Meandering through Middle Grade: D-Bot Squad!

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meandering-through-middle-grade

It’s time for a change from my usual middle grade fare as today I will be bringing you the first four books in a new series for reluctant male readers.  We received D-Bot 

D-bot squad 1

Squad books one to four by Mac Park – author of the prolific and popular Boy Vs. Beast series – from Allen & Unwin for review.  Check out the blurb below:

A super-exciting series about DINOSAUR ROBOTS for first readers…

from the creators of the bestselling Boy vs Beast series. A world kids will love, using words they can read.

Dinosaurs are back, and on the loose!

It’s up to D-Bot Squad to catch them.

Hunter Marks knows everything there is to know about dinosaurs. But does he know enough to pass the computer game test and make it into top-secret D-Bot Squad?

*The first four books in the D-Bot Squad series will be released in July, with the remaining four books released in October 2017 and February 2018*

I’m going to be straight up honest here and say that series like this usually have me running in the opposite direction.  You know the ones.  The Zac Power and  Fairy Magic type series that seem to have a never-ending procession of books all with exactly the same formulaic story.  I know they’re designed to get kids reading.  I know they’re aimed at kids who are gaining confidence in reading independently.  But as a reader, they give me the shivers.

The eldest mini-fleshling in the dwelling however, who is six and in grade one, was immediately drawn to these books and he doesn’t even particularly like dinosaurs.  From the second the first chapter of Dino Hunter was read aloud to him, he was absolutely hooked.  He wanted to tell his friends about the books.  He wanted to bring the books to school so his teacher could read them.  He continues to be riveted by the stories and we are now onto Double Trouble, the third book in the series.

The plot is simple enough.  Hunter Marks loves dinosaurs but finds himself a bit on the outer as all his classmates prefer superheroes.  While working on a project in the library, he is shown a dinosaur cave display built by the librarian Ms Stegg, and Hunter’s adventure begins.  Drawn into a test by the D-Bot Squad, Hunter must design a robot to catch a pterodactyl that is on the loose, thereby earning his place in the Squad.  From this follows a range of adventures that see Hunter designing robots using his specialist knowledge of dinosaurs, to catch errant dinosaurs that are on the loose in present-day locations.

The books are cleverly designed to be non-intimidating to reluctant and new readers, so there are full page pictures every few pages and no more than 55 words on each page.  There is also some great continuity happening in each story.  Each book has six chapters (which the mini-fleshling somehow figured out by the start of book two) and each book finishes on a cliff-hanger that leads into the next story.  This may be a bit of a problem in that it might be more difficult to read the books out of order, but it drew the mini-fleshling in like nobody’s business and he could barely wait for the next bedtime so we could get cracking on the next book.

Each book also has one of those page-flipping animations in the top right hand page corner, that when flipped, animates a dinosaur.  The first two books featured pterodactyls – appropriately enough to the stories – that flap their wings as the pages are flipped.  The mini-fleshling had never seen these before and thought they were genius.

The best thing about the books for me was that the claim on the back of the book was actually correct.  The book features a sticker that shouts, “A world kids will love with words they can read!”  I’ve already noted that the mini-fleshling loves the world of the books, despite not being a particular fan of dinosaurs.  What about the second part of the claim? Can a six year old grade one student read these words?

Yes, He. Can.

At halfway through grade one, this mini-fleshling has mastered his Magic 300 sight words (or is it 200?).  He’s learnt all the sight words he needs to know for the year, anyhow.  And he is certainly able to read most of the words in these books with a little support.  This is an amazing revelation to me because it opens up more options for him for his own independent reading.  He need not be solely reliant on picture books anymore, but can develop his confidence on longer early chapter books with stories that he is interested in.

What a boon!

