WeirDo #16: Tasty Weird! – Anh Do

Illustrations – Jules Faber

Spoilers Ahead! (in purple)

There’s a new student in Weir’s class, Sue, who may give him some competition as the funniest kid. There’s also another competition that the entire class are preparing for: a cooking competition.

Competing in teams of two, the winners will represent their class at the District Finals. The ultimate winner gets to go to Queen Bubblegum’s Lolly Factory.

description

I couldn’t help but think of Willy Wonka when I met Queen Bubblegum. Both sugar barons have similar ideas for making candy even sweeter by designing rooms in their factories that would delight children and adults alike.

Mr Wonka has his chocolate river; Queen Bubblegum has her chocolate slide. Mr Wonka has his not quite ready chewing gum meals; Queen Bubblegum’s bubblegum also seems to taste great but doesn’t appear to turn anyone violet.

description

Even the ultimate prize was eerily similar. Oh, who am I kidding?! It was exactly the same!

I was pretty convinced that Queen Bubblegum reminded me of Lady Gaga until I came across another illustration that made me wonder if she was also channelling someone else.

description

Change that bouncy ball with handles* into a wrecking ball and that rope into chain and you’ve almost got yourself a Miley Cyrus music video.

You know how you’re supposed to be less likely to buy a whole bunch of junk food when you go grocery shopping if you’re not hungry when you enter the store? I’m going to borrow that advice and adapt it only slightly: You may not want to read this book on an empty stomach or imagining so many sugary goodies may well have you searching your cupboards for some goodies of your own to quell your cravings.

Like all WeirDo books, there were plenty of Dad jokes and puns to be found and Jules Faber continues to bring them to life. This series might be written with kids who are 7 to 10 years old in mind but I’m going to continue to order them as soon as my library purchases them. I might roll my eyes at some of the jokes but I always do it with a smile. I wish this series had been around when I was a kid.

*If Wikipedia is to be believed, a bouncy ball with handles is called so many things, including [take a deep breath …] space hopper, moon hopper, skippyball, kangaroo ball, bouncer, hippity hop, hoppity hop, sit and bounce, and hop ball. Don’t say I don’t teach you really useful useless things.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The Cook-Off is on! 

Weir and his friends have their eyes on the prize – a trip to Queen Bubblegum’s LOLLY FACTORY! Will the battle be a piece of cake?! 

It won’t be easy … but it will be funny!

Batman and Scooby-Doo Mysteries: The Case of the Cursed Crop – Michael Anthony Steele

Illustrations – Dario Brizuela

“And I would’ve gotten away with it, if it weren’t for you meddling kids.”

When I think of Scooby-Doo crossovers, I must admit I’m more likely to think of the gang teaming up with Sam and Dean Winchester than with Batman. I love Batman, though, and was interested in seeing how the Dark Knight interacted with the Mystery Inc. gang. The team up worked better than I’d expected.

Scooby and the gang have been called to investigate strange occurrences at a farm just south of Gotham City. With a creepy farmhouse, creepy barn, creepy woods and creepy fog to contend with, the spooky factor is pretty high.

“Zoinks!” Shaggy shouted. “Like, this is the worst farm ever!”

Luckily, Batman is also there to help solve the mystery.

I could easily imagine this mystery as a cartoon, especially when classic Mystery Inc. moves like characters’ legs spinning midair before they land and run away, were described. Because I’ve watched so many Scooby-Doo cartoons I also heard the characters speaking in their own voices as I read.

The way the Mystery Inc. gang behaved and spoke were consistent with the cartoons. I solved the mystery fairly early but kid me wouldn’t have known enough about either franchise to be able to figure out who the baddie was before the big reveal. I would have liked to have seen all of the baddies unmasked.

