February 19, 2018

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Chapter Books: Creepy Capers & Newfound Friendships | August 2017 Xpress Reviews

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Dapré, Alan. Porridge the Tartan Cat and the Bash-Crash-Ding. ISBN 9781782503569.

––––. Porridge the Tartan Cat and the Brawsome Bagpipes. ISBN 9781782503552.

ea vol: illus. by Yuliya Somina. 152p. Floris/Kelpies. Apr. 2017. pap. $6.95.

Gr 2-4 –Porridge the Tartan Cat addresses readers directly in a sassy brogue in this humorous Scottish import. Porridge lives in Tattiebogle Town with twin siblings Ross and Isla, their parents, and Gadget Grandad and Groovy Gran (collectively known as The Big Yins). Varying typefaces emphasize Porridge’s frequent exclamations, such as “Me-yawn, me-oops, or me-yum.” In Bash-Crash-Ding, the children spend a week with Groovy Gran who is trying to get her old band, the Tattie Scones, back together for a reunion concert to benefit the children’s school. Former bandmates Biff McBash and Scruff McDuff are easy enough to track down, but Rab McDrab has been missing for years. As the family searches for him, they are foiled at every turn by the Dug-o-Doom, a large hairy, scary dog. In Brawsome Bagpipes, the twins (and Porridge, of course) spend an adventure-filled week with Gadget Grandad, purveyor of such inventions as a “tripewriter” (a typewriter that spits out sensible advice, no matter what you type into it) as Grandad battles with his archenemy, Fergus McFungus. Fergus has stolen a page out of the famed Splotter’s Guide To Cooking Up Trouble and is planning something dastardly. Frequent line illustrations reminiscent of Quentin Blake enrich the story’s zippy pace and comedic effect. The books are appended with a few pages of puzzles, word games, and kid-friendly jokes. VERDICT Readers will enjoy the surprise endings, unusual characters, and absurd humor. Some Scottishisms may trip up new readers, but these books work wonderfully as silly read alouds.–Madigan McGillicuddy, Atlanta-Fulton Public Library, Atlanta, GA

Deen, Natasha. Lark and the Diamond Caper. illus. by Marcus Cutler. 96p. (Orca Echoes). Orca. Aug. 2017. pap. $6.95. ISBN 9781459814004.

Gr 1-3 –The twin brother and sister detective team of Lark and Connor Ba are at it again in this second book in the series. For a dollar per case, the Ba private detective team will solve any mystery, big or small. Their latest challenge falls into their laps when they walk into the general store just as a theft has taken place. A pair of diamond earrings is missing. Through careful questioning and observation, they work steadily to recover the jewelry, much to the relief of the store owners. Using the same stylistic tools of the previous title, this short chapter book offers vocabulary for beginning readers with lengthier explanations in the back matter. VERDICT A lively read for young mystery enthusiasts.–Vivian Ho, Port Washington Public Library, NY

Gómez, Rebecca . School for Ghost Girls. illus. by Monique Dong. 112p. (Boo La La: Bk. 1). Scholastic. Jul. 2017. pap. $4.99. ISBN 9780545917988.

Gr 1-3 –Best friends CJ, Tiny, and Maude are third graders at a boarding school for ghosts called Boo Academy, or Boo La La for short. The school year begins uneventfully, but it soon seems that their kindly new dorm mother, Ms. Finley, behaves more like a human than a ghost. This worries the girls—Boo La La students have been taught that if humans are able to prove that ghosts are real, the living will control (or eradicate) ghostkind. A field day competition provides the girls with a foolproof opportunity to figure out if Ms. Finley is a true ghost or not, and the story ends happily. The central three characters are distinguished by simple personality characteristics: CJ is shy, Tiny is athletic, and Maude enjoys leadership roles. A mean girl clique provides a familiar antagonist for readers and potential conflict for future books. VERDICT For fans of the “Monster High” toy franchise who aren’t quite ready to read the tie-in books, this series offers an appealing (and not-that-scary) alternative.–Katherine Barr, Cameron Village Regional Library, Raleigh, NC

Heide, Florence Parry & Sylvia Worth Van Clief. Fables You Shouldn’t Pay Any Attention To. illus. by Sergio Ruzzier. 112p. S. & S./Atheneum. Jul. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481463829.

