Children's Corner: 'Violet Mackerel's Natural Habitat' and other 'bridge' books for kids

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'Violet Mackerel's Natural Habitat' and other 'bridge' books

It's a big leap from beginning readers to chapter books for most kids, and it's often helpful to point them to "bridge" books -- shorter books with shorter chapters, larger type and more illustrations than is the case with most children's novels.

Series books, like the best-selling "Magic Tree House" books by Mary Pope Osborne and the "A to Z Mysteries" by Ron Roy, can be invaluable as bridge books because they are short, filled with action and illustrations, and allow young readers to become invested in specific characters.

Recently, there's been an explosion in the number of bridge books as publishers seek to fill this niche. Here's a look at some of these new books:

• Seven-year-old Violet Mackerel is the youngest in her family, and lately that hasn't been much fun. Her older brother Dylan is "in a phase" and her older sister Nicola is chronically grumpy, telling Violet to "buzz off."

Yet it's Violet who eventually comes up with the perfect solution to Nicola's problem of what to do for her science-fair project in "Violet Mackerel's Natural Habitat" (Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, $15.99 hardcover, $5.99 paperback, ages 6-9).

Author Anna Branford does a marvelous job of conveying the world through Violet's eyes. Young readers, even those who aren't the youngest in their families, will readily identify with her travails and triumphs.

The numerous line drawings by Elanna Allen convey Violet's personality and also help break up the text, making it easier for youngsters to read. Those who enjoy this book will want to look for previous books in the Violet Mackerel series, including "Violet Mackerel's Brilliant Plot" and "Violet Mackerel's Remarkable Recovery."

• Gemma, Meera and Karl may live in the city, but they are true farm animal lovers. With some help from an adult farm lover named Flora MacDonald, they've found a way to create the Silver Street Farm in their city by taking over an abandoned railway station that has enough surrounding land for grazing animals.

Yet, things don't go smoothly when you mix city and country, as author Nicola Davies shows in "Escape From Silver Street Farm" (Candlewick Press, $12.99, ages 7-10). In this latest book in the "Silver Street Farm" series, the three children and Flora cope with runaway turkeys and sheep and end up with some surprising discoveries.

Ms. Davies clearly is a farm lover herself and makes it totally plausible that three city kids would be so besotted with cows, sheep, turkeys, etc., that they would come up with a way to open an urban farm.

The illustrations by Katharine McEwen, shown on the cover and at the beginning of each chapter, capture the excitement and humor of Ms. Davies' story. Young readers will want to look for the first book in the series, "Welcome to Silver Street Farm."

• Claude is a hound dog with style. He wears a red beret, a red sweater and has a best friend -- Sir Bobblysock -- a red-and-white-striped sock who gets around on his own power.

Together, these good friends have some hilarious adventures in "Claude in the City" (Peachtree, $12.95, ages 5-8). Author/illustrator Alex T. Smith readily persuades young readers to suspend their disbelief and just enjoy the wacky adventures of a black-and-white hound dog, wearing a red beret and sweater, who is accompanied by his best friend, a sock.

The book's text is minimalist, letting the illustrations convey much of the action. It's a great combination that will keep young readers turning the pages and awaiting Claude's next adventure, "Claude at the Circus," scheduled to be published this fall.

• It's 2120, and Zack Nelson and his family have just moved from Earth to the planet Nebulon. Zack isn't exactly thrilled about leaving his friends behind on Earth, but he has to admit there's some cool things about Nebulon, starting with Ira -- aka "Indoor Robotic Assistant" -- the robot who serves Zack exactly what he wants to eat and makes sure he's up in time for school.

In "Galaxy Zack: Hello, Nebulon!" (Little Simon/Simon & Schuster, $15.99 hardcover, $4.99 paperback, ages 6-9), author Ray O'Ryan and illustrator Colin Jack team up to deliver an out-of-this-world tale that will resonate with young earthlings dealing with issues such as going to a new school, making new friends, etc.

More than that, any young lover of science fiction will revel in the first book of a new series about how Zack adapts to his life on a new planet. Stay tuned for more fun from Nebulon.

• Lauren Myracle, a best-selling author of books for teens, turns her talents to younger readers in "The Life of Ty: Penguin Problems" (Dutton, $12.99, ages 7-10).

As Ms. Myracle details, Ty's life was just fine until his baby sister, "Teensy Baby Maggie," was born. Then everything got complicated, and now Ty's mother seems to be more focused on the baby than on him.

So when Ty has a chance to smuggle home a baby penguin from the local aquarium, he decides to do it as a way to show his mom that she should be spending more time with him. But there are complications, and Ty finds that he's in over his head and needs his family to help fix things.

Ms. Myracle's story will ring true to any young reader who has lived through the birth of a sibling, while the illustrations by artist Jed Henry are both humorous and compassionate.

• The editors at Scholastic have created an entire new line of books for new chapter-book readers. The series is called "Branches" and features several different authors.

Among the books -- all priced at $15.99 hardcover and $4.99 paperback -- to look for:

"Boris on the Move" (ages 6-10), written and illustrated by Andrew Joyner.

"Picture Day" (ages 7-10), the first in the "Missy's Super Duper Royal Deluxe" series, written and illustrated by Susan Nees.

"Kiki: My Stylish Life" (ages 7-10), the first in the "Lotus Lane" series, written and illustrated by Kyla May.

"Stranger Things" (ages 7-10), the first in the "Looniverse" series, written by David Lubar and illustrated by Matt Loveridge.

"Rise of the Balloon Goons" (ages 7-10), the first in "The Notebook of Doom" series, written and illustrated by Troy Cummings.

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Karen MacPherson, the children's/teen librarian at the Takoma Park, Md., Library, can be reached at Kam.Macpherson@gmail.com.


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