Harry Miller’s Run

Harry cover

Harry Miller’s Run

By David Almond, Illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino

 

Published by: Candlewick (February 7, 2017)

Available in: hardcover, paperback

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

 

Real.

Harry Miller’s Run is a tender, funny, quirky, exuberant chapter book with… no chapters. Particularly for American readers, the dialect-heavy text is a bit of a treasure hunt for meaning, but a hunt worth every effort. This book inhabits a kindness, whimsy, hard truth, and compassion rarely found in children’s books.

Harry is an old man, and the bulk of the story is his re-telling of an epic afternoon in his youth. “And it was a day of daftness and joy, and if we’d never started and we’d never kept on going, just think of what we’d missed,” he says. This is what I love about this book: things are hard, but the challenge is worth the lovely exhilaration of doing something incredible. Friendships are begun, kids make stupid mistakes but live with it, and exploration wins out over logic.

Harry’s young neighbor, 11-year-old Liam, doesn’t shy away from the fact of Harry’s age. Liam’s supremely youthful voice introduces us to Harry and his apartment with blunt truth. “It smells of old bloke in here. Suppose it’s bound to. Suppose he can’t help it. Suppose I’ll smell like old bloke myself one day. Pee and sweat and ancient clothes and dust. The sun shines through the window. Dust’s glittering and dancing in the shafts of light….”

Because the dialect can be difficult to understand, and because this book is a pocket of surprise adults will love as well, it’s a good idea for children to read this aloud with a parent or other adult. That way, lines that are hard can be dissected together, such as, “’But we’re half knackered already’, sez Stanley. ‘By the time we run aal the way back again we’ll be bliddy deed.’” As you can see, spelling is anywhere near the norm in this book, and the manner of speech is definitely affected.

The illustrations are a loose, giddy romp that perfectly suit the depth and humor of the text. Especially appreciated are the publisher’s notes on the media used: watercolor, gouache, pencil, and ink.

Harry is a lovable curmudgeon who has much to give young readers. As he says, “Me great achievement is that I’ve been happy, that I’ve never been nowt but happy.”

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….

Looniverse

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Looniverse #2 Meltdown Madness

By David Lubar, Illustrated by Matt Loveridge

 

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

Available in: paperback, library binding, Kindle, NOOK

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

 

 

Comfortable.

Looniverse #2 Meltdown Madness is a book kids will get. There’s a fund raising event where the kids have to sell chocolate or wrapping paper. There’s a magic coin. There’s comedy, like three pigs showing up in the kitchen. Illustrations are current and well-done and big typeface highlights words like “Zoom! Boom!”

So the book is a comfortable place for newly independent readers to land. Even though kids might not know exactly where this story is going, they will almost immediately know that they can handle both the reading challenge and the words on the page. That’s not a bad thing.

Do I love that this book, part of the excellent and well-designed Branches line of chapter books, is a bit of a slacker in the originality department? Maybe not so much. Especially when it comes to the protagonist’s bland personality, I wish the character and story had more of a unique feel. But I do appreciate that these are books targeted to boys, they are very well done and they give young readers yet more good, contemporary books to read in this genre. That’s not a small feat.

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

Animal Superstars

cover animal ss

National Geographic Kids Chapters: Animal Superstars:

And More True Stories of Amazing Animal Talents (NGK Chapters)

By Aline Alexander Newman

 

Published by: National Geographic Children’s Books (February 12, 2013)

Available in: paperback, library binding, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review there were 15 books in the National Geographic Kids Chapters series.

 

 

Endearing.

National Geographic Kids Chapters: Animal Superstars is a non-fiction chapter book that perfectly blends story, action, facts and emotion. Individual stories spotlight diverse histories and talents, but each portrait has real muscle and heart.

The book is composed of three parts, each focused on a different animal: a motocross-loving dog, a brain-damaged but sweet groundhog and a guitar-playing cat. Each animal’s section is divided into easily handled small chapters, as well as fun facts, training tips and excellent photographs.

Writer Newman adeptly milks those elements that kids will most identify with: the zest of speeding along on a motorcycle, the joys of friendship, the tenderness of helping an animal in need, the acceptance of disability, the appreciation of an opinionated cat and the goofiness of animals doing tricks. Tough vocabulary words are sounded out, and sentences are kept short and on point. It’s a quick but engrossing read.

Because each animal’s story stands alone, this is an excellent choice for spring break or summer reading. A child could put the book down between sections, and it wouldn’t disrupt the pleasure of reading each story.  And when your child puts the book down, you might just find yourself picking it up for a quick smile.

