The Fourth Suit

Ridley Larsen is a friend that anyone would want. She’s fierce, loyal, and sharp as a whip. However, her harsh critique puts her friendship with the rest of the Magic Misfits on the rocks, even with the threat of Kalagan—the group’s long-time enemy—hanging over them. 

Nonetheless, the Magic Misfits solve the incidents happening in Mineral Wells, which brings them closer to discovering Kalagan’s hiding spot and his true identity. But Ridley’s temper gets in the way of their hard work. Ridley must work to master her temper so the Magical Misfits can work together. 

Ridley takes the spotlight in this installment of Magic Misfits. A limited third-person perspective lets the reader learn about Ridley’s reasons for her brash attitude and her tumultuous relationship with her mother, who often prioritizes her work over Ridley. Readers will relate to Ridley’s frustration when she doesn’t understand why the others are happy with trusting adults, due to her rocky relationship with her mother. The lack of communication tears apart Ridley’s friendship with the rest of the Magic Misfits. 

Ridley’s distrustful, distant relationship with her mother raises her suspicions towards other adults. She especially doesn’t trust Mr. Vernon, the purveyor of magic goods, because he’s been keeping secrets from the Magic Misfits all summer. The Magic Misfits ask her to trust Mr. Vernon when they find out about the Emerald Group, Vernon’s old network of fellow magicians. Ridley agrees to trust her friends and opens up to them because she realizes that her being impulsive and not listening is making her friendships suffer. 

As the Magic Misfits encounter Kalagan more often, the idea of trust and acceptance comes to a head. Ridley’s mistrust in Vernon halted their progress in stopping the villain, much like Ridley’s distrust of the rest of the Magic Misfits did. Vernon is forced to open up about the truth behind the dissolution of the Emerald Group. Eventually, with everyone’s support and openness, the old and new magician groups can face Kalagan. When Kalagan is defeated and Ridley and her mother reconcile, Ridley learns that you can rely on the people around you to help you become a better friend and a better person.

Occasionally, an omniscient, unnamed narrator chimes in with a recap of the story’s events, which blends in seamlessly with the overall narration. As a bonus, black and white pictures are scattered throughout the novel and help readers visualize the setting and the action scenes. In order to engage the readers more, there are how-to magic tricks sprinkled throughout the story. These sections contain instructions for performing the magic tricks, along with illustrations to reference. Tricks such as transforming a quarter into a penny and turning water into ice are easy to do, but adults are encouraged to help their little ones with these activities. 

The Fourth Suit is a lively and riveting story that gets its energy from the tension of holding onto the past while trying to change for the better. Combined with exceptional narration and detailed descriptions, the striking visuals of various styles complement an incredible story. Readers will enjoy reading about the friendship between Ridley and her friends, and how they patch up their relationship as well as stop Kalagan once and for all. If you are looking for stories about magic, friendship, and secrets, give Magic Misfits: The Fourth Suit a read! Readers who want more action and adventure should also check out The Revenge of Magic by James Riley and Rise of the Dragon Moon by Gabrille K. Byrne.

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language   

  • Carter, one of Ridley’s friends, calls Kalagan a “creep.”
  • Carter refers to Kalagan’s brother as a “lunatic.”

Supernatural 

  • Many of the characters use tricks related to illusions or trickery, such as Ridley’s transformations or Theo’s levitation. They are in no way similar to supernatural magic or the paranormal. 

Spiritual Content 

  • Carter’s uncle says he “did some digging deep in [his] soul” and that he “joined a church group in town.”

Howard Hates Sports

Howard is the youngest member of a large family who loves sports. However, unlike his athletic siblings, Howard hates sports and finds attending his family’s sporting games annoying and boring. Instead of watching the games, he explores the world underneath the bleachers and meets many friends along the way, such as Macho Nacho, Lefty the Shoe, and Rock Hard Soft Pretzel. There, Howard and his friends play a very silly game, and he learns that maybe sports aren’t such a bad thing after all. 

Many readers will find Howard to be a very relatable character. He feels pressured to love sports because of his family, yet he chooses to pursue his own interests. He finds joy through his imagination, using discarded objects to create a game. Although Howard does isolate himself from his family during sporting events, he enjoys playing a game that vaguely resembles the sport of baseball: “If Howard hits one of the balls to the Sticky Spot of No Return, he wins. If he misses the ball all three times, Macho Nacho is the Bleacher League Champion!”

Howard’s adventure under the bleachers teaches readers that differences aren’t a bad thing; in fact, people can discover similarities through their differences. Although Howard hates sports, he still loves his siblings and appreciates their athletic skills and strengths. He doesn’t let his differences impact his view of himself either, as he finds excitement in his own games, which ironically appear much like the sports games he dislikes. Howard Hates Sports acknowledges that while we have many differences, we all share similarities as well. 

Each page of Howard Hates Sports has fun illustrations that add to the book’s quirky charm. Readers will fall in love with the colorful depictions of everyday objects. The book’s simple art style enhances the story’s silly take on the game of baseball. In addition, Howard Hates Sports contains large, easy-to-read text that includes many words bolded and filled in with color. The special font highlights critical moments in the plot. Each page has one to seven sentences; however, beginning readers may need an adult’s help reading the complex sentences. Howard Hates Sports would be fun to read aloud because it includes dialogue, alliteration, and rhyming text. 

Howard Hates Sports is a perfect book for those new to sports. The personification of many ordinary objects, like nacho chips, hotdogs, and shoes, aid the book’s sports theme and serve as lovable side characters; for example, “His old pal, Lefty the Shoe, who lost his partner, Righty, some time ago, holds out a frayed lace to shake Howard’s hand.” These characters enhance the story by offering a splash of humor to keep readers engaged. With its relatable protagonist, silly characters, and engaging illustrations, readers will discover that despite our differences, we can all find similarities between us. Readers who enjoy humorous stories should also add Don’t Throw it to Mo! by David A. Adler to their reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

The Minor Third

Theo Stein-Meyer likes being a part of the Magical Misfits. They had been together since the beginning of summer and have become good friends while helping to protect Mineral Waters from the nefarious troupes that come to town. With his trusty violin bow, Theo completes the team with his levitation skills, his unruffled calm, and proper manners.    

But when a girl named Emily starts to spend more time with the group, Theo is notably drawn to her. They quickly bond over their shared interest in not only magic but also music. Emily appears to understand the pull he feels between music and magic, and between friends and family.  

Then a famous ventriloquist arrives in town, and the Misfits are sure that he is up to no good. When their mentor, Mr. Vernon, unexpectedly gets called out of town and tensions bubble among the friends over their differences, it comes to question if the group can come together to stop another member of the Emerald Ring. Under pressure from both his friends and his family, Theo must make a choice about where—and with whom—he belongs.  

Theo is in the spotlight in this installment of Magical Misfits. A limited third-person perspective lets the reader learn about Theo’s interest in magic and music as well as his struggle to decide whether to practice magic tricks with his friends or perform music with his family. Readers will relate to Theo’s dilemma of having to choose to live up to his family’s expectations for him or be there for his friends. This causes a rift between Theo and his family and deepens the falling-out amongst him and his friends.  

Theo doesn’t want to disappoint his family or friends, especially when both want him to take part in their respective performances for the talent show. His siblings and parents encourage him to play the violin, and whenever he performs with them, he feels like he belongs. On the other hand, his friends support him in practicing magic. Theo feels like he can be himself around his friends too, even with their occasional tiffs. But when his friends realize that the ventriloquist is behind their recent quarrels, they finally mend the cracks in their relationship. With that, the Magic Misfits learn a valuable lesson: friends can overcome any obstacle if they work through the problem together. 

Occasionally, an omniscient unnamed narrator chimes in with a recap of the story’s events, which blends in seamlessly with the overall narration. As a bonus, black and white pictures are scattered throughout the novel and help readers visualize the setting and the action scenes. In order to more fully engage readers, there are how-to magic tricks sprinkled throughout the story. These sections contain instructions for performing the magic tricks, along with illustrations to reference. Tricks such as levitating a roll of bread and making a card rise from one’s palm are easy to do, but adults are encouraged to help with these activities.   

The Minor Third is a lively and riveting story that gets its energy from the tension of being true to oneself while living up to family expectations and dealing with positive peer pressure. Combined with phenomenal narration and vivid descriptions, the striking visuals of various styles complement an incredible story. Readers will enjoy reading about the friendship between Theo and his friends and how they patch up their relationship as well as stop the ventriloquist. If you are looking for stories about magic, friendship, and secrets, give The Minor Third a read! Readers who enjoy Magic Misfits will also enjoy the magical world created in the Kingdom Keepers Series by Ridley Pearson. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Near the vestibule of the magic shop, the Magic Misfits see a person smoking a cigarette. 

Language   

  • Theo’s friend calls him a jerk. 

