The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail by Richard Peck

The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail coverMeet the smallest mouse in the Buckingham Palace mews. Brought to the mews in a sewing basket when his mother died, the little mouse knows almost nothing about his origins. Even his name, Mouse Minor (if you can call that a name), was given by his classmates rather than his family. More than anything else, he wants to know where he’s come from.

His journey to answer the questions of his past begins days before Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, when he’s accidentally caught in plain (human) sight wearing his school uniform. Though it’s true that a complex mouse society is constantly engaged in keeping the human world humming, human beings themselves are never to know. This essential rule of mousedom broken, Mouse Minor sets out to make his own way in London. A ride in a horse’s ear, a brief stint with the Yeomice of the Guard, and a botched kidnapping lead him at last to Queen Victoria herself, who really might know everything, and who suggests that the answers he’s seeking might be wrapped up in the biggest mouse secret of all.

The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail is an entertaining mystery adventure, but its real strengths lie in Peck’s use of language and his worldbuilding. Artful turns of phrase throughout are delightful for their own sake, while repeated phrases help to give flesh to Peck’s imagined mouse society. Mouse Minor serves as an able guide to his hidden mouse world, but the language does a lot, too, to communicate the traditions and assumptions that have grown up among this particular group of mice, as well as the shape of the relationship between mice and human beings. Highly recommended for language lovers, and those who enjoy a good mouse story.

Learn a bit about the prolific author behind the story, Richard Peck, or find other reviews from School Library Journal and Waking Brain Cells.

Sample the excellent audio version, narrated by Russ Bain.

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The Day My Butt Went Psycho! by Andy Griffiths

The Day My Butt Went Psycho coverOriginally published in 2001 by Pan MacMillan in Australia as The Day My Bum When Psycho, this book is well-known and loved and has become a humour classic. It was recommended to me by a high school student who described it as his favourite book; I am so glad he did. Otherwise I would have completely missed out on the delights of Andy Griffiths’ writing.

In case you hadn’t guessed by the title, this book is built around toilet humour. Adults might groan, but kids will laugh out loud. The story centers on twelve year old Zack Freeman and his butt, which has been secretly detaching itself from Zack at night and running around recruiting other butts for the butt revolution. When Zack follows his butt one night, he discovers the enormity of the butt revolution and meets a crack squad of butt-hunters, Silas Sterne and his daughter Eleanor, plus Kicker, Smacker and Kisser, skilled in various schools of butt-combat. The story follows Zack through a series of smelly events in the Brown Forest, the Great Windy Desert, and eventually to the enormous buttcano and a battle against the massive butt army of The Great White Butt.

Scholastic lists the reading level as 3.9 and recommends this book for grades 2 to 5, but I think readers of all ages who thoroughly enjoy a gross-out story will enjoy it. 150 pages of butt puns and fart jokes were a little too much for me, but I did enjoy the book. I have not yet read the sequels, Zombie Butts from Uranus and Butt Wars: the Final Conflict (originally Bumageddon: the Final Pongflict in Australia).

Check out the Andy Griffiths website on Scholastic, or read a short review from Awesome Bookclub. The review from The Bookbag includes excerpts and recommendations for similar reading.

Tommysaurus Rex by Doug TenNapel

Tommysaurus Rex coverWhat if you discovered your very own pet dinosaur?

When Ely’s dog, Tommy, is accidentally killed in a car accident on his morning walk, Ely is overcome with grief. To help him deal with his loss, his parents send Ely to spend time at his grandpa’s over summer vacation. One day he sees a plastic T-Rex model and thinks, common sense aside, how cool it would be to have a pet T-Rex. He is soon in for a big surprise when he wanders into a cave — and meets a real T-Rex! But this is no ordinary dinosaur: he follows Ely around like a dog, and can do tricks like a dog, too. As they spend more time together, the bond between them grows stronger. Ely decides to name the dinosaur Tommy, and people flock to see the T-Rex. They even hold a show to raise money to help fund his care.