Gr 2-4 –The title says it all in this updated edition that features black-and-white cartoon illustrations of the anthropomorphic characters that soften the message of the immoral fables. These are not to be shared with the faint of heart. There’s the story of a generous squirrel, Jennifer, who shares her nuts all winter, then drops dead when she runs out and friend Cyril doesn’t share; and careless Genevieve the cat, who is rewarded at Christmastime with new clothes and toys because she ruins all of hers while her siblings get nothing. Then there’s Annette, a monkey, who lies about being sick to get out of doing work only to take advantage of the new swing her father and siblings were too tired to play on after doing chores all afternoon. The oversized text and simple format is a comfortable mix of short and more complex sentences, appropriate for new readers looking for stronger vocabulary and a challenge. VERDICT A tongue-in-cheek offering, best shared one-on-one with older readers who can appreciate sarcasm.–Kristine M. Casper, Huntington Public Library, NY

Hunt, Elizabeth Singer. The Adventure in the Amazon. Bk. 2. ISBN 9781602863613.

––––. The Battle for the Emerald Buddha. Bk. 1. ISBN 9781602863590.

ea vol: illus. by Brian Williamson. 144p. (Secret Agents Jack & Max Stalwart). Perseus/Weinstein. Jul. 2017. pap. $5.99.

Gr 1-4 –In this new spin-off to the now-concluded, 14-book “Secret Agent, Jack Stalwart,” series, nine-year-old Jack teams up with his 11-year-old brother, Max. The seasoned detectives come out of “retirement” to again work for GPF (Global Protection Force), whose mission is to protect the world’s most precious treasures from being stolen. Each episode takes the agents to another country, teaching readers about geography and world culture as they enjoy a rip-roaring adventure. Every book begins with information about the assigned country as well as GPF spy data. The Adventure in the Amazon sends the brothers to Brazil to find a missing scientist. In Battle for the Emerald Buddha, the boys are vacationing in Thailand with their parents (who are unaware of their sons’ extracurricular activities) when a statue is pinched from a museum. In both books, the nimble boys use their wits and assorted spy-tech gadgets to track down the bad guys and call the GPF to pick them up. There is plenty of action to keep readers interested, but the plots are fairly straightforward with no surprises–the brothers’ first hunch is always correct. Although it takes a great leap of faith to believe that a spy agency would send a couple of kids into such dangerous circumstances, the series’ intended audience probably won’t mind. VERDICT Give these to kids who have finished all the “A to Z Mysteries” and want something more exciting.–Martha Simpson, Stratford Library Association, CT

Lagercrantz, Rose. See You When I See You. illus. by Eva Eriksson. 152p. (My Happy Life; Bk. 5). Gecko Pr. Aug. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781776571291.

Gr 2-5 –In this fifth installment centered on best friends Dani and Ella, the young girls are surprisingly reunited. During her school’s field trip to the zoo, Dani has strict instructions not to get separated. When Dani spots Ella with another school group, she and Ella pair up to embark on an adventure. Realizing they have been missed, the girls work hard to evade capture so they can spend more special time together. Lagercrantz has the ability to create genuine voices in both girls and other characters, including Ella’s father and his girlfriend, Sophie. As with the prior titles, Dani and Ella grapple with realistic emotions, including jealousy, sadness, and joy. The overarching theme of friendship comes through strongly as the girls worry about being separated again. Translated from Swedish, this pleasant offering features Eriksson’s distinctive black-and-white drawings. VERDICT Another gem in a sweet series. Though it doesn’t have the flash and glitter of other, more popular chapter books, the fully realized characters in these titles will make a lifelong impression on young readers.–Michele Shaw, Quail Run Elementary School, San Ramon, CA

Nicholson, Mike. Museum Mystery Squad and the Case of the Hidden Hieroglyphics. ISBN 9781782503620.

