Early Chapter Book Double Dip Review: Cat Capers and Doggy Derring-Do…

2

image

Feet up, treats out and let’s dip into two new release early chapter books!

First up we have Pug, whose first adventure involved being all at sea and who now makes a reappearance in Cowboy Pug by Laura James and illustrated by Eglantine Cuelemans.  We received a copy of this one from Bloomsbury for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Meet the brilliant, the wonderful, the courageous …Cowboy Pug! The second book in a joyful new illustrated series for fans of Claude and Squishy McFluff. Pug and his faithful companion, Lady Miranda, are going to be cowboys for the day – and first of all they’re going horsetrading! But with their noble steed Horsey safely acquired, it’s not long before they find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Can Pug the reluctant hero overcome his fears and save the day once more?

Dip into it for…cowboy pug

…a beautifully illustrated quick read that bounces from one unexpected disaster to the next.  Pug manages to come out on top at every turn however, by accident or design, and by the end of the story we’ve seen police chasing bandits, trophies being awarded and one horse that slowly decides that being friends with Pug and Lady Miranda means one is in for a wild ride.  This story starts a little abruptly if you aren’t familiar with the escapades of the first book, with no particular information given to explain the backstory of Lady Miranda, Pug and the Running Footmen.  By the second chapter though, this shouldn’t be a problem as young readers will be engrossed in Lady Miranda’s search for a horsey friend.

Don’t dip if…

…you like your stories to be complex and involved.  This is only a quick read, perfect for newly confident readers looking to move from picture books and basic readers to a longer, yet still accessible, chapter book format.  For that reason, the action moves along apace, without any filler in which to get bogged down.

Overall Dip Factor

This is a charming follow-up to the first Adventures of Pug story and I think I enjoyed it better than the first.  I seem to remember that Lady Miranda annoyed me a bit in the first book, whereas she was perfectly delightful in this installment, even making a new friend (of the non-horsey variety).  The illustrations on every page and the large font make the book totally accessible to younger readers (and those like me who hate tiny print).    Whether you’ve read the first book in the series or not, this would be a canny choice for young readers who love animal stories, lots of colour and imagery, and slapstick laughs aplenty. For those already bitten by the Pug bug, the next adventure is coming out later this year.

If you aren’t a dog person, fear not, because next up we have The Adventures of Miss Petitfour by Anne Michaels and illustrated by Emma Block, which features all the cats you could ever wish for.  We received our copy from Bloomsbury Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The magical adventures of an eccentric Mary Poppins-esque heroine and her flying feline charges, sure to charm readers big and small. The first book for children by an internationally acclaimed novelist and poet.

Miss Petitfour enjoys having adventures that are “just the right size – fitting into a single, magical day.” She is an expert at baking and eating fancy iced cakes, and her favorite mode of travel is par avion. On windy days, she takes her sixteen cats out for an airing: Minky, Misty, Taffy, Purrsia, Pirate, Mustard, Moutarde, Hemdela, Earring, Grigorovitch, Clasby, Captain Captain, Captain Catkin, Captain Cothespin, Your Shyness and Sizzles. With the aid of her favorite tea party tablecloth as a makeshift balloon, Miss Petitfour and her charges fly over her village, having many little adventures along the way. Join Miss Petitfour and her equally eccentric felines on five magical outings — a search for marmalade, to a spring jumble sale, on a quest for “birthday cheddar”, the retrieval of a lost rare stamp and as they compete in the village’s annual Festooning Festival. A whimsical, beautifully illustrated collection of tales that celebrates language, storytelling and small pleasures, especially the edible kind!

the adventures of miss petitfour

Dip into it for…

…whimsical antics, alluring pastel-hued illustrations and a veritable clowder of cats.  Miss Petitfour lives with a total of sixteen felines, all with their own personalities, in what feels for all the world like a mashup between Mary Poppins and Neko Atsume.  The book features a short introduction at the start so the reader can familiarise themselves with both Miss Petitfour and the aforementioned cats, and is then broken up into five short stories, all which feature food, flying and feline fancifulness.

