Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Beep and Bob bring the fun to intermediate sci-fi

I’m always on the lookout for good intermediate books (and good easy readers). There’s such an importance to good chapter books to develop that initial love of books into something really special; some kids can be a little scared by the leap from easy reader to chapter book, so you want to make sure you find that magic combination of artwork and story that will draw readers right in. When a publicist friend of mine sent copies of the first three Beep and Bob books by Jonathan Roth, she knew I’d love them and want to booktalk them. And what can I say? She was right.

Beep and Bob: Too Much Space! (Beep and Bob #1), by Jonathan Roth, (March 2018, Aladdin), $16.99, ISBN: 9781481488532

Ages 6-10

Here we have Beep and Bob’s origin story and first adventure: Bob is a kid who goes to school in space; he’s the new kid at a school called Astro Elementary, and space is apparently terrifying. Thankfully, he has a little alien friend named Beep at his side Beep’s a little guy who lost his 600 siblings while playing hide and seek in an asteroid field; he knocked on a door at Astro Elementary, Bob answered, and a friendship was born. Beep has bonded to Bob and thinks of him as a mother, even calling him “Bob-mother”. Luckily for the duo, the teachers let Beep stick with Bob throughout the school day. Bob’s got some other friends, including Lani, a supersmart girl who carries three supersmart pet spiders in a jar; and Blaster, kind of a bully, who likes to raise Bob’s hand and volunteer him for class missions: like being the first on the field trip to explore Pluto. Or exploring near the event horizon of a black hole. Which is where we find Beep and Bob in this first adventure: trying to escape, and save Lani’s spiders, from being sucked into the black hole (or, as Professor Zoome puts it, “the bye-bye-forever zone”). Can they make it out safe? (Hint: it’s the first book in a series, you tell me.)

Too Much Space! is a fun start to a new series. There’s a little bit of science fact tossed into the fun to give kids an idea of what exactly a black hole can do (bye-bye forever is certainly a clear explanation to me), and Beep’s observations are hilarious and even sweet. Extra-Credit Fun Space Facts gives drops some non-fiction knowledge related to the adventure: in this case, the discovery of Pluto , it’s downgrade to a dwarf planet, and the fact that it is seriously cold. Pair even pacing, fun writing, and outrageous scenarios with black and white artwork throughout, and this is the start of a beautiful friendship between Beep, Bob, and your readers. I started this one with my first grader last night, and he’s getting a big kick out of Beep and the whole Astro Elementary idea – but he’s not quite ready to jettison off into space just yet.

 

Beep and Bob: Party Crashers (Beep and Bob #2), by Jonathan Roth, (March 2018, Aladdin), $16.99, ISBN: 9781481488563

Ages 6-10

The second series of Bob’s Splog entries (space log entries – that make up each Beep and Bob adventure) starts off with a similar story: Bob introduces himself, Astro Elementary, and Beep’s origin. Rather than space being terrifying, though, this time, he asserts that “SPACE IS STUPENDOUSLY BORING”! This time out, things perk up a bit when Lani invites Beep, Bob, and the other Astro Elementary gang to her birthday party aboard the Starship Titanic! (Douglas Adams fans, this is where you chuckle.) It’s got everything: gravity, for starters, which is pretty fantastic; water parks, amusement parks, and 12 million hypershow channels on TV! What doesn’t it have? Ahem… escape pods. Because it’s indestructible. Where have you heard that before? Oh, and there’s a jewelry thief running around the ship, too. It’s up to Beep and Bob to save the day again!

Party Crashers ups the ante from Too Much Space by bringing the laughs and the crazy situations. We have the Titanic parallels, including the captain, a descendant of the original ship’s captain, who doesn’t know how to pilot his ship because everything is pretty much done for him. He spends most of his day in the amusement park! Throw in a little Agatha Christie-type whodunit mixed with some Star Wars humor, and laugh-out-loud moments throughout the book, and Party Crashers is a strong follow-up to Too Much Space. The Extra-Credit Fun section is all about Neptune, the planet posing a danger in this installment. Black and white artwork is plentiful and adorable.

