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Posts from June 2013

Happy Birdday, Tacky!: Helen Lester & Lynn Munsinger

Book: Happy Birdday, Tacky!
Author: Helen Lester
Illustrator: Lynn Munsinger
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-8 

I love Tacky the Penguin. The board book was one of my favorites to read to Baby Bookworm when she was a little bit younger. I've not read all of Helen Lester and Lynn Munsinger's books about Tacky, but I did quite enjoy the latest one, Happy Birdday, Tacky!

Tacky the Penguin is a quirky bird who lives in Nice Icy Land with his companions, Goodly, Lovely, Angel, Neatly, and Perfect. The companions are all calm and orderly, but Tacky always keeps things interesting. In Happy Birdday, Tacky!, Goodly, Lovely, Angel, Neatly and Perfect spend weeks planning the perfect birthday party for Tacky. But when the big day arrives, things don't go exactly as planned (they never do, when Tacky is around). But, of course, it all turns out ok in the end. 

I think it helps, in appreciating Happy Birdday, Tacky!, to have read at least the first Tacky book. For example, the other penguins make birthday cards for Tacky, "but since Tacky was an odd bird with an odd way of counting, it only made sense that he had told them odd things about how old he was." This odd way of counting is straight out of the first book, and a nice nod back to the launch of the series. 

I love the vocabulary in this book. Tacky is "quite busy flippiting about". He then pauses in "mid-flapwaddle." And of course "birdday" instead of "birthday". There's enough of this sort of thing to make Happy Birthday, Tacky! fun to read aloud, but not so much as to be confusing. Here are a couple of bits that made me laugh:

""Everything's perfect!" declared Perfect.
(This confused his companions, for as far they knew, Perfect was Perfect. But never mind.) "

Guest dancer Twinklewebs announces:

""I vant to perform for you a denz peez from Swan Frozen-Body-of-Water."

OK, kids might not get that one, but I thought it was funny. And finally:

"They hovered over Twinklewebs, writing their flippers and becoming covered with perspiration icicles. 
What a dreadful end for their Perfect Party.
They were ready to tear their hair, if only they had any."

As you can see, this is not a book that offers a sophisticated humor. But I think it's perfect for three to five year olds. There is perhaps an implied message about going with the flow, but it's otherwise just pure, silly fun. There should be more picture books like that.

Munsinger's illustrations add to the fun. The last quote above is accompanied by a picture of Tacky with a smushed cake on his head (and feet), surrounded by the other penguins. Twinklewebs, a penguin in a pink tutu and feathers, is priceless. There is, as befitting a book set in a nice, icy land, plenty of white space. And step by step vignettes showing Tacky's latest dance will have four year olds everywhere performing on makeshift stages. 

I'm a long-time Tacky fan, and I found Happy Birdday, Tacky! to be an enjoyable addition to the series. A must-purchase for libraries, and a fine choice for anyone who could benefit from taking a less rigid approach to life. Recommended!

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (@hmhkids)
Publication Date: May 14, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2013 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

15 Days Without a Head: Dave Cousins

Book: 15 Days Without a Head
Author: Dave Cousins (@DaveCousins9000)
Pages: 312
Age Range: 12 and up 

15 Days Without a Head was published in 2012 in the UK, and was just released in a new paperback edition in the US. It's a gritty novel set in an urban working class neighborhood, but with elements of the ridiculous lightening the tone. It is already (from the UK edition) showing up on some award longlists. 

15-year-old Lawrence Roach lives in a cockroach infested apartment with his six-year-old half-brother, Jay, and their alcoholic mother. When their mother disappears, Lawrence fears that social services will get involved and separate him from Jay (as happened once previously). He goes to great lengths to conceal their situation from well-meaning (and not-so-well-meaning) adults. Meanwhile, he is on the phone every night participating in a quiz show, in an attempt to win a vacation for his family. And somehow, in the middle of all of his troubles, he meets a girl who just might be interested in him. 

