Review – Sparks! (Ian Boothby)

Keywords: Year 4+, comic book, superhero, cats, dogs, robots, adventure, humour, friendship.

I’m gonna be completely honest. I find it really, really, really annoying when cats in books and movies are automatically “the bad guys”. Think about it: when reading books or watching shows, how often have you seen cats who were villains? Maybe you haven’t seen it all that often. If so, you’re very lucky! But I’ve read and seen far too many stories where cats are unfairly assumed to be evil. Real Pigeons, Cats vs. Dogs, Isle of Dogs, Lady and the Tramp

If you’re going to remember anything from this review, let it be this: NOT ALL CATS ARE EVIL!

August and Charlie’s first meeting!

Cats can be kind, intelligent, and even heroic! And Sparks! by Ian Boothby (illustrated by Nina Matsumoto) shows us just how wonderful cats are. The two main characters are Charlie and August – kitties who have escaped an evil alien research laboratory and now live in their own comfy home. (Here’s a quick warning: there are some scenes in this book where there are sad animals in a laboratory being experimented on. There’s nothing too scary, and every animal there has a happy ending.)

They may be heroes, but Charlie and August love to relax too!

Most cats in Charlie and August’s shoes would stay home and live comfortable lives. And that’s fine! But these two kitties are a bit different. You see, August is super intelligent – like, intelligent enough to create robots and make a rug that electrocutes intruders. Meanwhile, Charlie is uncommonly brave and wants to help the world. So, these wonderful felines decide to team up and become superheroes!

But here’s the thing. Remember how we were talking about how cats are usually seen as evil? That means that whenever Charlie or August tried to help, humans would immediately assume that they were the villains and chase them away. Even though they were treated so unfairly, the cats still want to help. So August decides to design a superhero costume that both she and Charlie can use: a robot suit in the shape of a dog!

Whenever Charlie and August become Sparks, August announces, “Canine Configuration Commence!”

Unlike cats, dogs are more well-liked by many people. Dogs are usually the heroes in stories, so humans are more likely to trust them. So, to help people, Charlie and August transform into Sparks, the crime-fighting, people-saving dog!

But ‘Sparks’ isn’t alone in their superhero duties. Charlie and August live with two other friends: a talking litter-box robot named Litter and a jokester squirrel named Steve-O. Litter talks to the reader a lot as the narrator of the story, so we get to talk to him often. He helps the kitties to set up their Sparks robot suit (“Canine Configuration Commence!”) and he loves dance parties!

Litter likes dance parties!

In terms of characters, I think the one I rooted for the most is August. When she was a kitten, the first time she played in the grass was when she was abducted and taken to the evil laboratory. Since then, she has an intense phobia of grass. Even just touching grass reminds her of that horrible event. August’s main character arc (her mini-plot that helps her grow as a character by the end of the story) is to face her fear of grass. I found myself cheering for her all the way through the book!

August is also very funny, though she doesn’t mean to be. Here’s one of my favourite scenes that shows August’s unintentional humour:


Charlie and August are in the Sparks robot suit. They are being attacked by alligators.

Charlie: “Aaaaah! Crocodiles!”

August: “Alligators, actually.”

Charlie: “REALLY? You’re giving a biology lesson NOW?!”

August: “Facts ALWAYS matter!”]

Maybe I like August because she reminds me so much of Louise and Sakura, two of our fact-loving Bookitties!

So, what do the Bookitties think of Sparks? Alfie liked it when he realized it was a superhero comic book. Then he LOVED it when he actually read it and enjoyed the story! Jun really enjoyed it too; it was the perfect book to read while he was taking a break from homework.

Review – Real Pigeons Fight Crime (Andrew McDonald)

Keywords: funny, Year 2+ reading, paragraphs, chapter book, comic strips, crime-fighting, mystery, comedy.

Okay, I have a confession to make: the only reason I read this book is because a lot – and I mean a lot – of my students seem to love it. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up and read it.

The front cover

It’s not because it looks bad or anything! It just didn’t seem like something I’d personally like to read. And that’s fine! You don’t need to like every single book you see. But here’s the thing: looking at a book and actually reading it are very different things. How does the idiom go again? “Don’t judge a book by its cover”? Well, that’s definitely true in this case, because I actually enjoyed this book far more than I expected!

Real Pigeons Fight Crime is the story of a group of…well, what do you think? A group of pigeons who fight crime. A straight-forward title that tells you exactly what the book is about!

The main thing that surprised me was how how much fun it was to read through the three stories. (That’s right: this book is actually three stories in one!) The first story introduces Rock, the main character. We learn about how he joins the crime-fighting pigeons and saves a park from a mysterious monster. The second story tells us about how the pigeons save a group of bats from another mysterious monster.

