Meandering through Middle Grade: D-Bot Squad!

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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

 

Bruce’s Picture Book Round-Up: Caves, Adopted Dinosaurs and Grumpy Frogs…

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Today’s picture book round up is a collection of wild and wacky stories for those who look forward to the unexpected.  Lassos at the ready to rope in a fun new read!

I Will Love You Forever (Tatsuya Miyanishi)

*We received a copy of I Will Love You Forever from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  i will love you forever

While foraging in the prehistoric forest one day, a mother Maiasaura discovers an egg, which she takes back to her nest and protects alongside her own.  When the egg hatches and a tyrannosaurus rex emerges, the Maiasaura mama overlooks the danger and teaches the little T-Rex to be like a Maiasaura.

Muster up the motivation because…

…if you haven’t read any of Miyanishi’s picture books from the Tyrannosaurus series, you are missing out.  I’ve reviewed two of them on the blog previously and they are the most bizarre and beguiling picture books you could ever hope to come across.  I Will Love you Forever is no exception, presenting a heart-wrenching and tear-jerking story of adoptive maternal love, the nature vs nurture debate and the ways in which family influences identity.  The story begins with the heart-warming birth of two very different dinosaurs and their childhood raised as brothers.  When a passing ankylosaurus tips off one of the brothers that one of them might not be as harmless as everyone thinks, it sets off a chain of events that have the little adopted maiasuara-tyrannosaurus questioning his intrinsic nature.  Things come to a head late in the story and the tyrannosaurus is faced with a choice about his future and who he wants to become.  The illustrations are colourful and quirky (and Mad Martha still wants to make a plushie out of the tyrannosaurus!) and the text is set in blocks, allowing for good spacing between the pictures and words.  I highly recommend this series and I think this story is probably most accessible of the three I’ve read for those who aren’t looking for a totally out-there picture book reading experience.

Brand it with:

adoptive parents; nature vs nurture; it’s what’s inside that counts

Grumpy Frog (Ed Vere)

*We received a copy of Grumpy Frog from the publisher via Netgalley *

Two Sentence Synopsis:  grumpy frog

A frog will do anything to prove he’s not grumpy but has trouble tempering his temper when things don’t go his way.  When he meets a friend, he must decide whether his preferences are more important than having fun.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a chaotic, colourful jaunt into the world of likes, dislikes and how to behave when things aren’t as you would like them to be.  Ed Vere’s illustrative style can be loud and somewhat abrasive if you aren’t primed and ready for it but for those who enjoy expressive fonts, thick line drawings and characters with unmistakable facial expressions, there is a lot to enjoy in this book.  Frog is generally a happy guy, though he can sometimes lose it when things aren’t how he likes them.  Thankfully though, other people share this fault and with a bit of calm negotiation everyone can agree on an activity that will make everyone happy.  The arc of this story was a little disjointed for my liking.  I felt that the story switched from a fun “look! the frog says he’s happy but keeps getting angry!’ sort of light comedy, to a friendship/compromise tale which didn’t quite have the same giggle factor.  I think, overall, mini-fleshlings will enjoy this tale if only for the manic mood swings of frog from one page to the next.

Brand it with:

Pet peeves; losing it; win-win situations

The Cave (Rob Hodgson)

*We received a copy of The Cave from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

the cave

The Cave by Rob Hodgson.  Published by Allen & Unwin (Murdoch Books), 26th April, 2017. RRP:$24.99

A wolf is determined to coax a cave-dwelling mammal from its hiding spot…for perfectly innocent purposes, of course!  When the animal emerges, Wolf is in for a surprise and can suddenly appreciate the properties of a deep, dark cave for a hiding place.

Muster up the motivation because…

…there is a twist at the end of this story that turns the plot on its head and will have little ones considering the importance of perspective.  The Cave is a vibrantly illustrated tale of getting what you wish for and then wishing that you hadn’t.  The main protagonist is the stereotypically shifty Wolf, whose only goal is to eat the creature that dwells in the titular cave, and said wolf uses every trick he knows to make this happen.  Throughout the double page illustrations, young readers will have fun spotting the snail and the bowler-hatted worm appear in different, funny positions and the changing seasons, as well as the wonderfully expressive eyes of the cave-dweller, provide plenty of variety for the eye throughout.  I also love that this hardcover edition features a different image on the book cover to the dust jacket.  The twist at the end of the story didn’t quite eke out the laugh that I was expecting from the mini-fleshlings in the dwelling, but I suspect this is a book that will inspire repeat readings.

