Marvin Redpost

redpost cover

Marvin Redpost #1: Kidnapped at Birth?

By Louis Sachar, Illustrated by Neal Hughes

 

Published by: Random House Books for Young Readers; Reissue edition (June 1, 2011)

Available in: paperback, school & library binding, Kindle, NOOK

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

 

Marvin is a prince.

In Marvin Redpost’s first installment, Kidnapped at Birth?, we find a prince of a character, full of simple dreams, understated wit, and endearing charm. Who hasn’t thought, for just a moment, that his family is not his family… that he was kidnapped at birth and really belonged to a different, better family? This basic premise, such a common childhood fantasy, is used to great heights by the gifted Louis Sachar, author of the middle grade masterpiece, Holes.

What Sachar does with deft skill is create a character, plot and denouement that are simple enough for the chapter book format and yet not dumbed down. The sentences are short, but the power of each is strong. The vocabulary is simple, but the meaning is poignant. The ending is quick and endearing, but still unexpected and a delightful surprise.

As a reviewer of chapter books, I can tell you that most writers struggle with the balance of simple text and deep meaning. Sachar seems to soar within these restraints. Marvin Redpost is a joy to tag along with. And even though this is an older series, there is nothing tired about it—other than the easily forgiven old school illustrations contained in some formats.

Take this short example:

     Marvin was sitting at the dinner table. Mrs. Redpost had made chicken tacos. His favorite.

     He hoped she wasn’t really a kidnapper. Then he’d have to lock her in the dungeon.

Who doesn’t laugh out loud at the idea of needing to lock his mother in the dungeon because she kidnapped him at birth? And notice the easy text that says so much. Notice how Marvin has slipped into identifying his mother as “Mrs. Redpost” now that he doesn’t identify with her as mom.

For those who might be worried, this story ends with an unbreakable family bond, all sweetness and love in triumph over the draw of the golden crown.

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

 

A to Z Mysteries

A to Z cover

 A to Z Mysteries Super Edition #8: Secret Admirer (A Stepping Stone Book(TM))

 By Ron Roy, Illustrated by John Steven Gurney

 

Published by: Random House Books for Young Readers (December 22, 2015)

Available in: paperback, library binding, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review there were eight books in this series as well as 26 books in the original A to Z alphabet series.

 

It’s a mystery….

Actually, there’s no mystery why the A to Z Mysteries, in their first rendition of 26 alphabet-inspired books, and now under the guise of Super Editions, are so popular. Kids love mysteries, they love series, and this gives them a heaping dose of both.

The most recent of the A to Z Mysteries Super Edition books, Secret Admirer entices kids’ intrigue even before chapter one. The first page tells the reader to look for hidden letters within the illustrations and map, and challenges them to find the secret message. Who can resist that? The answer is given at the back of the book, so no frustrations if a child can’t decipher the message.

Author Roy, perhaps one of the most prolific in contemporary children’s literature, also writes both Capital Mysteries and Calendar Mysteries series. So if kids like these books, there’s more to be had from him.

Do I love these books? Not really. I find too many characters right at the start, and the writing is a little lazy. To wit, this paragraph, where originality and engaging descriptions take a back seat to just getting it done: “The kids reached the hotel and shoved open the thick glass door. Inside it was warm and smelled good.” I also find the illustrations serviceable but without pop or pizzazz.

Do I respect these books? Absolutely. The author and publisher give kids a lot of what they need at this point in their reading life: the thrilling intrigue of the mystery, characters they can follow from book to book, and the comfort of easy reading within the challenge of a full book. The fact that author Roy is successful at producing so much work is truly impressive and inspiring.

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

Year One Re-Post #2: Calvin Coconut

Originally published in April 2014. Calvin was one of my favorite finds this year, both because of his Hawaiian location and utter boy-ness. I kind of love Calvin.

 

 

calvin coconut cover

CALVIN COCONUT: MAN TRIP

By Graham Salisbury, Illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers

 

Published by: Yearling (January 8, 2013)

Available in: paperback, hardcover, Kindle, NOOK

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

 

Island time.

The Calvin Coconut series has a lot going for it. The boy protagonist is a cool kid—not too smart, a little lazy, kind of funny and nice when needed. He frets over the annoying girl who sits next to him at school and avoids chores. He’s a boy other boys can identify with, which in chapter books is golden.

The family dynamics also make these books feel authentic and contemporary—a single mom with a no-nonsense but generous boyfriend, a younger sister and a teen who lives in the house who is not biological family. It’s the kind of family structure that so many kids know as reality.  Seeing that in print makes kids feel validated in their world.

And Jacqueline Rogers’ illustrations are loose and breezy, which fit both the action and locale perfectly.

All those are important. But what Calvin Coconut has that sets it apart is a deep, genuine feel for the setting in Hawaii.  This is not tourist-poster Hawaii of Waikiki, bikinis and massive waves. This is slippers and bufos, shave ice and slang like “ho” used as a general greeting, saying or agreement.  This is recognition of the hills and valleys that make up the islands’ interiors, waterfalls that go up, hurricanes and rain that ruin plans, and the great moonscape that is the Kona Coast on the Big Island.