If you, or your mini-fleshling, is looking for a new series of books that really are accessible for younger kids and interesting for independent readers, I’d recommend giving D-Bot Squad a go.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Why I Went Back: A YA “Read it if” Review…

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read it if NEW BUTTON

Welcome to another Read-it-if review!  Today’s book will be a treat for those who enjoy a bit of David Almond-style magical realism mixed with myth and legend, or indeed for anyone who likes to know that someone is looking after the postal system properly.  Why I Went Back by James Clammer is a no-romance (hooray!), no-nonsense romp that masterfully blends ancient legend with modern first world problems (ie: not getting your mail on time). Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Aidan needs his bike to deliver all the mail his postman dad’s been hoarding since his mum was sectioned. But his bike’s just been stolen.
In the early morning, Aidan chases after the thieves, hellbent on getting it back. When he reaches the abandoned factory where they’ve stashed his bike, he has moments to grab it and escape. But he finds more than just stolen goods. There’s a mysterious prisoner chained to the floor.
This is the story of why Aidan goes back.
Recalling Alan Garner and Susan Cooper, Why I Went Back is a dark tale of magic, myth and undelivered mail.

why i went back

Read it if:

*you’ve ever had to cover for someone on the job when you are woefully unqualified (and unmotivated) to do so

*you’ve ever attempted to assist someone in something you thought would be a straightforward and simple task, only to find that it actually ends up taking over your life

*you’ve ever discovered an ancient, legendary being in an unexpected place and wondered what to do with him/her/it

* your mail could be delivered by a horde of unsightly and malodorous gnome-centaur crossbreeds for all you care, provided it gets to you in a timely and responsible fashion 

Comparisons to David Almond’s Skellig will be obvious after reading this book, given the whole “troubled boy discovers ancient being in an abandoned warehouse” plotline, but there is plenty to enjoy about Why I Went Back on its own merits.  For a start, while the plots might be similar in some ways, Clammer’s narrative is a lot edgier, featuring a young lad who isn’t afraid to get into a bit of trouble, provided it gets him where he needs to go.  Aidan is an immediately likeable character, in that while he does indulge in some dodgy behaviour to achieve certain ends, he also has insight into why he’s doing what he’s doing and takes on the responsiblity to make changes in his own life.

The book swings a bit between totally mundane problems, such as Aidan coping with a mother in a psychiatric ward and a father who has checked out of his own life, and problems of a more mystical variety, such as what to do with the strange old man Aidan discovers being held prisoner in a warehouse by a group of local thugs.  I found this to be quite a satisfying blend of story threads that kept the narrative moving and allowed Aidan’s story, and his friendship with Daniel, to be revealed in layers.

The ending neatly ties up the loose ends and provides a bit of hope for the future, using a juxtaposition of ancient magic and good old fashioned hard work.  I’d recommend this one for readers of YA looking for an edgy, sometimes dark, sometimes funny story with a believable male protagonist and a touch of the old magic to shake things up.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge: A Historical, First Nations MG Epic…

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imageToday’s Oddity Odyssey selection I am submitting in the categories of Odd Title and Odd Subject Matter.  In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall and illustrated by James Mark Yellowhawk is an absorbing journey into the history of the Lakota people – an indigenous tribe of North America – and their struggle to prevail and maintain their traditional lands and culture in the face of advancing white folk.  The oddness in the title is the “Crazy” part – which is a synonym for “odd ” – and the oddness of the subject matter relates to the fact that I have never read a book so focused on North American First Nations people.  Thanks to Abrams Kids, the book’s publisher, from whom I snagged a review copy through Netgalley, for the opportunity to extend my knowledge in this subject area.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge for 2015, feel free to click on the challenge button at the top of this post.  There’s still time to join in!

But back to the book.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Jimmy McClean is a Lakota boy—though you would not guess it by his name: his father is a white man and his mother is Lakota. When he embarks on a journey with his grandfather, Nyles High Eagle, he learns more and more about his Lakota heritage—in particular, the story of Crazy Horse, one of the most important figures in Lakota history. Drawing inspiration from the oral stories of the Lakota tradition and the Lakota cultural mechanism of the “hero story,” Joseph Marshall provides readers with an insider’s perspective on the life of Tasunke Witko, better known as Crazy Horse. Through his grandfather’s tales about the famous warrior, Jimmy learns more about his Lakota heritage and, ultimately, himself.

crazy horse

If you know any middle grade boys who are ripe for an action-packed, rite-of-passage adventure with a difference then this is a book you definitely want to get into their hands.  While I by no means wish to deter young ladies from reading this book, it has a definite male skew and has many aspects, including riding, fighting and learning from older mentors that will especially appeal to young boys.

