Sparkling Jewel: A Branches Book (Silver Pony Ranch #1)

sparkling-jewel-cover

Sparkling Jewel: A Branches Book (Silver Pony Ranch #1)

By D. L. Green, Illustrated by Emily Wallis

 

Published by: Scholastic Inc. (August 25, 2015)

Available in: hardcover, paperback, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review there were two books in the Silver Pony Ranch series.

 

 

Exciting!

Sparkling Jewel: Silver Pony Ranch Book #1 is an updated, modern take on the classic girls-love-horses genre.  And for those girls who do, this is an excellent early chapter book series.

The text is simple, with short sentences and easy vocabulary. There is a good amount of girl drama, usually ended with an exclamation mark. So although adults might cringe just slightly, young girls will likely eat it up. But not to fear, it’s not dumbed down: peppered throughout are call-out illustrations with tough or horse-centered words that would otherwise be hard for a beginning reader. Words like “currycomb,” “bridle”, and “reins.”

The story, as well, is simple, but it trots along quickly. We see sibling rivalry, examples of bad mistakes in dealing with animals, and a pleasant resolution. Particularly notable is the Grandma character, who is a Wellington boot-wearing, no-nonsense charmer. Sometimes grandparents are made too old or too old school in chapter books, mere outdated caricatures. But in this series, Grandma is an independent, 50-something, cut-to-the-chase rancher. She snores, has bad breath, and calls it like she sees it. You can’t help but respect and like her.

The real jewel here, though, are the illustrations. The black-and-white line drawings are spare but complete. Especially appreciated are all the contemporary details in clothing, cars, ranch tools, and tack.

As with all in the Branches line of chapter books, the production quality of this series is excellent. So although it is a simple, new take on an old tune, it is worthy nonetheless.

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

 

Princess Pink and the Land of Fake-Believe

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 The Three Little Pugs: A Branches Book (Princess Pink and the Land of Fake-Believe #3)

 By Noah Z. Jones

 

Published by: Scholastic Inc. (August 25, 2015)

Available in: paperback, library binding, Kindle, NOOK

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

 

Ya gotta love a pun.

The Three Little Pugs of the Princess Pink and the Land of Fake-Believe series is a rolling, exuberant, crazy mash-up of puns. And just as the words jump off the page, so do the illustrations. With more of an expanded comic book feel—but not quite graphic novel feel—this book screams fun.

It all starts with surprise. Princess Pink is serious tom boy-type who’s stuck with the girly name. Her freewheeling imagination has come up with a secret: a land of fake-believe hidden in her family’s fridge. When the family is asleep, our offbeat hero stomps into a much more colorful world, populated by characters that are takeoffs on traditional fairy tale characters.

But traditional they are not. The Big Bad Wolf is a scaredy pants. The industrious three pigs are conniving pugs. And so it goes. It’s no surprise that author/illustrator Noah Z. Jones also has experience as an animator, because this book has a jolly verve that feels like a Saturday morning cartoon.

The series, part of the excellent Branches line of chapter books, is not necessarily the easiest vocabulary, but spontaneous pages, quick jokes and amusing puns make it an easy read, even for those kids who might struggle with a word or two. For instance, this sentence might challenge some young readers: “Then Moldylocks had a crazy-cakes idea.” I’d venture a guess that almost no kid could stop before finding out what that crazy-cakes idea is. It’s just too fun.

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

 

Lulu and the Brontosaurus

By Judith Viorst, Illustrated by Lane Smith

 lulu cover

Published by: Atheneum Books for Young Readers; 1 edition (September 14, 2010)

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

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

 

Bold and smart.

Lulu and the Brontosaurus is a fresh, quirky, lively take on classic children’s story standards, done with unerring wit and skill by the great Judith Viorst.

Author of the iconic picture book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Viorst turns here to the chapter book format with a unique perspective. Told in third person, the unnamed narrator is quite visible in comic asides, quick descriptions and notable opinions (“…nobody knows how dinosaurs sound, but in my story they rumble….). This unusual approach is so different from most chapter books, which tend to be first person or straight third person, that this alone is an amusing twist.

But that’s only the start. The book stars, yes stars is definitely Lulu’s style, a bratty girl who has attitude and force. In other series, this can be annoying. But Viorst’s writing is so adept and comic, Lulu is nothing if not charming and entertaining. Her outbursts are so outlandish, so out of whack, there is no doubt this is fiction. The drama ante is upped, and upped again, with clever flair. The sheer boldness and precision of Viorst’s writing is truly inspriational. And parents have no fear: Lulu’s character arc ends in redemption and self-awareness.

