0 10/10/2012 reviews Books

Scholastic Decoder: October 2012

October! Wow, we’re already right into the school year by now, with fall falling and temperature dropping with it, too. Brrr! At least we can curl up with some good books – there is some good solid stuff this month. Let’s take a look…

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Llama Llama pack - I haven’t seen the new one, but the three in the pack, I have at home. They are, frankly, less great for parents, but perfectly pitched for toddlers, who tend to love them. They each centre around times when little Llama loses it for various reasons, and in each case, mama reassures him without giving in. these were on last month as well, so they may be up more often this year.
Bat Jamboree - I enjoy these bat counting books, which are not spooky, but good fun. The illustrations are cute, even a touch silly, and the whole is a fun package.
**Eric Carle concepts pack – Carle is great at winding concepts into stories, as he does in The Grouchy Ladybug, and From Head to Toe is a fun movement book, which I use as a stretch, and also teaches body parts. Carle is a favourite author of many great books, and a frequent author study.
Character Traits Pack – I generally don’t like books that seek to teach children about manners, and so on, as they tend to be no fun and are often badly written. In this case, however, we have a pack of books that are each good reads in their own right, which have been selected to demonstrate qualities rather than being written to that purpose. These are a nice bunch of titles!
**Interrupting Chicken – this very silly Caldecott honour book is great fun for a read-aloud and sharing, and a hit whenever I’ve read it. A little chicken keeps interrupting his dad, who tries to read him a bedtime story, until the tables are turned. Definitely a top pick!
**Pirates Ahoy! Pack – When a gang of pirates appear in a young boy’s life, it’s mayhem, hidden treasure, and lots of laughs. David Shannon’s illustrations kick up the comedy, and the whole is a perfect read-aloud for the pirate-obsessed kid.
Alexander Pack – Alexander keeps having things go awfully wrong, and he reacts, like any kid, in ways that are not always productive. Fortunately, even if his brothers make things worse, his mom helps out, and he also discovers that tomorrow is another day. These are classic fare for kids on the upper end of this range and even into SeeSaw territory.
Peter’s Chair – Who doesn’t love Ezra Jack Keats? This story about Peter sees the impending arrival of a new little sister, and we see how Peter has to come to terms with not being the centre of everything. Eventually, he embraces the big brother role, and helps prepare. It’s sweet, simple, and bang on – another winning title from Keats, of The Snowy Day fame.
Folk & Fairy Tales Pack – I’m a big fan of folk and fairy tales for kids, and this pack has a good range of takes on them, including some nice straightforward versions, as well as the hilarious James Marshall take on Cinderella.

SeeSaw
Spooky Counting Pack - as in Elf, I enjoy these bat counting books, which are not spooky, but good fun.
The illustrations are cute, even a touch silly, and the whole is a fun
package.
**Doctor De Soto – I love this book. Steig is a master storyteller, and this tale of the little mouse dentist who foils a foxes plans for him is a really wonderful one that suits kids in a wide range of ages.
Make Way for Ducklings – Another classic, this story of a pair of ducks looking for a place to settle with their ducklings is so beloved that there is a statue in Boston of the family of fowl! A longer story, and the illustrations, being older, are black-and-white, but it’s a terrific one for reading aloud together.
**Silly Pigeon – If you don’t know the pigeon books yet, you really, really should. They are silly, ridiculous, and hilarious, and kids LOVE them. Be prepared to read this out loud many times and to get as goofy as you can. These were on last month, too, so they might turn out to be frequent flyers this year.
Leo Lionni Pack – Lionni is another fantastic author, and you can’t go wrong with him. Alexander is one of my favourites, one I remember from when I was a kid, and has a really timeless, fairy-tale quality about it. These also have a nice theme of being who you are that is not hammered home, but comes across in the story nicely.
David Shannon Pack – This is another set of silly favourites that make kids howl. David gets in lots of trouble, which kids love, but they always end on a sweet note as affirmation that makes it all okay. I love Shannon’s illustrations, and kids never fail to scream with laughter over the page with the bare bum, as you can imagine… Two of these were on last month’s too, so again, they may show up more often and get moved to the repeaters section.
**Where the Sidewalk Ends – I’m a huge fan of Silverstein’s poetry, though not so much of his stories. This has been an enduring favourite of mine and many others, and is packed full of fun, silly, a occasionally wise verses that make for great reading together now, and something they can read on their own as they get older.
Sheep in a Jeep – For the younger end of this age range, this book about sheep that crash is told in extremely spare rhymes, with few words in the entire text. What really makes it, though, it the illustrations, which pick up on facial expressions and body language just perfectly.
TOON First Comic Reader pack – If you’re a fan of graphics, these are for the earliest readers, and the subject matter is well-matched to that level, as well. Cute, easy to read, these are a nice way for kids to get started.
Mouse Soup – I love Arnold Lobel’s little story books. Famous for Frog and Toad, he also has a pair of books of mouse stories which are big hits in my house – I was reading one tonight, in fact. In this book, a series of tiny little stories are framed up inside the story of a mouse who talks his way out of being eaten. Great for reading in little snippets.
Repeaters
The Magic Tree House- I’m not always a fan of big series for kids, although they very
definitely serve a purpose. They are by nature formulaic, and often not
well-written. These definitely follow a formula, but the writing is
better than it has to be, and the various times and places visited give
kids a nice little taste of history and different cultures, which I
like. Not only does it broaden their schema, but interested kids can go
and learn more, making it a nice bridge between fiction and non-fiction.
This is a gigantic series, so watch for various different sets and
packs as well as single new titles in pretty much every month throughout
the year.

