Book review: The Plant Planet, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Steven Weinberg

Scieszka, Jon. The Plant Planet! (Astro-Nuts series, book 1). Illustrated by Steven Weinberg. Chronicle Books, 2019. $14.99. ISBN 9781452171197. 213 pages. Ages 8-12. P7 Q7

If your reader likes Dog Man and Captain Underpants, they are sure to like Astro-Nuts! Four mutant animals who have been in hibernation are activated to explore the plant planet, a Goldilocks planet. Mount Rushmore is the Top-Secret NNASA (Not the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) headquarters. Their top-secret ship, Thomas Jefferson Nose Rocket is inside Mt. Jefferson’s nose! The Astro-Nuts are super powered, but have not been tested. Follow AlphaWolf, SmartHawk, LaserShark, and Stinkbug on their comical adventure that includes climate change, facts, and science, narrated from the Earth’s point of view. Some of the humor includes farts and boogers. The brightly colored illustrations are comic style and include graphs, reports, blue prints, plant cell structures and mathematical calculations. The graphic-hybrid design blends varied typefaces and collage illustrations.

Verdict: This is a fun way for tweens to learn about climate change and the earth. I can see this comical book being used by teachers to teach facts about plant cells. Readers will glean valuable facts and be entertained at the same time.

September 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: The Last Chance Hotel, by Nicki Thornton

Thornton, Nicki. The Last Chance Hotel. (Seth Seppi Mystery series, book 1). Chicken House, 2019. $18.99. ISBN 9781338323627. 321 pages. Ages 8-14. P7 Q7

Harry Potter meets Clue in this enchanting mystery. Seth, a kitchen boy at the Last Chance Hotel, aspires to be a chef like his dad. Seth’s mom died when he was a baby and his dad left years ago, leaving him an orphan and at the mercy of the Bunn family, who run the hotel. When Dr. Thallonius, a VIP guest, arrives along with an odd group of guests to participate in a secret meeting, strange events start to happen, including Dr. Thallonius being poisoned. With his cat, Nightshade, Seth sleuths around to find out who is responsible for the murder. If you are a Harry Potter fan, you will enjoy this novel, full of items such as magic mirrors, paintings and the ability to teleport. The book is not gory and is appropriate for tweens. The author’s descriptive text allows the reader to imagine the events as they unfold. This book is set up for a sequel, The Bad Luck Lighthouse, which is available in paperback. This book was first published in the UK in 2018. The UK cover is different and this version is updated to reflect an American vocabulary.

Verdict: If you have a reader who is eager to read a book similar to Harry Potter, this book fits the bill. Full of magic, mystery, courage and perseverance, this book makes an easy read for youth or for families to read together. I marked it down a little due to the fact that there were many questions not answered, which might be addressed in the next book. It may leave the reader with more questions than answers. That being said, I think the blend of magic and mystery are balanced well.

September 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: The Handbook, by Jim Benton

Benton, Jim. The Handbook. Scholastic Press, 2017.  ISBN 978-0-545-94240-9. $12.99. 213 pp. Ages 10-13.  P7Q7

This book is a funny take on the platitudes parents spew at their children: you’ll poke your eye out, eat your vegetables, etc.  The premise of the story is all of these platitudes, that all parents seem to know, are from a handbook given only to parents.  The handbook must remain a secret!  Unknown horrors (parents being manipulated by children, for instance) will happen if children find out parents are given the exact same information to deliver a prescribed instances.  The main character, Jack, finds a copy of the handbook and he shares the information with his two closest friends Mike and Maggie.  Now they have turned the table on their parents and are in control! Their actions have been noted by two factions who are vying for control over the knowledge in the book.  A group of parents (who want to continue controlling) and a group of kids (who no longer want to be controlled).  Both want the book from Jack and his friends and both will do almost anything to get it.

The book delivers a funny, thrilling story based on all the comments your parents say that make you do the eye-roll.  With that said, I wasn’t fond of the manipulation of children portrayed in the story, or the fact that some parents will spout comments just to make their children behave.  The author does redeem himself with a positive message at the end basically saying children do not need to be manipulated to be good people.

