Mr. Cleghorn’s Seal


Mr. Cleghorn’s Seal

By Judith Kerr


 Published by: HarperCollins Children’s Books (June 7, 2016)

Available in: hardcover, paperback, Kindle, NOOK

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


Nostalgic charm.

Mr. Cleghorn’s Seal does not worry about being modern. From simple black and white illustrations to correspondence by snail mail to a sweet, simple story, this book is all old school pleasure.

The writer and artist, the great Judith Kerr, published it last year in England when she was 92 years old. While Mr. Cleghorn’s Seal is her first novel in more than 37 years, Kerr’s books have been translated into 25 languages and sold more than nine million copies. In 2012 she was awarded the OBE (the prestigious Order of the British Empire) for her services to children’s literature and Holocaust education, and just this year she was named BookTrust Lifetime Achievement winner, a British award that celebrates those who have made outstanding contributions to children’s literature.cleghorn-seal-large

So don’t be fooled by Mr. Cleghorn’s simplicity. It’s not just any author who can write a children’s book with retirement, senior-citizen romance, an orphaned seal who lives on a balcony, a classic mean janitor and a hilarious baby bottle scene in a tight little chapter book.

The book is short, but the tone of the language is a little mature. For example, Mr. Cleghorn reminisces about missing his work since he’s just sold his shop. So there might be a few aspects that make children climb slightly higher in the thinking pool than, say, a Magic Treehouse book. But often, the climb is worth it. And in this case, there’s just no question—Ms. Kerr’s excellent intuition and craft seal the deal.

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




By Jane O’Connor, Illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser


Published by: HarperCollins (April 3, 2012)

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

At the time of this review there were four books in the Fancy Nancy chapter book series.


Glitter and gloss.

Even in black and white, Fancy Nancy: Nancy Clancy, Super Sleuth seems to sparkle. It’s probably just a conditioned response to the hugely popular (and pervasive) Fancy Nancy brand. This is a good thing—it will draw young girls who love the character but have outgrown picture books into the brand’s chapter books.

From a writing perspective I don’t love this work. It is as expected: predictable and leans too heavily on the Nancy Drew brand, who’s current popularity is, I think, based more on nostalgia than quality or contemporary flavor.

But I do like much of the dialogue and story progression. It has the sweet feel of a child talking to herself during imaginary playtime. That’s authentic. There are also notable treatments of stealing, accidental actions and the consequences of each. So there’s some weight to this glitz, and that brings it’s own kind of bling.

Much of the action is centered on a mystery, complete with all the key ingredients a detective needs: secret codes the reader can break, a jeweled magnifying glass, disappearing ink and fingerprints. There’s also a trusty sidekick and über cool play clothes.

Nancy Clancy is escapist reading for the pink and sparkly set, and there’s no mystery why girls love it. They just do. Without thinking it through too much, this is one chapter book that hits that sweet spot.

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

Real Ramona

Ramona Q cover

Ramona Quimby, Age 8

By Beverly Cleary, Illustrated by Tracy Dockray


Published by: HarperCollins (October 6, 2009)

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

At the time of this review there were eight books featuring the Ramona character.


Reality bites… or in Ramona’s case, cracks like an egg.

The Ramona character is one of the most beloved and lauded in children’s literature. Sturdy, witty and fully developed as a personality, Ramona is a modern masterpiece. So much has been written about the 1981 Newberry Honor book, I’ll focus here on the point of whether Ramona is still relevant, and if so, why?

Ramona Quimby, Age 8 manages to keep a light tone while focusing on the undercurrents of why life is just so dang hard. Ramona’s parents clearly work hard. They also struggle with money issues, bettering themselves and raising two respectful, capable daughters. Ramona’s sister stumbles through the first year of that most difficult time, middle school. And Ramona copes with bullies, humiliation, hurt, excitement, disappointment, regret, self-control, cooking and forgiveness: that whole big mess that makes up daily life. More than still relevant, this book is gutsy and important. It shows Ramona in the process of real life in a way that still keeps young readers engaged.

There are a few specifics that mark the book as older: pre-school is referred to as nursery school and the mention of typewriter clacks. But these are minor blips. More important is the basic humanity that marks the Ramona books with a truth rarely seen in contemporary children’s literature.

Ramona Quimby, Age 8 is marketed more for the middle grade market (ages 8—12), and yet, with a character (Ramona) in the third grade, younger children will read it. And although for a chapter book it’s a touch long, it still fits within the chapter book category quite well.

I like Tracy Dockray’s illustrations in the newer editions because they have an old-school feel without being tired or out of touch. Just slightly quirky—especially when the cat is in the drawing—they have a very realistic base. Much like Ramona.

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

Pumped Up Flat Stanley



By Jeff Brown


Published by: HarperCollins; Reprint edition (December 23, 2013)

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

At the time of this review there were six books in the Flat Stanley series, as well as another chapter book series titled Flat Stanley’s Worldwide Adventures, and Flat Stanley easy readers.


Full of life.

Flat Stanley, or depending on your copy, Flat Stanley: His Original Adventure!, is the 1964 classic that has spun sequels, a world-traveling second series, easy readers and class projects for decades of elementary kids. So how is he holding up? A little thin, but otherwise just fine.

Stanley’s crushing first incident is told in a quaint style that allows his otherwise unbelievable story to be both enchanting and utterly possible. His parents, both caring and unruffled, are a fun addition, and his brother Arthur is cute in his jealousy and carelessness.

Many libraries still carry the copies illustrated by Tomi Ungerer, and that nostalgic, blockish style seems to support the timelessness of the story. The updated version with Macky Pamintuan’s work is certainly more cartoonish and what kids are used to. As to which is better, it’s a toss up and subjective opinion. I prefer the Ungerer work because it seems a better fit with the slightly antiquated vocabulary, manner of speech and old-time style that is non-specific (such as “the Famous Museum of Art downtown”).

Perhaps the only jarring moment is when Stanley’s parents pack him in a cigarette case and mail him away. Definitely not something relevant to the 21st Century.

In previous posts, I’ve described what some consider the defining characteristics of chapter books. Usually, one has to decide if a book is either a chapter book or middle grade novel. Flat Stanley goes the opposite direction: one has to decide if it fits better as a picture book or chapter book. It reads like a chapter book, but doesn’t have actual chapters, although there are natural breaks in action. The pictures are on every page, but it’s much longer than a traditional picture book. Because of this, Flat Stanley might be a good read aloud to tag-team with your child to ease her into independent reading: you read a page, have your child read a page.

No matter what it’s called or classified, Flat Stanley deserves a thin amount of shelf space in the reading library of any child of chapter book age and ability.

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