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Children's LiteratureThis "advanced" early reader, part of the Read-It! Readers series from Picture Window Books, strikes many right notes. It offers humor and a wide vocabulary, including the introduction of a few easy Japanese words that are part of the study of karate, "sensei," "gi" and "obi." The setting, a boys' karate camp, is interesting but not unfamiliar. Though geared toward boys, the book's deft subject and visual choices will appeal to girls too. The characters are all humorously drawn boy animals, and Gus' best friend has the wonderful name, "Bean." The gist of the plot is that best friends Gus and Bean are off to camp, where they quickly run into bad boy Billy, whose attempts to break camp rules and bully them always end up hurting Billy, and no one else. Finally, Billy karate chops Gus' surprise birthday cake, which flies up all over Billy's face. The teacher appears to witness Billy's wrongdoing for the first time. Bean asks Gus if he thinks the birthday wish he just made will come true. When Gus answers that it already has, he seems to be saying that his birthday wish was for Billy to get caught. Though intended to be humorous, there is an unexpected off-note of mean-spiritedness in this ending. Nonetheless, the book makes an engaging stretch in terms of sentence structure, vocabulary and subject for an able new reader. The colorful illustrations are gentle and full of fun. 2006, Picture Window Books, Ages 5 to 8.
—J. H. Diehl