The story begins with young Jimmy discussing with his grandfather the ways in which some boys at his school try to make him feel different.  Jimmy’s grandfather, a proud Lakota man, takes it upon himself to teach Jimmy some of his history and culture, and point out that one of the Lakota’s most famous warriors, Crazy Horse, also found life as a young man less than smooth sailing.  The tale alternates between conversations and interactions between Jimmy and his grandfather in the present day as they travel to sites of historical significance for the Lakota people, and a narrative following the snippets of the life of Crazy Horse, as he grows from a lad of about Jimmy’s age, to a man and a leader of his people in a time of upheaval.

While not being from North America, or having much knowledge of the First Nations people of that area of the world – outside that dubiously provided by watching Dances With Wolves and the like – many of the situations in which Crazy Horse and his loved ones found themselves felt eerily similar to the historical incidences of genocide, oppression and discrimination levelled against Australia’s own indigenous people since the arrival of European settlers.  I imagine the stories of many First Nations groups across the world share themes of destruction of culture and loss of land, accompanied by an inexplicable astonishment from the oppressing forces as to the audacity of various indigenous populations in fighting against impending death and displacement.  This book will no doubt open up important discussions for North American readers, but could also be used in Australian schools and families as an oblique way to introduce our own history of indigenous oppression, which remains a contentious topic for many.

In terms of the narrative, the writing felt a little didactic to me as an adult reader at times, but overall I found this to be a highly accessible story that addresses issues such as finding one’s identity, the social impact of civil conflict, and coping with difference.  It’s also a reasonably quick read with plenty of action and this is aided by the switching between present and past.  I’d highly recommend this as a class read-aloud to engage reluctant male readers in discussions about history, identity and ethics.

Progress toward Oddity Odyssey Challenge Total: 15/16

Until next time,

Bruce

Yarning with Mad Martha…about Book Week!

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yarning with mad martha_Fotor (2)

Welcome to an all new feature here on the shelf – Yarning with me, Mad Martha! Bruce has kindly given over some extra space in our posting schedule to yours truly so that I can share with you my passion for crochet (and yarn craft generally). I can feel your excitement levels growing, and I thank you in advance for the deep love and affection for what will no doubt become your favourite feature.

Essentially, yarning with me will involve either reviewing a crochet (or craft) related book, or sharing some of my latest projects as they relate to books that we have been reading. I already have a very exciting project book lined up for late September (wherein you can crochet your own camping adventure!), as well as an amigurumi pattern for a very popular contemporary children’s book character (hint: he’s Irish, large and hairy).

Let’s start things off with everyone’s favourite dress-up day: Children’s Book Week! This wonderful week has just passed here in Queensland, along with another year’s worth of parental anxiety over having to fashion some sort of complicated, homemade costume out of rubber bands and superglue, because their offspring neglected to mention that it was, in fact, their school’s dress up day tomorrow, until about 8.15pm of the evening before.

Happily, the only mini-fleshling in this dwelling that was required to dress up has a strong aversion to cosplay of any description and so I was called in to provide a “prop”, to ensure that said mini-fleshling could participate in the dress up in a non-stressful way and to avert any teacher-held suspicions that mini-fleshling’s parents are just (a) indifferent to reading/literacy/dressing up or (b) the negligent sort.