Brand it with:

If wishes were cave-dwelling mammals; powers of persuasion; every trick in the book

Do any of these take your fancy?  Let me know which books you’ve been rounding up to read lately!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

A Beautiful, Beastly Double Dip: Gift Books about Repitilia (and other unusual creatures)

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You may have noticed that it is getting to that time of year when it will be impossible to avoid the urging of others regarding choosing the right gift.  If you are looking to escape such urging, you have come to the wrong place, for today I have two beautifully presented books that would make the perfect gift for young readers of your acquaintance with a penchant for dinosaurs and other beastly creatures.  We received both of these tomes from Bloomsbury Australia for review and they have already been pored over by the mini-fleshlings, to the accompaniment of much “Ooohing” and “Ahhing”.

First up, we have Discovering Dinosaurs by Simon Chapman and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

This is the the most thrilling, adventure book, ever! Written by a real-life adventurer, Simon Chapman, be prepared to live your dream and imagine you discovered the dinosaurs. It’s your chance to battle blizzards with swarms of vipers in the Gobi Desert with Roy Chapman Andrews, join the race across the the Wild West of America with bone-hunters Cope and Marsh.

Along the trail of discovery you’ll unearth a time when monsters really did rule the world – DINOSAURS.

You will find them all in here: Triceratops, Pteradactyls, Iguanodon, Stegosaurus, Diplodocus and many more. It’s crammed full of stats, wild pictures, a brilliant pop-up (don’t get eaten!), realistic artworks, journals, flaps and even the insides of dinosaurs. You’ll discover what makes a dinosaur, when and where they lived, what they ate, why they fought and why they became extinct.

Dip into it for… discovering-dinosaurs

…a vividly illustrated adventure into the prehistoric world, with flaps to lift, notebooks and letters to flick through and one whopping great pop up!  If you have a mini-fleshling interested in dinosaurs, this would certainly be a winning choice for gifting.  The book is large with a satisfyingly chunky cover and solid cardboard pages, all the better to provide a sturdy base for the artifacts inside.  Beginning with a double page fold-out map of the world as it was during different geological time periods, the book is divided into double page spreads that focus on particular geographical regions in which certain species of dinosaur have been found, alternating with double page spreads on a range of “favourite” dinosaurs.  The book finishes with some information on fossils as well as an intriguing little flip-up notebook piece which is enticingly titled, “How to Find Fossils”.

Don’t dip if…

…you aren’t a fan of dinosaurs, I suppose.  Age-wise, the text was a bit advanced for the eldest mini-fleshling in this dwelling, at nearly six years old, but but he spent plenty of time flicking through the various flaps, pull-outs and bits to see what was in, under and around.  I would have to say that this is best suited to the seven and above age group, if you are looking at them actually getting to grips with the information in the book, rather than just having fun with the pictures and pop-ups.

Overall Dip Factor

The best recommendation I can give for this book is that the mini-fleshling double-checked whether this book would be remaining in the dwelling after it had been reviewed, and if so, could he claim it as his.  There are plenty of books on various topics in this type of engaging format around, but they certainly do make for a fun and tactile reading experience.  If you don’t know any mini-fleshlings with a particular interest in dinosaurs, this would make an equally appealing gift for any primary school teachers or children’s librarians of your acquaintance.  It’s the kind of book that will be on high rotation during silent reading.

Next we have A Miscellany of Magical Beasts by Simon Holland.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Enter an incredible world of magical beasts, dare to draw near to their captivating powers, and discover the spellbinding stories of sixteen favorite mythical creatures from around the world. Venture into this world and you’ll discover why griffins collect a gem called agate, how to put out dragonfire, how mischievous elves can cause terrible nightmares, and much, much more.

A Miscellany of Magical Beasts is a beautiful, luxurious gift book showcasing a fascinating menagerie of creatures from the world’s timeless mythologies and legends. Presented in an incredible package with spectacular cover finishes, it is sure to be treasured by fantasy enthusiasts.