Lawrence and Jay's situation is pretty bleak - even when their mother is there she is unstable and borderline abusive, leaving Lawrence with most of the responsibility of caring for Jay. When she vanishes, the boys have scarcely any money for food. And when Jay gets sick, Lawrence is ill-equipped to handle the situation. Still, Cousins keeps the book from feeling bleak overall, by adding humor. The radio host of the quiz show is a bit of a buffoon. And Lawrence's attempts to dress up as his mother, in order to fool people into thinking she is still around, are both sad and comical. 

One aspect of the book that I thought was a particularly brave choice on Cousins' part is that Lawrence himself isn't completely stable. He considers, for a moment, pushing a noxious neighbor down the stairs. He destroys the kitchen in a fit of anger that he doesn't even remember, scaring his brother. It's not clear whether there's an innate (and hereditary) mental problem, or whether the pressure of Lawrence's situation is destroying his ability to cope.

Lawrence is a strong protagonist because of his imperfections. He often doesn't know what to do. He makes mistakes. He feels despair. But he is deeply committed to his brother, and that keeps him on the right track. Jay is less developed as a character, but is pleasingly quirky. He think he's Scooby Doo, and insists that Lawrence's love interest, Mina, be called Velma. Mina is perhaps a tiny bit too good to be true, as she leaps in to help the brothers, but I liked her very much.

Here are a couple of quotes, to give you a sense of Cousins' writing:

"That sound is one of the few things that will penetrate the Cloud. The Cloud is what follows Happy Hour, and it lasts a lot longer. A force-field of cigarette smoke and booze, with our mum inside. It reminds me of that old TV program Stars in Their Eyes--when the contestant goes through the door as one person, then emerges from the smoke looking completely different. Except in Mum's case, she comes out looking exactly the same--it's her personality that's changed. I don't suppose that would make much of a TV show, though." (Page 6)

"...Much better that nobody notices me. I couldn't care less if I'm invisible to most of them. Invisibility is fine; it's the superpower I'd pick every time. Most people want strength, X-ray vision, or the ability to fly. Not me. Just to be able to fade away--how good would that be?" (Chapter 28) 

Although the British details aren't overwhelming, there's definitely a UK feel to the book. The boys eat "chips" a lot (french fries). Their mother is "Mum". Money is in pounds. I don't think that anything will be difficult for US readers to understand, but it's enough to give the book a slightly exotic feel. 

Teens who enjoy realistic fiction of the dysfunctional parent variety will not want to miss 15 Days Without a Head. The suspense over what happened to their mother, and what's going to happen to Lawrence and Jay, will keep readers of all stripes turning the pages. There is a relatively hopeful ending, which the kids bring about in large part through their own efforts, making this a book that librarians serving high schoolers will want to take a look at, too. 

Publisher: Flux (@FluxBooks)
Publication Date: May 8, 2013 (US edition)
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2013 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

Nighty-Night, Sleep Tight: Jennifer Berne & David Walker

Book: Nighty-Night, Sleep Tight
Author: Jennifer Berne
Illustrator: David Walker
Pages: 24
Age Range: 2-5 

Nighty-Night, Sleep Tight, written by Jennifer Berne and illustrated by David Walker, is, as you might expect from the title, a bedtime picture book. Written in the vein of Somewhere So Sleepy (and doubtless many others), Nighty-Night, Sleep Tight follows a child as she visits, in her imagination, a variety of animals from around the world sleeping. Like this:

"As a whispering wind
stirs a misty Maine fog,
a moose family sleeps
by the edge of a bog.

Dreaming dreams under blankets of stars.
Sweet dreams under blankets of stars."

That last couplet, about blankets of stars, is repeated after every second or third type of animal. This bothered me a bit. It seems like it would have been more soothing to have it included every time. Or at least to have used the regular spacing of every other time. Including it at irregular intervals seemed odd to me, particularly in a bedtime book. 

Still, I did like the variety of animal examples that Berne included, and the seamless way she incorporates tidbits of information. Like this:

"Beneath deserts of Utah,
in underground towns,
little prairie dogs snooze
in beds fourteen feet down."

Walker's pencil and acrylic illustrations lend a cozy feel to the book. The little girl, in pink footie pajamas, is shown interacting with the animals on each page. A page depicting Galapagos turtles, for example, has the girl drawling along, with a beach bucket on her back like a shell. She curls up with the tigers, and joins a Bahama iguana by perching on a palm frond. Both girl and animals are depicted without excessive detail, and with a mix of cheerful and sleepy expressions. 

