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Edge of Extinction #2: Code Name Flood: Laura Martin

Book: Edge of Extinction #2: Code Name Flood
Author: Laura Martin
Pages: 352
Age Range: 8-12

EdgeOfExtinctionFloodCode Name Flood is the second book in Laura Martin's Edge of Extinction series, following The Ark Plan. Both books are sent in a post-apocalyptic world in which the reintroduction of dinosaurs (a la Jurassic Park) led to a pandemic that wiped out most of humanity. Small groups of survivors live in a set of four underground compounds, led by a power-hungry leader referred to as The Noah.

In The Ark Plan, tweens Sky and Shawn escape from North Compound, determined to follow a map left to Sky by her long-lost father. They meet up with Todd, who is part of a community of tree dwellers, as well as Ivan, Sky's dinosaur-hunter grandfather. Code Name Flood picks up as Sky, Shawn, and Todd reach the shores of Lake Michigan with the map, and the knowledge that they need to somehow get to the middle of the lake. A series of adventures follows as the kids, joined by trainee scientist Chaz, set out to do no less than save the (admittedly imperfect) world. 

These books are such fun. (Ms. Yingling likes them, too.)  A post-apocalyptic world with underground compounds, tree villages, AND dinosaurs, kids taking the lead in their own adventures, and a smattering of science (genetic engineering, habitats, technology). What more could anyone want? Sky's grandfather is a great character who helps them a bit, but is conveniently out of commission when any real adventures take place. The friendship dynamics between the kids are plausible without overwhelming the plot, and there is no romance whatsoever. And did I mention that there are dinosaurs? 

One difference between Book 1 and Book 2 is that in Code Name Flood, some of the characters are sympathetic to the dinosaurs. They accept that dinosaurs have taken over, and instead of just trying to kill them, they work to ensure a stable biome. Other characters have huge philosophical differences on this point, which adds a layer of complexity to the story (again without bogging down the plot). 

Best of all, Code Name Flood appears to wrap up Sky's story. I find the idea of a two-book series refreshing, in this day and age of seven book series with spin-offs, etc. Which is not to say that I wouldn't welcome reading more about Laura Martin's dinosaur-filled world. But the Edge of Extinction story reached a satisfactory conclusion after only two books. 

The Edge of Extinction books should be a great fit for any adventure-loving middle grade readers, particularly those who enjoy reading about dystopias or dinosaurs. Fans of the first book will not be disappointed by Code Name Flood, a worthy successor and conclusion to Sky's story. Highly recommended, and one I will be saving for my daughter to read when she is a little bit older. 

Publisher: HarperCollins (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: May 30, 2017
Source of Book: Purchased copy

© 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 Perfect Score: Rob Buyea

Book: The Perfect Score
Author: Rob Buyea
Pages: 368
Age Range: 9-12

PerfectScoreThe Perfect Score is the latest middle grade novel by Rob Buyea (who also wrote Because of Mr. Terupt and Mr. Terupt Falls Again). Like Buyea's previous books, The Perfect Score is a multi-narrator story that highlights the impact that a caring teacher (in this case two caring teachers) can have on kids at the cusp of middle school. As the cover image and title suggest, The Perfect Score also takes on the standardized testing craze.  

The five narrators of The Perfect Score each have one or more personal issues.  Randi, a talented gymnast, is coping with relentless pressure from her overbearing single mother. Trevor, an incipient bully, is bullied by his older brother and his friends, and wants to stay away from home as much as possible. Gavin, who adores football, is unable to participate in any activities because he spends all of his time babysitting his younger sister. His struggling parents work most of the time. Gavin also has literacy issues.  Natalie, daughter of two lawyers, is a teacher's pet, ostracized by the other kids. And Scott is bright but odd (apparently on some sort of behavior spectrum), wrapped up in a quest to care for his lonely, declining grandfather. When the five kids (most of whom are not friends with one another), end up taught by returning retiree Mrs. Woods, trouble arises before their situations improve. 

Meanwhile, standardized testing (the CSA exams), looms over everything. Read-aloud time, classroom parties, and recess are taken away, as is working on anything interesting. Everything at the school is given over to exam preparation. The stakes of the exams are gradually ratcheted up, too (football eligibility, etc.). The beleaguered kids eventually take drastic action (the fact that something serious happens is telegraphed from early in the story). This, I truly hope, was over-the-top relative to what's happening in actual middle schools. 

