Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads, Uncategorized

Anne Ursu’s The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy is brilliant!

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy, by Anne Ursu, (Oct. 2021, Walden Pond Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9780062275127

Ages 9-13

Anne Ursu is an undisputed champion of kidlit fantasy. I’ve devoured The Real Boy and Breadcrumbs and am in awe of how she creates these incredible worlds with characters that are so realistic, so well-written, that looking up and realizing I’m still in my living room, dog across my legs, with a book in my lap, can be a little jarring. Her latest story, The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy, is kidlist feminist fantasy at its best. Taking place in a fantasy world and time, Marya Lupu is a girl living in a kingdom under attack from an army called The Dread. Her parents are straight-up awful; they dote on her brother, Luka, because in this world, the young men are sent into service as sorcerers to fight the dread while, if they’re lucky, the girls and families get to live off the sorcerer’s reputation. This sets the siblings up against each other, which never ends well: sure enough, on the day Luka is to be evaluated by the sorcerers for his skill, chaos ensues and it leads right back to Marya. The next day, a letter from a school called the Dragmoir Academy shows up for Marya: it’s a school for wayward girls, and her parents can’t pack her off quickly enough.  What she discovers at the Academy, though, are a group of young women who are far more than just a bunch of “troubled” young women, and the Dragomir Academy has a darker history than they’re owning up to.

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy is about women, power, and fear. It’s a school story, with different personalities and the conflict that comes with putting that many personalities together under stressful circumstances; it’s also a story of hidden women, hidden messages, and who really controls the dialogue, whether it comes to today’s news or a high-fantasy novel about a land under threat from a horrific enemy that devastates everything in its path. Brilliantly written, with characters that readers will love; Marya is a smart young woman who’s been beaten down for a long time; unlike many of the other girls in the novel, though, she refuses to second-guess or question herself when it’s time to take action, and she motivates her schoolmates to own their own power, too.

Anne Ursu is an award-winning, National Book Award-nominated fantasy author. Visit her website for more information about her books and teacher guides, and upcoming events.

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy has a starred review from Kirkus and is an Indie Next pick.

Posted in Conferences & Events

Upcoming: Latinx KidLit Book Festival

The Latinx KidLit Book Festival is free and virtual again this year, and it’s happening on is free, virtual, and takes place on December 9th and 10th!

Go here to download the Festival program and see the speakers: there are some exciting panels this year and a concert for kids! The Education link on the website leads you to some great educator guides in English and Spanish, and a link to a Latinx KidLit Book database, so be sure to click your way over there. Authors are on FlipGrid, so share that with your readers and your education contacts.

 

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate

A new Definitely Dominguita book!

Definitely Dominguita: All for One, by Terry Catasús Jennings/Illustrated by Fátima Anaya, (August 2021, Aladdin), $6.99, ISBN: 9781534465114

Ages 6-9

I raved about the Definitely Dominguita series earlier this year, and received the nicest note from author Terry Catasús Jennings, along with a signed copy of Dominguita’s newest adventure, All for One. After I finished squealing, I dove right in. Thank you, Ms. Jennings!

This is the third adventure for Dom and her friends, Pancho and Steph (and their noble steed, Roco), all inspired by the classics that she and her abuela love. This time out, the kids are Musketeers, influenced by Alexandra Dumas’s The Three Musketeers, and it’s perfect timing: there’s a Bublassi plot underfoot to ruin a quinceañera, and Dom, Pancho, and Steph have to stay one step ahead to make sure things go as planned. The story follows Dumas’s classic in great – and often hilarious – fashion, including the spurned love interest side story and a fight scene with hoses rather than swords. There’s a massive hint as to the next book included in the storyline here, too: one of my favorites ever, so you know I’ll be waiting patiently for mid-November to arrive.

I love this series. It’s fun, prizes brains, family, and ingenuity, and not only prizes a love of classic literature, but makes it accessible to all readers, in the most fun and creative of ways. Fátima Anaya’s illustrations keep readers engaged and give them even more ideas for dressing up and creating their own Dominguita-like adventures.

You know? I may just have to start creating some Dom grab-and-go bags. Let me go mull this over. In the meantime, go read All for One, and visit Terry Catasús Jennings’s author website for more information about her books.

 

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Let’s get ready for Hanukkah!

You laugh, sure, but you know, Hanukkah isn’t that far off: it starts on November 28 this year. I’ve got some adorable Hanukkah stories for you here!

