Showing posts from August, 2008

Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath, 150pp RL 4

Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath is the winner of the 2002 Newbery Honor. I loved this book the minute I opened it, probably because it had a recipe - a recipe a 9 or 10 year old kid could actually make - at the end of each chapter. Of course, I also admired the stoicism and practicality of the wonderfully crafted narrator, 11 year old Primrose Squarp.
Everything on a Waffle reads almost as if John Irving had honed down one of his weighty tomes into a young adult novel. The characters have great names and quirks like Miss Perfidy, who leaves the room mid-conversation, abuses moth balls and is over 100 years old, and Miss Bowzer who runs the Girl on a Red Swing restaurant where everything, including swordfish, salad and shepherd's pie, is served on a waffle. And, things that should be horrible but somehow come out crazy and funny happen to the characters, especially Primrose. Some of my favorite chapter titles are, "I Lose a Toe," "I Set Fire to a Guinea …

Mr Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater, illustrations by Robert Lawson 138 pp RL3

Written in 1938 and winner of the Newbery Honor, Mr Popper's Penguins remains a uniquely wonderful book. Mr Popper, husband to Mrs Popper and father to Janie and Bill, is a house painter with a passion for the Arctic and Antarctic. His living room is hung with pictures from National Geographic Magazine and he is always checking books out of the library on the subject. When Mr Popper sends a letter of admiration to Admiral Drake, the great explorer, he receives more than a friendly letter in return. He receives a large, wooden box containing a penguin that says, "Ork," and whom he names Captain Cook. The Atwater's descriptions of Captain Cook's behavior and the matter-of-fact way that the Poppers attend to him is brilliant, as are the crisp, expressive illustrations by Robert Lawson, author and illustrator of Rabbit Hill.

Captain Cook builds himself a rookery out of various odd objects found around the Popper house then begins a rapid decline as he pines for a…

Riding Freedom by Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrated by Brian Selznick 138pp RL4

Riding Freedom by Pam Muñoz Ryan is a fantastic book. Based on the life of Charlotte "Charley" Darkey Parkhurst, a woman born in 1812 who lived her life disguised as a man, Riding Freedom is the story of how this amazing woman came to be. Orphaned when she is two, Charlotte ends up the only girl at a orphanage for boys. Not much more than a kitchen maid and never allowed to be adopted, Charlotte finds her joy in the stables, talking with Vern, a freed slave and helping with and learning how to ride the horses. When Mr Milkshark, the head of the orphanage, finds a reason to keep Charlotte from riding the horses and her only friend Hayward is adopted the same day, Charlotte decides to run away.
With the help of Vern, she cuts her hair, dresses in boy's clothes and catches the stagecoach tothe end of the line, Concord, Massachusetts. When she helps the stage driver bed the horses in their stable for the night, she ends up sleeping there. She hides out as long as she …

Stink and the Incredible Super-Galactic Jawbreaker by Megan McDonald, illustrated by Peter H Reynolds, 118pp, RL2

If you read my review of Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid, you know how that I am newly and very pleasantly surprised by Megan McDonald, a well loved author who has definitely left her mark on the world of children's books with her Judy Moody series. But what I will remember and value her for most is the brilliance of the her Stink series, which is will appeal to boys and is superlative among books written at this reading level, a level for emerging readers that serves as a bridge between leveled readers and traditional chapter books.
My favorite parts of Stink and the Incredible Super-Galactic Jawbreaker involve idioms, which are being taught to Stink by his 2nd grade teacher Ms. Dempster, and the power of letter writing, the formal structure of which is also being taught in school. As I mentioned in my review of Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid, the kids in Ms. Dempster's class are always writing, which I think is fantastic! When he purchases what he considers to be a …

Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid by Megan McDonald, illustrations by Peter H Reynolds 102 pp RL 2

Megan McDonald has definitely left her mark on the world of children's books with her Judy Moody series, which debuted in 2000 and is now fifteen books strong. But what I will remember and value her for most is the brilliance of the her Stink series, which began in 2005. Stink, aka James Moody, is Judy's younger brother and his series of books is written at a lower reading level. And in this, they have stood out on the shelves of the chapter book section from day one. The format of the Stink series is markedly different from the super popular Junie B Jones and Magic Tree House chapter books. The font is larger, the trim size of the book itself is square rather than the traditional rectangular, the illustrations are more numerous (Stink draws a comic strip that ends each chapter!) and the page count is a bit shorter. This all adds up to what I consider to be the perfect Bridge Chapter Book that will carry your emerging reader from leveled readers to traditional chapter books. 


