The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge (The Magic School Bus, #12) by Joanna Cole

The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge (The Magic School Bus, #12)The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge by Joanna Cole

My rating: ★★★☆☆

The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge is the twelfth installment of the original Magic School Bus series that spawned the Emmy Award-winning television series. As such, it maintains the original class of approximately thirty students, most of whom are nameless beyond the children included in the show. The Climate Challenge also adds a new character, a visiting student from South Korea named Joon. (It’s obvious from the book’s dedication that there was some significant reason behind Joon’s inclusion, though the book made no mention of what that might be; it baffled me enough that I tracked down this article, which offers up some background.)

The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge, being the first Magic School Bus book to be published in the current decade, addresses a very modern, topical issue: global warming.

I will state up front that the book offers a fairly black and white view of global warming, presenting the mainstream aspects of the issue in a way that children can understand while mostly neglecting other aspects of and contributing factors to climate change (such as desertification, habitat destruction, the difference between natural climate change and anthropogenic climate change, etcetera). So while the book includes a lot of information on “going green”, it’s not as nuanced as I feel it should have been.

When Ms. Frizzle’s class begins a unit on global warming, the Time Lord teacher takes them on a trip around the world to see the effects of climate change in person. They see the melting ice of the Arctic, Greenland, and the Antarctic; they (very briefly) glimpse the melting permafrost of the tundra, the desertification of formerly fertile farmland, rising sea levels, dying coral reefs, intense weather, animal die-outs and migrations, and crop failures.

As they continue to fly around the globe, Ms. Frizzle introduces them to the concepts of greenhouse gases and the greenhouse effect, fossil fuels and CO2, anthropogenic climate change, and alternative energy sources.

The last several pages also include tips on what children can do to help curb their family’s carbon footprints.

All in all, this isn’t the most well-put-together Magic School Bus book; obviously, global warming and anthropogenic climate change are massively nuanced issues, and so this book suffers on two fronts. In it, Cole endeavors to teach a lot of information, so much so that most of it is mentioned more than it is explained. And on the other hand, there’s a lot that she only alluded to (desertification, habitat destruction, natural climate change) that really deserved to get more in-depth coverage.

So I suppose The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge is a good book for introducing a child to the concepts of climate change and global warming, but I would suggest that it be used in conjunction with other relevant books that can fill in some of the information gaps. Beyond that, children may need a bit of previous familiarity with molecules and atoms to fully understand the pages on greenhouse gases (to familiarize a young child with the concept of molecules, I would suggest the Magic School Bus episode “Meets Molly Cule”).

And, of course, I’d highly recommend looking into other Magic School Bus books and the television show. They’re a wonderful resource for getting young children interested in science, even if some of the older works may be rather dated.


Darth Vader and Son by Jeffrey Brown

Darth Vader and SonDarth Vader and Son by Jeffrey Brown

My rating: ★★★☆☆

In Episode 3½: Darth Vader and Son, Jeffrey Brown presents an amusing alternate reality in which Darth Vader is raising his four-year-old twins himself. (While this book focuses on Luke, there is also one for Leia.)

It’s definitely worth a chuckle to watch little Luke ask his father where babies come from, try to steal a cookie jar with the Force, pester his dad about whether the Sith are really the good guys, and just generally be a normal kid… who happens to have a Sith Lord for a father.

Fans and others familiar with the Star Wars universe (the original trilogy, at the very least) should find this a cute, rather funny, and super quick read. And I’ll definitely be checking out Vader’s Little Princess when I get the chance.


Biscuit and the Lost Teddy Bear by Alyssa Satin Capucilli

Biscuit and the Lost Teddy BearBiscuit and the Lost Teddy Bear by Alyssa Satin Capucilli

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

Biscuit and the Lost Teddy Bear is a Level 0 (“My First Shared Reading”) I Can Read! book that is, according to the back of the book, “ideal for sharing with emergent readers”. It is intended for children who aren’t yet able to read independently.

In a story aimed at the youngest of children, a puppy named Biscuit and his unnamed human friend stumble across a lost teddy bear. Over the next thirty or so pages, they seek out the child who lost the bear; the story is told through two or three short sentences per page, all of which feature very simple diction and grammar.

The book, and presumably the rest of the Biscuit series, is ideal for parents introducing their infants and toddlers to reading.