Lucky
E-Mergency - Letter E is hurt and another letter needs to take over her duties so she can heal! This book is filled, absolutely stuffed, with little details and silly puns and asides from the letter characters. It also plays on replacing the letter e in all the words, so between these things, it can be a challenge to read, but it is great fun to share.
Simon Seymour Human Body Pack - these are a perfect example of excellent non-fiction. Seymour is well-known for large, gorgeously-photographed books with nicely-presented information. There is a lot of non-fiction in here this month, in fact, and it’s a good option for a kid who likes to browse or isn’t drawn to stories. Lots of boys, in fact, are for more drawn to non-fiction – let them enjoy that!
A to Z Mysteries - This series does, as the name suggests, have a mystery for each letter. Nicely pitched for grades 2-3, these are fairly popular and will work well for a kid who likes mysteries.
**Officer Buckle and Gloria - This is a favourite picture book of mine, about a policeman who is teamed up with a very unusual dog who changes the course of things and in the end, becomes his buddy. It’s funny, clever, and filled with details that mean you see something new in successive readings. Wonderful for sharing.
Winnie-the-Pooh - Do I even need to say? So classic, but so much denser and rich in language than you might remember from when you were a kid, it’s a perfect one for reading aloud.
Esio Trot - The incomparable Roald Dahl. Darkly funny, always filled with odd magic and bizarre characters, this is a really good introcduction to the author best known for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
**Socks and Ribsy Pack - Beverly Cleary, of Ramona fame, has a few other books about animals, including these, about a cat and a dog. Ribsy is part of Ramona’s world, belonging to her neighbour, Henry, but this isn’t really a Ramona book. If you have a kid who loves animals, these would be a good place to start feeding that.
Tops & Bottoms - This trickster tale is another favourite of mine. A clever hare tricks his neighbour, a lazy bear, over and over, until he has gathered enough crops from bear’s field to pay off a debt and buy back his own land.
Repeaters – there are lots of repeaters in this age group, when series become BIG.
Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! - Similar to the Guinness World Records book, this large browsing
book contains a bizarre and magnificent assortment of oddities like
those that made the museum famous.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid - This series has been wildly popular with kids from about grade 2 up to
grade 6, even among the most reluctant of readers, who appreciate its
humour and its half-graphic format. It’s an easy read, and his school
troubles resonate with kids. The pack is on frequent offer, and the new
one is also on offer alone here.
Big Nate - This series is the natural successor to the Wimpy Kids books, having a
similar half-graphic format, school setting, and kid who gets into
scrapes. They are, perhaps, a little brattier, but the same kids who
love Wimpy Kid are eating these up, so if it’s all your kid wants to
read, it may be worth picking up this month or pretty much any other
month.
Magic School Bus – These are great books, and kids love them. They mesh factual information with fun adventures that a class goes on with their wacky teacher and her magic bus. The kids are consistent characters, and each has a personality that you come to know. There are lots of little extra bits with factoids, little jokes, and so on that makes it fun for kids to peruse on their own, as well.
Magic Tree House - see SeeSaw repeaters

