The Adventures of Nanny Piggins by R.A. Spratt

Posted by amanda on Jan 22nd, 2011
Jan 22

It’s the best book about an escaped circus pig who takes a job as a nanny that I’ve ever read.
Really it’s one of the most fun books for middle graders I’ve come across.

Nanny Piggins is a charmingly magical character who is put in charge of the three Green children. Mr. Green who is the single parent of the household is miserly and the opposite of fun. Because he is so cheap, the only applicant for the job of nanny is an impeccably-dressed, chocolate-loving pig on the lamb. He accepts her because she offers to work cheaply. Nanny Piggins comes and takes the children on adventures from pie-eating contests to reforming thieves to hiding a dancing circus bear in a garden shed. The Green children experience the transformation of their lives by an exceptional nanny. Clearly the Mary Poppins parallel is there, but this is zanier though just as magical.

I think this has broad appeal for children in grades 3-5. Especially fans of humor.
239p., 2010.

3 Middle Grade Zombie Books

Posted by amanda on Nov 10th, 2010
Nov 10

The Curse of Cuddles McGee by Emily Ecton
I love Ecton’s books. They are just the right mix of laugh-out-loud funny and creepy horror. In this one, a hamster named Cuddles has returned from the grave to exact his revenge. Ty and Arlie are best friends tasked with saving the town from undead rodent wrath. The pair are likable as all get-out and even the minor characters like Tina, Arlie’s fashion obsessed older sister, have their shining moments. Mr. Boots, Arlie’s family’s exhibitionist chihuahua, is a faithful and fearful sidekick to our heroes. This has all the appeal of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series with the addition of quality writing and an excellent humorous wit. 264p., 2008.

Zombie Chasers by John Kloeper
This had great zombie attack sequences. The cartoon illustrations of zombie mayhem were excellent. I loved the zombified bodyparts twisted into the numerals replacing the number in the chapter headings. The action was non-stop and peril present at every turn. My problem with this was that all the characters were superficial and you can say it’s hard to have meaningful connections to characters in zany whacked-out plots, but I found myself really attached to the protagonists of both the other books mentioned in this post. None of the characters in Zombie Chasers seemed to care for much except themselves, popularity, video games, and attractive members of the other sex – oh, and surviving the zombie onslaught. So, this is for readers who like the idea of zombie action and will let character development slide to get it. 205p., 2010.

Nathan Abercrombie Accidental Zombie: My Rotten Life by David Lubar
Nathan’s been picked on and left out enough to feel that his feelings may be a liability. When he experiments with a potion designed to deaden his emotions, he finds it has deadened the rest of him. The zombification is spreading and he’s racing the clock to avoid permanent half-dead zombie status. Being a zombie does afford him some benefits. Feeling no pain means he can do enough pull-ups to help his school win a contest and be a school hero. Zombies also don’t sleep leaving him lots of time to improve his video game skills. And if you’re already half-dead it’s hard to worry about the school bully. This is the start of a series of books about Nathan. I enjoyed Nathan figuring out his how his zombie-ness worked with his friends. I enjoyed the bits with his thumb falling off and still being able to be moved by him despite being removed from his body. Zombie good times! 155p., 2009.

Zombiekins by Kevin Bolger

Posted by amanda on Oct 20th, 2010
Oct 20

When Stanley buys Zombiekins from his witchy neighbor’s garage sale, she warns him to read “zee instructionz.” So, he promptly throws them away and begins to play with Zombiekins – a creepy-cute stuffy that is made of half bear and half bunny sewn together with a dangling eyeball. Zombiekins is left with other stuffed animals overnight and they are mysteriously ripped open and de-stuffed. Stanley has a great idea to take Zombiekins to school and soon his classmates have been zombified. Stanley and his friend, Miranda, hunt for the cure while the zombified students hunt them.