Verdict:  I think kids will be able to relate to and like this funny story (unless they have awesome parents who threw out the Handbook!)

June 2019 review by Terri Lippert.

Book review: Animals: An Amazing Atlas of Wildlife, by Nicola Edwards, illustrated by L’Atelier Cartographik

Edwards, Nicola. Animals: An Amazing Atlas of Wildlife. (Hello World series). Illustrated by L’Atelier Cartographik. 60 Degrees/Tiger Tales, 2018. $19.99. ISBN 9781944530174. Unpaged. Ages 5-7. P8Q6

This oversized wildlife atlas is full of bright colors, fascinating information (I learned a lot!), and has an appealing lift-the-flap layout. A wide variety of animals are described for each continent, and an specific area of interest is showcased for each- for example in South America we learn about animals of the Amazon, in Europe, we get information about animals around Chernobyl after the nuclear disaster in 1986, and North America gives us the life cycle of the salmon. The author touches only very briefly on endangered species and habitats in crisis. The tidbits of information are hidden under flaps that must be lifted, the pages are made from heavy board, and the cover is beautiful. Unfortunately, the flaps won’t hold up to heavy wear, but children will enjoy looking behind them. There is also an age mismatch issue- the book is intended for ages 3 and up, but I think the information and vocabulary will be very advanced for such young children, though they will enjoy the pictures and format. In addition, the heavy board pages make it feel like it’s for younger readers.

VERDICT: I think children will find this book fascinating, and it could be used by elementary teachers or home school families while studying world animals and geography. However, I think the lack of information about declining habitats and the effects of climate change is a serious problem for any book about animals published at this time.

December 2018 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: Meet the House Kittens, by John Patrick Green

Green, John Patrick. Meet the House Kittens. (Kitten Construction Company series). First Second, 2018. $17.99. 70p. ISBN 978-1-62672-830-1. Ages 6-10. P9Q9

Frustrated by the city’s refusal to accept her architectural design for the new mayor’s mansion, Marmalade puts together her own crew of builders to build a mansion. The one commissioned by the city is so structurally unsound that it falls in, but unfortunately only the city planner believes that the kittens constructed the mansion while the mayor laughs at the kittens because they are so “adorable.”

Verdict: Initially, the graphic novel seems to lack substance, but it can be an excellent satire on how women are treated if they are considered to be “adorable” instead of competent, giving the book different dimensions from being just “cute” to pointing out that individual abilities are often overlooked because of stereotypes. The simple, colorful artwork makes this an accessible read for younger children.

Fall 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: EngiNerds, by Jarrett Lerner

Lerner, Jarrett. Enginerds. Aladdin, 2017. $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4814-6872-5. 178 pages. 8-12 P6/Q5

Twelve year old Kennedy and his friends receive mysterious boxes full of metal that assemble themselves into robots. At first the group of friends who call themselves the Enginerds are ecstatic. Robots to help them do chores seems like a dream come true. Unfortunately for them the robots have other plans in mind and now it is up to the group of friends to defeat the robots.

Verdict: Enginerds looked like an interesting book but in the end I was disappointed. The characters were not engaging and the story seemed disjointed. There were some enjoyable parts but overall I’m not overly excited by Enginerds.

November 2018 review by Michelle Cottrell.

Book review: The Case from Outer Space, by James Preller, illustrated by R.W. Alley

Preller, James. The Case From Outer Space. (A Jigsaw Jones Mystery). Illustrated by R. W. Alley. Fiewel and Friends, 2017. $15.99 ISBN 978-1-250-11018. 85 pages.  Ages 6-8 . P7/Q8

Another installment in the Jigsaw Jones Mystery Series, The Case from Outer Space is a fun book for kids just beginning to read chapter books. Jigsaw, a 2nd grader and detective, is given a case by his friends who are convinced that aliens are an imminent threat. With the help of his friends and some detective skills he is able to solve the case and learn a little on the way.

Verdict: This short and funny book is one that would be great for a reluctant reader. It is broken up by some illustrations which add to the books charm. It is a popular series as well.

November 2018 review by Michelle Cottrell.