The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future
By Dav Pilkey
Dav Pilkey is the creator of the Captain Underpants series, which is a huge hit with many readers, both avid or reluctant. The Adventures of Ook and Gluk is the supposed creation of George Beard and Harold Hutchins, two characters from Captain Underpants. This metafictional element adds a layer of complexity and fun to the experience at the same time as it is a shameless link to the Captain Underpants franchise.
The graphic novel is very simple in its drawing style, adding to the assertion that it is drawn and created by two fourth graders—George and Harold. But with a mixture of time travel, dinosaurs, evil corporations, kung-fu, potty humour and an afro, this book will appeal to readers of many backgrounds and age ranges. There is an added silliness factor with “flip-o-rama” technology in each chapter. By flipping quickly back-and-forth between two pages, there is a simple “animation” style element that is both quirky and pretty fun, even for older readers.
The narrative is not difficult to follow, and is a commentary on large corporations, environmentalism—to some extent—and learning about the consequences of violence. It might not be immediately evident that there are lessons to be learned from this graphic novel, but I promise, it is in there. Parents can appreciate this aspect, and young readers will most likely pick up on these things too, though perhaps not in all of its complexity.
I do have one major issue with the text, however, and it can be seen as troublesome for readers with issues of spelling and grammar. Since the text is written as if by fourth graders, there are purposeful misspellings throughout, as well as horribly incorrect verb tense and a “lesson” at the back of the book on how to speak like a caveman (“It fun! It easy! It annoy Grown-ups!”) While I understand the humour of it, and think that older readers will find it quirky and enjoyable, those with actual difficulty learning language and writing skills may be negatively influenced by that aspect of the book.
Overall I would recommend this title for those who want a quick and hilarious escape from reality, but parents should note the possibly troublesome nature of the written portions of the text. A light and campy book for young readers of many different reading levels.
Double or Nothing
By Dennis Foon
Double or Nothing is a compelling novel for young adults (13+) that radiates urgency and sympathy. Kip, a kid on his way to finishing high school and finally starting college, develops a habit that just won’t let him rest. When Kip meets a new partner in crime and gets a taste for higher and higher stakes, everything starts to go wrong for him. He starts to swindle his own mother, desert his friends, lie to his new girlfriend and disappoint his uncle. The biggest problem for Kip now is, if he bets double or nothing, he could lose a lot more than just money.
The stakes in this novel truly are high, bringing to life the truth of how easy it is to get sucked into the world of gambling, bets and supposedly easy money. Kip’s character is solid and Foon does a wonderful job of making him both infuriating and incredibly sympathetic. Kip’s gambling partner is a bit of a caricature at times, but is also, for the most part, a well-placed mirror for Kip to see his future if he continues down the path he has chosen. Joey, his girlfriend, is a good character, if slightly absent throughout much of the story, and she makes for an intriguing foil for Kip’s self-destructiveness.
The ending of the book is a bit quick, but makes many good points, giving lessons without being preachy, and being satisfying without being a perfectly happy ending. The urgency played out in Kip’s character and in the narrative style of the book will be welcome for more reluctant or choosey readers. The narrative is slightly more geared for boys, and the only two girl characters of significance are still relatively minor until a bit later in the story arc. Overall, the novel is consistently energetic and cohesive, with a very accessible narrative voice. Highly recommended.
A word of note regarding some content that parents may find objectionable: This book contains a few instances of drug use.
By Pat Schmatz
Oh, the angst of middle school. Reading Bluefish, by Pat Schmatz was like taking a walk down memory lane, and not one I particularly like to revisit. But for tweens and young adult readers today, you’ll enjoy hanging out with Travis and Velveeta.
Travis is thirteen and feeling displaced in his new town, new house, and new school. He lives with his grandfather but only by default because both his parents are dead. Maybe all the newness wouldn’t be so bad if only his dog were still with him. Travis doesn’t understand why Rosco disappeared and never came back. He was always faithfully by his side. Soon after Rosco goes missing, his grandfather got the wild-haired idea to move! What was wrong with where they were? It was their home where his friends were, his school, all things familiar. It’s the place Rosco would return to one day. But like most teenagers, Travis wasn’t given any choice in the decisions that affected him the most.
So begins Travis’ first year of newness. Right away he meets Velveeta. She’s edgy, communicates with quick cutting words, and has an aloofness that tells people she’s fine without them. But she’s not. She definitely has her heart in the right place, but she doesn’t know exactly how to “be” in her own skin. Velveeta lives in a run-down trailer park, mostly hanging out in a dead man’s trailer but that’s better than going home to her alcoholic mother and moocher-loser of a brother. I felt compassion for Velveeta. She tries so hard to be friends with people I couldn’t help feeling like I wanted to take her under my wings and protect her from the scary unknowns that make up her world.