I loved Dario Brizuela’s illustrations. The colours, expressions and mannerisms were consistent with the cartoons. The best compliment I can think of is that they’re exactly what I’d expect to see if I pressed pause during a Scooby-Doo cartoon.

description

I appreciated the design choice of using the Batman logo for page breaks. Kids who aren’t as familiar with the heroes will find the short character bios helpful. There’s also a glossary and discussion questions at the end of the book.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Stone Arch Books, an imprint of Capstone, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When Batman and Mystery Inc. arrive at the same farm outside of Gotham City, they soon find themselves in for the fright of their lives! Every time an eerie fog rolls in, fearsome farm monsters come out to play. Can the Caped Crusader help Scooby and the gang crack this case of cursed cropland before the creepy creatures carry them away?

Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle – Cathy Ballou Mealey

Illustrations – Kelly Collier

Sloth and Squirrel are in a bit of a pickle. 677.5 jars of pickles, to be exact.

They decide to work as pickle packers to earn the money to buy the bike they want but things don’t quite go to plan. Teamwork can be a bit tricky when one member of your team is super speedy and the other is s-l-o-w.

This is a cute picture book with two very different friends. This story shows our new friends working together towards a common goal, using initiative and thinking outside the box to solve a problem.

The illustrations highlight how fast Squirrel is, how slow Sloth is and how expressive both friends are.

description

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Kids Can Press for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A speedy squirrel and a sleepy sloth try to get the job done in this funny, heartwarming tale of two loveable, but unlikely, friends.Though Sloth and Squirrel are good friends, they have different ways of doing things – and different speeds of doing them. So, when Squirrel gets them jobs as pickle packers to earn money for a new bike, things don’t go according to plan. It seems that the contrasting skill sets of a fast-as-lightening squirrel and a slow-as-molasses sloth can make for a mess of an outcome, and before long, the friends are shown the pickle factory’s door, along with the 677 1/2 jars of pickles they packed incorrectly! Now the pair are bicycle-less, with only pickles to show for themselves. Or so they think – until the resourceful pair come up with an ingenious plan!

This delightful story from Cathy Ballou Mealey is a celebration of friendships of all kinds and a testament to ingenuity and hard work. Packed with funny details that aren’t in the text, Kelly Collier’s engaging illustrations are full of personality and silly, emotionally expressive humour. Together they create a hilarious picture book that’s perfect for a fun and lively read-aloud. At the same time, the positive themes in the book highlight a growth mindset and character education lessons on teamwork, perseverance and initiative.

Sherlock Bones #2: Sherlock Bones and the Sea-Creature Feature – Renée Treml

In Sherlock Bones and the Natural History Mystery, we met Bones, a skeletal tawny frogmouth, and Watts, a stuffed blue Indian ringneck parrot. This unconventional team are both exhibits in the state Natural History Museum. In the first book we also met Grace, a chocolate loving raccoon.

There’s talk of a swamp monster who may have “squid-napped” the octopus. Our new mystery takes place in a brand new exhibit, Reef to Shore. There’s definitely something fishy going on in there.

I know, I know … But I couldn’t help myself. In my defence, the author started it!

description

Naturally Bones, Watts and Grace take it upon themselves to investigate. Along the way they meet a new friend, Nivlac the octopus. Our intrepid trio navigate their way around touch pools and the mangroves searching for clues. It will take teamwork, keen observation skills and some cardio.

description

Nevertheless, our team is keen to solve any mystery that comes their way, even the mystery of how to solve a Rubik’s Cube. Granted, Grace is slightly more interested in her search for chocolate than she is in solving the bigger mysteries but you can’t blame her for that.

If you keep an eye out for visual clues you’ll probably be able to solve the mystery for yourself. Observant readers will learn the identity of the thief from the first book early in this sequel so you may want to read them in order to avoid spoilers.

