Princess Pink and the Land of Fake-Believe

pigs cover

 The Three Little Pugs: A Branches Book (Princess Pink and the Land of Fake-Believe #3)

 By Noah Z. Jones


Published by: Scholastic Inc. (August 25, 2015)

Available in: paperback, library binding, Kindle, NOOK

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


Ya gotta love a pun.

The Three Little Pugs of the Princess Pink and the Land of Fake-Believe series is a rolling, exuberant, crazy mash-up of puns. And just as the words jump off the page, so do the illustrations. With more of an expanded comic book feel—but not quite graphic novel feel—this book screams fun.

It all starts with surprise. Princess Pink is serious tom boy-type who’s stuck with the girly name. Her freewheeling imagination has come up with a secret: a land of fake-believe hidden in her family’s fridge. When the family is asleep, our offbeat hero stomps into a much more colorful world, populated by characters that are takeoffs on traditional fairy tale characters.

But traditional they are not. The Big Bad Wolf is a scaredy pants. The industrious three pigs are conniving pugs. And so it goes. It’s no surprise that author/illustrator Noah Z. Jones also has experience as an animator, because this book has a jolly verve that feels like a Saturday morning cartoon.

The series, part of the excellent Branches line of chapter books, is not necessarily the easiest vocabulary, but spontaneous pages, quick jokes and amusing puns make it an easy read, even for those kids who might struggle with a word or two. For instance, this sentence might challenge some young readers: “Then Moldylocks had a crazy-cakes idea.” I’d venture a guess that almost no kid could stop before finding out what that crazy-cakes idea is. It’s just too fun.

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


Missy’s Super Duper Royal Deluxe

Missy cover image

Missy’s Super Duper Royal Deluxe #1: Picture Day

By Susan Nees


Published by: Scholastic Inc. (April 30, 2013)

Available in: hardcover, paperback, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review there were four books in the Missy’s Super Duper Royal Deluxe series.



Missy’s Super Duper Royal Deluxe #1: Picture Day leaps off the page with zest and abundant personality. Although so short and brief in text that I hesitated to lump it with chapter books, this series has too much life to be held to early readers.

Missy leads this romp from chapter one. When the text is less challenging, the lively illustrations fill in with colorful wit that leave no doubt: this little girl is ready to take the world by storm. I love that she’s assertive without being snarky. I love that she’s energetic and unapologetic and sincerely her own person. Indeed, Missy will be loved—she just won’t have it any other way.

Young girl readers will appreciate how author/illustrator Nees both keeps Missy alight with humor and verve, and yet grounded in a very specific, real world. There is a messy room, kitty litter to attend to, moms who are kind of bossy about what to wear on picture day, bus rides to endure while in a funk, and, ultimately, friends found in unexpected places.

As a writer, I appreciate Nees’ ability to tap into the pulse of the child mind. With vocabulary, subject and action that feels real and authentic, she has catapulted her story beyond the norm. Especially in this genre, that is so tied to short text, simple vocabulary and an age group with more energy than experience, Nees makes Missy bold, original and yet utterly believable. No small task, and kudos and respect in spades.

With a thoughtful yet original plot, fully developed characters and a real zinger of a surprise ending, this short-statured tome is a full-blown extravaganza for the newly independent chapter book set.

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

Monkey Me

monkey me cover

Monkey Me and the Golden Monkey

By Timothy Roland


Published by: Scholastic Inc. (January 28, 2014)

Available in: hardcover, paperback, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review there were four books in the Monkey Me series.


Monkey business.

Who knew a sneeze could bring on a transformation into a real monkey? Young Clyde in Monkey Me and the Golden Monkey finds out just how this works, and it makes him move. This young rascal is quick and bouncy and funny, and his story is just the same.

The special thing about this book, another in Scholastic’s excellent Branches line of chapter books, is that the text pacing is just right for the early chapter book reader. The sentences are short. The vocabulary is simple. But the action is fast and zingy, punctuated by goofy sight and word gags that make the reader laugh out loud.