I enjoyed reading The Perfect Score. I liked the kids (most of them), and I flagged lots of passages. I particularly enjoyed multiple scenes that focus on the mesmerizing quality of Mrs. Woods' classroom read-alouds. Like this:

"It's safe to say I didn't like reading all that much, which was why I was struggling to understand how my favorite thing about sixth grade so far was the way Woods read to us. Maybe she wasn't a champion football player, but she deserved a trophy for reading aloud. She had a way of making the words come to life so I could see the whole story in my head. I'd never had anyone read to e like that, and I couldn't believe how much I'd started looking forward to it." (Gavin, page 54)

and:

"Not only was Mrs. Woods the best at reading with expression and different voices, but she knew that the way to enjoy a story was not to open the book once a week or to make kids do a gazillion reader-response questions or activities, but just to read it." (Scott, Page 82)

The Perfect Score ticks off a lot of boxes (ethnic and socioeconomic diversity, care of the elderly, bullying, testing, parental pressure, learning disabilities, family dysfunction, etc.). All of which, I must admit, felt a little bit contrived at times. I think that the book's humor will win kids over, despite the relatively overt messages. Scott is particularly delightful, with his baked good obsession and penchant for big, crazy ideas. One's heart breaks for the way the other kids exclude him and laugh at him, and the way he doesn't even seem to really realize it, but he inspires joy, too.

I'm quite sure that teachers and librarians will enjoy The Perfect Score. The anti-standardized-testing, pro-joy-of-learning message certainly resonated with me, and would make this an interesting classroom read-aloud for middle grade to middle school kids.  The ending is satisfying, and wraps up things that need to be wrapped up. And yet, I would be happy to read more about these characters (certainly the teachers) in the future. Recommended, and a must-read for fans of the Mr. Terupt books. 

Publisher: Delacorte Press (@RandomHouseKids)  
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).


The Hanging Girl: Eileen Cook

Book: The Hanging Girl
Author: Eileen Cook
Pages: 320
Age Range: 12 and up

TheHangingGirlI was interested in reading The Hanging Tree because I found Eileen Cook's prior novel, With Malice, suspenseful and compelling. Like With Malice, The Hanging Tree is full of twists and turns, and features a not necessarily likable protagonist. The Hanging Tree is told, mostly, from the first person perspective of high school senior Skye Thorn. Skye, who does fake tarot card readings to earn extra cash, is in serious need of money with which to move to New York after high school. Desperate, she gets involved in a kidnapping scheme. But, of course, things become more complex than Skye expects. 

I can't say that I really liked Skye, though I had a certain sympathy for her. Her less than responsible mother, who also claims psychic powers, gave birth to Skye when she was only 15. They struggle financially, and Skye has no expectations post high school. Skye envies her best friend, Drew, who has a more conventional life, and is headed to college. Skye's background to me almost felt like a YA trope (less the fake psychic part). But Skye is also a manipulator who uses her understanding of people to fake the tarot card readings, and plays her school counselor like a violin. She's been lying to Drew about money for New York, and soon she is lying to the police about the kidnapping of popular girl Paige. The fact that she is also lied to by her conspirator, Pluto, seems only fair, really. But here's a snippet of Skye's voice:

"Drew took a careful sip of the coffee we'd stopped to get on the way. Not that she was drinking real coffee: it was some kind of dessert in a cup. If you don't like coffee, fine, but don't pretend to like it by making it into a sugar smoothie." (Page 140)

Sections of the book are also told from the perspective of Paige, who writes diary entries from an isolated cabin. I did find these moving. Like this:

"I always thought I was brave, but now I realize it was only because there was never anything I really needed to be scared of." (Page 58)

and

"I've never been so aware of how many hours, minutes, and seconds fill every day. I've taken to doing everything slowly. Staying focused keeps me from losing control, from letting the panic take over. I keep my fear locked up, but I can feel it straining to get out. Its thin fingers scratching at the door, breaking it down, like something from a zombie movie. You know it's going to get out, and when it does, it'll eat you alive." (Page 109)

I don't want to say more, for fear of spoiling the book. This is one of those stories about which the less the reader knows, the better. Suffice it to say that I read most of this book in a single sitting on a Sunday afternoon, unable to put it down despite the distractions of my child's visiting friends. Anyone who enjoys twisty suspense in a high school setting will want to give The Hanging Tree a look. Recommended!

Publisher:  HMH Books for Young Readers (@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).


The Silver Mask (Magisterium, #4): Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

Book: The Silver Mask (Magisterium #4)
Author: Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Pages: 272
Age Range: 8-12

SilverMaskThe Silver Mask is the fourth book (of a planned five) in the Magisterium series, co-written by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. Stop here if you have not read the previous books, and fear spoilers. 