From story plot and execution to exquisite illustrations by the talented Lane Smith, Lulu is reminiscent of other great titles in kids lit: Where the Wild Things Are, My Father’s Dragon, Grimm’s Fairy Tales and even the movie “Beetlejuice.” It’s quite a delight, wrapped in a fun size package of long, thin dimensions. Much like a brontosaurus’s neck, you see.

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

 

Missy’s Super Duper Royal Deluxe

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Missy’s Super Duper Royal Deluxe #1: Picture Day

By Susan Nees

 

Published by: Scholastic Inc. (April 30, 2013)

Available in: hardcover, paperback, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review there were four books in the Missy’s Super Duper Royal Deluxe series.

 

Super!

Missy’s Super Duper Royal Deluxe #1: Picture Day leaps off the page with zest and abundant personality. Although so short and brief in text that I hesitated to lump it with chapter books, this series has too much life to be held to early readers.

Missy leads this romp from chapter one. When the text is less challenging, the lively illustrations fill in with colorful wit that leave no doubt: this little girl is ready to take the world by storm. I love that she’s assertive without being snarky. I love that she’s energetic and unapologetic and sincerely her own person. Indeed, Missy will be loved—she just won’t have it any other way.

Young girl readers will appreciate how author/illustrator Nees both keeps Missy alight with humor and verve, and yet grounded in a very specific, real world. There is a messy room, kitty litter to attend to, moms who are kind of bossy about what to wear on picture day, bus rides to endure while in a funk, and, ultimately, friends found in unexpected places.

As a writer, I appreciate Nees’ ability to tap into the pulse of the child mind. With vocabulary, subject and action that feels real and authentic, she has catapulted her story beyond the norm. Especially in this genre, that is so tied to short text, simple vocabulary and an age group with more energy than experience, Nees makes Missy bold, original and yet utterly believable. No small task, and kudos and respect in spades.

With a thoughtful yet original plot, fully developed characters and a real zinger of a surprise ending, this short-statured tome is a full-blown extravaganza for the newly independent chapter book set.

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….

Monkey Me

monkey me cover

Monkey Me and the Golden Monkey

By Timothy Roland

 

Published by: Scholastic Inc. (January 28, 2014)

Available in: hardcover, paperback, Kindle, NOOK

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

 

Monkey business.

Who knew a sneeze could bring on a transformation into a real monkey? Young Clyde in Monkey Me and the Golden Monkey finds out just how this works, and it makes him move. This young rascal is quick and bouncy and funny, and his story is just the same.

The special thing about this book, another in Scholastic’s excellent Branches line of chapter books, is that the text pacing is just right for the early chapter book reader. The sentences are short. The vocabulary is simple. But the action is fast and zingy, punctuated by goofy sight and word gags that make the reader laugh out loud.

Especially effective are the bold illustrations, and their appearance as both classic illustrations and, when Clyde turns into a monkey, graphic-novel style. It both sets the transformative segments as different—a neat literary trick—and lets the young independent reader catch a break from full sentences and paragraphs. Super smart move by author/illustrator Roland.

Young readers will just plain go bananas for this fun romp.

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

 

Kiki of Lotus Lane

kiki cover

Lotus Lane #1: Kiki: My Stylish Life

By Kyla May

 

Published by: Scholastic Inc. (April 30, 2013)

Available in: hardcover, paperback, Kindle, NOOK

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

 

Fact: girls can be silly.

Lotus Lane #1: Kiki: My Stylish Life is a modern chapter book in look, feel and subject matter. It is written for and will be enjoyed by girly girls who like fashion, access to the popular girls’ club and a peek into a lively diary that is more rambling thought than plot.

With a graphic novel layout and illustrations reminiscent of the Hello Kitty brand, Kiki is part of Scholastic’s excellent Branches line of chapter books. But for the first time, I’m not completely in love with a book in this line—but not because of poor production.

In fact, this book is just as slick and well-designed as the other Branches books. It appeals to a very specific target market with light, reality-based dialogue, lots of dazzling fashion content and a silliness embraced with fashionista zeal. On the more serious side, it also deals with the misunderstood/mean girl issue. And the graphic novel format has, so far, been more available for boys (Captain Underpants, Diary of a Wimpy Kid), so it’s nice that girls have a choice here, too.

My problem is that the fun quickly turns annoying and exhibits less than model behavior. Kiki and her friends bash the new girl and obsess about what they’ll wear to school each day. What was OTT (over the top) fun with a BFF in chapter one becomes snarky and shallow by chapter three. It’s a good book—it just made me cringe. I found Kiki a little like eating too many donuts: the idea is delicious, but even before the halfway point, I felt sort of sick.

To Branches I have to say, Bravo for the line. But is Kiki really the best you can do? And do we really want to promote this kind of individual to our second grade girls?

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