For those looking for a soothing bedtime book, one that includes a bit of information about animals from around the world, Nighty-Night, Sleep Tight is well worth a look. While not groundbreaking, it's a comforting read, with gentle illustrations that will make young listeners smile. 

Publisher: Sterling Children's Books (@SterlingKids)
Publication Date: March 5, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2013 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

Hands Off My Honey! Jane Chapman & Tim Warnes

Book: Hands Off My Honey!
Author: Jane Chapman
Illustrator: Tim Warnes
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-6

I'm not sure why it is that preschoolers have an insatiable appetite for picture books about bears, but it does seem to be true. Hands Off My Honey!, by Jane Chapman and her husband Tim Warnes, is a fun addition to the genre. 

The book begins as Bear stomps, stamps, and bellows his way to a hollow, honey jar in hand, shouting out things like:

"Don't even try to take a pawful! I am the scariest bear in the forest and I won't share a single drop."

As Bear settles in to enjoy his honey, Mouse, the Rabbit Brothers, and Mole decide that they love honey, too, and are going to try to sneak some out of Bear's jar. A mostly stealthy adventure follows (Mole has a bit of difficulty keeping quiet), with a surprise at the end. 

Hands Off My Honey! is read-aloud friendly, with lots of exclamations and sound effects ("Ooops!", "Flump!", etc.). It uses bold text and varied font sizes to encourage dramatic reading. I especially like Chapman's use of strong verbs ("rumbled", "trembled", "bellowed", "whizzed", etc.). Not fancy verbs necessarily, but strong, descriptive verbs. Like this:

"Mouse zipped to the left and right,
keeping to the shadows. The rabbits
raced behind, shivering excitedly.

Mouse waved to Mole, but as
he dodged a stinging nettle,
he tripped over a root,
he squeaked."

OK, there's a vague antecedent in that last example (the picture makes it clear that Mole tripped). But still, it's a book that I look forward to reading aloud to my daughter, for sheer enjoyment of the language. 

Warnes' illustrations are kid-friendly. Bear is shown larger than life, scowling as he yells, but smiling as he licks his honey. The smaller animals are cute, with expressive faces (usually smiling). The later illustrations, with honey everywhere are particularly funny. The fonts are sometimes large enough to factor in as part of the illustrations, too. In general, like the text, the pictures are full of action.  

Hands Off My Honey! is a fun read-aloud with a surprise twist at the end. And it features a bear. I expect this one to become a family favorite. It's probably optimal for three to five year olds. Recommended!

Publisher: Tiger Tales Books (@TigerTalesBooks)
Publication Date: March 1, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2013 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

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: June 7

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage

BEA (Bookseller's Expo America)

So many books to covet! BEA 2013: Strong Season Ahead for Children's Publishers  via @PWKidsBookshelf

BEA 2013: The Boy Readers Are All Right, panel with Gantos, Scieszka + Emerson  via @PWKidsBookshelf

BEA 2013: Why Kids Should Read About War from Suzanne Collins and Walter Dean Myers 

I sure appreciated this detailed writeup about BEA Blogger Con from @catagator  #kidlit

Also helpful: Dispatch from BEA #1: the Bloggers Conference from @bkshelvesofdoom 

Book Lists and Awards

Continuing @StorySnoops summer reading lists with books for teen girls  #yalit #kidlit

Some nice lists - Bankstreet College of Education Best Children's Books of 2013 by age level  #kidlit

Stacked: Get Genrefied: Contemporary Realistic Fiction #yalit

Link Du Jour: The 2013 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards Announced — @100scopenotes  #kidlit

RT @tashrow: New Great Chapter Books for Kids and Summer Reading @PragmaticMom  #kidlit

For those in need, a nice list of Non-Traditional Princess Stories from the SSHE Library 

MG and YA mysteries and thrillers for great summer reading from Sleuths, Spies, and Alibis: #kidlit #yalit

Growing Bookworms

BBC News - New UK Children's Laureate Malorie Blackman targets digital youth #literacy #kidlit

Great @NerdyBookClub post by Donna Gephart on not making reading something that kids dread like dodge ball #literacy

