The Terrible Two Get Worse

terribletwogetworseby Mac Barnett and Jory John
First sentence: “Welcome back to Yawnee Valley, its green hills and cows, cows, cows.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series The Terrible Two
Review copy pilfered from the ARC shelves at my place of employment
Content: It’s silly, but (mostly) harmless. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Niles and Miles are back, pranking the poor unsuspecting citizens — well, mostly one — of Yawnee Valley. They have gotten so bad, that the principal of their school gets fired — well, put on indefinite, unpaid leave — and his super-strict father takes over the school. He cancels everything, and effectively puts a stop to Niles and Miles’ pranks. (The best way to do that is to pretend the prank doesn’t happen. It’s the reaction that makes it a prank.) In essence, he makes Miles and Niles into “normal” students. But, because that would be a boring book, Miles and Niles team up with their former arch-enemy to kick the current principal out, and get their mojo back.

Huh. Writing that out, I sounds ridiculously stupid. (Maybe because it is…) But that’s the point, really. It lacks the cow facts of the first one that I really enjoyed, but other than that, the stupid, stupid humor of Barnett and John are back. I’m not sure it’s as funny as the first one (I liked the prank war that escalated, mostly), but it had it some moments that were pretty funny. It’s a good addition to this silly series, and I know it’ll appeal to those Wimpy Kid fans who are looking for something different.

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The Tapper Twins Go To War (with each other)

by Geoff Rodkey
First sentence: “Wars are terrible things.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy picked up at Winter Institute for me by my co-workers
Content: There’s a lot of silliness, and it’s a “notebook” book and told in an oral history form, which means lots of pictures, not a lot of exposition, and a generous mix of technology. Perfect for reluctant readers. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, but it’d be good up through 7th, I think.

The Tapper twins, Claudia and Reese, are at war. They disagree on how it started, but both are pretty invested in making each other’s life miserable now. It escalates from name calling to pranking (a dead fish left in a backpack) to online bullying to out-and-out destruction in an online gaming forum.

It’s told as an oral history; Claudia is the narrator, and nominally the one telling the events as they unfold, but she interviews friends and family (well, she uses text messages from her parents) and neighbors to defend or refute her point: that Reese is the one who started the War, and that he Deserved It. Of course, Reese totally rejects that idea.

Sure, this isn’t a lot of things, but it IS a lot of fun. And honestly: that’s what kids want and like. Personally, I loved the dynamic between the twins, their push and pull with each other. And while it’s an upper-middle class life that they live (computers, tablets, phones, babysitter, private school), and while it’s yet another New York City book, it’s a fun “fantasy” life for those of us in middle class, Midwest America (although yeah, I’d like to have their life and their problems) and a fun look at kids in New York City. It got me laughing, aloud at times, and sometimes that’s exactly all you want out of a book.

And I’m sure kids will love it.

The Terrible Two

by Mac Barnett and Jory John, illustrated by Keven Cornell
First sentence: “Welcome to Yawnee Valley, an idyllic place with rolling green hills that slope down to creeks and cows as far as the eye can see.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy snagged from the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Release date: January 13, 2015
Content: It’s a bunch of silly pranks. Simple writing and lots of illustrations make it good for younger and reluctant readers. It will be in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Miles Murphy is The King of the Pranks. Or, at least he was back in his old school. But in his new one? Not so much. Oh, he tries to become the king again. But in small Yawneee Valley, Miles is finding it difficult to get a good prank in. He keeps being thwarted by someone else. Soon, it’s an all-out prank war, the like Yawnee Valley has never seen.

As soon as I saw this one, I snagged it; Mac Barnett is one of my favorite picture book writers, and I figure he and his friend (or so the bios say) Jory John had to produce something worth reading. I was right (of course!). It’s hilarious. Silly and stupid. Dumb and amusing.

It’s perfect.

Really. It’ll be great for the reluctant readers who need something silly to keep them turning pages. (Plus: illustrations!) It’s got some great conflict, a hilarious buffoon of an adult to root against, and the best. ever. prank. at the end.

What more could you ask for in a book?

Absolutely nothing.

Life of Zarf: The Trouble with Weasels

by Rob Harrell
First sentence: “Zarf.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy downloaded from Edelweiss.
Release date: September 2, 2014
Content: It’s pretty basic, and there are a lot of pictures. I’ll probably shelve it in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, though it’d work for an advanced 1st or second grader. There’s nothing objectionable.

Zarf is a troll. That means, at this middle school of his, that he is the bottom of the bottom on the social ladder. Even his friends Kevin (of Littlepig fame) and Chester (the Jester) are higher up the social ladder than he is. But then, what do you expect when your the kid and grandkid of the trolls who bugged the billy goats?

Zarf’s pretty okay with his social nothingness. That is, until King Cheznott goes missing, presumably dead, killed (or kidnapped) by huge Snuffweasels. And his bully son (at least bully to Zarf), Roquefort, takes over. And throws Zarf  in the dungeon. Where he (somewhat inadvertently) finds himself on a rescue mission. And, of course, hilarity ensues.

Actually the plot is really secondary in this book. It’s mostly just about silliness. Serious silliness. Like:

“How can I explain that voice? It was so deep, it sounded like a cross between Darth Vader’s voice and someone farting through a tuba.”

or odd creatures, like attack pears!

Or Chester’s really jokes (“How many wobble gnomes does it take to massage a swampfrog?” We never do find out the punchline to that one.)

Or the clever asides:

As you can tell, this slim book is liberally scattered with pictures. Making it perfect for the reluctant reader. And it’s hilarious, which makes the appeal that much greater. At any rate, I laughed quite a bit and read it all in one sitting. Perfect, silly, stupid fun.

The Hero’s Guide to Being an Outlaw

by Christopher Healy
First sentence: “Outlaws have too many feathers in their hats.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your KingdomThe Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle
Content: There’s some kissing, a bit of violence (and almost violence), and it’s long for a middle-grade novel. It’d be in the middle grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore; don’t let the length fool you; it goes fast.

I don’t even remember what our Fair Heroes were doing at the end of the second book. But, honestly: it doesn’t matter. I fell right back into the silly stupidity (and I say that with all loving kindness in my heart) of this book, snorting and giggling as The League of Princes (and the Ferocious Female Freedom Fighters — or FFFF) try to save the Thirteen Kingdoms from Lord Rauber’s (who they thought they killed in the last book) evil plan to take over the world.

The point to the book, I think, is not the plot. Sure, there is a plot: The whole gang is branded as outlaws because they were supposed to have murdered Briar Rose (sure, she’s annoying, but they wouldn’t literally kill her. Only figuratively) so everyone’s on the run and trying to prove their innocence. But the point is for the guys to be dorky (ah, Duncan), the girls to be awesome (bonus: pirate captain Jerica! Double bonus: Gustav trying to flirt), and for super-silly jokes and asides (like the prisoner Val Jeanval. Get it??). Yes, it was stupid. But, I love it.

Full of action (and stupid jokes), and perfect for just about anyone who doesn’t mind a bit of fairy tale adventure.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules

I read the first Diary of a Wimpy kid last year, and absolutely loved it. So, I had high hopes for this book. Possibly a mistake. Because, in spite of my best efforts, this one just did not make me laugh.

I think I just found it annoying. As a narrator (and illustrator), Greg was more irritating than witty. As were his family (shoot me if I ever act like his parents) and friends. The story was kind of lame, too — not that I expected more there — as was the ending. I ended up rolling my eyes more than chuckling (though there were a few chuckles). I guess it just didn’t live up to the expectations I had for it.

To be fair, though, my 8-year-old, C, loved it. Perhaps this is one of those situations where I’m just too old.

Ah, well.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

This book, by Jeff Kinney — another one for my cousin — took an hour to read, and had me in stitches pretty much the whole time. It’s conceit is simple: it’s the “diary”, or journal, rather, of Greg Heffley during 7th grade. It’s done in cartoons (it’s subtitled “a novel in cartoons”) and prose… and is completely hilarious.

I wish I could scan the cartoons (but I won’t; copyright and all that) but here are some of my favorite bits:

I’m sure Dad would dismantle my game system if he could figure out how to do it. But luckily, the people who make these things make them parent-proof. (followed by a cartoon with Dad saying, “Dag nab these fancy gadgets!”)

Roderick’s band is REALLY awful, and I can’t stand being home when they’re having rehearsals. His band is called “Loaded Diaper,” only it’s spelled “Löded Diper” on Roderick’s van. You might think he spelled it that way to make it it look cooler, but I bet if you told Rodrick how “Loaded Diaper” is really spelled, it would be news to him.

This one’s my favorite, but I think it’s only because I’m a mom. A bit of set-up’s necessary, though. Rowley is Greg’s best friend, though Rowley’s a bit, um, dim. He also has over-protective parents, who are really into personal safety for Rowley. For Halloween, Rowley’s mom gets him a really cool knight costume.

Rowley showed up around 6:30 wearing his knight costume, but it didn’t look ANYTHING like it looked yesterday. Rowley’s mom made all these safety improvements to it, and you couldn’t even tell what he was supposed to be anymore. She cut out a big hole in the front of the helmet so he could see better, and covered him up in all this reflective tape. She made him wear his winter coat underneath everything, and she replaced his sword with a glow stick. (Trust me, the accompanying cartoon is hilarious.)

There are other fun moments in this book: the Wizard of Oz play (and subsequent play disaster), the Cheese Touch, wrestling in PE… My only initial complaint is that the book got a bit serious at the end and tried to have a plot. But, as I thought about it, I realized it made sense. Life is like that: mostly boring with occasional spurts of excitement and a little conflict along the way.

I even got M to read this book. It’s been sitting on my dresser for a while, but she had no interest. It wasn’t until I opened it up and started reading passages to her that she got interested. In fact, for a while last night, we were sitting on the couch together reading it. (Ah, one of those mother-daughter bonding moments. So what if it happens over a goofy book?) Hubby even had to see what we were laughing about.

This book is contagious. Kind of like laughter. Makes sense.