Supernatural 

  • Many of the characters use tricks related to illusion or trickery, such as Carter’s sleight-of-hand or Theo’s levitation. They are in no way similar to supernatural magic or the paranormal.  

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Secret Society

Mya, Oliver, and Jorge are in the custody of a secret society whose mission is to protect and preserve Poptropica—a mysterious, uncharted island world. These Protectors, as they call themselves, believe that any outside interference with the islands of Poptropica could have catastrophic results on the course of history in the real world.  

As if things aren’t bad enough, Octavian has finally claimed possession of the confounding map, thwarted the society’s attempts to capture him, and is determined to alter the timeline. The trio must join forces with the Protectors and find Octavian before he can go through with his evil plot, or all of human history might be changed—or worse—destroyed! 

The Secret Society introduces new characters and explores questions associated with time travel such as, “Couldn’t you change things for the better?” While some characters believe that time should be changed, others believe no one should attempt to change time. Octavian is an example of how one self-serving person can change history for their own purposes. Octavian purposely erases some historical events in order to keep control of the timeline. Octavinm travels to Mount Vesuvius and saves a group of people from the erupting volcano; however, the story doesn’t reveal why the people are saved or why they are important to Octavian, which is frustrating.   

The book’s complicated plot is somewhat confusing, especially because it lacks information. For example, Octavian wants to destroy the aegis, but it’s unclear what the aegis is or what power the aegis contains. In addition, the conclusion shows the magical map changing and a devastated Octavian says, “You’ve. . .. You’ve undone everything. Now she’s gone forever.” While Octavian clearly cares about a woman, not knowing who she is takes away much of the impact of her being “gone forever.”  

Despite this, the book has many elements that will appeal to readers. Each page has brightly colored illustrations that use fun elements such as onomatopoeia—Krash! Smash! Krak!—as well as comical characters with oversized eyes. The illustrations clearly show the characters’ varying emotions such as annoyance, fear, and confusion. Some of the pages let the illustrations tell the story without text. Other pages contain up to nine sentences that use easy-to-understand vocabulary. However, most of the sentences are super short, which makes the book accessible to reluctant readers. 

In the end, readers who have read the previous books in the Poptropica Series will enjoy the continuing story even if it’s slightly confusing. Plus, readers will be left thinking about the possibility of changing time. Perhaps Mya says it best: “The decision to do nothing is still a decision and if we have the chance to change things for the better shouldn’t we?” 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Octavian changes the timeline and wipes out ancient Egyptian’s entire society. 
  • The kids get stuck in Mount Vesuvius when a volcano erupts. The kids get stuck on a small piece of land that is surrounded by lava. However, they escape. 
  • Octavian and the kids fight over control of the aegis.  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • Both the adults and kids call other people names such as goons, jerk, and runts. 
  • Jorge asks Mya, “Was Oliver always this much of a dweeb?” 
  • Heck is used twice. 
  • Dang is used once.  

Supernatural 

  • A man explains that “Poptropica is a group of islands that have come unstuck from their place in the proper timeline. Interfering with any of them can have massive implications.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Cookie Fiasco

Four friends. Three cookies. One problem.

Hippo, Croc, and the Squirrels are determined to have equal cookies for all! But how? There are only three cookies . . . and four of them! They need to act fast before a nervous Hippo breaks all the cookies into crumbs!

For a fun-filled afternoon, grab cookies, milk, and The Cookie Fiasco! Young readers will giggle their way through the book as they learn a little about math and friendship. When Hippo and his friends argue over who will get to eat the cookies, they debate ways to fairly divide them. Hippo is so nervous that he keeps breaking the cookies and soon, his friends know they need to “solve this problem fast! Our friendship depends on it!” 

The brightly colored animal friends pop off the page and the hilarious dialogue between the friends is wonderfully silly, as are the animal’s facial expressions. Each animal’s quote boxes are drawn in different colors that match the animal; this makes it easy to distinguish which animal is talking. Some pages tell the story with only pictures while other pages have up to four short, simple sentences. Adults should get their animal voices ready because The Cookie Fiasco! is the perfect book to read aloud. 

If you’re looking for a fun book that teaches the importance of sharing, then The Cookie Fiasco! is the book for you! The lovable characters, silly banter, and relatable conflict will make The Cookie Fiasco! a book that young readers will want to read again and again. However, this book is best served with cookies and milk! Too Many Carrots by Katy Hudson is another humorous book that highlights the importance of sharing that young readers will love. 

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language 

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • None

The Lost Treasure of Tuckernuck

Using a unique blend of notes, lists, and classic prose, The Lost Treasure of Tuckernuck tells the story of Bud and Laurie’s quest to find the infamous Tutweiler Treasure. They’re hot (or at least lukewarm) on the trail of scavenger hunt clues, but time is running out as the school board wants to tear down Tuckernuck Hall. Can Bud and Laurie find the treasure before it’s lost forever?

When Bud and Laurie are given gerbil duty at their school, the two accidentally discover the first clue to the Tutweiler Treasure. While the story definitely has some laugh-out-loud funny moments, those are largely overshadowed by subplots that don’t add much to the story. These subplots slow down the action and make it hard to stay engaged in the mystery. For example, the two must avoid an English teacher that wants Laurie to start a poetry club, and, in an effort to find a clue, Bud ends up with a part in the school play. 

Bud and Laurie have relatable conflicts with their parents, their classmates, and each other. While looking for the treasure, Bud (the school outcast) and Laurie (who only has one friend) bond over the clues and the gerbils. The gerbils add an interesting twist to the story that will cause readers to laugh. As the two look for the treasure, Bud and Laurie’s relationship changes from unwilling partners to friends, which adds some heart to the story. However, the two characters are not well-developed which makes them easy to forget. 

The Lost Treasure of Tuckernuck creates a humorous mystery that lacks suspense. The large cast of characters and the many subplots slow the story’s action, which may make it difficult to stay engaged. Because of the nature of the Tuckernuck Treasure, the story contains no violence and instead creates suspense through Bud’s and Laurie’s teachers, classmates, and family. However, readers who are looking for an action-packed mystery should leave The Lost Treasure of Tuckernuck on the shelf. Readers who love the thrill of finding treasure can instead find action and adventure in Addison Cooke and the Treasure of the Incas by Jonathan W. Stokes and Notorious by Gordon Korman.

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language   

  • Crap is used once.
  • Heck is used frequently.
  • Laurie thinks Bud is a “butt-kisser.”
  • There is some name-calling such as lame, moron, and nitwit. 
  • Laurie thinks that one of the teachers is a “bearded English freak.”
  • Laurie says, “I’m such a dork.”
  • Laurie’s friend calls herself a “goober.”
  • “Holy cow” is used as an exclamation twice; “Omigod” is used as an exclamation once.
  • Laurie writes a list of reasons Bud is an idiot. When he says he wants to say the speech at eighth-grade graduation, Laurie thinks, “Eighth-grade graduation, my butt.”
  • One of Laurie’s lists is titled “Boneheaded Statement of the Day by Bud Wallace.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • None

The Lost Expedition

In book two, The Lost Expedition, Oliver, Mya, and Jorge continue their search for home, with a few hilarious stops along the way. As the friends set sail for new sights, they find that Octavian is still hot on their trail, and he’s determined to get his hands on their magical map. To make matters worse, a mysterious organization is keen on expelling the three friends from Poptropica. As the pals travel, they find that each island is filled with its own unique brand of peril, and the mystery surrounding the map and Poptropica itself begins to unfold. Will our trio be able to outfox Octavian and discover the identity of this secret society? 

On this adventure, the kids meet Amazon warriors, have a brief encounter with Shakespeare, and eventually end up on a frozen island. Even though the kids meet some historical figures, the interactions are so short that there are no historical facts about the people or places. Mya, Oliver, and Jorge end up on the HMS Terror, a warship that disappeared in 1813. However, most readers will not make the connection between the shipwreck in the book and the historical warship. While there is no educational value, readers will enjoy the sense of adventure, the nonstop action, and the comical fights. The angry polar bear that reappears several times also adds some fun. 

Each page has brightly colored illustrations that use fun elements such as onomatopoeia—Krash! Smash! Krak!—as well as comical characters with oversized eyes. The illustrations clearly show the characters varying emotions such as annoyance, fear, and confusion. Some of the pages let the illustrations tell the story without text. Other pages contain up to nine sentences that use easy-to-understand vocabulary. However, most of the sentences are super short, which makes the book accessible to reluctant readers. 

