Friday, December 9, 2011

Cybils Nominee: 8 Class Pets + 1 Squirrel ÷ 1 Dog = CHAOS

Years ago, I read a collection of Vivian Vande Velde's spooky short stories and admired them for their wacky inventiveness. So I was pleasantly surprised to find she had an early chapter book nominated in this year's Cybils Awards. 8 Class Pets + 1 Squirrel ÷ 1 Dog = CHAOS did not disappoint. It's a fast-moving romp about a bunch of animals--(See title)--that wreak havoc inside an elementary building one night. The adventures start when, Twitch, a squirrel that hangs around the schoolyard scoots into the building to escape from an owl looking for its dinner. Cuddles, the principal's dog, gives chase after him. Twitch darts into classroom after classroom, begging help from each pet that resides there, a hamster, a rabbit, a white rat, a school of tetras, a parrot, a turtle, a snake, and some geckos. The classroom pets get swept up in the resulting chaos with hilarious results.

What I liked best about this early reader is that each chapter is told by one of the animals. This approach allows readers to see conflicting points of view. Green Eggs and Hamster, the first-grade pet, is a bit ditzy (all that wheel spinning) but good at math and full of ideas. The school of tetras speak in one voice and advise the squirrel that there is safety in sticking together. Galileo and Newton, the science lab geckos, interrupt each other constantly. Their part in the story is written all in dialog, a nice touch. It isn't until near the end that we hear from Cuddles, the story's bad guy, or rather dog, and learn that he was acting in his master's best interests.

I liked everything about this book except for one thing--it's title. While humorous, when I first saw it on the list of nominees, I put off reading the story. From experience I've learned clunky titles often correlate to clunky books. Happily this was not the case. Highly recommended, 8 Class Pets + 1 Squirrel ÷ 1 Dog = CHAOS is a fun read, even if its title is quite the mouthful.

For an interview with its author, click here.

8 Class Pets + 1 Squirrel ÷ 1 Dog = CHAOS
by Vivian Vande Velde
illustrations by Steve Bjorkman
Holiday House, 80 pages
Published: October 2011

This book was nominated for the 2011 Cybils Awards in the Easy Reader/Early Chapter Book category. I am a first-round panelist in this category, and this review reflects my opinion only.

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