Spiral-Bound (Top Secret Summer) by Aaron Reiner, published by Top Shelf Productions
Genre: graphic novel Age: 10 and up Total Pages: 178
Annotation: School's out for summer, and everyone's heading off to summer camp. Everybody has something Top Secret to work on, but, will the Pond Monster destroy the town?
Review: The town is peopled by animals of all sorts—even marine creatures in Bubble-Domed cars filled with water. Everyone has a niche and when summer camp rolls around, Turnip doesn't know what to do. Fortunately, Stucky Hound invites him to a concert, and that's when the fun begins.
This story with the vivid characters and bigger-than-life town deal with issues that are familiar: fitting in, losing friends, growing up, overprotective parents, and terrifying monsters. But, the friendships and sense of adventure carry this story and you don't want to leave this place. This is a great read for all of those juvenile sleuths out there who want to know what the REAL story is.
Booklist raves about this book with its sweet characters which are just like real children: wholesome, but not too sweet. The Booklist review recommends this for fans of Harriet the Spy or Matilda. Those would be great crossovers, but could potentially limit the audience to girls, whereas Spiral-Bound truly is for both boys and girls.
Comicbookgalaxy.com also gave a very favorable review to the book, both for adults looking back upon their childhood, as well as for children actively living it. Comic Book Galaxy's only critique was for the very busy illustration which sometimes provided too much to look at. It's true—the art is very busy. It reminds me of the episodes of Family Circus where the oldest son Billy traces his adventures with the busy map. But, while it could be a negative feature for adults looking for a clean story, the busy-ness of the graphics illustrates the haste of the children in the story. In all, this is a great story about summer adventure.
The Thieves of Ostia by Caroline Laurence, published by Roaring Brook Press
Genre: chapter book, historical fiction, mystery Age: 8-12 Total Pages: 150
Annotation: Flavia just meets her new friends Jonathan, Nubia, and Lupus, when the neighborhood dogs suddenly start dying gruesome deaths. The group must solve the mystery before Scuto winds up dead.
Review: Though completely gruesome in how the dogs die, the book itself is a very pleasant romp through a surprisingly cleaned up Roman empire. Historical fiction in the sense that it takes place in a historic setting, the characters act quite modern—the girls are strong and independent, the parents and nannies are absent, people curl up with scrolls to read, etc. Even so, the book does teach some historical facts such as the practice of slavery, the persecution of religious groups, and the racial diversity of ancient Rome. The book is a fun read and you find yourself cheering on the kids as they race to find the dog-murderer. Because the dogs' deaths are quite disturbing, this would be better for older readers or for children reading along with their parents.
Publisher's Weekly called the story "atmospheric" and praised the book for its description of the "customs, attitudes and class systems of the Roman empire." Similarly, School Library Journal praises the book's description of the attitude and description of the classes in ancient Rome. Both reviews enjoy the mystery and the setting. Publisher's Weekly said the book would be good for ages 9-14, whereas School Library Journal said it would be best for 4th-6th grades. The writing is a little too forced for kids above age 12, though the mystery really is a fun read. This is a good book for older kids looking for a mystery or for a book about Ancient Rome.
Sly the Sleuth and the Pet Mysteries by Donna Jo Napoli and Robert Furrow, published by Dial Books for Young Readers
Genre: chapter book, mystery Age: 6-8 Total Pages: 92
Annotation: When things start going wrong with your pets, you need a detective, only it can't be any detective, but one that will sneak, gather clues, and figure out the answer. Call Sly the Sleuth.
Review: The chapters in this book are very short, perfect for children who are transitioning to chapter books. However, the writing is very choppy which can be a deterrent to an older reader. Even so, Sly is a strong female character who tries to solve mysteries that her cat would care about. When three mysteries about pets show up on her front step, she has to figure them out.
Booklist and School Library Journal both praise the book for its lovable character and the pet-friendly mysteries. Sly is a lovable character and she only solves cases that she thinks her cat would like. This leads her to befriend her neighbors and their pets. It's a sweet book.
Where the Sidewalk Ends: 30th Anniversary Edition by Shel Silverstein, published by HarperCollins
Genre: non-fiction, poetry Age: 5-12 Total Pages: 183
Annotation: A children's poetry classic, Where The Sidewalk Ends is filled with moral lessons disguised as nonsensical poems and illustrations with favorites such as "The Generals" and "Mr. Grumpledump's Song."
Review: The world encased in Where the Sidewalk Ends is place where imagination runs wild and people do silly things. These poems have become childhood classics and with messages about laziness, dirtiness, greed, fighting, etc., they contain lessons that parents want their children to learn. But, with poems filled with belching contests, baby eating, people flying by their hair, etc., they are poems that kids want to read. This is a great foray into the wonderful world of poetry, and if you haven't read anything by Shel Silverstein, this is a good place to start.
The Reading Teacher said that this was an ideal book to have handy; The Barnes and Noble Review called this book part of the canon of children's literature, and that is part of the problem with reviewing it. How can you critique a book that has withstood the test of time in a field where books come and go so quickly? It has endured and the silliness that resonated with current adults as children, continues to resonate with new generations of children.
What Kinds of Seeds Are These? By Heidi Bee Roemer and Olena Kassian, published by Northword
Genre: non-fiction, seeds Age: 4-8 Total Pages: 28
Annotation: How many kinds of seeds can you think of? In What Kinds of Seeds are These?, the authors introduce many different types of seeds with beautiful illustrations and rhythmic text.
Review: This beautiful picture book introduces children to the many varieties of seeds, including some seeds that might be a surprise: coconuts and blackberries come to mind. The pictures are beautiful and the book is worth reading just to enjoy them.
Both School Library Journal and Booklist praise the book for its riddle-style text that keeps kids guessing and interacting with the text. They also point out that the book has extension activities, which would make it a good book for a unit on seeds or plants. Booklist suggests that this book might be more appropriate for urban kids who might not understand the relationship between seeds and plants. This is a good suggestion and the rhythm of the text would make it a great read aloud.