Keena Ford

keena cover

Keena Ford and the Second Grade Mix-up

By Melissa Thomson, Illustrated by Frank Morrison


Published by: Dial; 1 edition (July 3, 2008)

Available in: hardcover, paperback, Kindle

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


No mix-up: Keena’s a star.

I’m pleased to start the New Year with a review of a fresh, inventive, lively, newer series. Current in mood and dialed into today’s kids, Keena Ford is, in my view, an unequivocal success.

Keena is a second grader who lives in a Washington D.C. apartment during the week with her brother and divorced mother. On weekends, she stays with her dad in Baltimore. She’s an effervescent imp much like the Junie B. Jones character, and yet I find Keena more likable, realistic and believable. Call Keena sassy with spunk and a sprinkling of delightful innocence.

Keena also is black, a rarity for a chapter book protagonist. Although many secondary characters in chapter books are of various ethnicities, most protagonists tend to be Caucasian. I do a lot of school visits and those inquisitive, cute faces looking back at me are every shade of the skin rainbow. It’s bizarre that fiction has been slow to reflect that. So Keena is one welcome little girl.

The plots of the three books in the series are also new and invigorating. In Keena Ford and the Second-Grade Mix-Up, a problem with numbers spawns some delicious drama that leaves Keena with real cake on her face. The second and third books revolve around mix-ups on a visit to the Capitol in Washington, D.C. and a lost journal. In the later book, secret thoughts get in the hands of a real meanie, and of course difficulties ensue.

Perhaps what I love most about Keena is her heart and emotional pulse. Kids will understand why she gets mixed up, feel for her as she struggles to find a solution that keeps her out of trouble, and, when trouble inevitably finds her, laugh and commiserate with her fate. She’s emotionally intuitive—she explains her thoughts and emotions without hitting the reader over the head with repetitive excess.

Morrison’s fresh and casual illustrations are life-like, simple line drawings. But each drawing is set in a box, which makes them full and complete. They enhance the text and give the work literary heft.

All combined, Keena has drama, heart and verve that portrays a normal girl—with much more than average results.

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



DragonbreathCoverDRAGONBREATH #9: The Case of the Toxic Mutants

By Ursula Vernon


Published by: Dial; Reprint edition (August 29, 2013)

Available in: hardcover, Kindle, NOOK

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


The funny side of fear.

This could have been a Fright Month selection in October because it’s all about fear and monsters and things that make children go Eek! But Dragonbreath #9: The Case of the Toxic Mutants is also charming, funny and eccentric.

The book invites reluctant readers in with a start similar to a comic book. Then it morphs rather quickly into text with depth and bright humor. The protagonist is a young dragon with some serious problems: he can’t get one good friend to believe he’s a real dragon, and he has to visit his grumpy old granddad, which is icky and frightening all on its own. A mystery of missing dentures quickly turns into a crazy-beast-and-ooze fest, sure to attract young boys in particular.

The story is populated with characters and plot points that would otherwise give kids the chills.  From pack rats followed down dank, dark tunnels to dog vomit slime mold, Vernon’s book allows the truly horrible to be comic. Much of the humor is the kind that appeals to both adults and kids, so this might be a good series to read together.

In fact, if there’s a hesitation to this series, it’s that it skews a bit mature. Some of the jokes seem more for the parents than kids. In particular, one main character has a lisp so severe that much of his language is difficult to translate. For a newly independent reader, this might be over the top (i.e., “Dithcrethen ith the better part of valor.”)

And, be forewarned this skews to the older, more challenging chapter book. The publisher even lists it as ages 8—12. But the pictures, stories and anthropomorphized characters pull the appeal to the younger set as well.

The illustrations are easy and free, and there’s a lot of green goo gliding through the pages. It all slides together quite nicely for a little monster mystery.

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