Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

The Explorer’s Code is great for puzzle mystery readers

The Explorer’s Code, by Allison K. Hymas, (Sept. 2020, Imprint), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250258854

Ages 9-13

Idlewood Manor was a home with a storied history, but has been empty for decades, until recently. The current owner has opened the doors, and a group of guests is coming to stay for a weekend; among them, Charlie, a math whiz who won the trip for his family, and his sister, Anna, who is far less scholastic in her pursuits, but that’s because she’s got the entire world to explore, just like her idol, explorer Virginia Maines. Also visiting with her family is Emily, whose historian parents have their own reasons for wanting to visit Idlewood. The three kids separately discover mysterious clues to Idlewood’s history, and the history of those who lived there; they also notice that other guests seem to have a major interest in unlocking the Manor’s secrets. It’s a race to solve Idlewood’s mysteries, but can the three kids work together to solve them in time? Loaded with actual puzzles, ciphers, and riddles, The Explorer’s Code is full of mystery and scandal,with very likable, realistic characters at its core. A note about ciphers at the end invites readers to test their own coding mettle. The relationships are spot-on, with the ups and downs experienced by Anna and Charlie, who were close when they were younger, but have drifted apart in recent years, and Emily, desperate to make her parents proud of her. Anna and Emily rush into things for different reasons: Anna, because she’s caught up in the spirit of curiosity and adventure; Emily, because she feels like she’s racing against the clock. Charlie is slow and deliberate, thinking things through, which clashes with his sister’s impulsive wandering. Together, these qualities make them stronger – something they have to work on over the course of the story. Perfect for readers who enjoyed Ben Guterson’s Winterhouse, Jennifer Chambliss Bertman’s Book Scavenger series, and of course, Chris Grabenstein’s Mr. Lemoncello’s Library series.

Posted in Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Learn how to tell the perfect joke: The Joke Machine

The Joke Machine, by Theresa Julian/Illustrated by Pat Lewis, (Oct. 2019, Odd Dot), $8.99, ISBN: 978-1-250-31864-0

Ages 7-12

The Joke Machine is one of those books that’s kind of a no-brainer for my library purchases. Joke books are huge in my library community. A book that teaches you how to build the perfect joke, and manages to squeak in some English lessons while it’s at it? That’s a book my kids need.

Set up like as a trip through a fictional Laugh Lab, The Joke Machine takes readers through 16 “rooms”, each where they’ll learn a new strategy and meet a new joke specialist. They’ll also get to know LOLA, a joke machine whose name stands for Laugh Out Loud Apparatus. There are chapters on such joke techniques as contrast, specifics, being literal, and personalizing jokes to your own sense of humor (“twizzling”), all with dozens of examples. The book contains over 500 family-friendly jokes, many of which have been tested by my second grader and me, with varying degrees of success (everything from a chuckle to “MOM, STOP” – that one was from my too-cool-for-me college student), plus quick and easy ideas for creating your own jokes.

Teaching kids the subtle art of playing with words and helping them fine-tune the magic of exaggeration? Priceless. A note on sarcasm cautions kids about hurt feelings, and encourages them to be positive and respectful when joking. Black and white line illustrations get a dose of orange to liven things up throughout.

Get ready to hear these jokes over and over again – and have some of your own ready to answer with. This one will be a popular selection.



ollow a cast of fictional funny experts into the Laugh Lab, a hilarious joke-building factory that teaches middle-grade readers how to create their own jokes, puns, silly one-liners, and more. Each chapter explores a different style of joke making, such as surprise, understatement, and exaggeration, and includes hundreds of hilarious examples.

By the end of the book, readers will have a set of tools in their joke belt to make their friends and family actually LOL.

The book includes more than 500 family-friendly jokes—plus zillions that you can create on your own!