Check out the latest #literacy Lalapalooza at Family Bookshelf: Children's Books that Celebrate Dads @readingtub

Great suggestions for sneaking in reading time when your kids are a captive audience from @LiteracyLaunch #literacy

Kidlitosphere (48 Hour Book Challenge)

Want to spend this coming weekend reading books? Don't miss the # 48HBC Instructions from @MsYingling

An excellent #48HBC Tip for this weekend's book challenge from @abbylibrarian: Take Advantage of Audiobooks

Another #48HBC Tip: Start Thinking About Your Books early fromm @abbylibrarian #kidlit

Literacy Programs and Research

Jessup 5th grader to present cupcakes for #literacy idea to Warren Buffett #litrdup via @bookchook @marylandfamily

BBC News - UK authors back 'malnutrition hits #literacy' study  #litrdup via @tashrow

Publishing. Libraries, Booksellers and Authors

Delightful! Library in a Telephone Box: British Ingenuity! via @TrevorHCairney #litrdup #literacy

This is neat: Jeff Kinney to Open a Bookstore? via @PWKidsBookshelf

Why doesn't the UK media take children's books seriously? asks Julia Donaldson in @TelegraphNews via @PWKidsBookshelf

Sharing the Love: Librarians, Authors Talk #KidLit | SLJ Day of Dialog 2013 @sljournal

RT @tashrow: 1st Welsh publisher dedicated to children’s books to help tackle literacy and tell great stories


I could relate to this: Why Leaving a Book Half-Read Is So Hard - @WSJ #reading

I'm a Lister. What Type Of A Reader Are You? asks @StaceyLoscalzo after linking to article by @ThePioneerWoman

Summer Reading (and Preventing Summer Slide)

Fun! The Great Summer Library Challenge for Kids from @momandkiddo + @bethanyntt #literacy

Suggestions from @RIFWEB for fighting Summer Slide | RIF Blog #literacy

What’s On Your Summer Reading List? | #kidlit Authors Tell All | @sljournal

Summer Reading and the Rich/Poor Achievement Gap | An Educator Responds to Questions | @sljournal #litrdup

Don't miss your chance to download free #yalit audiobooks this summer from Sync YA via @MaryLeeHahn

© 2013 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.

The Last Academy: Anne Applegate

Book: The Last Academy
Author: Anne Applegate (@AnneApplegate)
Pages: 320
Age Range: 12 and up 

Those who enjoy a creepy, Gothic read will not want to miss Anne Applegate's The Last Academy. The book begins with a confrontation between Camden and her best friend Lia at a summer party, but quickly shifts gears as Camden heads off to boarding school. On the plane, Camden encounters a strange man who seems to threaten her. At her new school, Lethe, she learns that this man owns the land on which the school is located. She also learns that another girl who was on her flight decided not to enroll after all. Weirder events follow, including odd visions by Camden, and the complete hushing up of middle-of-the-night the disappearance of another girl. Only gradually does Camden, and the reader, figure out what's really going on at Lethe. 

Without giving anything away, this is one of those books where I didn't figure out exactly what was going on until about 2/3 of the way through, and yet I felt on looking back as though it should have been obvious from the start. And I mean this in a good way. Applegate doles out information at just the right pace, and draws all of the clues neatly together at the end. The Last Academy is a book that I thought about between reading sessions, and have continued to think about since. 

The book does have one YA trope that I'm a bit tired of - the instant connection between teen boy and girl (Camden and love interest Mark). Immediate attraction on both parts, even though they barely know each other. That sort of thing. But at least Applegate keeps their relationship appropriate for middle school readers. And really, that's my only complaint. 

I enjoyed Applegate's descriptive writing. Like this:

"The guy stared at me and I stared at him. I know sometimes people say, "skin that looks like leather," and they mean somebody's skin is wrinkled and thick and ugly like the hide of a dead cow. But the guy's skin looked like an expensive briefcase -- supple and soft and not what you see on most men in real life. Anywhere beyond the realism of Hollywood or the European yacht set, anyway." (Page 14)

She also hits certain aspects of boarding school right on the head. Like this:

"When Tamara (Camden's roommate) came back to our room right before ten o'clock check-in, I was already in bed. We both pretended I was asleep." (Page 82)

There's also a great description of how to cry in the shower so that no one can hear you. 