The Bookstore Mouse by Peggy Christian, illustrated by Gary Lippincott 134pp RL4

The Bookstore Mouseis an entertaining story, sort of a cross between Inkheart, by Conrelia Funke and the Redwall Series by Brain Jacques. Cervantes the mouse lives behind a wall of words, encyclopedias to be exact, in an antiquarian bookstore along with Milo (a nod to The Phantom Tollboothby Norton Juster?) the cat. When Milo isn't sleeping, he's tormenting Cervantes. Not knowing how to read, he has nothing else to do. When Cervantes isn't fleeing from Milo, he is eating his way through a book of recipes from around the world and reading. One day, Milo succeeds in disrupting Cervantes' world and sends him scampering to a new section of the bookstore where he finds a very special book that he literally falls into.
Once in the story, Cervantes realizes that he is in the middle ages and has fallen into a scriptorium where scribes do their copy work. Cervantes befriends Sigfried, a young man who definitely does not have a way with words, and helps him to decode a mys…

George and Martha Series story and illustrations by James Marshall, 46pp RL1

***polemic warning*** *feel free to skip to the review*
I have always thought of the George and Martha series as picture books, but, as I research and write this blog is see the value of looking at old things in new ways. The main purpose of my blog is to introduce parents of emerging readers to great chapter books that they may not know about as well as to discuss theory and practice in the world of reading. As I scour my bookshelves as well as those at work, I am finding that there are alarmingly few chapter books written at or below a 2nd grade reading level. My emphasis is on chapter books because, while I love picture books and could name ten off the top of my head that would be considered 5th grade reading level, after working in the kid's department for 13 years and watching the trends in publishing and purchasing, kids who have just learned how to read usually do not want to be seen reading a picture book. They want chapter books. Not easy reader books. CHAPTER BOOKS.…

The Littles, by John Peterson, illustrated by Roberta Carter Clark, 80 pp, RL2

I loved The Littles as a child. I never read The Borrowers by Mary Norton, although it has been around longer and is a more complex and well written series, but I gather that the main similarity is that both the Littles and the Borrowers borrow things from humans and repay them in the best ways they know how. Of course, the huge difference between these books is the length and reading levels. Begun in 1967, The Littles, with more than ten books in the series, uses plain language and simple descriptions to tell the story of this family and their adventures inside and outside of the house they inhabit. The interior illustrations are well done and capture the liveliness of the different characters. These books should appeal to both boys and girls and are a great alternative to the two very popular, powerhouse series written at this reading level - The Magic Tree House and Junie B Jones.
If your child likes The Littles, suggest The Borrowers, RL5 and the Bromeliad Trilogy, RL5.

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes, illustrated by Louis Slobodkin 80 pp RL2

The Hundred Dresses, written in 1944 and winner of the Newbery Honor, performs the amazing feat of teaching a "life lesson" without being didactic and dull. I put the phrase "life lessons" in quotes because it is  phrase that has been introduced into children's literature in the last generation or so and it rubs me the wrong way sometimes. I'll be honest, I loathe children's books that set out to teach "life lessons." Most celebrity authored picture books, besides the poor writing, are frequently moralistic and teach-y and advertise their "life lessons" right on the cover. While I do think that there is a book (or three) in the world that can address any and every life issue, I think that the value of the book lies in the ability of a book to capture an experience, to craft it into a story and to make you feel and think things that you didn't before you read it. In my experience, children's books that propose to teach a l…

The Lost Flower Children by Janet Taylor Lisle 122 pp RL3

The Lost Flower Childrenblends gentle fantasy with tough reality. Olivia and Nellie, who is five and has some very stubborn, particular, complicated traits that most parents will recognize, have lost their mother and are "spending the summer" with elderly Great Aunt Minty. Great Aunt Minty knows almost nothing about children but a lot about gardening and soon the girls are our digging with her. The unearthing of a blue teacup leads to Great Aunty Minty's childhood storybook, which contains the story "The Lost Flower Children," about children at a tea party who are turned into flowers by angry fairies. They can only regain their human form when every piece of missing china has been found hidden or buried in the garden. Adults will realize what is happening as the search brings the girls new friends and interest, but children will find it magical.
The three main characters, Olivia, Nellie and Aunt Minty, are very well drawn and in this short tale, Lisle has cr…