 

Beep and Bob: Take Us To Your Sugar (Beep and Bob #3), by Jonathan Roth, (Sept. 2018, Aladdin), $16.99, ISBN: 9781481488594

Ages 6-10

Oh NO! Not only is space alternately terrifying and boring, now there’s a problem with THE FOOD! The artificial sweetinizer is broken, and Mr. DaVinci – the school maintenance man, whose genius goes unappreciated – is taking his sweet time fixing it. Bob needs sugar, and he needs it fast, so he decides to come up with his own holiday: Astroween! You see, Astro Elementary doesn’t celebrate Earth holidays, because they’re in space, so Bob and Lani form a secret club called S.C.A.R.E.S. (Society of Candy Addicts who Rely on Energy from Sugar) and employ some quick thinking to create an entirely new holiday and convince Principal Quark to let the school celebrate Astroween. It’s a success but as the kids are planning their costumes and waiting for the candy rush, Beep convinces Bob to send a message out into space, hoping to attract some of his own kind. The message ends up attracting a bunch of sugar-crazy aliens who want to convert all the candy into power for their fleet! Beep and Bob are going to need to do some fast thinking and talking to get out of this one.

Take Us to Your Sugar is a sweeter (no pun intended) adventure in this series, as Lani and Bob start thinking of how lonely Beep feels as the only one of his kind aboard the ship. It’s no less amusing, especially with the addition of the long-suffering Mr. DaVinci, who can’t seem to believe that human race has progressed to the stars and yet… we’ve stayed relatively simple. The Extra-Credit is on Earth holidays and planetary years.

Jonathan Roth has created a smart, humorous series with heart for intermediate readers. Have readers who aren’t quite ready for Diary of a Wimpy Kid but want something funny to read? This is the series for them. There’s a fourth book coming – Double Trouble – next  month, so invest in this series now and get your readers in at the beginning. Beep and Bob was named one of Scholastic Teacher Magazine’s “50 Magical Books for Summer”. Jonathan Roth’s Beep and Bob webpage has loads of info about the author and his series, including scans of his artwork from childhood on – he’s an elementary school teacher, so he knows how to talk to kids! – and there’s an adorable, free PDF available to teach readers how to draw Beep.  Absolute cuteness.

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Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Humor, Intermediate

The Goblin Princess: Dust that house, and untrain your dragon!

Originally published in the UK, The Goblin Princess is a sweet chapter book series perfect for kids who are ready to branch out from easy readers. Let’s meet The Goblin Princess and her family.

The Goblin Princess: Smoky the Dragon Baby, by Jenny O’Connor/Illustrated by Kate Willis-Crowley, (Oct. 2018, Faber & Faber), $8.95, ISBN: 9780571316588

Ages 7-10

Matty is a goblin princess, but she’s also the odd goblin out in her family. She’s always being told to untidy her room, and eat up her slug porridge; her family – like most goblins – is also terrified of pretty things, like kittens and butterflies, and reading fairy tales are sure to give them nightmares, but Matty just doesn’t fit in. When the family dragon, Sparks, lays an egg and a sweet little blue dragon emerges, Matty falls in love. But little Smoky is polite and sweet, and the untraining her father, the Goblin King, calls for doesn’t quite take. Luckily for Matty, little Smoky finds some talent in burning the toast (a goblin delicacy)! When Matty and her family go on a goblin family picnic at the Dragon Lagoon, Matty and Smoky have a little side adventure of their own, meeting nasty hobgoblins and kind Forest Fairies (who aren’t at all terrifying) – and maybe Matty can convince her family that she and Smoky are just naughty enough after all!

