Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Dog Man

Image result for dog manDog Man
Dav Pilkey
Scholastic, 2016  231 pgs
Grades 2-6
Graphic Novel/Humor

George and Harold, our heroes from the popular Captain Underpants series, find some comics they created in their early days. The boys take the rough manuscripts and clean them up, presenting four separate comics or chapters featuring the new/old hero Dog Man. The first comic presents Dog Man's back story. He began as a team of two: a human police man who was strong, yet stupid and his canine companion who was physically week, yet smart. After a tragic accident the doctors sewed the dog's head, complete with his superior brain, onto the human police body and a new super hero is born! The next comics/chapters feature separate conflicts with evil nemesis, Petey the cat, a cunning and resourceful villain. In every instance craziness and mayhem ensues with Dog Man always coming out of top. Robots, evil hot dogs, a giant Philly cheese steak, and plenty of Pilkey's characteristic irreverent humor is all part of the fun. Pilkey includes his classic flip-o-ramas, this time in triplet, and offers a how-to drawing section in the back of the book. A preview of the next installment will have readers clamoring for its release, which is scheduled for the new year.

Is it wrong that I'm a huge Dav Pilkey fan? I know parents are against him for his potty humor and lack of educational and moral content in his work, but he is just so darn funny. Pilkey works on many levels. On the surface he adds cheap jokes, underwear, and slapstick humor to keep his young audience giggling. Below the surface are witty puns and subtle social commentary. I have yet to get through any title by Pilkey from his picture books to his chapter books without laughing out loud. Dog Man started out with a joke about Tony Orlando and Dawn that made me laugh so loud in the library staff room that I got a dirty look from the reference librarian. Closer to Super Diaper Baby in style and format, Dog man is  a graphic novel and not a chapter book. The hero is fresh, funny, and lovable. the triple flip-o-ramas are impossible to resist and feel like magic. Dog Man is deceptively simple. Pilkey conveys emotion and plot within his child-like cartoons and messages about government corruption, the rigidity of the educational system, and, my personal favorite, the power of books, are hidden within the madcap stories. The action never stops, the humor never flags, and readers will eat this book right up. Even the most reluctant reader will enjoy it and can easily be coaxed into reading. I bought four copies for my library and have such a long wait-list that I ordered two more. Lets hope Pilkey never fully grows up and keeps the zaniness going for a good long time!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Last True Love Story

Image result for last true love storyThe Last True Love Story
Brendan Kiely
Simon & Schuster, 2016  276 pgs.
Grades 9-Up
Realistic Fiction

Seventeen year old Hendrix spends his life as an observer. His days consist of going to school, where he does not fully engage, and then spending time with his elderly grandfather at his nursing home. A chance encounter with an interesting guitar playing classmate shakes Hendrix's life up beyond his wildest dreams. Corrina encourages Hendrix to "borrow" his mother's car and leave their southern California home home to journey to the east coast. Gpa, the grandfather, is suffering from Alzheimer's and the continuing loss of his memories is frustrating and sad. Hendrix offers Gpa one last experience: to travel to the place where he and his deceased wife fell in love and were married many years previously. This unlikely trio, complete with Hendrix's inappropriate dog, hit the road traveling through the desert and beyond, meeting interesting characters along the way and encountering unexpected situations. Through the journey Hendrix learns of the truth behind his deceased father's past and encounters someone from it who can shed light on this missing chapter, while introducing him to a family that he didn't know he had. Eventually the parents of the teenagers and the nursing home staff realizes that the group has escaped and make attempts to retrieve them. Will this wandering band of travelers complete their quest and make it to New York before they are forced back to California? 

Kiely, co-author of All American Boys, heads in a much different direction, offing teens a classic road trip novel with a twist. Two very different teenagers escape their unbearable lives together, predictably falling in love, yet changing and maturing in unexpected ways. The twist comes in the form of Gpa, who is suffering from Alzheimer's and is rapidly loosing his memories and must be monitored at all times. Hendrix takes control of his life and tries to save his grandfather the only way he can think of. Is it the best idea to take Gpa on the road without his meds and permission? Perhaps not, but it makes for a great story and Hendrix certainly learns and grows from the experience. Kiely clearly "respects the road trip" and the story does not disappoint in the way of crazy characters and situations often seen in this genre; some good and some not so good. Hendrix faces the truth behind his parent's marriage and even though his father is long-since dead, meets someone along the way who sheds light on his family and his place in it. Gpa is dealing with not only the loss of his memories and his true love, but is still wrestling with his experience in the Vietnam War and, partly through Corrina's music, finds peace with that volatile time in his life. This book is plot driven, dialogue heavy, and action filled. Reluctant teens will enjoy it and it reads quickly. Since the main character is a boy, it is boy friendly-although the title may put male readers off. Regardless, The Last True Love Story will draw in a wide audience of readers and is very enjoyable. Kiely proves that a road trip is not about the destination, but what happens along the way and how it can change the traveler.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Wild Robot

