Archive for ‘Chapter Books’

March 6, 2012

The No. 1 Car Spotter and the Firebird

Title: The No.1 Car Spotter and the Firebird
Author: Atinuke
Illustrator: Warwick Johnson Cadwell
Publisher: Walker Publishing 2011
Themes: Family, Village Life, Understanding the world around
Ages: 6-10
Pages: 95

This is the second book in a planned series. In the previous book, we were introduced to village life in Africa through the eyes of a youthful, inventive, courageous boy, called No. 1. This book has a similar format of four stories with one leading into the next.

In the first story, No. 1 and the Catapult, we learn about village dangers when a leopard enters the village at night to steal goats. No. 1, who is ridiculed by friends and even family for not being able to use a catapult to help defend the family’s property, uses his noggin once again to come up with a clever, spicy idea which rids the village of the predator.

In the second story, No 1 and the Flood, a small flood in the region halts traffic that runs past the village. Once again, No 1 comes to save the day when he brings the Cow-rolla (from Book 1) to help transport people from one side of the road to the other. This story lightly touches upon class tensions. I did enjoy when Grandfather responded to the rich people “we only have public transport solutions here. People with private cars and aeroplanes have to find their own way. Unless you want to take the bus?

The third and fourth stories seemed like one larger story. Mama Coca-Cola’s traditional mud hut has a leaky roof and is in need of a new house. She jumps at No 1’s suggestion of building a modern concrete house. It seems that neither Mama Coca-Cola nor No 1 really understand everything about modern houses and concrete. No 1 almost gets stuck in the concrete when he tries to help out. Mama Coca-Cola realizes there are some unexpected downsides to having an iron roof and a four-cornered house, maybe Grandmother was right about traditional huts. Not to worry as No 1 figures out how to help Mama Coca-Cola and help her become the No 1 Chop House (restaurant).

In the end No 1 does get his dream come true when the university professor stops at the Chop House and wants to hear all about No 1’s ideas and gives him a ride in the famous red Firebird. What child doesn’t want to be discovered.

Overall the stories were entertaining, but I had a harder time relating to some of the situations. For instance the first story with the leopard, I felt that the villagers should have been more scared. Also, in the last story Mama Coca-Cola complains about flies liking the concrete house which is why her babies keep getting bitten at night. Why are the flies not an issue later when the house is used as a chop house (restaurant) instead of living quarters. In this book, I had a lot more questions like this and found it harder to just go with the flow of the story. Still a good book, and a series I would recommend.

This book was not available in the US libraries at the time of the interview. You can check WorldCat. I was able to get this book through the Interlibrary Loan system at my local library. Here is the most awesome thing, I think my copy of the book came from Great Britain!!! I love the public library system.

February 28, 2012

The No. 1 Car Spotter

Title: The No.1 Car Spotter
Author: Atinuke
Illustrator: Warwick Johnson Cadwell
Publisher: Kane Miller 2011 (US), Walker Publishing 2010 (Great Britain)
Themes: Family, Village Life, Understanding the world around
Ages: 6-10
Pages: 111

Come meet Oluwalase Babatunde Benson, better known as No. 1, and journey into a new world, a village in Africa. Take in the sight of the iroko tree that Grandfather sits under, the delicious smells of akara from Mama Coca-Cola’s roadside stand, but be sure to have your running shoes on to keep up with No 1.’s adventures.

No. 1 Car Spotter is the first book in a chapter series geared towards boys by Nigerian born author Atinuke. The book is composed of four stories which seamlessly flow from one to the next.  No. 1 is an energetic, curious, helpful young boy trying to find his place in village life.

In the first story we learn that No 1 lives with a large extended family and his day is filled with collecting firewood, herding the goats, and other family errands. But he has a special talent, naming the cars that drive by just the sound of the motor; it has earned him the name the No 1 Car Spotter. However, this talent is frowned upon by the village ladies after all it does not get the work done. But No 1 will prove them wrong, when their village cart breaks down the night before market day. He comes up with an ingenious solution involving a broken down Toyota Corolla and some cows. Maybe having knowledge of cars isn’t so bad.

Next we are taken to the marketplace where a nosey No 1 follows his sister to the cosmetic stand, only to get caught, and later is told to purchase lipstick for an Auntie. How embarrassing.

No. 1’s best friend’s mom, Mama Coca-Cola, runs a roadside stand. No 1 loves her food and helps them out for the day by fetching soft drinks, since he knows he will get to have a large, belly-bursting meal at the end of the day. The next day something unexpected happens, the village starts calling him 7up. This is not good as 7up is the number two soft drink.  No. 1 returns to his daily chores as he likes being number 1 and realizes he is irreplaceable to the village.

In the last story, the family is faced with an illness. Grandmother is very and they do not have enough money to take her to the doctor. One day an NGO volunteer worker gives the village two wheelbarrows and tells No. 1 they must use it to make village life better and not sell it. Papa takes the wheelbarrows to the city and is able to send money home for a doctor. No 1 at first takes the NGO’s words literally and is upset that Papa took the wheelbarrows to the city. Later Uncle explains that Papa is able to get a job in the city now and send home money to make Grandmother better. With Grandmother better and able to watch the little kids, the aunties are able to work the field, so the village can have food next year. No 1 realizes the wheelbarrows did help make life better for the village after all; their lives are all interconnected.

No 1’s world may seem foreign but the themes are universal. The speaking voice of the characters is true to that world; it may take readers a few pages to get acclimated.

Stay tuned next week for my review of the latest book in the series, No 1 Car Spotter and the Firebird.

These books are not readily available in many public libraries. If your local library does not have it I recommend using your library’s interlibrary system if possible. It is well worth the wait.

