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.

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.

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!

Journey by Aaron Becker

Journey coverTake a little Harold and the Purple Crayon, a little Where the Wild Things Are, some glorious illustrations, and a world you’ll remember (and wish for!) long after finishing the book, and you have Aaron Becker’s wordless picture book, Journey. Tired of waiting for her family to put down their electronics, and for the neighbourhood kids to invite her into their games, Journey‘s protagonist sets off on her own adventure. Red marker in hand, she creates a door that leads her from sepia-toned reality to a grand and richly green forest. When a stream appears, the marker produces a small boat, and when the stream-turned-aqueduct suddenly ends, it provides a hot air balloon in the nick of time.

Making (literally) her own way along is only half the adventure, though. While floating above the city in her balloon, the girl notices a purple bird being caught and caged. Abandoning her meandering trip, the girl follows the hunters’ airship, determined to find and free the bird. Accomplishing her task might earn her what she’s wanted all along. It might also cost her everything.

I’ve been waiting for Journey since spring, and while I wasn’t disappointed, I was surprised. I’d anticipated something of an update on Harold, and wondered how such a personal journey would come around to the “act of tremendous courage and kindness” described in the publisher’s blurb. While the red marker does play a significant role in the story, the vast, detailed landscapes and distinct contrast between the girl’s travels and her family’s screen-and-cord-bound lives combine to make this a much more outward-focused journey than Harold’s from the start. And while the story is simple, I think that this is another one where rereading and discussing will reveal more to love about Journey every time.

Read about the book from a teacherly point of view at Reading, Teaching, Learning, or from a mom’s perspective at Everyday Reading.

Come join the Sharp-Schu Book Club on Twitter on Wednesday, September 25th to talk about Journey and ask Aaron Becker questions!

If the art is what grabs you in Journey, check out Becker’s guest post on Gurney Journey to find out how he did it.

In case you haven’t seen it already (and even if you have), you really need to watch this gorgeous book trailer:

Ten: On a Mission

The legends of King Arthur’s knights are inseparable from the idea of questing: to slay or capture or rescue. In this week’s Ten, we share some other stories centred on a mission. The quests below vary from the weighty — a quest to save a life, or answer an important question — to the silly, and even the every day. The stories demonstrate that approaching a task as a mission can help to turn fear to determination, tedium to adventure, and entertainment to challenge. May we all do more questing!

Running out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Jessie’s quiet life in a frontier village takes a surreal turn when she is sent out alone to obtain medicine for local children dying of diphtheria, and finds that nearly everything she thought true about her life is an illusion. Continue reading

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

Escape from Mr Lemoncello's Library coverWouldn’t it be quite the experience to visit a state-of-the-art library? Where you can look up and see shooting stars, or try out hover ladders that fly you up to the top shelves? If you had an opportunity to be one of the twelve 12-year-olds that had a chance to stay over for a night before anyone else saw the library, would you try out? Not convinced? What if you knew that the library was full of games — arcade, interactive and the like — and you’d have first access to them all? Got your interest?

12-year-old Kyle likes playing games. In fact that’s just what he’s doing when a slight slip in his plans gets him grounded. Without access to any games at home, he figures that staying overnight at the new library and playing on the computer is better than nothing. He and eleven other lucky kids, including his best friend, Akimi, are chosen, and spend the night exploring and trying out the library’s features.

The next morning, Mr. Lemoncello’s hologram appears with an invitation to the ultimate game: to “escape” from the library using only what they find within the library. The winner will become the new spokesperson for Mr. Lemoncello’s game company.

Join Kyle, Akimi, and the other contestants in the race to find the clues to get out of the library. Use your knowledge of the Dewey Decimal system, and be ready for the challenges that some of the contestants take on in order to gain an advantage over the others.

While it may be tricky for younger readers who are still getting used to the Dewey Decimal system to understand fully, if you are looking for a good book that appeals to different age groups, this is one good candidate. Written like Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, this book has a little bit of fun and mystery that will be sure to tickle the interest and curiosity of those who read it.

Take a look at some book reviews by: A Librarian’s Library, The Examiner, and Publishers Weekly.

Read another book review on Kidliterati, and be sure to follow the link at the bottom to Grabenstein’s Host Your Own Mr Lemoncello’s Great Library Escape Game kit!

Watch a book trailer:
http://bit.ly/1cQRZDW

A Tale of Two Castles written by Gail Carson Levine and illustrated by Greg Call

A Tale of Two Castles coverWhen Elodie sets out on her own at twelve, she knows that it will be at least ten years before she sees home again. The only apprenticeship her family can afford is the kind that Elodie will purchase with ten years of service. It’s a long time, but Elodie has a plan to make it pass in a flash: though her parents believe that they are sending their daughter away for a weaving apprenticeship, Elodie intends to apprentice with an acting troupe, and fill her years with adventure.

Unfortunately, Elodie learns too late that the ten-year apprenticeships have been abolished. In order to find a home and work for herself, she’ll have to either convince a master to take her on for a much longer apprenticeship, or find a way to pay for a shorter one. Enter Meenore the dragon, who needs an apprentice to announce ITs detective skills in the market, and perform other sundry tasks around the lair. Their first big case comes from the unpopular owner of one of the story’s two castles, the ogre Count Jonty Um, whose dog has disappeared. Though Jonty Um is kind and hospitable, the villagers hate and fear him, and the Count worries that something terrible has happened. When Elodie movies into the castle under the guise of a servant, she discovers that there is far more going on than the loss of an animal. Between Elodie’s acting and observation skills, and Meenore’s detective savvy, the pair soon has a list of suspects, from the handsome cat trainer in the village to the dreadful king who owns the second castle. But they may already be too late.

A Tale of Two Castles is a clever and satisfying story recommended for readers who enjoy fantasy-laced mysteries and twisted fairy tales.

Read other reviews at Miss Print and The Reading Fever.

Revisit the fairy tale that inspired A Tale of Two Castles (it may surprise you!).

Watch the trailer: