June 03, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

Wiener takes all in ”Hot Dog” book


Hot Dog and Bob and the Dangerously Dizzy Attack of the Hypno Hamsters
By L. Bob Rovetch; illustrated by Dave Whamond
Have I mentioned before how much I love this series? In this third installment, best friends Bob and Clementine must defend Lugenheimer Elementary against yet another alien horde — this time, evil toy hamsters — with the help of Hot Dog (a superhero dispatched from the planet Dogzalot, who arrives by way of Bob’s lunch box). ”The one thing I knew for sure was that we were definitely on our own,” says Bob. ”If we tried to warn our parents or the police or anything, they’d just think we had overactive imaginations or tell us to stop eating so much sugar.” Yes, the plot’s pretty basic, but the book is smart, rollicking, and funny (remember, we’re talking kid humor here), and is peppered with challenging vocabulary. Librarians at my local elementary school tell me the demand for the series is huge, and I can see why. I don’t come across a lot of books aimed at little boys — those who’d rather pick up a baseball than sit down and read — but this is one of them. (Though girls will certainly enjoy it too.) B+
Recommended ages: 7-10

Written and illustrated by Polly Dunbar
Ripping open the polka-dotted wrapping paper, Ben discovers…a penguin! But what’s wrong with Penguin? No matter what Ben says or does, his new friend doesn’t say a word — that is, until Ben does something very hurtful indeed. The lesson, about friendship and shyness, is an easy one for even small children to understand, and it’s imparted so gently it doesn’t seem like a lesson at all. And I loved Dunbar’s charmingly goofy pictures of Ben and Penguin. A-
Recommended ages: 2-4

What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know
By Sonya Sones
I picked up Sones’ 2001 title, What My Mother Doesn’t Know, a few years ago and loved it — but I wondered if my own teenage daughter would take to the book, written in spare but emotional free verse. But she, too, was besotted by it (and it became one of those well-thumbed books she kept by her bed). Now both of us are thrilled to find this sequel, in which 14-year-old Boston teen Sophie finds a friend in Robin, the boy everyone in school loves to hate. What happens to them, told from both their points of view, is painful, awkward, faltering, moving — and is about as realistic a depiction of teen relationships as I’ve ever read. I never thought I’d enjoy novels written in free verse, but I stand corrected; Sones’ books are just terrific. A
Recommended ages: 12-15

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