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Originally published Friday, August 6, 2010 at 7:01 PM

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Add 'Big Nate' and other new hybrid books to kids' mix

Kids' books: Hybrid books, a mix of illustrations wove into the text, are one of the hottest genres in children's books today. New titles include "Doodlebug," "Big Nate: In a Class By Himself," "Spaceheadz " and "School! Adventures at the Harvey N. Trouble Elementary School."

Scripps Howard News Service

Driven by the popularity of "The Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series, hybrid books are one of the hottest genres in children's books today.

What exactly is a hybrid book? It's a chapter book with a blend of text and illustrations. Unlike a traditional children's novel, which may have a few black-and-white illustrations scattered through the pages, there generally is a roughly equal amount of text and illustrations in a hybrid book.

Kids love hybrids — Jeff Kinney's series is so popular that the fifth book, "The Ugly Truth," will be published in November with a 5 million-copy first printing. Meanwhile, as kids wait to read the latest adventures of Greg Hefley, aka the "Wimpy Kid,"publishers are coming out with new hybrids at a fast clip.

Here's a look at some of these new hybrids:

• Lincoln Peirce created the "Big Nate"comic strip in 1991, and today it can be read daily in more than 200 U.S. newspapers. Interestingly, it's long been one of Kinney's favorite comic strips, and he has called Peirce one of his mentors.

Now, Peirce is following in Kinney's footsteps by creating a hybrid book, "Big Nate: In a Class By Himself" (Harper, $12.99). Featuring characters from the comic strip, "Big Nate" details a day in the life of middle-schooler Nate Wright, an 11-year-old who believes that he is "destined for greatness."

So Nate is thrilled when he opens a fortune cookie at school and reads his fortune: "Today you will surpass all others."How Nate, with his penchant for trouble, actually manages to "surpass all others"during his eventful school day will have young readers howling with laughter.

But the straight storyline is only one part of the great fun of "Big Nate."

Readers also will enjoy the many side stories and anecdotes that Peirce includes. Peirce's illustrations, done both in comic-strip panels and line drawings, add to the fun and show that he knows how middle-schoolers operate. Just take a look at his full-page illustration of Nate's "notes"from a social-studies class — there's not one fact on it, just a bunch of comics drawn by Nate as he tuned out the teacher.

It's clear that "Big Nate," which is the first of a series, will be a hit with kids. But parents also will enjoy this humorously realistic look at the world of middle-schoolers. (Ages 8-12.)

• The inimitable Jon Scieszka, author of such favorites as "The Stinky Cheese Man," "Smash! Crash!"and the "Time Warp Trio"series, has another hit on his hands with "Spaceheadz" (Simon & Schuster, $14.99). Cowritten with Francesco Sedita, "Spaceheadz" features zany, energetic illustrations by Shane Prigmore.

"Spaceheadz" opens on the first day of school for fifth-grader Michael K. It's a new school for Michael and he's just trying to fit in, something that becomes impossible when two very strange kids, Bob and Jennifer, attach themselves to him and try to convince him to become a "SPHDZ." As Michael K. learns, Bob and Jennifer actually are aliens who have come to Earth as fifth-graders, while their leader, Major Fluffy, is disguised as the class hamster. Their mission is to get 3.14 million and 1 kids to say they are SPHDZ.

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In typical Scieszka style, things get even wackier from here. But this isn't just a funny story; "Spaceheadz"has an artfully embedded media-literacy message designed to make young readers think about the advertising messages that bombard them every day. Young readers also will enjoy the book-connected websites: sphdz.com and antialienagency.com (Ages 7-10).

• Doreen "Dodo" Bussy and her family are moving to a new city. Moving is hard enough, but Doreen worries that the move is her fault because she got into such trouble in her last school.

In "Doodlebug" (Feiwel and Friends, $14.99), author/illustrator Karen Romano Young provides an engaging story about how Dodo reinvents herself as the Doodlebug in her new school, tracking her year in an illustration-filled notebook. Girls will readily identify with Dodo's angst as well as her efforts to figure out her world. Young's drawings also are wonderfully funny and evocative, and sure to attract girls who are fans of Marissa Moss' "Amelia" hybrid series. (Ages 8-12.)

• Kids who like puns will love "School! Adventures at the Harvey N. Trouble Elementary School" (Feiwel and Friends, $12.99). Author Kate McMullan, obviously a punster herself, tells a tale filled with people with names like Ms. Seeyalater, Mr. Ben Diggin and the hero, Ron Faster. There's not much of a story, but that doesn't matter because the book is just so fun to read. It's pure silliness, made even more comical with the wonderful line drawings by artist George Booth. (Ages 7-10.)

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