The Three Latkes, by Eric A. Kimmel/Illustrated by Feronia Parker-Thomas, (Oct. 2021, Kar-Ben Publishing), $16.99, ISBN: 9781541588912

Ages 3-8

The classic Gingerbread Man story (also an Eric A. Kimmel book!) gets an adorable Hanukkah retelling here as three latkes argue about who is the best latke. Gold Latke is made with golden potatoes and fried in peanut oil; Red Latke is made from red potatoes and fried in vegetable oil, and Yellow Latke is made from yellow potatoes and fried in schmaltz, so he’s got to be the best! No one is budging, so the three latkes ask the cat, Kitty, for her opinion. You can guess what happens, right? Adorable latkes sport little hats (or a headband, in Gold Latke’s case) and accessories, like Yellow Latke’s bow tie and Gold Latke’s gold medal, and have stick figure arms and legs attached to colorful latkes with cheery expressions. The dialogue takes place atop a table set for Hanukkah, with holiday details like a banner running across a fireplace, a menorah, and blue and white table settings. Kitty sports a navy blue bandana with white stars of David on it and is hilariously expressive, with sly smiles, a raised eyebrow, and a hungry tongue licking her chops communicating her intentions to the reader from the very beginning. A recipe for The Very Best Latkes at the end gives readers their choices of potatoes, oils, and toppings – just like the story! – to choose from. An adorable holiday story. Hand out latke coloring pages for readers to bring home and decorate, like this cute one from clker.com and this adorable set of pictures from Hug O’the Day.

Visit Eric Kimmel’s website for more about his books, and to watch recorded videos of him reading some of his books.

 

A Rugrats Chanukah: The Classic Illustrated Storybook, Illustrated by Kim Smith, (Sept. 2021, Quirk Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9781683692867

Ages 4-8

Can you believe the Rugrats Chanukah episode aired 25 years ago? In celebration of that first Chanukah episode of a children’s television series, Quirk’s Pop Classics released the book inspired by the special, A Rugrats Chanukah. We start out on the eighth night o Chanukah, and Grandma Minka is reading a story about the holiday to Tommy, Chuckie, Phil and Lil, and Angelica while Grandpa Boris naps. As Grandma reads the story of Chanukah, the babies imagine themselves as characters in the story, but she doesn’t get to finish – they have to head to the synagogue, where Grandpa is acting in a Chanukah play. The babies misunderstand the “meaning of Chanukah” and think that the actor opposite their grandfather is the “meany of Chanukah”, and take to the stage to help save their Grandpa; meanwhile, all Angelica wants to do is watch her holiday specials!

Whether or not readers have seen the Rugrats Chanukah special, they’ll love the story. The story wraps the Chanukah origin around a classic Rugrats episode, with all the imagination, comedic mishaps, and loving family moments. Those of us who already loved Rugrats (thanks especially to my older kids) will love seeing Tommy dressed as a brave Maccabee, and uttering a take on Tommy’s famous “baby’s gotta do” statement, “A Maccababy’s gotta do what a Maccababy’s gotta do!”; endpapers mimic the opening and closing scenes of the story, just like an episode of the show. Add this to your holiday readaloud list.

 

Hello Hanukkah!, by Susan S. Novich, (Oct. 2021 Kar-Ben Publishing), $7.99, ISBN: 9781728403441

Ages 0-3

An adorable board book that illustrates counting and colors, Hello Hanukkah! shows how young Badger celebrates the holiday every day by doing one activity as he lights the candles. He opens a box of Hanukkah candles and lights one red candle; plays with a dreidel and lights two orange candles; all the way up through the eighth night. It’s Badger has a bird friend present to help him out on every spread, and the two celebrate with a banner and full menorah at the end. A very sweet way to introduce holiday vocabulary and concepts to the littlest learners.

 

Posted in Non-Fiction, picture books

Niki Nakayama’s blends cultures in her chef story

Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites, by Jamie Michalak & Debbi Michiko Florence/Illustrated by Yuko Jones, (Sept. 2021, Farrar, Straus & Giroux), $18.99, ISBN: 9780374313876

