Friday, July 20, 2018

Book review - Pizzasaurus Rex

Title: Pizzasaurus Rex
Author: Justin Wagner
Genre: graphic novel
Similar books: Sci-Fu by Yehudi Mercado
                      Wrapped Up by Dave Scheidt
rather odd

Summary (provided by publisher): Meet Jeremy Duderman, the most extremely awesome scientific mind of his generation. Too bad everyone’s too busy bullying him or just generally disliking him to realize it. But that all ends today.  Jeremy has invented the Reality Alternative Dimensionator (R.A.D. for short), a device that allows Rex Raditude, the Pizzasaurus, to enter our dimension. He’s a guitar-shredding, pizza-loving party animal with only one thing on his mind: BEING TOTALLY RAD, DUDE. But is that enough to stop Emperor Buzzkill and his horde of hapless minions who are bent on ending pizza parties, skateboarding, and all things rad?  And can poor, pitiful Jeremy Duderman, quite possibly the dorkiest dude in the universe, help Rex in defeating them?

My opinion: At face value, this feels like a comic I'd have seen in the mid 90s, what with the popped collar and high tops wearing dinosaur and the focus on being "rad". Lots of dated slang. Clearly, Wagner is playing with genre and expectations. It's a borderline spoof. The plot is relatively complete, just ridiculous and bearing some plot points that come rather out of left field. There's certainly an audience for this book but I feel like it's a narrow one.

More information: Pizzasaurus Rex releases July 24.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Pick 6: Survival stories

Ever since reading Gary Paulsen's Hatchet, I've been a fan of books about struggles to stay alive. Talking with middle grade readers, I know I'm not alone in this preference. Publishing companies know this too. Book catalogues tend to feature at least one survival story. Here are six new stories of survival published in the last six months.

6 new survival novels

1. Big Water by Andrea Curtis

2. Chasing Helicity by Ginger Zee

3. Running on the Roof of the World by Jess Butterworth

4. Blood Will Out by Jo Tregiani

5. Wild Blues by Beth Kephart

6. Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe by Jo Watson Hackl

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Book review - Megabat

Title: Megabat
Author: Anna Humphrey
Genre: magical realism/early chapter book
Similar books: Under the Bed Fred by Linda Bailey
                      Tales from Deckawoo Drive by Kate DiCamillo
maybe a little too weird

Summary (provided by publisher):
Daniel Misumi has just moved to a new house. It's big and old and far away from his friends and his life before. AND it's haunted . . . or is it?
Megabat was just napping on a papaya one day when he was stuffed in a box and shipped halfway across the world. Now he's living in an old house far from home, feeling sorry for himself and accidentally scaring the people who live there.
Daniel realizes it's not a ghost in his new house. It's a bat. And he can talk. And he's actually kind of cute.
Megabat realizes that not every human wants to whack him with a broom. This one shares his smooshfruit.
Add some buttermelon, juice boxes, a lightsaber and a common enemy and you've got a new friendship in the making!

My opinion: The new kid struggling to find his place plot can be hard to keep fresh, especially for a very young audience. I can't say that it would have ever occurred to me to parallel the new kid with a talking fruit bat. It's a rather odd twist but works surprisingly well, as the desire to help the bat transitions Daniel into a friendship. Now, that doesn't make the plot any less strange. It takes some decidedly bizarre turns. Additionally, there's a conflict, that with the "common enemy" of the description, that felt like a missed opportunity. Characters are fairly flat. Still, it could be a solid choice for kids open to a truly unique experience.

More information: Megabat releases August 7.
Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Monday, July 16, 2018

Wilber revisited

In February, I posted about a former marionette I as updating, Wilber the camel. At the time, I wasn't sure what form he would take as a puppet. I've since decided that he really is too big to be practical as a marionette. I'm simply not that tall. Instead, I've given him a head rod made out of an old knitting needle and a back support handle, repurposed from a leggings hanger.

You may notice, he now also sports leg warmers. Not pictured: a cowboy hat

I've wrapped his head rod in a layer of duct tape to give it a better grip
This makes him a sort of combination rod puppet/pseudo marionette. It's taking a little bit of messing around to figure out how best to make him move. Expect video some time in the near future.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Book review - The Dollar Kids

Title: The Dollar Kids
Author: Jennifer Richard Jacobson
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: The Unforgettable Guinevere St Clair by Amy Makechnie
                      Lemons by Melissa Savage
gentle, but with depth

Summary (provided by publisher): Twelve-year-old Lowen Grover, a budding comic-book artist, is still reeling from the shooting death of his friend Abe when he stumbles across an article about a former mill town giving away homes for just one dollar. It not only seems like the perfect escape from Flintlock and all of the awful memories associated with the city, but an opportunity for his mum to run her very own business. Fortunately, his family is willing to give it a try. But is the Dollar Program too good to be true? The homes are in horrible shape, and the locals are less than welcoming. Will Millville and the dollar house be the answer to the Grovers’ troubles? Or will they find they’ve traded one set of problems for another?

My opinion: I like a number of the elements in this book. I like seeing this severely economically depressed town, the levels of poverty and desperation. These are folks barely getting by but they still have their pride. They love their town and their traditions. They resent the need for help and the people who are providing it, giving context to their treatment of the Dollar families. And I appreciated that while the new families introduce a new level of diversity, they don't come in and teach the small town people a better way of life. They're not opening the town's ignorant eyes. If anything, they're all learning from each other. They're all learning new ways to approach life. I struggle with some of the plot elements, which I found a bit too convenient, and some characterization quirks that seemed from the wrong time period. Most of the plot focuses on finding your place in a new town, but the heavier topics of grief and guilt don't get forgotten.

More information: The Dollar Kids releases August 7.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Picture books for everyone

Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester

Tacky has been one of my favorite picture books for years now. It will always be one of my favorite read-alouds. The plot is straightforward enough for the very young to understand. There is enough humor to appeal to even more cynical older kids. For the adult reading the book aloud, there are myriad opportunities to play with the narration. Personally, I love to contrast the way I narrate Tacky's actions and choices with those of his companions and to affect a gruff voice for the hunters' chant. This book delights every young audience I've shared it with. And if young readers enjoy this book, Lester has written several other Tacky books, each with it's own focus and source of humor. Please, if you haven't yet discovered the joys of Tacky, find a copy ASAP.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Non fiction book review - Brush Pen Illustrations

Brush Pen Illustration by Sho Ito

Step by step guides for art are a tricky thing. On the one hand, you want clear directions. On the other hand, if the directions are too detailed it can narrow your focus, causing the reader to learn only how to draw a few particular items. The nice thing about this brush pen book is that it first teaches the reader a few key stroke styles. Each illustration, then, shows you how to combine those key strokes to create a particular image. A creative person can extend those concepts out to other images. There's also a guide to brush pen styles, but I found that to be a little narrow-focused. It addressed the disposition and options for a few sizes of pens in particular brands. Still, I look forward to trying out these techniques with my own brush pens.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.