Saturday, July 10, 2010

Saxby Smart - Private Detective in The Treasure of Dead Man’s Lane …

Simon Cheshire
Illustrated by R. W. Alley

In The Treasure of Dead Man’s Lane, Saxby Smart requires the help of his friend George “Muddy” Whitehouse, and Isobel “Izzy” Moustique to solve the mystery of the horror house at 13 Deadman’s Lane. The house had been vacant for many years, but had been recently purchased by the parents of a school friend, Jack Wilson. During the renovations a secret scroll was found that claimed a hidden treasure was somewhere in the building. A great deal of history was involved from World War II to Napoleon Bonaparte in solving the mystery of the scroll. The prior owner of the house, Silas Middlewich, built the house in 1837, and appeared to have a reputation of being a very nasty man. In order to solve the mystery, Saxby and his friends had to follow many trails before answers were found. When the truth was discovered, the house Jack’s parent’s bought known as the horror house, became a true historical find. Two other Case Files are included in the book, The Tomb of Death and The Fangs of the Dragon. Each Case File is just as mystifying as the Treasure of Dead Man’s Lane. It should be noted that Saxby Smart is a student and his office is in a tool shed.

In Saxby’s investigations, he includes the reader, as his ‘side-kick’, asking questions throughout creating a rather interactive read. This book was difficult to put down, even for the reviewer to take notes. Mr. Cheshire, the author, has found a primary character and cohorts that are ageless within the middle-grade readers. The black illustrations are right on target for the characters and more so for the pages from Saxby’s notebooks. We can only hope that Cheshire has a third book on the way. In the meantime, grab this and the first book for any bookshelves you may have.

BIBLIO: 2010, Roaring Brook Press, Ages 9 - 12, $15.99.
REVIEWER: Debby Willett
FORMAT: Middle-Grade Fiction
ISBN: 978-1-59643-475-2

REVIEWED FOR: Children’s Literature, Online Version, 7/8/10

Twinkle, Star of the Week

Joan Holub
Illustrated by Paul Nicholls

The teacher, Ms. Sun, will give each of her students an opportunity to be a superstar, to sit in the Milky Way chair during Sharing Time. Of the nine students, the brightest, Twinkle, knew she wanted to sing her song. The others all had things they would share for their special time. Dazzle went first – three planets circled around her. The class counted eight planets circling Ms. Sun. When Blaze was a superstar he brought asteroid cookies and explained asteroids are mostly rock. Soon it was Shimmer’s time and she shared a shape game of stars called Constellation Tag. Twinkle thought about mentioning planet tutus, but decided against it. Finally, since she was the brightest star, she decided to do something no one else had done. Surely, you may have seen her star up in the sky and thought about it now and then?

The publisher note considers this book as a low-key introduction to the stars, planets, and other objects of the Universe. Considering the target age of the book, readers of the 6 – 8 age groups will be unnecessarily deprived of additional science. Why were the three planets around Dazzle not identified? It would only have been one more sentence. If the class counted eight planets circling Ms. Sun, why not identify those planets. The Constellation Tag game clearly shows the Big Dipper yet it does not identify it. Finally, Twinkle mentions planet tutus – we should all look that one up. On a scale of one to ten, this book receives a one. Doing a halfway job in explaining science is not the correct way to show a child they are special; do not bother putting this one on your shelves.

BIBLIO: 2010, Albert Whitman & Company, Ages 6 - 8, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Debby Willett
FORMAT: Picture Book
ISBN: 978-0-8075-8131-5

REVIEWED FOR: Children’s Literature, Online Version, 7/8/10

Fire Drill

Paul DuBois Jacobs and Jennifer Swender
Illustrated by Huy Voun Lee

In this classroom, young students are learning many lessons - from getting along with each other, putting puzzles together, painting, and singing. Their most important lesson though is learning to listen to their teacher. Suddenly, a loud bell sounds, and the children must be quiet to find out what they should do. A poster on the wall, FIRE DRILL RULES, suddenly becomes the focus. It is time for the children to follow the rules, and wait patiently for their teacher to say, “Okay!” Then it is back to fun.

