Delightfully slapstick in nature The Chicken Squad builds on the tiny, comical characters who first appear in The Trouble with Chickens, the original...moreDelightfully slapstick in nature The Chicken Squad builds on the tiny, comical characters who first appear in The Trouble with Chickens, the original J.J. Tully mystery. A perfect graduation from her brilliant picture books, these short, easy chapter books by Doreen Cronin (of Click, Clack, Moo fame) provide an ideal bridge for young readers.
J.J. Tully, the retired police dog from Trouble with Chickens introduces the story and makes a short--but pivotal--appearance in the climax of the Chicken Squad plot. The majority of the story surrounds Moosh the Chicken's four offspring (Dirt, Sugar, Poppy & Sweetie) as they mobilize to help Tail the Squirrel when he sees "something big and scary in the yard."
UFOs, a squirrel who repeatedly insists he is brave but continuously faints from fear, chicks licking each other and rolling in grass clippings for camouflage and tons of silly, clever dialogue will have young readers (and those of us who read it to them) giggling like crazy. With absurdly witty exchanges like:
"Dirt, you take the helium and stick with Tail. He's going to show you where the UFO landed. Send up the balloon when you get there. That's our target everyone!"
"Wait," said the squirrel. "Wouldn't it be easier to just blow up the balloon here instead of dragging a helium tank all the way across the yard?"
Sugar let out a heavy sigh.
"You can't camouflage yourself and then walk around with a giant, orange balloon!" snapped Sugar. "Think, squirrel, think!"
"Wow," said the squirrel. "You guys are good."
The Chicken Squad will be a HUGE winner as a read-aloud or independent reading choice in a classroom or at home.
Kevin Cornwell's illustrations are just as wonderfully quirky as the Chicken Squad, themselves. Although the illustration are in black-and-white they are presented with an incredible depth of gray shades, making them as vibrant as the best color panels in picture books. Combined with the engaging text Cornwell's work only enhances the transitional aspect The Chicken Squad offers young and growing readers!
On a teaching note for home or classroom: When Tail tries to describe what he has seen to the Chicken Squad he says only that it is "big and scary." Dirt and Sugar have an ongoing exchange with him, building from chapter to chapter to help him find more specific, detailed ways to describe what he ahs seen. This is a great springboard for lessons/discussions on adjectives and writing for older (3rd grade) readers/writers and as a language experience in 1st and 2nd grade. (less)
Lantern Sam is a dual narrative: one part told by 10-year-old Henry Shipley and one told in flashback by Lantern Sam (a male calico cat). Henry's narr...moreLantern Sam is a dual narrative: one part told by 10-year-old Henry Shipley and one told in flashback by Lantern Sam (a male calico cat). Henry's narration relates the events on the Shoreliner (a famous express train taking passengers from New York to Chicago--960 miles--in less than 20 hours) in 1938 when he and Sam first meet, while Sam's story is his autobiography up to the point where he meets Henry.
Henry, his mother and baby sister are traveling home to Ashtabula, Ohio after a rare trip to New York. In the Observation Car he meets wealthy young Ellie Strasbourg on her way to ride the brand new Blue Streak Roller Coaster. Clarence Nockwood (the porter) gives them a tour of the train during which they meet Clarence's cat, Lantern Sam. Henry realizes almost immediately that he can hear Sam speak. Both children are passionate about detective stories like Dick Tracy and Nancy Drew and they discover that Lantern Sam has been involved in detective escapades aboard the Shoreliner. When Ellie is kidnapped on the train and held for ransom Sam and Henry--with some help from Clarence--must solve the crime.
Henry tells the story of their adventure together and Sam tells of his life before meeting Henry in alternating chapters. Henry's story is engaging and well-paced; Sam's narrative drags on a little too much for me. Sam relates his many close calls with death and danger(using up eight of his "nine lives"). Although the final two of Sam's stories were interesting and enjoyable to read, I would have preferred to have Henry and Sam's adventure on the Shoreliner as the ONLY story. Sam's history truly wasn't necessary as his character is well-developed and clearly crafted.
