All right. You probably know that I talk about kids' books from time-to-time, since I'm usually who checks them out for the kids and so they usually look interesting to me as well. Here are some more recommendations from the last several months.
Donuthead, by Sue Stauffacher. Franklin is a germaphobic child obsessed with death and how to avoid it. This includes panic calls to the woman at the National Safety Department, as in "Do you know my school bus doesn't have seatbelts?" and "We're going on a field trip to a farm today, Gloria. A farm with cows." The book is dry and funny, with Franklin's very normal mother dealing as best she can with all of her son's many, many issues. It also features Sarah, the frighteningly real girl who moves to Franklin's school, and a very dreamy neighbor child who helps Franklin compile his ongoing list of Fairytale Characters And How They Die and who conducts porcupine stampedes under the porch with pinecones.
Toys Go Out: Being the Adventures of a Knowledgeable Stingray, a Toughy Little Buffalo, and Someone Called Plastic by Emily Jenkins. Who could resist the idea of 'Someone Called Plastic', that doesn't even know what kind of toy it is, or chapters like In The Backpack, Where It Is Very Dark or The Terrifying Bigness Of The Washing Machine? Not to mention a toy stingray that thinks it knows far more than it actually does— fact-free discussions abound! Great to read to kids 5-and-up, and both the grownups in our house loved it.
How To Train Your Dragon and How To Be A Pirate, by Cressida Cowell. The misplaced Briticisms in this series about Vikings are a little jarring ("Too right!" and "burgle" are so out of place— it would be like reading "For sure" or "dude" in the same setting). However, the books are clever and creative and offbeat. These feature the hapless Hiccup and his scrawny friend Fishlegs, and their failed attempts to learn how to become Viking warriors. All of these Vikings have dragons (which they must steal from the Dragon Nursery themselves), and while "Toothless" is a funny name for Hiccup's fairly pathetic dragon, his friend chose the name Horrorcow for his. I cannot get over how funny I find that last part.
Middle School Is Worse Than Meatloaf, by Jennifer L. Holm. Funny AND creative, it is just as described: A year told through stuff. The closest things to direct narrative in this story are some journal entries written by the main character, Ginny. But the story is primarily told through side-effect: a magazine article touts a "fun, new look for spring" followed by a sales receipt from the local variety store and then a bill from a beauty salon to undo the ensuing disaster. There are cards from Grandpa Joe, bank statements, announcements of tryouts for parts in an upcoming ballet presentation (followed by a program of who actually got cast as what), school essays, and local newspaper stories alluding to juvenile crime problems. I really recommend this one— again, everyone at our house read this, including Christopher who usually draws the line at books involving girls.
Golden And Grey: An Unremarkable Boy And A Rather Remarkable Ghost, by Louise Arnold. There are two books in this series, both entertaining. Grey Arthur, who can't quite figure out where he fits in as a ghost, discovers Tom Golden, who is struggling with the basics of being a new boy in an unpleasant school. Grey Arthur decides that he will help, by becoming Tom's Invisible Friend! But as the book says, this is because he is not entirely familiar with the basic covenants of what being an Invisible Friend means. Arthur goes on to find his own path, in a world populated by other ghosts such as Poltergeists (who travel house-to-house via laundry baskets), Sadness Summoners, Faintly Reals (who sometimes give themselves away over details such as forgetting to move their feet when they walk), and Snorgles (who live in sewers and bathrooms). The human character really is pretty ordinary, but the ghosts make the books entirely worthwhile.
The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, by Vivian Vande Velde. There are so many things about the "Rumpelstiltskin" story that just don't quite work, as Vande Velde points out in the wonderfully witty introduction. How is it that no-one in the entire kingdom has a name besides Rumpelstiltskin? Just what kind of idiot spreads stories about his daughter spinning straw into gold? And what does Rumpelstiltskin want with a firstborn child anyway? In a series of six alternate tellings of this fairytale, the author addresses (and often skewers) each of the gaping holes in the original story. Both adults at our house read this, along with the kids.