The Silver Mask begins with Callum in prison, the mage community having learned at the end of the previous book that he has the soul of Enemy of Death Constantine Madden. Though Call doesn't have any of Constantine's memories, and doesn't believe that he would do the things that the evil overlord did, the magical leadership isn't so sure. They keep Call locked in a cell, for everyone's protection. When he is broken out of jail, however, Call finds himself in even bigger trouble, as Constantine's mother and his former second in command, Master Joseph, have plans for him. 

I found the beginning of The Silver Mask to be a bit slow, but by the end I was reading quickly and wished that the next book was already available. I continue to like Call very much. His self-deprecating sense of humor and his determination to do the right thing (even when he is making questionable choices) are appealing. His crush on his friend Tamara is particularly disarming. In a small spoiler, I'm going to share that Tamara and Call kiss in this book. I love the subsequent quotation:

"Jealousy flared up again, even though he'd just been kissing her. After all, Jasper was Tamara's old friend and had had somehow convinced the last girl who liked Call to like him better.

The thought was like a splash of cold water. Abruptly he realized several things: (1) Kissing created a haze of stupidity that lasted for at least ten minutes; (2) now that it had worn off, he had no idea what kissing Tamara meant; and (3) he had no idea what he was supposed to do now." (Page 107)

Call gives himself mental points for anything that he does that seems Evil Overlord-ish, steering determinedly away from such activities. Here's another quote that I liked:

"Call had a feeling Alex had an Evil Overlord list, too, but his scoring went the other way. He probably gave himself a point every time he dressed all in black or menaced small children. Maybe a gold star if he did both at once." (Page 81)

That made me laugh. Anyway, I don't want to say too much about the plot, to avoid spoilers about this book, but the ending is definitely strong (and not nearly as sad as the ending of the previous book). What I really think is that those who have not read any of the books might benefit from waiting until book five comes out, and binge reading the entire series. But if you are, as I am, hooked on the story of Call and the Magisterium, I think you'll find The Silver Mask a satisfying addition to the series. Recommended!

Publisher: Scholastic  (@Scholastic
Publication Date: October 10, 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).


Tea with Oliver: Mika Song

Book: Tea with Oliver
Author: Mika Song
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3-6

TeaWithOliverTea with Oliver by Mika Song is a satisfying story about friendship (and tea), aimed at preschoolers. Oliver, a cat, "talks to himself a lot." He's a bit lonely, and wishes that someone would have tea with him. Philbert, a mouse, lives beneath Oliver's couch. Philbert would LOVE to have tea with Oliver, but is too "too shy to come out from under the couch." Philbert attempts to get Oliver's attention via a series of notes, but lightly comic misunderstandings intervene (as when Oliver mistakes one of the notes for a handkerchief and uses it to blow his nose). Oliver's cousin turns up and hosts a party in Oliver's house, but the rowdy crowd is too busy dancing for tea, and breaks the teacups. Of course things turn out ok in the end.

Tea with Oliver is a celebration of one-on-one friendship and of quiet pastimes in general. Neither Oliver nor Philbert enjoys the big party (what mouse would enjoy a room full of rowdy cats?). But they are both quite happy at the end of the book to be drinking a cup of tea together. 

I was a bit concerned on reading this with my daughter that the book's focus on the joys of a cup of tea might not resonate with a seven-year-old, tea-drinking being a fairly adult pastime. But of course I forgot the wide appeal of the tea party. Imagine, if you will, the joy of having a tea party with a friendly little mouse in a pink shirt. Tea with Oliver reminded me a bit of A Visitor for Bear (by Bonny Becker and Kady MacDonald Denton), which also ends with a mouse and another animal having a quiet cup of tea together, but aimed at a slightly younger audience. 

Song's minimalist illustrations are direct and readily accessible for preschoolers. The text consists mainly of dialog, coupled with a minimum of straightforward sentences like: "So Philbert decides to march right up and hand Oliver the letter." This makes Tea with Oliver a quick, read, perfect for bedtime or breakfast. Tea with Oliver is a warm, friendly tale to which my daughter and I both gave two thumbs up. Recommended, and a great fit for preschool storytime. 

Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books (@HarperChildrens
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).


