Princess Cora and the Crocodile

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Princess Cora and the Crocodile

By Laura Amy Schlitz, Illustrated by Brian Floca


Published by: Candlewick (March 28, 2017)

Available in: hardcover, audible

At the time of this review this was a standalone book.



Princess Cora and the Crocodile is a lovely chapter book that masquerades as an elegant, long picture book. Truly, it could work as either, with the end result being children who are utterly delighted.

Newberry Medal winner Laura Amy Schlitz writes a contemporary tale based on historical fantasy and fairy tales. The text is deft, spare, hilarious, and told with a firmly modern sensibility that keeps it from feeling like a tired old story. To wit: “The crocodile peered out from behind his claws. ‘This is what I’m telling you,’ he said.”

Like fairy tales of old, the story powers through actions and words that are usually considered too violent or inappropriate. Which makes the story smile-cracking funny. The crocodile, in trying to help the princess, torments the nanny, locks up the queen, and bites the king’s bum, finding it “the wrong kind of chewy.”

Meanwhile, the princess, while asking for help, finds a way to fix everything herself. She’s kind and lovable and naïve and, in the end, one smart cookie. Or cream puff, as used to such sweet comedy in the plot.

Not to be overshadowed by the text, Caldecott Medal winner Brian Floca’s subtle and imaginative four-color illustrations slide through every page. It’s a visual enchantment.

What do you say teachers, parents and writers? Use the comment below and let’s chat….



Cam Jansen Mysteries

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Cam Jansen & the Mystery of the Television Dog

By David A. Adler, Illustrated by Susanna Natti


Published by: First published in 1981 by Viking Penguin, Inc. Reissued by Puffin Books (July 22, 2004)

Available in: paperback, library binding, audible, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review there were 34 books in the Cam Jansen Mysteries series as well as an early readers series under Young Cam Jansen.



Cam Jansen & the Mystery of the Television Dog is one of the many, many Cam Jansen books, both for the early reader and the newly independent chapter book reader. Cam is a likable and quirky protagonist who is smart, kind of nerdy and has a keen eye for detail. These are very cool attributes to give to a main character, particularly a girl. In reviewing lots of chapter books, I see far too many current series with fluff and drama as the main personality and plot points. Seriousness has a home with Cam, and it’s a good fit.

The book has a very nostalgic look and feel. Illustrations hark back to a simpler time with plain black and white, crosshatch detail. The kids portrayed have a ‘70s-era look with rolled up shorts, basic T-shirts, generic round eyes and short hair. Likewise, the sentence structure is very clipped and easy, as in this short segment. “Just then a long dark blue car drove up. It stopped right in front of the bookstore. The driver got out…” Kids can swallow this stuff with easy confidence.

What is unique is Cam’s photographic memory. It’s a fun device that turns a simple story into a unique tale. The mystery part is also fun because it’s easy to spot a doggie switcheroo by a bad guy. Cam’s adventure is quick reading with just enough spunk to make it interesting. And if kids are interested, they’ll read more–which is is the point, yes?

What do you say teachers, parents and writers? Use the comment below and let’s chat….

Chalk Box Kid



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The Chalk Box Kid

By Clyde Robert Bulla, Illustrated by Thomas B. Allen


Published by: Random House Books for Young Readers; New edition (September 12, 1987)

Available in: paperback, library binding

At the time of this review there were two books in this series.



The Chalk Box Kid moves softly but has a powerful undercurrent of truth and emotion. Originally published in 1987, this short chapter book is a simple story about a boy who’s in the midst of difficult changes. Simple can be so deceiving, can’t it?

With easy pacing, this story deftly steps through anticipation, disappointment, sadness, disgust, loss of control, bullying, attempts at positive change, loneliness, budding friendship, missteps, betrayal and, ultimately, redemption. That’s no simple task. Esteemed author Bulla employs a literary style rarely seen in contemporary children’s works. He paints opening scenes that are bleak but, through the elegant rhythm of the prose, quite beautiful.

The young protagonist, Gregory, is left almost entirely alone through the whole saga of a move and new school. His parents appear distracted and beaten-down, which forces him to navigate the world completely on his own. Even when he tries to engage his parents, they don’t seem to hear him. There is no helicopter parenting here, only the cold reality of hard times.

But Gregory is an able guide for the young readers who pick up this classic. He shows fortitude and creativity, all through Bulla’s quiet inspiration and craft.

The original illustrations by artist Allen are blurry and indistinct, mirroring the nostalgic feel of the time, Gregory’s unsure life and the titled chalk. Brilliant.

What do you say teachers, parents and writers? Use the comment below and let’s chat….

My Father’s Dragon

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My Father’s Dragon

By Ruth Stiles Gannett, Illustrated by Ruth Chrisman Gannett


Published by: Random House Books for Young Readers; 50th Anniversary edition (December 13, 2011)

Available in: hardcover, paperback, audible audio, audio CD, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review there were three books in the My Father’s Dragon series.




My Father’s Dragon, originally published in 1948, is easily identifiable as old-school storytelling. Sometimes this is a hindrance to today’s young readers. But with this book, it’s not.

The story reads almost as a dream. There’s a secret adventure, a baby dragon who falls out of a cloud and is held captive, and an island where “… no one has come back alive.” This is the stuff of great imagination and long-ago myths. Children who love a good fantasy will enjoy this now as much as decades ago.

For independent reading, this is probably best suited for older chapter book readers; the pages without illustrations are dense, there are long paragraphs and some of the vocabulary is challenging. But perhaps the best use of this book is a one-chapter-a-night family event, as even younger children will enjoy the talking animals and chapter headings such as “My Father Meets a Gorilla” and “My Father Runs Away.”