The Lost Expedition is visually appealing and will entertain readers because there is never a dull moment. Unlike the first installment of the series, The Lost Expedition’s plot is more complex, and the conclusion is slightly confusing. Despite this, readers will love the interplay between Mya, Oliver, and Jorge. The suspenseful conclusion will leave readers looking forward to the next book in the series, The Secret Society. Readers who find the frozen shipwreck in The Lost Expedition interesting may also want to read Ice Wreck by Lucille Recht Penner. However, if you’re looking for some more silly shenanigans, check out the Bird & Squirrel Series by James Burks.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Octavian gags a woman and ties her to a tree. 
  • A group of Amazon warriors throws spears at the kids. The kids safely run away. 
  • Octavian and an unnamed man get into a fight. Octavian kicks the man in the face and then throws him off a roof. The man falls in a cart full of straw. 
  • As the kids try to escape from Octavian, they fall off a building and land on Shakespeare. When the kids get to their boat, someone throws a morning star at them. The boat begins taking on water.  
  • Several times, a polar bear chases the kids.  
  • A woman tries to kill the kids by trying to shove them into the icy ocean. Mya whacks the woman in the head with an oar. The ice eventually cracks, but everyone gets out of the water alive.  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • Both the adults and the kids call people names such as creep, pig, cuckoo, jerk, and doof. 

Supernatural 

  • The kids have a magical map. 
  • A time machine appears and nabs the kids.  

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Great Bunk Bed Battle

Fox siblings Fritz and Franny – and their adorable dog, Fred — get up to different bedtime shenanigans across three short stories in this full-color early reader. An imaginative bedtime routine leads the trio through a castle, a volcano, and even the center of the Earth as they debate whose bunk is best. But at the end of it all, these foxes find a way to meet in the middle.  

Part of Scholastic’s early reader line, The Great Bunk Bed Battle will help children who are learning to read. Each page has one to two simple sentences that are easy to read. The large font appears in speech bubbles which makes it easy to tell who is speaking. Each page has brightly colored, full-page illustrations with cute details. For example, when Fritz pretends his bed is a submarine, his dog has a helmet and air tank so he can follow the submarine.   

The Great Bunk Bed Battle uses humor and a fun storyline to help young readers build reading confidence and fluency. Anyone who has ever had to share will relate to Fritz’s and Franny’s competitive nature. The two foxes show the importance of using your imagination and the surprise ending is adorably cute. Whether you’re looking for a quick bedtime story or a fun book that will engage young readers, The Great Bunk Bed Battle is sure to please. For more fun books that teach the importance of working through conflicts, check out the Unicorn and Yeti Series by Heather Ayris Burnell and Hello, Crabby! by Jonathan Fenske. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Mystery of the Map

Oliver, Mya, and Jorge take a ride in a hot-air balloon, only to crash-land on an unknown island filled with extinct animals and a horde of angry Vikings. Welcome to Poptropica, an uncharted group of islands whose existence is hidden from the rest of the world. As the three friends embark on a perilous search for a way home, they quickly discover the shocking reason they were brought there—something that threatens the very existence of Poptropica and their ability to ever make it off the island! 

Many kids already love Poptropica, a website that shares stories via gaming literacy. Kids familiar with the website will instantly connect to Poptropica: Mystery of the Map. Written by Jack Chabert, author of Eerie Elementary (published under a pen name), Mystery of the Map uses action and humor to entertain readers. The graphic novel features three diverse kids—Oliver, Mya, and Jorge. The three are somewhat stereotypical—Oliver is a nerd, Jorge is clueless, and Mya is frustrated by the boys’ antics. Despite this, readers will love this crazy adventure where the kids get the best of the Vikings.  

Some of the humor is comically childish. For example, after falling from the sky, Jorge gets caught in a tree and a bird pulls off his belt. Jorge’s pants fall, revealing bright pink, space underwear. Then, when the kids sneak into the Viking’s fort, one Viking picks his nose and eats the booger. In addition, two of the Vikings are sitting and their butt cracks show. Oliver says, “Seriously? These guys built ships that crossed the Atlantic, but they couldn’t invent belts?” 

Each page has brightly colored illustrations that use fun elements such as onomatopoeia—”Krash! Smash! Krak!”—as well as comical characters with oversized eyes. The illustrations clearly show the characters’ varying emotions such as annoyance, fear, and confusion. Some of the pages let the illustrations tell the story without text. Other pages contain up to nine sentences with easy-to-understand vocabulary. Most of the sentences are super short, which makes the book accessible to reluctant readers. 

While on the island, the kids meet Eric the Red. Unfortunately, the book doesn’t give much information on the well-known Viking and misses the chance to add historical facts. If readers are interested in more adventurous Viking stories, they can sail into history by reading Voyage with the Vikings by Marianne Hering & Paul McCusker. 

While there is little educational value in Mystery of the Map, the graphic novel will entertain readers with the funny, fast-action romp through an island filled with Vikings. Most of the violence comes from the kids running from danger, which is portrayed in humorous ways. The simple plot has a mysterious villain, Octavian, who the kids outwit. If you’re looking for a book series that kids will devour, the Poptropica Series should be on your must-read list. The conclusion ends with the kids sailing away from the island, leaving readers eager to start the next book in the series, The Lost Expedition 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • While on a balloon ride, Captain Octavian pushes Mya. To defend her, her brother Oliver pokes Octavian in the stomach. During the tussle, Jorge and Oliver fall out of the hot air balloon. Octavian then pushes Mya out. The three kids fall from the sky but are uninjured. 
  • Octavian tries to steal a Viking ship. When a Viking calls out, Octavian throws a stone at the Viking’s head, which knocks the man out. 
  • A large saber tooth cat chases the kids. When the cat jumps, Jorge ducks and the cat hits a tree and knocks itself out. 
  • When the Vikings try to put the kids into a cage, they run. There is a short fight that shows a Viking throwing a barrel at the kids. Then the Viking gets out his weapon. Before he can use it, Oliver knocks a container off a shelf. The container hits the Viking on the head and the kids are able to escape. 
  • A group of Vikings shoots arrows at the kids.  
  • A Viking chases the kids. The short chase ends when the saber tooth cat attacks the Viking and they both fall into a river. 
  • The kids find a man wearing only his underwear, tied to a tree. They free the man. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • The Vikings drink mead. 

Language   

  • Octavian calls a boy a brat. 
  • Because Oliver can identify a rare bird, Jorge calls him a nerd. 
  • Jorge asks if Mya is a neat freak.  
  • When Jorge hears a Viking talking to himself, Jorge says, “He’s nuts.” 

Supernatural 

  • The kids find a magical map. Oliver explains, “I can pinch and zoom and stuff! I can see all sorts of details about the island. It’s some kind of new technology.” The map answers their questions and shows them where to go. For example, when Oliver says, “Map, please find shelter,” the map shows them where to go. 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Circus Ship

When a circus ship runs aground off the coast of Maine, the circus animals stagger to the shore of a small island. At first the townspeople view them with suspicion, but it’s not long before the locals and animals are sharing the island in harmony. Then, when the greedy circus owner returns, the townsfolk and the circus refugees come up with a delightfully original way to outsmart the fiend, exacting hilarious revenge in the process. 

The Circus Ship uses wonderfully expressive caricatures that evoke the early nineteenth century. Young readers will love the humorous illustrations. For instance, when a man sees an alligator sleeping on his wood pile, he jumps into the air and pulls his hair. When the circus master comes looking for the animals, readers will have fun finding all the hidden animals. Many of the animals are disguised in silly ways, such as one woman who is wearing a snake as a scarf and has a monkey in a stroller. 

Even though The Circus Ship is a picture book, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently. Each page has eight to twelve rhyming lines. The story uses complex sentence structure and some difficult vocabulary words such as menagerie, tuckered out, and bothersome. Despite this, the story’s plot is easy to follow.  

Not only is The Circus Ship highly entertaining, but the illustrations are also wonderful as well. Plus, the story has a positive message about not judging others (in this case, animals) by their appearance. Anyone, young or old, who loves animals will enjoy The Circus Ship. If you’re looking for a silly picture book that young readers will want to read again and again, The Circus Ship is the book for you. For more stories with silly shenanigans with animals, check out the Mercy Watson Series by Kate DiCamillo. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • The boat hits a rock. “Then came a CRASH! An awful BASH! Things flew into the air! . . . The splashing, thrashing animals swam round and round and round.” The animals swim to the island.  
  • A little girl gets caught inside a burning building. The tiger “ran past all the people, and he leapt into the blaze.” The girl comes out of the fire unharmed and riding on the tiger’s back.

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language   

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Vampire Hunter

Ham Helsing is the descendant of a long line of monster hunters—who often don’t live long enough to rest on their laurels. Ham has always been the odd pig out, preferring to paint or write poetry instead of inventing dangerous new ways to catch dangerous creatures.

Ham’s brother Chad was the daredevil, carrying on the family legacy of leaping before looking, but after Chad’s death, the family business is left to Ham. Reluctantly, Ham sets out on his first assignment: to hunt a vampire. But Ham soon learns that people aren’t always what they seem and that you need a good team around you to help save your bacon!  

