Can Kung Pow Chicken and Egg Drop beat the bad guys and be home in time for dinner?
Second-grade chicken Gordon Blue and his still partially egg-bound little brother Benedict are mild-mannered chicks until they fall into a vat of toxic sludge in their uncle Quack’s lab. Suddenly, Gordon has birdy sense that tingles when danger is near. He can flap superfast, and his clucks are louder than any chicken’s (“His bok [is] worse than his bite”). He promises to use his powers only for good (and to keep his room tidy). Since he’s never met a bad guy, he has to do normal chicken things…until everyone starts losing their feathers at the Fowl Fall Festival in Fowladelphia. Could it be Granny Goosebumps’ yucky glowing cookies? She’s making money wing over fist selling itchy sweaters to all the naked chickens. Soon Kung Pow Chicken is “locked in a battle of knits” with the nefarious Granny and her knitting needles. When she escapes, can Kung Pow Chicken overcome his self-doubt and save the City of Featherly Love? First of four to be released over the course of the next year and part of Scholastic’s Branches line of heavily illustrated easy chapter books, Marko’s debut is a perfectly puntastic page-turner. Hybrids of comics and traditional pictures, the goofy all-color illustrations propel the fast-moving, high-interest story.
“Ham and eggs!”—you don’t want to miss this! (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 5-7)
In an extremely belated second chapter-book–length outing, Cazet’s bovine best buds kick up their heels in Red Tractor Farm’s “First Annual Hoot, Holler, and Moo Talent Festival.”
From the outset, it’s a struggle to keep the audience and the scheduled performers in line—both groups being a mix of domesticated or thoroughly undomesticated sheep, chickens, wolves and weasels (plus Irene the rhino and a few four-legged vacationers from “Africa World”). Unsurprisingly, a steady string of minor disasters keeps things fizzing. A chorus of overexcited chickens lets loose a barrage of eggs (“Geeze Louize, girls!…Couldn’t you use precautions?”); an impromptu port-a-potty race breaks out during intermission; the crowd enjoys much amateur poetry (“Getting milked / I find quite pleasin’. / I think it’s the way / They does the squeezin’ ”), and the money box repeatedly disappears. Despite all this, the two redoubtable ruminants carry the day to a weary but triumphant close. As in Minnie & Moo and the Seven Wonders of the World (2003), Cazet rolls out a tale equally rich in urbane innuendo and slapstick hilarity, cast in well-spaced lines of fluent prose and illuminated with lots of comical monochromatic ink-and-wash views that feature expressively posed animals in casual human dress or, in aptly named Elvis the rooster’s case, a “white luminescent jumpsuit.”
Another romp with nary a dull nor serious moment; welcome back, girls.
(Animal fantasy. 9-11)
Perfect Princess Magnolia has a secret—her alter ego is the Princess in Black, a superhero figure who protects the kingdom!
When nosy Duchess Wigtower unexpectedly drops by Princess Magnolia’s castle, Magnolia must protect her secret identity from the duchess’s prying. But then Magnolia’s monster alarm, a glitter-stone ring, goes off. She must save the day, leaving the duchess unattended in her castle. After a costume change, the Princess in Black joins her steed, Blacky (public identity: Frimplepants the unicorn), to protect Duff the goat boy and his goats from a shaggy, blue, goat-eating monster. When the monster refuses to see reason, Magnolia fights him, using special moves like the “Sparkle Slam” and the “Twinkle Twinkle Little Smash.” The rounded, cartoony illustrations featuring chubby characters keep the fight sequence soft and comical. Watching the fight, Duff notices suspicious similarities between the Princess in Black and Magnolia—quickly dismissed as “a silly idea”—much like the duchess’s dismissal of some discovered black stockings as being simply dirty, as “princesses don’t wear black.” The gently ironic text will amuse readers (including adults reading the book aloud). The large print and illustrations expand the book to a longish-yet-manageable length, giving newly independent readers a sense of accomplishment. The ending hints at another hero, the Goat Avenger.
Action, clever humor, delightful illustrations and expectation-defying secret identities—when does the next one come out?
With words, pictures and pictures with words, 6-year-old Dory, called Rascal, recounts how she finally gets her older brother and sister to play with her.
Rascal’s siblings complain that she’s always pestering them. She acts like a baby, she asks weird questions, and she chatters endlessly with her imaginary monster friend. So they tell her a kidnapping witch, Mrs. Gobble Gracker, is looking for her. In her efforts to avoid capture, Rascal becomes a dog. As a “dog,” she’s invisible to the little-girl–stealer but appealing to her older brother, who, it turns out, always wanted to have a dog. She maintains her dogginess all the way through a doctor’s checkup until a surprise vaccination spurs her to speech and retaliation. Rascal and her invented fairy godmother, Mr. Nuggy (he doesn’t look much like a fairy godmother), use the ensuing timeout to concoct poison soup for the witch. Eventually, the witch is vanquished and order more or less restored. Redeemed in the eyes of her siblings because she’s brave enough to retrieve a bouncy ball from the toilet as well as wildly imaginative, Rascal finally gets her wish. Often just on the edge of out of control, this inventive child is irresistible and her voice, convincing. Childlike drawings, often embellished with hand-lettered narrative or speech bubbles, of round-headed humans, Sendak-ian monsters and a snaggle-toothed witch add to the humor.
Filled with little moments of quiet wisdom and gentle humor, Newbery winner MacLachlan’s story about family love soars.
Lucy is the only member of her family who cannot sing. Everyone else—her father, her mother, and her younger sister, Grace—sings on pitch. Even her toddler brother, Teddy, who does not yet talk, sings—although only Lucy knows this, as Teddy sings to her secretly each night. But while Lucy cannot sing (she thinks), she is planning to be a poet, and as she and her family journey across the Minnesota prairie in an old Volkswagen bus and arrive at her aunt’s home on the Red River in North Dakota, she composes poems, hoping to write one for her father that is “as beautiful as a cow.” (Her father loves cows.) The story, told in first person by Lucy, is ostensibly simple. But in the hands of MacLachlan, simple becomes sparely elegant, and the narrative unfolds to reveal a world of secrets, strengths, fears, and aspirations both relinquished and recovered, with a frisson of tension that rises as the Red River floods. The climax, when it comes, is less of a nail-biter and more of a warm, cozy blanket of love and support—and readers won’t mind one bit.
A story that never cloys, succeeding on all levels.
The trouble with girls is that they are prone to falling in love—and then they want to get married.
That can be a real issue if you are an early grade schooler like Jasper John Dooley, and an energetic, overbearing girl like Isabel decides she loves you. It makes it almost impossible to play dragon slayers during recess. The situation grows grimmer when Jasper’s mom arranges a play date for him at Isabel’s house. While Isabel doesn’t want to sit around brushing her hair as he had expected, and her trampoline turns out to be great fun, his visits—he returns for the trampoline—further convince her that he’s in love, too. Instead, Jasper is embarrassed and frustrated. Based on a misguided story from his beloved grandmother, Jasper decides that if he dips Isabel’s hair in jam (since ink is unavailable), maybe she’ll lose interest. Unsurprisingly, the plan does not go well. Adderson perfectly captures the trials of early childhood, and with brief text and a simple vocabulary, she breathes full life into her cast of characters, from Paul C., new to the school and hiding behind a library book at recess, to Ori, Jasper’s best friend, whose common-sense approach is hilarious, and even to Isabel, a bit wild but fully recognizable.
Another chapter book that will readily brighten the day of emergent readers—or adults offering an extended read-aloud.