Axel & Theo

axel cover

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….



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



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….