For our March Reading Wildly meeting, we're reading science fiction books, so I picked up books from a couple of series that I'd never read before. Both are older series, so I'm reviewing them here together.
Jim Benton. Grades 2-4. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2003-2008.
Books in the series:
#1 Lunch Walks Among Us
#2 Attack of the 50-Ft. Cupid
#3 The Invisible Fran
#4 The Fran That Time Forgot
#5 Frantastic Voyage
#6 The Fran With Four Brains
#7 The Frandidate
Franny K. Stein is a little bit different from the other kids in her class. She likes them fine, but none among them can program a robot like she can... or splice genes or create perfectly putrid concoctions... Her family doesn't get it either. But whether it's saving the town from a giant pumpkin-lobster monster, creating (and subduing) a 50-foot Cupid on Valentine's Day, or bringing in a home-built robot for hobby day, Franny K. Stein loves being a mad scientist.
This transitional chapter book series is packed with wacky humor. It's highly illustrated and each volume clocks in at just about 100 pages, making this a good choice for kids just moving up to chapter books or kids who need to build confidence in reading. The tone of the humor is similar to the humor in Captain Underpants, but it's toned down quite a bit. There's occasional light potty humor, but I'd consider this series for parents who are uncomfortable with the Captain Underpants series.
The science fiction element starts with a light hand in the first book and becomes more prevalent in later books, so this might also be a good choice for kids who don't think they like sci-fi.
For the humor, I'd recommend any of Dav Pilkey's series: Captain Underpants, Ricky Riccota, or The Adventures of Ook and Gluk. You might also try some of the cartoon-illustrated funny books in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid ilk that have sprouted over the past several years.
For kids who like the crazy gadgets and things that Franny K. Stein develops in her lab (and the highly illustrated format), I might try the Lunch Lady graphic novel series.
Animorphs by K.A. Applegate. Grades 3-6. Scholastic, 1996-2001.
There are 54 books in the series - click the title above to get a full listing.
Jake and his friends were just minding their own business, cutting through the construction site on the way home, when they had a chance encounter with a dying alien that changed their lives forever. The Andalite prince tells them about a war between alien species that's being fought right under everyone's noses on earth as the evil Yeerks take human hosts and control their actions. And the alien gives them a gift - the power to morph into any animal they choose. It's the only weapon they have against the Yeerks and they have to keep up the fight until the Andalites return to restore peace to their planet.
I missed this series by several years when I was a kid and now that makes me so sad because I would have been SO INTO IT. As it is, I read the first book in the series and I liked it quite a bit. The book is action-packed and written in a simple style that gets the action across without too many frills. There are a few dated pop culture references, but really not enough that I think they'll be any issue with newcomers to the series. It's a fun page-turner of an adventure story and the concept of kids turning into animals at will is one that packs wide kid appeal.
For the fast pace and adventurous storyline, I'd recommend Gordan Korman's thrillers like his On the Run series (starting with Chasing the Falconers) or the Kidnapped series (starting with The Abduction). Readers also might like the 39 Clues series, particularly if they enjoy mystery stories. And readers who are ready to tackle thicker books might try Margaret Peterson Haddix's The Missing series (starting with Found).
For readers who dig the alien storyline, you might try Bruce Coville's My Teacher is an Alien series (originally published around the same time that Animorphs was originally published). Or possibly Aliens on Vacation by Clete Barrett Smith, although the tone is more humorous than in the Animorphs series).
Both series are on shelves now!