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Category Archives: Childrens

Nick and Tesla’s Secret Agent Gadget Battle by Bob Pflugfelder & Steve Hockensmith

Nick and Tesla's Secret Agent Gadget Battle: A Mystery with Spy Cameras, Code Wheels, and Other Gadgets You Can Build YourselfPremise: Twin siblings Nick and Tesla are back in this third installment of the series. They are suspicious of people spying on them because of the secret held by their parents, who are supposedly studying soybean irrigation in Uzbekistan, but with the help of their friends and their clueless but intelligent scientist Uncle Newt they will learn the identity of the spies. It could be anybody: Newt’s unusual new apprentice, the old ladies hired to clean Uncle Newt’s messy house, or the exterminator.

The kids will try to find out the truth about a lot of things, including who is placing spy cameras around their uncle’s house, why all of these different strangers appeared at their house on the same day, but especially more of the truth about their missing parents.

Themes: The love of family is a common theme through all of the Nick and Tesla books, and Secret Agent Battle is no different. Uncle Newt cares for Nick and Tesla, but the twins show us the great love of siblings for each other through protective actions.

Nick and Tesla have learned to be suspicious of everybody, especially since they suspect people wish them harm. Their parents obviously sent them to live with their uncle for a reason, and somebody is spying on them. It’s only a matter of finding out who it is. That’s where the science comes into play.

Pros: Secret Agent Battle tells us a little more about Nick and Tesla’s parents, even hearing from their mother via voicemail confirming the assumptions already made about their soybean irrigation research from the previous two books. With the many suspects available on who is spying on them, the amount of peril is kicked up a notch from the previous two books.

Cons: Everything in the story happens in one day, so while the pacing is fast, the writing felt a bit rushed. The books are a little formulaic with the same structure in each one with a minor mystery followed by a science project as a solution, rinse, then repeat. I also fear the holding back of information about the kids’ parents might drag on if we don’t finally learn much more in the next book.

Recommendations: Nick and Tesla’s Secret Agent Gadget Battle has the wonderful combination of giving more information about the kids’ family than in the previous two books, with more fun and creative science projects to try with your own kids. This third book begins to reveal some things about the twins’ parents that we already suspect, but I wish it would have given us a little more since we already waded through two other books before getting here. It’s not really necessary to read the first two books to know the background of these kids and their scientist uncle, but it would probably be more fulfilling to at least read the first in the series, if not all of them for the fun stories and science projects. I’ve been enjoying this series and look forward to making some cool gadgets with my own kids.

Nick and Tesla
Bob Pflugfelder’s website
Steve Hockensmith’s website
Nick and Tesla’s Secret Agent Gadget Battle on Goodreads
Buy Nick and Tesla’s Secret Agent Gadget Battle on Amazon
Download Nick and Tesla’s Secret Agent Gadget Battle for your Kindle
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

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Posted by on July 26, 2014 in Childrens, Mystery

 

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Nick and Tesla’s Robot Army Rampage by Bob Pflugfelder & Steve Hockensmith

Nick and Tesla's Robot Army Rampage: A Mystery with Hoverbots, Bristle Bots, and Other Robots You Can Build YourselfPremise: In this second book in the series, Twin siblings Nick and Tesla have been sent to live with their Uncle Newt while their parents are in Uzbekistan where they claim to be researching soybean irrigation. In the small town of Half Moon Bay, Nick and Tesla learn about a string of robberies plaguing the sleepy community. Once again putting their scientific knowledge to work, they decide to help one of their friends by attempting to solve the mystery themselves.

Uncle Newt is smitten by Hiroko Sakurai, a former colleague of his from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory who also happens to have purchased the Wonder Hut where Nick and Tesla purchase electronics and other scientific doodads for their experiments. She is in the process of cleaning it up when a series of break-ins begin, including at the comic shop, Hero Worship, Incorporated, owned by their friend Silas’ family. A rare comic that could help save Silas’ family from a mound of debt has gone missing.

With the help of some ingenious robots and quick thinking, Nick and Tesla go to task on helping their friends and the town by tracking down the thief. They will just have to watch out for the strange robots that are also popping up around town.

Themes: Robot Army Rampage, as with the previous book, exemplifies the loyalty between siblings and with their friends. As Silas’ shop is in jeopardy, Nick and Tesla do their best to track down the thief of the Stupefying #6 comic book. Nick and Tesla also do their best to protect their uncle, even if it means endangering his relationship with Dr. Sakurai.

