Baby Monkey, Private Eye

Note: This is the last post for Chapter Book Chat. I’ve moved on to other endeavors, but I’ll keep the blog up for some time. There are a total of 128 posts, so please use the search function to find good books for the kiddos in your world.

 

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Baby Monkey, Private Eye

By Brian Selznick and David Serlin, Illustrated by Brian Selznick

 

Published by: Scholastic Press (February 27, 2018)

Available in: hardcover, Kindle

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

 

Ingenious.

Baby Monkey, Private Eye is meld of different children’s book genres, storytelling techniques, subtle clues, and pure genius.

The format blends picture book, beginning reader, and graphic novel in a chapter-by-chapter caper that follows what could be the cutest protagonist in children’s fiction—and yes, that’s saying a lot. Baby Monkey is a hilarious little imp that, in every chapter, solves a crime… but first he must negotiate difficult tasks such as putting on his pants.

With repetition, rhythm, surprise bumps in the story arc, and simple crimes/solutions, this book will give emerging reader that most precious of gifts: a love of the book format, and a love of watching a story develop, change from the expected, and find a satisfactory, complete denouement. The story is endearing, witty, and oddly engrossing for something so simple.

And then, there are the illustrations. Luscious, funny, smart, and charming, the unpretentious pencil drawings bring each page alive with empathy, pathos, and comedy. Each chapter also contains a beginning illustration that is brilliant: Baby Monkey is shown in his office, surrounded by items that relate to the coming crime. To wit, Chapter Two, which begins the Case of the Missing Pizza, shows Baby Monkey in his office reading a book titled Famous Pizza Crimes, while around the room are a map of Italy, a poster for “The Italian Job” film, a picture of a traditional Italian restaurant setting, a bust of Michelangelo’s David sculpture, and more. See? Ingenious.

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

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Hero Dog! Hilde Cracks the Case

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Hero Dog!: A Braches Book

(Hilde Cracks the Case #1)

By Hilde Lysiak with Matthew Lysiak, Illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff

  

Published by: Scholastic Inc. (September 12, 2017)

Available in: paperback, library binding, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review, there were four books in the Hilde Crack the Case series.

 

A natural.

Hero Dog! is the first book in a newer series featuring a crack reporter with the best kind of curious mind, a bent for sweets, and an animal lurking in the wings.

From a newly independent reader’s standpoint, this is a delicious caper. The action is fast, funny, and flushed out. There are maps, unique plot lines that cover unexpected components such as chickens, cupcake icing, and “mean-agers” (teenagers with rotten attitudes). And our hero, the inquiring, clever nine-year-old Hilde, is both likable and relatable.

For parents and teachers, there’s a whole lot more to this book than its cover. First, the authors are an interesting duo: the real-life young Hilde Lysiak and her journalist father. As a book reviewer, I get a lot of inquiries to review books by the young set, usually published by their parents. These books tend to be nice mementos of a child’s passion at a certain moment in time, but they also tend to be not ready for prime time. But this series is no juvenile effort—professionalism in every aspect rules the day, from story structure to art direction. For my taste, there’s a few too many exclamation marks, but that is an exuberance easily understood for readers at this age level.

The reporting side of the story adds a tone of expertise and education that is remarkable. Vocabulary words such as deadline, source, witness, and confirm are both explained and examined in action. Critical thinking and the dogged pursuit of facts are shown by example. The serious business of journalism, police work, pie baking, being a kid, acting with kindness, and recognizing the motivation for crime are examined.

Put it on the front page: this is a Pulitzer Prize-style winner for the chapter book set.

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

The Ember Stone: A Branches Book (The Last Firehawk #1)

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The Ember Stone:

A Branches Book (The Last Firehawk #1)

By Katrina Charman, Illustrated by Jeremy Norton 

 

Published by: Scholastic Inc. (September 26, 2017)

Available in: paperback, library binding, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review, there were four books in The Last Firehawk series.

 

Magical.

The Ember Stone, the first book in the captivating new The Last Firehawk fantasy series, is simply a stunner. The story embraces the big concepts of good versus evil, small versus big, fear versus courage… all the great, powerful themes that propel master works before it (more on those later). This exquisitely crafted book exhibits a maturity of prose, concept, and art direction while staying true to the chapter book concept: exactly where newly independent readers need it in vocabulary, topic, simplicity, art production, and excitement.

The story owes much to specific plot points, themes, and overarching concepts of both classic and contemporary seminal works: Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, and more. And yet, this is no copycat, mini-production for the young set. The protagonists are endearing, young animals of both the natural and imaginary worlds who are forthright, comic, courageous, and unique characters. The quest is evocative of historical themes, but quickly carves a path all its own. The lightning-fast pace, dramatic tension, inherent suspense, and page-turning joy propel this probably faster than young minds think they can read.

But perhaps the most immediately stunning aspect are the deft, intricate illustrations: these beauties glow off the page. The fact that they are black and white brings no diminishment to their sheer luminosity. The delight is that the illustrations are generous and consuming: they drape and envelope every page.

The end matter provides questions, much like those provided to literary novels for adult book clubs. And notably, the book has an environmental/healthy habitat subtext perfectly suited for young readers’ comprehension.

Is it too early to declare a masterpiece? Not here.

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

Captain Pug

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Captain Pug (The Adventures of Pug)

By Laura James, Illustrated by Eglantine Ceulemans

  

Published by: Bloomsbury USA Childrens (March 14, 2017)

Available in: paperback, hardcover, Kindle, Nook

At the time of this review, there were three books in The Adventures of Pug series.

