Both of the books below were short, quick read-alouds, so I thought I'd review them together.
1. The Trouble With Chickens by Doreen Cronin
The thing that convinced me to read this book was not the title or the cover or the plot summary. It was the author. Doreen Cronin wrote one of our favorite picture books (Click, Clack, Moo), and when I discovered this chapter book, I knew we'd have to give it a try.
J.J. Tully is a retired search and rescue dog. After seven years on the job, he now lives the quiet life on a farm. But J.J. is not a fan of the quiet life, and so when Millicent comes to him for help, he tries to overlook the fact that she is a chicken and throws all his energy (and well-groomed skill) into rescuing two of her baby chicks. The only problem is, do they really need rescuing? Or is J.J. about to walk into a well-laid trap?
Okay, so I only had two issues with this book. First, the insults. Oh the insults! Why do authors feel compelled to have their characters be so rude to each other? Is it supposed to be funny? Because I am seriously disenchanted.
Second, the story is actually told from two perspectives: J.J. and another dog named Vince. But Vince's first turn isn't until chapter 10, and it really confused the boys and me. By that time, the story was already well established, and we'd already had so many chapters from J.J.'s point of view that we just assumed that would continue for the rest of the book. Then all of a sudden, he was sounding mean (not just rude, but downright mean) and vengeful and dangerous. After a page of that, I backed up and realized that we were now getting Vince's thoughts, not J.J.'s. I really feel like Vince's voice needed to be introduced much sooner (like chapter 2, perhaps?) so that we had some notice that this story was going to be told from two perspectives.
But the boys really liked it, and, aside from the things mentioned above, I did too. I've already checked out the second book, although I'll probably let Aaron read it on his own--not because I wouldn't enjoy it but just because there are so many good books I'm dying to read aloud to them.
2. Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman, illus. Skottie Young
I picked up this book for Aaron to read on his own, but then he liked it so much and it looked so good to me that I decided to read it aloud. He didn't complain. Not one bit.
There was no milk in the fridge on that fateful morning. The kids' mother was out of town, so the father did what any good father would do: he left for a few minutes to pick up a jug of milk. Only . . . it seemed longer than a few minutes. And when he finally got back and the kids demanded, "Where have you been all this time?" he had the craziest story to tell. But fortunately for them, while facing aliens, wumpires, and pirates and dealing with a collision between past, present, and future, he always kept tight hold of the milk. Well actually, not always. But he at least kept it in his sights.
This book is completely unbelievable. And that's what makes it so awesome. Seriously, about a third of the way through (after the father had been abducted by aliens, escaped, only to be threatened by a band of pirates, saved from walking the plank by Dr. Steg (a stegosaurus) in a hot air balloon (which actually turned out to be a time machine), and then almost sacrificed to the Eye of Splod), I thought, How much crazier could this story get? A lot, actually.
The time travel element was completely unexpected and really took the story from just being fun and crazy to wildly creative. I think it ended up being a good thing for Aaron to hear it again right after reading it himself because it gave him a second chance to really get a grasp on all the time travel details and sort them out.
We read it over three sittings, but it's one of those books you could easily read in an hour if you had an empty hour just laying around. It's filled to the brim with illustrations, and in fact is not divided into chapters at all, so it's more like a long picture book. In fact, now that I'm thinking more about it, reading the whole thing at one time probably makes more sense, but don't let that discourage you if you need to split it up like we did.
The whole thing was just so delightfully ridiculous. I'm still laughing over some of the lines, like these ones: "'How does a volcano know so much about transtemporal metascience?' asked one of the pale green aliens. 'Being a geological formation gives you a lot of time to think,' said Splod. 'Also, I subscribe to a number of learned journals.' I coughed, in what I hoped was an ominous sort of way."
After we finished it, I checked out the audio, and Aaron and Max have been listening to it over and over and over again.