Little Wolf's Book of Badness by Ian Whybrow, illustrated by Tony Ross 130pp RL 2

The series of Little Wolf books, there are at least nine as of this writing, are similar to the premise of the Dragon Slayer's Academyin that Little Wolf is sent away to school to learn qualities he doesn't possess. In this story, he is sent to his Uncle Bigbad's Cunning College for Brute Beasts in the Frettnin Forest where he is to learn the nine Rules of Badness, earn his BAD Badge and convince his family that he isn't a "goody-four-paws." Little Wolf's experiences are recounted in letters home to his parents.

There is some boyish humor and lots of illustrations - the book itself is probably less than 70 pages in text alone. The rest of the series follows Little Wolf as he rescues his baby brother - Smellybreff, writes poetry, sails the seas looking for buried treasure, tries to start his own scary school and tries his hand as a forest detective. The books are charming and silly and perfect for a high reading five or six year old. Seven year olds ma…

Dragon Slayer's Academy by Kate McMullan, illustrated by Bill Basso 110pp RL2

The Dragon Slayer's Academy has been around for more than ten years now and fills a nice niche between Magic Tree Houseand Junie B Jones in the world of 2nd grade reading level series. Originally, the books were about 90 pages each but have recently been reissued with extra pages that include a DSA yearbook with profiles of the students and teachers as well as funny bits about nicknames and deepest secrets.
This series takes place during the tymes of olde, when dragon slaying was the work of brave knights. The hero of this series is Wiglaf, the only scrawny disappointment among the thirteen strapping sons of Fergus and Molwena, and anything but brave. When a wandering minstrel fortells Wiglaf's future as a mighty hero, he leaves home to fulfill his destiny with Daisy, his Pig Latin speaking pig, a length of rope, a map and his lucky rag. As he journeys, he meets the wizard Zelnoc, who gives him a magical, if somewhat rusty, sword to which he has completely forgotten the mag…

Hugo Pepper (Far-Flung Adventures) by Paul Stewart, illustrated by Chris Riddell 252pp RL4

Hugo Pepeperis the third and possibly final book in the Far-Flung Adventuresseries written by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell. And, although the books do not have to be read in any order, there are reoccurring people and places in all of them. As to be expected, these books are packed with interesting characters with quirky traits and impeccable illustrations to go with them!

This book begins with Harvi and Sarvi Runter-Tun-Tun, reindeer herders and cheesemakers extraordinaire of the great Frozen North and their discovery of a baby on their doorstep one night. When this orphan, Hugo, discovers the wreckage of the aeronautical snow chariot at age ten and a half, he realizes that he has a past that he yearns to know about. Harvi and Sarvi realize this as well and help him to find his way home. When Hugo reaches Harbor Heights, he finds a town both wonderous and wretched. The inhabitants of Firefly square sell the most amazing things, but they are stuck in the evil grip of Elliot de M…

Fergus Crane (Far-Flung Adventures) by Paul Stewart, illustrated by Chris Riddell 240 pp RL4

Fergus Crane is the first in the Far-Flung Adventures series written by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell. Although the books do not have to be read in order there are reoccurring people and places in all three stories.

Fergus Crane lives with his mother who struggles to make ends meet while working as at Boris Biederbecker's bakery that is conveniently located right next to in the Archduke Ferdinand Apartments where the Cranes live. Nine-year-old Fergus has just begun to attend school aboard the Betty Jean, which, although the teachers seem suspiciously like pirates, offers free schooling. One night, a mysterious mechanical flying box delivers a message to Fergus and his adventure begins. Talking penguins, flying mechanical horses, delicious but rare nuts, beautiful but rare diamonds, a long-lost uncle and a rescue at sea ensue.

As with all of Paul Stewart's books, he is a master of names, which are almost as descriptive as Chris Riddell's brilliant illustrations. The cast…