Pugs of the Frozen North (A Not-So-Impossible Tale)

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Pugs of the Frozen North (A Not-So-Impossible Tale)

By Philip Reeve, Illustrated by Sarah McIntyre

 

Published by: Random House Books for Young Readers (January 26, 2016)

Available in: hardcover, paperback, audiobook, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review were four books in the Not-So-Impossible Tale books.

 

Outlandish.

Pugs of the Frozen North is funny, oddball, and vaudevillian, with nods to mythic folk stories, dreaded urban myths, true history, and made-up creations. It’s a hoot.

First, though, parents and teachers should take note that this is closer to a middle school novel than an easy reader.  This would be just about hitting the edge of something that could be considered a chapter book. The hardback length is more than 200 pages, and the typeface is not large. But, there is a lot of white space, illustrations are on every page, and the wild escapade will appeal both to younger readers with strong reading skills and older, reluctant readers who don’t want to be stuck with babyish books.

The story starts out with some real gut-wrenching moments, framed in comedy, wherein the protagonist is left behind in the Arctic with 66 pugs destined to be used as a new ingredient in hot pies. It can be a bit jarring. But after the story starts rolling, distressing elements give way to noodle bars, a benevolent Santa Clausesque “Snowfather,” and an epic dog race.  While hard to describe in a short fashion, the story is long on ingenuity and jovial amusement.

The illustrations are quirky and a delight, and echo the Northern style of Jan Brett’s picture books.

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

Catwoman’s Nine Lives (Batman: Comic Chapter Books)

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Catwoman’s Nine Lives (Batman: Comic Chapter Books)

By Matthew K. Manning, Illustrated by Luciano Vecchio

Published by: Stone Arch Books (August 1, 2014)

Available in: paperback, library binding, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review there were four books in the Batman: Comic Chapter Book series.

Cool cat.

Catwoman’s Nine Lives is a super smart, zippy caper that sets itself firmly in Batman’s Gotham City with a resounding Twang! Fwoom! Click!

The story is solid and fast-paced, and the artwork is spectacular. With The Penguin an additional character, the setting won’t disappoint any Batman fan.

Most impressive are the endnotes of the book that include a detailed biography and background of Selina Kyle, a.k.a. Catwoman, and what she does with her stolen money, and why. It adds a depth and social conscience to the action in the book. There also are examples of initial sketches of the book’s artwork, and then final art examples. For any kid interested in art, book production, or the mechanics of imagination, this is a real gem.  There also is a Glossary, a detailed Comics Terms list, and a section titled Visual Questions that delves into facial expressions, an examination of movement methods, and the nature of Batman and Catwoman’s friendship/feud.

And this brings us to the meat of the book: while young readers can merrily enjoy a comic thrill, adults can see this book as way more than a comic strip. There is a very definite sexual tension between Batman and Catwoman that is taut and determined. Catwoman teases, cajoles, and entices Batman, all the while seeming to do what he wants while really keeping her own agenda intact. While maintaining a G Rating throughout, an adult could literally use the text in a college-level analysis of women’s roles, perceptions, and actions within modern society. I think this book is literally brilliant.

And that’s no kitten kibble.

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

Cal and the Amazing Anti-Gravity Machine

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Cal and the Amazing Anti-Gravity Machine

By Richard Hamilton, Illustrated by Sam Hearn

 

Published by: Bloomsbury USA Childrens (April 18, 2006)

Available in: hardcover, paperback, audio CD

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

 

 

High flying.

Cal and the Amazing Anti-Gravity Machine is a quirky, contemporary fantasy that sends a boy and his dog on an excellent adventure. But don’t be fooled by the entertaining, silly high jinx–this is no dumbed-down tale.

First, it’s written from the omniscient point of view (meaning, the reader can go into the mind of any character). This is extremely rare for a chapter book. It’s hard to do, which is probably why it’s not used very much, but author Hamilton is deft in his switching from one mind to another in the story. This adds a complexity that is both unique to chapter books and is appropriate to this somewhat intricate story. I love to see chapter books treated with this kind of respect.

Second, the boy character, Cal, has a talking-dog side kick, but only Cal can understand the dog. Again, an unusual plot twist that brings comedy and depth to the story.

Also, Cal is both problem solver and problem maker. I like to see personalities created with this kind of layering. This is no simple tale, but it is a wild ride kids will enjoy following through to the end.

The format for this book includes zany line art that compliments the sometimes crazy story. The white space is not as roomy as many chapter books, with a smaller type face and perhaps a tad fewer illustrations than the norm, but this only helps to bump this book up in reading level and maturity. While still a chapter book, it will challenge reluctant readers up through fifth grade.