Ages 4-8

Niki Nakayama, the master chef behind the California restaurant n/Naka, shares her story in this lovely picture book biography from children’s book authors Jamie Michalak, Debbi Michiko Florence, and illustrator Yuko Jones. Beginning with Ms. Nakayama’s childhood in California, the story gives us 13 “bites”: 13 defining moments in the chef’s life, to parallel her 13 course menus at n/naka. The Japanese-American chef developed a love of global cuisine as a child; her mother blended Japanese and American foods and flavors together to make meals like meatloaf with soy sauce, or teriyaki turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. Ms. Nakayama began creating her own recipes as a child, eventually traveling the world to sample cuisines from different cultures. When she returned to the United States, she apprenticed as a sushi chef, ultimately opening her own restaurant, n/naka, where she now creates 13-course tasting “storytelling” menus. Back matter includes a timeline of Niki Nakayama’s life, an explanation of terms used in the story, and the chef’s own childhood wonton pizza recipe. The story flows from moment to moment in the chef’s life, touching on frustrations like having her family dote on her brother, and having her family agree to finance her first restaurant, but agree to give up her dream if it was not successful. Spreads show Nakayama and her family gathering at their own table, and families gathering to eat at n/naka, illustrating the power of community that eating together brings. Spreads show colorful foods from all over the world sprawl across pages, and diners speaking different languages as they enjoy a creative master chef’s food.

You can visit n/naka’s website and see Chef Nakayama’s profile; you can see a promo for her Chef’s Table episode on Netflix below.

 

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Garlic and the Vampire: An unlikely friendship story

Garlic and the Vampire, by Bree Paulsen, (Sept. 2021, Quill Tree Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780062995087

Ages 8-12

This very sweet graphic novel is one for the readers who never think they can do the thing… until they do. Garlic and her fellow vegetables live with friendly Witch Agnes, where they work on tending her garden. But rumors start spreading that a vampire lives in the neighboring castle! Oh, no! Celery, a surly member of the bunch, decides that Garlic should go confront the vampire. After all, garlic repels vampires, right? Scared but resolute, Garlic sets out to face the vampire… and learns that rumors and stereotypes are no match for meeting and talking to someone!

I love Garlic and the Vampire’s artwork, which is so warm and comforting, so cuddly and kind, that kids are going to love it. Garlic is a childlike, feminine character; a bulb of garlic with rosy cheeks, sporting a little red dress. Carrot, her best friend, offers sage advice and comfort, and sports a shirt, tie, and overalls. The vegetable characters are all anthropomorphic, with distinct personalities and expressive faces and gestures. Alice the Witch isn’t at all threatening, with a warm burgundy top, forest green skirt, and a white apron; she sports less of a witch’s black hat and more of a pilgrim’s hat, not pointed but squared off, with a brown band around the brim. The colors throughout the book are warm, natural colors; lots of greens, oranges, and reds. Even the so-called horrible vampire looks like a kindly gentleman who’d rather have a cup of tea than rampage through a town. The character interactions are as humorous as they are gentle. Have this ready as an alternative to kids who aren’t into the scary side of Halloween, but still want to feel a part of things.

Visit Bree Paulsen’s website to see more of her illustration work, and read her webcomic, Patrik the Vampire.

Garlic the Vampire has a starred review from the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Stealing Home tells a story of the Japanese-Canadian Internment

Stealing Home, by J. Torres/Illustrated by David Namisato, (Oct. 2021, Kids Can Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781525303340

Ages 9-13

It’s 1941, and Sandy Saito is a happy Japanese boy, living with his family in Canada, and a big baseball fan. He obsessively follows the Asahi team, a Japanese-Canadian baseball team, and the pride of his community. But the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor in December, and Sandy’s life as he knows it is forever changed: he and his family are moved to an internment camp, and separated from their doctor father, who’s placed “where he needs to be”. As Sandy and his brother try to adjust to their new life, they find some comfort in their favorite sport; Sandy tries adopting the mindset of taking whatever pitch comes your way.

An emotional graphic novel, Stealing Home may be an awakening for some readers who thought that only Japanese Americans were put into internment camps; this was not the case. Canadian families were also separated more often than American families; males were often relocated to labor and POW camps. In Stealing Home, Doctor Saito was initially relocated to a camp where he could look after men at these labor camps; after being reunited his family, he continues working as a physician to the camp community. Hope and baseball intertwine throughout the story as Sandy tries to cope with his family’s new life, his mother’s grief, and his father’s continued distance from his children. Baseball is a beacon of hope and, ultimately, the great uniter. Sandy reflects, looking back, that “Baseball did not discriminate against us. It did not impose any limits on us. It helped us forget everything that was wrong in the world, even if just for one moment in time”.

Back matter by author and former internee Susan Aihoshi looks at the history of the camps, the racism Japanese Canadians endured, the Asahi, and further resources. An excellent graphic story and companion to novels like George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy.

The University of Washington has excellent resources available on the Japanese Canadian internment, as does the Canadian Encyclopedia. Curio.ca offers a lesson plan on the Asahi baseball team, and you can visit the Asahi Baseball Association’s website to learn more about the team.