Image result for wild robot brownThe Wild Robot
Peter Brown
Little Brown, 2016  273 pgs
Grades 3-6
Science Fiction

After a devastating hurricane destroys a cargo ship one lone robot, model ROZZUM unit 7134, survives and washes ashore onto a island inhabited only by forest creatures. At first the animals resist the strange intruder, but Roz eventually learns to speak the language of the forest animals and, by lending a hand where needed, starts to make friends and break down barriers. When she accidentally crashes into a goose nest, obliterating all but one egg, Roz feels responsible. She takes care of the remaining egg and when a little gosling is born, Roz adopts him as her own son and names him Brightbill. Roz learns how to be a mother, all while eliciting help in building shelter for her new charge and seeking advise on how to raise a young goose. Throughout the summer Roz and Brightwing have many adventures helping the other forest creatures, making friends, and maturing and acclimating to the environment. As fall arrives a new challenge awaits the unconventional family: Brightwing must migrate to a warmer climate leaving his mother behind. Roz has a difficult winter, as do all the remaining animals, until at last spring arrives. Spring brings Brightwing back to the island for a joyful reunion, as well as new unwanted guests. Roz's whereabouts has been detected and soldier robots have been sent to retrieve her. Roz must depend on her furry friends to help her remain in her home and banish the unwanted intruders.

I have long enjoyed Peter Brown's picture books and was eagerly awaiting his fiction debut. The Wild Robot manages to capture Brown's quirky sensibilities, all while showcasing his inspired illustrations. This book, while quiet in nature, has a quickly moving plot and a simple, yet entertaining story line that will engage readers and keep them turning pages. The chapters are short, the margins are big and print is a decent size for readers of all ability levels. Brown combines his love of nature and technology in this story, making it something completely unique to children's fiction and helping to spark the imaginations of his audience. Robots are cool and are of interest to today's kids. The premise of a robot surviving in the wild will draw in young people. Themes conveyed in this novel include protecting the environment, acceptance of non-traditional families, its okay to be different, cooperation is beneficial to society, being nice goes a long way, and little guys can rise to the top. The real stars of the book are the sophisticated illustrations, which will help draw in reluctant readers and greatly enhance the text. This is a deceivingly simple and sweet story, which has a lot to say, all while entertaining young people and helping to allow their imaginations to soar.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

In Due TIme

In Due Time: Stay a Spell & Wrong Place. (Really) Wrong Time
Nicholas O. Time
Simon & Schuster, 2016 155/134 pgs
Grades 3-6
Fantasy/Historical Fiction
In Due Time Series #2 & #3

Image result for in due time stay a spellStay a Spell

Spelling-challenged fashionista, Jade, gets an offer from her school librarian, Ms. Tremt, that she can't refuse. She is invited to travel back into the past with two friends. After much consideration Jada chooses 1977 to a Hollywood movie studio costume shop where her Aunt Katy is interning. The three friends enter the world of disco balls and polyester as they encounter Aunt Katy hard at work as a teenager. With only three hours in the past there is no time to see Star War in its original release, but they do have enough time to tour the costume shop, visit a famous record store and save the day for Aunt Katy. Surprisingly enough, Jada helps Aunt Katy out by fixing a spelling mistake that saves her internship and changes the course of her career in the future for the better. The three time explorers manage to make it back before its too late, but who is the strange man who seems to be following them? Is he trying to steal the Book of Memories?

