Tag Archives: early chapter books

Morgan on Ice

3 Feb

Today’s book review is for Morgan on Ice, written by Ted Staunton, illustrated by Bill Slavin, published by Formac Publishing. This book is scheduled to be released on March 1, 2014. I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Morgan on Ice book cover

Morgan on Ice is part of Formac’s “First Novels” line, which are early chapter books targeted at 6-9 year old children. Morgan is a boy. I mention this because until I reached the end of chapter 2, I had thought Morgan was a tomboy. So, Morgan is a boy who has to spend a lot of time with a girl he doesn’t much like, Aldeen, who is a family friend. She has invited him to see a Princesses on Ice show, and Morgan’s mother accepted the invitation. But Morgan isn’t interested in princesses and he doesn’t like ice skating. When he gets invited to the Monster Truck show by another friend, Morgan does all he can to weasel out of his engagement with Aldeen.

I struggled to make my way through this book. While I’m obviously not the target audience, often I enjoy reading books for this age range. Staunton’s prose was just tedious. The book is written in the first person from the perspective of the protagonist, Morgan. I think that Morgan is supposed to be sympathetic, but he came across as whiny. A lot of the narrative focuses on what Morgan doesn’t like, which leaves him a bit flat as a character. He never really develops, either. I’m not even sure what the takeaway message for the book was supposed to be: ice skating is better than monster truck rallies?

Slavin’s black and white illustrations have a lot of movement and a playful style. However, often details get lost in an excess of line/scribble shading. It might be an issue of scale–perhaps if the images were larger, this wouldn’t be a problem. But as they were, they came across as too busy; my eye never knew where to focus.

None of it worked for me, so I’m going with 1 out of 5 stars. This book was mediocre, tedious, and pointless. Maybe I could have even forgiven the lack of any real character development or message if the book had been entertaining. But it wasn’t.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

Dream Birthday

15 Jan

Today’s book review is for Dream Birthday, by Ruby Ann Phillips, published by Picture Window Books (an imprint of Capstone Young Readers. This book is scheduled for release on February 1, 2014. I received a free electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Dream Birthday book cover

Krystal Ball is a fairly typical fourth grader, except for one thing. She’s a fortune teller. She’s great at predicting the future, but she’s not always so good at interpreting her visions. Her birthday is coming up and she’s ready to have an amazing party. The problem is, she keeps having horrible nightmares. In this installment of a new series for 6-8 year olds, Krystal will learn that even things look grim, there can still be a silver lining.

Phillips does an excellent job in her first person narration of capturing the voice of a nine-year old girl. Initially, I was unsure about whether I liked the narrative style–but as I read more, I realized that it was perfect for the target audience. The voice was believable, friendly and inviting. It is crafted in such a way as to engage young readers and draw them into the mysteries of the story.

I enjoy that Krystal has solid relationships not just with her parents, but also with her grandmother. The multi-generational aspect of the story was nice. Even though Krystal has a special gift, she needs the guidance of her grandmother to understand how to use it. I also like that even though her parents don’t have any psychic abilities, they are understanding of their daughter and encourage her to spend time with her grandmother.

For an early chapter book, I actually found the plot pretty engaging. As a reader you get to see the visions that Krystal has. Which means that you also have the opportunity to try to puzzle out what they mean. Even when you suspect the answer, chances are it’s not going to be quite what you thought.

This is exactly the sort of book that I think I would have enjoyed as a young girl. I remember being fascinated with fortune telling and astrology at that age. And Krystal is such a likable character. I could easily see her being someone’s go-to “book friend.” I’m going to give Dream Birthday 4 stars for fun concept, engaging plot, and appropriateness for target audience.

If you’re still not sure, check out the book trailer:

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

My Happy Life

19 Dec

Today’s book review is for My Happy Life, written by Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated by Eva Eriksson, published by Gecko Press. I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

My Happy Life book cover

Dani is starting her first year of school. She is one of the happiest people she knows. Lots of things make her happy. But what makes her happiest is when she makes a best friend, Ella. Ella and Dani do everything together. Then, one day, they find out that Ella is moving away. And Dani doesn’t feel so happy anymore. Slowly, though, things start to happen to bring a little happiness back into her life. My Happy Life is a great early chapter book about friendship, loss, and carrying on with life.

This book was originally published in Swedish, so the English version is a translation. Since I can’t read Swedish and have never seen the Swedish edition of the book, I can’t speak as to how faithful the translation is to the original. But I can say that I enjoyed the writing and the story as it was told. As an easy reader/early chapter book, the language in the text is fairly simple in style. There are words in there that may challenge young readers, but should ultimately be familiar. That’s not to say that the ideas explored are simple. Quite to the contrary–Dani not only confronts the pain of a friend moving away, she also reflects on the death of her mother. She’s able to relate the two experiences, while at the same time recognizing their differences. It struck me, because, although as adults we sometimes forget, children really can be quite sophisticated thinkers.

The black and white illustrations are full of personality. The depictions of Dani and Ella’s interactions capture so much emotion. They brought to mind my own childhood friendships and all of the joy that we found in the simplest of things. Most of all, though, I love the illustrations of the class–when all the kids are together. There is so much activity in these images. There’s also a great sense of humor. The style is perfect for children who are transitioning from picture books to chapter books.

My Happy Life is the sort of book that a child could read on their own, or that a parent could read to their child over several nights. It’s got so many positive messages. The best one being that it encourages kids to count the times they’ve been happy. I’m giving this charming book 4 stars. Parents and children alike will be able to connect with the story.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

Book Review: Ariel Bradley, Spy for General Washington

7 Oct

Today’s book review is for Ariel Bradley, Spy for General Washington, written by Lynda Durrant, illustrated by Joe Rossi, published by Vanita Books. I received an electronic copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Ariel Bradley, Spy for General Washington is an early chapter book based on the true story of a 9-year-old boy who was recruited by George Washington to act as a spy during the American Revolutionary War. When his older brothers come home on leave, Ariel is asked if he can play the “Johnny Raw” (country bumpkin) for General Washington. So begins Ariel’s adventure, where he must enter enemy encampments to gather information about troop numbers, weaponry, horses and conditions–all while pretending to be a country bumpkin in search of a flour mill. Exciting and entertaining, school children are sure to connect with Ariel, and learn some American history along the way.

Durrant does a wonderful job at drawing readers into the story. Rather than get bogged down in descriptions of setting, she opts to instead focus on events and character. I liked this tactic–it kept the story moving forward and didn’t allow time for the mind to wander. Another thing that I enjoyed was that throughout the text, we get to experience Ariel’s confusion, doubts, and fears. Even though he was doing something very important and brave, it was also dangerous. By sharing these insights, Durrant let’s children know that it’s normal to be plagued by doubts and fear, even when you’re doing the right thing.

Rossi’s illustrations are a lot of fun. He blends a modern chariacture-inspired cartoon style with layers of watercolor and digital aging techniques to produce dynamic images. In this way he is able to appeal to his young audience while also capturing the sense of looking back at the past. Rossi is particularly adept at rendering facial expressions in his work. My favorite picture was one of British General Howe, looking particularly stuffy.

The book closes with an afterward detailing additional history about the real Ariel Bradley and what happened to him after his stint as a spy. It also include a short glossary of terms that children might not have known before reading. It’s a nicely designed book–from layout choices to font selection, it has an attractive, high quality appearance.

I think that Ariel Bradley, Spy for General Washington would make an excellent addition to schools and public libraries. It gets 4 out of 5 stars, for strong educational value and solid kid appeal. Plus, it helps show children that they do, in fact, have the power and agency to shape the course of history.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.