Friday, March 31, 2017

New Books for Readers Ages 6-14 #kidlit #newreleases

In a break from Perfect Picture Book Friday tradition, I'm calling attention to three new releases that I would classify as late chapter books/early middle grade readers. I don't read as many of these, so rather than my usual formal "reviews" with associated activities, I'm just sharing a heads-up and my thoughts. The thread between these? HUMOR! Starting with a book for the youngest and working my way up through three--
Title: CatStronauts Mission Moon and Catstronauts Race to Mars
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
Author/Illustrator: Bruce Hale
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.

Title: Benjamin Franklin You've Got Mail

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.

Thanks for stopping by! I love to hear what you think about my posts in the comments.

Friday, March 10, 2017


 Last week I was thinking of Spring. Today, SNOW is falling again. What a difference a week makes. Today is a good day to curl up with a cup of cocoa and a plate of cookies. (Okay, every day is a good day for that!) But--
Have you ever wondered why we eat what we eat?
Owlkids Books, Inc. from Canada published a translation of a book from Germany that shares one story. Whether it's legend or truth, the people of Germany believe! 

Author/Illustrator: Christoph Niemann
Publisher: OwlKids Books, 2015
Intended Ages: 3-7
Themes: Food, Myth

Opening Line: "There was once a king called Fritz. One day he heard about a new wonder plant from South America: the potato."
Synopsis: A retelling of a legend in which King Frederick the Great of Prussia (King Fritz) uses cunning trickery to convince his unwilling subjects to eat an ugly new food.

What I like about this book: Did you make potato "stamps" in art class? I did. And this book is illustrated with a combination of potato photography and potato stamped prints. Everything potato! With spare text, this book got me thinking about that opening question. Some plants used for foodstuffs have spread around the world. Who championed these invaders? And the reverse logic used by the king may tip off kids to a few of their parents' tricks. Wink. Wink. We know who we are.

  • If you don't know what a potato print is--watch this New York Times video post about the legend behind the book (it uses Niemann's imagery)
  • If kids are old enough to carve with a knife, let them make a potato stamp. If they aren't, make the stamps for them and let them stamp away! Wrapping paper or framed artwork alert!
  • Cook your favorite potato recipe. YUM.
  • Read a stack of potato books. Some I've read: ONE POTATO, TWO POTATO by Cynthia DeFelice (A Strega Nona type folktale), THE ENORMOUS POTATO by Aubrey Davis (folktale), POTATOES, POTATOES by Anita Lobel (explaining war to children). More recommended by Windham County Farm to School. I wasn't able to find a copy yet, but I'm adding Kathleen Lindsey's SWEET POTATO PIE to my reading list.
  • For older readers. Make a list of favorite foods. Research whether that food is native to your area.

Thanks for stopping by! Hope you enjoy my selection this week. I love to hear what you think about it in the comments!

This review is part of PPBF (Perfect Picture Book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books. Organized and curated by author Susanna Leonard Hill, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF

Friday, March 3, 2017


Where I live, the winter has been mild this year and my thoughts have turned to Spring . . .


Author: Jane Yolen
Illustrator: Lisel Jane Ashlock
Publisher: Creative Editions, 2015
Intended Ages: 4-8
Themes: The seasons, Writing in rhyme, Animals

Opening Line: "Snow, snow, shiver and blow.
Icicle popsicles drip, drop and dropsicles."
Synopsis: Beginning and ending with winter, this book celebrates the cyclical nature of the seasons.

What I like about this book: The text and illustrations marry perfectly. A few animals are mentioned in the text, then the illustrations add layers of detail, together bringing the seasons to life. I felt the whoosh of wings and the thump of paws. Nature takes center stage, with children and adults tucked into the backgrounds. The scenes come vividly to life with something new to feel or see in several re-readings. Picture book aficionados may smile at the owl prominent in the first spread, remembering OWL MOON. Yolen's text is a rhythmic read aloud treat. A longtime Yolen fan, this is a new favorite for me. While each season may have unpleasantries, they aren't mentioned here! The tone of this book is a gentle celebration of the repeating cycle.

  • List the best and worst things about each season. Compare lists. If you were a butterfly, would your answers be different? A polar bear? A frog?
  • The internet has many kid-friendly activities to explore the seasons. Start with Pinterest?
  • has grade level appropriate lesson plans about the seasons.
  • Start a seasonal scrap book, recording your observations on the first day each month.
  •  What is your favorite food to each during each season? Make some!
Thanks for stopping by! Hope you enjoy my selection this week. Have you read this one? I'd love to hear your thoughts about it in the comments!

This review is part of PPBF (Perfect Picture Book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books. Organized and curated by author Susanna Leonard Hill, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF