If your kids are looking for a wacky, light-hearted summer read, check out these two series from the very funny Mac Barnett:
- The Brixton Brothers books are mysteries featuring twelve-year-old boy detective Steve Brixton. Steve is an ardent fan of the Bailey Brothers Mysteries (a Hardy Boys-esque series) from which he picks up numerous sleuthing tips as well as some useful slang (e.g., “chum”, “ace”). Steve lives in the fictional town of Ocean Park (based on Santa Cruz!). There are four books in the series, and Blaine tore through all of them a couple of summers ago.
- The Terrible Two books (co-authored by Mac Barnett and Jory John) are set in the fictional Yawnee Valley, a town that’s famous only for cows. These humorous books feature a pair of pranksters and an overbearing principal. Larrabee read the first two books in this series this summer and is eagerly awaiting the third (to be published in early 2017).
Larrabee and I had the pleasure of hearing Mac Barnett read two of his picture books, the brand new Rules of the House and also Leo: A Ghost Story (a personal favorite!) at Bookshop Santa Cruz last month.
Blaine, Larrabee, and I had a chance to meet Ursula Vernon a couple of years ago at Bookshop Santa Cruz. She is the author and illustrator of the tremendously fun Dragonbreath series.
She told us about how she combines ideas in her books. For example, ninjas are cool. Frogs are also cool. So, ninja frogs would make awesome villains. (See Dragonbreath #2: Attack of the Ninja Frogs).
She also talked about how she plots her books. She said that she puts her main character into some sort of interesting situation (e.g., he falls into a pit or is attacked by ninja frogs). Then she asks herself:
- Why is this happening?
- Who is responsible?
- What happens next?
She proceeded to brainstorm a plot with the kids in attendance. I don’t remember all of the details, but it featured a platypus. Not just an ordinary platypus. A giant platypus. A Platypus-zilla threatening the town of Santa Cruz.
Her presentation made us want to come home and write a story. Or draw a comic book. Or read (or re-read) one of her books. Hopefully, we’ll do all of the above this summer.
Speaking of Ursula Vernon’s books, the boys and I highly recommend Dragonbreath and its sequels. These books are wacky and funny and full of adventure. They’re ideal first chapter books because they’re easy to read, with a mix of text and comic book panels.
There are eleven books in the series to date. Blaine’s personal favorite is Dragonbreath #3: Curse of the Were-wiener (yes, like a hot dog werewolf). Larrabee is just starting the series, but unlike Blaine, he doesn’t believe in reading books in order. He’s partial so far to Dragonbreath #10: Knight-napped.