Captain Pug

captain pug cover

Captain Pug (The Adventures of Pug)

By Laura James, Illustrated by Eglantine Ceulemans

  

Published by: Bloomsbury USA Childrens (March 14, 2017)

Available in: paperback, hardcover, Kindle, Nook

At the time of this review, there were three books in The Adventures of Pug series.

 

Snort.

Captain Pug is a rollicking, drooling cruise for crumbs and other adventures. While at first glance it seems this is a book especially good for girls, by the end it shows itself quite a seaworthy vessel for boys, as well.

The text is short and easy, featuring playful romps through madcap scenes mostly from the point of view of our hero, the pug. Consider this a beginning chapter book for those kids just transitioning into independent reading. Also consider this a focused tutorial on the priorities of a pug—food driven at all times.

And yet, this is not a simple story of a dog yearning for treats. The plot is rich with original action and perfectly timed humor that make this more than a silly caper.  A keen use of stylized typeface to highlight important words also adds depth.

The contemporary tale is sweetly evocative of historic storybook fiction with the use of a regal miss, who at first seems bossy and peevish but proves herself a real plucky upstart. The appearance of royalty is not the only nod to books gone by—the illustrations echo two classic picture books, Madeleine and Eloise. The bouncy, free drawings propel the eye across the page with the same momentum crafted into the prose.  And like Eloise, the book uses restrained color, opting for a three-color process that is gay and bright without being overly designed. The whole package comes together in a marvelous frolic.

Kudos as well to illustrator Ceulemans, for capturing the perfect, romanticized depiction of the classic pug-sit pose.

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

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Humphrey’s Playful Puppy Problem

 humphrey cover

Humphrey’s Playful Puppy Problem (Humphrey’s Tiny Tales)

By Betty G. Birney, Illustrated by Priscilla Burris

 

Published by: Puffin Books (August 28, 2014)

Available in: paperback, library binding, Kindle, NOOK

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

 

SQUEAK-SQUEAK-SQUEAK!

Humphrey’s Playful Puppy Problem (Humphrey’s Tiny Tales) brings the popular middle grade series down to the chapter book level with the same characters and format. Humphrey is still the hamster in Room 26, he still goes home with students on weekends, and he still is both endearing and a hero by the end of each book.

I love the older Humphrey series, so I was truly excited to see this in the chapter book format. That said, I like it… but I don’t love it.

First, the good stuff. The text has an easy rhythm that will keep newly independent readers entertained. (“The bus was bumpy and thumpy. I slid from one side of my cage to the other.”) The layout is classic chapter book, with big typeface, lots of white space and illustrations no more than every three pages apart. Children will find these books an easy first dip into the read-alone arena.

My disappointment is perhaps less about what’s wrong than what is missing. The original, older Humphrey series is truly hilarious, inventive and alive with personality and drama. These, perhaps because they have been simplified so much, are not just Humphrey light, but washed-out Humphrey.

Still, I’d recommend them to kids who love humor, animals and need an easy introduction to chapter books. The fact this series could lead those same readers to the middle grade Humphrey books makes me GLAD-GLAD-GLAD.

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

8 Class Pets, Chaos!

 

Squirrel cover

8 Class Pets + 1 Squirrel ÷ 1 Dog = Chaos

By Vivian Vande Velde, Illustrated by Steve Björkman

 

Published by: Holiday House; Reprint edition (June 1, 2012)

Available in: paperback, NOOK

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

 

Wild ride.

8 Class Pets + 1 Squirrel ÷ 1 Dog = Chaos is a classic comedy of errors that builds in excitement and complexity while never losing its slapstick humor.

The book starts in the unique point of view of a squirrel who lives on the grounds of an elementary school. He’s funny and has some great points about the strange humans who go into the school. Within a few pages, the squirrel has a problem: a dog is chasing him. The squirrel escapes by finding refuge in the school.

Very quickly things literally get out of control. Throughout the dog-chasing-the-squirrel-through-school escapade, each chapter is in a new, different animal’s point of view. There’s a smart rabbit, a poetic parrot, a dizzy hamster, an aloof school of fish and more. The distinct voices bring an inherent humor with their personalities. It creates a vibrant, rich layer upon layer of plot, perspective and constant motion. All the while, the action is vaudeville-funny and slapstick-fast.

There’s also a little bit of math, which is a nice integration of study areas. The paragraphs and vocabulary can be a touch challenging, but the book is short. The illustrations are free and loose, a nice compliment to this active, physical and sly plot. The author had vision. And that’s a real treat.

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

J.J. Tully Mysteries

JJ Tully cover

The Legend of Diamond Lil: A J.J. Tully Mystery

By Doreen Cronin, Illustrated by Kevin Cornell

 

Published by: Balzer + Bray; Reprint edition (May 7, 2013)

Available in: hardcover, paperback, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review there were two books in the J.J. Tully Mystery series.

 

 

Gumshoe.

The Legend of Diamond Lil: A J.J. Tully Mystery is an old-time mystery ala Philip Marlowe. It’s easy to visualize our hero in a trench coat and fedora, his steps echoing down a foggy alley deep in the night. Except our hero is a dog with floppy ears, a collar and trouble with possums.

Wise, a little sour and with shades of Rodney Dangerfield humor, J.J. Tully is funny right from the start: “A week ago, I woke up in the quiet country yard that smelled like fresh air and dog pee.” He’s an unusual protagonist for a children’s chapter book, which is perhaps why I love it so much. Filled with back (doggie) door information, sidekicks Dirt and Sugar, and a mystery that only a dog could sniff out, this chapter book excels at originality, comic turns of phrase and intrigue.

Because of the more sophisticated humor and a sometimes more difficult vocabulary, this is an excellent choice for chapter book readers who are on the verge of moving to middle grade novels. This is no babyish saga, but a fully developed, tail-wagging story with complex plot, characters that breathe with life and a satisfactory ending.

This same writer/illustrator duo also brought us the hilarious Chicken Squad series, and its nice to have the familiar looks to chickens, dogs and things that go bump in the night. A winning combination to be sure.

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

Animal Superstars

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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….

 

The Puppy Place

puppy cover

The Puppy Place Series

By Ellen Miles

 

Published by: Scholastic Paperbacks

Available in: paperback, library binding, audible audio, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review there were 33 books in this series, with more scheduled to launch later this year.

 

A strong bark with a soft mouth.

Just like any good dog, The Puppy Place series is loyal and steadfast. An easy read for serious dog lovers, each book is centered on the same human family and the young protagonist Charlie. But, because Charlie’s family fosters dogs, the series deftly introduces a new pup in each book, and thus lives up to its promise of “Where every puppy finds a home.”

I’m a dog lover, so this was an easy call to enjoy. And yet, I wish the writing were a bit more inventive and succinct. Even more, I really wish this series included illustrations. In every other way, these are chapter books. But by not including illustrations at all, I fear the text-only pages will intimidate those who can’t quite muster the strength to read text-heavy pages. And the potential for cute, lively, cuddly, dramatic, emotional illustrations is so strong, it’s just a shame they are not included. I’m guessing budget and timing are the issues here, but this is a huge mistake and/or bad call.

Still, a plus is that each book includes sound and responsible ownership facts, as well as good behavior info—for both dogs and how people should behave around dogs to keep both safe.

The fact that the protagonist is a young man also is worth mention. An easy choice would have been to let this become a very sweet, girl-centric animal series. Young Charlie is a good egg, and a nice way for boys who are dog lovers to find a series they can relish.

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