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Middle Grade Book Review – Journey Beyond the Burrow

IT’S A TWO-WEEK COUNTDOWN

UNTIL THE PUBLICATION OF …

JOURNEY BEYOND THE BURROW

Written by Rina Heisel

(Harper/Harper Collins Children’s Books; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

 

 

Journey Beyond the Burrow cover

 

 

A JUNIOR LIBRARY GUILD GOLD STANDARD SELECTION!

 

What an action-packed journey! In Rina Heisel’s riveting debut middle-grade novel, Journey Beyond the Burrow, you’ll find yourself entering a world way down low, perhaps a place you don’t often look. After being so caught up in the forest floor escapades while reading, I found myself wanting to tread carefully when putting down the book and stepping onto my bedroom rug.

Readers are quickly introduced to the main character, a resourceful weather scout mouse named Tobin. Everyone in his burrow has a role to play and Tobin takes his responsibilities quite seriously. In fact, he often quotes from the Rules of Rodentia and is a stickler about following them. Not so for his best bud Wiley. He couldn’t be more opposite of Tobin, taking risks and thriving from them. Talia, Tobin’s younger sister, just wants to be accepted by her older brother and his pal. Her fearlessness and smarts make it hard to turn her down on their eventual mission.

When a storm and downed tree threatens the burrow and allows menacing spiders called Arakni to cross a creek into their territory, life suddenly changes for this “little band of misfits.” Spotting a web sack on the back of one escaping Arakni in which Tobin and Talia’s newborn baby brother has been wrapped, the trio embark on a dangerous journey to rescue the “pinkling.” Encounters with hawks, chipmunks, catfish, snakes, foxes, falcons, possums, woodchucks, owls, snapper turtles, and beavers will get your pulse racing since every new woodland creature is a potential predator.

Following the foul scent of the Arakni that stole their baby brother, Tobin and Talia along with Wiley are determined to find the Arakni lair and rescue the pinkling. Things get even more interesting when the mice team up with an unexpected and unlikely ally named Hess. Weaving animal facts with fascinating storytelling, Heisel takes readers across creeks, past orange toadstools, through tunnels, across gorges and hilltops to challenge the Arakni, a formidable enemy every reader will want vanquished.

One close page-turning call follows another and mimics what life must be like for animals in the wild. Each time the team of determined characters seem to be goners, the Rules of Rodentia are put to the test. I wondered at what point Tobin would abandon his rule-following resolve and wing it. When he finally realizes that making up their own rules as they go might be the only option for this risky rescue mission, Tobin, with the help of the others, becomes destined for success. It’s clear how much this journey helped Tobin grow within himself and as a son, a friend, and older brother. This brave weather scout might have to add some new rules to the list after this harrowing but also exciting experience.

It was so great spending time with Tobin, Talia, Wiley, and Hess that when I reached the end I wasn’t ready to leave them. Heisel has introduced a group of well-defined characters to care about and root for. And as Talia says to Hess, “I don’t want to say goodbye, either.” Here’s to reunions!

 

Publication Date: July 13, 2021, but Journey Beyond the Burrow is available for preorder now.

Preorder from Red Balloon for signing copy, bookmark, & sticker: https://bit.ly/JBTB-RB
Twitter: @rinaheisel
Instagram: Rina.Heisel
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Picture Book Review – Brave as a Mouse

BRAVE AS A MOUSE

Written and Illustrated by Nicolò Carozzi 

(Random House Studio; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

BraveasaMouse cover

 

Starred Review – Booklist

 

A brave hero doesn’t always mean a big hero in Nicolò Carozzi’s beautifully worded and illustrated picture book Brave as a Mouse, his debut picture book in the US. 

Through simple text and stunning art, Carozzi draws our attention to Mouse’s new friendship with the homeowner’s fish. Mouse asks the fish, “Would you like to play?” and with a simple “YES!” both creatures enjoy each other’s company, swimming together. Mouse blows through a straw, and the fish enjoys jacuzzi-style bubbles. 

 

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Interior spread from Brave as a Mouse written and illustrated by Nicolò Carozzi, Random House Studio ©2021.