Ham Helsing is a unique protagonist who doesn’t jump to assumptions about others. Ham’s original mission was to kill the vampire. Instead of killing him, Ham befriends the vampire and the two join up to find the real villain. Not only does the vampire forgive Ham for his original intent, he praises Ham saying, “The brave can make their own path—their own way.” Despite being from a long line of vampire hunters, Ham departs from his family’s ways and instead of slaying vampires, Ham is a kind and selfless pig who uses his head. The story reinforces the idea that fate doesn’t determine a person’s (or a pig’s) decisions. 

While the story focuses on Ham, there are many other interesting characters. There’s a boy who keeps turning into a werewolf, a warthog who has social anxiety, a huge bear who frightens easily and cries, a cute female pig who isn’t afraid to use her sword, and a rat who loves big words. These interesting characters add humor and depth to the story. In the end, the large group of characters works together to defeat an evil chicken, who will be back to rain terror in the second book of the series, Monster Hunter 

Vampire Hunter is told through full-color panels that are full of humor and action and have unexpected surprises. For example, the villain jumps out of a plane and is falling toward a hungry shark, but instead of being eaten, the villain “hugged his way out of it.” Readers will giggle as the villain clings to the shark. Each page has one to six sentences and many of them use onomatopoeia. The low word count and easy vocabulary make Vampire Hunter an easy read. Plus, readers will love the silly puns and jokes. For example, when Ham sees a group supporting vampires, a rabbit says vampires are just “immortal heartthrobs who are trapped in the bodies of lovesick teens!” 

Full of adventure, humor, visual gags, and interesting characters, Vampire Hunter is sure to entertain readers. There is plenty of sarcasm and suspense to keep readers flipping the pages. Readers looking for a fun read will come to love Ham Helsing and his friends. For another fast-paced graphic novel with an unexpected hero, grab a copy of The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick—but be warned, once you start reading you will want to read the entire series!  

Sexual Content 

  • When a warthog meets Ronin, a female pig, he says, “Hey there, cute thing.”  
  • When the warthog touches Ronin’s arm, she says, “I could be your undertaker. Hands off, vamp.”  

Violence 

  • Ham Helsing’s descendants all met their demise because of reckless behavior. For example, Bernard Helsing and his assistant both died when they jumped off a very tall cliff. Bernard’s plan was to “lather up our long johns with jelly from the Amazonian fling beetle. This will give us maximum zip. We’ll be like living toboggans, sledding past rock and creatures alike.” Their actual death is not illustrated, but their gravestones are shown.  
  • A large mechanical knight (controlled by a chicken) attacks Ham. The knight almost kills a female pig named Ronin who jumps in and takes the knight’s head off with her sword. The scene is illustrated over nine pages.  
  • After being defeated, the evil chicken is upset that “no one appreciates how diabolical I am.” To prove he’s evil, he kicks a squirrel.  
  • Ronin fights slices of bacon that attack her group. When Ronin cuts a piece of bacon, Ham yells, “AH! Watch it. That bacon grease burns. But it does smell good.” The bacon pieces run away.  
  • When a man ends up dead, Ham and his group are told that he was killed by, “Shadow creatures! Those spider-woman’s minions. She got Laurence. She made Laurence go bye-bye.” 
  • Ronin goes after a giant spider. Using her sword, Ronin cuts the spider in half. The spider’s green blood covers the ground. Later, the group finds Ronin cooking the spider and eating it. The attack is illustrated over three pages. 
  • In a multi-chapter battle, the spider-woman attacks Ham and his friends. The spider tries to impale Ham with her leg, but Ham slices it off with a sword. The spider-woman’s minions jump into the fight. During the fight, the warthog is tied up in spiderwebs.  
  • The spider-woman separates the group and ties up all of Ham’s friends. Someone goes into town and brings back reinforcements wearing clogs. The townspeople kill the spiders by stomping on them. The illustrations show two panels with dead spiders’ green blood.  
  • When the villain realizes that the spider-woman and her minions failed to kill Ham, he squishes one of the spiders to prove that they are “expendable.”  
  • When the villain flees, the townspeople finish stomping and squishing the spider minions. The spider killing is illustrated over a page. 
  • A doctor creates a monster. When the monster awakens, he beats up the doctor and flees.  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • Silly exclamations are used throughout the story like “pigeon pellets,” “horse cookies,” and “buffalo bagels.”  
  • One of Ham Helsing’s descendants’ tombstone says, “courage and stupidity—a fine line.” Another descendant’s tombstone reads, “He died as he lived. Like an idiot.” 
  • There is some name calling such as buffoon, knuckleheads, bloodsucker, and losers.  
  • Heck is used once.  

Supernatural 

  • At the story’s end, a doctor makes a Frankenstein monster. 

Spiritual Content 

  • The spider-woman says she is “like God herself. I wield the power to unseat the very hierarchy of the forest.”  

The Epic Escape from the Underworld

The gods of Mount Olympus Pet Center are ready to bust out of their habitats and find their next mythological mission. But as it turns out, the newest threat to ancient Greece—an all-seeing monster from another realm—sneaks up on them!

Now Zeus the hamster, Athena the cat, Demeter the grasshopper, Poseidon the pufferfish, Ares the pug, and Hermes the chicken, all face a daring quest that takes them deep into the mystifying world of the Underworld, a realm where nothing is as it seems. Will Zeus and his team succeed on their most otherworldly adventure yet?

In The Epic Escape from the Underworld, everyday objects become relics and monsters of ancient Greece. Boyer uses imagination and comedy to bring Hades and the Underworld to life. A high-action plot, humorous situations, and black-and-white illustrations blend to make a fun series that will keep readers turning the pages. Each illustration shows the Greek gods, which gives the reader a visual and helps them understand the plot and the gods’ emotions. Large illustrations appear every one to five pages.

Readers who aren’t familiar with Greek Mythology will easily understand the book because the pet store owner listens to a podcast called “Greeking Out.” This podcast about Greek myths gives the reader a quick lesson on the mythology that is necessary to fully appreciate the book. Despite this helpful intro, the Olympians do meet a lot of characters, which may confuse some readers, especially since some of the new characters are not mentioned in the podcast.

The fourth installment of the Zeus the Mighty Series has lots of laughs and shows the importance of teamwork. Each Olympian completes a different task based on their strongest traits. Without relying on each other, the Olympians would not have been able to complete their quest. In addition, the book briefly explores the idea of a democracy. The Epic Escape from the Underworld is another fun-filled story that will keep readers flipping the pages. The story ends with more information about myths, the Olympians, Hades, and the Underworld. Readers who love action-packed, humorous stories should also check out Knights vs. Dinosaurs by Matt Phelan.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Zeus takes Hades’s Cap of Shadows. When he does, “[Hades] dropped his rock on Zeus’s toe.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Drat is used once.
  • Hades calls Zeus a fool.

Supernatural

  • Hades has a Cap of Shadows that makes the wearer invisible.

Spiritual Content

  • Hermes tells a snake, “When Greeks want sweet dreams, they pray to me!”

The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever

Fifteen-year-old Justin and his friends Bobby and Gabe are amateur filmmakers . . . very amateur filmmakers. Their previous horror movies have gone unnoticed on YouTube (aside from a few derisive online comments) and no one seems particularly interested in their filmmaking endeavors. But after a minor setback during the trio’s recent vampire movie, Justin decides it’s time to pursue something new. Something ambitious. Something like making the Greatest Zombie Movie Ever.

Although Bobby and Gabe are immediately along for the ride, Justin’s plan to write, produce, and shoot the best feature length zombie movie of all time quickly hits a few roadblocks. For one thing, the trio has only a month to finish the project before Gabe leaves for the summer. Plus, they have no budget—just a highly dubious script that they cobbled together over two sleepless nights. But the boys’ luck turns around when they are able to get Alicia Howtz—the most popular girl in school and Justin’s longtime crush—to play the movie’s lead zombie-hunter Veronica Chaos, as well as secure a $5000 investment from Justin’s surprisingly cutthroat (and possibly mafia-affiliated) grandmother.

Despite a number of problems on set, the crew pushes forward with making the movie. With the help of a colorful cast of characters—including Bobby, Gabe, Alicia, Bobby’s Uncle Clyde, some extras in zombie makeup, and a twelve-year-old documentarian named Spork—Justin gives the film everything he has. It’s a noble effort, but in the end, Justin doesn’t complete this task the way he originally intended. When he is caught trespassing on school property, his principal threatens to suspend him unless he can get A’s on all his final exams. This puts his film on hold as Justin desperately scrambles to avoid repeating a grade. Five months later, when he does eventually complete the movie, it’s seventeen minutes long and mostly voiceover.

The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever is told from Justin’s perspective and, as a result, it’s a film nerd novel through and through. The text is punctuated by references to famous zombie movies and tropes, that Justin takes inspiration from. George A. Romero, director of Night of the Living Dead, comes to Justin in a vision to assure him that his scheme to film the final half hour of his movie in one shot will work. Additionally, Justin and his friends argue about whether they should include “fast zombies” or “slow zombies” in the movie; then they list good and bad zombie movies that have included each type. While non-zombie-appreciators might not understand these references, their placement does not detract from the story.

