Author/Illustrator: Daniel Pinkwater
My rating: 3.5 of 5
One day, while his parents are out, Ned Feldman notices a noise beneath his kitchen sink. Upon investigating, he finds a strange little man claiming to be a spaceship captain–also claiming that his spaceship is occupying the same space as Ned’s kitchen sink! He invites Ned to come in and take a quick trip with him. And what do you know, it actually is a spaceship–a pirate spaceship, although the captain is not exactly the most scary pirate around. Ned and Captain Bugbeard encounter all kinds of interesting things in space, even giant chickens and a yeti!
Ned Feldman, Space Pirate is one of Daniel Pinkwater’s older adventures for younger kids. And I must say, it’s classic Pinkwater. The story is absolutely, ridiculously off-the-wall in the best possible way. The characters and situations are so absurd that you find yourself just accepting them in spite of yourself . . . it’s that kind of story. But definitely a fun read. Also, it’s nice in that it’s written for elementary-age children and would be appropriate for a younger reading level. Pinkwater’s illustrations fit the quirky style of the story perfectly, making the story even funnier than it already is. I would absolutely recommend Ned Feldman, Space Pirate for anyone who enjoys zany adventure stories, and especially for younger children and for anyone who already has enjoyed other books by Daniel Pinkwater–he really is a fantastic author.
Author: Mo Willems
Illustrator: Tony DiTerlizzi
My rating: 5 of 5
Diva is a tiny dog who takes her responsibilities in guarding 11 avenue Le Play very seriously–by barking sharply and running to hide every time feet approach. Flea is a large, adventurous flâneur of a cat who has seen everything there is to see in Paris and is still looking for more. One day, Flea wanders by Diva’s yard, and the two gradually begin striking up a friendship, one that will surprise and delight the both of them.
So, I pretty much died of cuteness overload before I ever opened the cover of The Story of Diva and Flea, and the entire book is just as adorable. Actually, the book design is exceptional with nice, thick paper, a gorgeous cover, and lovely page layouts and type styles throughout. I should note that this isn’t actually a picture book; it’s something like a (really classy) chapter book with illustrations. And the story is just precious, with lovable, interesting characters and some solid life-lessons that are easily picked up through the story but aren’t forced. The prose is elegant also, simple enough (for the most part) to be readable by younger readers, yet never over-simplified or stilted. I would highly recommend The Story of Diva and Flea as a read-aloud book to younger children, an early reader for children who are starting to want a challenge, and as a perfectly adorable story for pet-lovers of all ages.
Author/Illustrator: Maurice Sendak
Pierre was a little boy who couldn’t be bothered to care about anything. His apathy was such a problem that his parents really didn’t know what to do with him . . . to the extent that they eventually left him to his own devices. One day when Pierre is by himself, still not caring, something awful happens. In fact, that something is so awful that Pierre might never not care again–assuming he survives the experience.
Pierre: A Cautionary Tale is and is not what I would expect from Sendak’s writing. Really, it’s a fable of sorts–a 5-chapter easy-reader tale with a moral. I think it definitely shows its age (copyright 1962), but it’s almost as though it’s intentionally old-fashioned. The art is rough, stylized pen drawings with partial colorization–again, old-fashioned looking, but full of character as well. And the story fits along those same lines: wry, old-fashioned, simple, but rather quirky. I think the use of some verse and some straight prose, sort of mixed together, gives the tale an interesting flow. I think Pierre would be an interesting story for children who are just learning to read to try for themselves, and also a funny reminder for us all to care.
Author: Judith Viorst
Illustrator: Lane Smith
Following her adventures with the Brontosaurus (see Lulu and the Brontosaurus), Lulu is, well, a less obnoxious child, at least. But she still wants what she wants when she wants it, so when her parents tell her absolutely no, they can’t afford what she wants and she’ll have to work to get it herself, Lulu finds herself in a bit of a quandary. Still, she’s nothing if not stubborn and determined. A little advertising and asking around gets her a job walking three of the neighbors dogs. Now if only she had the slightest idea how to manage dogs. And if only the one person willing to teach her weren’t the neighborhood’s worst do-gooder ever!
I found Lulu Walks the Dogs to be quite entertaining. It’s really more of an easy reader/early- to mid-elementary level, but it’s a fun story for any age. I can relate to Lulu in her distaste for Fleischman the goody-two-shoes who only wants to help–I’m the sort who can never get through Little Lord Fauntleroy because I want to puke! But in spite of having a bratty main character, Viorst brings out ideas like working together and being polite even when you don’t feel like it–or even like the person you’re trying to be polite to. It also brings up the idea of entrepreneurship, which you don’t see much of at this reading level–I have mixed feelings about this, as I think commercialism and mercenary ideas are too prevalent in society anyhow, but I do think it’s important for kids to learn to work for things they want. It’s a good discussion book in that regard. Plus it’s just plain fun, between the author’s tongue-in-cheek style and Lulu’s distresses with the dogs. The art’s fun and fitting too–Lane Smith is fantastic! Lulu Walks the Dogs is an entertaining and unusual story that’s definitely on my recommended list.
Author: Jane Yolen
At the age of eight, the nameless boy has been abandoned in the forest for nearly a year. That year of living along with only the wild animals around, struggling on his own to survive, has left the boy more wild animal than human. Still, when a man comes into the woods to train his hawk, something stirs in the boy–to the extent that he secretly follows the man home.
Passager was (as I’ve said before, all Jane Yolen books are) an excellent read–sparse, yet with an unexpected warmth. Theoretically, this is the tale of the great wizard Merlin’s youth, but there’s almost no hint that it is so in this book–just the fact that the boy names himself “Merlin” at the end and a few bits of people whispering mysteriously about his destiny. This is the first of a trilogy though, so there’s probably more wizardly development later. I’m looking forward to it. As it is, Passager is simply a beautiful tale, a very human story. Of note, the chapters are quite short, and the vocabulary is decently manageable (not “Bob saw the cat” easy, by any means, but still). Passager would be a good choice for a developing reader, although I would recommend it for anyone.
Author: Judy Blume
Illustrator: Sonia O. Lisker
My rating: 4 of 5
Andrew desperately wants freckles–if he had them, his mom couldn’t tell if he hasn’t washed behind his ears! When Sharon, his obnoxious but enterprising classmate, finds out about his desire for freckles, she has the perfect solution . . . or so she claims. She can sell him a “proven” recipe to give him freckles, if he’s willing to pay the price.
Freckle Juice is a classic kid story that I remember reading when I was pretty young myself. The characters are believable, and the plot moves well–and is enough off the beaten path to be appealing. The reading difficulty and content are appropriate for an early elementary reader, although I think the appeal of Freckle Juice is broader than that, if only for the sake of nostalgia. I also appreciate that the story has a point yet avoids being didactic; rather, it allows the reader to come to his own conclusions. Overall, this is a good story, especially for early readers.
Author: Judith Viorst
Illustrator: Lane Smith
My rating: 5 of 5
Lulu, vol. 1
Lulu is a brat, there’s no way around it–a brat who gets whatever she wants. But when she decides she wants a pet brontosaurus for her birthday, her world gets shaken up a bit. After the shock of hearing “no” for once, Lulu decides to set out to find a pet brontosaurus for herself. What will she do when the brontosaurus decides he wants a little girl for a pet?
This is an adorable, creative chapter book. The story is cute and original. Throughout, Viorst makes excellent use of repetition and themes with variations. The ending(s) are also a fun twist. Smith’s illustrations complement the story marvelously, and the fun layouts and font combinations add just the right touch. Lulu and the Brontosaurus is a satisfying read that I would recommend, particularly to beginning readers.