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….


Rainbow Magic Fairies



By Daisy Meadows, Illustrated by Georgie Ripper


Published by: Scholastic Paperbacks; Reprint edition (June 25, 2013)

Available in: paperback, library binding, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review there were more than 100 books in the Rainbow Magic series and special editions.


Spun Sugar.

The Rainbow Magic series of chapter books are a sweet confection that cater to the young girl who is a voracious reader. There’s glitter and magic and escapism. It’s all a sweet and light adventure.

This mammoth series (more than 100 books) comes with certain comforts, such as Kirsty and Rachel, young girls who are the guides into each tale. Similar to the Magic Tree House series, each book carries a thread of magic forward from previous books, although one can jump in anywhere and not be lost. Each book offers and delivers the same thing: a map to start, a poem, the two main girls, a dependable fairy to appear at just the right time, magic that transforms the girls into fairy size with wings, and a puzzle to help solve. Within the overall framework are specific types of fairies and their stories, such as Ocean Fairies, Pet Fairies, Fashion Fairies, Jewel Fairies and more.

Much like the Bailey School Kids books, this series is not intended to be great literature. This is most definitely about quantity of books rather than quality; about a concept that a big publisher found works and pushes to the extreme; and about giving girly-girls A LOT to read. Those kids who look for more than cotton candy in their reading material won’t be die-hard fans. But for those who can never get enough to read, this is equivalent to a never-ending lollipop of girlish froth.

And, much like the nostalgic series Nancy Drew, the Rainbow Magic series are written by a team of authors who work under the pseudonym of Daisy Meadows (but you knew that wasn’t a real name–right?). Four authors identified as the writers are Narinder Dhami, Sue Bentley, Linda Chapman and Sue Mongredien.

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

Magic Kitten


By Sue Bentley, Illustrated by Angela Swan, Andrew Farley

Published by: Grosset & Dunlap (September 11, 2008)

Available in: paperback, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review, there were 11 books in Magic Kitten series.

The cover for A Christmas Surprise is so cheesy, I almost didn’t read it. I’m so glad I did.

The story leaps into the world of fantasy in the prologue. Then in chapter one, the true story starts, and it zooms through a glittery, fantasy adventure grounded in the modern Christmas season. This would be a terrific way for a young girl to spend an afternoon on her holiday break. And although the prologue is a tad confusing, the rest is an easy romp guided by–what else–the cutest white kitten in town.

The Magic Kitten series is a good draw for the older chapter-book girl: say third and fourth grade. It’s not inappropriate for younger kids, but the vocabulary and sentence structure lean older, and in  A Christmas Surprise, there’s some very middle school-esque, mean-girl bullying.

Grandma also turns out to be an easy character to dislike, but this isn’t a drawback. For one thing, she redeems herself nicely. But no matter what our age, family time can be difficult, and families in close quarters during the holidays can be both a curse and a blessing. It’s nice to see this validated in young fiction.

And while the cover looks like something you’d find in a Walmart discount bin, the interior illustrations are simple but charming. Can you say, “Stocking stuffer?”

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

Old School Nancy Drew


By Carolyn Keene, Illustrated by Macky Pamintuan


Published by: Aladdin; Original edition (September 9, 2008)

Available in: paperback, library binding, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review, there were 37 books in the Nancy Drew Clue Crew series, with many set to launch in 2014.


Thanksgiving Thief is a bit of a curiosity.

The Nancy Drew Clue Crew contemporary chapter book series is, of course, based on the original Nancy Drew brand, which first appeared in the 1930s. In this retrofit, nostalgia plays hard into the ambiance of the book, just as it must drive sales. And while Carolyn Keene has always been the author’s name associated with Nancy Drew, even the originals were produced by ghost writers who appear under the Keene pseudonym.

So there’s all this history lurking in the corner of this series. Which to the young reader probably means nothing, other than the text and illustrations do seem old school, but not in a good way. This book, unfortunately, feels stale, a bit left behind and not terribly exciting.

At the same time, there are some aspects worthy of note. For one thing, this book is an intriguing mystery, which can be a timeless draw. Thanksgiving Thief has a particularly fun, holiday-themed solution that is both novel and on topic.

There’s also a small focus on Native American culture, presented by a Native American character. That’s both appropriate and a nice surprise since Native Americans don’t often make appearances in children’s literature.

And finally, the plot solution shows the consequences of urban development—specifically, how wildlife is affected by suburban encroachment on their habitat. It’s a nicely illustrated lesson with a clear A + B = C flow.

But the children don’t really have the dialogue patterns most children do now, and the vocabulary is a steep climb for a traditional chapter book crowd, which is around second grade. Also, the characters are so good and earnest it’s hard to envision them as real kids. For instance, one character leaves at the first really exciting moment because she promised her mom she’d clean her room. What?

The illustrations are obviously stylized clip art, which gets the job done without offending anyone, but is not very clever or original.

I see a clear audience for these books: older girls (say third to sixth grade) who are perhaps quiet, avid readers and don’t demand much in their books. As much as it makes me happy to provide any kid with books they like to read, this also makes me a little sad. Is this old-fashioned brand the best we can do for these girls?

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