 

However, the fun stops when other housepets want to “play.” Three ominous shadows cast on the wall next to the fish’s bowl are plain but powerful images foretelling of the dangers ahead. 

As the homeowner’s beloved fat cats encircle the fishbowl, Mouse has a “wild … bold … [and] brave idea” to entice the three to follow him, all the way to the pantry where they gorge themselves on cat food.

 

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Interior art from Brave as a Mouse written and illustrated by Nicolò Carozzi, Random House Studio ©2021.

 

While the felines sleep off their big meal, Mouse uses the time to fulfill an even wilder, bolder, and braver idea that includes the help of other mice living in the house. Straight lines, calm, muted colors, and minimalist illustrations keep us focused on the rescue plan. Children and adult readers will enjoy the action-packed adventure as Mouse risks his own safety to protect his new friend. A more subtle, though important theme is the infectious nature of Mouse’s bravery and kindness.

 

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Interior art from Brave as a Mouse written and illustrated by Nicolò Carozzi, Random House Studio ©2021.

 

For those interested in quieter books on themes of friendship and compassion as well as those who like a good old fashion story when the good guys win, this picture book will delight again and again. 

 

  •  Reviewed by Armineh Manookian 
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An Interview with Annelouise Mahoney, Author-Illustrator of Julius and Macy

AN INTERVIEW WITH

ANNELOUISE MAHONEY

AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR OF

JULIUS AND MACY:
A Very Brave Night

(Two Lions/Amazon Children’s Publishing; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

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Julius And Macy A Very Brave Night Cover

 

 

SUMMARY OF JULIUS AND MACY: A VERY BRAVE NIGHT

Julius and Macy like to play heroes. Julius pretends he’s the defender of the forest, while Macy has a quieter strength. When their snack disappears one night, they decide to track down the only one who could have taken it―the Night Goblin. They both have to be brave in their own ways, and they ultimately discover that the real thief isn’t anything like they imagined.

With its endearing characters, this gently told tale reminds us that we each have courage within us and that kindness can make all the difference.

 

INTERVIEW WITH ANNELOUISE MAHONEY

GoodReadsWithRonna: Congratulations on your author-illustrator debut, Annelouise! Does it feel surreal right now after all your hard work to hold Julius and Macy: A Very Brave Night in your hands? How long has it been since you first began this creative journey in general and specifically for this picture book?
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Annelouise Mahoney: Hi Ronna. Thank you so much for having me over today. Yes! Surreal is the perfect word for how it feels. Surreal and grateful! It’s been a long journey into picture books. It took about 10 years of serious focus to break into children’s books and of those 10 years, it took 5 years for the making of Julius and Macy
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GRWR: I adore bravery stories since I was not the bravest of kids, nor were my children. Tell us how you decided on this topic for your picture book.
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AM: I adore bravery stories too! I didn’t set out with a definite topic for this book at the beginning. It was more finding the characters that resonated with me and asking questions as I drew them over and over again. So the characters came first. The more I drew Julius and Macy the clearer their story became.
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Julius and_Macy int2 interview with Annelouise Mahoney
Interior art from Julius and Macy: A Very Brave Night written and illustrated by Annelouise Mahoney, Two Lions/Amazon Children’s Publishing ©2021.
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GRWR: Burning question. Are you more Julius or more Macy?  
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AM: That’s a fun question! Honestly, I think I’m a little bit of both. I love to go after something I’m passionate about but feel bravest with someone by my side. I feel the younger me is more adventurous like Julius, but the older me is more cautious like Macy.
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GRWR: Please walk us through your approach to writing and illustrating. Did you conceive the text first and then illustrate it, vice versa, or did everything happen simultaneously?
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AM: I’ve learned to stick to the illustrations first. Not full illustrations, but loose sketches of ideas, and build from there. I gather all the loose sketches into a folder and begin placing them into a small thumbnail template. The template is an 8×11 piece of paper where I can see the story in one place. When I can see the story, and feel the visual narrative is working, then it’s time to add the words. This part of the process takes a long time for me. It’s a lot of experimenting to get the words right. If I start with the text too soon, I usually end up straying from my story.
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GRWR: Can we talk about your gorgeous artwork and how you create it?
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Photo courtesy of Annelouise Mahoney
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AM: In the beginning when I’m moving away from the very loose thumbnail sketch and planning out the compositions for each spread, I use Post-it notes to redraw certain elements, or add to what I already have. This part of the process takes a long time for me. It’s figuring out compositions and looking for how to express a feeling. I’m also looking for areas that may be repetitive and looking for the most interesting way to show the story. There is a lot of experimenting happening at this stage. The Post-it notes help me to not get attached to any single idea as I can just take it off or move it around without having to redraw the whole spread.
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Photo courtesy of Annelouise Mahoney
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When I think what’s happening on the page is working, I scan the sketches into the computer and make the images bigger in photoshop. I’m looking for more specific information I can give to each spread, making sure the compositions work within the trim size and add the text to make sure everything reads well in the space. 
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This dummy stage will then repeat as I go through revisions with my agent and then my editor until the story is fleshed out and polished.
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Once the story is polished, I begin all over again with small thumbnails but this time I’m focusing only on color. For Julius and Macy: A Very Brave Night, I made a color guide to help me navigate the color choice for each spread before going into final art. I found this part extremely helpful because I was painting in watercolor and I had to know how I was going to approach each painting.
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Photo courtesy of Annelouise Mahoney
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I then repeated the process of scanning in the tiny thumbnails in Photoshop and making them much bigger to fit into the book template. I was interested to see where I need to focus on adding details and how the images read in the true size of the book. It’s checking and double-checking that the text will fit and I’m getting the color transitions right. Once the loose wash looks right and I can see where I’m going, I took large sheets of Arches 140lb cold press watercolor paper and cut them down a little larger than print size.

