Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker

beatrice cover

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….

 

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SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES

Fright Month Post #5: Let’s Get Scared!

In October, we’ll review books and series that ooze with delicious creepy crawlies, heebie geebies and chilly willies.

 

spiderwick cover

  

THE FIELD GUIDE (THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES, BOOK 1)

By Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi

 

Published by: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers; 1st edition (May 1, 2003)

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

At the time of this review there were five books in the Spiderwick Chronicles series and numerous other off shoots, including picture book, a second series, a feature film and more.

 

 

“Click, clack, watch your back.”

The Field Guide (The Spiderwick Chronicles, Book 1) is a masterpiece of writing, illustration, art direction and production. It captures the magic of books, taps into the imagination of childhood and harnesses the whims of the commercial market. It is sublime.

Much has been made of this series’ similarity to Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. This is an obvious comparison on many levels, from size of book to Gothic backdrop. But The Spiderwick Chronicles carries a more complex flavoring of the classics, and then layers those influences with contemporary ingenuity.

There are hints of Tolkien and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Old world charm is imbued in the pen and ink illustrations, setting and chapter titles (i.e., Chapter Six: In Which They Find Unexpected Things in the Icebox). Ancient mythological creatures slink through the walls and across the kitchen floor.

Meanwhile, the authors’ fresh dialogue and plot points render this story utterly Now. The family fights through the grief of divorce with short tempers, ruthless fencing and, most important to this story, a new home… a ramshackle Victorian that is the keeper of secrets, the home of faeries and the place of strange occurrences.

The main character, nine-year-old Jared, is a sweetie who is that crestfallen personality: always blamed, never believed and always in trouble. Of course he’s just angry and misunderstood. Meanwhile, his sister’s hair is mysteriously tied to her bed in the dark of night, his brother’s tadpoles are frozen into ice cubes and things that go bump in the night abound.

This creepy, scary, gorgeous story is not only a perfect read for Fright Month, it’s perfect anytime.

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

 

Eerie Elementary

Fright Month Post #4: Let’s Get Scared!

In October, we’ll review books and series that ooze with delicious creepy crawlies, heebie geebies and chilly willies.

 errie elem cover

EERIE ELEMENTARY #1: THE SCHOOL IS ALIVE! (A BRANCHES BOOK)

By Jack Chabert, Illustrated by Sam Ricks

 

Published by: Scholastic Inc. (June 24, 2014)

Available in: paperback, hardcover, Kindle, NOOK

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

 

Safe thrills.

Eerie Elementary #1: The School is Alive! launches young readers into the scary story genre without being too scary. As alarming, truly frightening things happen, the copious, lively, cartoonish illustrations balance the fear with real humor. For the impressionable young, it’s a masterful mix of emotion, visuals and manageable text.

eerie elem ills 1The writing makes this a standout for the newly independent reader. Sentence structure is spare, with only four to seven words common. And yet the action is quick and inventive. And while the plots jets along, author Chabert employs a descriptive style often lacking in chapter books. We really see and feel the environment and sense of the sinister backdrop.

The book also blooms from simple, school-centered action to a classic hero in an epic struggle. Our young protagonist Sam saves the day, to the reader’s delight. eerie elem ills 2

Ricks’ illustrations are equally evocative, but with a comic twist. One truly haunting black and white illustration shows a tree branch silhouette that looks like a hand capable of reaching into the classroom. And yet the branches seem to curve and dance in the wind, making it appear just this side of frightening. A few pages later, a truly comic drawing has our hero riding a fire hose in what would otherwise be a grade A horror scene. Genius.

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

 

LEGEND OF HALLOWEEN

Fright Month Post #3: Let’s Get Scared!

In October, we’ll review books and series that ooze with delicious creepy crawlies, heebie geebies and chilly willies.

 sebella cover

THE MAGICAL WORLD OF SEBELLA: LEGEND OF HALLOWEEN

By Thea Berg

 

Published by: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (June 14, 2014)

Available in: paperback, Kindle

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

 

Sweet and tart.

The Magical World of Sebella: Legend of Halloween lets kids devour a Halloween sugar high without the risk of cavities. A quick-paced, magical tale probably best for girls who are voracious readers, this story glories in the sweetest holiday of the year.

The story begins 24 hours before the Trick or Treat hour and is all about delicious anticipation. As one would hope, it’s filled with scary creatures like trolls and grandma-snatching werewolves, fantastic locations like a Twin Candies magical garden, and a suspenseful plot that keeps readers engaged to the end. The threat of Halloween not happening hangs over the action, and that is a powerful tool indeed.

There are some sharp bites to this candy-coated tale. The writing sometimes lacks subtlety and finesse, such as when fun names are followed by explanations like “…that really is his name.” But the biggest problem is that this book is entirely without illustrations, other than the excellent cover. One of the difficulties of self-publishing chapter books is coming up with both text and illustrations, so the absence is understood—but sorely missed.

The book ends with an entertaining reader questionnaire, so those who’ve eaten up the text will enjoy testing themselves on facts. For those who delight in Halloween, this could be a good appetizer for the big event.

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

HOME SWEET HORROR (SCARY TALES)

Fright Month Post #2: Let’s Get Scared!

In October, we’ll review books and series that ooze with delicious creepy crawlies, heebie geebies and chilly willies.