The characters is The Last Academy are complex and damaged. The sunny California boarding school setting sets off the creepy, inexplicable events perfectly. And the plotting is complex enough to keep readers guessing down to the wire. All of which makes The Last Academy a wonderful summer read for those who enjoy mysteries, Gothic romance, or boarding school books (and who doesn't like one of those three categories?). Recommended for readers age 12 and up. 

Publisher: Point (@Scholastic
Publication Date: April 30, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2013 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

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library: Chris Grabenstein

Book: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library
Author: Chris Grabenstein (@CGrabenstein
Pages: 304
Age Range: 9-12 

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library is a humorous, puzzle-filled novel aimed at middle grade readers. More madcap than Trenton Lee Stewart's Mysterious Benedict Society books, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library reads like a cross between the Pseudonymous Bosch books Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (original movie version). It's a fun ride. 

The big event in Kyle Keeley's town is the grand opening of the new town public library. Alexandriaville, a small Ohio city, has been without a public library for 12 years (since the decision was made to level the old one to put in a parking garage). Eccentric millionaire Mr. Luigi L. Lemoncello has decided to put things right by building the town a fabulous, quirky, state-of-the-art library. Kyle and his classmates enter an essay contest for 12 year olds (who have grown up never having a town library). The 12 winners will have a sleepover in the library the night before it opens. And, in fact, that sleepover becomes extended when the 12 students are offered a chance to engage in a 24-hour contest to escape from the library. 

Despite not being much of a student, Kyle is a determined game player (obsessed with beating his two talented older brothers in something). He and his best friend Akimi (just how common are male-female best friends among real 12-year-olds, I wonder, though I understand why they make sense in books) are protagonists who are easy to root for. The bad guy, the spoiled, hypercompetitive Charles Chiltington, is easy to root against. In truth, the characterization in Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library is a bit thin. But this is not a book to read for introspective character analysis. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library is a book to read for:

  • Puzzles, riddles, and word games (including rebuses);
  • Cool technology (animatronics, interactive holograms, and sophisticated computer screens);
  • Fast-paced adventure; and
  • The love of children's books.

The last point is probably my personal favorite aspect of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library. Mr. Lemoncello spouts children's literature references and book titles the way that Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka spouts quotations (casually, insightfully, and incessantly). Like this:

"Sorry. The correct answer is--and not just because of Winn-Dixie--D) all of the above." (Chapter 8)

"As Dr. Zinchenko informed you, I'd like to say a few brief words. Here they are: short, memorandum, and underpants. And, let us pause to remember the immortal words of Dr. Seuss: 'The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the places you'll go.'" (Chapter 10)

(After being asked if he had something available) "Did Joey Pigza lose control? Was Ella enchanted." (Chapter 25)

You get the idea. I like that Grabenstein's children's literature references range from the classic (Seuss, L.M. Montgomery) to the modern (Rebecca Stead and Jack Gantos). Without being at all pedantic, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library is a cover to cover celebration of books. The fact that Kyle himself isn't "big on books" keeps this pro-book sentiment from being off-putting to more dormant readers. 

But I think that the combination of quirky puzzles, cutting-edge technology, and adventure sequences (racing around the library building, climbing things, getting stuck, etc.) is what will make Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library a must-purchase title for libraries serving middle grade readers. As Mr. Lemoncello tells the kids' parents, "It'll be like The Hunger Games but with lots of food and no bows or arrows." What 10-year-old could resist that? Recommended. 

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: June 25, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from Raab Associates (@sraab18)

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2013 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


Otis Dooda: Strange but True: Ellen Potter

Book: Otis Dooda: Strange but True
Author: Ellen Potter (@EllenPotter)
Illustrator: David Heatley (@heatley)
Pages: 240
Age Range: 6-10

Otis Dooda: Strange but True is, as the author told me herself, a bit of a departure from Ellen Potter's usual middle grade fare (see my reviews of Olivia Kidney and The Kneebone Boy, and also, though I have not read it, Slob). Otis Dooda is a aimed squarely at six to ten year old boys (and even more specifically at Potter's eight-year-old son and his friends). It's a heavily, cartoonishly (in a good way) illustrated chapter book, with plenty of dialog, and (if the ARC is any indication) nice big print. 