November 21, 2011

Have Fun, Anna Hibiscus

This book is the fourth book in the Anna Hibiscus series written by Nigerian author, Atinuke.

Anna Hibiscus is a young helpful, caring, brave, adventurous girl who lives in Africa. She has never been away from Africa, where she is surrounded by her parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. Anna Hibiscus is going to go to Canada to visit her grandmother. There are a number of first experiences in this book for Anna Hibiscus: traveling on a plane, seeing snow, having a dog in your home, meeting Granny Canada, playing with kids from a different background. Anna Hibiscus beautifully handles the ups and downs, that come with experiencing a new culture and place. When it is time to return home to Africa she is sad to leave, but is anxious to tell her family about all the wonderful things she did like sledding, her best friend Qimmiq, and of course chocolate cereal!

This book has a great balance telling a story that any child could relate to and introducing aspects of multiculturalism.

Anna Hibiscus may be from Africa, but some of the experiences she has such as seeing snow, trying to make new friends, being around a dog for the first time. She could have easily been a girl from Florida visiting a cold, snowy, Canada for the first time. The author does a great job at capturing the excitement and the not so great things that come along with being in a cold environment. For instance being in a cold place means getting used to wearing lots of layers of clothing and being cold when you first get out of bed in the morning. But being able to see snow falling or go sledding makes it all worthwhile.

Aspects of multiculturalism can be observed, when you see Anna Hibiscus adapt to Western food which comes in packages and isn’t quite as spicy as her native food. But, she does love her new discovery chocolate cereal. She is afraid of dogs since in her hometown dogs are strays, running around carrying diseases. Neither she nor her family can fathom having a dog in your home. Anna Hibiscus learns a dog can be your best friend.

This book as so much heart, which is why I love it. One of my favorite scenes in the book is when Anna Hibiscus responds back to a statement made about her inability to ice skate since she is African. Anna Hibiscus replies “My name is Anna Hibiscus … I could not skate because it was my first time. Not because I am African.” I love this line and only wish I had this book, when I was growing up in rural Pennsylvania as one of a handful of immigrant Indians. I love Anna Hibiscus’s courage to stand proud. One of the funniest scenes for me was early in the book when Anna and Auntie Jumoke are on the plane and Anna gets hungry. Auntie Jumoke comments on the food cart “That is not food … It is plastic, pretending to be food.” Auntie then pulls out of her bag boxes filled with their native food. This totally reminded me of my grandmother and Aunty who take food with them whenever they travel.

I think this book is applicable to all young girls no matter whether they be Caucasian, African, Asian, Latino, or any other place in the world. It has something for everyone.

Recommendation: Add to Home Library

Author: Atinuke
Illustrator: Lauren Tobia

Have Fun, Anna Hibiscus

This book is not readily available in many public libraries. If your local library does not have it I recommend using your library’s interlibrary system if possible. It is well worth the wait.

NOTE: This book was nominated by Madigan McGillicuddy for the 2011 Cybils Awards in the Easy Reader/Early Chapter Book category. I am a first-round panelist in this category, but this review reflects my opinions only, not those of any other panelist, or the panel as a whole. Thanks!

November 2, 2011

Bad Kitty Gets a Bath

There is one thing you will never, ever, ever forget after reading this comical, witty, fun-fact filled, low on words but high on laughter story and that is


Each chapter contains numerous illustrations to keep the reader engaged page after page, such that the young reader may not even mind when they get to a page of entire text! Uncle Murray appears several times to even provide some scientific facts about cats.

This book will appeal to all kids. I am not a “pet” person (probably since I never had one) and even I enjoyed it. I read this book since I thought it was on my Cybils reading list, only to realize I had the wrong title. But I didn’t mind reading it one bit, and I look forward to reading his newer book Bad Kitty Meets the Baby.

For more books in the Bad Kitty Series.

Author & Illustrator: Nick Bruel

Bad Kitty Gets a Bath

October 29, 2011

Blueberry Queen

Kylie Jean is back and this time she wants to be “Blueberry Queen” at the town’s annual Blueberry Festival. This spunky, resourceful, young girl knows to become queen you need to have a plan. Who better to help her come up with a plan than her older cousin, Lilly. Armed with a plan Kylie Jean sets out with determination and energy to complete all her tasks for the application process. She cleverly chooses family members and friends best equipped to help her with each of the tasks.

Kylie Jean also knows that to be a beauty queen you have to be beautiful not only on the outside but inside as well. Afterall her mom is always reminding her “Pretty is as pretty does.” Kylie Jean even finds time to help weed Miss Clarabelle’s garden.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I am not a big fan of beauty pageants so I had my doubts when I started. But Kylie Jean did win me over. She had charm, perseverance, and was self-reliant. I liked that she had a dream and took responsibility to see it through. I also loved the use of the extended family in the storyline. Many chapter books tend to focus on the protagonist and his or her friends and immediate family. Here the author has Kylie Jean not only going to her friends for help but also her cousins and grandparents as well.

The chapters are short and the writing is simple and colorful, perfect for a reader just beginning chapter books. The book also includes a glossary, discussion questions, writing prompts, and a recipe for blueberry cream cheese pie.

Other books in the series include Rodeo Queen, Hoop Queen, and Drama Queen.

Author: Marci Peschke
Illustrator: Tuesday Morning

Blueberry Queen

NOTE: This book was nominated by Jennifer Glidden for the 2011 Cybils Awards in the Easy Reader/Early Chapter Book category. I am a first-round panelist in this category, but this review reflects my opinions only, not those of any other panelist, or the panel as a whole. Thanks!


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