Nick and Tesla does a good job of showing that even when it appears that kids are up to no good, they might have more noble reasons for what they do. Even their friend DeMarco, who is always getting into trouble, is loyal to his best friend Silas. And the hijinks that occur because of Nick and Tesla’s investigation are because they care about their friends, family, and the town of Half Moon Bay.

Also: more science!

Pros: Robot Army Rampage has some even cooler projects than High Voltage Danger Lab, especially if you’re into robots. The instructions for building are straightforward for building simple robots, including part numbers that you might need to buy at an electronics store. The dialogue is funny and the tone lighthearted, perfect for kids and fun for adults. With most of the same characters from the previous book, Robot Army Rampage stays consistent by developing each of the characters deeply enough for the reader to care about them and enjoy the story.

Cons: The robot projects will probably require some assembly help from an adult, and will definitely require money to buy parts like batteries, motors, and LED lights. Contains mild peril from exploding robots.

Recommendations: Nick and Tesla’s Robot Army Rampage is a load of fun, but kids will probably enjoy it even more than adults. If it weren’t for a little deeper background setting from the first book, anybody could pick this one up and jump right into the action without needing to read High Voltage Danger Lab. As each book contains science projects that correspond to story elements, you probably won’t want to skip it anyway. I think Robot Army Rampage is even better than the first, especially with these projects. They are fun for electronics buffs and for piquing kids’ interest in science, but most of all this is just a fun story.

Nick and Tesla
Bob Pflugfelder’s website
Steve Hockensmith’s website
Nick and Tesla’s Robot Army Rampage on Goodreads
Buy Nick and Tesla’s Robot Army Rampage on Amazon
Download Nick and Tesla’s Robot Army Rampage for your Kindle
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2014 in Childrens, Mystery

 

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Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab by Bob Pflugfelder & Steve Hockensmith

Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab: A Mystery with Electromagnets, Burglar Alarms, and Other Gadgets You Can Build YourselfPremise: Twin siblings Nick and Tesla are sent to live with their Uncle Newt for the summer while their parents study soybean irrigation in Uzbekistan. When they arrive in Half Moon Bay they discover it’s a pretty boring place, but their uncle is far from boring. In his basement is a science lab where he performs various experiments. The incredible thing is that he tells his niece and nephew to have a ball in the lab (with several safety caveats) while he is away. Their time in Half Moon Bay is about to get interesting.

The siblings go outside to test their soda bottle rocket made from materials laying around the lab, but when it rips the necklace from Tesla’s neck as it launches things go awry. This wouldn’t be a problem if the necklace wasn’t one of the special necklaces their parents gave each child right before they were sent to live with Newt. Now they must venture onto the property of the abandoned house next door in order to find the necklace, but there are remodelers there with very large dogs who want them to stay off the property at all costs.

Nick and Tesla craft various devices to attempt to retrieve their rocket and necklace, and in the process uncover a nefarious plot in the quiet town. Along the way the siblings make new friends, learn more about their quirky uncle, and find there is more in the abandoned house than just remodelers. Nick and Tesla are also left questioning if their parents are really studying soy beans in Uzbekistan.

Themes: Nick and Tesla think they have a grasp on who their parents are, but when the siblings are sent away for the summer so their parents can do research they learn there is so much more about their parents that they don’t know. They begin to wonder if their parents really are studying soybeans or if they are even scientists.

Nick and Tesla discover there are mysteries about the house next door, its inhabitants, and its past that fall on them to solve.

Summer vacation takes on a different spin when it is spent at a strange uncle’s house. Nick and Tesla get to learn more about their Uncle Newt and his unusual inventions. With his inexperience in caring for kids and making his lab available for them to use helps to give the siblings insight into the kind of person he is.

Also: science!

Pros: Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab was way more fun than I was expecting. The science experiments not only introduce some cool concepts, but they fit right in with the storyline. The characters are unique and the story has the perfect tone for kids to be reading: lighthearted and fun. I like that Pflugfelder and Hockensmith didn’t try to add too many characters, but each one is well developed within this first book. Nick and Tesla is a complete fast-paced story, but it also leaves the reader wanting more in additional books.

Cons: One of the experiments might be a little dangerous dealing with air pressure that will probably require some adult supervision. Also, the concept of kidnapping might be a difficult concept for younger kids to grasp, especially the threats made against these kids. Contains some mild peril and the riding of small bikes down the middle of city streets in the dark.