The Goblin Princess: The Grand Goblin Ball, by Jenny O’Connor/Illustrated by Kate Willis-Crowley, (Oct. 2018, Faber & Faber), $8.95, ISBN: 9780571316601

Ages 7-10

The next book in the Goblin Princess series picks up fresh off the heels of Smoky the Dragon Baby. The royal Goblin Family is preparing for the Grand Goblin Ball, but there’s trouble afoot: the hobgoblins are planning to crash the party and CLEAN! And PAINT! And worst of all, they’re planning to capture Smoky! Luckily, some of the Forest Fairies overheard the plot and warned Matty in time. Matty and Smoky join forces with their new friend, Dave – a Frog of Mystery and Magic – to beat the hobgoblins and save the party! Recipes for Scary Potato Faces, Ghoulish Goblin Drinks, and Peppermint Cream Bugs let readers plan a Goblin Ball of their very own!

The Goblin Princess books are sweet, entertaining, and upbeat. Kids are going to get a kick out of the backwards world that the goblins live in: messing up your room? Eating sloppily and having food fights? Untraining your dragon and being an irresponsible pet owner? It sounds awesome, right? Which makes poor Matty and Smoky outsiders in their worlds, and sets the stage for some hilarious happenings. Kate Willis-Crowley’s watercolor artwork adds an incredible cute factor to the storytelling, with adorable characters like Smoky the Dragon and Matty the Goblin, and great visuals for events like the Goblin buffet, complete with Key Slime Pie and Mice Cakes.

Pictures all come from Kate Willis-Crowley’s blog.

I enjoyed the first two Goblin Princess stories, and look forward to the third one, The Snow Fairy (it looks like it was just published in the UK… can we get a copy stateside soon?) Readers who love enjoy fantasy will enjoy the close friendship between Smoky and Matty, and get a kick out of Smoky’s baby talk. The bad guys aren’t terribly bad. The hobgoblins, for instance, really just want Smoky around to warm up their food; nothing truly nefarious (unless you count cleaning and painting the Goblin castle: that’s just horrible). Give this to your Unicorn Princesses/Hamster Princess/Princess in Black fans.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Reckless Club “remixes The Breakfast Club for the Instagram generation”

The Reckless Club, by Beth Vrabel, (Oct. 2018, Running Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780762490400

Ages 9-13

I had to use Kirkus’ line in that opening, because how more perfect can one describe a book? Beth Vrabel, one of my favorite middle grade authors, reaches back into one of the movies that defined my generation and brought it back, with a few nips and tucks, to inspire a new generation. We take one group: a Nobody (Jason), a Drama Queen (Lilith), a Flirt (Wes), an Athlete (Ally, also known as “Sports Barbie”), and a rebel (Rex) all come together at a retirement home one day in the late summer. Each has done something so wrong in their last year of middle school that they’ve got to spend the last Saturday before high school here, helping elderly patients and their principal’s sister, who oversees the home. Each teen is paired with an elder, and their personalities quickly emerge, as does a mystery: is one of the nurse’s stealing from the patients?

The book has wonderful callouts to The Breakfast Club, meaning I’ll get to booktalk this to some of my parents, too. We Gen Xers never get tired of ’80s nostalgia! But the story is so much more than that. Beth Vrabel has the dual gifts of dialogue and character development, giving readers a voraciously readable story that delves into LGBTQ+, self-esteem and acceptance, and race matters.

I love Beth Vrabel’s books. I feel good at the end of a Beth Vrabel story, and I feel like people can and still want to make a difference when I read a Beth Vrabel story. She tells realistic stories about kids we could see in our classrooms, our libraries, and at our dinner tables every day, and provides insights that we may not even realize we’re overlooking. That handsome class president with the dimples may not have it as easy as you think. The drama queen that throws a hissy fit may have hit her last straw with an awful teacher. That star athlete may have something really unhealthy pushing her to excel. It reminds us, as adults, as well as middle graders and tweens, that everyone has something going on under the surface. A final note, a la the Breakfast Club, sums up the group’s experiences of the day, and we can only hope that The Reckless Club has another adventure in store for us soon.

Visit Beth Vrabel’s website for study guides, news about her other books, and info about school visits.

