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.

The Shadows by Jacqueline West

Posted by amanda on Sep 22nd, 2010
Sep 22

Olive Dunwoody has moved into the old mansion on Linden Street. Her parents decided to keep the furnishings and paintings that came with the house. Olive finds spectacles that when worn allow her to walk into another world inside the house’s paintings. Soon she discovers the spectacles also allow spirits trapped in the paintings to escape. When it becomes clear that the previous occupants of the house are ready to get rid of Olive and her family for good, she enlists the unlikely help of the mansion’s guardian cats to keep the house from being overtaken by the shadows.

I thoroughly enjoyed this dark and creepy story of another sinister world right lurking underneath our own. It was lighter than Coraline, but had that same dread and independent, lonely girl heroine.

I like cats and so the talking cat trio were definitely a feature for me as a reader. I wouldn’t have minded more cat in the book and hope they return as the series continues. The comic relief of the cat who thought himself to be an errant knight grated just a bit despite being generally endearing.

Recommended for the middle grade fantasy reader who isn’t afraid of the things that are watching us from paintings in the hall.

This is the first in a planned series called The Books of Elsewhere. 256 p., 2010.

The Witchy Worries of Abbie Adams by Rhonda Hayter

Posted by amanda on Sep 8th, 2010
Sep 8

Fifth grader Abbie is one of a family of witches. Her father, a witch doctor (in the medical sense of treating witches with maladies), is trying to come up with a cure for the Witch Flu. Her brother Munch is a lovable menace who just barely has ahold of his magic enough not to turn his kindergarten teacher into a toad and constantly needs Abbie’s help. Her mother is trying to become a real estate agent and fit into the non-witch world. Abbie is just trying to make it through school while keeping her magic controlled and secret – even from her best friend Callie. When Abbie receives a new pet kitten from her dad, she does not know that the kitten is in fact a young Thomas Edison trapped in feline form by a witch planning to steal his fame. Tom proves to be a great friend to Abbie while her parents try to return him to his own timeline. Abbie worries about how lonely she will be when he leaves and she has no one outside her family with whom to share her magical secrets.

The great thing about this book is that magic is just part of the story. There’s Abbie’s everyday school woes. She is in the school play and deals with stage fright. She worries about being a good friend when she’s keeping so many secrets. She lies to her parents when she gets in trouble. She’s just an everyday witch trying to get things right. There’s also the history of Edison’s inventions. I love the passage where Tom keeps asking Abbie if various things he sees are technology or magic. Microwave is technology. Levitating yourself up to the second story is magic. But really how would Tom know which was which without Abbie’s say so?

I would give this one to readers who like The Tail of Emily Windsnap. Also, girls who tend to like realistic school fiction, but have been assigned a fantasy might find this one right up their alley. It is a strong fun 5th/6th grade read. 256p., 2010.

House of Dolls by Francesca Lia Block

Posted by amanda on Aug 16th, 2010
Aug 16

This very slight story reminded me of The Velveteen Rabbit. It was filled with sadness – a very pretty sadness.

The story is about a little girl who envies her dollhouse dolls their safe and loved life. She takes things away from the dolls. Her grandmother recognizes the problem after a magical note from the dolls and comes to the rescue sewing a special dress for Madison that seems to solve her loneliness by showing her she is loved. As is always true of Block, the descriptions are rich and filled with the fanciful. The story was poignant, yet I wonder how it would play with an actual child. It feels like it may be more for the teen or adult reflecting on childhood.

I will admit a bias towards action and plot in my fiction and this was more atmospheric and allegorical. So, perhaps for those with tastes different than my own.
2010, 61p.

Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat by Lynne Jonell

Posted by amanda on Aug 3rd, 2010
Aug 3

This book has a great villain. I find I sometimes need someone to *boo* and *hiss* and the nanny Miss Barmy with her plans to orphan Emmy and steal her fortune is perfect. She channels Cruella deVille with her willingness to stomp on a lonely little girl, her goodhearted bookseller parents, and some defenseless rodents on her route to personal wealth.

This book has some great rodents – rodents with magical powers from the sweetly mind-reading Endear Mouse to the braggart Rat of the title whose second bite shrinks people to rodent size.

Emmy herself is a grand heroine. She figures out Miss Barmy’s plans with help from some rodent and human friends. It is nice to see a balanced girl who can do a lot for herself and is independent, but also find friends she an rely on for the help she needs. I love a smart girl who succeeds against evil and makes good choices to treat her friends well. Emmy makes the right choices even if she thinks they may cost her. Luckily, the author makes sure all comes right for Emmy because I don’t think I could have stood it if she weren’t left happy.

Jonathan Bean’s artwork and most especially his flipbook edging were a delightful addition. Frosting on a well-written delicious story. 346p., 2007.

Jul 6

I LOVE THIS GRAPHIC NOVEL. I borrowed it from the library and despite diminishing space for books may need my own copy.

Give to any science geek 3rd grade and up. Give most especially to 5 – 7th grade science geeks. Though adult science geeks will not be immune to its charms. Give to fans of comic books. Give to those who appreciated Scooby Doo in younger days, but have now outgrown it. Give this one to people who loved the Goonies and kept Data close to their hearts.

The Secret Science Alliance is a club with three members: Greta, a paranoid prankster, Ben, a smart kid who does not test well, and Julian, the classic geek who while brilliant never manages to make friends. The trio develop new inventions in their secret underground lair after school.

They uncover a nefarious plan to steal treasures from the local museum. When police don’t take them seriously and the clock is ticking, the Secret Science Alliance must use all their gadgets to stop the thieving scientist and save the day.

The plot isn’t complicated, but the detail in the artwork describing everything is intricate. All the characters, even the supporting parent types are well drawn and pull the reader into the story. The author has each kid sneak out of their rooms at night and the sequence of panels detailing how they fool their parents (each one has a different method) is brilliant. Some comics that do detailed artwork well, don’t do action sequences well, but not here. The madcap action complete with glue bombs and spring-loaded shoes is interspersed with detailed maps and timelines seamlessly.

I laughed out loud for the final scene of our heroes eating waffles together. You’ll have to read this one to see why.

I am putting this one in the science fiction category, though it is more fiction about science & invention than the speculative fiction or classic science fiction.

I hope Eleanor Davis writes more about these three lovable inventors: Julian, Greta and Ben. 2009.

Found by Sarah Prineas

Posted by amanda on Jul 5th, 2010
Jul 5

This is the third book in the Magic Thief series. It is the story of Connwaer, a young pickpocket turned magician turned protector of his city. The city of Wellmet’s magic is in danger from a rogue magic that wishes to destroy it. Conn due to his generally bad reputation for being in the thick of trouble has been exiled from Wellmet just when he knows his city needs him most. He won’t let the threat of execution keep him from trying to save the city he loves.

Prineas brings back all the characters her readers have come to love and throws in dragons too. I really enjoy these books for their warmth. There’s many a dark fantasy written. These books have dark moments and the danger is palpable, but the love and friendship that ties the characters together is what matters most. I know comparisons to Rowling’s Potter grow tiresome in the world of children’s fantasy books, but I must say this warmth and caring between characters both child and adult is a reading pleasure that Prineas and Rowling capture beautifully. I also find that while each of these books tells a complete story I still want to know more at the end of each book in this series. I think that is indicative of a gifted storyteller to give a book that is satisfyingly complete, but leaves one wondering and thinking about the characters. Fans of the series will not be disappointed. 368p., 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.

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