Like the first book, you’ll accidentally learn as you make your way through this one, with some interesting facts about cryptozoology and some of the animals you meet along the way.

description

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Etch, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Sherlock Bones’ home, the Natural History Museum, has added an exciting new exhibit, Reef to Shore, that includes a mangrove forest and shallow coral reef habitat, with touch tanks in between. When Sherlock overhears a that a swamp monster has been sighted, he gathers his team to investigate. At first Sherlock Bones suspects Nivlac, a quirky octopus with a talent for camouflage – and tank pranks.

But then, loud bellowing leads Bones and team to the mangroves, where they find a horrifying long-haired green beast! Can they escape the creature – or is it too late for our beloved frogmouth bird skeleton and his ragtag mystery-solving team?

Ninja Kid #7: Ninja Toys! – Anh Do

Illustrations – Anton Emdin

It’s time for the Duck Creek Science Fair. Kenny has been working so hard at not eating his invention that he ate Nelson’s instead. It’s lucky that Grandma is the world’s best inventor and it’s not like she specifically said not to take her brand new invention to school without her permission.

The Glove of Life has the ability to give life to toys, although like all of Grandma’s inventions there are still a few kinks that need to be figured out. Naturally the evil Dr Kane finds a way to use this invention for evil.

It’s up to Ninja Kid and H-Dude to save the day. It’s a good thing too because it was their actions that allowed Dr Kane to get his hands on this invention-turned-weapon in the first place.

I had a couple of favourite things in this book: Kenny’s stuffed sloth, Speedy, was my favourite newly alive toy and Billy Bob’s ice cream maker was my favourite invention.

description

There were some cameos from other Anh Do series in this book. Usually I like this sort of thing when it’s subtle, e.g., a character pictured reading another book the author has written. There was nothing subtle about the cameos in this book, though. They felt more like advertisements to me and I wasn’t a fan.

Besides my personal distaste, they also raised questions for me of whether the kids reading this book would even understand the references. The series whose characters found their way onto these pages seem to be targeted at an older audience than the Ninja Kid series so, while it could be used as an introduction to those characters, I expect many Ninja Kid readers wouldn’t have read any of the Wolf Girl, Rise of the Mythix or E-Boy series yet.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Grandma has invented the COOLEST thing ever – a GLOVE that can bring toys to life! But when the glove is stolen, Nelson and Kenny have to find a way to get it back … before a CRAZY TOY ARMY takes over the WHOLE TOWN!

Friday Barnes #8: Never Fear – R.A. Spratt

Things are changing at Highcrest Academy. There’s a new Headmaster, which made no sense to me when I learned about them towards the end of the last book. Sure, the previous Headmaster is currently recovering from a medical emergency but I didn’t think there was any way they would voluntarily retire.

It’s not that they love their job or having to deal with Friday, who’s fairly consistently sitting on the bench outside their office. It’s because their gambling addiction hasn’t left them with enough money to be able to retire. This apparent inconsistency is explained in this book.

That wasn’t the only thing that was odd about the last book, or this one for that matter. I don’t remember Friday getting hit on the head once in either book. That’s so un-Friday-like.

It’s not long into the new Headmaster’s reign before Friday is transferred from Year 8 to Year 12. This means she will be finishing high school in a matter of months, not years. Highcrest Academy is her home and Melanie, her best friend, is the closest thing she has to family (other than Uncle Bernie). She can’t imagine her life without either and is certain the new Headmaster is just trying to get rid of her. After all, it doesn’t seem as though Dr Belcredi is a fan of Friday.

‘It’s amazing how often you’re the one who find the problems that no-one else notices are there.’

‘I’m just observant,’ said Friday.

‘You’re a trouble-magnet,’ said Dr Belcredi.

Melanie has a boyfriend now, although in the last book he was her stalker. I’m not loving that stalking is portrayed as romantic.

There’s the mystery of the missing toilet paper, unexpected cake and the entire student body are sleeping in tents. The big mystery, even though it felt forgotten for part of the book, was the possibility of gold hidden somewhere at Highcrest Academy.

