Dear Dumb Diary #6: The Problem with Here Is That It’s Where I’m From. By Jim Benton. Scholastic. $4.99.
Princess Power #5: The Stubbornly Secretive Servant. By Suzanne Williams. Illustrated by Chuck Gonzales. HarperCollins. $4.99.
There’s some sort of cuteness-to-funniness ratio out there in books for preteens. Get the ratio right and you have a series that works, book after book. Get it wrong and you have a dud. One of these series has a closer-to-ideal ratio than the other, but both have their appealing moments.
Jim Benton’s “Tales of Mackerel Middle School” tend to start on the funny side of things, stay funny pretty much throughout, then pull into Cuteville near the end.
Princess Power, although it is also for preteens, seems to be for younger ones. It’s the story of four princesses – Lysandra, Fatima, Elena and Tansy – who are best friends and have a series of magic-laced adventures. They met in The Perfectly Proper Prince, came to the rescue of one of Fatima’s relatives in The Charmingly Clever Cousin, helped Tansy deal with The Awfully Angry Ogre, solved the mystery of a comb that Elena found in The Mysterious, Mournful Maiden, and in the latest book are visiting Lysandra’s sister and brother-in-law while awaiting the arrival of a handsome prince. The prince doesn’t show up, but his servant does – and is quite close-mouthed about what has happened. So the princesses torture him until…no, this isn’t that kind of book at all. They do lock up the servant, Thomas, but not very unpleasantly, and they then do their own search for the missing prince, who turns out to have been changed into…but that would be telling. This is not much of a mystery and really not much of a story, but it’s mildly amusing – made more so by illustrations that definitely lean toward the cute side of the scale. Younger preteens, especially ones who still dream of old-fashioned castles, crowns, elegant dresses and simple-to-do magic, will have a good time with this easy-to-read series that is more cute than funny.