Author/Illustrator: Drew Brockington
Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers, April 2017
Intended Ages: 6-10
Themes: Humor, Cooperation, Cats
Synopses (why plural? The book contains two stories bound back to back)
First, on a planet populated only by cats, the President needs to find an alternative energy source to avoid Powermageddon. The CatStronauts answer the call, rocketing to the Moon to set up a solar array that will beam energy back.
Second, With support for space travel resurging, different teams of cats try to be the first to land on Mars.
My thoughts: These stories are presented in graphic novel format. With sparse text, they are fun, fast reads filled with puns and acronym groaners. The illustrations provide a lot of the characterization for this good-hearted flawed crew. Look for the cat food pyramid and the launch codes. I received a black-and-white advance copy, but the final copy will be in full color. I look forward to seeing the final because I'm thinking it will be easier to keep track of all the cat characters when they are different colors. I like the message of cooperation and patience threading its way through both stories. I did wonder if kids would enjoy the second story as much if they didn't have prior knowledge of space race history and an appreciation for government inefficiency. The Russian cosmonauts are initially painted in a negative light, but misunderstandings are revealed in the end. This is the author's debut book.
Title: Mutant Mantis Lunch Ladies
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion, March 2017
Intended Ages: 8-12 (reluctant readers)
Themes: Humor, Fantasy, Monsters
Synopsis: Carlos and Benny, two best friends, investigate strange goings-on in the school cafeteria. Different meals for girls and boys? Gigantic bug sightings? This book is part of the Monstertown Mystery series.
My thoughts: I didn't need to have read the first Monstertown book to enjoy this one (#2). It is stand alone. The press release states that the story is an "ode to Goosebumps" and "perfect for reluctant readers . . ." and I agree. Like Goosebumps, you have a lot of action with familiar characters. The language is funny, fresh and accessible with just a few illustrations sprinkled in. The lenticular cover (okay, I had to look up the word lenticular, too) switches back and forth between a praying mantis and an angry lunch lady's head. The adults who help Carlos and Benny are friendly folks I'd like to have around, even if the lengths they go to to help the kids push the limits of credibility. I did wonder why there is a prologue (the material is repeated in the book), and as someone with a science background, I wondered if the scientist had to be an evil villain. (I did love his name--Mr. Sincere) The author has published more than 40 books targeting reluctant readers. Note: The lunch ladies meet their demise.
In addition to Goosebumps, the school setting/characters-who-may-or-may-not-be-monsters set-up took me back to the Bailey School Kids series. If your reader likes Monstertown, they might want to check those out.
Authors: Adam Mansbach and Alan Zweibel
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion, May 2017
Intended Ages: 10-14
(In my uneducated opinion, this will appeal to reluctant readers)
Themes: Humor, Fantasy, Time-travel
Synopsis: A snarky thirteen-year old boy mails himself back in history to try to restore order and preserve history. In a prior book, he mailed an updated map to Benjamin Franklin during the American Revolution. The map showing the vast country that the United States is now was accidentally released to the public, causing an uproar. This is a sequel to Benjamin Franklin: Huge Pain in my . . . There were a few places where I wished I had read the first book for character dynamics and facts (for instance, how does Ike have enough antique stamps for he and his girlfriend to write back and forth as well as for him to mail himself? I'd think he'd need quite a few. Is there a deeper reason for him calling his stepfather "Dirk the Jerk").
My thoughts: Expect comedy, not history in reading this. Although Ike says he doesn't know much about Colonial America, the book is basic for the stated 10-14 year old audience. Readers will definitely get a feel for the time period in a humorous narrative that explores "a comically different path" for our country. The authors have backgrounds in comedy, including writing for SNL and Go the **** to Sleep and despite the historical setting, the text has a contemporary edgy feel. I laughed at Ike's moniker for Ben--B-Freezy--but this sequel doesn't share the origin. Some of the humor, such as dumping on New Jersey (full disclosure, my birthplace!) and a wink to In-N-Out Burger (Inn-n-Out) may be dampened for an east coast audience. Note: The language and plot feel organic to the age group, but do include name calling, theft and fraud.
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