A Tasty New Chapter Series (Sprinkles Included)
March 15, 2014 § 4 Comments
Raise the roof! My favorite fast-talking pastry is back in the house! Now, before you look at me like I have three heads (or 135 sprinkles), I’m referring to Laurie Keller’s new early chapter book series, based on the naive, loquacious, loves-the-limelight chocolate doughnut from her 2003 picture book, Arnie the Doughnut (Ages 4-8). I still remember the hysterics that my staff and I fell into every time we flipped through that first book 11 years ago, about a doughnut who narrowly avoids the fate of being eaten and winds up an unlikely pet (a “doughnut-dog!”) to the lonely but kindly Mr. Bing.
I’ve often wondered why author-illustrator Keller doesn’t get more props from the media and, as a result, remains relatively unknown by parents. Her kooky story lines are peppered with chuckle-inducing sidebars and animated through energetic, googly-eyed sketches (whose creativity, coincidentally, blows the roof off the Diary of a Wimpy Kids of the world). But I have a particular fondness for her ability to keep us parents just as entertained as our children (think puns, references to pop culture, etc.). If you’re not reading Laurie Keller, the world is less fun. It’s as simple as that. (Other non-doughnut-related favorites by Keller are listed at the end of this post.)
But back to Arnie. As original and humorous as that 2003 picture book is, I’ve always felt that a precocious and paranoid pastry would really take off among the emerging reader crowd. My wish came true last fall, when Keller kicked off a chapter book series, beginning with The Adventures of Arnie the Doughnut: Bowling Alley Bandit (Ages 5-7 if reading aloud; 7-9 if reading independently). The series picks up where the picture book leaves off, and each installment is concerned with a different predicament (translate: mishap) that Arnie falls into in his life with Mr. Bing. (Before you ask, no, you don’t have to read the picture book to dive into the chapter series.) Bowling Alley Bandit is an uproarious story filled with a bowling rivalry, a talking slice of pizza (Arnie’s BFF), numerous rounds of karaoke, and jealous, scheming bowling balls.
My six year old has literally been counting the days until the release of Arnie’s next adventure, this one titled The Adventures of Arnie the Doughnut: Invasion of the UFONUTS (same ages). And now that it is here, the payoff has exceeded our wildest expectations. What could be better than a wise-cracking doughnut? How about a wise-cracking doughnut who gets hijacked by alien doughnuts?! As usual, the joke is on Arnie, who finds himself, not in the center of an inter-galactic conspiracy to put doughnut stores out of business, as he initially assumes—but, rather, in the starring role of a feature film, directed by his friend Peezo, the talking pizza slice. Speaking of friends, in case you think Keller is all fluff, she’s not. Buried amidst Hollywood humor, flying cups and saucers, and random George Washington asides, Invasion of the UFONUTS is a story about two friends who argue, make up, and learn a thing or two about the danger of jumping to conclusions.
Bowling Alley Bandit and Invasion of the UFONUTS are perfect read-aloud chapter books, designed to ignite both the imagination and a love for reading. At first glance, the large, graphic-styled text might seem like it’s targeted at a beginning reader. But both Keller’s vocabulary and her humor are quite sophisticated; and it will take several readings by a parent before a newish reader will want to take these on independently. But that’s what I love about them. I envision these books having a very long shelf life. With a dozen short chapters, they are long enough to split into multiple sittings, yet short enough to read straight through on a drizzly, Saturday morning. They’re the kind of books that can be read on multiple levels (a young reader might start by reading all the highly entertaining speech bubbles). And they’re the kind of books that, when our blossoming readers do take them on in their entirety, they will surprise and delight with new details every single time.
We’ve read Invasion several times since getting it last week, but I’ve deliberately left out the Afterward, a quirky little section called “How to Speak UFONUT” (the language of the alien doughnuts—apparently, “like speaking Pig Latin, only instead of words ending in AY or WAY, they end in UT or NUT”). Down the road, I look forward to JP discovering this bonus material on his own and leaving mysterious notes around the house for me to decode. Like I said, life with Laurie Keller is just more fun.
Other Favorites by Laurie Keller (note that even though these are picture books, their content and humor is great for the elementary set!):
The Scrambled States of America (Ages 5-10)
The Scrambled States of America Talent Show (Ages 5-10)
Do Unto Otters: A Book About Manners (Ages 5-10)
Plus, while I never plug TV here, you really must check out the Scholastic DVD of the original Arnie the Doughnut–the accents are fantastic. This has been my family’s favorite thing to watch on car trips for years!