February 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Chapter Book Xpress Reviews | November 2016

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For more of this month’s
Xpress Reviews:

Picture Books

Middle Grade


Graphic Novels


Deen, Natasha. Lark Holds the Key. illus. by Marcus Cutler. 80p. Orca. Oct. 2016. pap. $6.95. ISBN 9781459807273.

Gr 1-3 –Lark Ba has ants in her pants, but not real ants, because, as she states, “that would be gross.” She also has a younger brother. Ten minutes younger, that is. Like Judy Moody and Piper Green, Lark Ba is spunky and ambitious. When Lark’s family visits the library, or the “Temple of Secrets,” they discover it is closed because Mrs. Robinson lost the library key. Lark is determined to solve the mystery and locate the key, and she asks Mrs. Robinson to retrace her steps. When that approach fails, the others resign themselves to calling a locksmith. Not willing to leave any stone unturned, Lark continues to envision the key’s whereabouts. Most noteworthy about this early chapter book may be the way Deen embraces and simply defines new vocabulary, a critical skill for kids at this reading level. Often this takes place in the context of the story, such as when Lark describes dyslexia. Other times, readers are given clues to uncover the new word, with answers in the back matter. Swahili and Korean words integrated seamlessly into the story help readers learn more about Lark’s background. VERDICT A problem-solving adventure led by a lovable character and enhanced with vocabulary lessons: there is much to celebrate in this story. Lark Ba is a welcome addition to early chapter book heroines.–Beth Parmer, New Albany Elementary Library, OH

Paiba, Helen, sel. Funny Stories for 5 Year Olds. 244p. illus. Pan Macmillan. Oct. 2016. pap. $8.99. ISBN 9781509804931.

K-Gr 3 –Sixteen self-contained chapters from prolific British authors present outlandish situations and unusual outcomes. The stories follow a typical premise, with engaging moments interspersed; a king tries repeatedly to find a pet that suits him in Liss Norton’s “A Pet Fit for a King,” Great Aunt Bun takes part in a hospital fiasco in Linda Greenbury’s “Great Aunt Bun and Trouble,” and a familiar tale receives a twist when a conniving wolf descends upon a group of youngsters in Tony Ross’s “Mrs. Goat and Her Seven Little Kids.” Pencil illustrations feature characters’ exaggerated expressions to support each narrative. British slang and spelling add a richness to the English setting and introduce many unfamiliar words to American listeners. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these selections, originally published during the 1970s through the 1990s, are more dated than classic. Many Briticisms will be confusing for American children. There are also scenes of characters playing in racially insensitive ways. In Nancy Blishen’s “A Little Bit of Colour,” originally published in 1989, children play “pirates, and cowboys and Red Indians, crusaders, and explorers.” VERDICT Overall, the problematic issues impact the stories’ effectiveness, offering more unsettling moments than laugh-out-loud guffaws.–Meg Smith, Cumberland County Public Library, Fayetteville, NC

Surovec, Yasmine. My Pet Human Takes Center Stage. illus. by Yasmine Surovec. 112p. Roaring Brook. Aug. 2016. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9781626720749.

Gr 2-4 –In this follow-up to My Pet Human, Oliver the cat returns in a new adventure. Freckles, Oliver’s pet human, is starting school, and Oliver can’t bear to be left behind. He hides in Freckles’s backpack and is undetected until she gets to school. Fortunately, there is a classroom where Oliver can spend the day with the Fur-ever Friends group’s adult organizer. Freckles ends up joining the group and gets involved in planning a fund-raising event to benefit the local animal shelter. She also agrees to foster a kitten, a decision that Oliver does not approve of. Freckles decides to teach the cats tricks to perform at the upcoming benefit, but during the show, disaster ensues when too many kitty treats cause unintended and hilarious consequences. Surovec’s illustrations are endearing, especially when Oliver adopts the big-eyed cute kitty look. Readers will empathize with both Freckles and Oliver in this sweet story perfect for new readers and animal lovers. VERDICT A recommended purchase for most chapter book collections. Hand to readers who love animal tales.–Kathy Kirchoefer, Henderson County Public Library, NC

This article was published in School Library Journal's November 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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