Greetings from Somewhere



By Harper Paris, Illustrated by Marcos Calo


Published by: Little Simon (January 7, 2014)

Available in: paperback, hardcover, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review there were five books in the Greetings from Somewhere series.



Mapped out.

The Greetings from Somewhere series has it all planned, packaged and ready to go. With a calculated concept based on nostalgia and other successful chapter books, this new launch shows obvious influences of  Magic Tree House, Nancy Drew and even that early reader duo of Dick and Jane. It’s even got a witty pseudonymed author… give her a name like Paris and voilà! Passport acquired.

The idea is that second grade twins Ethan and Ella (one boy, one girl—check!) travel with their parents all over the world. They even begin the saga with a trip up a tree house. Hmmm, I wonder where that idea came from? With each book, the achingly pleasant kids solve a mystery (that’s you, Nancy Drew), learn some language skills, experience a new culture and generally provide a quick read for beginning readers. (Very beginning—with large type and lots of big illustrations, this is an easy crossover to early readers.)

I love the travel aspect. That’s really intriguing. And I love the little bit of language. The illustrations are fun and zippy, although artist Calo’s excellent skill isn’t allowed to soar. And once the reader gets past the first book, the action is a passable ride of tension, education and emotion.

But the books are clunky in both writing and plot, a sure sign that format trumped invention. The Mystery of the Gold Coin in particular is at fault here. For instance, the children are told they are leaving their home, friends, school and beloved grandpa—next week—for unspecified locations for an undetermined time. The parents expect the kids to be excited, but they  are in fact anxious and afraid. Um, duh. Here’s how part of that plays out in text:

“Ella looked at her brother. ‘Maybe when we wake up tomorrow, we’ll realize this was just a dream,’ she said hopefully. Ethan tried to smile. “Yeah, maybe.” After a chapter break, the text continues, “Exactly one week later, Ella woke up with a start. It hadn’t been a dream—the Briars were moving the next day….”

Yes, that makes it sound as if she slept a whole week. Well who wouldn’t, with her world pulled out from under her? And the reader still never knows where the family is going by the end of the first book, when the family is on the plane.

So it’s fair to say I have issues with the general execution of these books.  Which is not to say I’m not happy to see them available. Given the dearth of new chapter books from the big, traditional publishers, it’s nice to see a new series launch with this much marketing, budget and obvious plan behind it. So rather than belabor the quirks, I say we welcome this new neighbor to the chapter book block… even if we find those new neighbors just a little bit weird.

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


Mystery of the Ballerina Ghost


By Janelle Diller, Illustrated by Adam Turner


Published by: WorldTrek Publishing; 1 edition (November 13, 2013)

Available in: paperback, Kindle

At the time of this review, there is one book available in this series. Five more books are set to launch in 2014.


Big castles are spooky—and who doesn’t love to be spooked?

Mystery of the Ballerina Ghost, the first in the new Pack-n-Go series, is a cool travel/mystery adventure that’s dialed into the older-girl, chapter-book set.

Travel is such an important component in this story, it’s not just a backdrop, it’s an essential character. Readers feel the jet lag, experience the landscape of Austria and taste the strange, delicious foods. With a smattering of German vocabulary thrown in, Mystery of the Ballerina Ghost is akin to cultural immersion. Young girls will feel as if they have packed their own bags on this adventure. And how cool is that? Passport not required.

There’s also an especially funny running joke about Austria and Australia that should get quite a few chuckles.  Future books in the series are set to visit Mexico and Thailand.

The eerie parts of the story play right into both a good ghost story and a European adventure: a creepy old man in a suit; a big, drafty castle; a glimpse of a face in an attic window; and a rocking chair that seemingly moves on its own. Each chapter ends at just the right moment, leaving tension and conflict at a high point.

The pencil drawings are particularly adept, with both bold strokes and soft lines. They enhance the exotic land and foreign characters while still remaining familiar enough to be comfortable.

As a note, this book will be free in Kindle format December 7—11, in celebration of the book’s launch.

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