More Science-Themed Chapter Books for Early Readers: The DATA Set

I have a soft spot in my heart for books with science themes, which is why my last recommendation was the Ada Lace series by Emily Calandrelli (see post from May 2, 2018). I’d like to follow up that recommendation with another science-themed series that was well-received in our household, but very different.

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The DATA Set books by Ada Hopper

This series revolves around a group of friends who are drawn together by their shared interest in science and technology. This shared interest has led others to dub them the DATA set. They have a futuristic treehouse that serves as a clubhouse as well as a place to work on their inventions and science projects. At the beginning of the series, the DATA set meets Dr. Bunsen, their friendly neighborhood mad scientist and inventor. Encounters with Dr. Bunsen lead to adventures ranging from time travel to toy animals coming to life. As the DATA set says, anytime something strange is happening, it is probably somehow related to Dr. Bunsen and one of his inventions.

The books are fast-paced and straightforward, at times even predictable. While the characterization isn’t deep, it is humorous and clear. The books are filled with illustrations and use a large font, making them quick reads. I appreciate how the series emphasizes teamwork and maintains a gender balance among the characters. While the books are light on actual scientific concepts compared to the Magic School Bus series or the Ada Lace series, the DATA Set series does serve to make science exciting and intriguing. These books have gone a long way toward stimulating creative thinking in our household.

Although we all enjoyed both sets of books, I think that the Ada Lace series is better suited for slightly older readers due to the depth of scientific explanations, slightly more advanced vocabulary, and emotional drama. Younger readers might prefer the fast-paced action and straightforward nature of the DATA Set series.

Have you enjoyed any science-themed books for early readers lately? Please feel free to leave recommendations!

 

Science-Themed Chapter Books for Early Readers: Ada Lace

I believe that one of my responsibilities as a parent is to support each of our daughters in pursuing her individual interests, especially when they vary from my own. To that end, I have shuttled our younger daughter to ballet lessons and read many graphic novels with our older daughter that I would never have selected on my own. But as a former science teacher, in my secret heart of hearts, I hope that both of them develop a passion for science. I am thrilled every time that our younger daughter announces that she wants to be an inventor when she grows up and equally delighted that entomology is currently a passion of our older daughter. This is why I was so excited when a friend lent us her daughter’s Ada Lace books.

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Ada Lace books by Emily Calandrelli

Ada Lace is a young girl with a passion for science. The series opens with Ada adjusting to life in a new city. Ada spends her days recording observations of her new ecosystem, the Juniper Gardens housing complex, in her field guide. She ends up befriending a girl named Nina, who is just as artistic as she is scientific. In the first book, Ada Lace on the Case, the girls work together to solve the mystery of a neighbor’s missing Yorkie. Note that with this book, I felt that I needed to discuss privacy concerns with our daughters because one strategy Ada and Nina use in their investigation is setting up a wireless camera to spy on suspects. While there is no physical violence in the books, there is mild taunting between Ada and another character, Milton Edison.

Unlike the Magic School Bus books by Joanna Cole where each book has a stated scientific topic that is taught in a fun way, these books integrate scientific ideas and principles into their plot lines. I appreciate how these books introduce kids to ways science applies to their lives. A “Behind the Science” section is found at the end of each  book where topics such as the Turing test, drones, Arduino boards, gecko gloves, photoresistors, and white light are explained in more detail. With her engineering background and experience working with Bill Nye, Emily Calandrelli clearly knows how to make science accessible to the general public. As a parent, an added bonus of these books is how Ada works through typical tween angst in them. Our household is eager to for the next Ada Lace book to be published.

Have you read any science-themed chapter books for early readers? Feel free to leave recommendations!