The text is great fun, but the illustrations on nearly every page make it that much better thanks to Aaron Blecha. I loved the scene of kinderzombies which is Bolger’s name for the kindgarten class that has become zombified. The image of the drooling kinderzombies surrounding the terrarium of nervous looking caterpillars – it just doesn’t get much better than that. It may just be that having a toddler has made me overdose on Elmo, but I got a big smile when “Schlemmo” who looks very Elmo was left with his arm falling off. Go, Zombiekins, go! Zombiekins also takes on the school bully and brings him down to size. While Zombiekins is a damage-causing trickster, he does not seem to be a malevolent creature. I was happy to see Zombiekins II: They Came from Under the Bed is in the works.

Give this to fans of Franny K. Stein and to Captain Underpants readers looking for a hilarious Halloween treat. 206p., 2010.

Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies by Andrea Beaty

Posted by amanda on Jun 12th, 2010
Jun 12

The FLUFFS (Fierce, Large, Ugly, and Ferocious Furballs) escaped the explosion of their marshmallow planet and are now in search of sweet candy and human brains turned to sweet mush to eat. They may look like giant rabbits, but they are far more deadly than your average Earth bunny.

The Fluffs land near Camp Whatsitooya on the banks of Lake Whatsosmelly. At camp the twins, Kevin and Joules, are happy to be escaping their parents’ trip to an International SPAM cooking competition. They’d rather be making lanyards in any array of colors than be taste testers for their parents’ latest SPAM creation. It is lucky for their fellow campers (and the Earth) that Kevin has watched many nights of the Late, Late, Late Creepy Show. He knows when you are at summer camp and start to hear strange things in the woods and someone says it is probably nothing – it is almost certainly something and something dangerous.

This zany story of deadly, mind-controlling, sugar snarfing, alien bunnies gets my seal of approval. It is light-hearted and humor-filled, but underneath the humor Beaty applies a remarkable amount of wit. I would put her narration on par with Lemony Snicket or M.T. Anderson. The narrator speaks directly to the reader and the artwork added by Dan Santat completes the package perfectly. I loved watching the comic strip of what happens when the camp’s director is being nabbed by a FLUFF. 192p., 2010.

Treasure Map of Boys by E. Lockhart

Posted by amanda on Sep 2nd, 2009
Sep 2

Ruby has too many boys vying for her attention and it is causing her troubles with her girl friends. If she could sort her feelings out, which is proving hard, she’d realize artistic Noel is the boy she really would like to date. Unfortunately, her splendid friend, Nora, has been crushing on Noel for forever and has specifically asked Ruby to not steal him. It doesn’t feel like Ruby can find happiness without hurting someone and the result is panic attacks in the hallways of high school.

Ruby aka Roo makes me feel sympathy for a girl who has too many boys interested in her and panics about what to do to keep her friends and what’s left of her reputation. Given that this was not so much my high school experience (I was more like Roo’s friend Nora often in a state Roo describes as “Noboyfriend”), it is impressive that Ruby’s troubles resonated with me. I love the details and humor. Even secondary characters like Roo’s parents feel real. One particularly funny bit – Roo does not like the sound of puberty and decides to use the phrase “mocha latte” which sounds much nicer instead. This leads to her realization that the sophomore boys have gotten cuter since they’ve gotten through mocha latte and makes her bemoan how much simpler life was before mocha latte. Lockhart is very funny and Ruby’s dilemmas make a great read. The ending is happy, but does not oversimplify which pleased me.

While part of a series, I think the book stands well on it’s own (I hadn’t read Ruby’s other stories before picking this up). Though once read, it makes me want to go back and read more about Ruby. 244p., 2009.

TMI by Sarah Quigley

Posted by amanda on Apr 20th, 2009
Apr 20

Becca needs to share whatever is on her mind. When she overshares about her new boyfriend’s inability to use his tongue properly in the art of french kissing, she finds herself dumped. Now, she knows she hurt the boy, but she can’t help feeling hurt herself by the dumping. Becca resolves to watch what she says. During this part of the book the author includes what Becca said and what she would have said if she weren’t watching her words – this device leads to a very funny internal teen monologue. In order to let out what she’s thinking Becca begins an anonymous blog and writes about her fantasies, her friends, and her enemies. When the secret blog stops being a secret, Becca has to deal with taunting from class bullies and the feelings of the friends whose secrets she shared unwittingly. 302p., 2009