Recommendations: Not only is this a fun read for kids and adults, it offers several science experiments kids can do with parents, including instructions and materials needed. I’m really looking forward to the next book in the series to find out more about these kids and their secretive family. I am also excited about having more science experiments to do with my kids when they are old enough to read these books. Pflugfelder and Hockensmith have introduced a neat series combining science concepts and experiments with good, lighthearted fiction. Nick and Tesla is educational and fun.

Nick and Tesla
Bob Pflugfelder’s website
Steve Hockensmith’s website
Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab: A Mystery with Electromagnets, Burglar Alarms, and Other Gadgets You Can Build Yourself on Goodreads
Buy Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab on Amazon
Download Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab for your Kindle
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on November 17, 2013 in Childrens, Mystery

 

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Fairy Tale Comics: Classic Tales Told by Extraordinary Cartoonists, edited by Chris Duffy

Fairy Tale Comics: Classic Tales Told by Extraordinary CartoonistsPremise: Gather a selection of classic fairy tales, pair each of them with different cartoonists, and you get this collection of visual interpretations of many commonly known stories, with a few obscure ones for good measure.

Fairy tale classics like Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and Rapunzel are set along with other lesser known stories such as Azzolino’s Story Without End and The Boy Who Drew Cats. Each of them is unique in their own right, especially interpreted for this collection.

Themes: Fairy tales are ways of telling legends to children, but the stories remain with us through adulthood. Often they remind us how the perseverance of goodness ends in triumph over wickedness. And even when things don’t quite turn out right, doing good will still bring happiness and prosperity. At least, that’s what we want to believe, which is why these stories continue to endure.

Pros: The artwork is fantastic for every story, but there are several that stood out to me. I liked the bold cutout style of the simple yet colorful Little Red Riding Hood by Gigi D.G., especially contrasted by the drab brown and gray color palette in Luke Pearson’s The Boy Who Drew Cats. Brett Helquist’s painting like quality is beautiful in his rendition of Rumpelstiltskin. I also appreciate how Joseph Lambert interpreted music through his art in Rabbit Will Not Work. One of my favorites is because of how Graham Annable managed to tell Goldilocks and the Three Bears without a single word. The facial expressions are just whimsical. One of the best things about Fairy Tale Comics is that in just about every story the art adds to the telling of the story, making it more accessible to the reader.

Cons: Reading some of these stories anew reminded me that many fairy tales, especially from the Brothers Grimm, are pretty inappropriate for too young an audience. Some of the interpretations use language I don’t really want my child using, with words like “stupid” and “dumb” and “idiots” that should not be in a child’s vocabulary as long as can be prevented.

Recommendations: While most of the stories are retold versions from the Brothers Grimm, Fairy Tale Comics brings in some fairy tales that I hadn’t heard before. Each of these adaptations is unique to each artist, but as a collection they are visually stunning, making the sum of the whole even greater than the individual stories themselves. While it is really meant for an older audience than Nursery Rhyme Comics, Fairy Tale Comics is a book that comes nicely on its heels. I might wait until your child is at least old enough to read for themselves so that they can appreciate the artistic nuances as they enjoy the story. Just be mindful of swears, witches, and giant rats.

Fairy Tale Comics on Goodreads
Buy Fairy Tale Comics on Amazon
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2013 in Childrens, Graphic Novel

 

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Odd Duck by Cecil Castellucci & Sara Varon (Illustrator)

Odd DuckPremise: Theodora might have some quirks, but she leads a quiet, perfectly normal life, in her own eyes. She stays home when all the other ducks are flying south for the winter. She practices balancing her teacup on her head when she swims and she practices flapping her wings for a time when she might need to fly. When Chad moves in next door, Theodora instantly realizes that he is odd. He is unorganized, builds strange creations in the front yard, dyes his feathers different colors, and talks nonstop.

But Theodora soon discovers they have some things in common. They like and dislike some of the same books. They like to watch the stars and eat some of the same foods. Through their time together they become good friends. But when they overhear someone mentioning that “odd duck” within earshot, neither of them is sure which one they are talking about. It might just be too much for either of them to either point a finger at the other or to accept that they themselves might just be an odd duck.