Don’t dip if…

…you prefer substance over style.  While the book is beautifully presented, I found the stories somewhat lacking in intrigue and they didn’t particularly hold my interest for long.  The author is quite fond of digressions and while a few of these are always helpful and fun, it does not bode well when the digressions generate more interest than the actual story.

Overall Dip Factor

The gorgeous illustrations throughout the book, the coloured fonts and the fact that the stories feature sixteen cats that travel by tablecloth parachute at the mercy of the winds will surely be enough to draw some readers under Miss Petitfour’s spell of whimsy.  It wasn’t quite enough for me, but I’m still impressed by the production quality of the book nonetheless.  This is one you’ll want to buy in print, for sure, rather than e-format.  If you have younger readers of your acquaintance who are fans of Kate Knapp’s Ruby Red Shoes, they will probably find Miss Petitfour and her cats equally delightful.

So which is it to be? Cats or dogs? Whimsy or adventure?  Let me know in the comments!

Until next time,

Bruce

Meandering through Middle Grade: Night of the Living Worms…

5

meandering-through-middle-grade

Today’s little gem is an illustrated early chapter book that will have all those mini-fleshlings who are ready to move on from such favoured duos as Elephant & Piggie clamouring for more.  We received Night of the Living Worms: A Speed Bump & Slingshot Misadventure by Dave Coverly from PanMacmillan Australia for review, and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

What’s a bird to do when his sibling is a big-time celebrity? It’s a question Speed Bump has to deal with every single morning, because his brother happens to be the one and only Early Bird. You know, THE Early Bird, who ALWAYS gets the worm! Unfortunately, Speed Bump is a sleepy little bird with a big head and tiny wings who’s worried he’ll never live up to his brother. But he has a great buddy, the ever-hungry Slingshot, who knows how to lift his spirits. Together, they end up on an adventure deep in the nighttime forest, where they’re forced to confront something more terrifying—and slimier—than they’ve ever imagined. It could all go horribly wrong . . . or it could just change Speed Bump’s luck for good.

night-of-the-living-worms

If there’s one thing that draws me back to “children’s” books again and again, it is the unashamed acknowledgement that illustrations and text are made for each other.  Night of the Living Worms sits in that category of books between picture books and chapter books, wherein the author knows that for beginning readers – and indeed, for any reader who enjoys more context around their text – illustrations are essential.  This book is a bit of a combination between chapter book and graphic novel, with no more than a paragraph of text on each page, some of which is encased in speech bubbles, and every page is adorned with eye-popping line art to bring the story to life.

Speed Bump is a good sleeper who lives in the shadow of his older brother, Early Bird.  As we all know, Early Bird gets the worm and for this reason, Speed Bump has to content himself with nuts and berries for snacking on, until such time as he can beat his seemingly unbeatable brother to that elusive worm.  Slingshot is Speed Bump’s best friend and a more stalwart and supportive companion a bird could not wish to find.  When the two decide to take up a foolproof strategy to beat Early Bird to the worm, things don’t go as planned.  There are worms available for the plucking alright, but it turns out that maybe these worms have a plan all their own to defeat Early Bird!

Helped by a collection of forest creatures, Speed Bump and Slingshot must find courage they didn’t know they had and find a way to save the day, before Early Bird meets a nasty, worm-driven end.

This book was heaps of fun to read and the characters are vivid and full of personality.  The nightwalker worms were actually pretty creepy when viewed all together, but there are plenty of laughs throughout the story that will please reluctant readers and those who just want to have fun in their reading.  As an early chapter book, it’s a quick read for an accomplished reader, but for those just starting out on longer books it should provide just enough challenge, as well as plenty of support through the illustrations and use of white space and speech bubbles.  I quite enjoyed a selection of illustrated punny goodness early on in the tale, with various birds making various punny comments to elicit a guffaw or two.

The ending of the book is both exciting and quite fitting for the trouble that Speed Bump and Slingshot went to – as well as for the trouble they got themselves in!  This book also contains a preview of the second book in the series, Night of the Living Shadows, to further hook in young readers and create anticipation.  I’d say this intrepid duo are definitely one to watch if you have a mini-fleshling in your dwelling who is just beginning to tackle longer books, or indeed one that just loves a good comic adventure story with larger than life protagonists.

