In The Great Pet Heist, when elderly Mrs. Food slips on some dog barf and ends up too injured to return possibly ever, her pets must fend for themselves. Walt (don’t call me Lucretia) is an Oriental shorthair and the sly female lead. Her sidekick is lovable but slow at times Butterbean, a male long-haired wiener dog, whose claim to fame is his nostril-probe lick. The main crew is comprised of Oscar the smart mynah bird, and the amiable rats Marco and Polo. e
A girl from their building named Madison comes by to take care of the basics, but the pets know it’s hasta la vista soon. Their situation seems dire until they stumble upon a possible criminal in their building who may have enough gold coins to give the animals riches to care for themselves. Once the heist is launched, a series of funny antics will keep you wondering whether these characters will succeed, or if it’s off to the pound.
Throughout, Dave Mottram’s art is beautifully done, adding another layer of humor to Ecton’s story. Though Walt was my favorite character, I fell for Chad the octopus once I saw him rising out of toilet bowls and tripping up the villain. Take a close look at the image next to the title page of The Great Pet Heist to find Chad.
THE EXPLORERS: THE DOOR IN THE ALLEY by Adrienne Kress (Delacorte Press; $16.99, Ages 8-12)
THE BLOG TOUR
Allow me to take the liberty, given the wit and wildly sassy style of Adrienne Kress’s fantastical middle grade novel,The Explorers: The Door in the Alley, to share with you, readers, the several unused openings that I toyed with before settling upon something completely different though perhaps a bit more mundane:
Can a pig ever be considered precocious?
Teeny hats off (and I mean that in the best possible way) to author Adrienne Kress for her latest novel!
Kress had me at Explorers.
REVIEW: Now, all those intros aside, I thoroughly enjoyed being taken inside the thrilling walls, doors, rooms and slide (yes, slide!) of The Explorers Society, one of the most marvelous places I’ve been to in a long time, and the driving force (to say the least) behind this very imaginative adventure. Getting to know the cool cast of characters whose journey kept me turning the pages as more and more secrets were revealed, was also tons of fun.
The story of The Explorers unfolds with the rescue of a pig in a teeny hat by a 12-year-old, rule-respecting, STEM scholar named Sebastian. It doesn’t hurt that he’s also got a photographic memory. The pig, it turns out, belongs to a member of The Explorers Society, located in a seemingly innocuous building in a back alley near Sebastian’s routine route home. Rather than being rewarded for his helpful deed as logic would dictate, logic being another characteristic that can be attributed to young Sebastian, he is punished by the society’s president. Sebastian must now, to avoid arrest (yes, arrest!), do chores daily after school at the society in order to learn to take risks and expand his limited horizons.
As he becomes familiar with the amazing interior of the society (trust me, it is absolutely unreal!), Sebastian, prodded by the president Myrtle Algens, seeks to do something inappropriate that only someone who thrives on appropriateness can do. Just what that is, he hasn’t a clue. So, while unsure exactly how to push these boundaries, Sebastian accidentally uncovers a small hidden door behind which sits a box. Sebastian takes this box home and discovers in its contents assorted articles, photographs and other information about a disbanded group of explorers called the Filipendulous Five. When he asks Algens about them he is less than politely asked to leave the society’s premises and never return!
Upon departing, Sebastian encounters a forlorn-looking girl sitting outside. The girl, we learn, is Evie, an orphan on the run from some scary-looking dudes, one with a jaw wired shut, the other with (I kid you not!), a partially melted face. According to a letter she was given before she escaped the bad guys, Evie discovers she has an important connection to the The Explorers Society. This letter, written by her grandfather who she didn’t know was alive, indicates he’s in grave danger. Somehow though, this information, when shared with Algens, has gotten her kicked out of the building despite believing it would be a place of refuge. Things become even more confounding for the poor girl when Sebastian explains that her grandfather is none other than Alistair Drake, the head honcho of the Filipendulous Five! Soon Evie and Sebastian team up and take off on a series of exciting and risky exploits (it’s true, Sebastian skips school!) at the local zoo, the university, as well as inside The Explorers Society, all in an effort to find a mysterious key mentioned in the letter and save Evie’s grandfather while trying to elude wired-jaw guy and melted-face man.
