Books for Younguns, Young Adults and the Young-at-Heart

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Artsy-Fartsy, Bogus, Cahoots & Dumbstruck

When Aldo Zelnick's grandmother gives him a sketchbook, he isn't sure what to do with it.  After a few half-hearted sketches, he discovers that if he adds writing to his illustrations, he can have a lot of fun recording his life.  Now he just fills one book after another, one for every letter of the alphabet!

Artsy-Fartsy, Bogus, Cahoots and Dumbstruck are the first four books in the Aldo Zelnick Comic Novels series written by Karla Oceanak and illustrated by Kendra Spanjer.  They are also Left Bank Books' holiday picks for Reluctant Readers.

In Artsy-Fartsy, Aldo laments the fact that everyone is good at something except him.  His brother Timothy is a star athlete.  His best friend Jack is a master rock hound.  The only thing Aldo's ever been recognized for is drawing, and all that got him was the nickname Mighty Geek.  Can Aldo finally find his calling?

Bogus finds Aldo and Jack recovering a ring from the sewer.  Aldo thinks it's totally bogus, but Jack thinks it might just be a real diamond.  They get their answer when it shows up in a newspaper article offering a $1,000 reward.  The only problem?  Aldo already lost it...

For Cahoots, the Zelnick family makes their way to the family homestead for a technology-free farm vacation.  Aldo is not happy to be without video games and computers, but he's even less happy when it starts to appear the farm may be haunted.

Dumbstruck brings the start of fifth grade and a new art teacher at Dana Elementary.  She proposes a pop art contest Aldo is determined to win, but his throat seems to close up whenever it comes time to talk to her.  And his stomach feels funny.  And he gets tingly when their fingers touch.  Could Aldo be not just sick, but lovesick?

Each book follows the same format, reading as Aldo's journal/sketchbook, complete with margin notes and interjections from his friends.  Many kids will recognize themselves in Aldo, a guy who prefers summer to school, loves bacon and Slushies and excels at any activity that involves sitting in front of a TV.  Despite some all-to-understandable shortcomings of the variety that just goes along with being a kid, he is an endearing narrator.  His deadpan sense of humor is enjoyable even for adults.  The illustrations are well-matched to the writing style:  clever and well-done enough to be enjoyable, but retaining a childish simplicity.  The lessons put forth are worthwhile:  Not to worry about what others think of your interests since everyone has a little something they geek out about, not to be selfish and to consider others, not to rely on technology for all your entertainment and how to deal with first crushes.  The characters are charming and diverse, ranging from the homeschooled tomboy (who still likes to draw flowers) to the new boy in school who happens to be deaf.  As a great bonus, the alphabetical focus leads each book to focus on vocabulary beginning with a different letter.  The words are peppered throughout the story (mostly very naturally) and marked with an asterisk that leads to a glossary (or "word gallery") at the end of the book with definitions written in Aldo's entertaining style.  Each book is a fast-paced, enjoyable light read, perfect for the kid (or parent) looking for a transition from comics to chapter books.  Look for Egghead and Finicky in 2012.

Artsy-Fartsy, Bogus, Cahoots and Dumbstruck are published by Bailiwick Press and retail for $12.95 each.  I got my copies with my very own money.  You can get your copy from Left Bank Books today!  Also the second one!  And the third!  And fourth!

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