Especially effective are the bold illustrations, and their appearance as both classic illustrations and, when Clyde turns into a monkey, graphic-novel style. It both sets the transformative segments as different—a neat literary trick—and lets the young independent reader catch a break from full sentences and paragraphs. Super smart move by author/illustrator Roland.

Young readers will just plain go bananas for this fun romp.

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….

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire




By Gordon Korman, Illustrated by Joann Adinolfi


Published by: Scholastic; Reprint edition (January 1, 1999)

Available in: paperback, library binding

This is a standalone book and not part of a series.


Check it out.

That’s the often-used phrase of the young protagonist in Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire. The strong attitude is both a nice touch and sometimes a tad out of place. I first wondered just how old this kid was, thinking middle school was possible. When I realized third grade, it both made sense and seemed just slightly off.

But the general plot—that of a child who lies constantly to make herself feel more important—is a very third grade moment. I loved how the act of lying was shown in all its ugly glory: born out of frustration, impulse, fear and lack of confidence. And then the hard fall into consequences: people not believing anything she says, punishment, disappointment and the final reality that lying, far from helping our young friend, really hurts her chances at friendship and respect.

So even though the action and story are closer to mediocre than brilliant, this is a worthy read.

The illustrations, meanwhile, absolutely pop. With a joyful skew toward flat, sideways perspective, these black and white sketches have a curlicue ambiance that is funny, light and shaded with just enough depth to bring weight. I love these illustrations.

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

The Puppy Place

puppy cover

The Puppy Place Series

By Ellen Miles


Published by: Scholastic Paperbacks

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

At the time of this review there were 33 books in this series, with more scheduled to launch later this year.


A strong bark with a soft mouth.

Just like any good dog, The Puppy Place series is loyal and steadfast. An easy read for serious dog lovers, each book is centered on the same human family and the young protagonist Charlie. But, because Charlie’s family fosters dogs, the series deftly introduces a new pup in each book, and thus lives up to its promise of “Where every puppy finds a home.”

I’m a dog lover, so this was an easy call to enjoy. And yet, I wish the writing were a bit more inventive and succinct. Even more, I really wish this series included illustrations. In every other way, these are chapter books. But by not including illustrations at all, I fear the text-only pages will intimidate those who can’t quite muster the strength to read text-heavy pages. And the potential for cute, lively, cuddly, dramatic, emotional illustrations is so strong, it’s just a shame they are not included. I’m guessing budget and timing are the issues here, but this is a huge mistake and/or bad call.

Still, a plus is that each book includes sound and responsible ownership facts, as well as good behavior info—for both dogs and how people should behave around dogs to keep both safe.

The fact that the protagonist is a young man also is worth mention. An easy choice would have been to let this become a very sweet, girl-centric animal series. Young Charlie is a good egg, and a nice way for boys who are dog lovers to find a series they can relish.

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



Cheesy Geronimo Stilton



By Geronimo Stilton


Published by: Scholastic; Reissue edition (April 1, 2004)

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

At the time of this review there were 58 books in the English language version of the Geronimo Stilton series, as well as special editions and graphic novels.




But so fun. Geronimo Stilton #6: Paws Off, Cheddarface! is part of a raucous series that is part vaudeville, part language gymnastics and 100 percent delightful. Fast and entertaining, these books are best for the older chapter book reader who is comfortable with harder words, less white space and crazy typography that, at times, echoes comic books.  

Sound a bit like a circus? It reads like one, too. Action is fast and inventive. Word play on mouse anatomy and food is rampant and hilarious. Chapters are short, bite-size bursts of stand-up comedy and pratfalls of plot points.

The use of wild typography to enhance moments of despair, surprise, importance, arrogance, delight and shock is downright brilliant. And the illustrations are colorful, simple and complex.

What is most astonishing about this delicious series is that the real author (Elisabetta Dami) and publisher originally launched this cheesy character in Italian. The fact that this genius turn of phrase and hilarity not only survives but also thrives in translation is a true marvel.

