Meandering through Middle Grade: A Different Dog…

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meandering-through-middle-grade

I’m back with another Paul Jennings new release today, courtesy of Allen & Unwin.  A Different Dog felt like a big departure from Jennings’ typical work, despite the fact that the twist in the tale is still present.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The gripping and surprising story of a boy, a dog and a daring rescue from the bestselling, much-loved author of the Don’t Look Now series and The Unforgettable What’s His Name.

The forest is dense and dark. And the trail full of unexpected perils. The dog can’t move. The boy can’t talk. And you won’t know why. Or where you are going. You will put this story down not wanting the journey to end.

But it’s from Paul Jennings so watch out for the ambush.

One of the best. From one of the best.

a different dog

A Different Dog by Paul Jennings.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th April 2017.  RRP: $14.99

When you’ve read almost everything a particular author has written over many years and suddenly they do something with a story you don’t expect, it can be hard to measure it against your previous experiences of their work.  So it was for me with this story.  A Different Dog has a much more subdued and sombre tone that much of Jennings’ previous work and the magical realism that often colours his stories and provides the impetus for his famous twists in the tail of the tale is absent here.  Not that this is necessarily a bad thing – just different from what I would have expected.

The story revolves around a boy who has been a selective mute (or possibly an anxiety-induced mute) since a traumatic incident involving a beloved pet.  He lives with his mother in livable poverty and is disconnected from peers due to his lack of speech.  While on a mission to win a cash prize in a community fun run, the boy witnesses a vehicle accident and attempts to help – but instead ends up trying to find his way out of the hillside terrain accompanied by a highly unusual dog, who was a passenger in the crashed vehicle.  Along the way home, the boy makes a number of life-changing discoveries…but his greatest challenge comes later when his friendship with the dog is tested by fate.

I quite enjoyed the subtleties of this story as a change from the wackier antics that embody Jennings’ usual fare.  Even though it is a reasonably short read, this felt more like a story for older readers who could appreciate the themes of grief, guilt and shame that ring-fence the boy’s image of himself.  There is a pointedness in the story relating to the cruelty of others, whether between humans or from humans directed at animals, and this left me with a bit of a sense of the sinister when I think back to the story.

On the whole, I think I prefer Jennings’ lighter works but A Different Dog is a thought-provoking read that uses a remarkably small word count to effectively raise questions about ethics, choices and making recompense for past mistakes.  This would be a great choice for reluctant young adult readers or those who require high-interest, low reading level tales for struggling older readers.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Title Fight Reading Challenge: The Search for the Slimy Space Slugs

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Title Fight Button 2016

Today I have another submission toward the Title Fight Reading Challenge 2016 in category three: a book with onomatopoeia in the title.  We received a copy of Doodle Adventures: The Search for the Slimy Space Slugs from the publisher via Netgalley, and couldn’t wait to get stuck into this interactive children’s offering.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Draw your way through the story!

Doodle Adventures: The Search for the Slimy Space Slugs! is a lighthearted fantasy where the reader first draws him- or herself into the story, and then continues by following prompts and adding more illustrations and doodles. Set in space, the book invites the reader to join Carl, a duck and member of a super-secret international group of explorers, on a journey in search of a very important grail-like object. The book is sturdy paper over board with beautiful cream paper—perfect for defacing! And by the end, the reader will have co-written a tale to return to again and again, and show off to family and friends.

search for the slimy space slugs

This book is pure, unadulterated FUN from the first page to the last.  If you were a child who was always being roused at for doodling in books, then this tome will be a balm for your very soul.  The idea behind this series of books – yes, a whole series! – is for the reader to co-create the story by adding to the illustrations at strategic points.  From adding quirky characters to creating strategic escape hatches, the book guides the reader to draw their way out of danger and save the day!

I was itching, just itching, to grab a pencil in my stony claw and start scribbling away to create my own unique narrative, but – alas! – I only received a digital review copy.  What a tease!  I am definitely planning on purchasing at least one copy of this for my own doodling pleasure and maybe one more for the eldest mini-fleshling in the dwelling.  Maybe.

