June 19, 2008


Nurk: The Strange, Surprising Adventures of a (Somewhat) Brave Shrew. By Ursula Vernon. Harcourt. $15.

The Dragon’s Child.
By Jenny Nimmo. Illustrated by Alan Marks. Orchard Books/Scholastic. $5.99.

Mo’s Mischief: Best Mom Ever; Four Troublemakers; Pesky Monkeys; Teacher’s Pet.
By Hongying Yang. HarperTrophy. $3.99 each.

Roscoe Riley Rules: #1, Never Glue Your Friends to Chairs; #2, Never Swipe a Bully’s Bear; #3, Don’t Swap Your Sweater for a Dog.
By Katherine Applegate. Illustrated by Brian Biggs. HarperTrophy. $3.99 each.

Iron Man: Teen Novelization; The Junior Novel; A New Hero; I Am Ironman!
By Dan Jolley (Teen); Stephen Sullivan (Junior); Marco Valdo (Hero); Lisa Rao (I Am). HarperEntertainment: $6.99 (Teen); $4.99 (Junior); $3.99 (Hero). HarperTrophy: $3.99 (I Am).

Kung Fu Panda: The Junior Novel; Master of Disaster; Meet the Masters. By Susan Korman (Junior); Scout Driggs (Disaster); Catherine Hapka (Masters). HarperEntertainment: $4.99 (Junior); $3.99 (Disaster). HarperTrophy: $3.99 (Masters).

Transformers Animated: How to Draw; Attack of the Dinobots!; Robot Roll Call. By Sadie Chesterfield (Draw); Aaron Rosenberg (Attack); Jennifer Frantz (Roll). HarperEntertainment: $5.99 (Draw); $3.99 (Attack). HarperTrophy: $3.99 (Roll).

      Preteens will find plenty of excitement, of many kinds, in these short books. Nurk is the best of them: this first novel by Ursula Vernon starts with a quiet young shrew finding a book whose inside cover has a drawing of a severed head – the book turns out to be his grandmother’s journal – and progresses through the adventure that has literally fallen into Nurk’s lap (he holds the journal in his lap while reading it). Nurk builds a snail-shell boat (depicted in one of the book’s numerous charming illustrations); helps out the waterlogged Princess of Dragonflies, who is not at all frightened of the only thing with which Nurk can threaten her when he fears she may be dangerous (his clean socks); and continues through a series of adventures into which Nurk does not quite fit: “There was probably a line between being kind and babbling, and Nurk was afraid he’d crossed it a few ums back.” Nurk, of course, finds courage he had not known he possessed, and also learns – quite charmingly and with only a modicum of peril – the truth of his grandmother’s comment, “The world is a very odd place, and not always in a good way.” And: “A true adventurer needs a keen wit, a stout heart, and a strong bladder.” Kids ages 8-12, especially younger ones in that age range, will be delighted.

      Jenny Nimmo’s The Dragon’s Child will be almost as much fun for ages 7-10 – it is presented cutely in a new paperback cut in sort-of-dragon shape, but is the same story originally published in 1977. Here it is a young dragon, Dando, who must find himself – by learning to fly so he can join his family, which is leaving for a land that will be safer for dragons. Captured by humans when he cannot fly away, Dando is befriended by a slave girl and helped to escape and follow his destiny by the girl, an orphaned bird, and the son of those who took Dando captive. It is a slight tale but a well-told one, worth a (+++) rating.