Themes: Odd Duck tackles the many aspects of friendship, including being alone, meeting new friends, enjoying spending time together, arguing over the smallest things, and reconciliation. Theodora was happy by herself, but when she meets Chad they hit it off and love doing things together, especially when they learn they have some shared interests. When they fight over the silliest of misunderstandings it will take some self-examination and humility to reconcile the relationship.

Not only does Odd Duck show aspects of friendship, it also highlights being yourself regardless of what others think and standing by your friends when others look down on them for their differences. When one of them is called odd, Chad and Theodora don’t know who it is that they are talking about, but it ends up hurting their friendship when they care what others think of them. It is only when they accept each other for who they are and realize that they might also be a bit odd that they are able to put aside those differences and go back to being friends.

Pros: Odd Duck does a great job quickly forming characters that stand out through some humorous things like Theodora practicing flapping her wings and Chad dying his feathers different colors. The contrast between these two ducks is obvious, but the way in which Castellucci and Varon manage to display through them a tight bond between friends, and the ways in which a friendship can quickly dissolve because of pride and shortsightedness and be reconciled out of true remorse is pretty amazing. The art is simple and colorful, but it makes the humor more pronounced without sacrificing emotion in the characters. It is in the understated moments where Odd Duck manages to evoke some real emotion.

Cons: Just as the title states, this book is a little odd. Though children will probably enjoy it in spite of being odd, they might not exactly understand all the little oddities it contains, such as putting mango salsa in duck food, practicing flapping, and dying feathers. There is potential for people to use this book to push unadulterated acceptance and approval of alternative lifestyles or for others on the opposite side to denounce it for a perceived political agenda. I think Odd Duck manages to sidestep those issues and deliver a clean, helpful message for children and adults to be nice, to accept others for who they are, and to be true to your friends.

Recommendations: Considered a children’s book, Odd Duck manages to have a lesson for everyone of all ages on how to treat others, when to stick by your friends, and what to think of yourself when others consider you to be odd. With some great but simple art, you’ll find yourself going back through to find the little details that Varon has sprinkled throughout the frames. Castellucci has written an easy to read, yet profound, story that doesn’t talk down to the reader or go down the road of being preachy or cheesy when it comes to giving a message of acceptance of others’ differences. Many people could do themselves well to read this charming little gem of a story, however odd it may be.

Cecil Castellucci’s website
Sara Varon’s website
Odd Duck on Goodreads
Buy Odd Duck on Amazon
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on May 13, 2013 in Childrens, Graphic Novel, Humor

 

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Teacher’s Pest by Charles Gilman

Teacher's Pest (Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #3)Premise: Robert Arthur has defeated Professor Gargoyle and The Slither Sisters in Crawford Tillinghast’s plot to take over the world: by bringing his strange monsters from the supposedly destroyed Tillinghast Mansion into the grounds of Lovecraft Middle School. With help from his friends Karina Ortiz, Glenn Torkells, and the two-headed rat named Pip and Squeak, Robert was able to defeat the Price sisters by winning the election for student council president. But Robert never wanted to be student council president, so he withdrew his bid and gave the position to the friendly Howard Mergler. The problem is that Howard is really a giant bug creature in disguise with the ability to control insects to do his bidding.

Howard’s new plot is to infest the school with massive swarms of insects all over Lovecraft Middle School. What a bad time for the janitorial staff to go on strike. As student council president, Howard is trusted by the adoring faculty and staff. There are few who know what he really is, and it is up to Robert, Karina, Glenn, and their pet rat to save the day yet again. Can they defeat a massive insect army led by a giant insect general intent on taking over the world?

Themes: The strength of friendship is put to the test in Teacher’s Pest. Pip and Squeak go missing and Robert will do whatever it takes to get them back. Glenn also grows distant after he is stung by a giant wasp, so Robert attempts to connect with his bully friend. But the reasons for Glenn putting off his friends might be the one thing that Robert can relate to, if only they could be forthcoming with each other. These friends are willing to put themselves in danger for each other.

Appearances are not a good way to judge people. On the outside, Howard Mergler is a well-dressed, polite, wonderful student. On the inside, he is a cruel bug-monster plotting to take over the world. On the flip-side, Robert is a loner with almost no friends, but after his previous fights and the bravery he displays in battling dark forces, he shows that great things can come from unexpected places.

Pros: Teacher’s Pest is full of action and a sense of real danger, more so even than the previous two books. There is some interpersonal conflict not found in the previous books that isn’t necessarily germane to the plot but adds a much deeper character development for the three main characters. Even with the intense action, I thought Teacher’s Pest was more appropriate for younger children than the other books, with less of a scary horror element and more of a gross out factor. Kids will love the bugs, rats, and eyeball monsters. As with the previous two books, the shapeshifting cover is awesome.