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

 

 

Dory and the Real True Friend

By Abby Hanlon

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Published by: Dial Books (July 7, 2015)

Available in: hardcover, paperback, Kindle, audible, NOOK

At the time of this review there were two books in the Dory Fantasmagory series.

 

Imagine.

Dory and the Real True Friend is all about the act of imagination, and how that sometimes collides with reality. This is easily one of the most fresh, lively, clever and whimsically enjoyable chapter books around.

Dory is an effervescent personality, and the appropriately agile prose starts to bubble with delight at the beginning. By the satisfying end, the text ramps up to circus proportions with a freewheeling and spectacular denouement. Author Hanlon uses an epic scope of inventiveness and sheer drama that makes the book a dazzling, entertaining success.

And yet Dory, best for girls on the younger side of chapter books, hits topics of great importance. Kids in elementary school can well empathize with Dory’s struggles at the start of school, making friends, juggling the pull of imaginary friends, embarrassment, and getting attention both when you want it and when you don’t. Dory’s world is wrapped up in the early struggle to be both true to self and fit in, which for many of us doesn’t naturally happen at once.

As an author/illustrator, Hanlon’s drawings are a perfect accompaniment. They’re loose, goofy and comic, but they also add to the story in ways the text can’t. For instance, in the beginning of the story, Dory’s siblings list things Dory can’t do at school. The accompanying illustration shows the two siblings on either side of a small, dejected Dory. The text above reads, “You know, Rascal, you can’t… and you can’t… and don’t….” The reader perfectly feels the overwhelming stress and oppression that Dory (known as Rascal to her family) is under. The picture is funny; it’s also poignant.

It’s no surprise, then, that Hanlon’s previous chapter book, Dory Fantasmagory, won numerous awards, and Dory and the Real True Friend has been named the 2015 Cybils Winner for Early Chapter Books. More awards are probably not far behind.

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

Never Girls

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Never Girls #7: A Pinch of Magic

By Kiki Thorpe, Illustrated by Jana Christy

 

Published by: RH/Disney (July 22, 2014)

Available in: paperback, library binding, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review there were eight books in the Never Girls series, with more scheduled in the coming months.

 

Who wouldn’t want to go to Never Land?

Never Girls #7: A Pinch of Magic is based on the brilliant premise that there’s an angle to the Peter Pan story especially for girls. With a nod to Narnia, four friends have access to that mythical place through one’s closet. In Never Land, the four make friends with fairies, who provide magical adventures.

In this seventh book in the series, there’s an alternating plot that has both the real girls and their fairy counterparts baking sweet concoctions. The stories collide when the fairies are called upon to help the real girls, in the real world. It’s a smart twist: just like Pan had to have his shadow sewed on by Wendy, so our protagonists have to rescue a fairy from the freezer aisle at the grocery store. Kind of funny stuff.

Part Rainbow Magic Fairies, part Pony Pals, this fluffy version of Pan is accompanied by dreamy, soft illustrations. Artist Christy does an excellent job making clear the scale of the real-girl world and the fairy world, and keeping both a timeless quality and a contemporary ambiance.

This might not be the high art of J.M. Barrie, but as a contemporary chapter book, it’s got some serious fairy dust.

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

My Father’s Dragon

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My Father’s Dragon

By Ruth Stiles Gannett, Illustrated by Ruth Chrisman Gannett

 

Published by: Random House Books for Young Readers; 50th Anniversary edition (December 13, 2011)

Available in: hardcover, paperback, audible audio, audio CD, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review there were three books in the My Father’s Dragon series.

 

 

Nostalgic.

My Father’s Dragon, originally published in 1948, is easily identifiable as old-school storytelling. Sometimes this is a hindrance to today’s young readers. But with this book, it’s not.

The story reads almost as a dream. There’s a secret adventure, a baby dragon who falls out of a cloud and is held captive, and an island where “… no one has come back alive.” This is the stuff of great imagination and long-ago myths. Children who love a good fantasy will enjoy this now as much as decades ago.

For independent reading, this is probably best suited for older chapter book readers; the pages without illustrations are dense, there are long paragraphs and some of the vocabulary is challenging. But perhaps the best use of this book is a one-chapter-a-night family event, as even younger children will enjoy the talking animals and chapter headings such as “My Father Meets a Gorilla” and “My Father Runs Away.”

The illustrations are lush and child-like without being sophomoric. Although our protagonist, a young boy, is pictured as somewhat flat (which aids in the fantasy believability), the animals are solid and breathe with the life of bizarre dreams.

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

Axel & Theo

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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….