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….

 

 

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….

 

Dory and the Real True Friend

By Abby Hanlon

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Published by: Dial Books (July 7, 2015)

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

At the time of this review there were two books in the Dory Fantasmagory series.

 

Imagine.

Dory and the Real True Friend is all about the act of imagination, and how that sometimes collides with reality. This is easily one of the most fresh, lively, clever and whimsically enjoyable chapter books around.

Dory is an effervescent personality, and the appropriately agile prose starts to bubble with delight at the beginning. By the satisfying end, the text ramps up to circus proportions with a freewheeling and spectacular denouement. Author Hanlon uses an epic scope of inventiveness and sheer drama that makes the book a dazzling, entertaining success.

And yet Dory, best for girls on the younger side of chapter books, hits topics of great importance. Kids in elementary school can well empathize with Dory’s struggles at the start of school, making friends, juggling the pull of imaginary friends, embarrassment, and getting attention both when you want it and when you don’t. Dory’s world is wrapped up in the early struggle to be both true to self and fit in, which for many of us doesn’t naturally happen at once.

As an author/illustrator, Hanlon’s drawings are a perfect accompaniment. They’re loose, goofy and comic, but they also add to the story in ways the text can’t. For instance, in the beginning of the story, Dory’s siblings list things Dory can’t do at school. The accompanying illustration shows the two siblings on either side of a small, dejected Dory. The text above reads, “You know, Rascal, you can’t… and you can’t… and don’t….” The reader perfectly feels the overwhelming stress and oppression that Dory (known as Rascal to her family) is under. The picture is funny; it’s also poignant.

It’s no surprise, then, that Hanlon’s previous chapter book, Dory Fantasmagory, won numerous awards, and Dory and the Real True Friend has been named the 2015 Cybils Winner for Early Chapter Books. More awards are probably not far behind.

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

Never Girls

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Never Girls #7: A Pinch of Magic

By Kiki Thorpe, Illustrated by Jana Christy

 

Published by: RH/Disney (July 22, 2014)

Available in: paperback, library binding, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review there were eight books in the Never Girls series, with more scheduled in the coming months.

 

Who wouldn’t want to go to Never Land?

Never Girls #7: A Pinch of Magic is based on the brilliant premise that there’s an angle to the Peter Pan story especially for girls. With a nod to Narnia, four friends have access to that mythical place through one’s closet. In Never Land, the four make friends with fairies, who provide magical adventures.

In this seventh book in the series, there’s an alternating plot that has both the real girls and their fairy counterparts baking sweet concoctions. The stories collide when the fairies are called upon to help the real girls, in the real world. It’s a smart twist: just like Pan had to have his shadow sewed on by Wendy, so our protagonists have to rescue a fairy from the freezer aisle at the grocery store. Kind of funny stuff.

Part Rainbow Magic Fairies, part Pony Pals, this fluffy version of Pan is accompanied by dreamy, soft illustrations. Artist Christy does an excellent job making clear the scale of the real-girl world and the fairy world, and keeping both a timeless quality and a contemporary ambiance.

This might not be the high art of J.M. Barrie, but as a contemporary chapter book, it’s got some serious fairy dust.

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

Dragon Masters

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Dragon Masters #1: Rise of the Earth Dragon

By Tracey West, Illustrated by Graham Howells

 

Published by: Scholastic Inc. (August 26, 2014)

Available in: hardcover, paperback, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review there were three books in the Dragon Masters series, with a fourth book due out this summer.

 

Beginner fantasy.

Dragon Masters #1: Rise of the Earth Dragon is a primer for the pre-Harry Potter, pre-J.R.R. Tolkien set. With easy reading but lots of magical adventures, this new series from Scholastic’s excellent Branches line of chapter books glows with promise.

The story structure is a classic epic tale: the kind, poor Drake is identified as one of a chosen few. At the direction of the king, he is whisked away from his home and given the secret, mysterious fate of dragon master. Drake and his powerful but misunderstood dragon, Worm, muddle through the first days of loneliness and homesickness, and are more alike than they know. Each also reveals himself as having special powers. They save the day in the book, but it’s clear bigger challenges are still to come.

With evil afoot and three other dragons and children dragon masters, this series has long legs. It’s also an especially good fit for the newly independent reader. Pages are bright and almost overrun with illustrations. Chapters are extremely short. Action is fast-paced and abundant. The writing is clean, spare and lively. A young reader will probably age out of this reading level before he gets tired of the subject and characters. With few other fantasy-based chapter book series–apart from the massive Magic Tree House–this is a very welcome addition to the chapter book shelf.

The illustrations, by award-winning artist Howells, pop with youth-friendly charm. The black and white drawings bring fire-breathing life into magic, fear, danger, growing affection and a world of mystical powers. One can’t help but be entranced by the total package of Dragon Masters.

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

My Father’s Dragon

Father Dragon cover

My Father’s Dragon

By Ruth Stiles Gannett, Illustrated by Ruth Chrisman Gannett

 

Published by: Random House Books for Young Readers; 50th Anniversary edition (December 13, 2011)

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

At the time of this review there were three books in the My Father’s Dragon series.

 

 

Nostalgic.

My Father’s Dragon, originally published in 1948, is easily identifiable as old-school storytelling. Sometimes this is a hindrance to today’s young readers. But with this book, it’s not.

The story reads almost as a dream. There’s a secret adventure, a baby dragon who falls out of a cloud and is held captive, and an island where “… no one has come back alive.” This is the stuff of great imagination and long-ago myths. Children who love a good fantasy will enjoy this now as much as decades ago.

For independent reading, this is probably best suited for older chapter book readers; the pages without illustrations are dense, there are long paragraphs and some of the vocabulary is challenging. But perhaps the best use of this book is a one-chapter-a-night family event, as even younger children will enjoy the talking animals and chapter headings such as “My Father Meets a Gorilla” and “My Father Runs Away.”

The illustrations are lush and child-like without being sophomoric. Although our protagonist, a young boy, is pictured as somewhat flat (which aids in the fantasy believability), the animals are solid and breathe with the life of bizarre dreams.

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

Axel & Theo

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Axel & Theo

My Dog is the Emperor of a Faraway Galaxy

By Amberly Kristen Clowe, Illustrated by Katy Huggins

 

Published by: Smooth Sailing Press, LLC; 1 edition (November 15, 2014)

Available in: paperback, Kindle

At the time of this review Axel & Theo was a standalone book.

 

 

Reach for the stars.

Axel & Theo is a space fantasy for young readers who love dogs, hate cats and want to see the neighborhood bully get flummoxed by a Dachshund. There’s an appropriate amount of time spent on things that boys, in particular, will laugh about: a King Barfin, an epic battle, holograms and lasers, and a cliffhanger ending.

Since the protagonist is in fourth grade, this is a good choice for boys in mid to higher elementary grades who might lag in reading skills or are reluctant readers. The largely science fiction-based story will still challenge and enlighten these young minds, but the text remains accessible through clean, simple writing.

The publisher has produced a book trailer that’s just about the best one I’ve seen for a chapter book. That alone is something of interest to writers who struggle to keep on top of the social-media side of today’s publishing market. The trailer is shown here.

 

Keeping these positive aspects in mind, there are some obvious, first-impression problems with this chapter book. The typeface is too small and calls to mind a home printer. The illustration style is undeveloped, with proportions that are not quite on. And the price of the book is about double of comparable titles.

But the story has the genuine, kooky flow of a young man’s imagination. It feels authentic, as if plucked directly from a child’s afternoon at play. So even with the challenged packaging, this book could be just the right fit for some young readers who might otherwise spend the day watching TV. That’s always worthwhile.

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