Meandering through Middle Grade: D-Bot Squad!

1

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

 

Advertisements

Gabbing about Graphic Novels: Superhero Sikhs, Robot Soldiers, Creative Crabs and an Oddbod Afterlife…

1

gabbing-about-graphic-novels

I’ve got four graphic novels for you today mostly for the grownups, but with one helping of YA/upper middle grade fare.  I received all of these titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley for review.  Let’s get gabbing!

Super Sikh (Vol 1) by Eileen Kaur Alden, Supreet Singh Manchanda, Amit Tayal & Pradeep Sherawat

super sikh

From Goodreads:

Deep Singh aka “Super Sikh” is the world’s first modern Sikh superhero comic book. Geared toward both young adults and the young at heart, Super Sikh Comics is a not-for-profit venture supporting global literacy programs and diversity in media.

In “Super Sikh”, secret agent Deep Singh is overworked and exhausted from destroying the Taliban at night and maintaining a cover job by day. He’s a big Elvis fan, and he decides to take his dream vacation to visit Graceland (Elvis’s home). Unfortunately, a crazy Taliban group decides to follow him to America and get rid of him once and for all. But Deep Singh and his team are not going down without a fight!

Target Age Range: 

YA and adult

Genre:

Superhero, secret agents, action

Art Style:

Classic superhero realism

Reading time:

This was a short, volume 1 sampler so it only took me about five minutes to get through

Let’s get gabbing:

It took me a page or two to figure out what the go was with this story, but I’m happy to report that it got funnier the further into the story I got.  There is plenty of tongue in cheek humour here and all the secret agent tropes that you would expect, with a Sikh twist.  I particularly enjoyed the scenes in which Deep is given his new gadgets for his mission (a holiday), which included a kara (the silver bracelet that Sikhs wear) that deflects bullets!  Towards the end of this sampler, poor old Deep is unfortunate enough to be on a plane to the US when it is hijacked by Mexican terrorists and of course, nobody believes that he’s trying to save the day – he’s wearing a turban after all – and he ends up incarcerated.

Overall snapshot:

I would love to see future installments in this adventure as this sample has bucketloads of potential, truckloads of subtle, subversive humour and is doing a great service to diversity in literature.

Rust: The Boy Soldier by Royden Lepp

rust

From Goodreads:

Made to look like a boy but built for battle, Jet Jones is a robot caught in the middle of an ongoing war. While trying to save as many people as he can, Jet discovers there is more to who he is and what he was made for than he could have ever imagined. His experiences in the war set him off on a journey to learn what it means to both hero and human. It is the first adventure of many for the rocket boy.

Written and illustrated by Royden Lepp, Rust: The Boy Soldier collects the previously released prologues from the first three volumes of the critically acclaimed series Rust along with the yet to be released prologue from the upcoming fourth and final installment. Together for the first time and in an all new reading order, Rust: The Boy Soldier is the complete story of Jet Jones’s time in war and the beginning of this high octane, all ages adventure.

Target Age Range: 

YA and adult

Genre:

Sci fi, war

Art Style:

Cartoon realism – dark colour palette

Reading time:

At 128 pages, but with little text, this was quite quick to get through – about ten minutes

Let’s get gabbing:

The ending of this prologue was probably the best part of it for me – in that the last few pages really piqued my interest in Jet’s future amongst humans.  The prologue itself is mostly scenes of war, in which we are introduced to Jet, a robot soldier who has incredible powers to kill and destroy but is also capable of choosing his own path.  The prologue is mostly artwork with little text, and so it was a bit tricky to get a rounded idea of what’s going on in Jet’s early world.  It’s obvious that there is a war going on, fought by both robot and human soldiers, and at some point Jet becomes unhappy with his killing capabilities, deciding instead to pursue a different way of life.  The sepia colour palette reflects the dreary, dangerous frontlines of the war and gives the overall feel of a steampunk atmosphere.

Overall snapshot:

I would like to see the second volume of Jet’s story before making a decision on whether this graphic novel is my type of read.  Having only seen the first part of Jet’s life, which centred around war, I don’t feel like I’ve got a full appreciation for what this series is going to be about.