Fortunately, for Travis and Velveeta, their paths cross. Velveeta discovers that Travis can’t read and she sets out to help him. Travis wants to help Velveeta, too, but how? They’re both untrusting of each other, each asking themselves why the other would want to hang out with them. Luckily, they work through the awkward conversations, the insecurities, and form a bond that has the hope of lasting for eternity.
What I most enjoyed about Bluefish is the author’s writing style and the format of the book. The majority of the story is told in third person from the point of view of Travis. You get to know what he is really thinking and feeling, even if no one else can. Throughout the book are chapters written from the point of view of Velveeta, as if she were writing in her diary. You get to know the Velveeta behind the shield she wears and the Velveeta that Travis eventually gets to know, too. Pat Schmatz writes with an authentic middle school voice. For adults reading this book, be prepared to go down memory lane as I did, complete with all its ups and downs. For kids reading this book, you’ll feel like you have two new friends to help you navigate the crazy-uncomfortable-scary time called “the teen years”. I wish I had known Travis and Velveeta when I was their age.
Everything I Was
By Corinne Demas
Everything I Was, by Corinne Demas, is a perfect example of why you should not judge a book by its cover. Now that I’ve read the book I know the location in the picture, which is not that critical to the story and in fact leads a potential reader astray from the actual story. Of course I know who the girl is but the face gives the impression of an older teen, closer to maybe 16 years old, which is a good three years older than the main character in the book. And, I can wax on poetically about the symbolism of a girl with her face halfway submerged in water. But I won’t because I don’t think the story is quite that deep nor was it meant to be. Now don’t get me wrong, Everything I Was is a wonderful book. The plot is well structured and the story is believable and the characters are realistic.
So who is the girl on the cover? She’s Irene, a 13-year-old who lives on the upper east side in Manhattan in a penthouse apartment with her parents. Irene goes to a private school, vacations at all the right places, attends all the right summer camps, wears all the right clothes, and has all the right friends. Life is great for Irene and for her parents, especially her mother who is all about having everything and everything “just right” no matter the costs. Besides, that’s what Henri Bendel is for, right? To shop!
Well, shop no more. Straight out of today’s headlines Irene’s father is downsized out of his job. And Irene and her family are downsized accordingly, right out of their affluent lifestyle and onto her grandfather’s farm – like, a million miles away from civilization!
Irene is uprooted like a plant and expected to grow and flourish as if nothing has changed. Except everything has changed and there is nothing she can do. Her world is completely out of her control. Luckily for Irene, she has a grandfather who understands her fears. He provides the right amount of encouragement to help her make new friends and make her new surroundings her own. Unfortunately, Irene makes one decision for herself and it’s not a good one. Kids, don’t worry, the story doesn’t focus on her mistake. Instead the focus is on her parents and how they could have done more to listen and truly hear Irene’s fears about their new situation and how their decisions affected Irene. Irene’s story does have a happy ending but not the one you might expect.
I found myself thoroughly engaged in Irene’s story and curious about what would happen next. Would she make new friends? Would she rebel against her parents? Would she make more wrong choices? Would she be able to start a new life in a world 180° from what was familiar? Corinne Demas created realistic characters with believable problems and likely circumstances and solutions. This is also a quick read, one you can enjoy just before the new school year hits full stride.
Comedy Plays and Scenes for Student Actors
By Laurie Allen
Meriwether Publishing, Ltd.
Calling all thespians! This is the book for you. Inside are 26 short scenes to explore new characters with a fellow actor. Each one has a quick scene description and gives the number of actors needed. I have a student in 6th grade who is an aspiring actor. She read most of the scenes in this book and said they are great for anyone age 9 and older. Her favorites were: When Coyotes Howl, Zebra Hamsters, The Perfect Monologue, and Screaming Bloody Murder. As a teacher, my favorite was Zebra Hamsters. I’ve heard some very unique excuses for why homework was not turned in, but the excuse in this scene takes the cake! I don’t suggest you try it in class this coming year. I wouldn’t want you to have the same outcome as the character, John.
I would also recommend this book for kids who are interested in reading short stories. Maybe you’re not quite ready or interested in reading an entire novel. Reading these scenes and plays will give you the feeling of accomplishment and enjoyment at the same time.
|Selected and reviewed by the Keen Readers team; these are not sponsored reviews.|