The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever deals primarily with the themes of sticking to your goals and persevering in the face of adversity, but this novel also explores when it’s time to call it quits. Throughout the book, Justin emphasizes the importance of finishing his zombie movie, but he also makes it clear that he has other priorities. After a problem with production, Justin worries that the only way to complete the movie is if “everybody was willing to skip school for two weeks. . .They weren’t . . .Nor was he.” Justin ends up sidelining the movie when he’s forced to choose between it and his education. However, he does eventually finish his film, even if the final product is much different from what he originally planned.

While the plot of The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever is not especially heavy on depth, this teen horror-comedy is a wildly entertaining exploration of zombie filmmaking, with a unique cast of characters and a heavy helping of relatively harmless comical mayhem. It’s the perfect book for teens who want a light read, especially if they are interested in zombie movies.

Sexual Content

  • During auditions, a student asks if her shirt will stay on in the movie.
  • The script includes a romantic relationship between Alicia’s character and a male lead. Justin is somewhat jealous of the two actors’ chemistry due to his own crush on Alicia, but a friend reminds Justin “it’s not like they’re slobbering all over each other through the whole movie. There’s one kiss at the very end, and they’re both covered in guts, so Alicia probably won’t be that into it.”
  • While on set, Gabe asks out Alicia’s friend, Daisy, but she turns him down because she “only dates directors.” Gabe dejectedly alerts Justin of Daisy’s availability, but Justin scoffs at this idea and reaffirms his crush on Alicia. When Gabe still insists, Justin says, “It doesn’t matter right now because unlike one of us, I’m here to make a movie, not a baby.”
  • Two actors share “a gentle kiss” at the end of the movie. Due to technical difficulties and much to Justin’s chagrin, this scene has to be refilmed several times, and the crew notes that Alicia and the male lead’s shots are especially “passionate.”
  • After he promises to complete the movie, Alicia gives Justin a kiss on the cheek.

Violence

  • Justin threatens to grab a friend “by the ears” and “bash [his] head into the floor” if he doesn’t take Alicia off speakerphone.
  • In the opening scene of his prospective script, Justin describes a helicopter crash “crushing dozens of zombies” and “leaving a thick smear of squished zombies in its path.”
  • In another scene, Justin writes that the protagonist punches a zombie in the face and then headbutts another zombie whose head “shatters like glass.”
  • During a sleepless night, Justin hallucinates his bed threatening to “bite” him “right in half” with “sharp, glistening fangs.”
  • During auditions for the movie, a student mimes swinging a shovel into a zombie’s face while repeatedly shouting “Die!”
  • While filming a scene in a park, Bobby accidentally drops the boom mic on Alicia, hitting her infected eyebrow piercing. In response, she “charge[s]” at him “knocking him to the ground.” Then, Alicia “pick[s] up the boom mic” before repeatedly smacking him in the face with it.
  • When he accidentally runs in front of a driveway, Justin is hit by a car. He wakes up in a hospital bed with both a concussion and a “mangled” arm.
  • During a heated exchange, Bobby throws a carton of chocolate milk at a school bully named Zack. It “douse[s] him like a water balloon.” In response, Zack “raise[s] his fist and step[s] forward.” The situation is diffused before anything more can happen.
  • Due to a misunderstanding, one of the cast members is tased by an elderly woman.
  • Justin’s principal, Ms. Weager, stumbles upon the crew trespassing in the school at night and is so startled by the zombified cast that she falls to the ground screaming. But she quickly stands up again and begins “knocking zombie heads together.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Uncle Clyde uses an e-cigarette.
  • At one point, the crew visits Uncle Clyde’s house to pick up the zombie effects. When he doesn’t immediately answer the door, Justin speculates that he is “probably drunk and unconscious.”

Language

  • Bobby says that he won’t let Justin “wuss out” on offering Alicia a part in their movie.
  • Justin’s boss frequently yells at his employees, and his tirades are often punctuated by the word “dang.”
  • At one point, Justin calls Gabe a “jerk.”

Supernatural

  • Many of Justin’s films center around supernatural creatures such as zombies, vampires, and werewolves.

Spiritual Content

  • A woman in the park tells Justin he should “spend a little less time thinking about zombies” and “a little more time thinking about the Lord.” She later refers to his cast and crew as “cultists.”

by Naomi Brenden

The Trials of Hairy-Clees

Zeus and the other gods at the Mount Olympus Pet Center are finally working together like a well-oiled machine. . . until they discover a multi-headed monster looming over Greece. And on top of that, a pesky new arrival is trying to join the Olympians.

It turns out defeating the monster is only one challenge on a long list of trials. Zeus and his team of gods—Athena, Demeter, Poseidon, and Ares—are facing their toughest quest yet. Even with some unexpected help from a feathered friend, can they succeed? Or have Zeus the Mighty and his Olympians met their match?

The Trials of Hairy-Clees mixes Greek Mythology, animals, and plenty of mayhem into an entertaining story that will have readers laughing out loud. In the third installment of the Zeus the Mighty Series, Hermes (a hen) makes a spectacular entrance. From the start, Ares (a pug) wants to help Hermes, because of her bravery. In a desperate attempt to get Hermes to leave, Zeus tells the hen that she can’t be an Olympian because she’s not immortal. Unfazed, Hermes is determined to complete the labors of Heracles, become immortal, and join the Olympian flock.

Readers who aren’t familiar with Greek Mythology will easily understand the book because the pet store owner listens to a podcast, “Greeking Out,” about the Greek myths; this allows the reader to get a quick lesson on the mythology that is necessary to fully appreciate the book. The book’s plot parallels the information given in the podcast, which helps readers understand key events.

In The Trials of Hairy-Clees, everyday objects become the relics and monsters of ancient Greece. For example, the animals believe a misting fan is the Hydra, a snake with many heads. The high-action plot, humorous situations, and black and white illustrations blend to make a fun series that will keep readers turning the pages. Each illustration shows the Greek gods, which gives the reader a visual and helps them understand the plot and the gods’ emotions. Plus, large illustrations appear every one to five pages.

In the end, Hermes plays a vital role in defeating the Hydra and even Zeus admires Hermes’ bravery and determination. After Hermes’ brave deeds, the Olympians decide to help Hermes complete all Heracles’ labors, which will have readers eager to read the fourth book in the series, The Epic Escape From the Underworld. Readers who love humorous stories about brave characters should put the Zeus the Mighty Series at the top of their must-read list. For more humorous books that put a spotlight on mythology, check out the Odd Gods Series by David Slavin and The Unicorn Rescue Society Series by Adam Gidwitz.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While getting ready to attack the sea monster, “Zeus the Mighty’s world turned black and white. He had been swallowed by what seemed like an endless cloud of dirty white fluff . . . The stuff tickled his nose and poked into his mouth. It was like he was being crushed by a feather duster.” When the hen notices Zeus, she introduces herself.
  • The pet owner saves Hermes the hen from certain death. Hermes “was in line to receive the Kentucky-fried treatment.”
  • Much of the book’s humor and violence comes in the form of the cat, Athena, chasing Hermes. For example, when Athena sees Hermes for the first time, Athena leaps out. “The hen leapt backward with a flurry of wings, just a feather’s breadth from Athena’s claws. . . The cat sunk low, preparing for a second pounce, her tail twitching.” When Demeter yells at Athena, the cat stops the attack and “peered around sheepishly, her eyes no longer wild.”
  • As Zeus and Demeter are talking, they hear “a bloodcurdling hiss . . . Hermes was scrabbling below, her wings held wide, as if she were trying to take flight. Hot on her tail was Athena, claws out.” Hermes is able to escape.
  • In order to complete one of the labors of Heracles, Hermes must take on the Hesperis. Hermes “pulled the small wooden Zeus figure from beneath her wing. She threw it at the lead Hesperis. The flaming creature squealed when it struck her in the chest.” Hermes realizes the Hesperis aren’t as dangerous as they appear, and she is able to complete the task
  • Athena tries to attack Hermes. “Just as Athena was about to crash into her would-be prey, Hermes raised a wing and batted the cat aside. Athena tumbled gracefully, and then rolled to her feet. Her eyes remained focused on Hermes, but they no longer had that crazed look.” When Hermes stops running from Athena, Athena no longer wants to pounce on her.
  • Hermes, the Olympians, and the Amazons work together to kill the Hydra (a fan). “The monster’s five heads raged above [Zeus]. They swiveled to aim their foul fog at the Amazon flock, which was closing in fast. . . One after another, the birds release their payloads. The boulders [tennis balls] sailed through the air toward the Hydra’s chest. . . the five spinning heads slowed. The gale winds decreased.”
  • The fight against the Hydra continues as Zeus “yanked off his cloak and tossed it at the monster’s heads. . . In the next instant, the cloak slipped through the helmet’s bars and dropped directly onto the Hydra’s spinning heads. . .” The Hydra is defeated when it “detached from the wall and crashed to earth.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Athena is put in Ares’s dog crate. When Zeus talks to her, he says that “Ares’s place smells like pug butt.”
  • Poseidon calls someone an oaf.

