Saturday, September 03, 2011

Book Review: Cal and the Amazing Anti-Gravity Machine, by Richard Hamilton (illustrated by Sam Hearn) (Bloomsbury, 2006)

Recommended for ages 9-12

Cal lives with his family, including Frankie, a talking dog that only he can understand, next door to a very loud neighbor. Mr. Frout regularly wakes the neighborhood with clanging and banging in the early hours of the morning. He's not a very friendly neighbor, so curious Cal decides to spy on him to see what all the commotion is about and discovers Mr. Frout, in a suit of armor, hovering in the air. His experiment goes awry and Cal rescues him, which makes Mr. Frout a little more friendly and Cal learns that Mr. Frout is making an anti-gravity machine. Inevitably, things get out of hand and it's left to Cal to save the day.

The book skews toward the younger end of the reading range, as it is a chapter book with lots of black and white line drawings that will keep younger readers interested. The characters are well-described, and have just enough reality to them that kids can identify with them, while being fantastic enough to make the story fun. I appreciated that the parents weren't drawn as hopeless dimbulbs, as often happens in children's books - I particularly liked a section of the book where Cal's mother gets angry at him for befriending a stranger (Mr. Frout), despite Cal's assertions that he is friendly. It was a smart way to take advantage of a teachable moment on stranger danger.

Richard Hamilton and Sam Hearn are an British writer-illustrator team who have worked on four books together. Their website offers information on these books, biographies on the author and illustrator, and coloring sheets and printable posters on their books.

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