Posted in Uncategorized

Porcupine’s Pie: Friendship is the best ingredient of all!

Porcupine’s Pie, by Laura Renauld/Illustrated by Jennie Poh, (Oct. 2018, Beaming Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9781506431802

Ages 3-7

It’s Fall Feast Day, and Porcupine is so excited: she’s going to make her famous Cranberry Pie! She sets out to wash her cranberries, and comes across her friends Squirrel, Bear, and Doe, along the way, each of whom has their own delicacy Porcupine is looking forward to. Each of her friends is missing a crucial ingredient for their signature dish, so sweet Porcupine offers them use of her stocked pantry. But when Porcupine arrives at the river – oh no! – she discovers that her pail of cranberries is empty, something sharp-eyed readers will notice as they read along. When Porcupine’s friends find out about Porcupine’s cranberries, everyone comes to the rescue with ingredients of their own, and Porcupine makes the best pie of all: Festive Friendship Pie!

This is a sweet story of friendship and sharing that kids will love and that makes for a great Thanksgiving/Harvest storytime. Jennie Poh’s illustration has a lovely, textured feel to it and concentrates on details like the burlap feel of a sack on one shelf, the cloth of Porcupine’s apron, and the oh-so silent falling of her cranberries as she heads to the river. There’s a sweet little ladybug who shows up in every spread and on the endpapers: challenge your readers to find it! The colors are warm autumn shades of green, brown, and dark red; the titular “Pie” appears in a dark red plaid tablecloth filling, with a big, bold font. The story font alternates between plain black and plain white (against a darker background), not interfering with the story, allowing the atmosphere to take center stage.

Porcupine’s Pie is a sweet book about friendship and being grateful, and it’s perfect for preschoolers and Kindergarteners. A recipe for Friendship Pie at the end is the perfect ending to the story, and an invitation to some holiday baking. Display and with readalikes, Karma Wilson’s Bear Says Thanks, and Stone Soup.

Author Laura Renauld’s author website offers links to the KidLit community, her blog, and information about her books. You can see more of Jennie Poh’s illustration on her Instagram.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Get ready for the season with First Snow with a giveaway!

First Snow, by Nancy Viau/Illustrated by Talitha Shipman,, (Sept. 2018, Albert Whitman), $16.99, ISBN: 9780807524404

Ages 2-6

A brother and sister join their friends for a day of fun when the first snow falls.

This rhyming story stars a brother and sister, both children of color, who wake up to discover that it’s snowing! With mostly two- and three-word rhyming sentences, we follow them as they get dressed and meet their friends for a day of sledding and snowplay. Their pup follows along, adding to the fun and games, and at the end of the day, the siblings and their dog head home to enjoy hot chocolate, chocolate chip cookies, and a story before bedtime.

A lovely companion to Ezra Jack Keats’ A Snowy Day, First Snow takes place in a more suburban settting than Peter’s famous city backdrop. The kids’ bright winter clothes stand out against the soft, white snow. The watercolor artwork is soft, lending a comfortable, hazy, snowy-day feel to the scenery. Brightly colored kids’ hats and mittens set the tone on the endpapers.

Perfect for snowy day reading, preferably with some hot chocolate and a warm blanket and stuffed animal. Great for toddlers and easy readers alike!

Nancy Viau is the author of five picture books, including City Street Beat, Storm Song, and Look What I Can Do!  Her middle-grade novels include her new release, Beauty and Bernice, along with Just One Thing! (2016 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Gold Award Winner), Samantha Hansen Has Rocks in Her Head (to be reissued in the spring of 2019), and Something is Bugging Samantha Hansen (fall 2019). As a member of the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature, Nancy volunteers with other council members to produce the Rutgers One-on-One Plus Conference every year. She works as an assistant librarian, and when not reading or writing, she hikes, bikes, and travels wherever her frequent flyer miles take her. To learn more, and to download a free Story Hour kit for First Snow, visit her website, NancyViau.com.