The mystery and detective adventure on the train is exciting and grows steadily in suspense and danger. While it contains 'red herrings' for its targeted young readers the plot is clearly defined and its resolution is both pleasing and satisfying. As an adult reader I could see where the plot was going without much trouble, but I have more experience reading mysteries than the target audience for Lantern Sam, who I believe will thoroughly enjoy the adventure.
Age-appropriate danger and logic, a flawlessly constructed plot and vivid characters, Lantern Sam and the Blue Streak Bandits is a nice choice for a read-aloud or independent read for ages 7 or 8 to 12yrs who enjoy remarkable animal characters, mystery and adventure. (less)
Wilma Tenderfoot wants to be a detective. When she is shipped off as a ward to Mrs. Waldock who requires Wilma to do bizarre (and often disgusting) ch...moreWilma Tenderfoot wants to be a detective. When she is shipped off as a ward to Mrs. Waldock who requires Wilma to do bizarre (and often disgusting) chores with the threat of returning her to the Lowside Institute for Woeful Children and Mrs. Scratch who has no fondness for Wilma. When Wilma comes across an abandoned beagle she names Pickle you want to cheer because she has found someone to love that who loves her back wholly and unconditionally.
It turns out that Wilma's new residence is next door to the famous detective Theodore P. Goodman. Wilma has read all of Goodman's published work: accounts of cases he has solved and tips for being a good detective. She can--and does--quote them verbatim. Often.
When a precious jewel disappears and Theodore P. Goodman is called in on the case Wilma sees her chance to prove herself to the famous detective and convince him to take her on as an apprentice. The supporting characters are strong stock characters in a mystery: a bumbling, big-hearted Inspector, an evil street-smart villain, an outwardly cranky (but secretly loveable) housekeeper, Wilma's horrible guardian and more. The mystery itself provides plenty of 'red herrings' (clues that lead you to suspect the wrong culprit) as well as suspenseful and sometimes dangerous adventure.
Wilma Tenderfoot is an engaging and entertaining mix of Oliver Twist, Sherlock Holmes and Clementine (by Sara Pennypacker). Wilma is easy to love and root for throughout her misadventures. The situations in which she finds herself are often humorous with occasional laugh-out-loud moments. This is an especially good read-aloud for grades 3-4 with a little spill-over on both sides of that, depending on the reader.
I thoroughly enjoyed Wilma Tenderfoot and the case of the Frozen Hearts and have, in fact, already grabbed the second in the series from the library. A fun combination of humor, mystery and adventure this is a superb choice as we move into summer reading as either a read-aloud or independent choice! (less)
Walter Dean Myers is perhaps better known to older readers for his poetry and works of young adult fiction. Some young readers will remember that Walt...moreWalter Dean Myers is perhaps better known to older readers for his poetry and works of young adult fiction. Some young readers will remember that Walter Dean Myers is the poet who inspired the young boy in Sharon Creech's phenomenal Love That Dog.
Smiffy Blue is a goofy mixture of Sam Spade, Batman and Sherlock Holmes. Along with his assistant Jeremy Joe and his trusty dog, Dog, Smiffy is often called in by Inspector Hector of Doober City for solve their current crisis. In this volume of four stories Smiffy investigates the thefts of: a secret formula, a racehorse, the Mayor's yacht and a valuable ruby.
His cases lead Smiffy all over the city following obscure clues. He and Jeremy Joe must question suspects and witnesses alike: Dr. Seymour Orless who owns the glasses store; Penny Stampp at the Post Office; Cheri Pye at the bakery; and Chubby Checkin, the hotel clerk. These silly puns will have young readers giggling even as they groan (likewise for any adults!)
Smiffy has an effective tagline for beginning readers each time he discovers a clue:
Smiffy Blue smiled. It was a shy smile. It was a sly smile. It was the kind of a smile that Smiffy Blue smiled when he had found a clue
This is repeated throughout each story in a formula which emphasizes each crazy clue Smiffy discovers. Smiffy always catches the criminal. The solutions to the mysterious crimes at the hands of Smiffy's deductive skills are equally ridiculous and will have young readers snorting with laughter.
Smiffy Blue, Ace Detective is a joyous, silly romp of a book. Readers ages 6-9 will LOVE these stories as a read-aloud or an independent reading choice!