There chiselled into the sandstone, just visible under years of lichen and dirt were the words:

LATET INTUS IN AURUM

‘That’s Latin. It means “the gold lies within”,’ said Friday. ‘I always assumed it was a metaphor for a student’s potential, but maybe it literally means gold.’

A couple of minor inconsistencies didn’t make sense to me.

Shortly before Friday pulled the fire alarm we were told it was an hour before dinner and as such classes had finished for the day. Two pages later we learn that no one was scared when they evacuated because it meant they were getting “an afternoon off class”.

Friday reminds us she isn’t good at noticing changes to people’s physical appearance when Mirabella wails about the conspiracy to make her fat, yet in the last book Friday specifically mentioned another character losing 15 kilos.

I was glad that Malcolm had a role to play in this book and the new Headmaster, who I hated at first sight because I didn’t want the old Headmaster to be gone, grew on me towards the end. I loved that Binky had so much page time; he’s always adorable.

If my series binge had gone ahead as planned several years ago I would have been extremely disappointed with how this book ended. It seemed like it was the final book in the series when it was published and so much was left up in the air. Thankfully I have the ninth book on hand and I’ve already had a sneak peek at the end so I know there’s going to be a tenth.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Friday’s time at Highcrest is running out!

The new headmaster is turning everything upside down. Friday’s irritatingly high IQ has her fast-tracked to graduation, while a pair of incriminating pants puts Ian on the rocky road to expulsion.

When a rumour emerges of embezzled gold stashed on the school grounds, Friday is determined to uncover the truth. But some big questions remain: Can she stay out of detention long enough to solve the mystery? How will Melanie survive without Friday to tell her what class she’s in? And will Friday ever get that first kiss with Ian?

With implosions and explosions everywhere, Friday Barnes will have to use her head and get a grip on her beating heart in order to find the gold that lies within.

Friday Barnes #7: Bitter Enemies – R.A. Spratt

When we last saw Friday, she’d just survived four weeks at school camp. Waiting for her at Highcrest Academy were two of her siblings, Quasar and Orion. We’d previously heard about her four older siblings (the other two are called Quantum and Halley) but this is the first time we’ve met any of them.

The school year has just begun and Melanie and Ian are not looking forward to beginning Year 8 without Friday, who’s been studying in Switzerland at the best school in the world.

This year is the sesquicentennial (that’s the 150th anniversary, for all of you who aren’t Friday Barnes) of the school’s founder’s birth. In addition to the new meditation room that’s being constructed and the refurbishment of the exercise pool for the polo ponies, the previous Headmasters have been invited back to Highcrest Academy. They will be guest teaching for four weeks. As such, everyone is to be on their best behaviour.

‘There will be no mysteries!’ yelled the Headmaster. ‘I forbid it!’

While I always enjoy stories where kids go to camp, I missed the interaction with Highcrest Academy’s teachers in the previous book. I appreciated Mrs Cannon, the English teacher, quickly reminding me why I love her.

‘I never teach you anything because I’m lazy, and because I think it’s far better for you to figure it all out on your own. What’s the point in me telling you when you could learn for yourself?’

Not surprisingly, Friday quickly makes an impression with the four previous Headmasters, although it’s not a great one. There’s also mysteries to solve, including who is breaking into the school.

‘What on earth is she doing?’ asked Colonel Hallett.

‘Investigating,’ said the Headmaster. ‘Just wait, she’ll sniff something next.’

I was surprised that Ian didn’t know that Friday was returning to school, especially considering the fact that his mother is now married to Friday’s Uncle Bernie and he’s just spent the school holidays with them. Uncle Bernie would definitely have been kept in the loop. I’m finding it sadder and sadder that the rest of Friday’s family are so neglectful.

Friday found planets comforting, because unlike most of the people in her life, planets could be relied on to turn up at precise locations at predictable intervals.