Supernatural

  • Zeus finds a lion squeaky toy, that Athena thinks is “an incredibly potent relic. . . Whoever wears the hide of the Nemean lion is imbued with its powers. In other words, you’d be indestructible!” Zeus puts the squeaky toy over his head and the toy saves him from harm several times.

Spiritual Content

  • None

Of Mice and Magic

Princess Harriet is uninterested in brushing her hair, singing duets with forest animals, or any other princess activities. So when a fairy tells a bored Harriet about the curse of the twelve dancing mice princesses, she is more than willing to accept the quest. Armed with the poncho of invisibility and her trusty battle quail, Harriet goes to the Mouse Kingdom and quickly realizes there is more to the curse than meets the eye.

Of Mice and Magic uses the story elements of The Twelve Dancing Princesses to create a wacky, action-packed adventure that will have readers eagerly turning the pages. Harriet takes the quest, knowing full well that her line will fall if she does not help the princesses break their curse. As she travels with the princesses to their ball, she finds help in one of the attendees and one of the princesses. However, the witch who cursed the princesses wants the princesses to dance so they can power her magic. The witch is more funny than scary, and readers will enjoy seeing how Harriet convinces the witch to dispel the curse.

While Harriet is trying to break the curse, she realizes that the Mouse King is a meticulous and irrational person. For instance, he named his daughters by the months of the year, and his entire castle is themed by color. His conflict with Harriet about the princesses, and later the witch, gives hilarity to the adventure. Readers will enjoy reading the conversations between these three characters.

Purple and white illustrations add to the wackiness of the book. Drawings with dialogue help break up the text and keep the action moving. Of Mice and Magic shows the value of teamwork and will engage even the most reluctant of readers. Of Mice and Magic is the second book in the Hamster Princess Series but can be enjoyed as a standalone book. Younger readers who enjoy humorous books should also read the Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Series by Julie Falatko

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • One of the twelve mice princesses, under the influence of the curse, must give Harriet a hot chocolate laced with a “sleeping potion” every night that she stays in the princess’ room.

Language

  • One of the mice princesses’ dance instructors calls the mice princesses “crazy” because they had learned every single dance. The dance instructors also call their shoes “freaky.”
  • Harriet tells everyone to “shut up” while thinking of a way to escape the Mouse King’s castle with his daughters.
  • The Mouse King calls his knights “idiots” when they can’t decide to cut the rope or climb down the rope to get to the princesses.

Supernatural

  • Harriet noticed that the old shrew, who was a fairy in disguise, did not have a shadow. The shrew fairy’s shadow had been “cavorting with the flickering shadows of some willow leaves, jumped up and came sliding hurriedly across the grass.” When the shrew fairy’s disguise is discovered, she calls her shadow back, and “It fastened itself to her heels and hunched down, looking sheepish.”
  • The twelve mice princesses are under a curse. “Every night, no matter where the princesses are, a door opens in the floor of their room. Whether they want to or not, the mice must climb down, down, into the underworld beneath the castle.” Later, one of the younger mice princesses says they must dance every night, all night. “We can’t not I mean, we stop for a few minutes . . . but it’s like an itch, and you have to scratch eventually.”
  • The shrew fairy gave Harriet a Poncho of Invisibility. “A Poncho of Invisibility is not quite as good as a Cloak of Invisibility…Harriet had to readjust the folds several times to make sure her feet didn’t become visible.” The only effect of the Poncho was that “there was a nasty bit when the poncho was partway on and partway off where he could see Harriet’s innards.” There are no ill effects with this magical item.
  • Harriet figures out the reason behind the curse. “The princesses are compelled to dance. They have to dance, and when they dance over the symbol, it generates magic. . . and I bet there’s some left over for the witch.”
  • An earthquake, one of the measures to prevent the mice princesses from leaving the mouse kingdom, started when “Hyacinth the quail, carrying Wilbur the prince and August the princess, crossed some invisible line. The earth began to dance.”
  • The shrew fairy gives Harriet a charm, as a thanks for freeing the princesses from their curse. “I grant you [Harriet] a very limited charm. You can cliff-dive again safely.” The charm allows Harriet to fall from large heights without hurting herself. There are no ill effects with this charm.

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Jemima Cooke

 

Mac Saves the World

The Queen of England calls on her trusty spy, Mac B., once again. This time, Mac must navigate secret tunnels beneath the Berlin Wall to retrieve cheat codes from a Soviet scientist. Floppy disk in hand, our hero finds himself trapped in East Germany, stuck between the wall and the Stasi. How will he escape? Well, it is 1989, and walls do fall down.

Before he leaves for his mission, the Queen of England gives Mac a short lesson on the Cold War and the Iron Curtain. However, the information is surface level and doesn’t show how the Berlin Wall affected the people of Germany. Even though Mac sneaks into East Germany, the story has little suspense, and the plot is not well developed.

The sixth installment of the Mac B. Series lacks the puns and wordplay that make the other books so much fun. Some of the story’s humor comes from jokes about floppy disks; unfortunately, younger readers who have never seen a floppy disk may not find the floppy disk scenes funny.

Despite the lack of humor, readers will enjoy the large pink, gold, and black illustration that appear on every page. The short chapters—many are just one page—use simple vocabulary and lots of dialogue. Any words that may be confusing are defined within the text, making the story easy to read. Mac Saves the World will appeal to reluctant readers as it helps readers build confidence. Although Mac Saves the World can be read as a stand-alone book, for maximum enjoyment the books should be read in order.

The Queen of England, her corgi, and the KGB man all make an appearance in all the Mac B. books; these characters add plenty of silly moments that will leave readers giggling. While Mac B isn’t successful in his mission, he doesn’t lack courage. Throughout the story, Mac gives historical facts that sound outlandish, but he reminds readers, “But it’s true. You can look it up.” And if you look it up, you will find it is true. Readers who love humorous mysteries should also read the Investigators Series by John Patrick Green.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • East Germany and the Soviets wanted to keep people from leaving the country. “They rolled out barbed wire, right in the middle of the streets. People panicked! They crawled under the wire and tore their clothes and cut their skin! West Berliners held out blankets for East Berliners who jumped out of windows into West Berlin.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Ants in Our P.A.N.T.S.

The Special Undercover Investigator Team has a new plan. “Once we get wind of an evildoer’s schemes to form a team, the Anti-Crime Unit will go undercover as fellow evildoers and follow this simple procedure: pinpoint the possible perpetrator’s position; avoid blowing your cover; neutralize any superweapons; thwart their villainous plan, and stop them from getting away.”

However, the procedure does not go according to plan. When Cilantro (a chameleon) isn’t promoted to an agent, he considers teaming up with other evildoers. When he goes to the New old opera house looking for other evildoers, he feels guilty, but he also discovers important information that will help solve a crime. In the end, Cilantro must decide if he will fight for good or evil.

The mission is made more difficult because Brash is in the hospital, unconscious, and MegaRoboBrash cannot access all Brash’s memories. With the help of a medium, Mango can enter Brash’s mind. While there, Mango discovers that Brash has “regressed into a child as some sort of coping mechanism!” Can Mango discover what is keeping Brash from waking up? Will Mango, Cilantro, and RoboBrash thwart the evil villain?

Ants in Our P.A.N.T.S brings back a host of old characters as well as a sprinkle of new characters. While much of the conflict was established in previous books, the addition of giant ants adds humor and interest. Even though Brash is unconscious, he still appears frequently. Brash appears as a small child (which is adorably cute) and later as an adult. The large cast of characters may be confusing, but they help keep the story fresh and interesting.

Even though Ants in Our P.A.N.T.S is laugh-out-loud funny, it still has a positive message. Brash refuses to wake up because he is battling fear. With Mango’s help, Brash decides, “This is my mind. I decide how much space I’ll let my fears take up.” He learns that he must forgive himself and let go of the fear and guilt. The story also highlights the importance of believing in yourself.

Ants in Our P.A.N.T.S has many positive aspects. The combination of human and animal characters blend to create a ridiculous story that uses wordplay to add humor. The imaginative story comes alive in brightly colored artwork that shows the characters’ wide range of emotions. The text is large and uses different font sizes, which helps emphasize the characters’ emotions and important aspects of the story.

The illustrations and the unique storyline of Brash and Mango will appeal to even the most reluctant readers. Each page has 3 to 11 sentences. The sentences range from one word to more complex sentences. The story does an excellent job of giving enough background information so readers who are new to the series will understand the plot. However, for maximum enjoyment, the series should be read in order.