But then comes the third story. You’d think it would be about another mysterious monster causing trouble, right? Well, you’re only a little bit correct, because there are actually two mysterious monsters! And they are very familiar characters…

Andrew McDonald (author) and Ben Wood (illustrator)

But even though the main plot is fun, it can be a bit distracting. I noticed on my second read-through (yes, I read this twice!) that there were sub-plots hiding behind the main story. A ‘sub-plot’ is like a mini story that’s inside or next to the big story. Think of an episode of any TV show or cartoon you like. There’s usually a main story, but there’s also a second story that another character goes through. It’s not as big as the main plot, but it’s just as important!

Anyway, the sub-plots in Real Pigeons Fight Crime can be tricky to find if you don’t know what you’re looking for. My favourite sub-plot is from the second story about bats. It involves friendship and feeling like people respect you and acknowledge what makes you special! When you read the book, see if you can spot which characters I’m talking about.

The book itself is presented in a very fun way: lots of pictures and lots of words that bend and stretch in really cool ways. Definitely give this book a try if you want inspiration when designing your own books! The style reminds me of the Geronimo Stilton series (I plan on reviewing that one day, don’t worry!), so if you like those books, you’ll probably like this one too. Real Pigeons also reminds me of Dogman (which I have actually reviewed before!) with its zany sense of humor and plot twists!

The book is presented with paragraphs, comic strips, illustrations and labels!
My attempt at drawing Tumbler! I got the instructions from the Real Pigeons website.

There’s one last amazing think about Real Pigeons. It has its own website! That’s right, you can go to a website, join the ‘Super Coo Club’ and get a whole bunch of fun activities to do! My favourite activity is the one where they teach you how to draw the characters. I got to draw my favourite character (Tumbler, the bendy pigeon)! Honestly, if a book teaches you how to draw its characters, it immediately becomes 10 times better to me. Every book series should have fun activities like Real Pigeons!

Obviously, as a reader who gobbles up funny books, Alfie loves Real Pigeons Fight Crime. Jun likes it too! It’s the perfect book for some light reading when you’re having a break from schoolwork! These two like the book so much, in fact, that they have both forgiven it for calling cats ‘scary’ and ‘evil’. Both kitties would much rather become pigeons now, honestly!

Review – A Man and his Cat (Umi Sakurai)

Keywords: manga, Year 3+, adorable, cats, feel-good, light-hearted, friendship, love, pets, animals, really cute!

Okay, so we’ve spoken about graphic novels like Nimona and comic books like Dogman. But what about manga? Manga is the name given to Japanese comic books. You can find lots of manga translated to English. The main difference between manga and other comic books is how you read them. In English comic books, you usually read each panel and speech bubble from left to right, right? Well, in manga, you actually read them right to left! This is because Japanese books are written right to left. I think that everyone should read at least one manga book in their lifetime. And what better place to start than with an adorable manga about cats?

The front cover of the first volume

A Man & His Cat is exactly what it says: it’s the story about a man who adopts a cat. The cat lives in a pet store for the first year of his life. Nobody wants to adopt him because they think he’s ugly (which is just objectively wrong, since he’s so adorable!). He comes to the conclusion that nobody will ever adopt him or even want him around. He resigns himself to living alone in the pet store for the rest of his life.

But then, an elderly man visits the store. And without a second of hesitation, he chooses the cat. He adopts the kitty joyfully, calling him ‘Fukumaru’ (which loosely means ‘joy’ in Japanese). And so begins the adventure of Fukumaru the cat and his human Mr Kanda.

Fukumaru: cat, main character, and absolute cutie who deserves the world!!

The manga follows Fukumaru and Mr Kanda’s friendship as they grow used to each-other. You see, Mr Kanda has never had a cat before, and Fukumaru has never had an owner. Thankfully, Mr Kanda is an incredibly kind person who tries his best to take care of his new kitty. He’s actually a great role model for any readers who want to adopt a cat (or any pet!).

Of course, this manga would probably be more enjoyable for cat people, since the story centers around a cat. There are many moments in the story that are just so relatable to humans who live with cats. I laughed with utter joy many times while reading this! For example, this is one of my favourite parts:

The amount of times my cats have done something cute, only to stop doing it as soon as I get my camera…it happens way too often! So yeah, that particular comic strip is very relatable.

But throughout the cute and fluffy chapters are moments of real emotion and love. To be honest, there were many times that I was actually about to cry. And I mean actual sobs. The best example of an emotional, tear-jerking moment is the very first chapter, where the man decides to adopt Fukumaru.

I’ve read this manga at least a dozen times. Every single time I read that first chapter, I start tearing up because it’s just so sweet and emotional and ah! I love this book!!

So, a word of advice to end this review: read A Man And His Cat when you’re feeling sad or lost or hopeless. This is one of those rare books that remind you of the sweetness of life. There is no problem that pops up in this story’s plot that cannot be solved with love. But beware! Those with tender hearts will definitely cry of joy while reading!

While these two cats are usually at odds with each-other, Jenny and Alfie both agree that this is a wonderful book! Jenny recommends it to those who love adorable and love-filled stories. Alfie recommends the book as a good way to start reading manga for the first time.

Review – Dogman: Grime and Punishment (Dav Pilkey)

Keywords: Year 1+ (ages 6 and up), fiction, comic book, humour, adventure.