The Pomegranate Witch: Denise Doyen and Eliza Wheeler

Book: The Pomegranate Witch
Author: Denise Doyen
Illustrator: Eliza Wheeler
Pages: 40
Age Range: 5-10

PomegranateWitchI wasn't sure what to make of The Pomegranate Witch when I first saw it. It's a slightly undersized picture book, with a dark, old-fashioned-looking cover. Inside the story has an advanced vocabulary and is written entirely in poetry (real poetry, not just upbeat rhymes). But after reading The Pomegranate Witch aloud to my daughter, I've concluded that it is fabulous.

The Pomegranate Witch is about a creepy farmhouse on the outskirts of a small town. In the yard of the farmhouse is an enormous pomegranate tree. The local children covet the fruit of this tree. However, the tree is protected by the Pomegranate Witch. We never see her clearly, but we see her actions as she battles the local children in an effort to guard her fruit. It's unclear for a time whether the witch is real or a sort of group hallucination, but someone blasts the children with water cannons. The mood lightens late in the book, around Halloween night. There's an ambiguity to the ending, though my seven-year-old has not doubts about her interpretation. The ending and the quality of the poetry both make The Pomegranate Witch special. 

Here's an example of Denise Doyen's writing:

"And before its sagging porch, amid a weedy foxtail sea,
Found the scary, legendary, haunted pomegranate tree.

The gnarled tree loomed high and wide; its branches scraped the ground.
Beneath there was a fort, of sorts, with leafed walls all around.
Its unpruned limbs were jungle-like, dirt ripplesnaked with roots,
But glorious were the big, red, round, ripe pomegranate fruits."

Don't you love the word choices? (Amid. Ripplesnaked. Gnarled.) I also like the adjective repetition in the last line of each stanza. You wouldn't write "big, red, round, ripe pomegranate fruit" in a regular sentence. But it works here. Last there's this:

"Some clever gangster-pranksters dug a foxhole in the field.
When they peered below the leaves? Witchy work boots were revealed!
Next, they scavenged broken racquets, rusty rakes, a dead tree limb;
What better tools to yank a pomegranate from its stem?"

The rhyme between limb and stem does work, if you read it aloud. It made me stop and give a little nod. The previous page also has a reference to how "forbidden fruit is tempting." Nice subtle biblical reference. This is clearly a book to reward repeated reads. The story itself is suspenseful (Is the witch real? Will the kids get any fruit?), atmospheric, and occasionally humorous. 

Eliza Wheeler's illustrations add to the ambiguity surrounding the witch, shown lurking beneath the tree, in shadow, with her broom most visible. They also lend humor, particularly when the Pomegranate Gang is formed, wielding weapons such as rakes and tennis racquets. There's a timeless quality to the images, with girls in dresses and boys in suspenders and bow ties, but the Gang also displays diversity in ethnicities and sizes. Nothing is shown as red in the somewhat muted illustrations, except for the glowing red pomegranates. 

Thought-provoking, surprising, entertaining, and gorgeously written and illustrated. The Pomegranate Witch is not to be missed. The advanced vocabulary makes it more of a book for elementary schoolers than preschool kids. It would make a lengthy but wonderful classroom read-aloud for Halloween. Here in my house, the Pomegranate Witch is going on our "keep" shelf. Highly recommended! 

Publisher: Chronicle Books (@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).


It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk: Josh Funk and Edwardian Taylor

Book: It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk
Author: Josh Funk
Illustrator: Edwardian Taylor
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

ItsNotJackIt's Not Jack and the Beanstalk, written by Josh Funk and illustrated by Edwardian Taylor, is a meta retelling of the classic story, in which young Jack rebels against the narrator. He doesn't want to sell the cow, who he loves. He wants to eat the beans instead of throwing them out of the window. He questions the rhyming choices of the giant. And by the end of the book, well, let's just say that things don't turn out quite the way the narrator was expecting. But it's all good fun, and everyone is happy in the end. 

It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk is told with a mix of dialog bubbles and narration. The narrator basically interacts directly with Jack, as well as with the giant. The narrator's words are shown in a gothic font, while the dialog bubbles use different colors, to help identify the respective speakers. This is quite clear visually, but does require the use of voices (or other attribution) when reading aloud. Here's a snippet, where I've added attributions:

"(Narrator:) When Jack arrived at the
top of the beanstalk, he
found himself in front of
a humongous house.

(Jack:) "I'll bet a giant lives there."

(Narrator:) Jack entered the house.

(Jack:) "Are you sure about that?"

(Narrator:) Yes! Jack definitely entered the house.

(Narrator:) Everything inside the house 
was tremendously large.

(Jack:) "Spoiler alert: 
A giant lives
here. Can I 
go home
now?"