Image result for in due time stay a spellWrong Place (Really) Wrong Time

Luiz, who traveled along with Matt in volume one, has his turn for an adventure. With unclaimed treasure on his mind, Luiz plans on going to the pirate ship of Captain Kidd to find the notorious bandit's hidden secrets. He takes along new kid, Patrick, who is initially unfamiliar, becomes an instant friend with much in common as the adventure progresses. Luiz tells his older brother Rafael about the opportunity, but Raf doesn't believe him. How can he prove to his brother that time travel is for real? Once the adventure begins it becomes clear that the Book of Memories is not working as it ought to. To make matters worse, the new friends appear to be followed by Tim Raveltere, who's evil purpose is now revealed: to collect formidable characters from the past in order to achieve power and money. The pirate life is not as glamorous as Luiz and Patrick expected and the adventure leads to potentially deadly results. Once back in the present, all seems well until Luiz wakes up to find a Viking, King Tut, and Charlie Chaplin in his bedroom. While Ms. Trent was distracted the day before, he took the Book of Memories home to prove to his brother that time travel is real. Raf now is a  believer, but is stuck along with his brother and Patrick, trying to corral  the gang from the past back to their own time. Where is Ms. Tremt? They need help now before it’s too late

In Due Time is my new favorite time travel series. It is full of action, adventure, and humor with a bit of history thrown in. Lighter than Magic Tree House it will attract fans of that series, plus new ones that find the Magic Tree House a bit intense. This series makes time travel seem possible and lays out the rules in a clear and sensible way. The cast is diverse in both race and gender, inviting everyone to find someone to identify with to go on an armchair time travel adventure. History is revealed in an entertaining way and volume two even explains Einstein's theory of relativity, thus making time travel possible, in an accessible way that even this old brain could comprehend. I particularly enjoyed volume two, since it was set in the 1970's, the decade of my youth. Much was as the author describes. My only quibble was with the use of the word "groovy", which was more of a hippy word. The 1970's was a quickly changing decade and by 1977 no one was saying groovy anymore. Much like Ms. Tremt, I can do the hustle, although the record stores in Syracuse where I grew up did not break out into a performance flash-mob of the dance. Maybe that was a LA thing. At any rate, I enjoyed seeing my childhood as a time traveling destination in the deep past. Believe it or not, I was not alive during the time of Captain Kidd, so I have no first hand experience on the authenticity of this time period. It seemed accurate to me with the smells and sensibilities of the pirate population. A new nemesis is introduced in volume two and carrying over into volume three, giving the series a plot-line that will unify it and lead readers to the next installment. Number four is set for release next week,followed by five and six next year. This series is a fun and educational introduction to the time travel genre likely to be enjoyed by a large cross-population of young readers. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Book Scavenger

Image result for book scavengerBook Scavenger
Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
Holt/Macmillian, 2015  350 pgs
Grades 4-7

Emily and her family are on yet another move. Her parents run a successful blog called "50 homes in 50 states" and move to a new state every year. This year the family is in California giving San Francisco a try. Right away Emily makes a friend in her upstairs neighbor, a boy named James with an unfortunate cowlick and a shared passion for puzzles and ciphers. Emily's favorite game is called "Book Scavenger" and it is a big interactive scavenger hunt for books hidden by and for a massive on-line community. The game is run by eccentric San Franciscan native Garrison Griswold. Our story begins as Griswold is shot by villains attempting to steal a book that will launch his new interactive game. Emily and James find the book. quite by accident, which leads them off on a rollicking adventure through the city, solving clues and hitting dead ends, all while being chased by the "bad guys". Emily's older brother temporarily leaves his cult-like following of his favorite rock band to join the two friends in their quest. A local bookstore owner and friend of James also pitches in as consultant and support. References to famous landmarks around San Francisco, as well as famous citizens and books are all featured in this homage to the great city. Will the team solve the mystery and find the treasure before the bad guys do? Will Mr. Griswold survive the shooting? Has Emily made her first real friend and fallen in love with her new city only to have it all yanked away in yet another move?