Okay, so it took me a while to finally get into the Dogman series. In my ignorance, the first Dogman book I ended up reading was actually the 9th in the series: Grime and Punishment. So, yeah, not exactly the best place to start a series but I actually enjoyed it. A LOT!

I confess that I was reluctant to read the book. It looked a little too silly for me. (And I can be quite silly, so that’s saying something!)

The front cover.

So my expectations weren’t very high when I first dove into Dogman. The only reason I even began reading it was because there was a group of Year 1 students in my last class who loved – and I mean loved – this series. They’d even take their whole collection outside with them to read during recess and lunch! Now THAT is dedication!

“Just because lots of people like this book doesn’t mean I will too!” I said to myself. And that’s true! A book being popular doesn’t automatically mean that absolutely everyone will like it.

So imagine my surprise, my complete shock, when I actually read the book and absolutely loved it.

Sure, the story is a bit silly, but it’s a good kind of silly. It’s the type of silliness that has a meaning behind it. Silliness without a purpose can get tiring after a while, but silliness that has a clear role in the story? Now that I like! The humor isn’t always my cup of tea. (That means that I don’t always find it funny.) But there aren’t any jokes that I find stupid or weird in a bad way. My absolute favourite joke in the whole book was this one about an English teacher fish teaching adverbs:

A laughing Petey.

As for the characters, I adored Petey! (And not just because he’s a cat!) He’s my favorite character for two reasons:

1. He’s the classic ‘bad guy turned good’ that I love so much in stories.

2. His relationship with Lil Petey/Cat Kid is so gosh dang adorable!

If ‘love’ was a cat, it would be Cat Kid.

I was blown away by the depth and significance of Petey and Cat Kid’s familial relationship. The main idea of this book – Love vs Hate – is illustrated best by Petey and Cat Kid’s conversations. Petey represents ‘Hate’, because he was fueled by hate for most of his life. Then Cat Kid, to nobody’s surprise, represents love. I mean, just look at him! He radiates love and compassion!

Something that completely knocked my socks off was a note at the very end of the book. George and Harold (the authors of the book even though it’s actually Dav Pilkey) say that a part of Chapter 3 was inspired by a poem. This poem (‘Do not stand at my grave and weep’) is by Mary Elizabeth Frye and it is one of my all-time favourites! I reckon I’ll even publish a reading comprehension exercise for it soon (*wink wink*). You can check the full poem out here!

Dogman’s title references this Russian classic. It’s very serious and long.

There are other references too! For example, the title (Grime and Punishment) references a classic book by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment. So, this book’s title is actually an excellent example of a pun. A pun is a play on words to change the meaning in a funny way (like saying ‘What do you call two dinosaurs in a car crash? Tyrannosaurus wrecks!’). I think in Dogman‘s case, the title ‘Grime and Punishment’ refers to ‘Crime and Punishment’ just for the silliness of it! After all, Crime and Punishment is about a man who commits a serious crime, thinks about whether or not he should go to jail, then decides to go to jail. Dogman‘s story does involve crime and punishment, but it doesn’t follow the same plot as the original classic. (And it’s not quite as serious or scary!)

My attempt at drawing the characters (the only thing I had to draw on was a paint sample card)!

One last thing that I loved about this copy of Dogman: there are step-by-step drawing tutorials at the back! Apparently this is something every Dogman book has, but with different characters each time. It was so much fun drawing them! What a wonderful way to engage with the story! I think I had the most fun drawing Snug (the muscular cat with the ‘J’ shirt). Let me know if you drew him too!

As this is a funny, light-hearted comic book, Alfie absolutely loves Dogman: Grime and Punishment! Jun loves it too. He thinks that the story is easy to follow and that it’s perfect to read when you just want a laugh. Both cats recommend this book!

Review – Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Jeff Kinney)

Listen to this narration while you read!

Keywords: diary fiction, comedy, light-reading, male protagonist, illustrations, middle school setting, slice of life, series, first book.

The first book’s cover.

Since this is one of the most popular kid’s books EVER, I’m sure you’ve heard of this. If you haven’t, it’s pretty simple: the book is the diary of Greg Heffley, a middle-schooler with a wacky family and a wackier life.

Before we go on, I need to say that I read through these books voraciously as a child (and I still do!). Because of that, I might be juuuust a bit biased. I have fond memories of this book, so it will be difficult of me to think of any flaws. It seems perfect to me!

Greg is a fun protagonist. As you read his diary, you realise that he’s a bit of a snob! He has a lot to learn about life. For example, he cares deeply about becoming popular at school but goes about it in a very…um, interesting way. He grows as a person, though! From acting selfishly to doing something great for his best friend (won’t tell you what!), Greg is a main character that feels like a real person. That’s very important, especially for fictional characters!

There are also hilarious illustrations throughout the book. Here’s an example:

This is such a mood.

This is a funny, light-hearted diary with plenty of pictures. Both Jenny and Alfie recommend this!