 

Talitha Shipman graduated with an MFA in illustration from Savannah College of Art and Design in 2008. She’s illustrated several books, including You Are My Little Pumpkin Pie, Everybody Says Shalom, and Applesauce Day. Talitha lives in Indiana with her husband, daughter, and dog. She can be found at talithashipman.com.

 

Praise for First Snow:

“A sweet suburban/rural contrast to the snowy day enjoyed by Peter in the city.”  — Kirkus Reviews

Relive the joy of the season’s first snow in this sweet trailer!

 

One lucky winner will receive a copy of First Snow, courtesy of Albert  Whitman & Co (U.S. addresses). Just enter this Rafflecopter giveaway for your chance!

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

A little post-Halloween fun: Bear’s Scare

Bear’s Scare, by Jacob Grant, (June 2018, Bloomsbury), $16.99, ISBN: 9781681197203

Ages 3-6

Bear keeps a tidy house for himself and his friend, a stuffed bear named Ursa. He loves to clean the house every day, but one day, he notices something: a cobweb! As he searches his home, he notices another web! And another! Convinced he has a spider problem, Bear works himself into a frenzy – the spider is covering the house with webs! It’s making it sticky mess! – and tears his home apart, searching for the spider. The pictures belie what Bear imagines is happening, as we see the spider very politely knitting, painting, and reading a book as Bear turns his house upside down. In his panic to get the messy spider out of his house, Bear traps Ursa’s arm under a chair and tears it off when he pulls her. Stunned into realization, Bear focuses on getting Ursa some first aid, only to discover that the spider has stitched Ursa’s arm together with its own silk. Bear discovers that getting to know someone is a much better way to determine one’s character, and embraces his new friend – who invites some more new friends to visit.

Bear’s Scare is an adorable story about how our own perceptions can get away from us, and the havoc it wreaks. The charcoal and crayon artwork lends a hand-crafted feel to the story, with digital coloring adding a depth of warm color. Bear is a deep navy blue; he stands out against his earth-toned home yellow spider neighbor. Pages are mostly bright white, with the artwork standing out against the background, with some full bleed spreads, usually for a more dramatic moment. The plain black font lets the artwork tell the full story while the text is there to let the storyteller be as tongue-in-cheek as they want to be.

Bear’s Scare is adorable fun with a smart message about friendship and judging others on appearances. It’s a nice add to picture book collections where kids enjoy a little wink, wink, nudge, nudge humor.

See more of Jacob Grant’s artwork and information about his books at his website.

Posted in Uncategorized

The Snow Lion: An imaginary friend provides courage

The Snow Lion, by Jim Helmore /Illustrated by Richard Jones, (Oct. 2018, Peachtree Publishers), $17.95, ISBN: 9781682630488

Ages 4-8

Cora is a little girl in a new house. She’d like to have someone to play with, but she’s terribly shy. Luckily for her, a friendly snow lion introduces himself and invites her to play. He disappears against the white, white walls of the house, making for a fun game of hide-and-seek. The Lion manages to nudge Caro out of the house to go play in the park, where she meets a boy named Bobby; from there, Bobby introduces her to his friends. When Caro’s mom decides to invite Caro’s new friends over to paint the house, the Snow Lion smiles and tells her that it’s time for him to move on – but that she’ll always know where to find him.

The Snow Lion is a comforting tale about moving and being the new kid. Caro’s imaginary friend – we see her reading a book about lions on the title page – is there to support her while she gains the courage to make new friends. The paint and Photoshop artwork is subdued, and the Lion is a quietly supportive presence, first blending into walls, then standing out against blue, yellow, and red backgrounds as he and Caro play together. Even though the Snow Lion moves on, he’s a guiding presence by the story’s end. Gray and white endpapers feature snow lions, snowflakes, and geometric shapes.

A gentle story for kids who have recently moved, are about to move, or just need a little something to lean on.

Author Jim Helmore’s author website has free downloadables related to his other books. Illustrator Richard Jones’ webpage has more to say about The Snow Lion and his other work.