The Book Scavenger has done for bookstores what Mr. Lemoncello's Library did for libraries. I love books that glorify books and this title may be my new favorite. The volume starts out with the description of the on-line game "Book Scavenger", which sounds way more awesome and time better spent than Pokemon GO. Next, we get into the story itself, which begins with a shooting of the game's inventor, who is holding a mysterious new game. Finally, we meet our puzzle loving heroes, who discover the book that will lead them to the new game and the story really takes off. Readers will try to figure out clues right along with Emily and James as they are led from one landmark and book to another. The plot never lags as clues are solved, red-herrings dismissed, and relationships evolve. Bertman offers a surprising amount of character development for a mystery and both Emily and James are fully realized characters, who grow along the way. Kids unfamiliar with Edgar Allen Poe may want to crack into one of his stories, as well as the one of the many books mentioned within the pages. My only complaint is that I would have liked to see a bibliography of the books mentioned at the back of the volume for kids to maybe go onto further reading. Bertman writes a true love-letter to San Francisco and the setting is integral to the overall tale. The plot line of Emily not wanting to move gets solved a little too quickly and easily, but this is a minor quibble. The main mystery is solved in a satisfactorily fashion, the villains are revealed and punished, and the heroes rewarded. This story is a delight for smart kids, mystery solvers, and book lovers. I can't wait for the sequel The Unbreakable Code, which is due for release in April, 2017.

Friday, November 4, 2016

The Littlest Bigfoot

Image result for littlest bigfootThe Littlest Bigfoot
Jennifer Weiner
Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 2016 283 pgs
Grades 4-7

Twelve-year-old Alice has never felt that she has fit in. She is too big, too awkward, and her hair is too untamable and wild. Constantly being forced to change schools within her New York City home, Alice's reluctant parents run out of options and send her to a hippy school in upstate New York. We see Alice's journey, still struggling to find her place. Her roommates seem nice enough, but caught up in their own lives. A new girl, also from New York City yet very cool, befriends Alice and she is at long last part of the "in-crowd", only to have her dreams come crashing around her ears. Alternating chapters tell the tale of Millie, a bigfoot or "Yare". Millie also does not fit in and struggles with being too small compared to her companions. Millie longs to be a famous singer, an impossible dream for a Yare, and is fascinated by humans. On a trip across the lake from her Yare village to spy on the human hippy school, Millie and Alice meet. The two become instant and secret friends. Halloween feels like a perfect time to go out in public together, since Millie's fur will appear to be a costume. Meanwhile interspersed chapters tell the story of a lonely boy named Jeremy, who is a bigfoot tracker. He thinks he has located a bigfoot in this upstate New York community and is anxious to prove to the world that they really do exist. All the characters converge at a final climatic scene, when it is revealed that everyone has something "weird" about them and we need to except each other's differences. Millie's community is left in tact, Alice finds friends she previously overlooked, and a startling revelation is uncovered at the end of the story, leading readers to the next installment in the series.

Adult bestselling author, Weiner, tries her hand at writing middle grade fiction with mostly successful results. Kids have always been fascinated with bigfoot (bigfeet?) and this is the first book I have encounter featuring the legendary American beast. Right there, this is a draw for young people. The book seems to skew a little on the "girlie" side, although why can't a book about bigfoot be aimed at girls? Boy readers interested in these furry creatures will more than likely be put off by what is decidedly a female-centric friendship story. The message of the book is that everyone has something unique and different about them and  the excepting each other's differences theme, as well as the anti-bullying missive, are a bit heavy handed and appear to be the true purpose of the book. The fact that a girl gets to be friends with a bigfoot and Weiner makes this encounter feel believable allows me to forgiven the message driven plot. Who wouldn't want to have a bigfoot friend? This premise alone will sell the book to readers. The large font, wide margin and artistic touches will make the book accessible to reluctant readers. Lonely girls with big imaginations will love this story and find companionship in Alice and Millie. The surprise at the end of the book was kind of cool and will lead readers to the next installment in the series. Jeremy and his cyber wheelchair-bound friend are  underdeveloped characters, but maybe we will see more of them in installments to come.

Thursday, November 3, 2016


Image result for ghosts rainaGhosts
Raina Telgemeier
Graphix/Scholastic, 2016 240 pgs.
Grades 4-8
Graphic Novel

Catrina is not a happy camper. Her family is uprooting from their southern California town to move to a northern coastal town for the sake of her sister's health. Maya is plagued with Cystic Fibrosis, a degenerating breathing disease with no cure.Bahia de la Luna is mostly foggy and very creepy. The town is famous for hosting a big Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead party at midnight on Halloween. The sisters meet Carlos, host of the town's ghost tour and cure boy-next-door. Maya and Carlos become fast friends and he helps her set up an alter in the living room to remember the family's deceased Abuela. Cat starts at her new school and eventually makes some new friends. Maya has a set-back with her illness while on a ghost hunting adventure with Cat and Carlos, which leaves her housebound. Halloween rolls around and with it Dia de los Muerto. Cat must face her fears of all things dead. She reluctantly attends the town's celebration and finds peace and healing with the other celebrants, both human and celestial. A friendship is finally formed with Carlos and maybe even a future romance. The book leaves us with no easy answers. Maya is not going to get better, but somehow the family has found a way, through connecting to the spirit world and Abuela, to find peace and acceptance.