(Narrator:) Suddenly, Jack heard a booming voice--

(Giant:) "FEE-FI-FO-FUM,
I SMELL THE 
BLOOD OF AN 
ENGLISHMAN."

(Jack:) "Umm, that 
doesn't even
rhyme. How about:
Fee-fi-fo-fum,
I can see the 
giant's bum?""

You get the idea. As the book progresses, Jack and the giant become less and less cooperative, and the narrator becomes more and more cranky. This is shown using bold, oversize text, with plenty of exclamation marks. I especially enjoyed when Jack pointed out an inconsistency in the narrator's instructions. How can he use his ax to chop down the beanstalk when we're already established that Jack has no possessions. There are also notes of modern humor, like the fact that the giant is a vegan (and thus unlikely to eat Jack). There's even a cameo appearance from Cinderella. 

Edwardian Taylor's digitally rendered illustrations feature a wide-eyed, expressive-faced Jack and a gold-toothed giant with an epic beard. The ending includes a delightful range of fairy tale characters, including an unhappy Pinocchio and a cheerful Goldilocks eating dinner with three three bears. A note on the back cover urges kids to look for the gingerbread man, the three blind mice and other fairy tale friends hidden throughout the book, suggesting good cause for a re-read. 

It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk is an introduction for early elementary school kids to both meta-fiction and fractured fairy tales, all in a disarming and engaging package. The narrator's over-the-top responses are especially fun to read aloud. It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk is a joyful story, and would be a fun addition to any library or classroom serving preschoolers. We will certainly be reading it again in my house. Recommended!

Publisher: Two Lions (@AmazonPub)
Publication Date: September 19, 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).


Bizzy Mizz Lizzie: David Shannon

Book: Bizzy Mizz Lizzie
Author: David Shannon
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

BizzyMizzLizzieBizzy Mizz Lizzie is about a little bee who tries to do everything: music lessons, art lessons, dance lessons, Honey Scouts, and so on. Lizzie's goal is to be so successful that she is able to meet the Queen Bee, and to tell the Queen that she is "the best bee I can be." Lizzie naturally doesn't listen to her best friend, Lazy Mizz Daizy. Daizy spends most of her time lying around in the garden, reading and dreaming, and listening to the stories of "a very nice old lady." When Lizzie has a chance to meet the Queen by participating in a spelling contest, she pushes herself too hard, and finally learns "to stop and smell the flowers." 

The resolution of Bizzy Mizz Lizzie is, of course, completely predictable, and the message is overt. These things are normally a turn-off for me, but I liked Bizzy Mizz Lizzie anyway. David Shannon fills it with lots of fun, bee-centric details, and uses lots of "z's" in the text. This makes it a fun book to read-aloud. Like this:

"The next day the entire colony was at the Spelling Contest. Everyone buzzed as loud as they could when the Queen arrived. Newzy Suzie, Zach, Zack Pat-on-the-Back, and Lizzie battled through round after round. But then Suzie forgot a "z" in "razzmatazz," and "Zach Zack was fooled by "bamboozle." All Lizzie had to do was spell "quizzical" and she would win!"

And although I'm not a big fan of the illustrations in Shannon's David books, I did quite enjoy the images in Bizzie Mizz Lizzie. His illustration style is somehow suited to bees. Lizzie has bouncy ponytails, while Daizy is shown contented and a bit scruffy. There are lots of fun details, like Lizzie carrying a stack of "Junior Honey Scout" treats, towering high above her head, with names like "Honey Pies" and "Swarms". I also had a fair bit of sympathy for Lizzie's tired mother, who car-pools various groups of young bees around on her large back, with a less-than-contented expression. 

The bottom line is that the message about cutting back a bit on structured activities, and taking time to enjoy life, is one that many kids today could benefit from hearing. The fact that it is delivered in a buzzy, humorous, read-aloud-friendly package makes Bizzy Mizz Lizzie a winner. Recommended, and an excellent pick for early elementary school classrooms and libraries. 

Publisher: Blue Sky Press (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: October 10, 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).


Book or Bell: Chris Barton and Ashley Spires

Book: Book or Bell
Author: Chris Barton
Illustrator: Ashley Spires
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

BookOrBellBook or Bell has a premise that teachers and librarian will be unable to resist. Written by Chris Barton (The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch) and illustrated by Ashley Spires (The Most Magnificent Thing), Book or Bell is about a boy named Henry who finds "the most awesome book about a bike." Henry is so enthralled in his new book that he starts ignoring the bell at school, staying put at his desk reading instead of going to recess, lunch, etc. This rebellion causes much consternation for his teacher, the school principal, the mayor, the governor, and a visiting senator. The authority figures propose a succession of bigger, louder bells. But in the end, it's Henry's teacher who finds a compromise solution. 

