Category: Chapter Books

Weekends with Max and His Dad by Linda Urban

Weekends with Max and His Dad by Linda Urban

Weekends with Max and His Dad by Linda Urban, illustrated by Katie Kath (InfoSoup)

Max’s father has an apartment of his own now where Max spends weekends. On his first visit to the apartment, Max is amazed at how white and clean everything is. Everything except his bedroom which is filled with football things, even though Max doesn’t particularly care about football any more. He is much more into being a spy. So Max and his father spend their weekend getting to know his new neighborhood by dressing as spies, taking covert photographs, eating pancakes, and following a mysterious man. Following visits to his father’s apartment involve meeting the neighbors, walking dogs, doing some homework, having a friend over and buying a couch. As Max settles into his new weekend routines with his dad, he learns a lot about what makes a place a home.

Urban writes with a gentleness about this new circumstance in Max’s life. Max is refreshingly unburdened by guilt in his parent’s divorce. The focus instead is on the new place to live, figuring out the different relationship, and realizing that a person can happily have two homes. Throughout the book, real love and devotion is shown by both Max and his father. There is a beautiful flexibility from both of them in each story and also a willingness to listen and learn from one another. Each also takes care of the other emotionally, not wanting to hurt one another. Which is also a very nice change from children lashing out in books about divorce.

The illustrations by Kath make this book very approachable for young readers. They nicely break up the text, plus add to the humor. Readers can see Max’s father in his full spy disguise as well as enjoying the finished school project and the furry fun of two basset hounds. The pictures add to the warmth and love that exude from this book.

A loving book about father and son relationships after a divorce, this novel for young readers demonstrates that life and love continues. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

A Complicated Case by Ulf Nilsson

A Complicated Case by Ulf Nilsson

A Complicated Case by Ulf Nilsson, illustrated by Gitte Spee

This is the second book in the Detective Gordon series and offers a new mystery for the toad police chief and his young mouse assistant to solve. The detective pair live together at the police station after converting the jail into bedrooms. Gordon is getting pudgier and finding it harder to run, partly because he loves his cakes and his naps. Buffy is just as energetic as ever, but has some of her own personal fears to overcome, like admitting that she can’t read. The two detectives discover that someone in the forest is being mean to others, something that is clearly against the rules set forth in the law. But things are not as clear as they may seem as the two detectives discover.

Nilsson has just the right amount of drama in this second installment of the series. The lovely friendship between the aging toad and the young mouse is delightfully presented with plenty of appreciation for what each of them bring to the partnership, and I don’t just mean that Gordon can swim and Buffy can climb trees. In this mystery, the two of them also convey their own doubts and fears, something that is done with enough subtlety that readers may not realize until the end of the book that that is the focus of this mystery.

The art is warm and playful. The two characters are wonderfully distinct from one another as Gordon mopes on the page about how pudgy he is while Buffy dances and dreams of wearing costumes. There is a coziness in the illustrations as well, from the cakes and their tins to the soft furniture.

Another lovely outing for the two detectives, this series is one to watch for children just starting to read chapter books. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Gecko Press.

Review: Piper Green and the Fairy Tree by Ellen Potter

Piper Green and the Fairy Tree by Ellen Potter

Piper Green and the Fairy Tree by Ellen Potter, illustrated by Qin Leng (InfoSoup)

Released August 4, 2015

Piper is heading off to her first day of second grade. She looks forward to much of it, from riding the boat to school from the tiny island where they live to the donuts and other treats they get each morning on the way. But she is also desperately missing her older brother Erik. So she puts on his earmuffs and refuses to take them off. She’s sure that her teacher will understand, however when she gets to school she has a new teacher who looks like a princess but can also be awfully grumpy about things like earmuffs. The next day, after promising everyone that she would take the earmuffs  off when she got to school, Piper decides that it’s best not to go. Unfortunately, sirens go off and she is stuck up in a tree waiting for everything to calm down. Everything is getting worse and worse until Piper discovers the treasure in the fairy tree outside her house.

Potter writes consistently wonderful books no matter what age she is writing for, so it should be no surprise that she also excels at writing for elementary-aged children. These simple chapter books offer a charming mix of reality and a dash of magic in the form of the fairy tree and the treasure it offers. In Piper, Potter has created a great girl character who is determined and wonderfully creative in the way she solves problems. This of course is what lands her in all kids of trouble, much to the delight of the reader.

Leng’s illustrations are simple and friendly. They capture both the dynamic Piper and her family as well as the unique island they live on. The adult characters too are wonderfully warm and human. I particularly enjoy the neighbor Mrs. Pennypocket in her overalls and her boots, the one who introduces Piper to the magic tree.

A strong new series for elementary-aged kids, this book and the second book in the series will be enjoyed by fans of Clementine and Judy Moody.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Knopf Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.

