Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Look! Woodchucks!!!!!!!!

It's been a while since I've done a book review for Mother-Talk.  November, was it?  Seems like forever...

But recently, I received an email which required that I respond with the words, "OMG!  It's like you know me!"  Sometimes a chance to read a book comes along that you can't refuse simply because it is too perfect to be true.  I jumped at that chance.  Sprang right up in the air like I had rockets on my feet.  

Obviously, this was before The Great Back Tweak Of '08...

Since I haven't done one of these in a while, I'll give you a little background on the why's 'n whatnots of my being a reviewer for Mother-Talk.  I'm obviously nobody's Mama.  But I have been teaching for twenty some-odd years as well as working as a counselor and parent advocate in one capacity or another.  Hence, the reviews you see here come from that perspective.  I am a big-time proponent of reading and encourage parents to be a part of the process with their children.  Any time I can make folks aware of a new title or opportunity to experience the world of reading, it makes me happier than a Frozen Woodchuck in a Popsicle stick factory.

Speaking of woodchucks....

Attack of the Frozen Woodchucks



Sometimes people are unique simply because they have learned how to surround themselves with amazing people.  Great adventures will surely follow!  Such is the life of Jimmy Weathers, who includes in his circle: a best friend who is the great-great-nephew of none other than the fattest president in American history, a father who wants nothing more than to cast off his career in law and write children's books, a ten year old rocket scientist whose bestselling book Light Speed and You has sold only one copy on earth but millions throughout the galaxy and a two year old sister who has a disturbing ability to tinker ordinary household objects into amazing inventions.  

When Jimmy's father and sister come home one day, breathlessly describing their discovery of giant, frozen woodchucks in Central Park, he finds himself at the beginning of a saga which will require that he use his wits, courage and collection of talented friends and family to save the world.  From the kidnapping of his father by the foul, frozen beasts to frantic flights through space, Jimmy will experience it all in his attempt to keep us safe from the evil plans of those who would use woodchucks against us.

Author Dan Elish jumps into the plot quickly and paces the story nicely.  Young readers will appreciate the flow of action and the ease with which character development is incorporated.  The story is further enhanced by some rather charming illustrations by Greg Call.  There are some surprises along the way and the tale ends with an opening for further adventures from the cast.

It can be challenging to write a story which includes the fantastical or elements of farce.  Too little and you have a confusing, disjointed story line.  Too much and you risk insulting the reader.  The balance of the "every-day" with the "over-the-top" is well handled in The Attack Of The Frozen Woodchucks and makes for an absorbing tale with many entertaining moments.  It becomes easy to believe that one might use a souped up go-cart to travel further than the bottom of the closest hill...

I generally approach the concept of reading levels with great caution as I firmly believe that families know best the material which most suits their children.  With this book, I am using even greater care.  The readability formulas I've used seem to be resulting in a higher grade level than I might have assigned the text while reading it.  There are several sections of the book which require the use of invented or scientific language and this may have resulted in a higher reading level score.  I shall cast a very wide net and say that "Woodchucks" should prove appropriate for readers ranging from grades 5 to 8.  As many parents and teachers use Lexile scores to help make book choices, I checked the database to see if this title has been included.  As is often the case with newer releases, it has not yet been catalogued.  It takes time for books to be added, after all.  In the past I have estimated the scores, but think that it might be best for me to refrain from taking a guess on this one.

And, as always, I strongly encourage parents to not rely solely on grade or age level scores when choosing books for their children.  There are many factors which influence a child's enjoyment of a book.  Many is the time I've seen a youngster rise to meet the challenge of a story simply because it appealed to them on a level that easier text did not.  You know your children and their reading tendencies.  I only include a range of grade levels so that parents and children can use that as one part of the decision making process.

As not all children have had the smoothest of rides in this life, I should mention a few themes about which parents might wish to be aware.  There are moments where the children in the story must deal with loss and family dysfunction as well as significant betrayal.  Younger or more sensitive children may find the tension of the story a bit overwhelming or be frightened by the imagery.  I should stress that none of these are graphic or inappropriate in any way.  And I have frequently used literature as a vehicle for helping children process difficult experiences.  But I like to have a "heads-up" when those things will be appearing in the story so that I can work with them more effectively.

All in all, I give The Attack Of The Frozen Woodchucks a solid thumbs-up.  It is an engaging book with a very unique story line.  The characters are immensely likable and each plays their role to a T.  The only possible down-side to this story is the eventual decision by the reader to try and build a spaceship in the attic.  That could create some havoc within the household, I'm sure!

There you go!  The first book review in I-dunno-how-long!  Tomorrow, I shall return to my usual knitting-type posting (or the kind where I make excuses for not knitting...) and the Wednesday Night Bullet Post.  Now go read something.

And watch out for woodchucks...

SA



8 comments:

trek said...

Nicely done.

I am reading about animals right now - show dogs, actually.

Mel said...

So are they zombie woodchucks?

Beth said...

Ah, Mel beat me to it. :) I was going to suggest that we coerce the dreaded woodchucks into attacking the zombies for us.

Knitting Linguist said...

That sounds like a great book -- I'll have to put it on the List O' Things To Read To The Young'Uns. It sounds right up their alley...

Anonymous said...

Just out of curiosity, what is your opinion of Albert Payson Terhune’s books?. “Trek’s” comment that they were reading about Show Dogs brought this to my mind. I spent many a long lovely summer day following the adventures of “Lad, a Dog.”
Jane (not completely anonymous)

Yarnhog said...

Great review! I could use a whole lot more like it. I have been repeatedly exasperated by lexiles. Our school uses lexile scores as the exclusive measure of reading competence and requires that 80 percent of student reading be within a certain range of the child's lexile. When my older son was in third grade, I tried to search lexile.com for books in his range and got titles like, "A Life of Adolph Hitler" and "Selected Themes in Microbiology." Not all the helpful. I think there needs to be some way to search by both lexile score and age to come up with appropriate material.

kmkat said...

As the poster child of the "surround yourself with interesting people" movement, I salute this book. Must look for it.

Teri S. said...

I love the title. And you description makes me want to read it right now! Even though I'm reading at a level much higher than grades 5-8, give or take. :-)