 

More Adventure Chapter Books for Early Readers: Dinosaur Cove

If you could travel through time, which time period would you visit? Personally, I’d like to travel forward to a time when interplanetary travel is widely available so that I could visit our neighbors in the solar system. At the other extreme, the answer for some is to prehistoric times in order to see live dinosaurs. For those in the latter category, the Dinosaur Cove series might be right up your alley.

img_7885.jpgDinosaur Cove books by Rex Stone

Two boys named Jamie and Tom are able to travel back to the time of the dinosaurs by passing through a hidden gap in the back of a cave. Their sidekick in Dino World is a ginkgo-loving wannanosaurus they have named Wanna. Jamie and Tom have exciting adventures in Dino World, exposing readers to facts about dinosaurs along the way via the boys’ Fossil Finder device. Our daughters’ favorite book of the series so far is Tracking the Diplodocus. In it Jamie and Tom have to work together to remove a branch that is stuck in between the teeth of a diplodocus in order to calm the dinosaur down.

The books are fast-paced, quick reads filled with plenty of black and white illustrations. They have little violence, even though some of the books involve carnivores searching for food. The series emphasizes teamwork, friendship, and problem solving. One drawback of the series is that the books are dominated by male characters. The two main characters are boys and the adults they live with are also male. Despite this, my daughters have enjoyed the series.

Do you have other favorite adventure books for early readers? Feel free to leave recommendations!

 

 

 

Adventure Competition Chapter Books for Early Readers: the Race the Wild series

I love books and have done so from a very young age. However, I also admit to loving certain TV shows, the Amazing Race being one of them. I enjoy seeing the wide range of locations across the world used by the race. My husband and I like discussing what we would do if faced with the challenges the contestants are given. I think this is why I was especially drawn to the Race the Wild series by Kristin Earhart. To me, it is like a rated-G blend of the Amazing race TV show and nature documentaries.

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Race the Wild by Kristin Earhart

The Race the Wild series is about a contest for teams of kids that takes place around the world. The race’s challenges are presented in a riddle format. In order to succeed, the teams must draw upon their knowledge of animals, plants, and the environment to complete the challenges, typically by photographing a specific animal or plant. The chapters of each book are separated by a brief nonfiction passage about a specific animal, plant, ecosystem, or biome. After finishing a leg of the race successfully, teams are whisked off to another location to compete in the subsequent leg.

Like mysteries, races and competitions have built-in suspense and drama. The questions, “Who is going to win this leg of the race?” and “Who is going to win the entire race?,” are always there pulsing in the background. Despite this, it took several chapters for our daughters to become invested in the series. However, once they were in, they were completely hooked.

As a parent, I appreciated that the series struck a balance between moving the plot along and presenting facts about wildlife. I also liked that the series places a heavy emphasis on the importance of teamwork. Each book in the series is written from a different team member’s perspective, which helps to provide insight on how each team member copes with frustrations of the race and learns to work with the others. A final selling point for me was the gender balance and diversity among the characters of the series.

Have you enjoyed other books about competitions or races? I’m looking forward to reading the Lemoncello’s Library series by Chris Grabenstein and the Candymakers series by Wendy Mass with our daughters when they are older. Feel free to leave additonal recommendations here!

Binge-Worthy Chapter Books for Early Readers: Dragon Masters

What’s the last book series you binge read? Mine is Dragon Masters by Tracey West. Over the course about a week, our daughters and I read the existing 9 books of the series. Their only disappointment with the series is that the tenth book will not be published until June 2018!

img_7903.jpgDragon Masters books by Tracey West

The series begins with a young boy named Drake leaving behind a comfortable life on his family’s onion farm to train as a Dragon Master in the castle of King Roland of Bracken. Drake has been chosen by the Dragon Stone, a mystical stone, to be paired with an Earth Dragon who he eventually names Worm. Pieces of the Dragon Stone are given to each of the Dragon Masters to facilitate their ability to bond and communicate with their dragons. At the castle, Drake meets the other Dragon Masters and their dragons, as well as Griffith, the wizard in charge of training them. Over the course of the series, the Dragon Masters face danger and solve problems together. There is a heavy emphasis on the importance of teamwork in this series, which will appeal to parents.

