Review: The Not-So-Jolly Roger
by Jon Scieszka
Illustrated by Lane Smith
Clearly Jon Scieszka “gets it” about boys and what they might like to read. He even hosts a site dedicated to encouraging boys to read. You can find it at www.guysread.com. So it will be no surprize that this book is a good guy’s read and yes, there are a bunch of bad guys in it.
Fred, Sam and Joe (uh, the good guys) get into a whopping lot of trouble when they use a magical book, to time travel back to the days of Black Beard the pirate, an exceptianally nasty character who is ready at any moment to dispatch the boys by way of the pistol or the plank. Oh, and for some unexplained reason his beard is on fire. Well, at least it is smoking! Maybe that’s why he is not-so-jolly. The boys come through a number of close calls before finding themselves digging their own graves. It’s anyone’s guess how they are going to get out of this scrape and get back home.
The second title of The Time Warp Trio series, this book is a quick and easy read, with clear and simple vocabulary and sentence structure. The illustrations are perfect for a boy book, dead guys have x-ed out eyes and cannon balls leave big holes in the bodies of unfortunate pirates. Reminds me of Spy vs Spy in the old Mad Magazine. My fave illo is on page 19, pistol packing Black Beard himself with arms crossed, braided hair flying and extra pistols falling out of his pant legs. Aaarg, matey.
Have you ever seen a painting by a mouse?
It could happen when my new series comes out. Stick around.
Judy Moody Goes to College
Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
I’m pretty sure that I’ve got a good book in my hands if reading the Table of Contents makes me laugh. It wasn’t just a polite chuckle either, more of a gut-buster guffaw. I love Judy Moody, she is my kind of girl: speaks up for herself, has her own unique view of the world, is not afraid to call her brother Stink. In this book, #8 in the series, she makes college look like a walk in the park. No, she hasn’t grown up all of a sudden, she’s still in the 3rd grade, but a challenge with math lands her some tutoring from a college student who is for serious rad.
If you have never read a Judy Moody book (Where have you been?)you really need to do something about that. Funny word play, dead on sibling banter and laugh-out-loud situations abound in these books and the illos by Peter Reynolds add just what we need to appreciate Judy in all of her attitudes. I especially liked seeing Judy doing yoga (not yogurt) with her cat, Mouse.
Since I read my first (not boring) Judy Moody book, author Megan McDonald has been on my list of people I’d most like to meet. There’s a rumor that she is as moody as Judy, but I think she started that herself. No, really.
What do you think ‘funtrumptious’ might mean? Find out when the Runt Farm books arrive on the scene. Stay tuned and I’ll let you in on it right here.
Review – Vunce Upon A Time
Jotto Seibold and Siobhan Vivian
Illustrated by Jotto Seibold
Chronicle Books, 2008
Here we have one quirky little vampire guy. He’s shy, afraid of humans, a vegetarian, and a total fiend for CANDY. Parents beware: this cute vampire book is an complete ode to candy! The computer generated art is bright and chock full of things for young readers to look for and enjoy. (Including many, many candy wrappers!)
Our hero Dagmar, out to replenish his dwidling candy supply, discovers the joys of Halloween. Blissfully unself-aware, he doesn’t realize he needs no costume, being already appropriately attired for the holiday. He scares the parental units by modeling his own handmade creation – a garlic suit! Later he meets a ghost who shows him the ropes, only to eventually discover that she is. . .yikes . . .a human!
I’m not a huge fan of CG art and thought a vampire with a pink ski jump for a nose was a bit over the top. What I did like was reading a story line that speaks to what it feels like to be different from others, to be afraid, and alone. We have all faced those feelings, from the first day we ventured beyond our homes, started attending a new school, or tried out for the soccer team.
Children will totally get this. If a guy like Dagmar can overcome his fears, they can too. And of course, they’ll love the CANDY!
You never know what a mouse like Cletus can do with a set of wheels. Find out when my book series Runt Farm comes out this year.
Reivew – Ottoline and the Yellow Cat
Story & Illustrations by Chris Riddell
This chapter book for the age 8 to 12 crowd is fun to look at. There are goofy drawings on every page and the hard cover jacket is beautifully ornate and cool. There’s plenty to look at, from the 4 color end papers to the black with touches of red interior illustrations. Clearly Chris had fun with this one, creating a cross between a classic chapter book and a graphic novel.
Ottoline’s companion, Mr. Munroe, is all hair from head to knees and reminds me of Cousin It from the Munsters, er no . . . the Addams Family! I’m thinking maybe there was a similar guy in the Lil’ Abner cartoons of bygone days, but who remembers that! Not me.
In this book there is a mystery afoot and Ottoline and Mr. Munroe solve it with the help of the bear who lives in the laundry room downstairs. Ms. Ottoline is on her own as her parents are off on a trip to far off places, something they do alot it seems. But they send a post card now and then and have arranged for pillow fluffers, door knob polishers, clothing folders, and home cooked meal makers to fill in while they are abroad.
For reluctant readers this book may be just the thing. For those who really love a well-crafted story it might be best to look elsewhere. If writers write, do illustrators illu? In this case the story line seems to be there to provide a jumping off point for another cool illustration.
Where would a kitten get hold of a box of cigars? Find out when my new book series comes out.
