two short and zesty chapter books

dory fantasmagory cover imageDory Fantasmagory, written and illustrated by Abby Hanlon
published in 2014 by Dial Books for Young Readers

Dory is a pint-sized girl with an epic, double-dip, tip-toppy imagination.

In fact, Dory’s imagination is so exuberant, so jam-full of imaginary friends, that her make-believe spills over like Niagara Falls into the real world of older siblings, parents, and doctor’s appointments. This drives her family completely berserk!dory fantasmagory illustration abby hanlon

Caroming off the walls, spinning into inexplicable frenzies, conversing with the mysterious Mary whom no one else can see, Dory exasperates her sister and brother once too often. The two of them concoct a plan to stop her in her tracks — they invent Mrs. Gobble Gracker, a horrid sort of person with gobs of sharp teeth who steals baby girls. So…you’d better stop acting like a baby then, is their solemn advice.

This completely backfires.

dory fantasmagory illustration2 abby hanlonDory launches into an all-out battle of wits with Mrs. Gobble Gracker, which includes turning herself into a dog. The problem is: Dory’s imagination has no Off Button. Where will this all end?!dory fantasmagory illustration3 abby hanlon

I love this hilarious story! The bewilderment and out-of-controlness and sheer exhaustion of living with this little firecracker sparkles off the pages. Dory narrates the story vividly, manically tugging us into her wild perspectives. Abby Hanlon has illustrated this with a generous helping of funny, childish drawings representing Dory’s reality.

It’s a smashing early-chapter book for Frog & Toad graduates, with plenty of illustration to break up this fantasmagorical text, or a hoot of a read-aloud for ages 4-7. 

emma and the blue genie cover imageEmma and the Blue Genie, by Cornelia Funke, translated by Oliver Latsch, illustrated by Kerstin Meyer
first American edition 2014 by Random House; published in Germany in 2002

Emma lives with her four brothers in a house beside the sea. She loves the ocean, especially the sound of the surf hissing over the sand, although it terrifies her brothers.

Brothers are strange. During the day they fight and scuffle, and at night their fear of the dark won’t let emma and the blue genie illustration3 kerstin meyer 001them sleep. Nearly every night one of Emma’s brothers crawled into her bed to hide from sea monsters and octopuses, only to immediately start snoring so noisily that she couldn’t hear the rush of the sea anymore.

So, Emma picks up a comfy cushion and trundles down to the beach to enjoy solitude, salty breezes and the shine of the moon. Her courage is bolstered by the companionship of her little dog, Tristan, whose legs are “as short as bratwursts” and whose tail “looked like a twirly noodle” but who is equipped with “lots of pointy teeth in his mouth.

emma and the blue genie illustration2 kerstin meyer 001A bottle bobbing in the waves catches Emma’s eye and upon uncorking it she encounters its resident blue genie. Unfortunately this genie is a skimpy fellow whose size has been whittled by an evil fellow named Sahim. Sahim has stolen his nose ring, and with it all his magical powers are gone, including the power to grant wishes — quite a disappointment, don’t you agree?

Of course Emma offers to help him recover this ring and his magnificence, so off they go on a magic carpet to the palace of the caliph of Barakash and a thrilling, dangerous struggle with the most dastardly yellow genie of all.

Palm trees and golden flamingos, seriously-scary scorpions and honeyed dates waft our way in this clever, original Ali Baba-esque tale from the acclaimed author of the Inkheart trilogy. Funke’s emma and the blue genie illustration kerstin meyerwriting is delectable, rich in detail and colorful characters, with a lively pace, a sizzle of tension, and plenty of good humor to keep it friendly.

Kerstin Meyer’s watercolor illustrations charm us with vivid personalities, exotic Arabian locales, and one faithful dog. The heavily-illustrated pages are exceedingly tantalizing!

It’s a thoroughly enjoyable story that would be a super read-aloud for ages 5 or 6 and up (mind the scorpions and spiders), or an excellent short-chapter book — 90 heavily illustrated pages — for a stout reader.