Aldo Zelnick is a 10-year-old boy living in Colorado. When school lets out for the summer, his grandmother gives him a sketchbook inscribed with a note: "Dear Aldo, Here's a gift to start off your summer vacation. It's a sketchbook for recording all your artsy-fartsy ideas! I'm so proud of you. All my love, Goosy." Though he's initially a bit intimidated about how to fill the pages of the book, Aldo takes his grandmother's gift and the advice of his neighbor, Mr. Mot --- a retired English teacher --- and starts to fill the sketchbook with words and drawings about his summer. Aldo writes: “First Goosy tells me to draw, then Mr. Mot tells me to write. How’s a kid on summer vacation supposed to get any relaxation time?” 


Aldo makes it clear that his preferred way to spend summer vacation would be playing video games and getting slushies at the nearest convenience store. But his parents have different ideas. They sign Aldo up for baseball, which the non-athletic Aldo considers to be a kind of torture. “Sports aren’t much fun, unless you’re the sort of person who enjoys feeling sweaty and tired,” he writes. He’s also resentful that his parents make him spend time outside every day: “Trees, bugs, dog poop. Who cares? There’s really nothing to do outside.” 


But Aldo gradually learns to enjoy being outside. Between dodging bullies at the pool, bike rides and hikes with his grandmother, and the secret clubhouse he forms with his best friend Jack under the low branches of a blue spruce evergreen, the summer starts to shape itself into something worth reading and writing about. And with a little help from his brother, Aldo even learns to enjoy baseball. There’s only one thing getting in the way of an otherwise idyllic summer. Someone has found Aldo's sketchbook in its secret hiding place. Worse, he or she has filled it with girly pictures of flowers! Aldo is outraged, and together with Jack he sets off to discover who has broken into their clubhouse and tampered with their book.  


Written in a casual and easy-to-read style, Artsy-Fartsy is a perfect summer vacation book. Not only does it capitalize on the engaging blend of art and text made popular by Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Aldo Zelnick’s creators, Karla Oceanak and Kendra Spanjer, have planned their series around vocabulary-building. On the advice of his neighbor, the English teacher, Aldo is working from A to Z. Artsy-Fartsy has an asterisk behind each of the fancy “A” words he uses. At the end of the book there is a gallery of “A” words, with humorous definitions and illustrations. Some of them are informal, like the schoolyard acronym ABC gum, which stands for “already been chewed.” But others are more challenging words young readers might not generally encounter in this type of book, such as abysmal, amalgam, or apprehensive. Oceanak and Spanjer plan to take Aldo through the entire alphabet; each letter will be a new sketchbook and another month in Aldo’s life.


So far the series has three books in it: Artsy-Fartsy, Bogus, and Cahoots, spanning Aldo's summer vacation. They all feature Aldo and his friends in classic childhood adventures, with a humorous and easy-to-read style that slips in these vocabulary builders the same way some parents might hide the broccoli in a plate of mac ‘n cheese. I am charmed by the series (and, I must admit, by the setting, which as a Colorado girl includes several places I know: I even had a blue spruce clubhouse in the park where I occasionally hid in the summer). I hope that the remainder of the series stays as fresh and funny as these first three books.


0 Kudos


Since 1997, you’ve been coming to to discuss everything from Stephen King to writing to Harry Potter. You’ve made our site more than a place to discover your next book: you’ve made it a community. But like all things internet, is growing and changing. We've said goodbye to our community message boards—but that doesn’t mean we won’t still be a place for adventurous readers to connect and discover.

Now, you can explore the most exciting new titles (and remember the classics) at the Barnes & Noble Book Blog. Check out conversations with authors like Jeff VanderMeer and Gary Shteyngart at the B&N Review, and browse write-ups of the best in literary fiction. Come to our Facebook page to weigh in on what it means to be a book nerd. Browse digital deals on the NOOK blog, tweet about books with us,or self-publish your latest novella with NOOK Press. And for those of you looking for support for your NOOK, the NOOK Support Forums will still be here.

We will continue to provide you with books that make you turn pages well past midnight, discover new worlds, and reunite with old friends. And we hope that you’ll continue to tell us how you’re doing, what you’re reading, and what books mean to you.