Enter: Mad Martha, cape neatly tied and undies on the outside, to swoop in and create the perfect bookish buddy: an amigurumi Fly Guy!

fly guy posing

If you are unfamiliar with the Fly Guy series, I can guarantee that you are missing out. Essentially a picture book disguised as an early reader, Hi Fly Guy! is the series opener, in which we meet the titular fly and discover how he forms a firm friendship with a young boy, Buzz. There are currently about fourteen books in the fiction series, with a half dozen more recently released nonfiction tie-ins, Fly Guy Presents. The nonfiction books feature Fly Guy and Buzz exploring a range of kid-friendly topics, including space, sharks and insects.

hi fly guy fly guy presents

Our collective favourite at the moment is I Spy Fly Guy! in which a particularly challenging game of hide and seek is carried out in a location that tends hilariously in Fly Guy’s favour. Poor Buzz! The delightful friendship betwixt boy and fly is the champion of all the Fly Guy stories and the books are a perfect blend of humour and calamity, minus the bodily-function related content that often plagues books aimed at boys of the targeted age group.  It is easy to see why the first book in the series won the Theodore Seuss Geisel award.

This series, with its bright cartoon-style illustrations and clear, short sections of text, will appeal greatly to young male readers particularly and seem to be designed to slot neatly into that difficult space between picture books and early chapter books, in which young readers want to feel like they’re reading big-kid books, but aren’t quite ready to manage longer books independently. The stories are divided into chapters, but the whole book can easily be read in a single sitting, much like a standard picture book. An added bonus, of course, is the fact that kids can become familiar with the enjoyment of reading a series – particularly the anticipation of waiting for another book to appear – and gain a sense of familiarity with the characters, settings and in turn, language used in each story.

fly guy and back catalogue

I must admit to being incredibly proud of my finished Fly Guy plushie – almost as proud as the mini-fleshling was of writing Fly Guy’s jar label allfly guy and jar on his own! Having brashly agreed to save the day, I immediately jumped onto that giant of time-wasting, Pinterest, certain in the knowledge that someone, somewhere, would have definitely created such a plushie before, and as such, all I would have to do would be to follow a simple pattern and enjoy the fruits of someone else’s labour.

I was wrong. Pinterest let me down. Apparently, no one, anywhere, has ever had need to crochet a cuddly version of everyone’s favourite insect. Who’d have thought? And so I toiled and frogged and toiled until I had created a friend that one could cuddle with pride. Given the short time frame (and the rage-quitting that occurred during the creation), I neglected to note down my stitches as I was working, and therefore I cannot provide the illusive pattern for Fly Guy that Pinterest so sorely needs. For this, I am not at all sorry. Pinterest didn’t help me, so Pinterest is on its own when the time for a Fly Guy amigurumi comes.

Welcoming Fly Guy to the shelf. Bruce is stunned at my crochet prowess.

Welcoming Fly Guy to the shelf. Bruce is stunned at my crochet prowess.

Well, that about wraps up our first Yarning session – I hope you have enjoyed it! I’d love to hear what you think of my work, the Fly Guy series or Book Week, so don’t leave without commenting, will you?

Yours in craftiness,

Mad Martha

 

MG KidLit Series Feature, Author Interview and GIVEAWAY: Slug Pie Stories…

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slug pie logo

Welcome to this very special series highlight post, where I will re-introduce (and in some cases, introduce for the first time) you all to the Slug Pimageie series of books.  Readers with particularly good memories will recall that the Maniacal Book Club reviewed the second book in the Slug Pie Stories, How To Rid Your Swimming Pool of a Bloodthirsty Mermaid, late last year, and we immediately popped the other two books in the series on our TBR list to hunt down at a later date.  In a joyous bit of good luck, the publishers of the Slug Pie series (by 12-year-old author Mick Bogerman, you will recall) contacted the shelf in the hope that we would review the other two books in the series – callooh, callay! Of course we agreed, as much for the excitement of reading Mick’s other adventures as for the satisfaction of knocking two more titles off Mount TBR…

The publisher has even been so generous as to offer a GIVEAWAY of ONE of the Mick’s adventures to a lucky reader of this blog.  To enter the giveaway, click on the rafflecopter just below this sentence!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Now, let’s hunker down in our anti-monster panic room and venture into the world of Mick Bogerman’s Slug Pie Stories…

 

