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.



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….


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.



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….

Cam Jansen Mysteries

cam jansen cover

Cam Jansen & the Mystery of the Television Dog

By David A. Adler, Illustrated by Susanna Natti


Published by: First published in 1981 by Viking Penguin, Inc. Reissued by Puffin Books (July 22, 2004)

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

At the time of this review there were 34 books in the Cam Jansen Mysteries series as well as an early readers series under Young Cam Jansen.



Cam Jansen & the Mystery of the Television Dog is one of the many, many Cam Jansen books, both for the early reader and the newly independent chapter book reader. Cam is a likable and quirky protagonist who is smart, kind of nerdy and has a keen eye for detail. These are very cool attributes to give to a main character, particularly a girl. In reviewing lots of chapter books, I see far too many current series with fluff and drama as the main personality and plot points. Seriousness has a home with Cam, and it’s a good fit.

The book has a very nostalgic look and feel. Illustrations hark back to a simpler time with plain black and white, crosshatch detail. The kids portrayed have a ‘70s-era look with rolled up shorts, basic T-shirts, generic round eyes and short hair. Likewise, the sentence structure is very clipped and easy, as in this short segment. “Just then a long dark blue car drove up. It stopped right in front of the bookstore. The driver got out…” Kids can swallow this stuff with easy confidence.

What is unique is Cam’s photographic memory. It’s a fun device that turns a simple story into a unique tale. The mystery part is also fun because it’s easy to spot a doggie switcheroo by a bad guy. Cam’s adventure is quick reading with just enough spunk to make it interesting. And if kids are interested, they’ll read more–which is is the point, yes?

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.




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

cover animal ss

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.




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….


Year One Re-Post #10: Tornado

Originally published in December 2013. It might be nostalgia that drives me since this was the book that got my son to read, but I have a very soft spot for Tornado.


By Betsy Byars, Illustrated by Doron Ben-Ami


Published by: HarperCollins; Reprint edition (December 28, 2004)

Available in: paperback, hardcover



That one word sparks such instant fear and excitement, it’s almost hard for the rest of the story to maintain the pace. But Newberry-medalist Betsy Byars is that rare author who can, and Tornado blows into your heart with a fierce hold.

Short and achingly sweet, the whole story is a series of vignettes a farm hand tells a family while they sit out a twister in a storm cellar. Left subtly in the background—rarely stated—is the fact the family’s father didn’t make it to the storm cellar. Everyone is worried. The stories are just a smooth way to distract.

Since the vignettes are about the farm hand’s dog when he was a boy, Tornado is a dog lover’s delight. (Full disclosure: dog lover here.) At only 49 pages in the print version, this chapter book is over before the young reader even knows it. And have no fear, Dad makes it in the end, but the tension is kept taut the entire book.

The lush illustrations are another exceptional component. Rich, full-page drawings seem to steep in the shadowy cellar mood. Kids can spend minutes relishing each one.

Perhaps this book is a bit dated–the use of flashbacks to tell most of the story is definitely frowned upon today. But the pure soul of this is a classic. Would that all chapter books were this excellent in content, emotion and artistic reach.

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