**I also highly recommend Myers' picture book Looking Like Me and his older juvenile series The Cruisers. (less)
Lake of Skulls: A Knight's Story is the first in another series by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, perhaps better known for The Edge Chronicles. They...moreLake of Skulls: A Knight's Story is the first in another series by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, perhaps better known for The Edge Chronicles. They have also collaborated on the thrilling--sometimes terrifying--Barnaby Grimes series and one of my new favorites, the delightfully hysterical fantasy of Muddle Earth.
This particular story is narrated by a "free lance" knight, meaning he does not work for one particular king or wealthy master. He travels instead from place to place on his horse, Jed, participating in various village jousts and tournaments. In this way he earns his living.
In Lake of Skulls our hero comes upon a town run by and unpleasant-looking (and smelling) lard. (Our knight dubs him Lord Big Nose.) Although he would prefer to bypass the town, one of Jed's horseshoes is loose. This must be fixed and the next town is too far away. He seeks overnight shelter for himself and his horse. In the tavern Lord Big nose, along with his crossbow-laden guards, strikes a bargain wherein our Knight will travel to an island in the Lake of Skulls and retrieve the enchanted crown that sits there atop a mountain of skulls. The Knight's quest and its consequences are related at breakneck speed, barely pausing in suspense long enough to breathe.
Like their Barnaby Grimes series, Stewart and Riddell ride the line of gruesome in masterful fashion. There is just enough detail to be creepy and a LITTLE scary, but not so much as to give one nightmares. If you like stories of knights and battles, good versus evil, or just a heart-stopping adventure packed into very few pages, this is the book for you!
This might be a good read-aloud choice to get a reluctant independent reader hooked on an action story that has three other books following in the series. All are relatively short and have decent size print, which help a young reader avoid becoming overwhelmed visually before he or she even opens the book. (less)
Danger in the Dark is the story of Nathaniel Makeworthy Fuller IV. Nathan is almost 13 years old when we meet him at the beginning of the story. He is...moreDanger in the Dark is the story of Nathaniel Makeworthy Fuller IV. Nathan is almost 13 years old when we meet him at the beginning of the story. He is the only son of his widowed mother, Deborah, and they live with Nathan's deaceased father's Aunt Alice--and have since Nathan's birth and his father's death. Aunt Alice has always been a bit severe and it has never been a cheerful home, but with the advent of a new (and frequent) visitor to the home things have turned decidedly worse.
The new visitor is David Douglas Trane. Nathan cannot put his finger on what it is about Trane that so alarms him and he is not exactly sure what it is Mr. Trane is doing in these secretive meetings in the salon with his great-aunt and his mother, but he knows they both look sadder and more worried than before.
That summer, for the first time, instead of playing at the beach Nathan is hired out to a friend of Aunt Alice's to learn about business. Nathan becomes a "dogsbody"--the lowest clerk in a shop sho must do all the drudgery work--at Bennett & Son Gentlemen's Hatters. It is in the course of this employ that Nathan meets the great Harry Houdini.
Sent by his superior to the Houdini home to collect payment Nathan meets Bess and Harry Houdini face-to-face. Both Houdinis take a liking to the young boy--whom Houdini quickly christens "Nate." Nate unburdens himself to the Houdinis that afternoon about Mr. Trane and his family. The Houdinis quickly realize that Trane is a medium, someone who purports to be able to communicate with the spirits of the dead--in this case, with Aunt Alice's dead husband Arthur and her beloved nephew (Nate's father). The Houdinis fear for the safety of Nate and his family and immediately launch into action to help them.
Harry Houdini, in real life, believed it was his mission to reveal as many of these fraudulent mediums as possible. He was appalled at the idea of vulnerable, grieving people being bilked of their savings by unscrupulous swindlers who took advantage of the real pain which enveloped these individuals.
Lalicki accurately and believeably entwines Houdini's zeal for ferreting out these criminals, his well-known affection for children (one of his and Bess' greatest disappointments was that they had no children themselves) and his magnetic personality with the lives of Nate and his family.
The plot is tightly constructed and PACKED with exciting action, danger and suspense. The result is an excellent mystery/adventure with a likeable young hero and a perfect historical representation of Harry Houdini, exaggerated just the right amount to portray him as Nate's mentor, champion and friend.
