Picture Books and Chapter Books – Bookmarks May 2012

Welcome to the May edition of Bookmarks, our monthly shortlist of mini book reviews. We found some great books that are perfect for summer reading!

  • This month’s picture books will have you AND the kids laughing. Even though Mrs. Millie is thinking fall, now is the time for planting those pumpkin seeds!
  • Our shortlist of chapter books for middle school readers have mystery, adventure, and a few laughs, too.

I’d also like to point you to the I Can Read collection at Share a Story – Shape a Future. Jennifer Wharton (Jean Little Library) offers a review of EllRay Jakes is NOT a Chicken that pretty much guarantees holds for that book all summer long.

You can always see what we’ve added so far on our 2012 Books We’ve Read Page. Book reviews on the Reading Tub website will have the requisite link. Each Bookmark has basic info and an original blurb / overview. We’ll introduce the key players; add our reader reaction, and ask the author and/or illustrator a question or two.

Noteworthy May Bookmarks

middle grade summer bookLost in Lexicon: An Adventure in Words and Numbers
by Pendred Noyce; illustrated by Joan Charles
Scarletta Press, 2012
Audience: upper elementary and middle school readers
Category: illustrated chapter books

When they were kids, summers at Great Aunt Adelaide’s used to be fun. But now, cousins Daphne and Ivan are teenagers. Too cool for board games and pretend play. They need their screens for more “sophisticated entertainment.”Tired of the bickering and “I’m bored,” Great Aunt Adelaide sends them out to play in the barn … giving them the first clue in a treasure hunt that turns their summer around.

Who are the key players?
Our adventurers Ivan and Daphne are the obvious main players. Each is a pretty typical teenager, with very specific likes and dislikes. Their quest requires them to push their learning in new ways … with Daphne (the poet) gaining more confidence in math; and Ivan (the math guy) engaging more with literature and writing.

There are a series of peripheral players, but it isn’t until the last third of the book that you meet the book’s equivalents of “The Great Oz.” On one level, Maxie, Vera, and Timothy have more edge to being self-centered, but there is a point to it.

A Reader’s Thoughts
I loved this book … and I want a pet thesaurus (a llama like animal that whispers synonyms)! The adventure and characters are fun, with plenty of metaphor and symbolism in place names, character traits, and places. The puzzles are just clever enough to make it fun, but in no way frustrating for someone who hasn’t had the subject in school (e.g., Algebra).

My one thought is that while I loved the theme of imagination and being unplugged as a parent, it may be too subtle for kids to see. That is a minor quibble, because it is a fun read even if you “miss” the message. Highly recommended as a summer read aloud.

Questions for Pendred Noyce

  • This is an engaging but seemingly personal tale. If you characterized yourself, would you be Daphne, Ivan, or Aunt Adelaide?
  • Will Ivan and Daphne – or even the Mistress of Metaphor – return to Lexicon for another adventure? Will we learn about Aunt Adelaide’s quests of years ago?

Where did you get this book? The publisher donated a copy for review.

one red dot pop-up bookOne Red Dot a Pop-Up Book for Children of All Ages
by David A. Carter
Little Simon, an Imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, 2004
audience: preschool through adult
Category: picture books

Explore boxes, balls, trees, wiggles, and more as each page comes alive and you search for one red dot.

Who are the Key Players?
The reader. This is a book for exploring, sharing, and counting (if you want to).

A Reader’s Thoughts
I am always skeptical of “for all ages” books, but this one lives up to the billing. It sits by my desk and I pick it up routinely … then the 10-year-old discovered it and we lost her for hours as she explored every nook and cranny, reading backward and forward, and picking out her favorite pages.

Question for David A. Carter
None. I am speechless.

Where did you get this book? It is a gift from Reading is Fundamental and part of my personal library.

pumpkin picture bookPick a Pumpkin, Mrs. Millie
by Judy Cox; illustrated by Joe Mathieu
Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books, 2009
audience: preschool, kindergarten elementary readers
Category: picture books

Mrs. Millie is a silly, silly teacher! She is taking her class to the pumpkin patch, but she gets all her words mixed up! At the beginning, instead of saying “It’s NICE to see you!” she says, “It’s MICE to see you!”There are lots of mixed up words: sometimes at the beginning sometimes at the end. Each time, Mrs. Millie’s students exclaim “We know what you mean.”

Who are the Key Players?
Mrs. Millie may be the “instigator,” but everyone – including the reader – gets involved in this story!

A Reader’s Thoughts
My kids (ages two, four, and six) LOVED LOVED LOVED this book. It is super silly, and filled with fun. The kids in the story laugh on each page, and my kids laughed at the plays on the words that Mrs. Millie mixes up. The illustrations are fun, colorful, and add a lot to the humor of the story.  If you don’t read it exactly as the text appears on the page, sometimes there is more than one word that fits the story and also rhymes, and it’s fun to see what the kids come up with on their own.

Question for Judy Cox

  •  In reading the story with kids, what has been the most unusual rhyming substitute that young readers have inserted into the story to help Mrs. Millie

Where did you get this book? The publisher donated a copy for review.?

The Secret Life of Mrs. Finkleman
by Ben H. Winters
HarperCollins, 2012
audience: middle school readers
Category: chapter books

Mr. Melville was famous for his “Special Projects,” a totally random assignment that had nothing to do with Social Studies. This time, his seventh grade class must “find a mystery and then solve it.” Bethesda Fielding knew exactly what her mystery would be: Who is Ms. Finkleman, the band and chorus teacher? Just when Bethesda thinks she has solved the mystery once and for all, she discovers there is still one missing piece! 

Who are the Key Players?
This is most definitely Bethesda’s story to tell, but other characters – like Principal Van Vreeland – quickly careen the story in new directions (at least from the reader’s perspective).

Kevin McElvey and Tenny Boyer are two characters who add some key pieces to the personalities of the seventh graders.  Kevin is “the piano kid,” the son of a world-class maestro who had looked down his nose at Rock-and-Roll music until he was put in a school performance. Tenny Boyer is the quintessential soon-to-be-dropout-with-a-heart-of-gold. He is a visible reminder of the dangers of judging people because you just might miss how wonderfully talented they are.

A Reader’s Thoughts
This is a quick read. The mystery is not so predictable that you can see the twist coming too early. Kevin, Tenny, and the rock concert keep this from being a “girl book,” which the cover seems to suggest.

One of the interesting dynamics in the story is Bethesda’s relationship with her dad. It is a fresh change from the frequent mother-daughter tandems that fill books for kids this age. I loved that it showed a healthy relationship between a dad and his teenage daughter.

Question for Ben H. Winters

  • How did you come up with the questions for “What’s Your Band Style” in the back of the book?
  • Will music and/or Ms. Finkleman play a part in the next story?

Where did you get this book? The publisher donated a copy for review.

What We’re Reading

A Place for Delta
by Melissa Walker; illustrated by Richard Walker, Ph.D.
Whale Tales, 2010
Audience: middle school and high school
Category: chapter books

Initial thoughts: This is a fascinating story about family, polar bears, science in the Arctic, and global warming (without being in your face about it). I am just now getting to the “meat” of the mystery (discovering the woman in the grey  jumpsuit) and expect that things will get very exciting. 

Click here to see other Reading Tub book reviews, including chapter books, this month. Use these links to take you to your favorite children’s and young adult book categories.


Note: Book covers and titles link to Amazon.com, with which the Reading Tub has an affiliate relationship. We may earn income from purchases made through these links. They are offered for convenience and do not represent an obligation to buy from this vendor.