Dip into it for…  miscellany-of-magical-beasts

…a feast for the eyes and a scratch for the fantastical beast itch.  Apart from being nicely timed to coincide with the release of a certain movie about certain fantastic beasts and where to find the same, this is the kind of book that will spark the imagination of even the most literal and pragmatic of young readers.  The cover image gives a good indication of the high quality of illustration throughout the book and each page is awash with colour and fine detail.  The book has several illustrators contributing, so while all the illustrations are stunningly gorgeous, there is a bit of variety in style, which is an interesting touch. Tucked within the pages are a few fold-outs and cut-outs and because they are not included on every page, add a little extra to the reading experience for those who go the distance.  A wide range of beasties are covered, from the unicorn to the chimera and from elves to werewolves, with each creature receiving at least a double-page spread of information in a blocks of text that don’t overwhelm.  Some of the creatures also get a little extra attention, with sections such as “How to Outwit a Werewolf” and a “Guide to Dragons” filling out some of the informational gaps and providing variety.

Don’t dip if…

…you are looking for information on gargoyles.  They aren’t included.  Similarly, if you are looking for a whiz-bang reading experience with pop-ups and flaps to lift you will be disappointed because this book is more of an information text, albeit a beautifully presented one.

Overall Dip Factor

If you know a mini-fleshling with a vivid imagination, who is into fantasy fiction, or is simply ripe for pushing into tabletop fantasy RPG games, this book will certainly whet their appetite for the magical.  It has a lovely large format that is perfect for enjoying with others and the illustrations really are something else.  Once again, if you are, or know, a classroom teacher or children’s librarian, this would make a brilliant and coveted addition to any school or classroom library.

As they say, the first bite is with the eye (or something of that nature), and if you have a reluctant reader or a mini-fleshling who would rather eat glass than wake up to find a book in their Christmas stocking, either of these tomes might change their mind.  On the other hand, if you are related to a voracious reader, either of these books in their stocking will reinforce for them why getting a book for Christmas is the greatest thing ever.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Title Fight Reading Challenge: I Want That Love…

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Title Fight Button 2016

Today I bring to you my final contribution for the Title Fight Reading Challenge 2016 with a book for category six (a book with an emotion in the title).  I Want That Love is another truly original mashup of dinosaurs and deep-seated human emotion by Japanese master of quirkiness Tatsuya Miyanishi.  If you are struggling to place Miyanishi’s other work, you can check out our review of You Look Yummy here.  We received a copy of this one from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Although Tyrannosaurus storms around saying that power is everything in the world, he realizes he is getting weaker with age. After his tail gets bitten in a run-in with Masiakasaurus, some young Triceratops nurse him back to health.

Touched by their innocent hearts, Tyrannosaurus begins to feel love for these new friends–even though he might have eaten them under different circumstances!

So when two Giganotosaurus attack the group, Tyrannosaurus fights them off, holding the children tightly to his body, and sacrificing himself in order to protect them from the Giganotosaurus. The third title in this acclaimed series, I Want That Love explains that love is far more important than power. 

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Let me begin by saying that Miyanishi’s style of writing will not be for everyone.  Some parents will no doubt pick up this book, have a flick through and decide they would rather drink paint than pass such a weird book on to their kids.  I, having no stony offspring, am able to enjoy the utter bizarre joy of watching a violent, baby-dinosaur-chomping T-Rex realise the power of love through a close encounter with advanced age.  In a nutshell, the story follows a T-Rex, who has a penchant for killing and eating weaker and smaller dinos, until he finds himself in a deathly dire situation.  When he himself is attacked by some stronger dinos, the T-Rex is nursed back to health by some utterly adorable little Triceratops kids.  Later, when the baby Triceratops are threatened, T-Rex provides the ultimate sacrifice to save the kids, thus proving that he has learned his lesson about the power of love trumping (yes, I use that word deliberately) the fallacy that strength and power are the things that matter most in life.

I don’t know if the T-Rex and Triceratops are the same ones as appear in You Look Yummy – they look the same, but there are some continuity difficulties if they are – but this book has that same heart-warming punch at the end that will knock your world-weary heart for six.  Even though these books are utterly weird and unlike any other picture books that you will read – seriously, I still can’t decide whether the author intends these to be dark humour or serious moral tale, or indeed whether the translation has anything to do with how they read – there is an incredibly authentic underlying message in each story.  I have a sneaking suspicion that these are actually meant for adults, but I really can’t be sure.