I will caution those who would like to use it as a read-aloud that there is one moment (about 3/4 of a page) where Nate & Houdini have a discussion about the word "bastard" when Nate uses it in correct context and Houdini lectures him about the crudeness, inappropriateness and lack of necessity to use that particular word. If I was reading it aloud I would simply skip that part completely and continue: it is a nice male role model moment for Houdini and Nate but the plot loses nothing by omitting it.
I highly recommend this for readers who enjoy suspenseful mystery and adventure--and for anyone who is interested in or already has knowledge of Harry Houdini. Sid Fleischman's biography of Houdini The Great Escape Artist is an excellent companion piece to this story. (Lalicki has a biography out of Houdini as well, but it is not particularly well done--his fictional work far surpasses it.) (less)
The Case of the Deadly Desperados is the first in a new Western Mysteries series by Caroline Lawrence. The year is 1862 and our main character P.K. (P...moreThe Case of the Deadly Desperados is the first in a new Western Mysteries series by Caroline Lawrence. The year is 1862 and our main character P.K. (Pinky) Pinkerton has just turned 12 years old two days before we meet him. Pinky tells us the first part of his story as he writes it deep in one of the Comstock silver mines of the Nevada mountains where is is sure he will die.
On the afternoon of his twelfth birthday Pinky comes home to discover his foster parents have been attacked and scalped. His foster father is already dead but his foster mother lives a few minutes after he discovers her. She lives long enough to tell him she and her husband were not attacked by Indians but by white men disguised as Indians and to take the medicine bag given him by his biological mother and run for safety. She makes him promise her: (1) he will never take another life--not even of those who committed this crime; (2) he will forgive those who committed this act;(3) he will not gamble; and (4) he will not drink hard liquor. Pinky promises. Immediately following his promise, the desperados who killed his foster parents come back.
Pinky realizes the killers were after the paper his biological mother gave to him which deeds the bearer a great deal of land in the mountains of the silver-rich Comstock mines. Pinky flees the tiny town of Temperance for the Big City but is pursued by the Desperados. Pinky soon discovers that the man who is chasing him is none other than Whittlin' Walt--one of the most dangerous and feared killers in the West.
Pinky is determined to sell his claim in order to book passage on a stagecoach to Chicago. Now that he has no family he intends to go to the Pinkerton Detective Agency run by his biological uncle and ask for a job. Pinky has two big obstacles: (1) he is half-Caucasian and half-Lacota Indian which sets him up for mistreatment and discrimination in the 19th Century Old West; and (2)his inability to read other people--he has trouble judging when others are sincere and when they are deceiving him. This particular obstacle results in several missteps that bring Pinky repeatedly into mortal danger.
The story is fast-paced with one cliffhanger after another. Pinky is genuine, smart, funny and good-hearted. He is a hero for whom it is easy to cheer. I thoroughly enjoyed Pinky's tale. If you like adventure and mystery then The Case of the Deadly Desperados is for you!
NOTE: Parents and teachers be aware that--although not frequent--there is historically appropriate language in the story that we now acknowledge as offensive, as well as a scene in an opium house. All language and scenes are handled appropriately but may require discussion with young readers for definition and to specify context. (less)
I read this as a bedtime story with my kids. The main character, Steve Brixton, is a drop-dead fan of the Bailey Brothers Detective Series of books (k...moreI read this as a bedtime story with my kids. The main character, Steve Brixton, is a drop-dead fan of the Bailey Brothers Detective Series of books (kind of like the Hardy Boys—i.e. slightly outdated in terminology and theory). Steve does indeed have a gift for deduction—and proves it by inadvertently solving a baffling crime for his mother’s new boyfriend—a police detective, who dismisses Steve’s theory only to have it proved correct later on.
It firmly held the attention of my 8 & 9 year old. Chapters often end with skillful cliffhangers. There’s a nice little dash of intrigue surrounding the secret identity of librarians in the United States as an elite spy/secret-keeping force. It has some wonderfully clever and exciting moments. My biggest complaint is that there are several passages from the “Bailey Brothers” books inserted into the narrative. Unfortunately, most of these interruptions are just that without adding much to Steve’s story.