I painted each page in watercolor, with lots and lots of wash layers. I would work on a few spreads at a time so there was time for the paint to dry, and time to look away from a work in progress. There is an uncomfortable moment in each illustration where it looks ugly and messy and doesn’t feel like it will work before it does. When the painting was dry and complete, I scanned each painting into the computer and used photoshop and my Wacom tablet to set each painting into the picture book template provided by my publisher, Two Lions.
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GRWR: Now that you have one book under your belt, are you busy with promoting it, or are you also making time for more artistic pursuits?
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AM: Promotion does take a lot of time, and I’m enjoying this moment very much. But yes, I’m working on two other book dummies at the moment and I’m hoping to get them submission-ready soon. 
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GRWR: Do you have a routine you like to stick to when working on a project?
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AM: I really need to be flexible as a working mom and often bring my book dummies, Post-it notes and pencils with me wherever I go. As far as a routine, I definitely wake up early each day before the demands of my family take over, and I work at night when there is another wave of calm. Those precious hours are protected for when I really need to concentrate.
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JuliusAndMacyAVeryBraveNight int3 Interview with AnneLouise Mahoney
Interior spread from Julius and Macy: A Very Brave Night written and illustrated by Annelouise Mahoney, Two Lions/Amazon Children’s Publishing ©2021.
 