Things I liked about this book –

1) Becca had big trouble in high school without confronting the teen hardcore issues (violence, being sexually active, drugs, drinking). Now she talked about sex and parties where the drinking happened (not that she was invited to those), but she was an honor student who still managed to mess up BIG TIME.
2) The adults in the book were supportive – most especially Becca’s stepdad. It was refreshing to see a step parent so involved in raising a teen. The adults in the book did not swoop in and solve things for Becca, but her parents wanted to help and were not part of her problems. Okay, there was a principal who did little to help Becca with verbal bullying, but that felt realistic.
3) Becca was VERY self-centered in a teen way without being shallow. Some of the most powerful moments in the book were when she realized how things must feel for other characters.
4) The characters had a thing for baking and I made brownies to go with my reading of the book. I highly recommend baked goods on hand while reading as the teen kitchen baking sessions will make you crave them.
5) The book had a happy ending without being too unrealistically perfect or neat.
6) Becca learned and grew, but in an organic way that didn’t feel have that “see, what we’ve learned” pedantic twinge.
7) What a great answer to the Gossip Girl novels. Becca wreaks almost as much havoc, but instead of snarky Manhattan girls who are mean to be mean – she is a small town midwestern girl who never meant to hurt anyone.
8 8) FUNNY! Becca was funny. The book was funny. I smiled often. Becca had petty thoughts about people without seeming petty herself. Her observations about the high school social scene in a small town seemed spot on.

Recommended to teens (or teen fiction fans who are older) looking for realistic fiction with a good heart and a lot of humor.

How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier

Posted by amanda on Oct 13th, 2008
Oct 13

The book takes place in a world where everyone has a luck-granting fairy. Chorlotte (aka Charlie) has a fairy that gives her luck in parking. She can always find a parking place anywhere – concerts, the mall at Christmastime, downtown – anywhere. This seems great, except she hates cars. She really hates being borrowed by her parents, friends and the school bully whenever they need to drive somewhere. She tries to bore her fairy into leaving by walking everywhere so it has nothing to do. After more than a month, it’s still hanging around. When a classmate hatches a plan to get rid of her own unwanted fairy, Charlie joins her in her schemes.

Central to Charlie’s world is the new boy Stefan. He seems to like Charlie, but whenever Fiorenze comes into the room with her “all boys will like you” fairy, Stefan is drawn away to hold her hand and gaze lovingly at her. Would Stefan want to date Charlie if Fiorenze did not have her fairy?

At the beginning of each chapter Charlie tracks the number of school demerits she has, the number of conversations she’s had with Stefan, number of vows to kill school bully Anders, and other important life happenings. These lists remind of the Princess Diaries and this has a similar teen attitude but with magic added in the mix. I also think readers who enjoyed Joan Bauer’s Thwonk, should definitely give this a read.
307p., 2008

Standard Hero Behavior by John Anderson

Posted by amanda on Apr 15th, 2008
Apr 15

Mason lives in a town with just one hero, Dirk Darlinger, who single-handedly protects everyone. The days of work for many heroes and quests to rid the countryside of orcs and goblins are gone. It leaves not much to write about for Mason, the town’s bard. Mason discovers Darlinger isn’t a hero but a fraud who has been paying the orcs not to attack. Darlinger has run out of money and a new orc leader is coming to take payment the old-fashioned way with axes. Mason and his friend, Cowel, have just four days to find the heroes who left town and convince them to return and protect the townspeople. Along the way they meet a witch with the misfortune of being cute, a sleepwalking swordsman who fights best asleep, a cross-dressing bully, a hoard of attacking pixies, and a werewolf.

Mason carries with him Quayle’s Guide to Adventure for the Unadventurous written by Mason’s father which cites standard hero behavior as things like fighting with your own severed arm and sucking poisonous spider venom out of your butt. Mason is pretty sure he’s no hero, but even a bard has his heroic days. This madcap, humorous adventure will appeal to those who like Terry Pratchett’s books or Lloyd Alexander’s Book of Three.
273p. 2007