Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Somewhat True Adventures of Sammy Shine by Henry Cole

I love Henry Cole's illustrations and I have really enjoyed some of his previous chapter books personally, but honestly - they are a hard sell for kids. I was willing to try again though, so when I got an email from Peachtree that they were offering packs of ARCs for book clubs I decided to try this one with my Rock 'n' Read, 3rd-5th grades, book club. Naturally, that meant I needed to read it too!

The story begins with two brothers, one a devoted tinkerer, who has built a plane and is eager to try it with a real passenger - his brother Hank's pet mouse Sammy Shine. Hank refuses, but Jimmy does it anyways and, of course, the plane goes out of control! The story then switches to Sammy's point of view, as he finds himself careening over a forest in a plane. Despite figuring out how to fly the plane, Sammy crashes and is taken in by a group of wild field mice. He has an interesting adventure and collects a band of new friends, traveling through the forest to find his missing plane and avoid the nasty weasel and his hench-rats, and eventually makes his way back home with a new group of friends.

Henry Cole's pencil sketches appear frequently throughout the book, showing two snub-nosed boys, a plethora of friendly (and not-so-friendly) forest creatures, and plenty of details of the woods. The story is inspired by a childhood experience of the author's (although no details of said experience are given) hence the "Somewhat True" portion of the title.

Cole has a lovely, relaxed style of writing which emphasizes small details of weather and nature and the feelings of the various characters involved. It's not a fast-paced adventure, although there are plenty of moments of action, and if anything is an ode to tinkering with the various workshops of humans and animals lovingly described and pictured.

The book has a large font and simple plot as well as the illustrations make it seem like a natural beginning chapter book. However, at almost 300 pages long, there are very kids who won't balk at being confronted with a book of this length, especially young readers. I've been reluctant to purchase this type of book in the past - it has a very narrow audience. Younger readers who might enjoy the quieter storyline can't handle the length and older readers, who can handle the length, want more excitement and action. However, this would make an excellent read-aloud for kids who can sit still for a longer story and I do have some very high-level younger readers so I'm willing to give it a chance.

Verdict: While I wouldn't make this a priority purchase, if you have the audience for this type of story it will be very well-received. It's a good choice for strong readers who are ready to tackle a longer chapter book or for older readers who want a fun story without too much tension.

Book Club Verdict: My older book club is in a bit of transition - some long-time members have moved away and others have been unable to come due to scheduling conflicts. I did give out about 5 copies of the book and two kids finished their copies. One said he didn't like it - he knew what was going to happen all the time (we agreed the book was too predictable for his tastes) One really loved it - she loves mice stories like Geronimo Stilton. The others who took the book weren't interested enough to do more than start it.

ISBN: 9781561458660; Published 2016 by Peachtree; ARC provided for book club

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