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Middle Grade Goodness” Edition…

0

image

I’m ready to hunt down an eclectic bunch of middle grade titles with you today, so let’s saddle up and ride!

Carter and the Curious Maze (Philippa Dowding)

*We received a copy of Carter and the Curious Maze from the publisher via Netgalley for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:carter and the curious maze.jpg

When Carter says that the Fair is super-boring this year, a creepy old man challenges him to try to beat his hedge maze. Once inside, Carter realises that this maze isn’t a typical fairground attraction and it might take him far longer than expected to find his way home.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is another fun addition to the author’s Weird Stories Gone Wrong collection of standalone books, featuring quick, engaging and unexpected tales.  The book revolves around Carter, a young boy who mistakenly believes that he is too old to have much fun at the local funfair.  On being invited to have a go at the admittedly less-than-enticing hedge maze, he soon discovers that some fairground attractions might harbour more secrets than they appear to at first glance.  Carter’s journey takes the reader on a whirlwind trip into various historical periods, from the present all the way back to the very beginnings of European settlement in his local area. I was hoping, overall, for a bit more depth in the characters and the problem-solving required from Carter to get back to the present, but because these are designed to be manageable reads, the word-count doesn’t necessarily allow for extended character development.  The character of Mr Green hits the mark in terms of creepiness and the “creepy leaf girl” that Carter encounters early on also exudes fairly sinister vibes (which are compounded upon seeing the illustration of her!), so there is quite enough weirdness to add a bit of uneasiness to the overall atmosphere.  I suspect that this would be a fantastic choice as a read-aloud for any teachers working on local history with their classes, as it really promotes the idea of thinking beyond the “now” and imagining (or even researching!) how what we consider to be our place or home has changed over time.  It’s probably alright to mention that while reading this story I became covetous of Carter’s sister’s squid hat and would quite like any tips on where to pick one up.

Brand it with:

Time travel, extreme gardening, creepy old guys

Rabbit and Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits (Julian Gough and Jim Field)

*We received a copy of Rabbit and Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits from Hachette Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:rabbit and bear

When Bear wakes early from hibernation, she immediately begins to look for food…which has gone missing…so she makes a snowman instead. This simple act sparks a friendship with Rabbit, which, while rocky at first, is forged in the fire and comes out stronger on the other side.

Muster up the motivation because…

…aside from its visual appeal, this story provides some extremely funny dialogue exchanges about poo and the eating thereof.  If you’re still with me, having digested the thought of conversations about eating one’s own poo (pun intended), then you will probably enjoy the non-pooey parts of the story as well (of which there are many).  Rabbit and Bear is a fully illustrated early chapter book (with no chapters), featuring a trusting and forgiving bear and a reasonably self-centred and tetchy rabbit.  Aside from these two protagonists we are also introduced to a wolf (undoubtedly the villain of the piece) and a collection of snowpeople (inanimate).  There isn’t a great deal of plot going on here, possibly due to the fact that this is a series-opener and needs to do the work of introducing the characters in a short amount of text, but the dialogue exchanges between Rabbit, Bear and occasionally the Wolf, are quite funny in places and there are enough changes in pace to keep the interest up and the reader turning the pages. During the non-poo-eating parts of the book, a quite touching friendship develops between Rabbit and Bear, albeit with a few (non poo-related) teething issues, and the ending is saccharine sweet and will no doubt make you go “Awwwww!”  I’d recommend this as a pre-bedtime read-aloud for mini-fleshlings with a taste for quirky animal stories, or a read-alone for confident readers at the lower end of the middle grade age bracket who can’t go past a bit of poo-based humour.

Brand it with:

The odd couple, fun with rotting vegetables, run rabbit run

Fuzzy (Tom Angleberger and Paul Dellinger)

*We received a copy of Fuzzy from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:fuzzy

Max Zelaster is a good student with a fascination for robots, so when her school is chosen to participate in a new robot integration program, Max is super excited. After being assigned to help “Fuzzy” learn the ropes of middle school, Max finds herself getting into more and more trouble – will and Fuzzy be able to figure out what’s really going on behind the scenes before both suffer dire consequences?