Stealing Home is a first-round CYBILS middle grade graphic novel nominee.

Posted in Uncategorized

For activists in training: Protest! How People Have Come Together to Change the World

Protest! : How People Have Come Together to Change the World, by Emily Haworth-Booth & Alice Haworth-Booth, (Nov. 2021, Pavilion), $22.50, ISBN: 9781843655121

Ages 9+

A primer for burgeoning middle-grade activists, Protest! offers a glimpse into the history of protest activism, from the ancient world, through the suffrage and Civil Rights movements, through to today’s global social change revolutions, like the Black Lives Matter and the Toys Protest movements. Twelve chapters detail 38 uprisings, but the focus is on how people come together to stand up against injustice. Each chapter includes Tactics sections that provide more insight into approaches protestors have used, including gardening (like Wangari Maathai’s Green Belt Movement in Kenya); sports (the Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics); and transportation (the Civil Rights Freedom Riders). Comic book illustrations have big kid appeal and put both a humorous and readable spin on the nonfiction text. Artwork is done in shades of gray and red-orange, popping off the page, demanding to be seen. A final section discusses young people fighting for environmental justice – some as young as nine years old – that will empower kids to take action on their own. Protest! offers ways for kids to recognize and grow into their own power as activists for causes they’re passionate about.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

The Great TBR Catchup continues: STEM concepts for Kids

I’m still working my way through the Great TBR Catchup, so I appreciate everyone’s patience, if you’ve sent me a book and have been waiting for me to post about it! I’m a one-woman operation, and I read everything I receive, so sometimes, my eyes are bigger than my sense of reality: everything just sounds amazing, I wish I could read them all at once.

Having said that, let’s take a look at some fun STEM concept books for kids!

The Book of Wrong Answers, by Penny Noyce/Illustrated by Diego Chaves, (Dec. 2020, Tumblehome, Inc.), $17.95, ISBN: 9781943431618

Ages 5-7

This very sweet book about STEM concepts stars an Gigi, inquisitive young girl and her humorous brother, Diego. As they go about their day, she asks her brother questions about the world around them; he responds with funny, exaggerated responses: “Where do tadpoles come from?” “They fall inside raindrops. Then they grow into frogs”; “Why does Felicity [the cat] purr?” “She’s restarting the motor in her chest”. The warm artwork shows a close pair of siblings enjoying each other’s company; the answers are teasing and funny, and quite inventive. Diego’s explanations are illustrated in amusing style, with children floating away from their parents, colorful pixels floating off a TV screen, and people wearing magnetic shoes as they stick to the bottom of the Earth. Colorful fonts let readers move easily between the dialogue between brother and sister; Gigi’s sentences are in red, Diego’s are blue. Back matter includes explanations about the real science behind Gigi’s questions. Great for a Kindergarten or first grade classroom.

 

Sometimes We Do, by Omo Moses/Illustrated by Diego Chaves, (Sept. 2019, Tumblehome, Inc.), $16.95, ISBN: 9781943431472

Ages 3-6

Math educator Omo Moses creates an affectionate family story with some math thrown in for extra fun. A young boy named Johari gets his dad out of bed early to make pancakes for breakfast and play with trains. As Dad cooks, he models great behavior for parents, asking Johari math-related questions about the meal: “How many blueberries you got?”; “Do you want THICK [pancakes] or THIN ones?”; “More milk or more flour?”, all reinforcing for Johari – and our readers – ideas about size, number, amount, and recipes. Johari imagines his responses to his father, giving us a forest of pancakes and blueberries, a tiny Johari lifting the lid off a jar of Grandma’s secret ingredient, and riding life-sized trains in the house. Mom and younger sister Kamara wake up and join the breakfast discussion, and Johari and Dad head out to play, where we get more discussion about Grandma’s special ingredient: love. Warmly illustrated by Diego Chaves, Sometimes We Do shows a family of color enjoying some together time, with easy-to-read dialogue; each family’s speech is rendered in a different color to help kids determine who is speaking: Johari’s sentences are green; Dad’s are blue, Mom’s are black, and Kamara’s are pink. What a great way to bring early math concepts to everyday interactions – it makes math so accessible to our little learners! Back matter includes Grandma’s recipe, a helpful math tip, and illustrated “math words” that come up in the story.