 ScaryTales Cover

HOME SWEET HORROR (SCARY TALES)

By James Preller, Illustrated by Iacopo Bruno

 

Published by: Feiwel & Friends (July 9, 2013)

Available in: paperback, hardcover, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review there were five books in the Scary Tales series.

 

 

“… a zipper of fear….”

Home Sweet Horror (Scary Tales) is the ultimate spine-tingling ghost story. The well-deserved 2013 Cybils winner for early chapter books*, this is a dark, scary tale from calm beginning to incendiary, bone-chilling conclusion.

Writer Preller employs a mature voice that respects kids’ intelligence. There is no doubt that these kids and this family are real, from dialect to sibling rivalry to compassionate yet grief-stricken father. This tethers the story to the believable.

And yet all the fantastic, horror elements exist. A moan. Doors that slam by themselves. A bang, creak and screech. A muffled voice. A basement with a single, dim bulb hanging off a dangling wire. An absolutely petrifying, terrorizing ghost character.

Artist Bruno’s spooky illustrations enhance the feel and mood with dark drawings in the wood block style. Deep and frightening, the illustrations are perfectly matched with the text and genre. Combine this excellent pairing with pages that are mottled gray and cobweb-strewn, even when no formal illustrations are present, and you have one of the best chapter books around.

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

 

A note on this award. The Cybils (Children and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards) have defined categories. For chapter books, “early chapter books” is the only category available. Home Sweet Horror (Scary Tales) is most definitely not an early chapter book. In fact, I’d say it skews to the upper range of chapter books with language, story structure and fright level. I can only assume the Cybils crew views chapter books and middle grade as similar books. And thus the “early” definition implies not middle grade. Yet again, the confusion between middle grade and chapter books continues….

THE NOTEBOOK OF DOOM

Fright Month Post #1: Let’s Get Scared!

In October, we’ll review books and series that ooze with delicious creepy crawlies, heebie geebies and chilly willies.

 notebookCover

THE NOTEBOOK OF DOOM #1: RISE OF THE BALLOON GOONS

By Troy Cummings

 

Published by: Scholastic Inc. (June 25, 2013)

Available in: paperback, library binding, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review there were five books in The Notebook of Doom series.

 

BalloonGoonsCover Creepy.

The Notebook of Doom #1: Rise of the Balloon Goons is creepy right from the start. Page one talks  about “squishy guts” and “googly eyes.” It’s a delightful shock that hooks the reader with eerie glee. Both comic and frightening, this story rolls to a pressurized climax that is sure to keep new readers both enthralled and on the edge of the couch.

This series is part of Scholastic’s excellent chapter book line, Branches, many of which highlight extremely talented author/illustrators. The Notebook of Doom’s creator, Troy Cummings, shows laser insight into what gets kids interested both in words and visuals. The illustrations, which are liberally splattered on every page, are positively athletic in their flexibility. In some scenes, the black and white drawings are ghostly pale and spooky. And then, BAM!, just at the right time and with spot-on tone, the illustrations are in-your-face funny. Sometimes reminiscent of retro, stop-motion animation, the art hits just the right note of classic scary and graphic-novel, slap-dash humor.

It’s interesting to me that Alexander Bopp, our endearing protagonist, bears some resemblance to another chapter book character, Alvin Ho. Both are young men who are afraid and like lists. I like the comparison and the story structure for both series.

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

Year One Re-Post #9: Heidi Heckelbeck Has a Secret

Originally published in October 2013. I find Heidi one of the freshest new characters in the chapter book world.

heidi cover

HEIDI HECKELBECK HAS A SECRET

By Wanda Coven, Illustrated by Priscilla Burris

Published by: Little Simon (January 3, 2012)

Available in: paperback, library binding, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review, there were 10 books in the Heidi Heckelbeck series.

Heidi Heckelbeck is magic. But don’t tell your little reader—the big reveal is in the last line of the first book in the series.

In fact, the whole of Heidi Heckelbeck Has a Secret leads up to a denouement in the second book, Heidi Heckelbeck Casts a Spell. See the utter genius of the marketing plan? Rather than make a chapter book that is too big, this series runs like separate parts of the same story. Yes, each piece is complete unto itself. But if a kid is hooked, she WILL NOT stop at one book.

It’s almost kind of cruel, isn’t it? Much how we all had to wait for each Harry Potter installment, Heidi Heckelbeck’s story is filled with unrequited expectation. Ah, but the anticipation is half the joy, and I give only kudos to the author for this inspired, pint-size version of the magical, multi-book saga.

The text, done with refreshingly contemporary language, is a very easy read. There is absolutely no mistaking Heidi’s world for those classic chapter books of another decade. Add in the zingy, silly illustrations that dot almost every page, and even very reluctant readers will find a way through each page… and then the next… and then the next book.

Also, props go to the interesting idea that Heidi is a previous homeschool kid who now has to integrate into real school. Unique, and filled with the drama you’d expect. All those tough transitions place Heidi squarely in the real world, with problems any kid can recognize. From bullies to clueless teachers, Heidi has some difficult stuff to work through, which she does with grace… once she makes a few haunting mistakes.

As a note, this is listed as a Halloween book, which it technically is not. But the Halloween overtones and references abound, so if a kid is into that theme, Heidi delivers quite the treat. And she’s got some tricks up her sleeve to boot.

Now that’s a sweet haul for any day of the year.

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