Tartok The Ice Beast (Beast Quest, #5) by Adam Blade

Tartok The Ice Beast (Beast Quest, #5)Tartok The Ice Beast by Adam Blade

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

Tartok the Ice Beast, alternately titled Nanook the Snow Monster, is the fifth installment of the Beast Quest series and the penultimate installment of the original six-book series.

Once again, Tom and Elenna, Beast Quest‘s two implausibly competent and responsible preteens are on a quest to save a mythical Beast from enslavement by the wizard Malvel. This time, they are seeking a yeti (that is never referred to as such) in Avantia’s most implausible landscape, the arctic region.

As usual, the book is a mediocre fantasy endeavor ideal for very young children who are either still reading with their parents or just beginning to read independently.


The Taking Tree: A Selfish Parody by Shrill Travesty

The Taking Tree: A Selfish ParodyThe Taking Tree: A Selfish Parody by Shrill Travesty

My rating: ★★★☆☆

Let me start with an anecdote.

When I was a junior in high school, I took a Creative Writing class with a friend of mine. Toward the end of the year, the teacher assigned us a project; we were each to choose a favorite author and one of his or her books to do a short presentation on. (What that has to do with Creative Writing, I don’t know. It seems like our time would have been better suited to, you know, writing.) A sophomore acquaintance in the class chose to do her presentation on The Giving Tree, and as part of her presentation, she was going to show an animated adaptation of The Giving Tree that she’d found on YouTube.

She didn’t download the video, unfortunately, so she had to go searching for it; the first link she clicked turned out to be a different one than she’d picked. Then she thought she’d found it on the second try. She really hadn’t.

Instead, she’d ended up here. And so our class accidentally blasted “GIVE ME ALL YOUR FUCKING APPLES!” down the hall, given that the speakers were so loud and the door was open.

The whole class, teacher included, laughed hysterically for probably five minutes.

So when I sit down to read a Giving Tree parody, that’s always on my mind. The parody I’m reading has to compete with the absolute shock and hilarity of that Creative Writing incident.

The Taking Tree didn’t have that shock factor, obviously, but it was still amusing. Our premise here is vastly different from The Giving Tree; essentially, the two characters’ personalities are entirely opposite the originals. The little boy is an antagonist brat, and the tree isn’t putting up with his shit.

Me being me, I certainly enjoyed it. I’m not the kind of person who’ll ROFL over a book, but The Taking Tree gave me a chuckle here and there thanks to its frankness and sheer absurdity.

I’d advise fans of adult-targeted picture books to give this one a try, as well as those who individuals who don’t like the original Giving Tree (or those who did like, but don’t mind someone poking fun at the premise). I would point out, however, that I wouldn’t recommend this to parents looking for something to read to their children. Like most parody picture books, it belongs in the humor section–not the kidlit section.


I Am a Pole (And So Can You!) by Stephen Colbert

I am a Pole (And So Can You!)I Am a Pole (And So Can You!) by Stephen Colbert

My rating: ★★★☆☆

I Am a Pole (And So Can You!) is a picture book from comedian Stephen Colbert (of the Colbert Report), so it’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect it to be.

The cover showcases half-compliment, half-insult quotes from the late Maurice Sendak (whose two-part interview with Stephen Colbert can be seen here and here). The back cover offers snarky advice to those looking to “learn more about poles”. The front flap features a list of fictitious upcoming sequels. The back flap features sarcastic biographies of the author, “blurbist” (Sendak), and illustrator and jokes about the possibility of a Pixar film adaptation. It ends with some Colbert-style nationalism.

The thing to remember, of course, is that this is not by any means a children’s picture book. In the vein of Go the Fuck to Sleep and The Taking Tree: A Selfish Parody (among others, this is primarily a humor book–and definitely for adults. Because unless you’re intending to have a talk with Junior about what a stripper is… you really don’t want to read this to your toddler.

I’d recommend the book as a (very) quick read to fans of the Colbert Report or adult-oriented picture books in general. I’d suggest viewing the above-linked interview(s) with Maurice Sendak first, however, as I feel they add quite a bit of humor to the book; alone, the book gets–from me at least–a smirk or a chuckle. With the interview?

