Sparkling Jewel: A Branches Book (Silver Pony Ranch #1)

sparkling-jewel-cover

Sparkling Jewel: A Branches Book (Silver Pony Ranch #1)

By D. L. Green, Illustrated by Emily Wallis

 

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

Available in: hardcover, paperback, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review there were two books in the Silver Pony Ranch series.

 

 

Exciting!

Sparkling Jewel: Silver Pony Ranch Book #1 is an updated, modern take on the classic girls-love-horses genre.  And for those girls who do, this is an excellent early chapter book series.

The text is simple, with short sentences and easy vocabulary. There is a good amount of girl drama, usually ended with an exclamation mark. So although adults might cringe just slightly, young girls will likely eat it up. But not to fear, it’s not dumbed down: peppered throughout are call-out illustrations with tough or horse-centered words that would otherwise be hard for a beginning reader. Words like “currycomb,” “bridle”, and “reins.”

The story, as well, is simple, but it trots along quickly. We see sibling rivalry, examples of bad mistakes in dealing with animals, and a pleasant resolution. Particularly notable is the Grandma character, who is a Wellington boot-wearing, no-nonsense charmer. Sometimes grandparents are made too old or too old school in chapter books, mere outdated caricatures. But in this series, Grandma is an independent, 50-something, cut-to-the-chase rancher. She snores, has bad breath, and calls it like she sees it. You can’t help but respect and like her.

The real jewel here, though, are the illustrations. The black-and-white line drawings are spare but complete. Especially appreciated are all the contemporary details in clothing, cars, ranch tools, and tack.

As with all in the Branches line of chapter books, the production quality of this series is excellent. So although it is a simple, new take on an old tune, it is worthy nonetheless.

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

 

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Meet the Bobs and Tweets

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Meet the Bobs and Tweets

By Pepper Springfield, Illustrated by Kristy Caldwell

 

Published by: Scholastic Inc. (June 28, 2016)

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

At the time of this review this was a standalone book, but a series is planned.

 

Seussian.

Meet the Bobs and Tweets is an obvious homage to Dr. Seuss’s canon of work. The language is zany and alive, with a rhythm that hops off the tongue and bops through the lines:

“This pool is for swimmers who live on our street.
A nice, safe, cool spot for We-Who-Are-Neat.”
“Not!” yell the Bobs. “We do not think so! No way!”
This pool is a great place for Slobs-Hard-At-Play.”

As you see from the example, the plot centers on one tidy family and one messy family. The youngest of each is the opposite, and they are the catalyst for a happy conclusion. It’s a cute, smart little story arc.

Part of the reason Theodor Geisel’s work is still considered brilliant is the absolutely smooth rhythm in each line and stanza. It’s hard to be brilliant, and unfortunately this text proves that fact. The cadence of the prose sometimes loses its lilt, either from too many or too few syllables per line, or from the use of a word that has an emphasis on the wrong syllable to fit the established beat. These bring a stilted motion to the act of reading, which, as a writer, makes me cringe. Kids… well, they probably won’t care.

Followers of this blog know there have been many posts about what actually determines a chapter book, and there is a question of where this book falls: chapter book or easy reader? Although it mimics a chapter book, this is probably better considered a lengthy easy reader with chapters. Thus, if parents of a newly independent reader want to get this book, great–but maybe also get another to satisfy the amount of reading your child can now handle. For those children just transitioning from easy readers to chapter books, or reluctant independent readers, this would be a perfect choice: fun, alive, hilarious, just a little bit bad (blame those sloppy Bobs), and packed with wild but more reality-based Suessian illustrations.

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

Princess Pink and the Land of Fake-Believe

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 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….

 

Looniverse

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Looniverse #2 Meltdown Madness

By David Lubar, Illustrated by Matt Loveridge

 

Published by: Scholastic Inc. (June 25, 2013)

Available in: paperback, library binding, Kindle, NOOK

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

 

 

Comfortable.