The March of the Crabs by Arthur de Pins

march of the crabs

From Goodreads:

All species in the world evolve…except one. Cancer Simplicimus Vulgaris, or the square crab, has suffered with the same evolutionary defect for millennia: it cannot change direction. Condemned to walk in one straight line forever, these crabs living along the Gironde estuary have largely resigned themselves to their fate. However, one seemingly ordinary summer, three crabs decide to take matters into their own claws and rebel against the straight and narrow path they have been sentenced to, upending the entire ecosystem in the process. From critically-acclaimed French illustrator and animator Arthur de Pins comes the first volume in his hilarious and touching trilogy about scuttling towards your own destiny.

Target Age Range: 

Adult

Genre:

Natural world, humour

Art Style:

Cartoony

Reading time:

Took me about twenty minutes to half an hour with a few short interruptions.

Let’s get gabbing:

Considering this is a one-track story (see what I did there?!) it’s remarkably engaging.  There are two plot lines unrolling simultaneously.  The first involves the crabs of the title – Cancer Simplicimus Vulgaris – who have ignored any attempts at evolution and are mostly (except for a few renegades) perfectly happy to be restricted to following a straight line of travel their whole lives.  The second storyline features two documentary makers who are certain that Cancer Simplicimus Vulgaris are at least as exciting as anything David Attenborough could cook up, and are intent on filming this threatened species in its natural habitat.

This is quite a funny story.  Aside from the inanity arising from the trials of a species that can only walk in a straight line, the crabby characters each have their own personalities, if not their own names.  You see, the likelihood of one crab’s path crossing another’s is so scant that the crabs don’t even bother to name themselves – what’s the point if your trajectory won’t ever bring you into hailing distance of another of your species?  I particularly enjoyed the scenes featuring a nihilistic crab who had the misfortune to be born between two large rocks.

Once the plot twist happens (**spoiler: an unlucky situation prompts a serendipitous discovery by two of the crabs) the story is suddenly plunged into action scenes which have a humour all their own.  A bombshell is dropped right at the end of this volume and I can’t imagine how life is going to change for our crusty protagonists with their new-found knowledge.  I’d like to find out though.

Overall snapshot:

I want to know what happens next for Boater, Sunny and Guitar – the three protagonist crabs – given the exciting note on which the story ends here.  If you are a fan of quirky stories and unexpectedly lovable characters, you should definitely check this graphic novel out.

Stitched #1 by Mariah McCourt & Aaron Alexovich

stitched

From Netgalley:

Crimson Volania Mulch has a problem; she just woke up in a crypt and, besides her name, has no idea of who, where, or what she is. Welcome to the Cemetery of Assumptions, a vast landscape of stones, mausoleums, and secrets. Home to monsters and mayhem, it may also hold the answers to her unknown parentage. 

Crimson is a resourceful patchwork girl and determined to find them. Along the way, she meets the mysterious Wisteria, who has a tendency to change and a witch named Parameter whose spells tend to go awry. And two boys, Simon and Quinton, who make her feel something besides lost and confused. She must battle ghosts, zombies, and monsters in order to learn where she came from and who her real “mother” is. But will she do it alone, or will she have help from her new friends and unexpected crushes?

Target Age Range: 

Middle grade/YA

Genre:

Humour, Fantasy

Art Style:

Colourful, blue-hued, busy

Reading time:

About twenty minutes

Let’s get gabbing:

This turned out to be far more cutesy in content than I would have expected given the cover, in the sense that while the characters are undead/paranormal/magical the story includes typical tropes for the upper middle grade age group, such as crushes on undead boys and squabbling amongst the girl gang.  Crimson is a bit of a mystery protagonist here in that she awakes in Assumption Cemetery with no memory of how she got there.  Luckily, she maintains quite a positive attitude despite her seeming adversity and immediately pops off to explore her surroundings, meeting some new friends along the way.

I loved the pet that turns up out of the blue as a gift for Crimson – so cute!  I also enjoyed that one of the characters is reminiscent of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, because Mad Martha is currently designing an amigurumi of a similar character – that was quite topical for we shelf-dwellers. Overall though, I was a little disappointed that while the trappings of an original, intriguing paranormal world were present, the story didn’t really use these to best effect and my final impression of the story was that the characters could have been lifted out of any old pre-teen saga.

I found the formatting a bit busy for my tastes also.  There were smaller frames within middle sized frames within large frames throughout, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was going to miss something on each page because there was so much going on.

Overall snapshot

I’m quite happy to leave Crimson and her friends at the end of this volume.  Even though there is some mystery remaining as to who Crimson actually is and where she came from, I don’t feel like the characters and the mystery are engaging or original enough to keep my interest.  If you know of any upper middle grade readers who like fantasy, mystery and graphic novels however, they might like to give this a try.