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Tagus the Night Horse (Beast Quest, #4) by Adam Blade

Tagus the Night Horse (Beast Quest, #4)Tagus the Night Horse by Adam Blade

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

In Targus the Night Horse, the fourth installment of the Beast Quest series, things remain strictly formula. Citizens are attacked by Beast → Tom and Elenna meet/help citizens → miscellaneous hardships are overcome → rather simple epic battle against the Beast → Congratulations, it’s the end.

In this particular installment, Tom and Elenna spend seventy-six pages finding and battling the fourth Beast under Malvel’s spell, a centuar named Tagus… who is never once referred to as a centaur. Only a “night horse”.

Seriously, it’s kind of weird. I thought it was odd in the previous book that the Cyclops was referred to only as a “Mountain Giant”, but now I’m starting to think it’s a trend. From what I can tell from the covers of the later installments, the children are going to battle a yeti referred to as an “ice beast”, a phoenix only referred to as a “winged flame”, and a naga referred to as a “snake man”.

…and I will admit I don’t quite get it. Why are dragon, sea serpent, minotaur, and gorgon acceptable, while Cyclops, centaur, yeti, phoenix, and naga given euphemisms? Color me confused.

Regardless, Targus the Night Horse is another mediocre-to-good installment in the Beast Quest series. I’m finding that the books are slightly improving as I delve further into the series, though I believe that might simply be because Blade has gotten the exposition out of the way (for the most part) while I’m getting more invested in the characters and their quest. I hope to see the plots improve over the next few novels, and I’m longing for the rigid formula of these first few books to be broken soon.

In the meantime, though, Beast Quest is proving itself to be a consistent fantasy series ideal for young readers of (very short) chapter books.


Cypher The Mountain Giant (Beast Quest, #3) by Adam Blade

Cypher The Mountain Giant (Beast Quest, #3)Cypher The Mountain Giant by Adam Blade

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

By Cyper the Mountain Giant, the Beast Quest series has developed a strict formula (though the first book varied slightly).

Step One: During the prologue, a handful of brand-new characters are attacked by a Beast and narrowly survive.

Step Two: Elenna and Tom reach the approximate area of the next Beast. Conveniently, they run into the survivors, who explain the hardships of the area and their encounter with the Beast.

Step Three: Elenna and Tom start to turn around the lives of the unlucky locals, usually including the prologue’s survivors; they’ll likely have to deal with a quick crisis or two before they can set out to complete their main task. Why Elenna and Tom are the most competent two individuals in all of Avantia in spite of their pre-pubescent age, I couldn’t tell you.

Step Four: Elenna and Tom go to fight the Beast. Tom tends to do all of the work; Elenna either helps or is busy playing damsel in distress (and I really hope to see her get out of that rut in one of the upcoming books).

Step Five: The Beast, now freed, gives Tom’s shield a blessing of some kind, and the wizard Aduro shows up for pointless congratulations. The end.

All in all, if you’re looking for a series of short, formulaic fantasy novels to help ease a young child into the genre, the Beast Quest series isn’t a bad place to start. I can’t say I highly recommend it, but it should at least be entertaining to the target audience (RL3, around ages 5-8).


Sepron the Sea Serpent (Beast Quest, #2) by Adam Blade

Sepron the Sea Serpent (Beast Quest, #2)Sepron the Sea Serpent (Beast Quest, #2) by Adam Blade

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

Sepron the Sea Serpent is the second book in Adam Blade’s Beast Quest series, and it’s much the same as the first in terms of quality. It’s not a bad book by any means, but it’s particularly fascinating either.

In Sepron the Sea Serpent, Tom and Elenna have just recently freed Ferno the Fire Dragon from Malvel’s spell, and next on their list is the titular sea monster. Like Ferno, he has been magically enslaved by the nefarious wizard, and they’ll need to unlock the chain around his neck to free him.

Obvious to the point that it needs no spoiler tags, they do so successfully… and without much hassle, really. I suppose it’s to be expected that there won’t be a long, exciting battle sequence in a book that’s only seventy-six pages, but I admit that I found it quick and unexciting. I’m hoping that over the next few books in the series, the plot gets a least a bit more entertaining; as of right now, I can hardly see anyone older than the target audience (RL3) finding the book particularly entertaining.

As said in my Ferno review, this could be a good first fantasy series for young children. As the books are less than one hundred pages each, they’re best suited to children beginning to read chapter books or parents reading to their preschoolers.