hands, and only displaying soap bubbles after being reminded. The nearly overflowing sink also reminded me of a recent near miss with the bathtub in my house. 

Richard Byrne's illustrations add warmth and humor, with details about George's large, messy breakfast and an incident in which he uses toast crusts and yogurt to give his little sister whiskers. George is large-headed and messy-haired, with a generally cheerful smile. No parents are visible, adding to the book's kid-friendliness quotient. 

What George Forgot has a perfect blend of realistic day-to-day detail and over-the-top, slapstick humor. Even though George does, well, forget his pants, he's otherwise quite competent and independent. This would be a great book to give to any kid as a first-day-of-school (especially preschool) gift. Highly recommended, and new favorite in my house. 

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BloomsburyKids)
Publication Date: July 4, 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).


Good Morning, Grizzle Grump!: Aaron Blecha

Book: Good Morning, Grizzle Grump!
Author: Aaron Blecha
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8

GoodMorningGrumpGood Morning, Grizzle Grump! is the sequel to Good Night, Grizzle Grump!, both by Aaron Blecha. In the first book, brown bear Grizzle Grump is ready to hibernate, but has trouble because the other animals keep making too much noise. In this installment, Grizzle Grump has woken up from his long nap and is hungry. He sets out with his friend Squirrel to look for food. But every time he finds and gathers food (berries, fish, etc.), other bears sneak off with it while Grizzle Grump's back is turned. He gets hungrier and hungrier and grumpier and grumpier, right up until he discovers a surprise bear picnic. Then he eats so much that he's ready to go to sleep again. 

 This is a fun book to read aloud, with lots of sound effects and silliness. Here's a snippet.

"BERRIES!
Gooseberries!
Lingonberries!
Boysenberries!
Huckleberries!
All ready to EAT!

Now, where
did Squirrel go?"

There's a "HEE HEE HEE" from Squirrel, hiding in a picnic basket. While Grizzle Grump is distracted by Squirrel, we glimpse three sets of paws reaching out for Grizzle Grump's huge pile of berries. On the next page:

""HEY!
Come back
here with my
BERRIES!"

With a gurgling!
And a gargling!

Grizzle Grump and his empty
tummy stomp off in search of
another springtime snack."

This dynamic is repeated with only minor variations in text as Grizzle Grump finds fish and bugs. The repetition will likely be pleasing for preschool-age listeners, though adults may tire of it on repeat readings. 

Blecha's colorful illustrations are cheerful and dynamic. Grizzle Grump's dismay as his food is stolen is palpable in his expression as well as his physical response (jumping up and shaking). There are hints to look for that more astute readers will notice, such a a wink exchanged between Squirrel and the thieves. I thought that the other round-eyed bears looked rather, well, not so bright, shall we say? But they are certainly having a good time, and young readers will, too. Fans of Good Night, Grizzle Grump! will not want to miss Grizzle Grump's further adventures. 

Publisher: HarperCollins (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: April 18, 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).