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a quality story about friendship and bucking the system, reminiscent of Louis Sachar’s work.  Set in the near future, Max and her friends exist in a school system for which the pinnacle of academic achievement is scoring correctly on standardised tests, while following all behaviour rules to the letter.  Max is a character to whom one can’t help but be sympathetic when it becomes apparent that someone or something is tweaking the system to ensure that she doesn’t measure up to standards.  Fuzzy starts off the book as a bit of a non-entity, but quickly develops his programming and blossoms into an unlikely hero with conflicting feelings about his origins and purpose.  This is a bit of a deceptive story: on one level it can be read as a simple story of friendship and standing up for one’s rights in an unjust situation, while on deeper reflection there is plenty to spark conversation on larger social issues including the purpose of education, the relativity of truth and the positive and negative implications for society of rapid technological advancement.  There is a lot to get one’s teeth into here, whether you are in the target age-bracket or not, although the story does read like a middle-grade tale in terms of language and character development.  I’d definitely recommend this book for its originality of content and the authors’ unabashed opening of various cans of  worms.

Brand it with:

All hail the robot overlords, no running in the halls, big brother is watching you

Now go forth and round up these titles for your TBR list, d’ya hear?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

The Maniacal Book Club Reviews…Captain Pug!

3

I hope you’re ready for cuteness overload today because the Maniacal Book Club is pleased to introduce you to an adorable (and hardy!) little protagonist who will likely steal your heart, as well as your jam tarts.  I speak of Captain Pug: The Dog Who Sailed the Seas, who is making his debut in a delightfully illustrated early chapter book by Laura James and Eglantine Ceulemans.  We received a review copy of Captain Pug from Bloomsbury Australia and he has immediately become a favourite of the eldest mini-fleshling in the dwelling.  But let’s find out more about this intrepid Pug!  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Pug is going on a seafaring adventure. He’s had jam tarts for breakfast. He’s wearing a smart sailor suit. There’s just one problem. Pug is afraid of the water!

Captain Pug is the first book in a glorious new illustrated series for fans of Claude and Squishy McFluff.

Captain Pug

How could you not love that sweet little puggy face?  Here’s what the Book Club think:

Guru Dave

maniacal book club guru dave

What does it take to follow one’s dreams? Courage, persistence and a sense of adventure.  What does it take to follow the dreams of one’s owner? All of the above plus a fancy hat.  We can learn much from the tenacity of young Captain Pug, who presses on despite a fear of water, to fulfill the hopes of his fine Lady Owner.  We can also learn much from Pug’s experiences in the gastronomic field – namely, the truth of that old piece of household wisdom about refraining from swimming (or indeed sailing) immediately after eating.

To0thless

maniacal book club toothless

There were no dragons in this book.  There is a cool little dog who tries to be the captain of a boat but he keeps getting seasick because he eats everything he sees.  I liked the two Footmen who had to carry the dog’s owner around in a chair.  I can imagine Bruce in a chair like that.

The ending is pretty exciting, with helicopters and a big ship and I really liked all the pictures.

Pug is pretty funny but I hope there’s going to be a Pug book with a dragon in it soon.

Mad Martha

maniacal book club martha

Captain Pug, oh Captain Pug!

Cute as a little red ladybug.

He keeps up his morale as he sails the canals!

Hits the right note while in a rowboat!

Proves no pug is finer while on a cruise liner!

Captain Pug, oh Captain Pug!

There’s no other dog we would more like to hug.

