Unicorn on a Roll

9781449470760by Dana Simpson
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Content: There’s some difficult words for younger readers (and some concepts that will go over the heads of younger readers), but it’s really accessible at any age level. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section at the bookstore.

I’ve seen this at the store for ages; I’ve even sold it to a couple of girls looking for a fun graphic novel. But it wasn’t until recently that I actually sat down to figure out what this was.

The basic premise is this: Phoebe, a girl, has a unicorn friend (whose name is Marigold Heavenly Nostrils — I KNOW, RIGHT?) who may or may not be real. (Sound familiar?) And, after I got past the initial “huh, this isn’t a graphic novel, it’s more a collection of comic strips” I fell in love. Oh. My. Gosh. It’s SO hilarious. Maybe it’s because I’m an adult and get jokes about 80s and 90s music (“My mom said a woman named Alanis ruined irony forever.”) but really. It’s just impossible not to love Phoebe and Marigold Heavenly Nostrils. They are perfect.



by Karherine Applegate
First sentence: “I noticed several weird things about the surfboarding cat.”
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Review copy snagged off the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: There’s some difficult things for the younger set to handle, but Applegate handles them at an age-appropriate level. There’s larger print, a lot of white space, and illustrations as well. It’s in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Jackson has had a bumpy life. His parents are musicians, which isn’t the most stable job, and his dad has MS. They’ve managed okay, mostly; though there was the one time when they were living in their van for a few months. It was during this time that Jackson’s imaginary friend, a huge cat named Crenshaw, showed up.

For the past few years, though, they’ve been pretty stable. Except things are going downhill again. How does Jackson know? Crenshaw has showed up again.

The question is: what can Jackson do about the piling bills, and the growing sense of helplessness that he feels. The answer may lie with Crenshaw.

I wanted to love this one. I really did. I adored The One and Only Ivan, loved Applegate’s simplicity in relating a story. But this one kind of fell flat. It wasn’t Jackson’s story: I feel that his story, the one of good people who just can’t make ends meet, is one that needs to be told. But I never could quite figure out what Crenshaw was doing there. Or why he was necessary. To add a bit of levity? To help Jackson? It never quite felt right, felt seamless to me.

That said, Applegate does know how to tell a story; it wasn’t so bad that I didn’t finish it. It just felt a little… off.. to me. Which, in the end, was disappointing.

Confessions of an Imaginary Friend

A Memoir by Jaques Papier
by Michelle Cuevas
First sentence: “Yes, world, I am writing my memoir, and I have titled the first chapter simply this: EVERYONE HATES JACQUES PAPIER.”
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Release date: September 4, 2015
Review copy provided by the publisher rep.
Content: Aside from a few big words, this one is written at an 8-year-old’s level. I’d give it to 3rd-graders and up. It’ll be in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

For all eight years of his life, Jacques Papier has been happy. He has a wonderful twin sister, Fleur, and even though is parents seem to ignore him and the weiner dog, Francois, hates him, he’s pretty happy. Then one day, in second grade, his is forced to face this realization: he’s imaginary. This sets off both an existential crisis and an adventure as Jacques figures out what to do now that he’s no longer “real”.

It’s a pretty simple premise, but Cuevas executes it brilliantly. It’s framed as a memoir, and her voice for Jacques is spot-on. I love the other imaginary beings he comes across in his travels, and the way he becomes the imaginary friend of several other children. It’s scattered through with drawings (I think done by the author), which just adds to the whimsy of this one. And the ending is incredibly sweet without being too saccharine.

I adored it.


Dory Fantasmagory
by Abby Hanlon
First sentence: “My name is Dory, but everyone calls me Rascal.”
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Dory and the Real True Friend
First sentence: “My name is Dory, but everyone calls me Rascal.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy snagged from the publisher rep.
Release date: July 2015
Content: It’s pretty basic, short, and liberally illustrated with pencil sketches throughout. It’s in the beginning chapter book (grades 1-2) section of the bookstore.

I don’t often read beginning chapter books anymore. K is past that age (and prefers graphic novels, anyway), and it’s just not where my interest lies. That said, every once in a while, a book comes along that I just have to pick up, and in the end, just makes me smile. I ended up reading this one becuas while it’s been on my radar for a while, it was making it as a finalist for the Cybils that convinced me  I really ought to read it.

And I was thoroughly charmed.

Dory is a 6-year-old with a VERY active imagination. She’s the youngest child, and her two older siblings don’t ever really want to play with her. So, she plays with her imaginary monster friend, Mary, and goes on a ton of adventures. That’s really all there is to the plot. (Well, in the second book, she goes to first grade and eventually makes a “real” friend, whom everyone thinks is imaginary.) But what these have going for it is that Hanlon gets first graders. Seriously. She gets their quirks, their habits, their curiosity, their silliness. And she makes Dory an absolutely fantastic character. She’s someone you want to spend time with, laugh with, and who just makes you happy.

My only criticisms are superficial: I’m going to have a hard time getting boys to read this. But, much like Princess in Black, I think that boys are really going to enjoy Dory and her crazy imagination. And secondly, everyone’s white. It’s a little thing, but Dory didn’t have to be white, and her best friend didn’t have to be white, but they are.

Even so, they are adorable books. And adorable wins every time.