Aspects of the story premise are slightly more worldly than comparable chapter books. For example, Stilton is the publisher of a newspaper, and much of the action is in the office. Also, the comedy often touches more mature subjects and emotions, such as in this passage, where someone has changed the lock on his home: “… I went to work. I paid my taxes. I volunteered down at the Holeless Shelter. Holey cheese! Now I was a holeless mouse, too! I guess it’s true what they say. It could happen to anyone!”

Because of this, Geronimo Stilton makes a good crossover from older chapter book to middle grade. And because the tails–uh humh–tales are so funny and smart, even older kids will not be embarrassed to be seen with them in public. Can you say great summer reading, parents?

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

Rainbow Magic Fairies



By Daisy Meadows, Illustrated by Georgie Ripper


Published by: Scholastic Paperbacks; Reprint edition (June 25, 2013)

Available in: paperback, library binding, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review there were more than 100 books in the Rainbow Magic series and special editions.


Spun Sugar.

The Rainbow Magic series of chapter books are a sweet confection that cater to the young girl who is a voracious reader. There’s glitter and magic and escapism. It’s all a sweet and light adventure.

This mammoth series (more than 100 books) comes with certain comforts, such as Kirsty and Rachel, young girls who are the guides into each tale. Similar to the Magic Tree House series, each book carries a thread of magic forward from previous books, although one can jump in anywhere and not be lost. Each book offers and delivers the same thing: a map to start, a poem, the two main girls, a dependable fairy to appear at just the right time, magic that transforms the girls into fairy size with wings, and a puzzle to help solve. Within the overall framework are specific types of fairies and their stories, such as Ocean Fairies, Pet Fairies, Fashion Fairies, Jewel Fairies and more.

Much like the Bailey School Kids books, this series is not intended to be great literature. This is most definitely about quantity of books rather than quality; about a concept that a big publisher found works and pushes to the extreme; and about giving girly-girls A LOT to read. Those kids who look for more than cotton candy in their reading material won’t be die-hard fans. But for those who can never get enough to read, this is equivalent to a never-ending lollipop of girlish froth.

And, much like the nostalgic series Nancy Drew, the Rainbow Magic series are written by a team of authors who work under the pseudonym of Daisy Meadows (but you knew that wasn’t a real name–right?). Four authors identified as the writers are Narinder Dhami, Sue Bentley, Linda Chapman and Sue Mongredien.

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

Bailey School Kids

dracula cover


By Debbie Dadey and Marcia T. Jones, Illustrated by John Steven Gurney


Published by: Scholastic Paperbacks (June 1, 2004)

Available in: paperback

At the time of this review there were 51 books in The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids series.


Kids love consistency.

Especially when they are just becoming independent readers, kids love a series. They love to spend time with the same characters, go to the same place and know that something interesting will happen. They might not know what will happen, but the fact that the framework stays the same is comforting and friendly.

The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids is a hugely successful series that gives kids that framework. The same four friends, two girls and two boys, guide readers through each book. They bicker and play jokes, say stupid stuff and act silly. They also run into someone who might or might not be from the mythical world. There is a mystery incident or question that the four friends try to figure out. It’s an easy, fast read shared with known friends in a safe (aside from that mythical character) environment. It’s a good place for kids to feel comfortable in their new-found literacy.

Dracula Doesn’t Play Kickball is just one of the many, many books in this series. Others include characters such as a wolfman, mermaid, swamp monster, gremlin, pirate and more. In addition, there is a prequel series, holiday specials, joke books and more. For kids who get hooked, they will probably grow out of the series before they run out of books to read.

Is the writing stellar or fresh? Are the illustrations exciting? Is there anything truly exceptional going on? Not really. But perhaps, at this stage in reading, this enough. Certainly many series don’t pan out, and the fact that the Bailey School Kids are alive and well makes them reliable friends. And anyone—young readers included—can never have too many friends.

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