Review: Dory and the Real True Friend by Abby Hanlon

Dory and the Real True Friend
This is the second book featuring Dory, better known as Rascal by her family. In this book, Dory is headed to school. Her older siblings insist that she leave her best friend, Mary, who happens to be a monster that only Dory can see, at home. Dory agrees, since Mary had caused so much trouble at school the year before. Dory is going to try instead to be a regular girl and not get into trouble, but that’s not very easy when a new adventure comes her way. She also meets a girl in her class who appears to be a princess and talks about the castle she lives in and her pet dragon. Her siblings don’t believe that Rosabelle isn’t imaginary though. As Dory figures out that this may be a new real friend, thanks to their shared huge imaginations, she may also need help rescuing Mr. Nuggy, her fairy godmother, from the clutches of Mrs. Gobble Gracker.
I adored the first book in this series thanks to its embracing of a character who is wonderfully quirky and entirely unique. Dory is a girl with a huge imagination and also one who does not bow to social conventions easily. From wearing her nightgown all of the time at home to packing salami for lunch and then eating it like cookies, Dory does what makes her happy and doesn’t care for what others think. That is tested when she tries to befriend Rosabelle and while Dory works to make friends she still doesn’t change herself for it. Instead the two create a great synergy of imaginative play together where fairy godmothers with beards, evil sharp toothed women, dragons, monsters, and knights fight an amazing battle.
The illustrations are in the same style as the first book, drawn as if Dory herself was doing them as she tells her story. The entire book bursts with energy and funny moments. I particularly enjoyed seeing favorite characters from the first book return and the consistency of Dory’s imaginative play. While Dory may be entering a new year in school, all of the wild characters she invented in the first book are back in the second.
Fans of the first book will love this second one. Dory is exactly who I’d love as a friend! Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.

Review: Meet the Bigfeet by Kevin Sherry

meet the bigfeet

The Yeti Files: Meet the Bigfeet by Kevin Sherry

The author of I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean and other picture books has released his first book for early readers.  It is the story of Blizz Richards, a yeti who lives an isolated life in Nepal.  He has a great cave for a house that he’s filled with all sorts of cool gadgets and lots of things to play on.  He is a cryptid, and as one he has taken an oath to never be seen by the outside world.  So Blizz almost never sees his family.  But all that is about to change with the announcement of an upcoming Big Feet Family Reunion.  Blizz shares the story of Brian, one of his relatives in Canada who got spotted and had his picture taken and put up on the Internet.  It was all because of George Vanquist, a man who continues to seek out cryptids and expose them.  Now Blizz has to risk it all to see his family, rescue Brian from his shame of being exposed and avoid George Vanquist along the way. 

Sherry has such a great touch for humor.  Throughout the book there are moments of hilarity that children will adore.  He also manages to create unique characters even in this very simple format.  Blizz manages to be a cool character, someone who lives a rich life despite being mostly alone.  He does have several clever smaller creatures who live with him and who help out regularly throughout the story.  The book moves along at rocket speed, helped by the large number of illustrations which will make it a welcoming read for new readers.

The illustrations have the same clarity as Sherry’s picture books.  With simple lines, he creates entire worlds here with characters who express emotions clearly.  One of the best parts of this book are the little diagrams throughout, first of what a yeti really is, then showing Blizz’s house, and next explaining cryptids,  They are clever, funny and avoid creating large paragraphs of explanation.

Filled with humor and the same distinctive illustration style as his picture books, this early reader will appeal to any child looking for some giggles.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic.

Review: Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon

dory fantasmagory

Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon

Dory is the youngest in her family and her older siblings won’t play with her at all.  So she is left to play on her own and thanks to her great imagination, Dory has a lot of fun.  Dory has a best friend, Mary, a monster who sleeps under her bed and is always willing to play.  There are also other monsters all over their house.  When Dory continues to bother her brother and sister, they make up a story about Mrs. Gobble Gracker, a horrible woman who steals baby girls and is looking for Dory!  So when the doorbell rings, Dory knows it is Mrs. Gobble Gracker coming for her.  Hopefully the little man who says he’s her fairy godmother will be able to help defeat her.  In the end though it is Dory’s own creativity and bravery that will save her and maybe even get her siblings to play too.

Hanlon brilliantly captures the wild imagination of a little girl who doesn’t slow down for a minute, zinging from one idea to the next even as those around her groan.  Dory could have been a problematic character, but thanks to the book being told from her point of view, readers will get to see how strong a person she is long before she displays it to her family.

Hanlon’s art makes this a book that younger readers will happily pick up and read.  Her black and white illustrations are more than paragraph breaks, they show the story of Dory and all of the characters she dreams up over the course of the day.  On the page, we see what Dory sees, not what her family doesn’t see and it’s quite a world that she has created.

Fast moving, wild and full of laughs, this book is a dynamic introduction to a fresh new face that will appeal to fans of Junie B, Jones.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial.

Review: The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale

princess in black

The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Princess Magnolia was having hot chocolate and scones with Duchess Wigtower when then monster alarm sounded.  Dressed in along dress of pink with a tiara, no one would expect that Princess Magnolia is actually also the Princess in Black who battles monsters and protects her kingdom.  After all, princesses don’t wear black!  Waiting outside the castle is Frimplepants, the princess’ unicorn, but he is also Blacky, the trusty pony of the Princess in Black.  The two of them galloped off to face the monster who is threatening the herd of goats.  Now the princess has to save the goatherd, battle the monster, and keep her secret identity from the nosy Duchess Wigtower!

Bravo for a princess figure who neither scorns the tiaras and dresses and pink nor is limited by them for the way she lives her life!  This is one amazing young woman who transforms into a hero, but clearly lives her princess life with the same heroism and dedication as she has in her alter ego.  The writing is light and fresh with rather dim-witted huge monsters who just want a meal and remember vaguely that there is a reason they don’t eat the kingdom’s goats.  Happily too, the princess does the fighting, isn’t terrified at all, and routs the monsters from her kingdom.  Clever, strong and brave, she’s exactly the heroine that her kingdom needs.

Pham’s illustrations show a young princess who is not stick-thin or Barbie-like in any way.  Instead, she is strong in her body, built like a young girl actually is, and when she does battle it feels right and she doesn’t come off as weak at all.  The illustrations of the monsters add to the humor, though their size is daunting.

A real treat for young readers looking for a real girl doing real battle whether she is a princess or not.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from library copy.