Really? Five stars? I'm giving this book five stars?? Indeed I am. Is it better than the other Invisible Inkling books, to which I gave each FOUR star...moreReally? Five stars? I'm giving this book five stars?? Indeed I am. Is it better than the other Invisible Inkling books, to which I gave each FOUR stars? Errrrm... Yes. Maybe. I don't know. I liked those too. Possibly even five stars-worth.
Here's the deal: I read all three of these books at some point over the course of the last year, and I loved each one. But this last one? While I was reading it I got that warm, sappy "WOW, do I love this series" feeling, which is a rare and wonderful thing. I felt real concern (albeit entertained concern) for this weird, nerdy kid and his invisible pet Bandapat. Maybe it's because I'd already read two other books, and I was therefore "predisposed" to like this one more. Maybe I've just built up enough history with Hank and Inkling to care about them right out of the gate - I don't know.
But one particular passage of this book made me laugh out loud. On the subway. In front of other people. And when I read that same passage (pp. 26-27) out loud to a coworker who hadn't read ANY books in the series, it made HER laugh out loud too. Plus, the book is smart. WOW is it smart. It's smart and sensitive and funny and deeply understanding of kids' emotional needs and bewildering social dilemmas.
This is a book that touches on problems everyone has faced at some point in their lives. No, no, no! Not the "my dad owns an ice cream parlor and the lady with the ice cream whoopie pies is stealing his business" problem. Nor the "I have an invisible -- NOT imaginary! -- pet that no one can see and therefore can't know about" problem. I'm talking about "is this person a true, reliable friend or not?" problems. And "If they're NOT really a true, reliable friend, why do I want them to like me so much?" problems.
Most chapter books skate over territory like this, but not Emily Jenkins. She tackles them head on, AND with absurd humor, which is the perfect way to speak to the age group they're intended for (and to ME, apparently).
SO... YES! I am declaring the third book in the Invisible Inkling series to be worthy of five stars. If you read it and disagree, go back and read the first two, THEN read this one again -- see if having that experience changes your mind. If that doesn't do the trick, read the books aloud to a kid in your life. THAT, I predict, will make you a believer. (And to my mind it's the one litmus test that really matters!)(less)
Can you come of age as a second grader? Yes -- in small but meaningful ways. Kevin Henkes captures a perfect handful of them in this heartwarming and...moreCan you come of age as a second grader? Yes -- in small but meaningful ways. Kevin Henkes captures a perfect handful of them in this heartwarming and utterly wonderful book about a boy named Billy Miller who has normal kid worries as he starts (and, some months later, ends) his second grade year. He worries maybe he's not smart enough for the second grade. He worries that his teacher doesn't know he's a nice kid. But he hopes a lot too -- hopes he can succeed at staying up all night for the first time ever; hopes he can help his dad get back to making art again; hopes he can WOW his mom with the poem he writes about her.
This is an honest but hopeful book about a kid's early experiences with taking responsibility, experiencing peer pressure, and seeing his ideas become complex and USEFUL enough to inspire not just kids but grown-ups. The events that inspire Billy's growth in these areas are what adults like to think of as "small moments" but to Billy Miller, as to ANY second grader, these things feel BIG -- big enough to make the whole year feel like it could just be "the year of Billy Miller."
Kids and adults will both be drawn in by the sensitivity and care of Henkes' characterizations -- as always, he allows the reader to glimpse the private, inner thoughts of a kid whose mind feels wholly familiar and whose small "coming of age" feels, in broad strokes, like a carbon copy of our own.
