I’m always on the lookout for good intermediate books (and good easy readers). There’s such an importance to good chapter books to develop that initial love of books into something really special; some kids can be a little scared by the leap from easy reader to chapter book, so you want to make sure you find that magic combination of artwork and story that will draw readers right in. When a publicist friend of mine sent copies of the first three Beep and Bob books by Jonathan Roth, she knew I’d love them and want to booktalk them. And what can I say? She was right.
Here we have Beep and Bob’s origin story and first adventure: Bob is a kid who goes to school in space; he’s the new kid at a school called Astro Elementary, and space is apparently terrifying. Thankfully, he has a little alien friend named Beep at his side Beep’s a little guy who lost his 600 siblings while playing hide and seek in an asteroid field; he knocked on a door at Astro Elementary, Bob answered, and a friendship was born. Beep has bonded to Bob and thinks of him as a mother, even calling him “Bob-mother”. Luckily for the duo, the teachers let Beep stick with Bob throughout the school day. Bob’s got some other friends, including Lani, a supersmart girl who carries three supersmart pet spiders in a jar; and Blaster, kind of a bully, who likes to raise Bob’s hand and volunteer him for class missions: like being the first on the field trip to explore Pluto. Or exploring near the event horizon of a black hole. Which is where we find Beep and Bob in this first adventure: trying to escape, and save Lani’s spiders, from being sucked into the black hole (or, as Professor Zoome puts it, “the bye-bye-forever zone”). Can they make it out safe? (Hint: it’s the first book in a series, you tell me.)
Too Much Space! is a fun start to a new series. There’s a little bit of science fact tossed into the fun to give kids an idea of what exactly a black hole can do (bye-bye forever is certainly a clear explanation to me), and Beep’s observations are hilarious and even sweet. Extra-Credit Fun Space Facts gives drops some non-fiction knowledge related to the adventure: in this case, the discovery of Pluto , it’s downgrade to a dwarf planet, and the fact that it is seriously cold. Pair even pacing, fun writing, and outrageous scenarios with black and white artwork throughout, and this is the start of a beautiful friendship between Beep, Bob, and your readers. I started this one with my first grader last night, and he’s getting a big kick out of Beep and the whole Astro Elementary idea – but he’s not quite ready to jettison off into space just yet.
The second series of Bob’s Splog entries (space log entries – that make up each Beep and Bob adventure) starts off with a similar story: Bob introduces himself, Astro Elementary, and Beep’s origin. Rather than space being terrifying, though, this time, he asserts that “SPACE IS STUPENDOUSLY BORING”! This time out, things perk up a bit when Lani invites Beep, Bob, and the other Astro Elementary gang to her birthday party aboard the Starship Titanic! (Douglas Adams fans, this is where you chuckle.) It’s got everything: gravity, for starters, which is pretty fantastic; water parks, amusement parks, and 12 million hypershow channels on TV! What doesn’t it have? Ahem… escape pods. Because it’s indestructible. Where have you heard that before? Oh, and there’s a jewelry thief running around the ship, too. It’s up to Beep and Bob to save the day again!
Party Crashers ups the ante from Too Much Space by bringing the laughs and the crazy situations. We have the Titanic parallels, including the captain, a descendant of the original ship’s captain, who doesn’t know how to pilot his ship because everything is pretty much done for him. He spends most of his day in the amusement park! Throw in a little Agatha Christie-type whodunit mixed with some Star Wars humor, and laugh-out-loud moments throughout the book, and Party Crashers is a strong follow-up to Too Much Space. The Extra-Credit Fun section is all about Neptune, the planet posing a danger in this installment. Black and white artwork is plentiful and adorable.
Oh NO! Not only is space alternately terrifying and boring, now there’s a problem with THE FOOD! The artificial sweetinizer is broken, and Mr. DaVinci – the school maintenance man, whose genius goes unappreciated – is taking his sweet time fixing it. Bob needs sugar, and he needs it fast, so he decides to come up with his own holiday: Astroween! You see, Astro Elementary doesn’t celebrate Earth holidays, because they’re in space, so Bob and Lani form a secret club called S.C.A.R.E.S. (Society of Candy Addicts who Rely on Energy from Sugar) and employ some quick thinking to create an entirely new holiday and convince Principal Quark to let the school celebrate Astroween. It’s a success but as the kids are planning their costumes and waiting for the candy rush, Beep convinces Bob to send a message out into space, hoping to attract some of his own kind. The message ends up attracting a bunch of sugar-crazy aliens who want to convert all the candy into power for their fleet! Beep and Bob are going to need to do some fast thinking and talking to get out of this one.
Take Us to Your Sugar is a sweeter (no pun intended) adventure in this series, as Lani and Bob start thinking of how lonely Beep feels as the only one of his kind aboard the ship. It’s no less amusing, especially with the addition of the long-suffering Mr. DaVinci, who can’t seem to believe that human race has progressed to the stars and yet… we’ve stayed relatively simple. The Extra-Credit is on Earth holidays and planetary years.
Jonathan Roth has created a smart, humorous series with heart for intermediate readers. Have readers who aren’t quite ready for Diary of a Wimpy Kid but want something funny to read? This is the series for them. There’s a fourth book coming – Double Trouble – next month, so invest in this series now and get your readers in at the beginning. Beep and Bob was named one of Scholastic Teacher Magazine’s “50 Magical Books for Summer”. Jonathan Roth’s Beep and Bob webpage has loads of info about the author and his series, including scans of his artwork from childhood on – he’s an elementary school teacher, so he knows how to talk to kids! – and there’s an adorable, free PDF available to teach readers how to draw Beep. Absolute cuteness.