Book Review: Timmy Failure

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 1.52.38 PMMistakes Were Made is the first in a six-book series about Timmy Failure by cartoonist Stephan Pastis. Larrabee and I like books that make us laugh and this one definitely did.

Timmy is a middle schooler and the CEO of his own detective agency, Total Failure, Inc. His business partner is a polar bear who loves chicken nuggets. And his nemesis is rival detective Corrina Corrina, also known as something that rhymes with Weevil Bun.

The first few lines of the prologue will give you a sense of the witty tone of the book: “It’s harder to drive a polar bear into someone’s living room than you’d think. You need a living-room window that’s big enough to fit a car. You need a car that’s big enough to fit a polar bear. And you need a polar bear that’s big enough to not point out your errors.”

Larrabee and I took turns reading this book aloud to each other, sitting side by side on the couch so that we could both see the illustrations. I’m glad we read it together for several reasons:

  1. Timmy is an imaginative and unreliable narrator, and Larrabee’s not used to having to question a narrator’s version of events. For example, Timmy says that he eats alone at lunch recess so that he can do global strategic planning for his detective agency without the other kids committing an act of industrial sabotage.
  2. The book has some big words–mendacity, subterfuge, surveillance, hypocritical, citadel. For a kid who doesn’t always excel in school, Timmy has an extensive vocabulary and knows how to use it.
  3. Timmy doesn’t always make good choices. Although Larrabee and I read mostly for fun, if we find the occasional life lesson, so much the better.


Book Review: Beetle Boy

Screen Shot 2017-06-14 at 1.44.37 PMWhether or not your young reader is fascinated with beetles, he or she will like Beetle Boy by M.G. Leonard. Set in London, it’s the story of 12-year-old Darkus Cuttle, who rescues his father from the clutches of the no-good Lucretia Cutter with the help of his good friends, his archeologist uncle, and some very special beetles.

Larrabee and I read this book aloud together and found it entertaining. The characters are engaging (especially the beetles!), and there is plenty of action. We also learned quite a bit about different types of beetles and their elytra (hard protective sheath wings).

In fact, it’s the kind of book that makes you want to befriend a beetle. We’re looking forward to the next two books in the trilogy.

Book Review: The Wild Robot

Screen Shot 2017-04-12 at 1.48.19 PMThe Wild Robot is a charming tale of a robot who washes ashore on an island inhabited only by animals. Larrabee and I took turns reading it aloud to each other.

It’s an easy read with short chapters. It took us a little while to get into it, and Larrabee first pronounced it “a little weird.” But he chuckled when Roz the robot addressed the opossum politely as “Madam marsupial,” and he laughed out loud when she invited all the animals to leave their droppings in her garden. Brightbill the gosling and Chitchat the squirrel won him over. And by the time the RECOs arrived to retrieve Roz, he was riveted.

The Wild Robot is author and illustrator Peter Brown‘s first novel. It contains charming illustrations (like the one on the cover) throughout. Larrabee and I are fans of Brown’s picture books, especially My Teacher Is a Monster!

I recently wrote a craft review of this book for the Middle Grade Lunch Break blog. I hope you’ll check it out.

Book Review: The Abracadabra Kid

Screen Shot 2017-03-06 at 10.00.53 PMThe Abracadabra Kid: A Writer’s Life is the autobiography of Newbery Award-winning author Sid Fleischmann. In addition to writing dozens of books, Fleischman worked as a magician, a journalist, and a screenwriter in a long and eventful life.

The book has a colloquial tone. It’s like being told stories by an older relative who tells really good stories. Fleischman tells about taking his magic show on the road around Lake Tahoe during the Depression in a car bought for $35, avoiding floating mines in the Pacific while serving on a naval destroyer escort during World War II, and setting off the foghorns in the San Francisco Bay with fog machines while filming Blood Alley starring John Wayne and Lauren Bacall.

He also shares a lot of stories about where he got the ideas for his novels. I was particularly interested his tales about his California Gold Rush novel, By the Great Horn Spoon!, which Blaine read and enjoyed in the 4th grade.

French dropI read The Abracadabra Kid aloud to Larrabee, hoping to encourage him to write. While he definitely took note of Fleischman’s writing tips, so far the book has mainly inspired him to pull out his book of coin tricks and practice his French drop. He’s not quite ready to take that show on the road, though.

We both liked the book. Thank you to Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators friend Kristi Wright for the recommendation!

Book Review: The Girl Who Drank the Moon

screen-shot-2017-02-06-at-8-54-49-pmThis year’s Newbery award winner is Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon. Larrabee and I just finished reading it aloud.

The Newbery Medal is awarded by the Association for Library Service to Children for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. Recent winners include other favorites of mine, such as The Crossover and The One and Only Ivan.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon is an unusual book with a lyrical, fairytale quality. Larrabee and I loved the characters, especially Fyrian, the Perfectly Tiny Dragon who thinks he’s Simply Enormous, and Xan, the fearsome Witch in the forest who’s actually kind. We were also intrigued by the magic.

