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 – 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 – The Magic Misfits (Neil Patrick Harris)

Keywords: Year 5+ (ages 8 and up), fiction, humor, adventure, magic, first in a series.

The front cover

I’ve always known Neil Patrick Harris as the womanizer from How I Met Your Mother or Dr Horrible from Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. He filled my childhood with his acting and singing skills. Knowing all of that, I was still surprised to see that he’s talented in yet another area: writing!

The Magic Misfits is the first middle-school book Neil Patrick Harris has written. Once I knew that, I was very impressed. This book has the strong plot and witty narration of someone’s second, even third middle-school book!

But enough about the celebrity author. It’s time to get down to the good part: the book itself. The main character, Carter, starts his journey by doing someone all of us have dreamed of doing at some point: running away from home. (Wait, it’s just me who has dreamed of that? Oh. Okay.) After hitching a ride from a train, he finds himself in the town of Mineral Wells. Like all fictional small towns, it’s all very charming and full of wonder. And yet, something seems…off. Maybe it’s the circus where everyone frowns at you. Maybe it’s the circus boss that has the creepiest smile in history. Maybe it’s literally just the circus, because it’s a crime gang that sullies the honorable name of magic and entertainment. Clearly, they must be stopped. The Magic Misfits tells the story of how Carter tries to bring them to magical justice. As Carter meets like-minded magicians, he gradually understands the meaning of friendship but also of magic.

The author (Neil Patrick Harris) playing Dr Horrible

…Sorry if that last line was corny, but it’s true! The strongest themes in this book are, in fact, friendship and magic. The friends Carter makes are exactly the sort of people you’d want to befriend. For instance, there’s Leila, the confident and wise-cracking escape artist who always makes you feel welcome. Then there’s Ridley, the clever magician who seems mean at first but becomes her true, kind-hearted self once she trusts you. Finally, there’s my personal favourite: Theo, the violinist who can levitate objects with his music. Honestly, if I had a group of friends like these in my childhood, things would’ve been much more magical!

The main strengths of this book lie in the witty narration, adorable illustrations by Lissy Marlin, and “How to do magic” sections (drawn by Kyle Hilton) that are sprinkled throughout the pages. The humour is the main spectacle, though. There were quite a few things in this book that made me chuckle and laugh (out loud!). The first giggles came when I saw the chapter names:

One – the first

Two – the second one

Three – the third of these

Four – one more than three

Five – one less than six

My two favourite chapter names are definitely these:

Eleven – looks like two lines. Or two lowercase Ls, which could be confusing. For example, this is two lowercase L’s: ll. Looks like this 11, right? Confusing.

Seventeen – six more than nine, multiplied by ten, plus three, then divided by nine

So, those are the strengths! Now onto the weaknesses.

The mysterious Mr Vernon

I’d say my main point would be the very late introduction of the twin siblings Olly and Izzy. You can see them on the front cover on the far right wearing green plaid suits and matching hats. Since I saw them on the front cover, I was expecting them to be significant side characters like Carter’s magic friends. I was pretty disappointed to see that Olly and Izzy were only introduced three-quarters into the book and barely had any lines! Hopefully, we’ll get to see more of Olly and Izzy in future books.

The Magic Misfits isn’t a fantasy book. It does, however, deal a LOT with magic. (I mean, ‘magic’ is literally in the title!) Therefore, magic-loving Felipe can’t help but love it! Light-reader Jun was entranced by the light and witty writing style and the genuine fun he had while reading it. Both cats heartily recommend The Magic Misfits!

Review – The Key to Rondo (Emily Rodda)

Key words: fantasy, adventure, fairytale elements, male protagonist, female protagonist, first book in a series, trilogy, 2007.

A short and sweet review for today! If you want a fantasy book with loveable characters, wholesome friendships and a world inside of a music box, this is the book for you. Seriously, it has everything you could possibly want like a model pig named Bertha and a giant talking duck named Freda. (They are the best characters in the book, to be honest.)

Image result for key to rondo front cover
The front cover (featuring Mutt!)

The story revolves around Leo and Mimi, two cousins who don’t particularly like each-other. (Leo thinks Mimi is rude while Mimi thinks Leo is boring. It’s a whole thing.) Their Great-Aunt Bethany Langlander passes away, leaving an old music box to Leo. There are rules that Leo has to follow if he is to take care of this music box:

  1. Wind the box three times only.
  2. Never wind the box while the music plays.
  3. Never move the box while the music plays.
  4. Never close the lid until the music has stopped.