What a perfect book to read on Dia de los Muertos! I have been on the reserve list at my library for this new title by one of my favorite authors and it just was luck of the draw that I received it at such a perfect time. Raina does it again with her latest heartfelt story, loosely drawing again from her childhood. As with other Telgemeier books, the story is told effortlessly in a perfect marriage of images and text, working together to convey a seemingly simple story, yet one with many layers. A sad situation is faced by our protagonist, who lives life safely and fearfully. Her sister is the chance taker. Cat must learn to process her fears and stress and move ahead with the business of living a life that she has little control over. I love that this story is set in a predominately Latino community in a Californian town that is not warm and sunny, like we assume California to be, but foggy and gloomy. Readers unfamiliar with Dia de los Muertos will learn about the holiday and perhaps find healing with their own grief. Reading this story has definitely encouraged me to next year find a celebration close to home to attend, because the holiday looks to be so fun, interesting, and unusual. Telgemeier's colorful illustrations reflect the joy and beautiful patchwork of images associated with this holiday and the contrast between the foggy day-to-day life in this coastal town and the warm celebration of Dia de los Muerto is heartily felt and experienced by the reader. As we try to bring more diversity to literature for young people and celebrate the wonderful melting pot that is the United States, Ghosts is a welcome addition.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Story Thieves

Image result for story thieves rileyStory Thieves
James Riley
Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 2015  383 pgs
Grades 4-7
The Story Thieves series

Owen is a bit of a loner with an unexciting life. His days consist of school, helping his mother at her job at the town library, and reading books. All this changes when he sees his classmate Bethany appear to jump out of a book. Further investigation reveals that Bethany is half-human and half-fictional and has the ability to travel in, through, and out of books. Best of all, she can take others with her. Bethany's father has disappeared years before and Owen pledges to try to help her find him, only he secretly has ulterior movies. Owen plans to trick Bethany into taking them into the climax of the penultimate volume of his favorite series, meeting the hero Kiel Gnomenfoot, and changing the outcome, thus saving the day himself. Things get quickly out of control as the two new friends find themselves in the world of Owen's favorite series, caught up in the struggle of magic verses science. Alternating chapters tell the tales of our now separated heroes. Owen finds himself transported into the role of Kiel and must work with a robotic girl, who uses science to be combined with his previously unknown magic to save the day. Meanwhile Bethany teams up with the real Kiel and the actual author of the series to try to put the series back to rights and to save the lives of their friends. Will the four young people manage to find a compromise in the imaginary book world between science and magic? Will they survive it? Do Bethany and Owen manage to get back to the real world? Does Bethany find her father? Some plot lines are satisfactorily resolved, while others are purposely left dangling in order to entice readers to pick up the next volume in the series: The Stolen Chapters, released earlier this year. Volume three is set to be released early next year.

Riley, author of the Half Upon a Time series, offers a new series perfect for book lovers. The story moves along at a breath-taking pace with twists, turns, and chapter cliff-hangers galore. The plot gets a bit involved and the two story lines move back and forth quickly, making this more of a choice for kids who are seasoned readers. That said, there is much to bite into for those willing to take the plunge. I sometimes felt confused with the back and forth of the plots and it took me a bit of time to get back into the story when starting a new chapter, making this book not for kids who need a linear storyline. Riley breaks the forth wall as our characters blur the lines between reality and fiction, eventually involving the author to help them sort the whole mess out. This is an unusual and fresh contribution to the fantasy/adventure genre and will be loved by those readers starved for something new, different, and intellectually challenging. Both boys and girls will enjoy this story and relate to the adventure. Perfect for book lovers, references are made to other works of children's fiction, which I would have liked to see gathered in a bibliography at the end of the volume. My favorite quote comes from Owen's librarian mother who says "The second rule they taught us in librarian school is that you can have as many favorite books as there are books". Owen's mom and I must have went to different library schools, because I didn't learn this at mine, but I whole heartily agree!