Book 1: How to Navigate Zombie Cave and Defeat Pirate Pete 

From Slug Pie Stories:zombie cave

Armed with a pitchfork, miner’s hat, and map, Mick Bogerman dares to hunt for pirate treasure in Zombie Cave. His little brother Finley is tied up at the beach. Literally–Mick tied him up. No one needs a little brother tagging along when you’re going to slay the undead. But Mick soon wishes he’d taken some human company with him, because lurking in every corner, reaching from every crevice, is another hungry corpse. No wonder the place is named Zombie Cave! And finding treasure in the twisty tunnels is a lot harder when your map disintegrates. And man-oh-man the cold, dark tide chases fast. But the worst part about fighting off ravenous flesh-eaters is the one monster deadlier than a regular zombie . . . the worst of the worst . . . Pirate Pete

Having read the second book in the series first, I had an idea of what to expect with this little sojourn into zombie territory.  In this book the reader is plunged straight into the action as Mick ties up his little brother Finley in a (supposedly) safe place on the pretence of playing a cowboy game and heads off with an ill-gotten antique map to retrieve Pirate Pete’s ancient treasure.  The descriptive and engaging style is immediately at play here, drawing the reader in as Mick attempts to navigate through confined, poorly lit spaces while fending off Nike-wearing zombies and making the acquaintance of one very unlucky gentleman named Harold.  You’d think a pitchfork would be quite useful in such a venture, but you’d only be partially right. This story was a lot more monologue-y than the second in the series, on account of Mick undertaking this adventure mostly on his own, but Mick’s indomitable spirit and drily humorous approach is apparent from the get-go and there is blood-splatting, bone-crunching and internal-organ-squishing fun aplenty for the middle-grade reader with an appetite for such things.  Special mention goes to a zombie (or possibly just aged) parrot for comic relief in dire circumstances.

Book 2: How to Rid Your Swimming Pool of a Bloodthirsty Mermaid

bloodthirsty mermaid From Slug Pie Stories:

All Mick Bogerman wanted to do was teach his little brother how to swim in the coolest swimming pool in town. He didn’t ask to take care of a bunch of Sea-Monkeys while he was there. He certainly didn’t mean to morph one of them into a mermaid by feeding it genetically enhanced super food. No one is more surprised than Mick when the creature starts luring unsuspecting adults into the deep end of the pool. Adults who don’t resurface. Join Mick as he battles a powerful adversary: a bloodthirsty mermaid who hypnotizes with a golden gaze, shatters glass with a piercing shriek, and reveals her true menacing self by the light of a full moon.

Seeing as I’ve already devoted a whole review to this book, I won’t say too much here but you can read the original review at this link.  Looking back on this book in the context of having read all three in the series, I’d say this one has the greatest amount of chuckleworthy moments and the inclusion of PJ to the Boogerman brothers’ fighting team added an extra dimension to the story.  Allow me to sum up with Mad Martha’s poetic take on the book:

Let us all heed advice from our mothers

We should not judge the books by their covers

For like Disney’s she ain’t

This Mer-lass needs restraint

As with flesh-ripping death you’ll discover  

Book 3: How to Destroy the New Girl’s Killer Robot Army

killer robot armyFrom Slug Pie Stories:

When Savannah “Van Demon” Diamond comes to town she ruins everything for Mick. She takes over his favorite hang out, outruns him in gym class, and worst of the worst—his little brother has a crush on her. Devising a plan to get her kicked out of school and moved out of Beachwood is simple. Dealing with Savannah’s mind-blowing revenge is Mick’s most challenging adventure yet. Join Mick as he thwarts insidious traps and deadly weaponry, fighting against the most cunning of enemies. Catastrophe looms for all of Beachwood unless Mick can put aside his pride, join forces with his rival, and destroy the new girl’s killer robot army.

Apart from having (in my opinion) the most strikingly beautiful cover of the three, this book takes a slightly different turn as more characters enter the fray and Mick is forced to deal with not only his own poor behaviour, but an entirely non-organic fear-inducing monster.  The reader gets to find out a bit more about Mick’s school in this one and there’s a definite sense of menace as the monsters in this story break into the Boogerman sanctuary.  Special mention here go to Bagel Boy (who, in case you are wondering, is not a boy at all) and the inclusion of a female super-villain so Mick can pick on someone his own size.