Well, this was definitely an interesting mix to get my teeth into and generally the quality is quite high.  Have you come across any new graphic novels lately?

Until next time,

Bruce

Gabbing about Graphic Novels: Kung Fu and a Backstage Crew…

1

gabbing-about-graphic-novels

I’ve got two graphic novel beauties for you today – a young adult paranormal comedy sample and a middle grade retro-styled, martial arts based comedy.  We’ll kick off with one for the big kids, hey?

The Backstagers V. 1 *Sample Chapter* (James Tynion IV & Ryan Sygh)

*We received this sample from the publisher via Netgalley for review*

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When Jory transfers to the private, all-boys school St. Genesius, he figures joining the stage crew would involve a lot of just fetching props and getting splinters. To his pleasant surprise, he discovers there’s a door backstage that leads to different worlds, and all of the stagehands know about it! All the world’s a stage…but what happens behind the curtain is pure magic!

backstagers

Target Age Range: 

YA

Genre:

Humour/fantasy/contemporary

Art Style:

Cartoonish and colourful

Reading time:

I knocked this one over in about ten minutes, but please note I only had access to a sample chapter, not the whole grapic novel.

Let’s get gabbing:

 

This sample left me wanting to find out more about this series and the characters, which is a great sign.  Jory turns up at to his school’s drama club and is immediately sent on an errand to the backstage crew.  Expecting to discover ordinary backstage tasks going on, Jory is surprised to be drawn into a dangerous parallel backstage world containing monster vermin thingies and a whole lot of action.  This story was easy to get into and is awash with visual and verbal gags.  I enjoyed getting to know the different characters that made up the backstage crew and the monster rodents that swamp the backstage area are just adorable (as well as being bitey and undesirable to have around).  Jory gets to play a key role in averting the adorable bitey rodent monster problem and at the end of this segment he is clear that the glory of the stage no longer holds any delights for him and he’d much rather spend his time in the weird and wonderful world of backstage.

Overall snapshot:

This was a promising beginning and I’d love to see what happens next.  The Backstagers is the perfect choice for fans of fantastical creatures turning up in unexpected places, and groups of misfits banding together to create their own brand of awesomeness.

The Adventures of Kung Fu Robot: How to Make a Peanut Butter, Jelly and Kung Fu Sandwich (Jason Bays)

*We received a copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley for review*

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Kung Fu Robot is an international machine of mystery and the savior of all things awesome and cool. He’s the world record holder for ice cream sandwiches eaten in one sitting, the reigning champion of continuous nunchucking, and once won a bronze medal for the simultaneous stomach rubbing and head patting. Together with his 9-year old sidekick, Marvin, he faces his arch-nemesis, Kung Pow Chicken: a robotically-enhanced, foul fowl bent on destroying the city’s peanut butter and jelly supply. Kung Fu Robot and Marvin must save the day . . .  and their lunches!

The pursuit for the perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich can’t be contained on the page—it leaps onto your mobile screen with a FREE interactive companion app for an innovative, augmented reading experience.

kung-fu-robot

Target Age Range: 

Middle grade

Genre:

Humour/action

Art Style:

Retro/vintage style cartoon with few panels per page and yellow, red and black the predominant colour scheme

Reading time:

At 208 pages, this would be a solid read for a middle grader, around the same size as an early chapter book.

Let’s get gabbing:

This one didn’t grab me in the way I thought it might and I suspect this is because it is a story aimed squarely at the middle grade age group, and young boys in particular.  I found the art style a bit distracting, as many of the panels featured the characters busting out of their squares and the text seemed a little small in comparison to the large illustrations.  Reading this on a screen may have made a difference to the reading experience also because I kept finding myself having to zoom in to read the text and zoom out again to see the illustrations.

There’s plenty of child-friendly humour and action here, with Kung Fu Robot going about making a sandwich in a rather silly and action-packed way.  The first “story” in the book is all about Kung Fu Robot making a sandwich and a mess in the kitchen before the villain even comes into the piece, which I found a tad tedious but I’m sure kids of the right age will enjoy.  I did get a bit lost regarding what was actually going on between Kung Fu Robot and Kung Pow Chicken to be honest, but I suspect that that’s because I’m an old fuddy duddy and this is aimed at kids who like silliness.  Marvin, Kung Fu Robot’s human friend, seems to be the voice of reason throughout but it still wasn’t enough to drag me along for the ride.

