Dory and the Real True Friend

By Abby Hanlon


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.



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….

Mermaid Tales

mermaid tales 4 cover

The Lost Princess (Mermaid Tales Book 5)

By Debbie Dadey, Illustrated by Tatevik Avakyan


Published by: Aladdin; 1 edition (May 7, 2013)

Available in: hardcover, paperback, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review there were 10 books in the Mermaid Tales series.



The Lost Princess (Mermaid Tales Book 5) dives into the undersea world with nautical language, girl characters and a little bit of science in each book.

Like many chapter books series, this one keeps the easy reading prominent and the originality subdued. But most girls probably won’t care. There are merpeople who use fun language like “totally wavy” and talk about the “family shell.” There are also cool sections about vampire squids, a newfound celebrity complete with sparkling tiara, and a couple of boy merkids thrown in to keep it real.

The illustrations are sweet and effective, and exactly what a young reader will expect. Setting expectations for reading material is a good thing; if we always had a surprise, what would the norm be?

The back section of every book has fun additional information, such as a glossary, examples of sculptures talked about in the plot and song lyrics. It’s a well-developed, full package, and if a young female reader takes to it like a fish to water… well, she’s got a lot of books to keep her treading water for days. It’s easy to jump in.

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

Marty McGuire

Marty cover

Marty McGuire

By Kate Messner and Brian Floca, Illustrated by Brian Flocca


Published by: Scholastic Paperbacks (May 1, 2011)

Available in: paperback, library binding, audible audio, preloaded digital audio player, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review there were two books in the Marty McGuire series, with the third expected in April 2015.



Marty McGuire is a smart, brave, confident girl who’d rather wade for frogs than don a tiara, and for that any tomboy will love her.

Perfect for second and third grade readers, this book starts in a comfortable chapter-book zone, complete with all the usual suspects. There’s a kind but quirky teacher who endlessly shakes maracas. A bossy, prissy classmate is antagonistic and annoying from the start. A friend from the previous school year has defected her friendship, and Marty finds this a mystery and galling. There’s a play at school that provides the framework for the book’s plot. In the end, Marty has to grow, compromise and show some spunk.

All this is perfectly acceptable and palatable. Kids like the familiar, and this story feels familiar for a good bit of the first half. But about halfway through, an inventive, unique verve takes over. Marty becomes a truly original character who takes bold chances and shows her iconoclastic ways. As a character, she starts slow, but she blooms in the end.

The simple but quite physical and expressive illustrations enhance the story. They don’t just show moments or scenes, they show emotions and movement.

The story also has a fair amount of animal behavior, habitat and conservation information, all slipped in with ease and just enough science. That’s a nice extra touch.

And I gotta admit, the name “Marty” for a brave, confident girl is pretty fabulous. Just sayin’.

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