After having read all three of the available titles in this series, I have to say that I’m hooked.  I’ve sectioned off a special place in my stony heart for the Boogerman brothers and I will definitely be seeking out their next adventures.  The only thing that could make this series better would be chapter heading illustrations.  Or just randomly inserted illustrations.  Those covers are so good, the illustrator deserves to be set free on the inside of the books as well, I reckon.

Before we jump into an exclusive interview with Mick himself (squee!), to find out more about the books, the author, the characters, the creator of those brilliant covers and to have a say in Mick’s next adventure, go have a look at the Slug Pie Stories website here.

Now to find out more about the intriguing young author of these intriguing young stories!

So, Mick, you’ve already published three heart-pounding and informative guides to overcoming various monstrosities in our midst.  Do you plan to continue your work in the adventure/monster-vanquishing guidebook industry?

Thanks Bruce! You bet I’ll keep writing about monsters. I just started working on the 4th Slug Pie Story: How to Protect Your Neighborhood from Circus Werewolves. The title of the next book was chosen by readers over at the website www.slugpiestories.com. It was pretty much an even vote between Circus Werewolves and How to Obliterate a Spirit-Possessed Lawnmower, and then at the last minute Circus Werewolves pulled ahead. The book’s going to have a lot of fun and a lot of scare. Clowns are terrifying all by themselves if you know what I mean. Then making them Werewolves? You’re gonna want to know how to protect yourself from these creatures!

The monsters that you’ve beaten so far have been quite dangerous.  Are there any monsters that you wouldn’t want to encounter?

I think me and my brother Finley are up for just about anything. And my friends are a great help too. Our town seems to be a magnet for monsters, so it’s going to be up to us kids to take care of things. The trick is knowing everything you can about your adversary so you’re prepared. That’s why I always include a preparation list at the back of my books. Now girls are a whole ‘nother story. They’re not exactly monsters, but they can be a little scary, and I sure haven’t figured them out.

What advice would you give to any youngsters planning on seeking out adventure in their own neighbourhoods?

Well if you keep your imagination wide open you don’t have to seek out adventure, it will come find you. When it does, keep your cool and don’t panic. Gather your resources and your friends. You never want to go it alone. I learned that lesson in Zombie Cave!

If the books end up being super successful, do you see a TV series in the works? Could you imagine yourself filming educational documentaries in the vein of The Crocodile Hunter, for instance?

That would be EPIC! Who do I talk to to make that happen?

If you could only take three things with you to defend yourself against an unknown monster, what would you choose and why?

Only three? Now that’s a tough call. First thing would have to be my brother Finley. He’s really learned how to handle himself and he’s always got my back. He finally learned how to swim too, which is uber handy when you live by the ocean. Second would have to be a Swiss Army knife. The things got all kinds of useful tiny tools all tucked inside a sturdy little case. I take mine everywhere. And third? Hmmmmm. Maybe something to eat? Like a bag of Skittles or candy bar or something. If Finley and I didn’t eat it, maybe the monster would want it. You know. Instead of eating us.

Will any of your books feature gargoyles in the future, in either a heroic or villainous capacity?

Actually I do have a story with gargoyles in my brain right now. It’s called How to Rescue Your Teacher from Rampaging Gargoyles. The gargoyles are definitely the villians, but the best villains have some positive qualities too. Sometimes the villain is just misunderstood. Voting for Slug Pie Story #5 is going on right now at http://www.slugpiestories.com/vote-for-our-next-story.html if you want to cast a vote for Gargoyles.

YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST PEOPLE!! Get on over to that link and vote for Gargoyles to appear in Mick’s next-but-one adventure!

Until next time,

 

Bruce

 

Dinosaur Boy: An MG Read-it-if Review…

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If you are looking for a a very earthly sci-fi, friendship, foiling-an-evil-villain-while-embracing-vegetarianism tale for a middle grade audience, then today is your lucky day!  Today I have Dinosaur Boy by Corey Putmun Oakes, a fairly wacky story about championing your true self when the going gets tough.  Engage eyeball thrusters! Launch review!