Overall snapshot:

With plenty of action, colour and silliness, this is a story that will appeal greatly to early middle grade readers and fans of the style of comedy of Dav Pilkey and Andy Griffiths.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

The Cult of Lego: A “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review

4

image

Today’s book is one I picked up on a whim from the library, yet I am happy to report that upon reading it I learned lots of interesting new trivia about everyone’s favourite, foot-stabbing toy, Lego.  The Cult of Lego is a coffee-table sized, photograph-laden romp through the history of the humble, foot-stabbing Lego brick and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

No, this isn’t a book about joining some fringe cult. It’s a book by LEGO® fans, for LEGO fans, and you and your kids will love it.

In The Cult of LEGO, Wired’s GeekDad blogger John Baichtal andBrickJournal founder Joe Meno take you on a magnificent, illustrated tour of the LEGO community, its people, and their creations.

The Cult of LEGO introduces us to fans and builders from all walks of life. People like professional LEGO artist Nathan Sawaya; enigmatic Dutch painter Ego Leonard (who maintains that he is, in fact, a LEGO minifig); Angus MacLane, a Pixar animator who builds CubeDudes, instantly recognizable likenesses of fictional characters; Brick Testament creator Brendan Powell Smith, who uses LEGO to illustrate biblical stories; and Henry Lim, whose work includes a series of models recreating M.C. Escher lithographs and a full-scale, functioning LEGO harpsichord.

Marvel at spectacular LEGO creations like:

A life-sized Stegosaurus and an 80,000-brick T. Rex skeleton Detailed microscale versions of landmarks like the Acropolis and Yankee Stadium A 22-foot long, 350-pound re-creation of the World War II battleship Yamato A robotic, giant chess set that can replay historical matches or take on an opponent A three-level, remote-controlled Jawa Sandcrawler, complete with moving conveyor belt

Whether you’re a card-carrying LEGO fanatic or just thinking fondly about that dusty box of LEGO in storage, The Cult of LEGOwill inspire you to take out your bricks and build something amazing.

cult-of-lego

And here are Five Things I’ve Learned From The Cult of Lego by John Baichtal and Joe Meno:

1. The first products out of the Lego factory weren’t little connectable bricks at all, but wooden toys – the most famous being a pull-along wooden duck.

2. Lego has been around for so long that its original patents have expired, which is why in recent years multiple products bearing the “Lego-compatible” mark have popped up around the place.

3.   The best selling of Lego’s products to date has been the Mindstorms robotics system.

4. Lego has been used to great effect in Autism therapy programs, as well as in corporate settings to encourage creative problem solving.

5. In accordance with Lego’s tagline, “build your dreams”, clever folk around the world have built everything from functioning ATM and vending machines to prosthetic limbs out of Lego…although my personal favourite creation is the working, floating bug killing device designed by two pioneering Kiwis (the people, not the birds) to overcome the problem of having an uncomfortable number of water insects inhabiting the family pool.

When I checked this one out of the library I expected that it would be the kind of book that I would idly flick through during points of boredom, but I actually ended up reading it cover to cover.  This was no mean feat given that the book is a hefty, coffee-table sized tome, but I like to think that holding it up for long periods counted as exercise.  Beginning at the beginning, the book takes a look at the fascinating history of the toy company that would eventually become the home of the ubiquitous and iconic Lego brick.  The company’s commitment to quality, amongst other things, is clearly one of the reasons why Lego has been around for so long, and has made such an impact on popular culture.

From Lego’s early incarnations, the book moves on to explore the extensive world of AFOLs (Adult Fans of Lego, to the uninitiated) and the “cult” that has built up around the humble toy brick.  You may not be aware of this, but adult Lego fans are everywhere, with their own webcomics, literature, conventions, language, online forums and competitions and if you ever wanted to be part of a hardcore hobbyist community based around a children’s toy, Lego could certainly provide your entry ticket into such a world.  As well as the world of competitive building by adult Lego fans, the book takes a look at Lego as art, Lego as architecture and the ways in which adult builders have taken Lego to whole new levels that could not have been imagined by the company’s founders.   No book on Lego could be complete without a close look at the Minifig phenomenon, and these little guys play a big role in the cult of Lego, influencing everything from the scale of creations to the builders’ choice of avatar in the online and business worlds.