The conclusion is well-plotted and ultimately satisfying. In general the story holds a lot of promise but this installment of the series (in my opinion) never realizes its full potential. While there are definitely enjoyable moments I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend this particular read. (less)
I have heard lots of buzz about this book being turned into a movie. And I can see how–in the hands of talented actors, directors and designers–this c...moreI have heard lots of buzz about this book being turned into a movie. And I can see how–in the hands of talented actors, directors and designers–this could be a great adventure film for both young and old. The reason I say this is because I felt the narrative often got bogged down in descriptions of soil and rock and underground seepage, etc. but the action sequences are well-paced, suspenseful and exciting. AS a reader I usually lose interest in external descriptions which continue for longer than a few sentences. I am more likely to be taken in by lengthy character development aspects of a narrative.
Although I was bored with the physical descriptive passages I was completely engaged in the relationships of young Will–our main character–with his family and his friendship with his classmate, Chester. The family relationships that gradually emerge during the first third of Will’s story are intriguing and compelling. The odd, slightly dysfunctional way he, his parents and his sister each occupy their own independent orbits while staying in close proximity and occasional communication with each other is fascinating. It is alternately endearing and heart-breaking. The story drops some bombshell revelations about Will and his family about halfway through that I didn’t expect. Those deepened my fascination with Will’s story and gave me my reason to keep reading through the slower parts.
Will looks different from other kids. He is freakishly pale and has unnaturally white hair. Consequently he is teased and called names, picked on by the bullies at school. Friendless for most of his life, Will bonds with Chester Rawls. Due to Chester’s larger-than-average size he is also often the target of unkind words and deeds. Neither boy is prone to violence, but each in their own turn takes a stand physically against a particular bully. The boys bond over the fact that they have established limits to the abuse they will tolerate.
Will’s father, Dr. Burrows, runs the town’s small museum but is passionate about his own private excavations throughout the city. He pursues his own digs in secret–having had one spectacular discovery stolen from him previously. He allows Will to accompany him on these research digs. Will has inherited his father’s passion for archeological discovery. It is the thing over which the two of them have always connected. Will, wants to be closer to his father outside of these digs but comforts himself with the solace of working on these projects together with his dad.
Will has his own secret dig in progress as well! After he enlists Chester’s help with his project, they discover Dr. Burrows was working on something secretly too: a tunnel in the cellar of Will’s home. Will and Chester discover the mysterious tunnel after Dr. Burrows goes missing. The boys’ entrance into the tunnel beneath the house plunges them into an adventure horrifying and magnificent in its capacity for both cruelty and beauty.
In conclusion, I am glad I did choose to finish the book. The relationships and characters in the book are defintiely strong enough to supersede the problem I mentioned earlier of overly descriptive passages. Individuals who are strongly interested in the fantasy/sci-fi genre will probably enjoy Tunnels. (It is somewhat reminiscent of Jules Verne’s classic Journey to the Center of the Earth in theory and style.)
Be aware that Tunnels is the first book in a series so the reader should not expect all the plot points to be resolved at the end of the book. If you enjoy Tunnels the ending will certainly whet your appetite for the next book! (less)
Fantastic! The second book in the J.J. Tully series by Doreen Cronin lives up to the promise of the first installment (THE TROUBLE WITH CHICKENS)and,...moreFantastic! The second book in the J.J. Tully series by Doreen Cronin lives up to the promise of the first installment (THE TROUBLE WITH CHICKENS)and, in my opinion, goes beyond it! I read this one with my 8 and 9 year old as a bedtime story (like the first one) and we ALL loved it! The somewhat tongue-in-cheek film noir-ish tone of J.J. and the resident villain Vince the Funnel are a blast to read aloud, not to mention the hilariously funny & sweet additions of the 4 chicks and their mother, Moosh.
This story introduces Lillian (or, Diamond Lil, as Vince refers to her), a Samoyed who claims to be the next door neighbor's new pet. Inconsistencies in her story and her behavior cause J.J. (the retired search-and-rescue dog of the series title)to be alternately confused and suspicious. Add in a dangerous and elusive possum and you have the makings of a dynamite mystery.