The books are fast paced and suspense builds over the course of the series, particularly between books 8 and 9. At the end of each book, our younger daughter always exclaims, “I wonder what the dragon in the next book will be like!” The characters are life like and have distinct personalities. I appreciate the gender balance among both the heroes and villains of the books. While there is fighting in the books, the violence is largely mild and free from gore and blood. When injured, characters are rendered unconscious or frozen, rather than bloodied. The series also raises ethical questions about how the dragons and the Dragon Masters were recruited by King Roland that can lead to interesting discussions.

 

Do you have a series or two to recommend while we wait for the next Dragon Masters book comes out? Feel free to leave your thoughts!

More Sweet Chapter Books for Early Readers: The Adventures of Sophie Mouse

Over the last few months, we have received an influx of new books as gifts from friends and family who know that both of our girls love books. Between the holidays and their respective January and February birthdays, our bookcases are overflowing. Exciting!

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The Adventures of Sophie Mouse books by Poppy Green

One of our recent discoveries has been the Adventures of Sophie Mouse series by Poppy Green. Sophie Mouse is a young mouse who lives with her parents and younger brother in Silverlake Forest. She and her best friend, Hattie Frog, have adventures with other young animals in the forest. In gentle ways, the books deal with issues of friendship, school, independence, and identity—all of which are topics that early readers are likely to find relevant to their own lives. For example, the first book in the series, A New Friend, deals with being the new kid at school and how to fit in despite being different.

Personally, I have not found the books to be fast paced, but they are quick reads. The books are filled with black and white illustrations and the font used for the text is relatively large. Plot twists are often predictable, but our daughters revel in being correct about their predictions. Characters talk through their worries and problems to find solutions.  Parents of younger readers will appreciate that there is no violence in the books. Even during a snowball fight, the snowballs end up hitting a wall instead of the characters themselves. An additional bonus for parents: Sophie and her brother are often depicted doing their chores and helping out around the house!

What are your favorite chapter books for early readers? Feel free to leave recommendations!

Transitioning to the Middle Grades

While our older daughter still loves many early reader chapter books, she’s starting to venture into middle grade territory. So far we’ve found the books to be longer, have fewer pictures, and contain more emotional complexity. As she is still on the younger end of the typical middle grade age span, we are looking for books that are heavy on adventure and light on emotional drama.

 

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Disney’s Descendants School of Secrets books by Jessica Brody

Since some Disney early reader chapter books were flops with our daughters (see post from August 30, 2017), I was a little hesitant to introduce this series. We started with CJ’s Treasure Chase and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a big hit! The Descendants are the sons and daughters of famous Disney characters. In the case of CJ’s Treasure Chase, the main character CJ is the daughter of Captain Hook. She aspires to show her father that she is a successful pirate in her own right. With the help of Freddie, the daughter of Dr. Facilier from the Princess and the Frog, CJ unlocks the secrets of her father’s treasure map in the quest for enough riches to purchase a ship of her own and establish herself as a pirate. The book is full of suspense, with many cliffhangers along the way. The characters are more fleshed out than I found them to be in some of the Disney early reader chapter books. The book explores issues of a team vs. the individual, problem solving, and a person’s ability to change. However, note that as the daughter of a Disney villain, CJ is known as a VK, or Villian Kid, and displays some of the behaviors of a villain, such as name calling and putting others down. We have not seen the Descendants movies. Based on what little I’ve read about them, I don’t think they are appropriate for our daughters just yet. The books, on the other hand, were intriguing and engaging enough that we’d like to read others in the series.

Do you know of any middle grade books that would be well suited for kids who love to read about adventures? Please feel free to leave recommendations!