There is a section of the book devoted to Lego and robotics and this was a whole new world for me as I have never particularly dabbled in the Technic sets, let alone the Mindstorms system, which allows users to program robots for all sorts of purposes, from the aforementioned vending machines, to robots designed to solve Rubik’s Cubes.

The point of difference for this book is that it takes a focused look at how a simple interconnected building toy has made such an incredible impact on wider society.  At the same time, it uncovers the vast and complex subculture of adult fans of Lego and the many ways in which the brick has evolved beyond “toy” status, in the hands of grown ups with innovative ambitions.  If you are a fan of Lego, and indeed of social history, I can recommend this book as one to lose yourself in.

In a nod to those adult builders, below is a little selection of photos from the Brisbricks (that’s the Brisbane Lego Fan User Group) display that Mad Martha visited in June of 2016 at Strathpine:

Kudos to the builders that came up with squirrel herding and chickens escaping from KFC!

Until next time,

Bruce

A Mini DNF-a-Thon: DNFs with Potential…

4

image

I have had a mini-swathe of DNFed books of late so I thought I’d share them here in case there are any of you whose interest is piqued by their content.  I hasten to add that none of the following books is bad in any major way, but they just didn’t really suit my tastes or my mindset at the time of reading, possibly because two out of three of them came unsolicited from the publishers. Here we go then.

The Diabolic (S. J. Kincaid)

*We received this one from Simon & Schuster for review * 

Categories: YA, science fiction, speculative fiction, playing politics, survival the-diabolic

DNF’ed at: page 77

Comments:

This one was sent unsolicited (ie: I didn’t request it) for review, so I wasn’t initially sure what I was getting into.  I was actually quite engaged during the first section of the book, but as soon as Nemesis got on the ship to head off to intergalactic court to impersonate her mistress, I lost interest.  This book is getting absolute rave reviews all over the place though, and my loss of interest may have had more to do with being too busy to focus on it, rather than the book suddenly becoming uninteresting.  I may well pick this one up again in the future and would recommend it to fans of sci-fi or YA that isn’t set in your typical fantasy or contemporary worlds.


The Fifth Avenue Artists Society (Joy Callaway)

*We were sent this one for review from Allen & Unwin*

Categories: Adult fiction, historical fiction, period romance  fifth-avenue-artists-society

DNF’ed at: page 36

Comments:

This one was also unsolicited, but I like a good period piece as much as the next gargoyle so I thought I’d give it a crack.  I could have probably found myself enjoying this if I didn’t have a whole bunch of books lying around waiting to be read, honestly, but overall this one was a bit too out-of-period for me.  I prefer my historical fiction from this era to be British rather than American.  There were a few turns of phrase in the dialogue and in the general writing that hit me as slightly out of place, but again, if I was an ordinary reader who read one book at a time, I may have found more to enjoy here.  This one is a victim of just not being my thing.  But it might be yours!


The Amateurs (Sarah Shepard)

*We received this one from Allen & Unwin for review*

Categories: YA, murder mystery the-amateurs

DNF’ed at: chapter ten

Comments:

This was a definite fail for me.  I was excited to read it because it features a group of amateur sleuths who chat online and try to solve cold cases.  Just my thing, I thought!  Unfortunately, the author insists on going off at annoying tangents by having her characters constantly reflect inwardly about various peoples’ hotness and whether they should really be hanging out with this person or encouraging advances from that person’s running coach, ad nauseum. I just wanted to know about the murder mystery, kids – save your adolescent angst for a romance book!  While I really did want to know who murdered Helena Kelly, I wasn’t prepared to wade through a bunch of cliched tripe-filled characters to find out.  Shame really.


Have you read any of these?  What did you think?

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Domestics, Servants and Robotic Appliances” Edition…

0

image

We’re rounding out our Children’s Book Week Chaser with some longer reads for the middle grade age bracket.  I’ve got three books here featuring everything from cats to robotic siblings, so surely there’ll be something in the mix to entice you.  Got your spats sorted?  Then let’s crack on!

Brobot (James Foley)

*We received a copy of Brobot from Fremantle Press for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  30120603

Sally Tinker is an inventor extraordinaire, so when her baby brother doesn’t measure up to her expectations, she creates her own.  But is a robotic sibling really all it’s cracked up to be?