Otis Dooda is chock full of things that boys are likely to find humorous and/or cool. There is a horse disguised as a dog, with a propensity for really awful farts. There is a boy who lives in a potted plant, and casts curses on his neighbors. There is a catapult into a vat of marshmallow fluff. How does anyone think of such things? 

But let me back up a bit. Otis Dooda is an elementary school-age boy who moves with his parents and older brother (and his brother's pet rat, Smoochie) from "a dinky little town called Hog's Head" to New York City. There, Otis finds himself living on the 35th (top) floor of an apartment building populated with unusual characters. He makes friends with some kids approximately his own age, learns to ride to subway, and worries about the curse that Potted Plant Guy has called down on his head. 

There's a hint of a Diary of a Wimpy Kid feel to Otis Dooda, but Otis is aimed more directly at younger kids (younger kids read the Wimpy Kid books, but Greg Heffley is a middle schooler). Otis Dooda also has a much tighter narrative arc than the Wimpy Kid books, too, told in linear fashion over a five day period. 

Let me give you a feel for Potter's writing in Otis Dooda.

""That's it, little man," Julius said to me. "Just put it out of your mind."

He gave my shoulder a quick squeeze. 

I've seen that shoulder squeeze in movies. It's the shoulder squeeze people give to the guy who is about to walk into the Cave of Doom to fight the giant spider with the T. rex head and the mucus-dripping fangs. I'm sure you know which shoulder squeeze I mean." (The Curse of the Potted Plant Guy)

What I like about the previous quote is that you have the boy-friendly trappings, dinosaurs and mucus-dripping fangs and so on. But you also have something universally insightful. Can't you picture that shoulder-squeeze?This is what you get when you take an author who has written more traditional novels, but also has an actual 8 year old son, and a sense of humor. 

Or take this:

"The subway zombies really freaked me out. Plus, I started thinking about how there were only four more days until the next full moon, and then I got even more freaked out. So when I came home I started working on my Lego inventions. That always calms me down. I think it's the way everything fits together so perfectly. I wish my life was more like that." (Psycho Weiner Blaster).

Ah, Otis, who doesn't wish that? Then he builds a Psycho Weiner Blaster and shoots soy weiners at a new (fortunately nimble) friend. I think you get the idea. While not all of the humor in Otis Dooda quite resonates with me as an adult female reader, I suspect that the target audience is going to love it. 

Otis is a protagonist (I really can't call him a hero, exactly) who kids will be able to relate to. He declares himself "sort of average." He doesn't get along with his older brother. He gets made fun of, but not mercilessly. He learns from his mistakes (and they are over-the-top, hilarious mistakes, not at all "sort of average"). 

I have some slight concern that, as drawn by David Heatley, Otis might be a little too cute. Can you see him on the cover? Blond hair and big eyes and a little smirk on his face? I think he's adorable. Which may or may not resonate with your average 8 year old boy. Not to worry, though. His mom and brother are unattractive enough to create balance.

In all seriousness, though, the illustrations are perfect for the book, and perfect for an audience that might not be quite ready for non-illustrated novels. My favorite picture is a scene in which Otis has trouble sleeping (spooked by the Potted Plant Guy's curse). Four panels show Otis lying in bed, then dumping out a cardboard box, cutting eye holes in it, and then sitting in it on his bed, worried eyes visible. He's saying: "I hope there are no illustrations of this." Snort!

Setting out to make 8 year old boys laugh, as Ellen Potter has done here, is a great goal, I think. And I think that Otis Dooda: Strange but True succeeds in that goal (though I have no young boys on which to test that theory directly). I would say that Otis Dooda is a must-purchase for elementary school libraries. It's also well worth a look for parents trying to find the right book to hook their young boys on reading. I hope that it will be the first of a series. Highly recommended for the target audience (though perhaps not so appealing, for, say, 10 year old girls who like realistic fiction). I'll be keeping it on my list of gift books for boys.

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends (@MacKidsBooks)
Publication Date: June 4, 2013
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the author

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2013 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