The Explorersis a fabulously funny, fast-paced read with 27 chapters and an epilogue. Each chapter contains just the right mix of mayhem, dialogue, description and derring-do. Kress’s imagination is boundless, something I’m certain middle graders looking to lose themselves in an adventure/mystery will appreciate. Her sense of humor is also spot on. I must mention here that I had the good fortune to be sent an advanced readers copy for the blog tour so the artwork that is due to accompany the novel wasn’t included. But I can’t wait to see it since the story itself is quite visual and would lend itself well to film or TV.
Now dear readers, the story doesn’t end here because there is definitely more to come in an as yet unnamed sequel that, I have to admit, is the appropriate thing to do when the author leaves you with a cliffhanger making you wonder what’s to become of Sebastian, Evie and the rest of the characters you’ve grown to care about. I’m also very curious as to whether Sebastian’s school ever calls his parents, that is unless all the action occurs on weekends. That would certainly calm his nerves. Watch this space!
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
More upcoming stops this week and next for the blog tour include:
My kids have only seen one or two episodes of the PBS show, Peg + Cat, but you don’t need to have seen episodes to like the picture book, Peg + Cat: The Race Car Problem! It’s a fun, creative story of Peg and Cat as they build a race car for a twenty lap race to compete with three other groups for the golden cup. There are several math related situations, such as which shape will roll the best, or what number lap they are on and is that less than the competition.
At the beginning of the story Peg and Cat are at a junk yard to make their race car for the big race. They put it together with a metal cylinder and some boxes and circle items for wheels (although when one wheel falls off they quickly realize that a square replacement wouldn’t roll).
This story reminds me of how fun it is to create objects and items from “junk.” This past June my family attended the local high school’s “Day of Making” which supported STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) education and there was a non-profit called Trash 4 Teaching which had a creation station. My kids spent almost an hour or more making various creations with hot glue and all these cool industrial product left-overs. I wish I had a picture!
I loved the fun illustrations with the graph paper background. Even the way they numbered the pages was fun (see photo – right)! The message that you should never give up was a good one in addition to all the numbers and problem solving. It’s also sure to bring a laugh to adults as they read the book aloud to their young kids (especially the part about the teens’ car and how they handle the race).
Overall, in Peg + Cat: The Race Car Problem, Peg and Cat have great personalities that shine through and help them persevere and win the race (even when car trouble crept up). This book will be a great addition to kids’ libraries for many years!
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Oh, this marvelous cover. The huge cat, the small boy, the dreamy purple all around them, and the feeling like they have known each other for a long time are all reasons that Crenshawjust pulled me in when I first saw it. Of course I knew that Katherine Applegate was going to write a terrific book because she wrote the Newbery Award winner, The One and Only Ivan. So, I just trust her to write something wonderful and she did!
Jackson, known to the family as Jacks, is a person who likes facts. In fact, he loves them. So when Crenshaw shows up one day Jackson is amazed and more than slightly freaked out. Crenshaw was Jackson’s imaginary friend when Jackson was a little boy. Jackson knows better than to believe in imaginary friends. However, now Jackson has a real problem because even though he wishes Crenshaw would just go away, it’s not going to happen. Crenshaw is going to stay for a while. It’s good that he does because Jackson is going to need his old friend again.
Jackson and his family aren’t doing well financially. Jackson’s family is going to have to make a decision about how they are going to cope with job losses and disabilities. It isn’t going to be easy to be able to make any sort of decision at all when there is hardly any money. Jackson and his family have had to live in the family minivan before, and Jackson is worried that they might have to do that again. While everything around Jackson seems out of control, Crenshaw is there. He’s a giant, imaginary cat and I’m so glad he is there for Jackson. Crenshaw guides Jackson. Crenshaw helps Jackson to find a way to tell a hard truth. Crenshaw likes purple jellybeans. Crenshaw is a cat that can ride a surfboard! In short, Crenshaw is a great friend.
There’s just tons to love about this book. It’s magical, full of facts (that’s what Jackson likes), full of imagination (that’s pretty much what Crenshaw is made from), and it has this amazing warmth to it. Jackson’s family may have financial troubles, but there is no deficit of love in this family. They love each other to the moon and back again. Crenshaw received well-deserved starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, and Horn Book. I’ll add another of my own. ★ Highly recommended!