––––. Museum Mystery Squad and the Case of the Moving Mammoth. ISBN 9781782503613.

ea vol: illus. by Mike Phillips. 128p. (Museum Mystery Squad). Floris/Kelpies. May 2017. pap. $6.95.

Gr 1-3 –A museum becomes the perfect mystery setting for this new series from Scotland. The detectives are three friends dubbed the “Museum Mystery Squad”: Kennedy, Nabster, and Laurie. Kennedy is the organizer and the quick thinker, Nabster is the technical expert, and Laurie knows how to ask the direct questions. The squad reports to the museum director, Magda Gaskar. In the Case of the Hidden Hieroglyphics, a secret message is discovered on a mummy, and Magda Gaskar asks the kids to decode it. This doesn’t sit well with Professor Gyptex, a visiting Egyptologist who is not quite what he seems. The book is full of interesting facts about hieroglyphics, and features an opportunity for readers to try their hand at decoding. In the Case of the Moving Mammoth, the world famous Dinosaur Circus is appearing in Edinburgh. While there are no real dinosaurs on display, there is a gigantic, stuffed woolly mammoth named Moth being housed at the museum. Shockingly, Moth seems to move at night when the museum is closed, and the squad is tasked with solving this conundrum. The book contains facts about animals and even a short quiz to determine which Mystery Squad member the reader most resembles. Each book is replete with black-and-white illustrations, along with quizzes, games, and brain teasers that will definitely engage young readers. VERDICT A strong series to add to early chapter book collections and an easy fit for fans of “A to Z Mysteries” and “Nate the Great.”–Amy Nolan, St. Joseph Public Library, MI

Steele, Michael Anthony. Creepy Cowboy Caper. illus. by Scott Jeralds. 112p. (Scooby-Doo! Beginner Mysteries). glossary. Capstone. Aug. 2017. pap. $6.95. ISBN 9781496547729.

Gr 1-2 –This new Scooby-Doo series seems designed to fill the gap between books for the very earliest readers and chapter books for slightly older elementary students. A large font size makes the text easier for young eyes to follow. It also includes a glossary, a list of discussion questions, and writing prompts. The formula will be familiar to any fan of the television series: a drive around in The Mystery Machine for Fred, Velma, Daphne, Shaggy, and Scooby; various ghostly encounters; several rollicking chases; and a not-too-surprising solution that wraps it all up neatly in the end. Colorful illustrations are scattered throughout. Written as if simply recounting an episode of the series, the book follows a straightforward narrative and a standard plot. VERDICT A not-too-scary story for readers who like the familiarity of the Scooby gang.–Gina Petrie, Catawba College Library, NC

Warner, Sally. Absolutely Alfie and the First Week Friends. illus. by Shearry Malone. 144p. (Absolutely Alfie: Bk. 2). Viking. Aug. 2017. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9781101999899; pap. $5.99. ISBN 9781101999912.

Gr 2-5 –Another charming installment starring Alfie Jakes, a seven-year-old girl worried about beginning second grade. Anxious about having a new “boy” teacher, and tasked with bringing together her two best friends, she has a lot on her plate. Lulu and Hanni, polar opposites with strong personalities, do not seem to gel as friends, although Alfie works hard to help the girls come together. When a group project is assigned, all goes awry and Alfie ends up on the outs. Warner crafts her characters with authenticity and purpose. The interactions between seven-year-old Alfie and her brother EllRay (who has his own series by the same author) are positive and reassuring. Her teacher, Mr. Havens, helps Alfie problem-solve and plan. His humble demeanor and appropriate dialogue is accessible and explained in context without being condescending. VERDICT The young African American protagonist, her diverse group of classmates, the realistic dialogue, and the simple black-and-white illustrations make this a strong purchase for any collection serving chapter book readers.–Meghan Busby, York City School District, PA

This article was published in School Library Journal's August 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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