Your guide on this tour of doodle-y duty is a rather bossy duck, whose heart is nevertheless in the right place.  Apart from all the fun of a book that requires you to be an integral part of the tale, the book is packed with hilarious, sometimes slapstick, sometimes dry humour (mostly instigated by the duck) just perfect for reluctant readers and subversive adults.  Here’s a strip of illustration that had me giggling aloud:

slimy space slugs

Silly, silly fun!

Simply for the fact that this book launched me back to the fun and cheekiness of childhood, I dub it a Top Book of 2016 pick!

Bruce's Pick

I urge you to check out this series and leave copies of it lying in obvious places around your home or classroom.  Then come back later and see if any of the copies are still where you left them!

Until next time,

Bruce

Jesper Jinx: A Maniacal Book Club Review…

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manical book club button

Morning all, and welcome to another meeting of the Maniacal Book Club! Today we have a middle grade illustrated chapter book that leaves no depth unplumbed in the humorous misadventure category.  It is Jesper Jinx by Finnish author Marko Kitti.  Marko is the first Finnish author we’ve had on the blog so far, so we’ve come over all multicultural.  But let’s get on with it!

Jesper Jinx

Jesper Jinx is an eleven year old boy who seems to attract trouble like nobody’s business.  This book follows some of Jesper’s escapades (two and a half, to be exact), as told to author Marko Kitti.  In the first story, Jesper accidentally gives his cat, Snowy, a new fur colour and in the second, Jesper accidentally gives away some of his best pranks to a teaching insider.  Essentially, this is a written record of the things that can go wrong in hilarious ways when a bored young lad is unleashed upon unsuspecting passers-by. 

Guru Dave

maniacal book club guru dave

My friends, this book is all about learning one’s lesson, about gaining self-control and about turning one’s skills to good, not evil.  Actually, in all honesty my friends, this book is about none of those things.  It is about mayhem and chaos and shenanigans perpetrated upon the unwary and innocent.

The boy Jinx has a telling catchphrase throughout this book: “What harm would it do to have a little fun?” Kitti’s writings recorded here explain fully the extent of how wrong things may go if left in the hands of an unsupervised eleven year old boy.  I fear for the karma of the Jinx boy.

Toothless

maniacal book club toothless

No dragons in this book. There’s lots of trouble though.  And a cat that gets turned red.  And a kid with a moustache – I thought that was pretty funny.  But no dragons.  That’s probably a good thing because Jesper with a dragon could be more than the world is ready for.  Still. It might be more fun if there was  a dragon.

Mad Martha

Jesper Jinx, Jesper Jinx,maniacal book club martha

If he were a girl, you’d call him a minx.

His crazy behaviour will make parents groan,

He probably shouldn’t be let out on his own.

Heed this advice that I freely share::

Should you see Jesper coming, by heavens, beware!

Bruce

maniacal book club bruceJesper Jinx is the kind of book that will have kids aged about 7 and up rolling in the aisles as they read about Jesper’s wildly chaotic adventures.  The book is a short read with a great formatting balance between text and illustrations and will have the young ones (especially boys, methinks) turning the pages until they’ve uncovered the whole sorry tale of Jesper’s antics. The story is packed full of kid friendly humour, like playing pranks on one’s teacher, and is really all about innocent fun.

Kitti’s style is very much like a combination of Roald Dahl and David Walliams, so if you’ve read either of those two authors (and really, who hasn’t?!) you’ll know exactly what you’re in for here.  There’s plenty of silliness and unexpected plot twists that plunge Jesper into even more trouble than before.

Admittedly, this is one of those books for kids that really is pitched to be enjoyed most by kids in the target age range, rather than one that adults will get a lot out of too.  Having said that, it does have all the makings of an engaging, fun, funny and accessible entry point into the early chapter book format and as such, would be perfect for reluctant readers, or as a “just for the fun of it” classroom read-aloud.

You can visit Jesper and find out more about this book and the next in the series at http://www.jesperjinx.co.uk

Until next time,

Bruce (and the club!)

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