This series is perfect for young readers who are ready for more complicated plots and character development. It's a great independent or read-aloud choice for 1st through 3rd graders!(less)
The Painting That Wasn’t There is the first of the Field Trip Mysteries by Steve Brezenhoff. If you are (or have) a young reader that is interested in...moreThe Painting That Wasn’t There is the first of the Field Trip Mysteries by Steve Brezenhoff. If you are (or have) a young reader that is interested in mysteries this is a nice series with which to start him or her.
The plot of The Painting That Wasn’t There centers around its 6th grade characters realizing a painting in the Museum is a forgery, solving the crime and apprehending the culprit during the course of their museum field trip. It is narrated by James (Gum) Shoo. He is accompanied by his friends Egg (Edward G. Garrison), Cat (Catalina) and Sam (Samantha). The fact that each character’s name requires another name in parentheses to clarify it is one of the problems with the book. Although the story uses art history content I was disappointed in the author’s approach to its inclusion. Having specialized in Art History and taught it in elementary schools in connection with both the French Language and children’s literature I believe there are much more exciting ways in which to impart/teach Art History to young readers.
There are too many inane details thrown at the reader right away that are never followed up. Thus, what could have become reasons to care about the story instead remain superficial to both the characters and the plot. With little to no character development I cannot recommend this Field Trip Mystery as a read-aloud or independent read.
That said, although I did not find the plot’s details interesting, I can see where a young reader with an interest in (and novice at) solving mysteries might find it rewarding to follow the clues and solve the mystery. The mystery itself is plotted clearly, providing young readers with clues, suspect lists and a methodical approach to the solution. I could see the story being used as part of a classroom lesson on deductive reasoning, or some similar problem-solving strategy for a 2nd or 3rd grade class.
Due to the methodical plotting and problem-solving approach, however, one or more of the other Field Trip Mysteries may be worth a try if you know a young reader interested in mysteries. I have not read any of the other books in the series and it is always possible that the characters are developed further in these stories. (less)
Easy read. Owen finds a submarine; The story has adventure & friendship issues. Its biggest drawback is that it virtually ignores Owen’s living si...moreEasy read. Owen finds a submarine; The story has adventure & friendship issues. Its biggest drawback is that it virtually ignores Owen’s living situation which is set up as difficult, to say the least. Had I not read the blurb on the jacket that told me his father had lost his job, forcing them to move in w/his grandfather and that ‘Earlene’ was his grandfather’s caretaker I would never have known from the actual content of the book. The characters of Earlene & grandfather are vague & confusing & Mom and Dad serve zero purpose in the book. I was disappointed in that I usually like Barbara O'Connor's work. (less)
I thoroughly enjoyed Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs! This was another of my accidental finds while browsing library shelves. The cartoonish illustration of...moreI thoroughly enjoyed Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs! This was another of my accidental finds while browsing library shelves. The cartoonish illustration of an upside-down hippo and the title intrigued me. The story is an excellent, sophisticatedly-plotted mystery. The main character is 12-year-old Teddy. He narrates the story in an absolutely authentic voice that engages the reader almost immediately.
The story centers around an elaborate zoo/amusement attraction called FunJungle to which Teddy and his parents have just relocated after several years in Africa. The wealthy owner has decided on Henry the Hippo as the mascot for the theme park. Teddy, whose mother is a zookeeper and whose father is a wildlife photographer, knows that in reality a hippo is a vicious animal totally unsuited to be a cheery theme park mascot.
When Henry the Hippo dies suddenly, Teddy is convinced it is murder. The mystery deepens as Teddy pursues his investigation. He teams up with an unlikely partner in young Summer McCracken and together they find themselves in life-threatening situations–obviously a warning to cease their snooping.
The action is fast-paced, driven by both adventure and character. Along the way the reader learns an immense amount about the behind-the-scenes machinations of a zoo, hippos, monkeys/apes and a variety of other animals, all of which is built skillfully into the narrative.
I HIGHLY recommend this book as an independent read for 5th-8th graders (and possibly advanced 4th graders). It could even be a possible read-aloud for 6th-9th grade classes, depending on the make-up and dynamics of the individual class. (less)