Monday, July 25, 2016

Class Pet Squad: Journey to the Center of Town

Journey to the Center of Town
Dan Yaccarino
Feiwel and Friends, 2016 135 pgs.
Grades 2-4
Class Pet Squad Series vol. 1

Meet the Class Pet Squad: a group of cuddly animals who hang out in classroom cages by day and have adventures by night. The gang is composed of its leader, a squirrel named Max, stealthy chameleon Rhonda,  Julius, a brainy turtle, wacky rabbit, Suzu who provides the comic relief and the three mice who can build whatever the Pet Squad needs to save the day. A crisis is at hand when student Ben McGillicutty brings a favorite toy to class for show and tell and then leaves it behind. He already confessed that he can't sleep without Sharkman, so it is up to Max and the gang to get the toy back to Ben's house before bedtime. The plan involves an ingenious and secret mode of transportation (think Trojan horse gone canine), assistance from a rough rival gang, a dangerous run-in with a group of cats followed by an altercation with a dog. Finally, the Pet Squad makes it to Ben's house, but its Suzu who wants to tackle the most delicate part of the mission: returning Sharkman to Ben's room. Can the squad trust Suzu to not blow it? More hilarious mayhem ensues with predictably successful results, concluding with the Pet Squad returning back to the school prepared to handle whatever disastrous situation that might next arrive.

Yaccarino, best know for his picture books, turns his talents to writing a chapter book perfect for readers graduation from easy readers, similar to DiCamillo's Mercy Watson series. Illustrations accompany every page and help to propel the story, giving the book a bit of a graphic novel vibe. The limited color palette of black, grey, and blue make the pictures seem a bit retro, but also work to keep the book from feeling to busy and hectic. The characters are lovable and wacky and the plot moves along quickly. Even though there is conflict, the story never crosses over to scary territory, making it a safe read for even the most sensitive children. The characters all feel distinct and a page in the front gives readers a "cheat sheet" to the team member's names and main characteristics. My favorite characters were the three mice, who are reminiscent of the Madagascar penguins. This is a quick read that all kids will enjoy. With both male and female characters and featuring animals, which eliminates the diversity factor, everyone is invited to the party. As the first in a projected series, children will have somewhere to go once they finish. Give to fans of Humphrey or anyone who likes to imagine what their class pet friends do at night.

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