This is a chapter book that fluent readers will be able to tackle, but I especially fill with glee at the thought of using it as a read-aloud. Either way it is a book worth sharing with all of the second grader(s) in your life - and the 1st and 3rd graders too.(less)
The world's friendliest doughnut is back and expanding his skinny-armed reach from picture books to chapter books! In this delightfully absurd, charmi...moreThe world's friendliest doughnut is back and expanding his skinny-armed reach from picture books to chapter books! In this delightfully absurd, charmingly offbeat, fully illustrated mystery -- a "Who-Donut" -- Arnie attempts to figure out why Mr. Bing, an accomplished bowler, is rolling gutter balls during the big bowling championship. Kids seeking a straightforward, linear narrative may find this book challenging, as Arnie is a chatty, easily distracted host and the central plotline is almost secondary to his random asides, but that's part of the book's charm. You never quite know where Arnie is taking you, but his company is so good (and his jokes so adorably bad) that you're happy to sit back and enjoy the ride. Fans of silly jokes and witty wordplay and/or fans of quirky illustrated chapter books like Fashion Kitty, Bad Kitty, and Captain Underpants will devour this one. (SORRY, Arnie!! I meant your book! They'll devour your BOOK! Metaphorically!! *whew*)
A lot of adults are not going to like this book. It's not for the faint of heart and not for those squeamish about death. There are a few bits in the...moreA lot of adults are not going to like this book. It's not for the faint of heart and not for those squeamish about death. There are a few bits in the book that are going to offend no small number of people looking for choice chapter books that would make a good fit for their 2nd - 4th graders -- an elderly neighbor says "Hell" a number of times; the kids refer often to a book that belonged to one of their mothers and which astute adult readers will probably assume contains some sexual content (hence the reason the kids are so fascinated with it) and we learn that a neighborhood kid's mother is upset because her boyfriend spent the night in a foreign hotel, ahem, with the family's babysitter, ahem ahem. Schools may also be a bit uncomfortable with the church scenes and frequent mentions of Jesus in the beginning sections of the book.
IN SPITE OF ALL THESE THINGS (and maybe even partly because of them), I think this book is riotously funny and feels wonderfully fresh. It is very, VERY true to the perspective and experiences of actual kids, who do not live in a world devoid of marital affairs and swearing neighbors and dying hamsters, and who DO often go through a phase in which death is both fascinating and... kinda poignant, in a wonderfully innocent way. I laughed out loud while reading it and felt seriously teased by the knowledge that there will be a second book about Anna and her friends that I'm unable to read just yet. (I can't wait!) I think kids will LOVE this book, and I think they're absolutely right to do so.
Anna, the narrator of The Great Hamster Massacre, is a GIRL, but her voice and interests are entirely gender-neutral -- so much so that I mistakenly believed I was reading a book narrated by a boy until I hit a reference to Anna's name about 50 pages into the book and went back to realize that (hmm...) I'd somehow paid no mind to the mention of her name on page 2. To me this made the book all the better, as it confirmed what I had already been thinking -- that this book will have EQUAL appeal to boy girls and boys. (And hallelujah to that, because we need many, many more books aimed at this specific audience that fit that particular bill!)
In addition to being gender-neutral, Anna's voice is completely authentic. I could ABSOLUTELY see a kid thinking/feeling/saying/doing all of the things on these pages, and her reactions to the world around her and the events in her life felt 100% true. As for the way Anna and her friends deal with death in the book... (A few minor spoilers here!) They are very concerned that dead animals be treated in a respectful way and be given a proper burial, so they make tiny coffins for each of the dead baby hamsters (killed by the hamsters' mother, as OFTEN happens with small rodents -- just ask my childhood best friend Anne, who lost a handful of baby mice in EXACTLY the same fashion back when we were Anna's age), and they also dig up and re-bury the pet rabbit of another kid in their neighborhood, whose family buried him TOO hastily and without the things that the kid in this family knew (as kids do) that said would rabbit would WANT.
Did you recoil at that last revelation? You did. Then, yeah. You probably don't want to read this book, as it's probably just not going to sit right with you, and I completely understand why. But if you thought that bit about the rabbit was kinda endearing and a little bit funny, then DO treat yourself to a read of this book, because The Great Hamster Massacre is absolutely worth your time and attention!
Oh, and a note to teachers -- you'll appreciate the number of times Anna and her friends refer to the dictionary when they need to look something up, and you'll like the systematic way in which they conduct their investigation into WHO caused the great hamster massacre. And oh you'll laugh out loud when they try to interview their suspects!(less)