I recommend reading this book aloud. It’s a long, complex story with several threads that all come together at the end, and its mysteries are revealed slowly. I think Larrabee might have had trouble following the story if he’d tried reading it to himself. It would make a better independent read for grades 5 and up.

Book Review: The Crimson Skew

screen-shot-2017-01-12-at-1-45-06-pmBlaine and I finally finished The Crimson Skew, the last book in S.E. Grove’s Mapmakers Trilogy. The novels are lengthy, and our read aloud time is limited, so we’ve been on this fantastical journey for a long time. Coming to the conclusion was bittersweet.

As I mentioned my review of the first book, The Glass Sentence, the premise of this trilogy is that the Great Disruption of 1799 flung the world’s continents into different historical periods. In the first book, we meet 13-year-old Sophia, a Boston resident and niece of a famous cartologist, and Theo, a refugee from the Baldlands with a mysterious past.

In the second book, The Golden Specific, Sophia and Theo are accidentally separated. Sophia travels to the Papal States (medieval Europe) in search of her missing parents. There she meets new allies, learns more about the Ages, and finds a new map. Meanwhile, Theo stays in 1892 Boston and attempts to discover who murdered the Prime Minister.

In The Crimson Skew, while Sophia continues her search for her parents, she and her friends must journey to the Eerie Sea to obtain a special memory map that may prevent a war between New Occident and the Indian Territories.

When we finished the book, Blaine commented: “It’s a good thing that memory maps aren’t real because you’d be obsessed with them. And you already take enough pictures of our vacations.” That’s quite true, but, all the same, I wish memory maps were real.

The publisher recommends this trilogy for fans of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, and I agree. That reminds me. I should find my copy of The Golden Compass for Blaine…

Book Review: The One and Only Ivan

screen-shot-2016-12-13-at-1-40-09-pmIf you’re looking for a book that will tug at your heartstrings, pick up a copy of The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.

Ivan, the book’s narrator and main character, is a gorilla, a silverback. He’s also an artist and a loyal friend to the other animals at the Big Top Mall. And he has a way with words. His musings have the ring of poetry.

I tried to read this book aloud to Larrabee. But each time we sat down to read, I would barely get through two chapters before I was reaching for the box of tissues. Finally, Larrabee insisted on taking over the reading duties.

This book is inspired by the life of a real gorilla. It’s a complex story simply told. Despite the tears along the way, it left me with a smile.


Christmas (Book) Traditions

img_5379Deck the halls with boughs of…  Wait, the Christmas books are in this box? So much for decorating. It’s time to read!

Larrabee started with our new addition from last year:  Olivia Helps with Christmas by Ian Falconer. Then, O Little Town of Bethlehem by Ron Berry, caught his attention with its music and lights. And he read Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert E. Barry out loud to me. I’ve been reading that one at Christmas time as long as I can remember.

We’ll save The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore for Mark to read aloud on Christmas Eve. That’s a tradition.

My personal favorite of all the books in the box is How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss. I can practically recite it from memory. No Christmas would be complete for me without chimbleys, Whos’ mouses, and roast beast. The Grinch just puts me in the Christmas spirit. Maybe I’ll watch the cartoon version before I finish decorating… Now that’s a wonderful, awful idea.

Book Review: Bird and Squirrel on Ice

img_9457Larrabee enjoyed Bird & Squirrel on Ice so much that as soon as he finished reading it to himself, he read it aloud to me.

Bird & Squirrel on Ice is the second in a series of graphic novels written and illustrated by James Burks. Larrabee liked all three, but this one is his favorite.

The books feature best friends, Bird and Squirrel. They’re an “opposites attract” pair reminiscent of other favorites of mine such as Frog & Toad or Elephant & Piggie. Bird never thinks before he acts. Squirrel is a cautious worrier.

In this adventure, they end up at the South Pole where they help a group of penguins defeat a killer whale. The book features an engaging story and lots of humorous dialogue.

Retelling Cinderella

screen-shot-2016-10-12-at-2-52-20-pmI love retellings of fairy tales, myths, and other familiar stories. By mixing well-known plot elements with a new setting, genre, or perspective, an author gives us a story that is both comfortingly recognizable and surprising.

My favorite type of retelling is the “inside scoop” variety. The story that tells you what really happened.

So I was intrigued by the opening of The Rat Prince by Bridget Hodder:

“When you hear the tale of Cinderella, do you ever wonder about the rats who were turned into coachmen by her fairy godmother?… Now settle yourselves in comfort, and be sure you’ve plenty of provisions upon which to nibble, for you are about to hear the true story from Cinderella herself… and from me. My name is Char. In former days, they called me the Rat Prince.”

Larrabee will be the first to admit that he’s no expert on Cinderella. He’s seen the Disney movie, of course. And he loved Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine this summer–although he was well into the book before he realized it was a Cinderella story. Recently, his 2nd grade class read two very different Cinderella stories–Trollerella by Karen Stegman-Bourgeois and Bubba, the Cowboy Prince by Helen Ketteman.

He agreed to read The Rat Prince with me, and we both enjoyed it. Prince Char of the Northern Rat Realm is an excellent addition to the story–and a worthy hero. Who knew that the rats in the castle were such interesting characters?