Arrow
Star Wars Origami - Star Wars, origami. All good. Oh, and origami is good for math and spatial skills, and could keep a kid busy for a while, and oh, I may as well jsut admit I want this because it looks really, really cool and I so want to be able to fold a little paper Yoda.
***Maniac Magee - This Newbery winner about a young boy with a past who runs into a town, changes lives, and leaves again is a prime example of an award-winner with wide appeal, and more difficult to find in these, it’s boy-friendly. A really good read about a quirky character, as most of Spinelli’s books are.
Bridge to Terabithia - This modern classic is an excellent book filled with fantasy and a magic all its own, but parents should know that it does involve the death of a child, particularly one who is a best friend.
Bud, Not Buddy –
Amulet - This is the fifth installment of this graphic novel series. I’m not usually much of a graphic reader, but I am loving this series for its gorgeous art as well as the heart in the story, which is essentially fantasy.
Scary Stories Pack - these books of ghost stories have been favourites for a generation at least, and are classic, go-to books for campfire and Hallowe’en fare. If you have a kid who likes to get the shivers, these are a sure bet.
Freckle Juice - Judy Blume writes great stuff for kids – you might remember this
yourself, because it is an oldie but goodie. Aimed at grades 2-4, it is a
great read-aloud or read-alone for kids who are just into chapters. This was on Lucky last month, so it may show up again.
How to Eat Fried Worms - This one is a good old standby for a reason – it’s funny, and it gives kids just the right amount of gross-out. having to eat big worms for a bet? YUCK. There’s tension about how the kid is going to solve that problem and manage it, the delightful little frisson when he swallows them, and plenty of laughs about the scheming that goes on on both sides of the betting.
Encyclopedia Brown - Remember these? Little, short mysteries that hinge on a fact that Encyclopedia Brown (not his real name) knows, but someone else doesn’t. You have the chance to guess the answer to each one before flipping to the end of the book to read the solution. For a kid who loves a puzzle, this is really fun.
***The Westing Game - The best. children’s. mystery. ever. I rarely guess in mysteries, and always do with this one. it’s got hidden identities, backstabbing, clues that form a game, and teams competing with each other for the chance at a big payoff. It’s also got a clever kid who knows how to keep a secret and how to be a friend. So good, you guys. if you don’t have this, you should buy it for yourself, if not your kid.
Repeaters
Heroes of Olympus - This is the next series in the same world as Percy Jackson, but with
different characters and quests. I am eager to read these, because the
world of Greek mythology is so rich, I don’t feel that Rick Riordan is
likely to have run out of material.
Guinness Book of World Records - These books are great fun for browsing, and favourites among even the
most reluctant readers, who can find bizarre and fascinating records to
pore over and share with friends. This would make a great gift or a nice
way to hook a kid who doesn’t gravitate toward books naturally.
Bone Collection – Pretty much the Cadillac of kids graphic novels, Bone is popular with kids and adults alike. Funny, with a serious, epic storyline spanning nine books, and drawn with a wonderful attention to detail and obvious cartoon influences, it’s a masterpiece that was originally self-published, and later picked up for publishing in full colour. I’ve heard Jeff Smith speak about what he was doing, and was even more impressed by the level of planning and detail he put into these. Even reluctant readers are eating these up, and I can’t say I’m surprised, they are really, really good.
The Hunger Games Trilogy - I expect these to show up a lot this year, after the massive popularity
of the movie last spring. The books had been huge with teens before
that – and to be honest, that is who I think should be reading them. If
you have a very sophisticated reader, it might be something that you
could read together and talk about, but otherwise, I believe that these
are worth waiting for when kids are old enough to appreciate them.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid - see Lucky repeaters
Percy Jackson Pack – I love this series. The writing moves quickly, the quests are studded
with many mythological monsters, and the overarching storyline is the
stuff of archetype. I highly recommend this series, which grabs readers
and carries along so masterfully that even a lot of reluctant boys at
work have chewed through them. If you don’t want to be paying anything extra for the included trinket, these will come around again without it.
Ripley’s Believe It Or Not - see Lucky repeaters

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