At one point Melanie asks Ian if the Headmaster is asking a rhetorical question. Usually she’s the one identifying these for Friday so it’s inconsistent for her to be asking, unless she’s missing Friday so much at this point that she’s lost her ability to pick up on social nuances. Thankfully later in the book Melanie’s rhetorical question detection is back to normal.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When four former headmasters arrive at Highcrest Academy to take part in the school’s anniversary celebrations, the students are warned to be on their best behaviour.

Unfortunately, no one told the headmasters to stay out of mischief too! Which means Friday Barnes soon has a case to solve. But unravelling the truth isn’t easy when the whole school is being forced to eat paleo because the cook is on a diet; her best friend’s brother won’t stop blubbering about the terrible boat accident he may or may not have caused; and Friday is being trailed by a mysterious admirer – or is it a stalker?

Can Friday find the facts among the mayhem? She’d better. The fate of Highcrest depends on it!

Friday Barnes #6: Danger Ahead – R.A. Spratt

‘The greatest lesson I learn from school is how to interact with other people.’

‘Really?’ said Melanie. ‘Because if that’s the case, you’re not doing too well at your studies.’

It’s almost time for Highcrest Academy’s Year 7 students to attend Camp Courage. This will require Friday to actually interact with people other than Melanie, her best friend. But first Friday will need to save Ian, who’s been kidnapped.

Once she’s at Camp Courage, Friday meets Geraldine, the ray of sunshine who runs the camp.

‘I like running a haunted camp. Fear of the undead is the only thing that keeps you brats in bed at night. I just wish the ghost would push more of you into the river!’

Friday and her fellow Houseboat campers spend the next four weeks peeling potatoes, collecting water and other activities that Friday is pretty sure don’t constitute wilderness survival skills. She does manage to work on her sarcasm though.

If only her Headmaster hadn’t specifically asked her to not solve any crimes while she’s at camp.

‘But we all know it’s only a matter of time before you uncover something, or expose something, or entrap somebody, or just say something unnecessarily rude.’

Of course, that was never going to happen, especially when there’s the case of the missing breakfast cereal and the case of the ghost of Ghost Mountain that need to be solved.

At least her recent burpee practice may prove helpful as she attempts further physical activity. And it wouldn’t be a Friday Barnes book if Friday didn’t get hit on the head (again!).

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

School camp … what could possibly go wrong?

Friday Barnes is forced to face her biggest fear – her own emotions! She must wave goodbye to Ian as he takes off to join his father in the Cayman Islands. But when your dad is a white-collar criminal, family reunions never go to plan. Ian is kidnapped en route and it’s up to Friday to rescue him.

On her return to school, the Headmaster has a treat in store – a four-week camp for students to learn wilderness survival skills! ‘Camp Courage’ is even worse than Friday imagined. And all her book smarts aren’t much help when she’s got wood to chop, potatoes to peel and latrines to dig.

Can Friday survive the great outdoors, debunk the legend of a camp ghost and make it back to Highcrest Academy alive? Only time (and a compass) will tell!

Friday Barnes #4: No Rules – R.A. Spratt

‘It’s hard enough running this school. Who’s going to figure out all the weird hijinks that go on if Friday isn’t here?’

When Friday returns to Highcrest Academy after sorting out her deportation problem, she finds the school in chaos. All of the teachers have been fired and the students are running amok.

Now there’s a new vice principal, VP Pete, who is fond of tie-dyed clothing and has oddly coloured feet. The school has been threatened with closure and everyone is supposed to be on their best behaviour, only someone didn’t get the memo. As usual, Friday is right in the thick of it.

‘Whenever there’s trouble, you’re right there.’

‘That’s only because you always ask me to fix it for you,’ said Friday.

Of course Melanie, Friday’s best friend, is there to help out when she’s not busy napping. There’s the case of the missing textbooks and the case of the missing furniture to solve. Then there’s the noticeable absence of Friday’s nemesis, Ian, who has been expelled.