Calvin’s world is both exotic because of the island setting, and yet easy to dip into. It feels livable, believable and just different enough to be really interesting. Refreshing.

Calvin Coconut: Man Trip can be forgiven a slow start as it progresses into one of the coolest of chapter book activities to date: deep-sea fishing. It’s also sweet that Calvin’s mom’s boyfriend is the instigator of this day trip. Other books in the series focus often on animals, including Calvin Coconut: Dog Heaven and Calvin Coconut: Zoo Breath.

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

Year One Re-Post #1: Junie B. Jones

This was the first review posted in September 2013. It made me sad that I didn’t love Miss Junie now as much as I had 25 years ago…. 

 

Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus (Junie B. Jones, No. 1)

By Barbara Park, Illustrated by Denise Brunkus

 

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers; 1ST edition (July 28, 1992)

Available in: paperback, hardback, audio, audible audio, audiocassette, Kindle, NOOK

 At the time of this review, there were 27 Junie B. books available. But that’s too much too chew on at once. So this review is only about book #1.

 

She’s an original!

The first in this classic, best-selling series introduces us to Junie Beatrice Jones—that’s Junie B. to you. She’s a precocious child who says it like she sees it: and often, what she says points out that adults complicate things. A lot.

Like when her mother and teacher tell her she will ride the bus. We get deep into the book before Junie B.’s frustration reaches hollering levels because no one has bothered to tell her where she will ride the bus.

These little epiphanies of how we use words and descriptions and expect our kids to know what we’re talking about provide a lot of the humor of the book. The rest of the comedy comes from her exuberant personality and penchant for getting into trouble. Like hiding in the supply closet. And calling 9-1-1 because the bathroom door is locked.

When I was first introduced to that rascal Junie B., my kids were early elementary age. We found the character and book refreshing because of the humor, recognizable situations and easy reading that still moved into the novel form. She tackles fear, new friends, new rules and interesting clothing choices with straight-on seriousness and wit.

So it was a little bit of a shock to revisit the incorrigible Junie B. almost two decades later. On the plus side, the writing is remarkable for something so simple. Short, snappy sentences. Good character development. Clear plot that isn’t too predictable. True drama.

But looking through the lens of 2013, it pains me to say Junie B. has some age issues: as in, is she really holding up over time? In so many ways she’s still such a unique character, I’d love to say yes. But so much of what she says and does is, in today’s world, either dated or politically incorrect.

She talks about how she can beat up one kid. She describes the nurse with white shoes and clothes (when was the last time you saw that other than on a TCM movie?). She longs for a backpack (what kid doesn’t at least have a hand-me-down backpack these days?). She describes the first day of school when Mrs., the teacher, tells kids to pick a chair (what school doesn’t assign seating?). And she disobeys constantly, is disrespectful and is left alone to run through the school by herself for a couple of hours. Hard to imagine this happening today.

And that’s where it gets sticky. Is she just a precocious imp who we’ve loved for years and thus will continue to love? Or is she an annoying bad example? Do our young readers today get Junie B.? Or are they left wondering, who is this out of control elf who uses baby talk and says things like “travel tissue?”

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

Calvin Coconut’s Hawaii

 

calvin coconut cover

 

CALVIN COCONUT: MAN TRIP

By Graham Salisbury, Illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers

 

Published by: Yearling (January 8, 2013)

Available in: paperback, hardcover, Kindle, NOOK

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

 

Island time.

The Calvin Coconut series has a lot going for it. The boy protagonist is a cool kid—not too smart, a little lazy, kind of funny and nice when needed. He frets over the annoying girl who sits next to him at school and avoids chores. He’s a boy other boys can identify with, which in chapter books is golden.

The family dynamics also make these books feel authentic and contemporary—a single mom with a no-nonsense but generous boyfriend, a younger sister and a teen who lives in the house who is not biological family. It’s the kind of family structure that so many kids know as reality.  Seeing that in print makes kids feel validated in their world.

And Jacqueline Rogers’ illustrations are loose and breezy, which fit both the action and locale perfectly.

All those are important. But what Calvin Coconut has that sets it apart is a deep, genuine feel for the setting in Hawaii.  This is not tourist-poster Hawaii of Waikiki, bikinis and massive waves. This is slippers and bufos, shave ice and slang like “ho” used as a general greeting, saying or agreement.  This is recognition of the hills and valleys that make up the islands’ interiors, waterfalls that go up, hurricanes and rain that ruin plans, and the great moonscape that is the Kona Coast on the Big Island.

Calvin’s world is both exotic because of the island setting, and yet easy to dip into. It feels livable, believable and just different enough to be really interesting. Refreshing.

Calvin Coconut: Man Trip can be forgiven a slow start as it progresses into one of the coolest of chapter book activities to date: deep-sea fishing. It’s also sweet that Calvin’s mom’s boyfriend is the instigator of this day trip. Other books in the series focus often on animals, including Calvin Coconut: Dog Heaven and Calvin Coconut: Zoo Breath.

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