Sawyer is enjoying his summer holiday before entering 5th grade when he unexpectedly sprouts bony plates and a tail.  Well, it isn’t entirely unexpected – Sawyer’s grandfather was part Stegosaurus and it is obvious that Sawyer has also inherited the family dinsosaur gene.  As if being a fifth grader wasn’t tough enough, Sawyer now has to contend with the stares and taunts of his classmates and only has his vertically-advantaged friend Elliot, and weird new girl Sylvie, to hang out with.

When Principal Mathis instigates a tough new zero-tolerance policy on bullying in the school, Sawyer’s tormentors begin to disapper, one by one.  Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, Sawyer, Elliot and Sylvie investigate and uncover a shocking secret that goes all the way to the top.  But can the intrepid trio keep themselves out of trouble or will they too fall victim to the nefarious plot?

DINOSAUR-BOY-COVER-227x300Read it if:

* you’ve ever been required to protect the safety of others by attaching tennis balls to any part of your anatomy

* you see nothing wrong with changing your appearance – even if it involves modifying your existing clothing to accommodate extra extremeties

* you like your middle grade fiction to contain at least one hybrid gene

Dinosaur Boy was a really strange creature in my opinion.  It’s a little bit of a triumphing over the bullies tale.  It’s got definite sci-fi elements.  There’s a theme about being yourself running throughout.  It’s got a bit of a detective vibe to it.  So really, you could either take the tack that this book has got something for everyone….or say that this book didn’t really know what it was trying to be.

By the end of the tale, I was fairly convinced that the author had settled on this being a story that would (in the next book in the series, at least) stake its claim in sci-fi territory, but up until then I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it all.

Sawyer is a bit of an “everyman” character (despite the plates and tale) – he’s likeable, generally average, a good friend, and an authentic representation of a boy of his age trying to get along in life while everyone else seems to have it out for him.  I enjoyed the contrast that was set up early on, between Sawyer’s tentative delight and curiosity at developing the family mutation, and his subsequent shame and confusion as he endures the slings and arrows of classmates that seem to have nothing better to do than pick on the kid who looks a little bit different.

The narrative comes together in the end, despite some very odd plot twists, and overall, I did enjoy the story.  I would have loved to have seen more made of the whole “dinosaur-gene” and how it came to be.  The author focuses on this a little at the start of the book and then it sort of falls by the wayside as the plot twists are revealed.  I’m not sure that this will bother middle-grade readers particularly, but I wanted more than just a cursory explanation for why the main character needed to be part-dinosaur.

This certainly wasn’t anything spectacular from my point of view.  I suspect it will make a nice addition to the “Wimpy Kid” area of the library and will garner some laughs from the target audience, but I felt that the world building was a little lacking here and as the second book seems to be taking things off-planet, I would have preferred a stronger foundation to be built on familiar terra firma first.

I received a copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley for review.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

How to Rid Your Swimming Pool of a Bloodthirsty Mermaid: A Maniacal Book Club Review…

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manical book club button

Welcome young and old to another meeting of the Maniacal Book Club.  Today we have a book for middle grade readers who are not afraid to be scared right out of their swimming pools.  We received How to Rid Your Swimming Pool of a Bloodthirsty Mermaid by Mick Bogerman through the Goodreads First Reads giveaways and how grateful we are to have been introduced (albeit through book number two) to this action-packed, thrill-filled story of monsters, mayhem and malevolent mermaidery.  This book is part of the Slug Pie Story series, which began with How To Navigate a Zombie Cave and Defeat Pirate Pete and is currently at How to Destroy the New Girl’s Killer Robot Army.  Clearly, we were drawn to both the fantastical content and the fact that these books hinted at providing helpful tips for conducting oneself in the aforementioned frightening circumstances.

