The Notebook of Doom: Subject - Chomp of the Meat-Eating Vegetables by Troy Cummings, 90 pp, RL 2

The Notebook of Doom by Troy Cummings is part of a new line of books (seven series and counting) from Scholastic called Branches that has been selling like hotcakes at the bookstore where I work. The books in the Branches imprint are exactly what I have been looking for all these years of helping customers and my own children make that leap from leveled readers to chapter books. Now, with the Branches books, this developmental step doesn't have to be a leap.   As their mission statement reads, the goal of the Branches books is to nurture independent readers by "bridging the gap between leveled readers and traditional chapter books." Having read a book in each of the new series, I can guarantee you that they are definitely bridging this gap. 

The Notebook of Doom is the perfect mix of silly and scary (one review of this series used the word "horrorlarity") that kids at this age seem to love. When Alexander Bopp, son of a dentist, moves with his dad to the town of Stermont, he discovers an abandoned notebook filled with disturbing information on creatures like the Rhinoceraptor and the Forkupine. Happily, pages from this notebook show up as two-page spreads in this series, letting readers see what Alexander is seeing when he opens his own Notebook of Doom. The town of Stermont with its three cemeteries, abandoned glue factory and crumbling elementary school, seems perfectly suited as a home for the odd creatures that Alexander finds in the pages of the notebook. 

One of the great quirks in The Notebook of Doom is the fact that the monsters in the abandoned notebook are created from everyday objects, which means that Alexander begins to see monsters everywhere he goes and, as each book in the series proves, while he may tussle with a coatrack from time to time, he's not always seeing things... Alexander arrives in town just in time for the school renovation and discovers that he and his classmates are temporarily attending class in an old hospital, with Alexander's grade meeting in the old morgue. Worse, though, his new teacher gives him the nickname "Salamander Snott." But, things aren't too bad. Alexander is befriended by Nikki, a seemingly normal girl who is also a Jampire - she has fangs, can see in the dark, sunburns easily and will only eat red and juicy foods, and Rip Bonkowski, a brusque little tough guy with a soft heart - at least when it comes to gophers. Together, these three friends make up the S.S.M.P. - the Super Secret Monster Patrol, a group of kids sworn to protect Stermont from monsters. 

In The Notebook of Doom: Subject - Chomp of the Man-Eating Vegetables, Alexander, Nikki and Rip are surprised to arrive at school and find it freezing inside. On top of that, pie and ice cream are being served in the cafeteria and squishy green balls are being used for dodgeball in PE. With the big Chili Supper fundraiser at the site of the unfinished new school on the horizon, Alexander and his friends are turning to the Notebook of Doom left and right trying to figure out what's going on and what monsters are at the heart of the strange happenings. The climactic scene is pretty epic, with Alexander, Nikki and Rip (who has been imprisoned in the shell of a giant pumpkin) fight off the monsters high atop the new glass greenhouse where all the food for the cafeteria will be grown.  In a moment of genius, Alexander saves the day with the help of a giant windmill, defeating the monsters and providing bushels of chopped vegetables to go in the vegetarian chili being made for the Chili Supper.

I included the image above, which is not from The Notebook of Doom: Subject - Chomp of the Man-Eating Vegetables, to give you a good idea of the average text-to-illustration ratio in this series. I think that the word count in The Notebook of Doom series could be close to that of an average Magic Tree House book, but the fonts are bigger and, with more illustrations, the words are less densely packed. As a children's bookseller (and parent) I have seen the look on an emerging reader's face over and over when they crack open a book that has small font and few illustrations - it's an almost instant rejection that usually stops short of an actual turning-up-of-the nose. I guarantee you that this WILL NOT happen when you open up The Notebook of Doom or any of the Branches books. Also, this series is almost guaranteed to inspire a loyal and enthusiastic readership. If you buy one, you will most likely be buying them all!

Source: Review Copy

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