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

 

Pony Pals

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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….

G.G. Rock Climbs

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G.G. ROCK CLIMBS (The G.G. Series, Book #2)

By Marty Mokler Banks, Photo Illustrations by Alisa Mokler Harper

 

Published by: Switch Monkey Press (September 14, 2014)

Available in: paperback, Kindle

At the time of this review there were two books in The G.G. Series.

 

Sports rock.

It seems almost ridiculous but, for chapter books, there are very few sports-dedicated books. In a search of books in this blog over the past 13 months, only five books comprise the “includes sports” category. “Good books for girls” has 31.

G.G. Rock Climbs and the first book in The G.G. Series, G.G. Snowboards, explore the non-traditional sports most kids don’t get to try. Through the experience of an inner city, Hispanic, spunky, eight-year-old girl, the reader lives the joys of trying, the pain of failing, the empowerment of perseverance and the pride of accomplishing something that seemed impossible.

The G.G. Series chapter books are designed to make newly independent readers comfortable and engaged in text longer than early readers or picture books. But The G.G. Series also is about exposing kids to sports they might not think they can do. It’s about kids seeing themselves as athletes. And it’s about feeling healthy and into physical strength as much as mental strength.

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

Of course it must be mentioned that I am the author of The G.G. Series books. Full disclosure and all that.

 

Year One Re-Post #4: The Lion Who Stole My Arm

Originally published in March 2014. This is, hands down, my favorite book of the year.

lion cover

THE LION WHO STOLE MY ARM

By Nicola Davies, Illustrated by Annabel Wright

 

Published by: Candlewick (February 25, 2014)

Available in: paperback, hardcover, Kindle, NOOK

 

Evocative.

Newly released The Lion Who Stole My Arm is an exquisite journey into the culture and community of a small African village.  It’s also a taut drama of survival and a moving, authentic emotional transformation.

And yet zoologist and children’s writer Nicola Davies keeps this smart and clever tale perfectly tuned to the newly independent reader. The simple sentence structure and mostly easy language is scaled just right. When new vocabulary or science terms are introduced, they are either defined at the end of a chapter or are made clear through usage. Given the bold, photography-based cover and broad marketing, it seems the publisher is steering clear of marking this a chapter book, even while it easily fits the criteria. This is not a surprise; the book could easily be considered a middle grade crossover. I’ve even recommended this book to adults—it’s that good.

The science aspect is no small matter that adds a third dimension. The issues of animal habitat/behavior and human encroachment/survival are given fair, equal treatment. Both kids and adults will find the research and use of tracking tools intriguing and cool. The thoughtful explanation of the food chain fits naturally into the story.

I’d say boys in particular will like this book because the protagonist is a young boy, and of course there is the infamous lion. And yet girls will eat this up as well… arms and all.

Annabel Wright’s black and white watercolors add to the exotic authenticity with a quirky, old-school feel. Spare and lovely, they invite the reader to imagine what is not shown: the wide African sky above, and the thick bush just beyond the picture. Her unique perspective also adds a sense of personality, space and importance.

This book is a gift to young readers entering the world of literacy. It is human and wild, exotic and accessible, and is imbued with an emotional heft that lands with a soft touch. The Lion Who Stole My Arm is a masterwork of what contemporary chapter books can achieve. Bravo, Ms. Davies. Bravo.

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

Year One Re-Post #2: Calvin Coconut

Originally published in April 2014. Calvin was one of my favorite finds this year, both because of his Hawaiian location and utter boy-ness. I kind of love Calvin.

 

 

calvin coconut cover

CALVIN COCONUT: MAN TRIP

By Graham Salisbury, Illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers

 

Published by: Yearling (January 8, 2013)

Available in: paperback, hardcover, Kindle, NOOK

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

 

Island time.

The Calvin Coconut series has a lot going for it. The boy protagonist is a cool kid—not too smart, a little lazy, kind of funny and nice when needed. He frets over the annoying girl who sits next to him at school and avoids chores. He’s a boy other boys can identify with, which in chapter books is golden.

The family dynamics also make these books feel authentic and contemporary—a single mom with a no-nonsense but generous boyfriend, a younger sister and a teen who lives in the house who is not biological family. It’s the kind of family structure that so many kids know as reality.  Seeing that in print makes kids feel validated in their world.

And Jacqueline Rogers’ illustrations are loose and breezy, which fit both the action and locale perfectly.

All those are important. But what Calvin Coconut has that sets it apart is a deep, genuine feel for the setting in Hawaii.  This is not tourist-poster Hawaii of Waikiki, bikinis and massive waves. This is slippers and bufos, shave ice and slang like “ho” used as a general greeting, saying or agreement.  This is recognition of the hills and valleys that make up the islands’ interiors, waterfalls that go up, hurricanes and rain that ruin plans, and the great moonscape that is the Kona Coast on the Big Island.

Calvin’s world is both exotic because of the island setting, and yet easy to dip into. It feels livable, believable and just different enough to be really interesting. Refreshing.

Calvin Coconut: Man Trip can be forgiven a slow start as it progresses into one of the coolest of chapter book activities to date: deep-sea fishing. It’s also sweet that Calvin’s mom’s boyfriend is the instigator of this day trip. Other books in the series focus often on animals, including Calvin Coconut: Dog Heaven and Calvin Coconut: Zoo Breath.

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

Calvin Coconut’s Hawaii

 

calvin coconut cover

 

CALVIN COCONUT: MAN TRIP

By Graham Salisbury, Illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers

 

Published by: Yearling (January 8, 2013)

Available in: paperback, hardcover, Kindle, NOOK

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

 

Island time.

The Calvin Coconut series has a lot going for it. The boy protagonist is a cool kid—not too smart, a little lazy, kind of funny and nice when needed. He frets over the annoying girl who sits next to him at school and avoids chores. He’s a boy other boys can identify with, which in chapter books is golden.

The family dynamics also make these books feel authentic and contemporary—a single mom with a no-nonsense but generous boyfriend, a younger sister and a teen who lives in the house who is not biological family. It’s the kind of family structure that so many kids know as reality.  Seeing that in print makes kids feel validated in their world.

And Jacqueline Rogers’ illustrations are loose and breezy, which fit both the action and locale perfectly.

All those are important. But what Calvin Coconut has that sets it apart is a deep, genuine feel for the setting in Hawaii.  This is not tourist-poster Hawaii of Waikiki, bikinis and massive waves. This is slippers and bufos, shave ice and slang like “ho” used as a general greeting, saying or agreement.  This is recognition of the hills and valleys that make up the islands’ interiors, waterfalls that go up, hurricanes and rain that ruin plans, and the great moonscape that is the Kona Coast on the Big Island.

Calvin’s world is both exotic because of the island setting, and yet easy to dip into. It feels livable, believable and just different enough to be really interesting. Refreshing.

Calvin Coconut: Man Trip can be forgiven a slow start as it progresses into one of the coolest of chapter book activities to date: deep-sea fishing. It’s also sweet that Calvin’s mom’s boyfriend is the instigator of this day trip. Other books in the series focus often on animals, including Calvin Coconut: Dog Heaven and Calvin Coconut: Zoo Breath.

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

Bailey School Kids

dracula cover

DRACULA DOESN’T PLAY KICKBALL (THE ADVENTURES OF THE BAILEY SCHOOL KIDS, #48)

By Debbie Dadey and Marcia T. Jones, Illustrated by John Steven Gurney

 

Published by: Scholastic Paperbacks (June 1, 2004)

Available in: paperback

At the time of this review there were 51 books in The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids series.

 

Kids love consistency.

Especially when they are just becoming independent readers, kids love a series. They love to spend time with the same characters, go to the same place and know that something interesting will happen. They might not know what will happen, but the fact that the framework stays the same is comforting and friendly.

The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids is a hugely successful series that gives kids that framework. The same four friends, two girls and two boys, guide readers through each book. They bicker and play jokes, say stupid stuff and act silly. They also run into someone who might or might not be from the mythical world. There is a mystery incident or question that the four friends try to figure out. It’s an easy, fast read shared with known friends in a safe (aside from that mythical character) environment. It’s a good place for kids to feel comfortable in their new-found literacy.

Dracula Doesn’t Play Kickball is just one of the many, many books in this series. Others include characters such as a wolfman, mermaid, swamp monster, gremlin, pirate and more. In addition, there is a prequel series, holiday specials, joke books and more. For kids who get hooked, they will probably grow out of the series before they run out of books to read.

Is the writing stellar or fresh? Are the illustrations exciting? Is there anything truly exceptional going on? Not really. But perhaps, at this stage in reading, this enough. Certainly many series don’t pan out, and the fact that the Bailey School Kids are alive and well makes them reliable friends. And anyone—young readers included—can never have too many friends.

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