But not all are in support of Ely and his dinosaur. Randy, a local bully, can’t stand to let Ely get all the glory as the popular kid. No one can anticipate what happens next when he tries to take things into his own hands.

TenNapel’s graphic novels share an overarching sense of darkness, both in storyline and illustrations, but there are also strong themes of hope and family love. The number of kids and parents who have sought out his works at my library got me hooked, and I am glad of it. Tommysaurus Rex is anything but a light read: within a mere 137 pages, TenNapel addresses love, loss and bullying. I teared up more than once, but found the story’s resolution heartwarming.

Curious to find out more?

Take a look at other reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Review.

You can also read more about Tommysaurus Rex at Great Books for Kids and Teen, where you’ll also find links to TenNapel’s blog and website.

Around the World by Matt Phelan

Around the World coverTake three determined people, set before them a challenge they can’t refuse, and get ready for (vicarious) adventure.

Toward the end of the 19th century, three individuals took on the challenge of travelling around the world, each for his or her own reasons, and each in his or her own way. Thomas Stevens, eager to leave behind a life in the mines, taught himself to manage one of the new bicycles and peddled across the United States. When the first trip went well, he decided to continue his journey across the Atlantic to England, through Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, and finally across the Pacific to finish back in San Francisco. Reporter Nellie Bly set out specifically to outdo Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg. With only one small bag, the clothes on her back, and a pet monkey purchased along the way, Bly flung herself around the world, gaining more fans with every mile, and beating Fogg (and a contemporary competitor from another publication) handily. Joshua Slocum, a retired sailor apparently made obsolete by the rise of steamships, intended little more than to take once more to the sea. Where Stevens’ journey was characterised by people-watching and new friends, and Bly’s by an expectation that the people along her way would cooperate with her determination to make it around the world quickly, Slocum’s journey was almost entirely solitary, dependent on his memories, his expertise, and the wind.

The adventure and factoids that fill Around the World will easily hold the attention of middle grade readers, but don’t miss out on reading it yourself. Phelan’s artistic and literary presentation of these three stories is rich with humour and a keen sense of the complex relationship between the journey experienced, and the journey told.

Check out more reviews from Fyrefly’s Book Blog and Kirkus.

Read the stories from their own pens! Find Thomas Stevens’ description of his journey in Around the World on a Bicycle and Nellie Bly’s story in Nellie Bly’s Book, both available on Project Gutenberg.

Catch the book trailer:

Feeling the wanderlust? Find out what travelling around the world looks like today!

Jane, the Fox & Me written by Fanny Brit, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, and translated by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou

Jane, the Fox and Me coverHélène is struggling with a dreary school life of no friends, teasing and poor self-image. Her current strategy for respite is in reading Jane Eyre and reflecting upon how, despite the great adversity she faces as she grows up, Jane remains resilient to the things that unfold in her life.

Much to her dismay, Hélène learns that her class will be spending four days together at an isolated nature camp in the woods. It’s bad enough to have to deal with rejection and teasing during school hours. Having to spend time away from home is something that Hélène certainly is not looking forward to.

While it is somewhat helpful to escape in reading, she is still not immune to the her classmates’ bullying at camp. She bunks with the other “outcasts,” but can’t break the ice. Just when the bleakness is starting to feel all-encompassing, she experiences a moment of connection with a fox. She is inches away from petting it when one of her bunk mates spooks it away.

Hélène is about to give up on hope entirely when a friendly face, Géraldine, comes to join the outcasts’ tent. Géraldine’s friendship helps break the spell placed upon Hélène, and a bit of colour starts filling Hélène’s life as she starts to see her life in a different way.

Simply put, a beautiful book. Arsenault’s use of gray tones, colours and various fonts captures the feelings that are represented within the words. The experience  and feelings of “not quite fitting in” and being unhappy with oneself are well addressed. Moreover, the book shines positive light on the one parent family dynamic of Hélène, her two brothers and their mother.

Read other reviews of Jane, the Fox and Me from the New York Times and Publishers Weekly.

Another blogger’s review of the novel at edge of seventeen.