The illustrations are lush and child-like without being sophomoric. Although our protagonist, a young boy, is pictured as somewhat flat (which aids in the fantasy believability), the animals are solid and breathe with the life of bizarre dreams.

What do you say teachers, parents and writers? Use the comment below and let’s chat….

Pony Pals


Ponies on Parade (Pony Pals, Book 38)

By Jeanne Betancourt, Illustrated by Richard Jones


Published by: Scholastic Paperbacks; Scholastic Version edition (November 1, 2003)

Available in: paperback, school & library binding

At the time of this review there were 38 books in the Pony Pals series, as well as an accompanying six-book series, Pony Pals Super Specials.


At full gallop.

Ponies on Parade (Pony Pals #38) is the last book in a classic series that is still saddled up and ready to go for today’s young readers.

Those familiar with this blog know that I don’t automatically give a positive nod to older books. But Pony Pals is different. Author Betancourt laces her girl-centric, horse-crazed books with tangible emotions, authentic problems and just enough originality to keep them fresh and lively a decade or two down the trail.

Ponies on Parade, for example, deals with a fun little art contest. But that’s just the withers to this very full-sized horse tail… um, tale. Harnessed within this plot are the day-to-day challenges of a child with dyslexia. Also, we see the aggravation of boys who constantly tease girls, and sometimes it’s quite hurtful emotionally or physically. As the story progresses, the three girls who make up the “Pony Pals” are faced with ethical choices of ignoring a problem or stopping to do the right thing, even when they don’t want to. Parents are responsible, kids are sometimes irresponsible and pony care is clear and correct.

This series also is interesting because it caters to older chapter book readers. With short text, pictures and third grade reading level, it’s spot on for the genre. But the characters are all middle school age. This makes Pony Pals the perfect fit for girls who are either less advanced or reluctant readers in the third through sixth grades. For them, this little extra carrot of encouragement is a blue ribbon choice of reading material.

What do you say teachers, parents and writers? Use the comment below and let’s chat….

Iconic Pippi Longstocking




By Astrid Lindgren

Illustrated by Louis S. Glanzman

Translated by Florence Lamborn



Published by: Puffin; Reissue edition (April 21, 2005)

Available in: paperback, hardcover, audible book, school & library binding

There were three books in the original Pippi Longstocking series and a number of later novels, picture books, movies, TV shows and more.


Iconic imp.

Pippi Longstocking is a mischievous, curious, especially strong girl who has become a truly classic character in children’s literature. Written by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren for her sick daughter in the 1940s, the original book has been translated into more than 60 languages and earned the author the Hans Christian Andersen Medal for her contribution to international children’s literature.

So Pippi has some heft.

Many of the older classics I’ve re-read for review hold more value in nostalgia than lasting quality. Pippi, not so much. She’s a true giant in original thinking, the channeling of childhood intellect, and the sheer joys and realities of being young.

That’s not to say there aren’t issues to be acknowledged. Consider Pippi the Lord of the Flies of the elementary set—a child set free in the world to exist as she sees fit. That obviously sets up topics and situations some modern families find problematic. There’s pure anarchy of home life, disrespect of authority, a lack of heart on the topic of dead or missing parents, and far, far too much sugar in the diet.

On the other hand, Pippi is a strong girl with sense and wit and charm. What fun to see what happens when a child is put in charge. She is as bold as she is innocent, and the sheer pleasure of reading what she will do next is worth every ounce of reticence. Pippi transports to the wonderland of childhood lived on a whim. Bad behavior and all, reading Pippi is a magical event.

For younger readers, this will prove a tough read, unfortunately. The text is heavy, and the illustrations are few and far between. It’s an intimidating book to thumb through. Perhaps the best solution is the sweetest—where parents and children read the book together. That way both the excitement and confusion Pippi inspires can be talked about, and the adult can help the child when reading becomes too dense.

What do you say teachers, parents and writers? Use the comment below and let’s chat….


Year One Re-Post #10: Tornado

Originally published in December 2013. It might be nostalgia that drives me since this was the book that got my son to read, but I have a very soft spot for Tornado.


By Betsy Byars, Illustrated by Doron Ben-Ami


Published by: HarperCollins; Reprint edition (December 28, 2004)

Available in: paperback, hardcover



That one word sparks such instant fear and excitement, it’s almost hard for the rest of the story to maintain the pace. But Newberry-medalist Betsy Byars is that rare author who can, and Tornado blows into your heart with a fierce hold.

Short and achingly sweet, the whole story is a series of vignettes a farm hand tells a family while they sit out a twister in a storm cellar. Left subtly in the background—rarely stated—is the fact the family’s father didn’t make it to the storm cellar. Everyone is worried. The stories are just a smooth way to distract.

Since the vignettes are about the farm hand’s dog when he was a boy, Tornado is a dog lover’s delight. (Full disclosure: dog lover here.) At only 49 pages in the print version, this chapter book is over before the young reader even knows it. And have no fear, Dad makes it in the end, but the tension is kept taut the entire book.

The lush illustrations are another exceptional component. Rich, full-page drawings seem to steep in the shadowy cellar mood. Kids can spend minutes relishing each one.

Perhaps this book is a bit dated–the use of flashbacks to tell most of the story is definitely frowned upon today. But the pure soul of this is a classic. Would that all chapter books were this excellent in content, emotion and artistic reach.

What do you say teachers, parents and writers? Use the comment below and let’s chat….