Bruce

While I’m not entirely smaniacal book club bruceure about the technique involved in Mad Martha’s poem, I do have to agree with her sentiment about just how charming Captain Pug is in this attractively presented little tome.  I am always a little skeptical of advertising material that insinuates that a reader will love this new book if they are a fan of an already published author or work, particularly when all the stories have in common is the fact that a dog is the main character.  The media release that came with this book indicated that it would be lapped up by fans of Aaron Blabey’s morally bankrupt picture book hero, Pig the Pug, presumably due to the pugginess of Captain Pug.  The eldest mini-fleshing in the dwelling, at five years old, is a massive fan of the aforementioned Pig, but I wasn’t sure he was going to enjoy this one simply because it had a pug on the cover.  Allow me to be the first to admit my ill-placed skepticism however, because after watching the read-aloud of this book (which took only two sittings) the mini-fleshling was already asking how long he would have to wait before the second book (Cowboy Pug) comes out. *January 2017, for those who are interested!*

So after a slightly apprehensive start, I freely confess to being won over by the fun, charming, humorous adventures of this cute little pug (who of course looks even cuter in a sailor hat).   One of the best things about the book is that it is illustrated throughout, with pictures placed strategically around the text.  This was an enormous boon to the mini-fleshling, as he is not quite ready for pictureless read-alouds but can handle listening to longer bits of text when there are pictures to help him keep up with the story.  The book also makes clever use of fonts and text enlargements to aid the newly confident reader.

The first few chapters moved a bit more slowly than I would have liked, setting up Lady Miranda (Pug’s owner), her life of luxury, and her dreams for Pug to achieve glory as a charmingly attired sea captain.  The second half of the book moved a lot quicker as Lady Miranda and Pug inadvertently become separated and Pug must face the trials of overcoming his fear of water in ever more precarious (and amusing) situations.

I would heartily recommend Pug’s first outing as an engaging read-aloud or read-together for those taking their first steps into longer books or for more confident readers who love a bit of silliness and a whole lot of beguiling illustration.

The Book Club gives this book:

  imageimage

Eight thumbs up!

Until next time,

Bruce

Yarning with Mad Martha…about Book Week!

17

 

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

 

Putting the “Ha!” in Halloween: Three Fun, Creepy Reads…

12

Good afternoon on this bright and breezy All Hallow’s Eve’s Eve!  Today I have three reads for the young and young at heart that are sufficiently spooky, creepy or icky as to qualify for the “Halloween Reads” category, while also having enough humour to satisfy those with a sissy sensitive consitution.

In ascending order of age-appropriateness, we have:

Spinster Goose: Twisted Rhymes for Naughty Children

by Lisa Wheeler and Sophie Blackall

spinster goose

Synopsis:

A cautionary tale in poetry warning children to behave, lest they be sent to learn proper decorum under the guidance of the horrid headmistress, Spinster Goose.

In case you’re wondering who might be sent to such a school and what their fate might be, the following verse from the tome will probably suffice to explain:

The pinchers get pinched,

and the pokers get poked.

The biters get bit,

and the smokers get smoked.

The takers get taken.

The sordid get sore.

The shakers get shaken right down to their core.       (p7)

So watch out.

Spook factor: A resounding 3 out of 5 screams for anyone who has ever attended (or is about to attend) school…

Laugh-o-meter: Giggle-inducing. Particularly if you are, or ever have been, a teacher.

Reading Age: Read-aloud-able from early school age

And next we have…

Sucked In! The Story of an Appendix on the Loose

by Paul Jennings and Terry Denton

sucked in

Synopsis:

A jaunty tale about a disembodied appendix that escapes its specimen jar and creates stomach-heaving havoc around the neighbourhood.

Spook Factor: 4 out of 5 screams for pure, unadulterated ingestion-by-appendix

Laugh-o-meter: Guffaw to Belly Laugh. 

Reading Age: Read-aloud-able from early school age, read alone for middle grade

And finally…

Demon Dentist

by David Walliams

Demon dentist

Synopsis:

Local kids begin finding unspeakable offerings under their pillows instead of the usual coinage, in exchange for loose teeth.  On a completely unrelated note, a new, slightly odd dentist sets up shop in the town.

Spook Factor: 2 out of 5 screams for the unspeakable offerings

Laugh-o-meter: Chortle-icious

Reading Age: Middle grade

So there you have it – three spooktacularly fun reads for mini-fleshlings.  Enjoy!

Until next time,

Bru -oooo -ce

Follow on Bloglovin

my read shelf:
Bruce Gargoyle's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)