I of course appreciated the premise of this book. Who doesn't like a kid who can't put his book down, and doesn't particularly care what's happening around him? With bonus points for the kid being a brown-skinned boy. Chris Barton's text is over-the-top and read-aloud-friendly. Like this:

"The school was not prepared for anyone to just stay put.
By not springing up with the ringing of the bell, Henry set of a 
chain reaction unlike anything they'd ever seen.

There was an empty space where Henry's tray would have been.

The food that would have gone on Henry's tray went--
SPLOT! -- onto the floor.

The shoe that stepped on Henry's
food went SCHWOOP!"

The various bells also have loud sound effects, and dramatic impacts on the other students, and are sure to make kids laugh. 

I have to confess, though, that I didn't really understand the ending. The teacher basically lures Henry out of his house on Saturday with the gentle "DING! DING!" of a bicycle bell, and the kids and adults all end up playing outside, with Henry reading under a tree. My seven-year-old took the ending in stride, but I didn't quite get the point. But maybe this is just a deficiency of understanding on my part.

It's a cheerful ending, with kids and grownups engaged in a mix of reading and more active pastimes. I certainly like that the book celebrates both a child reading and a child sticking to his guns to do what he wants to do. I like that his teacher seemed to have sympathy for him, even as the other adults were striving for control. I also like the cheerfulness of Spires' illustrations, particularly a madcap scene in which basketballs bounce all over the street, making "a little extra work for the crossing guard." 

Book or Bell is an over-the-top portrayal of the way that a book can make a person want to escape from the rest of the world, and they way that the rest of the world may object, loudly. It's fun to read aloud, with humorous names and plenty of sound effects, and has joyful, multicultural illustrations. I think that librarians and teachers will find it impossible to resist. 

Publisher: Bloomsbury (@BloomsburyKids)
Publication Date: October 17, 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).


Charlie & Mouse & Grumpy: Laurel Snyder + Emily Hughes

Book: Charlie & Mouse & Grumpy
Author: Laurel Snyder
Illustrator: Emily Hughes
Pages: 48
Age Range: 4-8 

CharlieMouseGrumpyCharlie & Mouse & Grumpy is the sequel to Charlie & Mouse, written by Laurel Snyder and illustrated by Emily Hughes. Both books are full-color illustrated early readers consisting of four chapters. There is a fair bit of text on each page, but the text is wide-spaced and dialog-heavy, keeping it accessible to younger readers. 

Charlie & Mouse & Grumpy is a fun, kid-friendly read. In this installment, brothers Charlie and Mouse are excited to welcome houseguest Grumpy (apparently their grandfather). Their adventures with Grumpy are quite ordinary. He checks in on how they are, and how they are growing. They "pounce" on him when he's napping. He babysits one evening, and they eat pizza and build a blanket fort together. And when he leaves at the end of his visit, there are sad goodbyes (though lightened with humor). 

When Grumpy first arrives, he pronounces older brother Charlie "big", to which Charlie agrees. Younger brother Mouse, however, declares himself to be getting "medium." I especially liked this bit:

"When you are medium," said Mouse,
"you can read some books. But also, people
read books to you."
"What else?" asked Grumpy.
Mouse thought again.
"When you are medium, you can swim.
But your mom sits on the steps and watches.
Just in case."
"Ahh," said Grumpy. "It sounds very nice
to be medium."
"It is," said Mouse. 

There's a little picture of Mouse swimming, with Mom in the background, feet in the water, book on her lap, waving. There's also a picture of Dad reading to Mouse, while Charlie looks over Mouse's shoulder. Which pleased me, because I would have thought that people would still read to Charlie, even if he can read on his own. The blanket fort scenes also feature delightful illustrations. Charlie and Mouse have spiky hair and big eyes and happy smiles in the presence of Grumpy. 

Charlie & Mouse & Grumpy captures the affection between grandparent and grandchildren, and the excitement of having a houseguest. The differences between bigger and smaller brother are there (with Mouse falling asleep in the fort), as is everyone's sadness on saying goodbye. I think that this book hits perfectly on the interests of five year olds. Highly recommended, and a lovely addition to any early reader collection. 

Publisher:  Chronicle Kids (@ChronicleKids)
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).


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).