Muster up the motivation because…

…this fun graphic novel is chock-full of humour, chaos and unexpected bugs in the program.  Sally is a girl who knows what she wants and even has the skills to create it, while her baby brother is….well, a bit of a messy, stinky, noisy baby.  Sally, with the best of intentions, takes it upon herself to invent an improved version of a little brother, but doesn’t count on her invention learning from the real thing.  Of course disaster strikes and Sally comes to learn that perhaps the good things about having a living, breathing sibling outweigh some of the bad – although maybe not the stinky bits.  The narrative parts of the book are broken up here and there with some text-heavy diagrams but for the most part, this is exactly the kind of book that will draw in the more reluctant base of young readers due to the saturation of illustrations, the interesting fonts and the easy-to-digest chunks of text.  Add to that the humour of stinky nappies, exploding machines and general mayhem and you’d have to agree that this book has everything that young readers love, all wrapped up in a visually appealing package.  I’d definitely recommend this one for readers aged from about seven or eight on up, who enjoy funny, fast-paced stories.

Brand it with:

Artificial intelligence; super siblings; experimental relationships

The Twins of Tintarfell (James O’Loghlin)

*We received a copy of The Twins of Tintarfell from PanMacmillan Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  30173433

Dani and Bart are twins, orphans and servants in the castle of the King of Tintarfell.  When Bart is unexpectedly kidnapped, Dani tries to rescue him – but has no idea of the sacrifices she may need to make along the way.

Muster up the motivation because…

…as fantasy adventure stories go, this one has its fair share of twists, turns, humour and warthogs.  This was a really unexpected read for me and I’m still not sure quite what to make of it.  The story has elements of adventure, betrayal, murder and secrecy, yet at the same time has a light tone and a strong dose of tongue-in-cheek humour.  It reminded me of a strange blend of The Princess Bride, The Chronicles of Narnia and a Monty Python film to be honest.  There was something a little off about the pacing, I felt; I kept expecting the bit I was reading to be the precursor to a BIG event, but each time the book just slid quietly into the next twist or reveal.  At the same time though, there were bits of the story that felt really original and intriguing, like the Soarers, the curse upon Dani and Bart’s special talent.   The three main characters, Dani, Bart and Edmund, are all well-developed and we are privy to each of their strengths and flaws as the story unfolds.  The final few chapters neatly work the protagonists through a number of key choices that will ultimately define the people they will become, and so the ending is feels satisfyingly meaningful after all the derring-do and (in the case of Edmund) some derring-don’t (or should that be derring-didn’t?).  I definitely enjoyed this book and the author seems to hit his stride about a third of the way in, but at times I felt like he couldn’t quite decide whether the book was supposed to be primarily a comedy or an adventure, and so we are treated to each in turn.  If you are fan of light fantasy and adventure that doesn’t take itself too seriously, then I would encourage you to give this a read.

Brand it with:

Sisters doin’ it for themselves (and everyone else); Good vs Evil; Animal magnetism

Malkin Moonlight (Emma Cox)

*We received a copy of Malkin Moonlight from Bloomsbury Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  31139009

Malkin Moonlight is a cat blessed by the moon, who loves a domestic cat named Roux.  Together they will do great things and heal a rift in their new home.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a gentle tale about using one’s life (lives!) well in the pursuit of peace and happiness.  While not being the biggest fan of books featuring animal societies, I still found this to be an enjoyable read due to the episodic chapters and old-fashioned narrative style.  As the story progresses the reader finds out more about Malkin and Roux as they discover new things about themselves through various challenges and sticky situations.  After the relationship between Malkin and Roux is thoroughly established, the story moves on to a different setting – a world of cats, if you will – which is in sore need of a peacemaker.  Malkin comes to fill that role in the nick of time before a man made disaster looks set to threaten the existence of the cats’ new home.  I think this book will hit the mark for middle grade readers who love a good animal story and the illustrations here and there throughout will give an added context to their imagining of the story. There was a subtle sense of schmaltz underlying the story that put me off slightly – something to do with the cats’ (and particularly Roux’s) turns of phrase, I suspect – but that is possibly to be expected from a tale that promises a hero finding his destiny in the blurb.  This is one to watch out for if you have a crazy cat person in training in your dwelling.

Brand it with:

Wild at heart; warring factions; moonlight shenanigans

Well, with that round-up our Children’s Book Week Chaser comes to a close.  I hope you have found at least one book that will suit a mini-fleshling of your acquaintance!

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