Book Review: The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale


Author:  Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
Illustrator: LeUyen Pham
Title:  The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare 
Publication Info:  Somerville, Massachusetts : Candlewick Press, 2018.
Previously Read by the Same Authors: The Princess in Black (I’ve read all of the Princess in Black books multiple times, but only reviewed the first one for some reason).
Summary/Review:

I received a free advanced reading copy of the 6th book in the Princess in Black series through the Library Thing Early Reviewer program.

My daughter and I enjoy reading the Princess in Black books which gently send up princess culture and superhero stories while be sweet and charming in their own way.  In this adventure, Princess Magnolia leaves monster-fighting behind to attend a science fair.  Or so she thinks, until a goo monster emerges from a volcano model!

Princess Magnolia changes costumes to become the Princess in Black, and the Princess in Blankets introduced in The Princess in Black and the Mysterious Playdate is also there to help.  But then, three undisguised princesses also help out.  The book has a good message about working together to solve a problem.  We also get the goo monster’s perspective, and he just wants somewhere where he can fit in.  And the princesses (and monster) even use public transportation!

It’s a ripping good yarn and things end well for all involved.  My 6 y.o. and I have read it multiple times already and she’s not yet tired of it.

Rating: ***1/2

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Book Review: Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman


Author: Neil Gaiman
Title: Fortunately, the Milk
Narrator: Neil Gaiman
Publication Info: HarperCollins (2013)
Previously Read by the Same Author:

Summary/Review:

We listened to this with the kids on a road trip this weekend, once in each direction.  The narrator is a boy whose Dad goes out to buy milk at the corner store and after a long absence returns with an outlandish tale of where he’d been.  His adventures include encounters with aliens in flying saucers, pirates, vampires, colorful ponies, and traveling as a companion to Professor Steg, a very wise stegosaurus. They travel through time, escape an erupting volcano, and never fail to hold on to the milk, all while on board a Floaty-Ball-Person-Carrier (a.k.a. a hot air balloon).  It’s all delightfully silly and a good follow-up to our previous favorite audio book for road trips, Gaiman’s The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, which very likely features the same family.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Dog Man by Dav Pilkey


Author: Dav Pilkey
Title: Dog Man
Publication Info: New York, NY : Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic, 2016.
Summary/Review:

From the creator of Captain Underpants, comes Dog Man, the adventures of a police officer with a dogs head (surgically joined together in the origin story).  Dog Man is present as a comic written by George and Harold of the Captain Underpants‘ books, and is equally crude (as in the drawings and the potty humor) and subversive as the previous series.  Dog Man fights against the evil cat Petey, and some of my favorite parts are when Petey erases all the books in the world and makes everyone dumb, as well as when he brings a crew of evil hot dogs to life.  I read this to my six-year-old; she was delighted.

Rating: ***

Book Review: The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White


Author: T.H. White
TitleThe Sword in the Stone
Narrator: Neville Jason
Publication Info: Naxos AudioBooks (2008), originally published in 1938

Summary/Review: For a long holiday road trip with my son, I thought he’d enjoy this introduction to Arthurian mythology.  I did it with some hesitation, as The Once and Future King was one of my favorite books as a child and I feared it may not hold up to nostalgia.  I’m pleased though that this first installment of the tetralogy is still an enjoyable, modernist spin on the story of King Arthur, filling in the story of Arthur’s childhood. Of course, I always thought the The Sword in the Stone was the best of the four parts.  One thing I didn’t know is that White actually made major changes when he incorporated The Sword in the Stone into The Once and Future King, and while I can’t really remember enough to recognize most of the changes I was surprised that Disney didn’t actually make up the duel between Merlyn and Madame Mim.  Another thing I didn’t notice is a kid was just how blatant the anachronisms are, with Meryln living backwards in time making them a running gag.  Knowing how much White loved hunting, I also noticed that he puts a lot of detail into his descriptions of hunts throughout the book, something I must have glazed over as a child.  What remains the same is that the book contains a lot of humor, adventure, animal lore, a cameo by Robin Hood (er, Robin Wood), and surreptitious pacifist social satire.  And my son, well he covered his ears a lot during the scary party, but insisted we keep listening to the story and that we move on to The Witch in the Wood next.

Recommended BooksThe Dragon Stone: A Tale of King Arthur, Merlin & Cabal by John Conlee, The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, and The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights by John Steinbeck
Rating: ****1/2

Book Review: Ted & me: A Baseball Card Adventure by Dan Gutman


Author: Dan Gutman
TitleTed & me: A Baseball Card Adventure
Publication Info:  New York : Harper, c2012.
Summary/Review:

Joe Stoshack is a kid who can travel in time by touching baseball cards which take him to the time and place of the player in the photo.  In this installment of the series, the FBI learns of his ability and send an agent to convince him to go back in time to warn Franklin Roosevelt of the Pearl Harbor attack and prevent the United States entry into World War II.  The person to help Stosh on this mission is Red Sox slugger Ted Williams, an appropriately patriotic figure who gave up five seasons of his career to serve in WWII and the Korean War.  The characterization of Williams is well done since it captures a person who could be alternately an abrasive jerk and good-humored and generous.  Williams is also impulsive enough to take Stosh under his wing, and after finishing up the season in Philadelphia ensuring his .406 batting average, takes Stosh on a road trip.  There are a few stops along the way which I won’t spoil, but add to the characterization of Williams and his bond with Stosh.  Obviously, Stosh doesn’t prevent World War II, but it’s interesting to see some of the historic detail through his eyes, including a frightening encounter at an America First rally with supporters of Charles Lindbergh, something you wouldn’t expect to see in a children’s book.  It’s a good adventure for kids who are fans of baseball and American history.

