25 Feburary 2014, Candlewick Press
Copy from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.
With his mother still out of work, Timmy and Total (the polar bear) have moved in with Timmy's Aunt Colander, whose wealthy husband left her a big house. This doesn't stop Timmy from wanting to enter a big detective contest at school. He, of course, is the perfect person to prove who stole a globe from the principal's office, but he misses the deadline! Knowing that he should win, he manages to get himself kicked out of his school and enrolls in another school, Glouberman Academy, which has a later entry date. There, he runs with Nunzio Benidici's cousin Minnie, but still keeps in touch with his best friend Rollo. He's supposed to be solving the mystery of what happened to Nunzio's spoon, but defeating Wedgie (aka Corinna Corinna) and avoiding the romantic intentions of Molly Moskins take priority. Timmy also finds out more information about the long suffering Colander, and more adventures seem to be in the offing.
Strengths: This book manages to span a wide range of ages-- it has the middle school romance and intrigue of Wimpy Kid without going in to too much detail, and has the constant barrage of sight gags and goofy jokes that will go over well with younger crowds, much like Captain Underpants. The fact that this story is accompanied by a lot of pictures will make this an easy sell for reluctant readers. Timmy's headstrong personality gets him into lots of scrapes, but he means well and has a strong support network. I particularly enjoyed Aunt Colander's eager involvement in Timmy's plans.
For the record, I think that only Timmy can see Total, the polar bear. This came up during our Cybils discussion, and there are several times when Total is talking to Timmy, but when someone else comes in the room, they can see the bear. This points to Total being imaginary, even though he is quite active and transports Timmy around town by pulling him along with a rope after Timmy has smeared himself with butter.
Weaknesses: Timmy is a brat. Students may find him amusing, but I got very weary of him saying that he was the best detective or the smartest person when clearly he is not. Part of the joke, I imagine, but he had few redeemable qualities to me.
Keller, Laurie. Bowling Alley Bandit (The Adventures of Arnie the Doughnut #1)
June 4th 2013 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
As established in the picture book, Arnie the Doughnut, Arnie is the "doughnut dog" or Mr. Bing. When Mr. Bing is on a bowling team, buys a new ball, but when a big play off rolls around, he can't find his new ball, and Arnie investigates what has happened to it. There's also some talking pizza, and of course, the bowling balls converse. Heavily illustrated, this reminded me a bit of Dragonbreath, in that children and adults will find it funny. There is a second book also out, The Invasion of the Ufonuts, a "spastry" adventure.
Strengths: There are not enough notebook novels in the world for some of my students, and this one was more clever than, say Stan and the Toilet Monster. This is also the only other book beside Crystal Allen's How Lamar's Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy that involves bowling. Bowling was pretty important in my family when I was growing up, and I still have my own ball!
Weaknesses: Doesn't matter. I'm buying not only a copy of the first two chapter books, but a copy of the picture book for good measure, so I can know the background.