‘I’ve solved bank robberies, thwarted smuggling operations and uncovered escaped convicts,’ said Friday. ‘Your problem is well within my skill set.’

Friday’s biggest problem, though? The cross country is coming up and it looks as though she is going to be forced to participate. Despite having a great number of strengths, coordination and athletic ability are not among them. This could be disastrous!

If you’re planning on reading this series, be sure to read them in order. Spoilers for previous books tend to be scattered throughout them.

Also make sure you don’t relax when Friday is told she’s allowed to enjoy some dessert for saving the day once again. That just means the cliffhanger is about to happen.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Friday Barnes has been deported to Switzerland! With their in-school detective gone, Highcrest Academy has descended into chaos. Someone’s fired all the teachers!

The Headmaster claims it wasn’t him, and suspicion soon turns to Ian Wainscott, but Friday won’t stand by and let her favourite nemesis take the blame. Apart from being innocent (probably), he’s seriously good-looking. There’s also the problem of the new vice principal and his questionable teaching methods. It’s hard to take someone seriously when they wear tie-dyed t-shirts.

Can Friday save Ian’s scholarship? Can she find the prankster before they bring down the school? Can she run the cross country? She’s certainly going to try … to do the first two, anyway.

Friday Barnes #3: Big Trouble – R.A. Spratt

Now that Friday has solved the mystery of her missing mother, she and her best friend, Melanie, have arrived back at school, along with Friday’s father. However, Dr Barnes is not the only new arrival at Highcrest Academy. Princess Ingrid of Norway has just arrived in a limousine.

‘But this isn’t a Disney movie,’ whispered Friday. ‘Princesses don’t just pop up out of nowhere.’

There’s also another new student, Debbie. Debbie and Princess Ingrid are roommates and their room is next to Friday and Melanie’s. This is especially convenient for eavesdropping.

With one of the Dr Barnes at Highcrest Academy (there are six of them), we get to see some of the family resemblance. It appears Friday isn’t the only Barnes with a fondness for brown cardigans.

‘I try to be quiet and go unnoticed,’ said Friday. ‘That’s the whole reason I wear brown cardigans so I’ll blend in.’

‘Whatever you’re doing, it’s not working,’ said the Headmaster. ‘So stop it.’

Friday is also now not the sole Barnes to have made their acquaintance with the school’s marble statue of Socrates.

I’ve noticed a few offhand remarks in each book in the series so far that I’ve found cringey. There were a couple of times in this book where derogatory terms were used to describe mental health and, call me overly sensitive if you’d like, but I wasn’t okay with that. I did read a first edition copy of this book so it’s possible that these may not appear in later editions.

Binky, Melanie’s older brother, has plenty of page time in this book and he’s absolutely adorable, in his bumbling way. I expected Friday’s father to have more interactions with his daughter than he did.

The main mystery of this book surrounds the identity and motivation of The Pimpernel, who has been stealing items from the school for many weeks. That doesn’t stop the students from participating in sporting activities, like climbing around attic spaces, playing polo or battling it out in the annual Potato Dash.

‘Something sneaky is going on at Highcrest Academy and I’m going to get to the bottom of it.’

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Friday Barnes has a new case, and this time it’s personal!

When Friday’s father turns up out of the blue, he brings his daughter some distressing news – Friday’s mother has been kidnapped! But who would want to kidnap a theoretical physicist? The Headmaster needs Friday’s help too, when Highcrest Academy is thrown into chaos by the arrival of a beautiful new student – Princess Ingrid of Norway. She’s rich, she’s royal and she’s got her eye on Ian Wainscott. Despite heightened security at the school, things start to go missing. It appears Highcrest Academy has been infiltrated by a master thief, The Pimpernel. 

Can Friday crack the case of her missing mother, reign in a royal brat and unmask the elusive Pimpernel? If it means she gets to ditch PE, then of course she can!