Naturally, Mimi decides to disobey and does the exact opposite, much to Leo’s horror. That’s when the Blue Queen arrives. I don’t want to spoil the plot, but I will say this: the Blue Queen comes from the magical world inside of the music box. The world itself is called, you guessed it, ‘Rondo’. All the music box’s rules are to protect this world and to guard it from intruders. Since they didn’t follow these rules, Leo and Mimi find themselves inside the music box. Why? Because the Blue Queen stole Mimi’s dog (‘Mutt’) and took him back to Rondo. As we all know, stealing dogs is one of the worst crimes you can commit. It makes sense that Leo and Mimi would try to rescue him!

The Key to Rondo: Emily Rodda: 9780545103817: Books
The blurb (feat. Tye the awesome tiger lady)

Rondo itself is a lovely world to read about. Everyone is named after their occupation (e.g. Posie is the town florist) or their personality (e.g. Jolly is…well, a jolly person!). There are also talking animals. They are definitely my favourite characters, especially Bertha and Freda. They’re hilarious. “How are they hilarious?” you ask. You’ll need to find out for yourself!

The book is the first of the Rondo trilogy. Although it may feel a bit unfinished when you complete the book, remember that there are two more books to read! The Key to Rondo introduces us to the main characters and the setting, which helps us to grow attached to everything in the story. Plus, one of the novel’s main messages is about the importance of imagination!

The Key to Rondo is a marvellous fantasy that’s perfect for light readers. Fantasy enthusiast Felipe and casual reader Jun recommend this book!

Review – Candyfloss (Jacqueline Wilson)

Play this narration while you read!

Keywords: fiction, light reading, slice of life, female protagonist, friendship, family, comedy, growing up, illustrations, stand-alone book, recommended by a friend.

Maple 🙂

This book was recommended to me by one of my closest friends: Maple! When I asked her for books that she loved as a child, Candyfloss was the first one she suggested. She said she loved it for its interesting story and cute illustrations. I agree! This might be a bit of a long review. (There are just so many things to talk about!)

The first thing you’ll probably notice about this book is the extremely pretty front cover. I mean, look at it! How often do you come across a book cover of this quality? In fact, it’s so pretty, it deserves to be in the centre of the page:

Now that we’ve basked in the glow of the front cover, let’s talk about the story itself!

Candyfloss tells the tale of Flora Barnes, a 12-year-old girl who likes to be called ‘Floss’. Her family is a bit all over the place; Floss’s mother has remarried to a flashy guy and has had a son with him (‘Tiger’). They live fairly comfortably. On the other hand, Floss’s father owns a struggling cafe with a specialty in chips and chip butties. (Chip butties are basically chip sandwiches!) Floss is able to spend every weekend with her father but has to live with her mother and her new husband for the rest of each week. Floss highly prefers to be with her father, as he gives her all the love and attention that her mother doesn’t seem to provide.

So, when Floss’s mother and new family move to Sydney, Australia for six months, Floss has to make a decision: should she move with her mother or stay with her father?

While all of this is happening, Floss also needs to deal with her so-called ‘best friend’ Rhiannon. I don’t want to spoil too much, but let’s just say that Rhiannon is, um, not a good friend. You’ll see what I mean.

Poor Floss! The entire book is such a rollercoaster for her. So many things change in her life that you cannot stop reading! Every chapter is engaging and filled with life. The dialogue and behaviour of every character is realistic. (That’s surprisingly uncommon in books!)

The illustrations for the first chapter!

One of the best things about this book is the illustrations. Before every chapter there’s a page of drawings. Each drawing represents something that will happen in the chapter. It’s fun to look through each illustration and try to guess what’s going to happen next!

The best best thing is the relatability. I have read many books meant for children and teenagers. One of the most annoying habits of these books is that sometimes, the characters don’t act realistically! They’re either too nice or too evil with no complexity. What I love love love about Floss is that everything she does makes sense. She doesn’t always like what’s happening around her, yet she acts as kindly as possible. She shows the most kindness to her father. She knows exactly how sad he is and how much he fears failure. Because of this, she pretends to like everything he does even if it doesn’t go quite so well. Here’s an example:

“Oh, there’s your swing. How…lovely.” Rhiannon said.

“I know it’s not lovely,” I whispered. “But Dad’s fixed it all up for me especially.”

“Sure. OK. I understand,” said Rhiannon. She raised her voice so that Dad could hear in the kitchen. “Oh, Floss, your swing looks great hanging on the apple tree.”

Do you see what I mean? It’s genuinely relatable!


One last thing: Candyfloss teaches you a lot of British words. Of course, they speak English in England, but they have some slang words that we don’t have in Australia. For example, I didn’t know what ‘Candyfloss’ meant until I read the book. Apparently, it’s the British word for fairy floss! I suppose ‘candyfloss’ makes a bit more sense, but I still prefer ‘fairy floss’ 🙂

Because of its easy-to-read writing style and relatability, Jun and Jenny recommend this book!