More (Not) Scary Books for Younger Readers

Happy Halloween! With Halloween season upon us, our daughters are once again asking for scary books. For the last couple weeks, the Notebook of Doom series has been at the top of their request list.

img_2672.jpgThe Notebook of Doom books by Troy Cummings

Alexander Bopp moves to the town of Stermont and discovers that it is filled with monsters. Many of his encounters with these monsters take place at his new school, Stermont Elementary School, which is housed in an old hospital. Alexander discovers an old notebook with descriptions of various monsters. The notebook has the mysterious abbreviation SSMP on the cover. Spoiler alert: SSMP stands for Super Secret Monster Patrol, a now defunct organization that used to protect the town of Stermont from monsters. He and his friends, Rip and Nikki, take up the mantle of the SSMP and have various adventures figuring out how to rid their town of new monsters. The monsters are so over the top that they achieve that elusive combination of being hilarious and creepy at the same time. Examples include balloon goons and meat-eating vegetables. Like other Scholastic Branches books (see post from June 21, 2017), the books are fast-paced and filled with black and white, cartoon style illustrations.

Our daughters have been so inspired by the Notebook of Doom books that they have formed their own branch of the SSMP, complete with their own Monster Notebook. My favorite of their entries into the notebook is the String Snatchers, monsters that eat string.

Which scary books do your readers enjoy? Feel free to leave recommendations!

 

 

The Power of Books

Most of the books I’ve included in this blog so far have been books that have entertained us. They have caused us to laugh out loud, transported us to magical places, and introduced us to new characters who now feel like friends. I was recently reminded of the power of books. Books can enlighten us, help us analyze issues, and inspire us. Books can serve as springboards for deep discussions about issues such as discrimination. Books can be tools for teaching our children.

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I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis

Our older daughter recently borrowed this book from the school library. It is a powerful book about one girl’s experience at a Canadian residential school. One shameful part of Canada’s history is that approximately 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were taken away from their families and sent to residential schools in order to break the ties between the children and their cultures. For instance, students were punished for speaking their home languages. Abuse and neglect were present in many residential schools. Thousands of children died at residential schools. The practice of removing indigenous children from their families lasted for over a century, with the last residential school closing in 1996. The Canadian government has since issued a formal apology.

Our older daughter was deeply moved by the book. After talking about the book with her, I noticed that its author was coming to our local library to speak about the book. I decided to bring our older daughter to the presentation.

The author described her motivation for writing the book and how she overcame various obstacles she encountered while writing it. I was impressed by the extensive research that went into the writing of the book in order to ensure its accuracy.

Grownups will want to preview the book in order to determine whether it is appropriate for their readers. There are portions that might be better suited for older or more mature readers. Personally, I felt that our younger daughter was a bit too young for the book. For her, I felt that other books about the residential schools, such as Shi-shi-etko by Nicola I. Campbell and When We Were Alone by David Alexander, were more appropriate.

 

More Disney Princess Books (!)

Our younger daughter is still in the thick of her Disney princess phase. Three guesses as to what she wants to be for Halloween this year. Yep, she wants to be Elsa for Halloween! We recently started on the Disney Princess Beginnings books and she’s gobbling them up.

 

img_2018.jpgDisney Princess Beginnings books by various authors

Each book of the series focuses on the childhood of a different princess. In the books, the main character solves a problem, learning something about herself in the process and providing a glimpse of the adult she will grow up to be. For example, Belle develops a plan to save the village bookstore from being converted into a meeting place for socialites. In doing so, she learns that she does have something in common with the others in her village after all. In true Disney fashion, the illustrations are striking, but there are usually only one or two per chapter. As with the Disney Princess chapter books (see post from August 30, 2017), I have found that the characters tend to be one-dimensional. For example, Ariel is adventurous while Belle is smart and bookish. Despite this and the relative slow pace of the storylines, our younger daughter has been delighted with them. She can’t wait until the Tiana book is released in January!

Any other recommendations for a princess-loving reader? Please feel free to pass them along!