Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy)

Booklist (December 1, 2009 (Vol. 106, No. 7))
Grades 2-5. Two texts run though this unusual book. The first is Kerley’s account of Samuel Clemens’ 13-year-old daughter, Susy, who decides to write her father’s biography in her journal. The second is a series of excerpts from that actual biography, neatly printed in scriptlike font with Susy’s misspellings intact. These entries appear on smaller, folded pages, each marked “JOURNAL,” that are tipped into the gutters of this large-format picture book’s double-page spreads. Though a story about someone writing a book sounds a bit static—and it sometimes is—Kerley manages to bring Susy and her famous father to life using plenty of household anecdotes. With a restrained palette and a fine sense of line, Fotheringham’s stylized, digital illustrations are wonderfully freewheeling, sometimes comical, and as eccentric as Susy’s subject. Appended are author’s notes on Samuel and Susy Clemens, tips on writing a biography, a time line, and source notes for quotes. An original.

The Case of the Lost Boy

Booklist (January 1, 2010 (Vol. 106, No. 9))
Grades 1-3. This first installment in a new trilogy for early readers introduces a dog whose first family went away and never returned. Buddy ended up in the pound, where he was adopted by a boy, Connor, and his mom, who coincidently live in his old neighborhood. Buddy, who enjoyed sleuthing with his original owner, is now trying to solve the mystery of his missing family, a mission he will pursue throughout the series. First, though, he has an immediate problem to solve: Connor has disappeared. Buddy tries to find him, relying on methodical reasoning and unexpected assistance from a cat who can read. The story moves quickly to its obvious conclusion, but unanswered questions will propel readers to the series’ second title. Particularly well drawn are scenes in which Buddy tries to overcome dog-to-human communication obstacles, the numerous distractions of delicious smells, and Connor’s reluctance to love Buddy as he deals with changes in his own life. With twists and turns, humor, and a likable canine character, this series should find a wide fan base.

The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity

Booklist (October 15, 2009 (Vol. 106, No. 4))
Grades 4-6. Meet Steve Brixton, who lists The Bailey Brothers’ Detective Handbook at the top of the Fifty-nine Greatest Books of All Time, closely followed by the 58 volumes of the Bailey Brothers Mysteries, a Hardy Boys–style series. Steve, an aspiring boy detective, stumbles into a mystery involving the Maguffin quilt, a priceless artifact hidden by its last guardian before his death and still missing. Playing with the tropes of the Stratemeyer mystery series, the book provides all their action and adventure but adds a level of humor that will sometimes have readers laughing out loud. Similarly, Rex’s illustrations have a mid-twentieth-century look, and in an accomplished, deadpan manner, offer one of the book’s funniest moments. And though librarians usually roll their eyes when a good-guy librarian character appears in a novel, they may find it hard to resist Barnett’s over-the-top portrayal of the profession as an elite undercover force expert in intelligence, counterintelligence, Boolean searching, and hand-to-hand combat. A smart, amusing mystery, this promising first novel is a fine start for the Brixton Brothers series.