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GRWR: Is there a spread in Julius and Macy that really resonates with the child in you and the mother in you?
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AM: Oh wow, what a beautiful question. The spread of the book with panels of Julius and Macy walking into and through the dark cave resonates with me as a mother.  When my daughters were very young they would slip into pretend play very easily. They craved adventure and enjoyed little scary moments where they were challenged to be brave. The Los Angeles zoo has a man-made cave meant for little ones to explore. We’d visit it often and my girls would become more and more brave to venture through it, their imaginations on fire as they explored every corner.
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As an author, I find writing a children’s book a bit like walking in the dark. There are times when I don’t know where I’m going, I can’t see the story, I can easily spook myself, but there is the need to keep going even if the unknown feels scary. As a child, I craved adventure stories and had a very active imagination. I think I’d be excited to walk into a cave, as long as I had a friend beside me and it wasn’t completely dark.
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GRWR: What would you love for children to take away from reading your book?
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AM: I would love children to explore what bravery means to them and see the many ways they’ve been brave in their own life. I’d like children to know that there is a unique form of bravery to reach out to someone, especially when you notice someone struggling to belong, as well as the bravery and trust to reach back.
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GRWR: Has anyone in particular been influential in your kidlit career?
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AM: I had a brave moment myself, and enrolled in a class taught by Marla Frazee at Art Center College of Design. She lit the way for me when I was really struggling to understand the craft of writing for children. She taught in a way I could understand by breaking things down to get to the heart of the story, finding the emotion in the art, trusting what your sketches are trying to tell you. Most importantly, when writing as an illustrator, stick to the sketching first. I’m still learning and growing, but those lessons influence how I write and how I create a book. 
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GRWR: What important lesson or invaluable piece of advice have you learned along the way in your children’s publishing experience that you’d like to share today?
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AM: I believe that if you want to write for children, be passionate about it. Really put in the time and love to learn the craft. Be passionate about what you are working on. Publishing takes time and you want the love for your story to carry you through the rejections, revisions, and care that will ultimately polish your book better than you could ever do alone. 
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GRWR: What can we expect next?
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AM: I hope to make many more books! That’s really all I want to do. Whether I have the honor of working with another author to create a book together or have the opportunity to publish more of my own stories. It’s the greatest privilege to make books for kids. 
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GRWR: Is there anything I haven’t asked that you’d like to mention? 
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AM: I’d like to mention to your readers that I have activity pages that correspond to my book available for download on my website. www.WoodlandAbbey.com 
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Also, I’m a member of a wonderful group of children’s book authors, The Picture Book Scribblers. We are all available for school visits paired by theme or individually. You can find us here https://picturebookscribbl.wixsite.com/home
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Thank you so much, Ronna. It’s been an absolute pleasure to chat with you today!
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GRWR: What a wonderfully frank and informative interview. Thank you, Annelouise, and best of luck with Julius and Macy: A Very Brave Night.
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BRIEF BIO

Annelouise Mahoney photo courtesy of ©Michael Chang

Annelouise Mahoney has worked in animation for DreamWorks, DIC Animation, Sony, and Saban Entertainment. She has also worked as a colorist for Marvel and Image Comics on such series as Uncanny X-Men, Generation X, and others. This is her first picture book, and it was inspired by the depths of her daughters’ friendships and the many ways they are brave, especially with someone on their side. She loves to explore the forest, can’t resist a cave, and has a lot of love for all those named Julius in her life. Annelouise lives in Southern California with her family. Learn more about her at www.woodlandabbey.com.
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Order your copy of Julius and Macy: A Very Brave Night: Mahoney today.

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SOCIAL MEDIA

Facebook: Woodland Abbey

Twitter: @WoodlandAbbey

Instagram: Annelouise Mahoney 

 

CLICK HERE FOR DOWNLOADABLE ACTIVITY PAGES

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Julius and Macy A Very Brave Night-4 GiveawayTWO GIVEAWAY OPPORTUNITIES

1. Enter our Twitter giveaway @goodreadsronna for a chance to win a signed copy of Julius and Macy: A Very Brave Night together with a special Giveaway Prize Package from Annelouise that includes an 8×11 print of cover, a sticker sheet, and a round sticker. Eligible for U.S.  only. One winner will be selected at random and announced at 6 pm PDT on Friday, April 9.

 

             WIN!          WIN!          WIN!          WIN!

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2. Additionally, five lucky winners will each receive three fabulous books celebrating the art of making and keeping friends, including Julius and Macy: A Very Brave Night, courtesy of Two Lions. Details and entry form can be found here (US addresses).

 

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Click here to read another recent author-illustrator interview.

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Picture Book Review – Girl Versus Squirrel

GIRL VERSUS SQUIRREL

Written by Hayley Barrett

Illustrated by Renée Andriani

(Margaret Ferguson Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Girl versus Squirrel cover

 

 

A Junior Library Guild Selection

Starred Reviews – Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal

Hayley Barrett’s picture book, Girl Versus Squirrel, shows us the fun rascals many of us have stealing from our bird feeders—the same dilemma Pearl faces in this story. The lyrical text, teeming with repetition and alliteration, works well as a read-aloud. As the tale unfolds in its singsong style, we are both lulled by the beauty of a girl feeding her backyard birds and prodded by her frustration with a seemingly unstoppable peanut-stealing squirrel.