bloodthirsty mermaid

Mick thinks he’s bartered a sweet deal when he trades seven mows of rich neighbour PJ’s lawn for seven swims in PJ’s pool. Since last month’s incident fighting zombie pirates in which Mick’s little brother Finley nearly drowned, Mick has decided to take no more chances and seize the opportunity to teach Finley to swim.  Things don’t go according to plan however, because when Mick and Finley accidentally feed a mysterious substance to PJ’s beloved sea monkeys, a large, deadly, scaly problem that no one could have foreseen suddenly surfaces to throw all humans in the vicinity into mortal danger.  The boys’ mistake somehow causes the growth of a real-life mermaid – not the lush-tresses, coquettish, tail-flicking sort of mermaid, but an enormous, gorilla-hairy, hypnotic-eyed, human-eating mermaid.  Now it’s up to Mick, Finley and the utterly inept PJ to find a way to get Marilyn (PJ’s choice of name) out of the pool before anyone else becomes her lunch, dinner or midnight snack.

maniacal book club guru daveGuru Dave

Friends, fellow-readers and lovers of acquatic life take heed! The Bogerman boys’ story is a cautionary tale for all those who do not read the fine print.  It is so easy to be seduced by advertising and fail to consider the consequences of our purchases.  Add to this the growing gap between rich and poor and the communication breakdowns that occur between those in the two camps, and before you know it a scaly, hungry water-demon has been unleashed to reign down merry hell on the hired help.

Let this story be a lesson for all those who send off for the offers at the back of vintage comic books.

maniacal book club toothlessToothless

No dragons in this book.  But there is a really scary mermaid who hypnotises people into the water and then EATS THEM!! That was pretty cool.  And her name’s Marilyn.  That was funny.

I like Mick because he’s fearless and does lots of cool stunts to try and get Marilyn back to the ocean.  Finley’s pretty cool too because he always thinks things through.  PJ is a bit of a baby.  But he turns out okay in the end.

I hope one of Mick’s next books has dragons in it. But the killer mermaid was okay as a substitute.

Mad Martha

Let us all heed advice from our mothersmaniacal book club martha

We should not judge the books by their covers

For like Disney’s she ain’t

This Mer-lass needs restraint

As with flesh-ripping death you’ll discover

maniacal book club bruceBruce

I was surprised at how much I really enjoyed this tale.  The story is pitched at a middle grade audience, but Mick himself warns parents at the very start with a disclaimer that this book is not for the faint-hearted reader.  On the other hand, if you have a young male reader (or female, obviously, but particularly male) who loves action, fantasy violence, heroic actions, kids having to solve problems out of their depth (pun intended) and just general mayhem and adventure, then get them onto this series right this second.

Mick is a rough-as-guts narrator with a strong sense of right and wrong, and is highly protective of his younger brother. Finley is the thinker of the partnership, considering problems from all angles before making a decision.  And PJ….well, PJ learns some valuable lessons about moving out from under his rich parents’ shadow and thinking for himself.

I read this book in one sitting I was so riveted by the narrative style and the action and I think it’s a book that will have great re-reading value.  I’m excited to see what happens in the other adventures in the Slug Pie stories series as this seems to be a fresh, action-packed take on the standard middle grade fantasy genre. The back of the book features a handy little recap of all the tips and tricks that the boys have picked up for dealing with mermaids of the bloodthirsty variety, which was a nice touch.

What I liked most about this tale, as an adult reader, was the references to the retro sea monkey ads that used to feature in the back of comic books.  Like PJ, oh how I wanted a little kingdom of sea monkeys to brighten up my shelf, with their waving, webby fingers, and their happy capering amongst the fernery.  Really, it took me back. In case you have no clue what I’m talking about, here’s the ad that had me pining and yearning for such exotic pets.

sea monkeys

How did they get away with such false advertising I wonder? Oh, that’s right, it was the 70s.

I would definitely recommend giving this particular Slug Pie story a go – particularly if you are in summer right now, because there’s nothing better than reading a story about bloodthirsty pool-dwelling monsters in temperatures which demand regular swimming as an antidote to heat-related death.

Until next time,

Bruce