Cons: The main characters make some odd decisions that were out of character, excepting for the disjointed thought processes of middle school students. Both Robert and Glenn treat friends terribly at some point: Robert out of fear and Glenn out of embarrassment. The behavior is built up over a considerable time, especially in the case of Glenn, and then the explanation is almost too simplistic. There were also almost no references to the work of H.P. Lovecraft apart from an instance of chanting in another language, which is kind of a disappointment for Lovecraft fans seeking elements of homage to the horror great.

Recommendations: Make sure you read the first two books in the Lovecraft Middle School series to get a lot of setup information, some of which will be necessary to understand the plot, but most of which will just make the entire experience much better. This series has very high quality writing that is easy to read. It has horror elements that might be too intense for readers on the younger end of the middle grade spectrum, though Teacher’s Pest is more appropriate for younger middle grade than the first two books. It is packed full of bugs that are sure to gross kids out, in a good way. Robert and his friends show us that kids can do great things, especially when there are teachers and mentors who support them in their efforts.

Lovecraft Middle School website
Teacher’s Pest on Goodreads
Buy Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #3: Teacher’s Pest on Amazon
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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2013 in Childrens, Fantasy, Horror

 

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The Slither Sisters by Charles Gilman

The Slither Sisters (Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #2)Premise: The Slither Sisters picks up where Professor Gargoyle left off, with Robert Arthur at his new school trying to learn the mysteries of Lovecraft Middle School and the strange creatures that inhabit it. Robert soon discovers that there are gates leading from the school to an alternate dimension that is actually the old Tillinghast Mansion, where Crawford Tillinghast and his scientists were thought to have perished under questionable circumstances.

After coming back from their mysterious disappearance, Sylvia and Sarah Price run a campaign for class president. Robert and his friends Karina Ortiz and former bully Glenn Torkells will have to find a way to hinder this small step on the way to the Price sisters and the dark powers behind them taking over the school. As Robert uncovers these secrets it will be up to him and his friends to protect the students and teachers who are unaware of the sinister plots going on around them.

Nothing is as it seems and so many people are not who they appear, and learning who to trust will be important for the survival of Robert, his friends, and everyone else at Lovecraft Middle School.

Themes: Leadership and responsibility are traits that are bestowed on people, sometimes without a choice. With so many people at Lovecraft Middle School being clueless as to the dangers around them, Robert finds that it will be up to him to protect them.

Appearances are deceiving, especially at Lovecraft Middle School. Anybody could have their bodies taken over by creatures from another dimension, while others might be on Robert’s side without him even knowing it. Knowing who to trust is a challenge, but the truth can be discovered through dangerous research and perseverance.

Pros: Just like the first book, the cover is really cool, with a transforming lenticular image changing from the seemingly innocent sisters to their snake-like alter egos. This cover will not be as off-putting as the Professor Gargoyle cover as it isn’t as scary or demonic. The Slither Sisters includes some H.P. Lovecraft tidbits, such as tiny Cthulus infesting our world under the guise as hermit crabs. We get the same fast-paced book as the first, with a little bit of extra character development. The conflict is better fleshed out than book one, I thought the twist ending actually helped make The Slither Sisters even better than the first book.

Cons: Again, the cover is a spoiler for the antagonists of this story, though we got some hints at it from the first book in what the goal of the enemy is. The only character I wish we would have gotten some more fleshing out with was Karina. Hers is the most mysterious of the main characters and we still don’t know much about her.

Recommendations: The Slither Sisters is the second book in the Lovecraft Middle School series. It picks up where Professor Gargoyle ended and takes the story to new depths. Thankfully, these are just the right length for middle grade readers, though adults will probably enjoy Lovecraft Middle School just as much, especially H.P. Lovecraft fans. Kids should have some parental guidance, but this book was not nearly as scary or creepy as Professor Gargoyle. The Slither Sisters is even better than its predecessor, but readers will want to read Professor Gargoyle first in order to get a foundation of characters and plot.

Lovecraft Middle School website
The Slither Sisters
Buy Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #2: The Slither Sisters from Amazon
Download Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #2: The Slither Sisters for your Kindle
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2013 in Childrens, Fantasy, Horror

 

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