Friday, April 6, 2012
8 Class Pets + 1 Squirrel / 1 Dog = Chaos by Vivian Vande Velde, illustrated by Steve Bjorkman
I am always looking for new beginning chapter books - those and easy readers are our big "I'm looking for" items right now and have been for the past year or so. The push towards making children learn to read earlier, and the large number of children who aren't able to read fluently - or at all - the huge middle grade tomes they're churning out now makes beginning chapter books a hot item.
I had hoped for a funny, easy chapter book with animal perspectives, something like Lucy Nolan's Down Girl and Sit series, a very popular one which I myself enjoy.
However, this story felt much too scattered and confusing. I figure my brain on decongestants if about equivalent to a 7 year old's brain while learning to read so if I found it difficult to follow, so will they.
In the story, each chapter is narrated by and named after a different animal. In the first chapter, Twitch, a squirrel, tells about how much he loves living outside the school - until a mean dog accidentally chases him into it. Then Green Eggs and Hamster, the first grade pet, helps him hide and sends him on to Miss Lucy Cottontail, the second grade pet who gives him some rather clever advice which sends him to Sweetie the library rat, whose clever plan doesn't work and winds up with both Sweetie and Twitch fleeing from the dog which introduces them to the school of neon tetras in the third grade, Lenore, the fourth grade parrot, and all of them are being chased or pulled by the dog when they encounter Nancy the art room turtle and the chase finally ends with the help of Angel, the fifth grade corn snake and Galileo and Newton, the science lab geckos. Once the police and the principal arrive, we finally hear the perspective of Cuddles, the principal's dog, and then end with some final thoughts from Twitch.
The action is fast and furious and it really should be funny - Vande Velde has written many hilarious stories and Bjorkman's illustrations are crazy and wacky, but somehow it just reads like a catalog or a bored announcer at a race "and now the rat is out. and now the fish are being pulled by the dog. and now the snake is loose." The animals' individual personalities are mildly humorous and help differentiate the various chapters, but it's still a rather boring read.
Verdict: I was disappointed by this book, but on the other hand I have taken rather a lot of decongestants and am facing running a program for 65+ kids, plus three other programs, in the space of two days whilst being sick. So possibly my sense of humor is dull. I will see what the kids have to say about this title after I've circulated it a few times. I would ultimately say - buy it. There aren't a lot of beginning chapter books out there, especially ones like this with quite a bit of text but not so much that it's daunting and a very manageable length, so just make sure you hand it to kids who aren't taking any medication.
[Update: The children have spoken - it is hilarious and they want more!]
ISBN: 9780823423644; Published October 2011 by Holiday House; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library