 

Snort.

Captain Pug is a rollicking, drooling cruise for crumbs and other adventures. While at first glance it seems this is a book especially good for girls, by the end it shows itself quite a seaworthy vessel for boys, as well.

The text is short and easy, featuring playful romps through madcap scenes mostly from the point of view of our hero, the pug. Consider this a beginning chapter book for those kids just transitioning into independent reading. Also consider this a focused tutorial on the priorities of a pug—food driven at all times.

And yet, this is not a simple story of a dog yearning for treats. The plot is rich with original action and perfectly timed humor that make this more than a silly caper.  A keen use of stylized typeface to highlight important words also adds depth.

The contemporary tale is sweetly evocative of historic storybook fiction with the use of a regal miss, who at first seems bossy and peevish but proves herself a real plucky upstart. The appearance of royalty is not the only nod to books gone by—the illustrations echo two classic picture books, Madeleine and Eloise. The bouncy, free drawings propel the eye across the page with the same momentum crafted into the prose.  And like Eloise, the book uses restrained color, opting for a three-color process that is gay and bright without being overly designed. The whole package comes together in a marvelous frolic.

Kudos as well to illustrator Ceulemans, for capturing the perfect, romanticized depiction of the classic pug-sit pose.

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

Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker

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Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker

By Shelley Johannes

 

Published by: Disney-Hyperion (September 19, 2017)

Available in: Hardcover, Kindle, Nook

At the time of this review, this was a standalone book, but a series is planned.

 

“Look out, world… Beatrice is on the loose!”

Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker shows the upside of original thinking. This tumultuous, topsy-turvy chapter book heralds the arrival of an inventive, joyous new girl-centric series that so far is an upright delight. Book one in the series is new this fall.

The prose is poetic in both rhythm and, sometimes, rhyme, which lends a slight feeling of picture book as the story begins. As the text morphs into longer paragraphs and more complex subplots, the picture-book feeling fades, but not to the detriment of pacing. The characters evolve with subtle complexity, humor, and pathos. The story is a Ferris wheel ride: first jolting fun, then a larger world view, which turns into a stomach-dropping descent into the unknown, followed by a soft landing back at the beginning… only now tempered with a more layered, rich experience.

Halloween gets a quick spotlight in the beginning of the story, so this is a good choice for October reading.

This is the debut book for author Johannes, and kudos to her bold work. Within the confines of the chapter book format and basically one day at school, Beatrice experiences numerous important concepts. There’s friend trouble, girl-centric drama, sadness and surprise at relationship evolution, disappointment, and thrilling excitement. Where Beatrice shines is how she reacts to these challenges. She’s a girl who exhibits compromise, gumption, solid priorities, creative solutions, the foresight to fake it until she makes it, and the best pick-yourself-up-by-the-sock-puppet scene in the chapter book world.

When Beatrice’s older sister, Kate, tells her that their mother is sure to not let Beatrice wear her ninja suit to school because she looks like a criminal, Beatrice says, “No, I don’t… I look like me.” Just watch as young Beatrice uses stealth and cunning to steal her way into young readers’ hearts.

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

 

Secret Agents Jack & Max Stalwart: Book 1

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Secret Agents Jack and Max Stalwart: Book 1

The Battle for the Emerald Buddha: Thailand

By Elizabeth Singer Hunt, Illustrations by Brian Williamson

 

Published by: Weinstein Books (July 25, 2017)

Available in: paperback, Kindle, audible

At the time of this review there were two books in the Secret Agents Jack & Max Stalwart series. There are a number of related books in The Secret Agent Jack Stalwart series and The Secret Agent Training Manual series.

 

Power punch.

Secret Agents Jack & Max Stalwart is a new series that wastes no time pulling kids into an adrenaline-filled, contemporary, criminal-and-detective caper that is relevant, educational, and exhilarating. With art history, geography, and social studies throughout, it’s a bit like hiding vegetables in pizza—both parents and kids will be happy.

Author Singer Hunt has proven she knows the secret code to page-turning intrigue in children’s writing. Her previous series, with the older brother from this series as the protagonist, has an impressive sales history and was serialized by BBC Radio. The author keeps things simple while imbuing the text with current references and fast-paced action. Her characters use cool new accessories like a burner cell phone that can’t be traced by police and the grill a young criminal wears on his teeth. And yet, the prose is straightforward, with short sentences and relatively simple vocabulary.

The illustrations by Brian Williamson, unassuming black & white drawings, are edgy enough to be current and bring a clean, forward motion to the page.

I love that the boys, both good and bad, are powerful, independent, and free to make big mistakes and serious contributions. These kids are shown respect by the author. Exciting story components, like tigers, boat escapes, and subterfuge, keep the story moving with ingenuity and pace. In solving the crime, the protagonists show cleverness and daring (and a funny bit of comedy), but they’re also on a vacation with their parents. So although this particular story is unlike what most kids experience, it’s easy to see a connection with other nine- and 12-year-olds.

There are a number of terrific additional content pages, with a map, glossary, explanation of Thai facts, and more. A small gripe, I don’t like that they’re placed in the front of the book, which makes it feel crowded. Also, the typeface is a bit hard to read. But these are minor critiques in an otherwise excellent, daring-duo adventure sure to excite kids—especially boys—into the world of reading.

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

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.

 

Disguised.

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….