Friday, December 20, 2013

Joe and Sparky go to school by Jamie Michalak, illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz

I quite liked the first Joe and Sparky easy reader I read, but the years came between us and when I saw that another saga in the Joe and Sparky adventures had been nominated I wasn't quite so enthusiastic off the bat. Would it live up to my memories? Had Joe and Sparky lost any of their fizz?

Well, I am a bit more of a critical reviewer now, but Joe and Sparky still have most of their pizzaz.

In the classic easy reader odd couple style, Joe is a giraffe who's always curious and eager for new situations. Sparky is a turtle who just wants to sit in the sun and relax. But no matter what crazy trouble Joe gets them into, they are still friends and they make it through together. In this story, Joe sees something big, yellow, and loud. What could it be? "Well," said Joe, "from the looks of it, it is a bus for noisy short people." One little accident later, and somehow Joe and Sparky are on their way to school. Fortunately (or unfortunately from Sparky's point of view) Miss Hootie breaks her glasses, so she doesn't realize she has two new students - who have decided to take a field trip to school. But school isn't as fun as they'd hoped. Joe tries and tries but he just can't get a star, while Sparky is soon covered in stars - but just wants to go home. They try the math dance, math food, the interesting "pond" in the boys' room (since there's no giraffe or turtle room) more and more things go wrong for Joe, but Sparky is learning something new - he loves school! With a little help from Sparky, Joe gets a star after all and they both head home after their fun field trip.

The illustrations are bright and really pop with Joe's bright yellows (Sparky thinks he looks like a bus!) and splashes of green and blue. The "class" is mostly shown as the same four or five kids, with a fairly decent show of diversity. The real focus is on Joe and Sparky of course, and their antics and misunderstandings. These are a bit like Amelia Bedelia, but not quite so over the top. The difficulty level of these easy readers is intermediate. There are complete sentences and paragraphs and some challenging vocabulary, as well as the word play.

Verdict: These are great intermediate easy readers. Funny, with humor that will reach kids on their own level, attractive art that adds to the text, and while each story follows a similar pattern, the plot is different enough to keep kids' interest going. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780763662783; Published 2013 by Candlewick; Borrowed from the library

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