Rating: ****

Book Review: The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain


Author: Mark Twain
TitleThe Prince and the Pauper
Narrator: Kenneth Jay
Publication Info:  Naxos AudioBooks , 2001
Summary/Review:

I remember enjoying this book as a child (although I can’t remember what age) and since my son is interested in Mark Twain, we listened to the audiobook on a recent road trip.  It was a little bit more complicated than I remembered, and frankly we both had trouble following parts of the story, but perhaps that is a challenge of audiobooks compared with print.  The basic story is well-known in which the poor and abused Tom Canty meets Prince Edward and discovering they resemble one another, swap clothing.  Through a comedy of errors, they are separated and end up with Tom unwillingly becoming king and the prince having to live life at the very bottom of society.  All works out in the end, and Twain is probably too kind on Edward VI’s actual legacy as king, but the book delves into some of the gritty realities of impoverished masses and the court intrigues of the elites.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne


Author: A.A. Milne
TitleWinnie the Pooh
Narrator: Peter Dennis
Publication Info: Blackstone Audio, Inc., 2005
Summary/Review:

I listened to this audiobook on a recent road trip with my children.  It had been a long time since I read Milne’s book with many viewings of Disney’s The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh in the intervening years.  The surprising thing for me is just how much of the dialogue for the film is taken right from the book.  Of course there are many differences as well.  Rabbit seems to be a meaner character and by the time he plotted to have Kanga and Roo removed from The Hundred Acre Woods, I figured he was the type who voted for Brexit.

The kids enjoyed listening to this book and there was much laughter.  I especially enjoy Milne’s playful narration that has the seemingly omniscient narrator interacting with a child presumably listening to him reading, much as a parent may when making up stories using a child’s toys.  And Peter Dennis’ audiobook narration is delightful.  A forever classic in any format!
Rating: *****

Book Reviews: Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney


Author: Jeff Kinney
Title:  Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Publication Info: Amulet Books, 2007

Title:  Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever
Publication Info: Amulet Books, 2011

TitleDiary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel
Publication Info: Amulet Books, 2012

TitleDiary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down
Publication Info: Amulet Books, 2016
Summary/Review:

I started reading these books with my 9-year-old son and then more surprisingly my 5-year-old daughter took an interest.  So I dove deep in Wimpy Kid books for a while.  The books are purported to be the journal of  middle-schooler Greg Heffley complete with hand-drawn illustrations.  The books are generally a series of humorous events as Greg gets himself into various scrapes.  While depicted as an unpopular weakling and thus a sympathetic character, Greg can also be arrogant and insensitive to others.  In short, a typical teenager.  Greg frequently is embarrassed by/tries to change his nerdy friend Rowley to help him fit in, although the irony is that Rowley by being cluelessly unreflective of himself, ends up more popular.  These are funny books that occasionally touch upon more serious issues (dating, puberty, honesty, responsibility, etc.).  I expect I’ll end up reading more.

Book Review: I Survived the Shark Attacks of 1916 by Lauren Tarshis


Author:Lauren Tarshis
TitleI Survived the Shark Attacks of 1916 by
NarratorP. J. Ochlan
Publication Info: Scholastic on Brilliance Audio (2017)
Summary/Review:

I listened to this gripping audiobook with my son.  It’s based on the real events of a shark attacking and killing 4 people and injuring one on the Jersey Shore, including a more inland attack on the Matawan Creek.   The book though is a fictional novel about a 10-year-old boy Chet who is living with his uncle and trying to fit in with the kids in his new community.  The story a child just trying to make friends and not succeeding in a series of pranks leading up to the actual shark attacks is actually well-told and relatable.  The shark attacks are hard to believe, but as noted, they’re the actual true story!

Recommended books:
Rating: ***

Book Review: Frozen: The Cinestory by Robert Simpson


Author: Robert Simpson
TitleFrozen: The Cinestory
Publication Info: Joe Books Inc. (2014)
Summary/Review:

I read this adaptation of the Disney musical Frozen with my daughter over the course of several bedtimes.  It’s essentially scenes from the film arranged in a comic book format.  Strangely enough, none of the lyrics to the songs that made this musical famous are included in the book.  Instead the same basic ideas are related in the dialogue.  I don’t know if this is a licensing issue or if they just thought it would work better in comic form without the songs.  Nevertheless, if you and your children enjoy Frozen, this is an enjoyable read.

Rating: ***