Looniverse #2 Meltdown Madness is a book kids will get. There’s a fund raising event where the kids have to sell chocolate or wrapping paper. There’s a magic coin. There’s comedy, like three pigs showing up in the kitchen. Illustrations are current and well-done and big typeface highlights words like “Zoom! Boom!”

So the book is a comfortable place for newly independent readers to land. Even though kids might not know exactly where this story is going, they will almost immediately know that they can handle both the reading challenge and the words on the page. That’s not a bad thing.

Do I love that this book, part of the excellent and well-designed Branches line of chapter books, is a bit of a slacker in the originality department? Maybe not so much. Especially when it comes to the protagonist’s bland personality, I wish the character and story had more of a unique feel. But I do appreciate that these are books targeted to boys, they are very well done and they give young readers yet more good, contemporary books to read in this genre. That’s not a small feat.

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

Monkey Me

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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….

 

Kiki of Lotus Lane

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Lotus Lane #1: Kiki: My Stylish Life

By Kyla May

 

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 Lotus Lane series.

 

Fact: girls can be silly.

Lotus Lane #1: Kiki: My Stylish Life is a modern chapter book in look, feel and subject matter. It is written for and will be enjoyed by girly girls who like fashion, access to the popular girls’ club and a peek into a lively diary that is more rambling thought than plot.

With a graphic novel layout and illustrations reminiscent of the Hello Kitty brand, Kiki is part of Scholastic’s excellent Branches line of chapter books. But for the first time, I’m not completely in love with a book in this line—but not because of poor production.

In fact, this book is just as slick and well-designed as the other Branches books. It appeals to a very specific target market with light, reality-based dialogue, lots of dazzling fashion content and a silliness embraced with fashionista zeal. On the more serious side, it also deals with the misunderstood/mean girl issue. And the graphic novel format has, so far, been more available for boys (Captain Underpants, Diary of a Wimpy Kid), so it’s nice that girls have a choice here, too.

My problem is that the fun quickly turns annoying and exhibits less than model behavior. Kiki and her friends bash the new girl and obsess about what they’ll wear to school each day. What was OTT (over the top) fun with a BFF in chapter one becomes snarky and shallow by chapter three. It’s a good book—it just made me cringe. I found Kiki a little like eating too many donuts: the idea is delicious, but even before the halfway point, I felt sort of sick.

To Branches I have to say, Bravo for the line. But is Kiki really the best you can do? And do we really want to promote this kind of individual to our second grade girls?

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

 

Dragon Masters

Dragon Masters cover

Dragon Masters #1: Rise of the Earth Dragon

By Tracey West, Illustrated by Graham Howells

 

Published by: Scholastic Inc. (August 26, 2014)

Available in: hardcover, paperback, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review there were three books in the Dragon Masters series, with a fourth book due out this summer.

 

Beginner fantasy.

Dragon Masters #1: Rise of the Earth Dragon is a primer for the pre-Harry Potter, pre-J.R.R. Tolkien set. With easy reading but lots of magical adventures, this new series from Scholastic’s excellent Branches line of chapter books glows with promise.

The story structure is a classic epic tale: the kind, poor Drake is identified as one of a chosen few. At the direction of the king, he is whisked away from his home and given the secret, mysterious fate of dragon master. Drake and his powerful but misunderstood dragon, Worm, muddle through the first days of loneliness and homesickness, and are more alike than they know. Each also reveals himself as having special powers. They save the day in the book, but it’s clear bigger challenges are still to come.

With evil afoot and three other dragons and children dragon masters, this series has long legs. It’s also an especially good fit for the newly independent reader. Pages are bright and almost overrun with illustrations. Chapters are extremely short. Action is fast-paced and abundant. The writing is clean, spare and lively. A young reader will probably age out of this reading level before he gets tired of the subject and characters. With few other fantasy-based chapter book series–apart from the massive Magic Tree House–this is a very welcome addition to the chapter book shelf.

The illustrations, by award-winning artist Howells, pop with youth-friendly charm. The black and white drawings bring fire-breathing life into magic, fear, danger, growing affection and a world of mystical powers. One can’t help but be entranced by the total package of Dragon Masters.

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