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Review: Zen and the Art of Faking It
by Jordan Sonnenblick
Scholastic Press, 2007
You might think an adopted kid’s life would be pretty good, right? Not so for San Lee. His dad is in prison, his mom has just moved him for the umpteenth time, this time to Pennsylvania, and he’s the new kid in school, again. Not quite by design, partly to pass the time and to make time with a girl named Woody, he decides to pass himself off as a cool and unruffled Zen Buddhist practitioner. It’s winter, but he parks himself on a rock right in front of the school before the bus arrives and meditates (on how his butt is turning to ice.)
“Woody stepped right in front of me, guitar case in one gloved hand. Jones was wearing gloves too. Ha! I spit on gloves. Gloves are for those who have not mastered their inner soul force. Or for those whose moms have money — one or the other.”
He scours the library for books on Buddhism, spouts Zen sayings in class, does charity work (along side Woody, of course) and begins to fool almost everyone. Bit by bit his ‘practice’ has it’s effect on him, Woody, even the B basketball team. Things are going well. Then it all falls apart. San finds he has a lot of back tracking to do to square things again. Will he lose the girl, get knocked on his not-so-Zen tush or ? You’ll want to find out.
This book is a what I’d call a age group buster, as it as likely to be enjoyed by adults as it is children. It’s funny as heck, touching, smart and an all-around great read. If I had stars on this blog I would give it all five.
Do you know any squirrels who are afraid of trees?
Meet one in my new book series, due out in January.
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Review and Ramblings on Cool Zone
With Illustrations by James Stevenson
Delacorte Press, 2008
One of the coolest things about writer Judy Blume is that she gets what it’s like to be a kid and puts it right into her stories. I just read Cool Zone and I could definitely relate to Abigail who calls her brother, ‘The Pain’. I had a royal pain in my life growing up too, but instead of a brother it was my little sister. Let’s just call her The Little Princess. She was crafty, calculating and sometimes just doggone mean.
One day we were playing with Mom’s button box, a red lacquered, open square piece that we both loved. It was brimming with buttons of every color and kind. I’m sure I didn’t do anything wrong, but without warning my sister gave me a smirky-evil look, dumped the buttons all over the floor and simultaneously let out a ear-piercing wail. My jaw dropped as I realized too late the ingenious torment she had cooked up for me. Mom came running, saw Little Sis crying, the buttons scattered, me with a deer-in-the-headlights look and well . . . you guessed it. I got yelled at, had to pick up all the buttons by myself and The Little Princess got cuddled by Mom. She proved that day that it didn’t matter how old I was, the three years between us would never be enough to protect me from her powers.
Even if you don’t have a brother or a sister I think you will like Cool Zone by Judy Blume. Abigail (her brother calls her The Great One) and Jacob (The Pain) get into some funny messes at home and at school. Abigail is not above dealing her brother out of half his tooth fairy money and Jacob teases his sister unmercifully when she decides to change her name to Violet Rose. Hey, my little sister has changed her name so many times that nobody in the family knows what to call her!
The coolest thing about the illustrations in this book is that they look like you could have done them yourself. I mean it, take a look. You have to be a pretty good illustrator to make people think that. My favorite is the picture of Jacob using the blow dryer on his soggy-eared elephant stuffy, Bruno. But I think Mr. Stevenson missed the mark on page 31. The bus windows are all wrong. They look like house windows. Okay, I can’t exactly say how they need to change. We didn’t have a school bus in my town. I had to walk and I had to hold my sister’s hand too!
Another thing to like about Judy Blume’s books is that the kids get to work out their own problems. Oh, there is an occasional word from Mom or Dad, but for the most part The Pain and The Great One find their own way to a good ending. Just like me and The Little Princess, who is now my best friend forever.
Have you heard about NAARF? It is one scary place.
Soon you and your friends will be able to read all about it, when it shows up in my new book series, Runt Farm.
Review – The Child Cruncher
Illustrated by Mies van Hout
Publisher: Lemniscaat, an imprint of Boyds Mills Press, Inc.
When a young girl who is bored is abducted by the child cruncher she is THRILLED! At last some adventure. She is hoping for the best, but as it turns out he is just an ordinary child cruncher and not into playing pirates or cooking a proper meal either. Undaunted by his lack of interest in anything but having her for breakfast, she leads him on a merry dash around the countryside, steals his horse and eventually makes it triumphantly back home.
The tradition of monsters in children’s stories is as old as time. Human culture seems to thrive on stories of big bad creatures that we must outsmart and overcome. As children we grew up on the run from the billy goats gruff, the big bad wolf, Hansel and Gretel’s witch, and of course the hairy thing that was hiding under our beds every night.
Whether we tell these tales to our children to frighten them into being good or to teach them that life will sometimes deal some hefty challenges, we never seem to tire of the opportunity to spin a tale of a monstrous bad guy.
The monster in this book is really quite endearingly portrayed and illustrated. I particularly love the scene of him waking up to his redecorated cave, after his guest has painted the walls purple, daubed yellow hearts here and there, and tied flowers to all four bed posts. He is hugging his bunny and pouting, a sweet heart tattoo adorning his arm. What a pushover! No way he will be having breakfast today.
One member of the Runt Farm family speaks only a single word. But that one word says volumes. Found out who it is when my Runt Farm books make their debut. Use the RSS feed here and I’ll keep you posted.