The Investigators Series is immensely enjoyable to read because of the ridiculously silly scenes, the unique characters, and the fun puns. Each story contains plenty of surprises that will keep readers flipping the pages. No matter your age, you will find something in the series to love.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • An evil villain uses the Embiggerner to supersize ants. The ants then attack the city. People run from the ants, but no one is injured. The “savage beasts” are put to sleep with music. The scene is illustrated over six pages.
  • Two villains team up and use the ants to attack the city, destroying many buildings. They also use the Embiggerner to make “ginormous gemstones,” “jumbo shrimp,” and “big money.” The attack is humorous instead of scary.
  • Brash and Mango trick the evil triceratops into charging a red cape. Chameleon trips him and the triceratops ends up with his horns stuck in a sidewalk.
  • Ants attack MegaRoboBrash, who hits them. Then he ties their antennas together and throws them into space. The scene is described over seven pages.
  • A chameleon and a group of ants attack the triceratops so he can be sent back to jail. They use trickery, knitting, and balls of yarn to retain the villainous triceratops. The scene is described over four pages.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • People who follow the law are referred to as “Idiot Law-doers.”
  • Darn and dang are both used once.
  • A construction worker is called a dummy.

Supernatural

  • Most of the characters are animals such as an octopus, a chameleon, a skunk, etc. There is also a character that is a squash.
  • Mango needs help to find out why RoboBrash cannot access all of Brash’s memories. Dr. Hardbones tells Mango to go to the Séance Factory. Dr. Hardbones says, “the medium there may have some ideas about how to see into Brash’s unconscious mind.”
  • The medium at the Séance Factory is a tick.
  • In a previous book, an agent was “turned into a radioactive saltine cracker.”
  • Hardbones is a skilled brain surgeon who turns into the Action News helicopter.

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Fly High, Fly Guy!

Mom and Dad won’t let Fly Guy go along on the family road trip. They’re afraid he’ll get lost. But when Dad accidentally shuts him in the trunk, Fly Guy goes along for the ride! First, Fly Guy gets lost at the picnic site—but he shows up in the garbage can. Then he gets lost at the art museum, but he shows up as part of a modern painting. At the beach, he turns up in a shell, and at the amusement park, on Buzz’s hot dog (yuck!).

Beginning readers will have fun reading about Fly Guy’s adventures which come to life in comical illustrations. Each page has large, brightly colored illustrations. The cartoonish characters have exaggerated facial features to help readers understand the characters’ emotions. The story will give emerging readers confidence as they move from picture books to chapter books. Fly High, Fly Guy has three chapters, and most pages have one to three simple sentences. The story’s short sentences and simple vocabulary make Fly High, Fly Guy a good choice for younger readers.

Although Fly High, Fly Guy doesn’t have a lesson, the creative story will engage readers and have them wondering what Fly Guy will do next. Readers will giggle at some of the illustrations such as when Fly Guy goes to a museum and kisses Mona Lisa on the nose. The Fly Guy Series uses humor to show that reading can be fun. Readers who enjoy Fly High, Fly Guy may also want to read 13 Ways to Eat a Fly by Sue Heavenrich.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

 

Mr. Popper’s Penguins

Mr. Popper dreams of being an Antarctic explorer and living among the penguins alongside his hero, Admiral Drake. But as a house painter with a family to care for, Mr. Popper knows his dream is just a dream. Until the day when Admiral Drake responds to a letter by sending a real, live penguin straight to Mr. Popper’s house!

It isn’t long before the first penguin, Captain Cook, is joined by a second penguin named Greta. Soon, the Poppers have a houseful of new penguin friends. But with a dozen penguins to feed, plus Mrs. Popper and their children, how will Mr. Popper ever make enough money to keep the whole family going, penguins and all?

Despite the expense of having the penguins, Mr. Popper is determined to keep them. Even though the penguins do not mean to cause trouble, the curious creatures cause quite a stir in his house. Mr. Popper and his family try to make the penguins happy, and this leads to some silly situations that will make readers smile.

Mr. Popper’s family and penguins finally take their show on the road, which delights audiences. In the end, Mr. Popper knows he must do what is best for the penguins, and he allows Admiral Drake, an explorer, to take the penguins to the North Pole. Because of the penguins, Mr. Popper’s dream of traveling to the snowy land becomes a reality.

Anyone who has ever wanted a unique pet will fall in love with Mr. Popper’s penguins. The Newbery Honor-winning novel, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, was first published in 1938, but the story will still entertain today’s young readers. The adorably cute birds are illustrated in black and white drawings that appear every 3 to 5 pages. With short chapters, silly situations, and cute penguins, Mr. Popper Penguins will appeal to readers of all ages.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • During a performance, two penguins put on a stage fight. “’Gork,’ said Nelson, punching Columbus in the stomach with his right flipper, and then trying to push him over with his left flipper. . . Columbus now sparred politely with Nelson until Nelson hit him on the eye, whereupon Columbus retreated with a loud ‘Ork.’” The other penguins distract Nelson and “Columbus immediately punched him in the stomach with one flipper and knocked him down with the other. Nelson lay there, with his eyes closed.” After Columbus wins the fight, Nelson gets up and all of the penguins bow. The fight is described over three pages.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon

Francine Poulet is the greatest animal control officer in Gizzfor County. She has battled snakes, outwitted squirrels, and stared down a bear. Francine is never scared—until she’s faced with a screaming raccoon who may or may not be a ghost. Maybe Francine isn’t cut out to be an animal control officer after all!

But the raccoon is still on the loose, and the folks on Deckawoo Drive need Francine. Can she face her fears, round up the raccoon, and return to the ranks of animal control?

While not everyone has faced a ghost raccoon, everyone will be able to relate to Francine’s fear. While chasing the raccoon, Francine is injured. After failing to catch the raccoon, Francine “didn’t know who she was. She was not an animal control officer. And she was not a Poulet, because Poulets never panic.” It isn’t until Francine meets Frank, a talkative child, that she faces her fears.

Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon tells a humorous tale that highlights the importance of overcoming one’s fears. At one point, Francine quits her job because of her fear. Like Francine, readers may need help and encouragement to face their fear. When Francine tracks down the ghost raccoon, she gains confidence in her abilities, which allows her to overcome her fear.

 The Tales from Deckawoo Drive Series uses the same humor and characters as Dicamillo’s Mercy Watson Series. While this story focuses on Francine Poulet, each character is unique and interesting. Unlike many books, Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon shows a wide range of people—some are old and wrinkled, some are heavy set, and one is a pig. The people in the story are similar to the people you would find in your neighborhood. Despite their differences, they have a sense of community and sit around the kitchen table to share a snack of toast.

Large black and white illustrations appear every 1 to 3 pages and will help readers understand the story’s plot. The illustrations highlight Francine’s facial expressions, which will help readers understand her emotions. Many of the illustrations are full-page, and they have humorous elements to them. Even though Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon is intended for younger readers, they may need help with the difficult vocabulary such as reclamation, recede, metaphorically, and hailed.

Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon is a wholesome and entertaining story that shows the importance of facing your fears. The interesting characters, a ghostly animal, and sweet conclusion will appeal to many readers both young and old.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Francine tries to capture the raccoon. “She opened her eyes just in time to see a shimmery, raccoon-shaped object flying through the air. . . She started to run. She could feel the raccoon at her heels. . . The raccoon hit Francine with such tremendous, raccoon-y force that she lost her balance and fell forward.” Francine falls off the roof and breaks an arm and a leg.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • When Francine climbs a roof in order to catch a raccoon, the owner of the house asks her, “Are you truly an animal control officer? Or are you just some nut job gallivanting on my roof?”
  • While trying to catch the raccoon, the neighbors talk about Francine. One lady says she is worthless and another says “she looks like a fraud to me.”

Supernatural

  • Francine gets a call from Mrs. Bissinger, who thinks the raccoon on her roof is a ghost because it says her name. Mrs. Bissinger says, “He is an extraordinary raccoon! He shimmers! He screams like a banshee!”
  • While in the hospital, Francine’s dead father appears and tells her, “There aren’t ghost raccoons, Franny. You know that.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

Stinky Spike the Pirate Dog

Ahoy! When this shipyard pup gets lost at sea, he’s rescued by a crew of stinky pirates led by Captain Fishbeard. Spike must prove to the captain he can be a real pirate. Luckily, Stinky Spike has the best nose on the seven seas, and he uses it to sniff out all kinds of treasure. But what happens when Spike’s sense of smell leads him to some very strange loot?

Stinky Spike the Pirate Dog is a silly story with alliteration, onomonopia, and dialogue that makes the story fun to read out loud. The story focuses on how Spike became the Pirate Dog and the humorous, unexpected characters he meets along the way. For example, when Spike was lost at sea, he meets two sharks that don’t want to eat him. The sharks just want Spike to go away because “you stink so bad that you’ll scare away our dinner.” Even though much of the humor comes from all the terrible things Spike smells, readers will also enjoy all of the animals and people Spike meets.