This is a very age appropriate book that teaches young children the importance of fire drills, and listening to their teachers. Illustrations are bright and colorful, easily engaging children’s eyes and interest. Also, the clever illustrations are replete with an array of patterns. The text is simple and easy for children to understand and absorb. This is a wonderful book every elementary class should start with, and refer to during the school months.

BIBLIO: 2010, Henry Holt and Co., Ages 4 - 7, $15.99.
REVIEWER: Debby Willett
FORMAT: Picture Book / Rhyming Text
ISBN: 978-0-8050-8953-0

REVIEWED FOR: Children’s Literature, Online Version, 7/8/10

Cat Diaries – Secret Writings of the MEOW Society

Betsy Byars
Betsy Duffey
Laurie Myers
Illustrated by Erik Brooks

Cat Diaries – Secret Writings … who knew? - The independent creatures we stroke, feed, and hope will eventually return home, keep secret journals and belong to the MEOW Society! Cats never forget our motto – MEOW, Memories Expressed in Our Writing. It was the third full moon of the year – where is your cat? Mice ran without fear, alleys and streets were quiet. The MEOW Society was coming to order somewhere … everywhere. So many stories to share – Rama, the Gypsy Cat, 1900 Kansas – cats have two purrs. The first purr is for the public, and the second purr is for your special person. Evidently, that person can change depending on the weather. The Library Cat found her home by chance. She was born outside the Library and by chance followed some children inside – where she just happened to become useful. Now she belongs in the Library – that’s her home and her life. Poor Whiskers, back in 1943, over in South Carolina. He made the mistake of winding up in the wrong hands. Fortunately, it all worked out for him, but he doesn’t want to do anymore parachute rides anytime soon. There are so many stories that were read, but even more that were not because of time. Next year we will meet again, with more stories, and more members.

Such a delicious thought – one night a year our cats get together and read their journals to each other. What a concept! Having had a cat since I was six years old, it gives me pause to consider what they do when we sleep. However, since the technological age has not yet reached the feline population, I do believe we have some degree of safety. Hence, my comments to the authors, Cat Diaries – Secret Writings Of the MEOW Society, is a must read for anyone who loves cats, regardless of age. Although children might enjoy it over a longer period of time, this reviewer is enchanted with the concept of cats writing journals. Children should keep up with the feline population in the journal writing, huh? It is a very enjoyable read, put it on your library shelf and pull it out often. Mr. Brooks' black ink illustrations are animated and on target. My favorite is page 50.

BIBLIO: 2010, Henry Holt and Company, Ages 7 - 10, $15.99.
REVIEWER: Debby Willett
FORMAT: Chapter Book
ISBN: 978-0-8050-8717-8

REVIEWED FOR: Children’s Literature, Online Version, 7/8/10

Annie Hoot and the Knitting Extravaganza

Holly Clifton-Brown

Annie Hoot loved to knit, any time of day or night. She would knit anything as long as she had the yarn. Too bad her friends did not appreciate the things she knitted for them. She decided to leave her woods and finds friends who would appreciate her knitted gifts. To do that, she must knit one more time in her wooded home. To her friend’s surprise, Annie Hoot left in a knitted hot air balloon and off she went. She had many adventures as she knitted her away across the world. She started in the rain forest, and sailed across the sea. Still no one was happy with her knitting. The elephants, a giraffe, polar bears, walrus’, and penguins – so many she had shared her knitting with. Finally Annie Hoot had run out of yarn and she was feeling homesick. But without yarn how could she get home?

This is a sweet picture book about friendship and sharing. Annie Hoot had a gift of knitting and all she wanted to do was share, with everybody. The concept of sharing with their friends is something all children should understand. The author/illustrator combined a pleasing text with illustrations that are colorful and whimsical, sure to catch a young reader’s attention.

BIBLIO: 2010, Andersen Press USA. Ages 4 - 8, $16.95.
REVIEWER: Debby Willett
FORMAT: Picture Book
ISBN: 978-0-7613-6444-3

REVIEWED FOR: Children’s Literature, Online Version, 7/8/10