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

 

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Gabbing about Graphic Novels: Vern and Lettuce

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gabbing-about-graphic-novels

I’ve got a cutesy one for you today that we picked up on a recent library jaunt.  Vern and Lettuce features little vignettes in the life of Vern (a sheep) and Lettuce (a rabbit) who live in the same apartment building.  The strips were originally published in The DFC which, according to Wikipedia, is/was a British weekly kids’ comic anthology.  Anyway, the comic strips have been brought together in one edition here to form a complete story, one page at a time.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Welcome to Pickle Rye, home of best friends Lettuce the rabbit and Vern the sheep. Join them for baking, birthdays, bunny-sitting and a quest for fame in the big city!
Vern and Lettuce reach for the stars, but danger is lurking just beneath their feet…

vern and lettuce

Target Age Range: 

Middle grade

Genre:

Funny anthropomorphic animal stories

Art Style:

Cartoon cute

Reading time:

About twenty minutes in one sitting

Let’s get gabbing:

While I had seen Vern & Lettuce before on some blog or other’s list of recommended graphic novel for the younger age bracket, I couldn’t remember what it was about when I came across it at the library.  Lettuce and Vern live in a town called Pickle Rye where Vern eats grass in the park while fending off moles and Lettuce is often put in charge of her brood of younger siblings.  The first few stories in the book, which are presented one to a page, are unrelated and serve to introduce the characters and their relationship, but a little way in the comics merge into a longer tale that relates to Lettuce coercing Vern into travelling to the city to audition for a televised talent show.

I enjoyed both sections of the book.  The earlier, unconnected comics were adorable and quite funny with Vern always ending up in some baby-bunny-related predicament and the latter section of the collection presented an interesting story with some cheeky twists and turns.  I also loved the few literary and pop culture references hiding throughout (in one instance the moles makes an utterance with uncanny resemblance to Little Britain’s juvenile delinquent Vicky Pollard, while later on there’s a reference to pigeons being unwelcome on buses…a tip of the hat to Mo Willem’s perhaps?).

Overall snapshot:

This is a cute and funny collection that is a great addition to the comic literature for the younger end of the middle grade spectrum.  The stories are simple enough for younger kids to access but there are enough twists and turns for older middle grade readers to appreciate too.

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

 

Read it if…: The Tender Moments of Saffron Silk

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Afternoon all….every so often a children’s author comes along who I suspect is sneakily writing for adults under the guise of writing for children. Glenda Millard, author of the Kingdom of Silk series, is one of these.  She is sneaky in another way too, in that she ALWAYS manages to publish new books in this series without me knowing.  Such is the circumstance in which I discovered The Tender Moments of Saffron Silk, which is number six in the series.

For those unfamiliar with Millard’s work, she has an incredible ability to discuss sad and scary issues, including the death of a child, Alzheimer’s disease, and the difficulties faced by children in care, in a way that is both accessible to children and deeply touching to adults.  In this particular offering, Saffron, the youngest of the Silk girls, is experiencing the fear that comes with unexplained symptoms of illness.

Read it if:

* you wish that your childhood had been played out against the backdrop of a large family, a sprawling backyard and special connections between loved ones

* you have ever experienced the fear of facing a problem that you felt was too big for you to overcome

* you are prepared to fall in love with the whimsy and innocence of Stephen Michael King’s beautiful illustrations

* there is an old (or young, or young-at-heart) hippy hiding somewhere inside you

*you like books that are packed with heart; that remain with you after reading; that transport you to a better place and can be read in one sitting

This series has grown to become one of my all time favourites – librarians and teachers, in particular, you will certainly find something to entertain and engage your class with this series of books.  And for adults, you may find yourself experiencing some healing you didn’t even know you needed….

For those interested, the other books in the series, in order are:

The Naming of Tishkin Silk; Layla, Queen of Hearts; Perry Angel’s Suitcase; All the Colours of Paradise; Plum Puddings and Paper Moons

Until next time,

Bruce

A Happy Ending…For Some: Subversive Texts for Tots

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Everyone loves a happy ending, don’t they?  Well, no, not really.  Some of us – no doubt those who suckle at the bountiful teat of schadenfreude – quite enjoy a bit of calamity and emotional turmoil descending on the heads of otherwise loveable characters.  But how to introduce such universal themes to children? Fear not my dears, for I have a range of books to fulfil this very need!  Oldies, but goodies, admittedly, but perhaps some that you have not encountered before, and can therefore add to your arsenal of go-to books for times of “wanting to glory in the misfortunes of others”…..

Firstly, the delightful Sandra Boynton brings us a modern day tale of exclusion with her painfully honest But Not The Hippopotamus.  The happenings in this one will be familiar to anyone who’s ever wanted to be part of the in-crowd, and anyone who’s ever managed it and then thanked their lucky stars they weren’t left on the shelf (figuratively speaking of course. Shelves are fine places to be left, in my line of work.)

Next is the oft-told (or rather, oft-hoped-for!) classic story involving the underdog getting one over on the annoyingly bossy boss-person.  Little Bunny Foo Foo: The Real Story by Cori Doerrfeld is apparently a take on a traditional funny children’s song that I was not exposed to until a few days ago.  While this lack of exposure is, in itself, outrageous, the events unfolding in this cheerful little jaunt provide a modern cautionary tale for bossy-boots and dibber-dobbers everywhere, in the form of a sweet little ditty that can be sung at will (preferably with actions).  Thus it is suitable for even the smallest student of subversion!

In a slightly less cheerful vein (for rabbits, anyway) is the wonderful Wolves by the ever-popular Emily Gravett.  This book follows a studious little rabbit as he navigates the world of wolfkind through a borrowed library book.  While this book will no doubt put fear of wolves (and indeed, library borrowing) into little rabbits forever after, it also provides a simple, and age-appropriate introduction to difficult scientific concepts….such as the food chain.

Last but not least is the classic Not Now, Bernard by David McKee.  The schadenfreude of this offering is less for the tots and more for the parents, as Bernard (he of the title) is eaten by a monster and his parents don’t notice.  Who amongst you flesh-parents does not enjoy a little judgemental rant now and again at the expense of lesser parents? If you have not come across this book before, it is worth seeking it out for its chillingly prescient take on modern society…or just for the fun of jumping on the self-righteousness bandwagon.

I hope these titles are helpful in assisting you to educate your little minions of future sedition.

Until next time,

Bruce