The entertaining story has wonderful, brightly colored illustrations that will tickle readers’ silly bones. Even though the story focuses on animals, Spike also meets a small but diverse group of pirates. The large illustrations add comedy to the story by adding little surprises, like the pirate captain with a peg leg, a parrot on his hat, and fish sticking out of his beard. Stinky Spike the Pirate Dog is told in three chapters; each two-page spread has 4 to 7 sentences.

Fans of the Pirate Puppies Series by Erin Soderberg will quickly fall in love with Stinky Spike the Pirate Dog. While the story lacks pirate language, its humor and unexpected surprises will entertain readers. Plus, the story could lead to a fun discussion on what people and pirates consider to be treasure. If you’re looking for a fun story that your little reader will love, Stinky Spike the Pirate Dog has plenty of treasure inside its pages including interesting characters, humor, and detailed illustrations. Readers who want to read more imaginative pirate stories should also read All Paws on Deck by Jessica Young.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While protecting a ship’s cargo, “a group of angry gulls began squawking and swooping and pecking at Spike.”
  • As the seagulls chased Spike, he fell into the ocean. “Spike doggy-paddled toward shore, but the strong current pulled him out to sea.”
  • While lost at sea, “hungry sharks swam slow circles around him.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

 

 

Knight-Napped

A pigeon lands on Danny Dragonbreath’s head and refuses to fly away. Attached to the pigeon’s leg is a note from Danny’s cousin, Spencer. Knights have kidnapped Spencer and they plan to slay him soon. Danny’s friends Christina and Wendell reluctantly agree to help Danny free his cousin Spencer.

Christina discovers that her relatives are the ones keeping Spencer locked in the tower. But before they can all save Spencer, Danny and Wendell are imprisoned in the dungeon. Christina is upset when she finds out that her relatives “are in the habit of kidnapping little kids and imprisoning them in towers.” In order to gain her family’s trust and free her friends, Christina pretends to hate dragons.

Danny, Wendell, and Christina all know their mothers would be upset to learn that they took a bus to Castle Wanderpool, but they need to save Spencer. Danny tries using his fire breathing skills to break out of the dungeon, but he only succeeds in catching the dungeon on fire. When Danny is thrown into the dungeon he thinks it’s “nothing compared to what his mom would do if she found out he’d been randomly breathing fire on people.”

Knight-Napped is full of surprises, fake fights, and friendship drama that will have readers laughing out loud. Danny’s story is told in a unique style that blends graphic novel and novel format. The text is broken up with illustrations and has several graphic novel scenes with speech balloons. The blend of text and pictures will help keep reluctant readers engaged in the story. The comic-style illustrations are mostly black and white, but they also have a pop of green.

Readers will laugh as Danny reluctantly tries to save Spencer. Danny “didn’t always like Spencer, but leaving him in a castle where they stuck dragon heads on walls—no. Just no. Danny Dragonbreath had his limits. He was going to get Spencer if he had to climb up the outside of the tower by himself.”

Danny, Christina, and Wendell’s adventure through the castle is hilarious. Readers will appreciate how the young knights try to satisfy their grandfather’s desire to have Freddy slay a dragon. Readers will relate to all of the characters—dragon, iguana, and knight—who are all afraid that their mothers will find out about their adventure. Knight-Napped is a wonderfully ridiculous, humorous story that will keep readers engaged until the very end. If you’re looking for a fun book series that kids will love to read, the Dragonbreath series is perfect.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Nobody actually fights, but the kids pretend to fight in order to make Freddie look brave in front of his grandfather.
  • Spencer and his friend Freddy pretend to fight. “Freddy managed to get on top and sat on the small dragon’s chest. . . [Freddy] actually had to climb off Spencer to get to the sword. Spencer waited politely on the ground.”
  • Christina charges at Danny. “He hit the sawdust floor of the arena and rolled. Christina swung her sword at him. She missed by a mile, but there was a nasty little whistle as the blade sliced through the air. . . Christina shook herself off, wiped ashes from her face—and charged him. Again. . . She slammed into him, shoulder first, and drove him back against the arena wall.”
  • During the fight, Danny “flamed. He frothed. He ran at Christina waving his arms and spouting smoke. . . He flung himself at Christina, caught her sword under one arm, and threw himself to the ground, kicking wildly.” The fighting is comedic. Danny and Spencer both pretend to be slain.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Danny and Wendell go into a castle’s moat, Wendell says, “I’m going to need antibiotics. This moat is nasty.”

Language

  • One of Danny’s classmates calls him dorkbreath.
  • As part of her master plan, Christina tries to help Danny while at the same time prove to her family that she was not friends with him. She yells at Danny. “Truly, dragons are vermin, lower than slugs, lower than flatworms! They are a vileness upon the earth! They stink!”
  • Christina calls dragons “scaly scum” and “foul dragon scum.”
  • There is some name calling. Idiot is used once. Dummy and jerk are both used once.
  • Oh my god is used as an exclamation once.
  • Darn and crud are both used once.

 

If You Ever Want to Bring a Circus to the Library, DON’T!

If you go to the library and see a poster that says, “You can do ANYTHING AT THE LIBRARY,” it is not giving you permission to put on a circus.

But Magnolia doesn’t see any problem with setting up her own big top. She’s got a whole lot of gusto! Sportsmanship! And a mean human-cannonball routine! So what if her greatest show on Earth won’t fit between bookshelves? It’s not like she’ll wreck the place, right?

Readers will giggle their way through If You Ever Want to Bring a Circus to the Library, DON’T! The picture book uses bright colors and cartoonish illustrations to bring Magnolia’s circus to life. The diverse cast of characters are drawn with hilarious facial expressions that show the characters’ changing emotions. While some of Magnolia’s daring deeds are met with enthusiasm, others are met with dismay.

Readers will love the mischief Magnolia gets into. Parents can use the story to discuss appropriate ways to behave at the library, at school or any other public place. The text is written with large words. “YOU CAN DO ANYTHING AT THE LIBRARY!” is written in red text and appears over and over, which highlights the fact that there are really so many things that you can’t do at the library. Each page has 1-4 sentences. However, young readers will need help with some of the vocabulary and the complicated sentence structure.

The ending is funny, but it also shows everyone working together to clean up Magnolia’s great big giant mess. Be sure to point out the poster on the last page, because it shows how you really can’t bring a circus to the library. If You Ever Want to Bring a Circus to the Library, DON’T! blends both text and illustrations into a hilarious book that is sure to tickle everyone’s funny bone.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Leroy Ninker Saddles Up

Yippie-i-oh! Saddle up for the first in a spin-off series starring favorite characters from Kate DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson Series. Leroy Ninker dreams of being a cowboy. He has a hat, a lasso, and boots. What he doesn’t have is a horse—until he meets Maybelline, that is, and then it’s love at first sight.

Leroy has big dreams, but he’s not sure how to make them come true. His coworker tells him, “What you have to do here is take fate in your hands and wrestle it to the ground.” This advice motivates Leroy to find a horse. Even though the horse, Maybelline, isn’t a perfect horse, Leroy loves her. Maybelline’s owner tells him that he needs to remember three things. One: Maybelline likes compliments. Two: She eats a lot of grub. Three: “Don’t leave Maybelline alone for long, or you will live to rue and regret the day.”

Leroy leaves Maybelline alone for just a minute, but that was enough time for the horse to get scared and wander off. Maybelline runs and runs. Leroy goes to search for his horse, but he can’t find her. Will Leroy be able to find his horse?

Leroy’s adventure has plenty of humor that will leave readers with a smile. Leroy gives the horse a lot of compliments such as, “You are the brightest star in the velvety nighttime sky!” Readers will laugh when Leroy uses pretty words, and when Leroy unsuccessfully tries to push Maybelline through the apartment’s door. Leroy’s dream comes true in a unique way, and the love between him and his horse is endearing.

Large black and white illustrations appear every 1 to 3 pages and will help readers understand the story’s plot. The illustrations highlight the difference between Leroy’s dreams and reality. Leroy’s dreams appear in bubbles and show a beautiful, perfect horse. However, Maybelline is an imperfect horse, but Leroy loves her. Many of the illustrations are full-page and have humorous elements to them. Even though Leroy Ninker Saddles Up is intended for younger readers, they may need help with difficult vocabulary such as cogitate, informational, emboldened, and savoring.

The sweet conclusion gives the sense of community as Leroy, Maybelline, and several others are invited in to share breakfast with Mercy Watson. Readers familiar with the Mercy Watson Series will enjoy the two books’ similarities. However, readers do not need to read the Mercy Watson Series to understand the events in Leroy Ninker Saddles Up. Both the text and the illustrations in Leroy Ninker Saddles Up use humor that will inspire readers to dream big.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • When someone throws a can at Leroy, he says, “Dang nib it.”
  • Occasionally, Leroy exclaims phrases such as, “Gol’ dang it, dag blibber it” and “flibber gibber it.”
  • Heck is used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

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