Review: Binky Takes Charge by Ashley Spires

binky takes charge

Binky Takes Charge by Ashley Spires

Binky has now been promoted to lieutenant in first against the aliens.  It means that he is now in charge of training new recruits.  But his first recruit is definitely not what he had been expecting.  To start with, he isn’t a cat!  He’s a dog!  Binky sets out to train the new cadet anyway, trying to ignore the fact that he pees on the floor, won’t use the litter box, doesn’t respect the idea of a cat nap, and is unable to pounce a fake alien on a string. Soon Binky is questioning more than his cadet’s skills, perhaps he’s really a spy for the aliens!  Now Binky sets out to prove what he suspects, but he’s in for a few surprises along the way.

The Binky series is one of my favorite graphic novel series for children.  It is a treat to see our alien-fighting (actually insect fighting) hero reach new ranks here.  The addition of a dog into the series is brilliant, especially one who may be a spy for the flies.  Add in the farting and the physical humor, and you have a series that is bound to appeal to reluctant readers as well as eager readers.

Spires’ art is done in a limited color palette.  Her black and white cat lives in a sepia-toned world that has bursts of color.  This palette could read as vintage, but here the modern lines and modern story keep it up-to-date and great fun.

This is another strong book in a great series.  It’s a must-have for all children’s graphic novel collections.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Kids Can Press.

Review: Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

liar and spy

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

In the first book following her award-winning When You Reach Me, Stead again writes a clever book that slowly reveals its truths to the reader.  It is the story of Georges, named after Georges Seurat, whose family is forced to sell their home after his father loses his job.  Because of this, his mother is away all the time, picking up double shifts at the hospital to make ends meet.  It is at the new apartment that Georges meets Safer.  They first meet at a meeting of the Spy Club after Georges’ dad responds to a note in the laundry room.  As the boys become better and better friends, their spy games escalate too.  Soon the question becomes what it takes to be friends with a liar, and who that liar is.

Stead writes such layered books that they become almost more about exploring the layers than about the underlying story.  Here the story is Georges and his friendship, but it is also about denial, coping and fear.  Stead uses the pointillism of Seurat as a symbol that runs through the book.  Does one focus on one specific thing or on the larger picture or both at the same time.  Stead’s writing is careful and beautifully crafted.  Everything serves a purpose in the story, making it a delight to read.

Georges is a fascinating character.  Towards the beginning of the book, readers will understand that something else is happening with his mother other than double shifts.  Georges, though, is unwilling or unable to face whatever it is.  This gives the book a layer of doubt and even sadness that makes for an uncommon read.  This is magnified by his father’s absence as well and by the bullying he receives at school. 

A virtuoso novel for middle graders, this book is elegantly crafted, exceptionally written, and unforgettable.  Appropriate for ages 10-12.

Reviewed from digital galley received from NetGalley.