Marty Frye, Private Eye

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Marty Frye, Private Eye:

The Case of the Missing Action Figure

By Janet Tashjian, Illustrated by Laurie Keller

 

Published by: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR); Revised edition (June 27, 2017)

Available in: hardcover, paperback

At the time of this review, there were two books in the Marty Frye, Private Eye series.

 

Poetic.

Marty Frye, Private Eye: The Case of the Missing Action Figure follows an inquisitive kid who likes to rhyme while he solves crime. His quirky, simple, and rhythmic adventures are endearing and sweet, and just right for the early chapter book reader.

The book’s art direction aids the newly independent reader with text that is bold and big, and bubble quotes interspersed within the prose (especially when our protagonist is rhyming). Combined with quirky, loose illustrations that echo comics, the look is friendly and jovial. The text, also, is early-reader friendly, with very short sentences and frequent breaks, both for three major sections and chapter breaks within these sections.

What makes the book bop along, though, is our hero, Marty. He’s interested and smart, but not a prodigy. He’s a normal kid with curiosity, a love of language, and eyes firmly on the world around him. The cases he solves are nothing crazy or life-threatening, just stuff in a kid’s world: a lost diary, and missing toys and art supplies. And, charmingly, he makes mistakes (“Give me a break. I made a mistake.”)

This is just the right mix of tension, humor, and easy reading that will entice young minds to follow along. Who can resist a kid whose motto is, “Give me the facts so I can follow the tracks.”

Lead on, young sir.

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

 

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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

captain pug cover

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….

 

Lola Levine: Drama Queen

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Lola Levine: Drama Queen

By Monica Brown, Illustrated by Angela Dominguez

 

Published by: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (January 5, 2016)

Available in: hardcover, paperback, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review, there were three books in the Lola Levine Series.

 

 

A natural act.

Lola Levine: Drama Queen melds an outsize personality, acting lessons, and an easy cultural mix into one smooth play.

Our protagonist, the effervescent Lola, is precocious without being snarky. She’s kind and brave, even when she fails. She’s a witty thinker, which is a joy to read, and her family is quirky enough to be interesting and solid enough to be comfortable. They love each other, even when it’s hard. This little girl stands out in the chapter book crowd from sheer force of personality (and, maybe, volume of voice).

The book easily integrates cultures (in this case, both Jewish and Latino), something done too rarely in chapter books. We see this in the references to food and heroes (e.g., Dolores Huerta, farm activist), as well as in the inventive use of the epistolary format. Lola both writes letters—real letters, not texts or emails—to her bubbe in Florida, as well as keeps a diary. Each diary entry begins with “Dear Diario,” and ends with “Shalom.”

There is fun, smart wordplay used throughout the book. Classic growing-up moments are introduced with precise timing and subtle context within the story (think bubble gum, hair, and scissors). And acting lessons, such as improvisation games and role playing, are introduced in ways that let Lola’s personality shine.

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….

 

 

Pugs of the Frozen North (A Not-So-Impossible Tale)

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Pugs of the Frozen North (A Not-So-Impossible Tale)

By Philip Reeve, Illustrated by Sarah McIntyre

 

Published by: Random House Books for Young Readers (January 26, 2016)

Available in: hardcover, paperback, audiobook, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review were four books in the Not-So-Impossible Tale books.

 

Outlandish.

Pugs of the Frozen North is funny, oddball, and vaudevillian, with nods to mythic folk stories, dreaded urban myths, true history, and made-up creations. It’s a hoot.

First, though, parents and teachers should take note that this is closer to a middle school novel than an easy reader.  This would be just about hitting the edge of something that could be considered a chapter book. The hardback length is more than 200 pages, and the typeface is not large. But, there is a lot of white space, illustrations are on every page, and the wild escapade will appeal both to younger readers with strong reading skills and older, reluctant readers who don’t want to be stuck with babyish books.

The story starts out with some real gut-wrenching moments, framed in comedy, wherein the protagonist is left behind in the Arctic with 66 pugs destined to be used as a new ingredient in hot pies. It can be a bit jarring. But after the story starts rolling, distressing elements give way to noodle bars, a benevolent Santa Clausesque “Snowfather,” and an epic dog race.  While hard to describe in a short fashion, the story is long on ingenuity and jovial amusement.

The illustrations are quirky and a delight, and echo the Northern style of Jan Brett’s picture books.

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