Odd as these books undoubtedly are, we on the Shelf have definitely fallen under their Prehistoric spell and will keep our eyes peeled for any more in the series.  Mad Martha did intend on hooking up a cuddly T-Rex for you, but she couldn’t fit it in, given the time we had to spend this week looking at each other sideways and whispering “What the actual F***?” over the result of the US election.

Happily though, with this title I have COMPLETED THE TITLE FIGHT READING CHALLENGE FOR 2016!!  Hooray!

For any of you who enjoy my reading challenges, I have been working hard on a new challenge for 2017 and will hopefully have information posted here within the next week or two.

Until next time,

Bruce

Shouty Doris Interjects during….You Look Yummy!

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Shouty Doris interjects

Welcome one and all to a tag-team review for a stand-out picture book that will have you  tearing up as your little ones beg for a second reading. We received You Look Yummy by Tatsuya Miyanishi from the publisher via Netgalley, after requesting it on the strength of its inviting cover design.  As always, when Shouty Doris is involved, some mild spoilers may be interjected.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

This sweet tale about the love between father and son is the first in a tremendously popular Tyrannosaurus series in 12 titles to date, with combined sales in excess of 3 million copies in Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan and France.  

A long, long time ago, a baby Ankylosaurus is born on a volcano erupting ground. As the little Ankylosaurus begins wandering around, a big Tyrannosaurus comes along. He is about to pounce when the baby cries out, “Daddy!” and grabs onto his leg. The baby thinks the Tyrannosaurus is his father, so as not to disappoint the little one, he takes on the task of raising a baby Ankylosaur. The two develop ever stronger bonds of love, but soon comes the day when they must part. Highlighting the importance of family, this sweet picture book celebrates the love between father and son.you look yummy

See that cheeky, quirky cover?  See that big, scary, Godzilla-like T-Rex? Now see that teeny little pink spiky blob behind him? That’s the sweet little Ankylosaur and his giant, T-Rex adoptive daddy.  Aren’t they adorable?  I couldn’t go past the utter cuteness of the little Ankylosaur and his hero-worship of his big strong protector, exacerbated by the eyeball-pleasing illustrative style.

Shouty Doris interjects

I didn’t think gargoyles had hormones, but you’ve obviously had some bizarre hormonal spurt because I can’t believe you’re getting all doe-eyed and gushy over a samey-samey, “Are you my mummy?” story that we’ve seen so many times you could write it in your sleep.

Oh Doris! How could you say such a thing? I agree that this is a fairly typical lost child story, but it is undeniably sweet and funny.  The scene of the T-Rex learning to appreciate little red berries as an alternative to meat was heart-warming and reflects every parent’s desire to support their children in their investigative exploits.

Shouty Doris interjects

Ridiculous.  The T-Rex should have eaten the Ankylosaur as soon as look at him.  And what was he thinking, letting the baby go wandering off into the forest? If he’s going to masquerade as the kid’s father, he should at least have made sure the kid didn’t go wandering off into the forest to be eaten by any number of other predators!

Contradicting yourself there, Doris.  There’s more text per page than I would have expected for a book aimed at this age group, but it is perfectly primed for read-aloud and the comic-style illustrations and format are incredibly engaging to look at.  I absolutely melted at the twist at the end of the story, too. It was a fantastic way to finish a funny, memorable book.

Shouty Doris interjects

Twist, schmist! That was always going to happen.  I don’t see how a child-stealing monster returning a baby to its rightful parents is in any way “heartwarming”.  If the book was in any way realistic that T-Rex would have been locked up for kidnap!

I think you’re losing it now Doris.  Perhaps its time for your lie down.

Shouty Doris interjects

Exactly.  Don’t forget to bring me a nice warm Milo in a timely fashion.  By the time you brought it up last time it was tepid and stodgy.

I’ll get right on it.  Really, I can certainly see why these characters have been such a success in other language editions and I will happily seek out the other books in this series if and when they become available.  Do yourself a favour and pick up this adorable and eye-catching little treat – you can say it’s for the mini-fleshlings, but we’ll know the truth between us!

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