Combating Bullying

Bullying Canada

Stop A Bully : Safe and Anonymous

Pink Shirt Day

20 Innovative Ways Schools Are Combating Bullying BullyingPrevention.com

Kids can play active role in combating bullying among peers, experts say Macleans magazine

Cyberbullying MediaSmarts

Do you have anti-bullying tactics that are working for your school/organization? Please share in the comments!

Mini Arthurian

Editor’s Intro: We’ll wrap up our Classics Retold project with a handful of mini blurbs from Rei. I’m sure I’m not the only one whose discovered some new books to add to the TBR list this month. Thanks for following along with us!

Christmas in Camelot coverMagic Tree House: Christmas in Camelot written by Mary Pope Osborne and illustrated by Sal Murdocca
Among their many adventures with their time-traveling Magic Tree House (said to be the property of “Morgan le Fay”), is a story of how the main characters, Jack and Annie, travel back in time to Camelot where they meet King Arthur, Queen Guinevere and the Knights of the Round Table. Something is amiss though — Sir Galahad, Sir Percival and Sir Lancelot, having ventured on a magical quest to the Otherworld, have not returned for many weeks. Travel alongside Jack and Annie as they help find the knights and try to unlock the mystery hidden in the Otherworld.

King Arthur coverKing Arthur by Marc Brown
In this Arthur chapter book, Arthur, Buster, Francine and their classmates from Lakewood elementary are on a field trip to a medieval park to win the Golden Gryphon. Competing against them is Glenbrook Academy. The challenges include maze walking, a tug of war, food eating contests, getting the sword out of the stone and more. During the competitions, Arthur hears some bad news — if they didn’t win at least one of the challenges, they risk getting different teacher — a teacher more strict than Mr. Ratburn. Will Arthur and his friends be able to save their teacher?

Time Soldiers Arthur coverTime Soldiers: Arthur by Kathleen Duey
Book 4 in the Time Soldiers series is Arthur, the story of six neighbourhood kids who can time travel when a time-portal opens in their backyard. In the past, they’ve seen dinosaurs and pirates. This time, when the portal opens, three kids venture into the time of Merlin and Arthur just before his crowning. Instead of having the chance to pull the sword out of the stone right away, fate intervenes and Arthur is put into a jail cell. Can the Time Soldiers help Arthur get out of the cell so that he can fulfill his destiny?

Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) written by Lisa Yee and illustrated by Dan Santat

Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) coverFive facts that complicate Bobby Ellis-Chan’s life:

  • He wants a dog more than anything, but fur sets off his asthma
  • Somehow he ended up with a fish, instead
  • His father used to be a famous football player, and has way more in common with Bobby’s football-star big sister than he does with Bobby
  • Now his father is a stay-at-home dad who hasn’t quite gotten the hang of cooking or laundry
  • His best friend, Holly, started to act like a girl over the summer

Fourth grade starts off tough for Bobby. And just when some things seem to be turning out alright — it turns out his fish can do tricks! — others go terribly, terribly wrong. A misstep here, a backward campaign poster there, and Bobby’s class is divided right down the middle, boys vs. girls. With Bobby chosen as the boys’ champion, and Holly representing the girls, it looks like their friendship might be toast.

In need of someone else to talk to, Bobby discovers that his goldfish, besides being a pretty good soccer player, is a great listener. And when the class takes a field trip to a botanical garden, Bobby finds himself hugging — and quickly stuck to — the world’s stinkiest, and surely loneliest, tree. But while fish can sort of listen, and trees can sort of hug back, neither quite compares to Holly. Maybe boys and girls can be friends after all?

If you don’t remember being Bobby, by the end of Bobby vs. Girls, you’ll certainly want to be his friend. Recommended for readers who’ve enjoyed Ramona Quimby’s books, or as a readaloud over several sessions. Like the Ramona books, Bobby’s chapters are episodic enough to stand alone, but listeners will want to know what happens next!

Read more reviews from 100 Scope Notes (SLJ) and Waking Brain Cells.

See how the cover for Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) was developed!