 

Pages from Girl Versus Squirrel Page 1
Interior spread from Girl Versus Squirrel written by Hayley Barrett and illustrated by Renée Andriani, Margaret Ferguson Books ©2020.

 

Facial expressions on the girl and the squirrel are priceless as they one-up each other from scene to scene. I enjoyed how Renée Andriani’s art captures the shifting emotions as the power pendulums between the two opponents. However, when the action peaks, a new discovery makes Pearl rethink her no-squirrels-allowed policy.

 

Pages from Girl Versus Squirrel Page 2
Interior art from Girl Versus Squirrel written by Hayley Barrett and illustrated by Renée Andriani, Margaret Ferguson Books ©2020.

 

Adults will appreciate the kid-friendly “Squirrelly Facts” at the end. These mischievous mammals chirp and scamper across every continent except Australia and Antarctica. Mark your calendars so you don’t forget to set out a treat on Squirrel Appreciation Day (January 21st).

 

  •  Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

    Click here to order a copy of Girl Versus Squirrel.
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    Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog and its team of kidlit reviewers, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks!
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Recommended Reads for Children Week of 9/14/20

Click here for a review of another picture book if you’re nuts about squirrels.

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Early Chapter Book Review – Fergus and Zeke and the Field Day Challenge

FERGUS AND ZEKE AND THE FIELD DAY CHALLENGE
Written by Kate Messner
Illustrated by Heather Ross
(Candlewick Press; $14.99, Ages 5-8)

 

FergusandZeke and the Field Day Challenge cvr

 

 

Fergus and Zeke and the Field Day Challenge is the third in Kate Messner’s series of two beloved class pets in Miss Maxwell’s class. As fans of the earlier volumes know, these two mice enthusiastically join their human counterparts in all school activities from science experiments to sculpting with clay with humorous and adorable results.

When Miss Maxwell announces the upcoming, school-wide Field Day, the excitement is electric and captured in both Messner’s narrative and the diverse faces in Ross’s expressive illustrations. Who will jump the highest and run the fastest? Who will win the limbo contest or the sack race? The children-and the mice-excitedly prep for the event.

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FERGUS AND ZEKE AND THE FIELD DAY CHALLENGE. Text copyright © 2020 by Kate Messner. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Heather Ross. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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On the morning of the competition, the two mice secretly hitch a ride in a student’s backpack as the children eagerly set out to the field. The first content is the limbo. “How low can you go?” the students ask each other. Well, it turns out mice can go pretty low and Fergus and Zeke handily win that contest. However, as they join the other competitions, Fergus and Zeke quickly realize they have a much bigger challenge on their hands … um paws … they’re too small to compete with the much bigger students! The hula hoops are too big, they fear being trampled in the 50 yard dash, water balloons are too heavy to toss, and let’s not even consider kickball. However, soon they figure out how to bring  kids size sports down to mouse size players.

Readers will be delighted (and relieved) to see how Fergus and Zeke rise to this field day challenge and find substitutes for equipment that’s much too big for them: acorns instead of water balloons, a high jump bar constructed from twigs, a discarded plastic bag for the parachute games, and a lost bracelet for the hula hoop contest.  The two have so much fun that they fail to notice the class has returned to school without them. How will they get back to their second story classroom? And what will happen if the students notice they’re gone? Well, the pair demonstrate their ingenuity once again, finding that a plastic bag may be useful for more than just a parachute game.

FergusandZeke and the Field Day Challenge int2
FERGUS AND ZEKE AND THE FIELD DAY CHALLENGE. Text copyright © 2020 by Kate Messner. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Heather Ross. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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Messner, winner of the 2012 Golden Kite Award (and many others), has written an upbeat, straightforward, and engaging story. The vocabulary is action packed and accessible. The books’ themes of friendship, school days, sports, and pets are appealing for 5-8 year-old readers who are done with early readers but not yet ready for chapter books. Caregivers and teachers may want to point out the story’s positive images of friendly competition and how the two mice problem solve and collaborate to overcome challenges.

Ross’s digitally-created and cheerful illustrations support the light-hearted narrative and provide visual clues for young readers transitioning to chapter books. Fergus and Zeke and the Field Day Challenge is a charming addition for families and libraries looking for more offerings in a transitional chapter book format.

  •  Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

 

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