      The four Mo’s Mischief books are slight, too, and they too are for ages 7-10 and deserving of (+++) ratings. Hongying Yang’s books are bestsellers in China, where 19 have been published, but there is not much exotic about the basic plots – they are simple stories in chapter-book form about a boy named Mo Shen Ma who gets into trouble wherever he goes. The plots are pretty thin. Best Mom Ever is about Mo’s mother, Honeybunch, and some of her odd (to Mo and his dad) habits, such as her love of “a fruit called a durian. Now, a durian is one hundred times stinkier than stinky tofu. It is a strangely shaped tropical fruit about the size of a basketball with a very hard shell.” Four Troublemakers focuses on the misadventures of Mo and his best friends, Hippo, Penguin and Monkey. Pesky Monkeys is about the animals, not Mo’s friend, and features a summer vacation in which Mo teaches his grandparents’ pig to skateboard and learns that monkeys can be even more mischievous than he is. And Teacher’s Pet is about Mo’s attempts to get the goody-goody girl in class into trouble with their teacher. Mo’s plans are simple, and they backfire amusingly, so kids who like one book about him will likely enjoy the others as well.

      Mo is in many ways an imported version of Roscoe Riley: both basically good but somewhat mischievous kids who get into more trouble than they ever really anticipated. The Roscoe Riley Rules books, also for ages 7-10, get the same (+++) rating as the Mo’s Mischief books, and in fact many young readers will like both series in much the same way. Just as Mo can’t help getting into mischief, Roscoe can’t help breaking his own rules – in the first book, by making really sure his classmates sit really still for a big performance; in the second, by getting back at the class bully – who, Roscoe is sure, has stolen Roscoe’s stuffed pig; in the third, by trying desperately to get a pet in time to win a trophy in a pet-trick contest. Brian Biggs’ entertainingly old-fashioned illustrations nicely complement Katherine Applegate’s amusing, easy-to-read stories.

      The various new Iron Man books get (+++) ratings for kids who enjoyed the recent film, which was based on a comic book. None of these four books is in comic or graphic-novel form, though. The Teen Novelization is simply the story of the movie – not the original comic, which was set in an earlier time – in which billionaire inventor and arms merchant Tony Stark is captured, invents high-tech armor so he can escape, then decides to become a good guy. The Junior Novel is the same story, told more simply and for younger readers, and including some movie stills as illustrations. A New Hero is for preschoolers, ages 3-7, and is mostly about the climactic battle between Iron Man and Iron Monger. I Am Iron Man! is in the “I Can Read!” series at Level 2, which means it is for developing readers (ages 4-8). The focus here is on the creation of the Iron Man suit and its use for good. There are plenty of angles on the Iron Man tale in these books – something for young movie fans of many ages.

      Similarly, new books have been designed as tie-ins to the animated Kung Fu Panda movie, about a panda named Po who is chosen as Dragon Warrior and must prove himself even though the Furious Five masters dismiss him as lazy and obsessed with food; and the cartoon TV show Transformers Animated, based loosely on the movie that was based loosely on the toys that change into a variety of different shapes through twisting, turning, pushing, pulling and otherwise rearranging their parts. Among the Kung Fu Panda offerings, The Junior Novel tells the story of the film, includes a few stills from it, and is intended for ages 8-12; Master of Disaster, for ages 3-7, focuses on the way Master Shifu uses food rather than traditional methods to train Po in martial arts; and Meet the Masters, an “I Can Read!” book at Level 2 (ages 4-8), introduces the Furious Five and shows how Po was selected as Dragon Warrior. For Transformers Animated, the How to Draw book, aimed at ages 9-12 but quite appropriate for younger artists as well, shows the relative sizes of the TV show’s cast of characters and gives straightforward lessons in how to draw them and some of the vehicles into which they can change themselves. Attack of the Dinobots! is for ages 4-7 and is based on one series episode featuring huge more-or-less-dinosaur-shaped bad-guy robots. And Robot Roll Call, another Level 2 “I Can Read!” book for ages 4-8, introduces the heroic Autobots, their main opponents, and the humans – a robot scientist and his daughter – with whom they interact. None of the books based on Iron Man, Kung Fu Panda or Transformers Animated is particularly distinguished or distinctive, but that is not the purpose of any of them – they are simply attachments to video entertainment, allowing kids who enjoy a film or TV show to carry around a little bit of it and have an adventure in reading. Given their modest ambitions, all these little books get (+++) ratings for families interested in what they have to offer: there is not much there, but what is there is just fine.

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