See a video with Omo Moses, where he talks about math and Sometimes We Do, on Tumblehome’s website. And check out this great Tweet from Cambridge Dads, spotlighting a StoryWalk that featured Sometimes We Do! You can also visit Mr. Moses’s organization, MathTalk, here.

Luna’s Yum Yum Dim Sum, by Natasha Yim/Illustrated by Violet Kim, (Dec. 2020, Charlesbridge), $6.99, ISBN: 9781623541996

Ages 3-6

I went a little berserk on Charlesbridge’s Storytelling Math debut at the end of last year, you may remember – they’re great books for a variety of ages, teaching concepts and diversity as they go. What’s not to love? Think of Luna’s Yum Yum Dim Sum as a new generation’s The Doorbell Rang by Pat Hutchins. Luna’s the birthday girl, so her parent take Luna and her two brothers to a dim sum restaurant for her birthday dinner. One of Luna’s pork buns falls on the floor, and now she and her brothers have to figure out how to split the remaining ones equally. How do three people divide five buns so no one feels left out? The dialogue is great here, as the kids come up with defense on why he or she should get the greater part of the share. It’s playful and fun, with a glimpse into Chinese culture, using Chinese vocabulary and the zodiac, and starring a biracial Chinese American family. A section on Exploring the Math offers tips for engaging kids and refining their math skills.

Publisher Charlesbridge offers a Luna activity kit in both English and Chinese.

 

Posted in Adventure, Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Blog Tour and Giveaway! NEW NatGeoKids Explorer Academy: Dragon’s Blood!

I have been WAITING on this book! I’ve been absolutely hooked on the Explorer Academy series from book one, and finally, Dragon’s Blood is here – grab your copy!

Welcome back to the Explorer Academy! and…

The Explorer Academy: The Dragon’s Blood Blog Tour!

To celebrate the release of Explorer Academy: The Dragon’s Blood by Trudi Trueit on October 5th, blogs across the web are featuring exclusive guest posts from Trudi, as well as 5 chances to win all 6 books in the series so far! The 7th and final book in the series will be released in Fall 2022.


 

What a Character!
by Trudi Trueit

“How do you come up with interesting characters?”

It’s the question I got most often from writers. For me, it’s not a magical thing. Most of the time, characters don’t pop into my head fully formed. If you don’t base them on anyone you know (and I don’t) character building takes time. It’s like getting to know a new friend. The more time you spend together the more that person reveals to you.

I almost always start with a name. Until I have that, it’s hard to get into the writing. I tend to stay away from more common names. I also like to mix things up. I might name a villain something soothing, like Serene, or a timid boy, Rocco. Whenever I hear an interesting name, I write it down so I always have a long list to start with when I am creating a character. Once I choose a name, I start asking questions about that character to get a feel for who they are—and I ask A LOT of questions. I fill out a questionnaire for each major character. First, I cover the basics: name, age, physical description, ancestry, family details, pets, hobbies, sports. Next, I ask:

  • What’s in my character’s purse or pocket right now?
  • What’s my character’s most prized possession?
  • Describe my character’s personality in four words.

Then it’s time to go deeper. The answers to these questions will determine how the character will think and act throughout the story.

  • What’s my character’s biggest flaw?
  • What’s my character’s greatest hope?
  • What’s my character’s biggest problem or fear?
  • What’s my character’s most treasured secret?

And the most important question of all:

  • What does my character want more than anything in the world?

It’s the protagonist’s goal that will drive the plot, so this is a question that must be answered.

If I get stuck in the development phase, I try writing a letter to myself from the character’s point of view. This gets me out of my head and into theirs, where it belongs. I am free to be open and truthful. Once I am, it usually unlocks the character’s true personality and motivations.

Also, you don’t need to know everything about a character when you begin writing. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. Start with a name, a problem, and a goal. Go from there. The more you write, the more your character will share—just like a friend. And yes, I think of all of my characters as real people. They are, aren’t they?

Just for fun, if you’d like to find out what Explorer Academy character you are most like, take the quiz!

As for me, I am most similar to Emmett but then I already knew that!


 

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

“a fully packed high-tech adventure that offers both cool, educational facts about the planet and a diverse cast of fun characters.” —Kirkus

“This exciting, fast-paced, far-flung story is full of science facts and James Bond-like gadgets, accompanied by colored illustrations.  The ending is guaranteed to keep readers eager for the next series installment.” –Booklist

Explorer Academy is exciting and smart.” —Karen Bokram, Editor-in-Chief, Girls’ Life

An explosive revelation and a familiar face heighten the mystery for Cruz and friends in the sixth book in this adventure-packed series.

Still reeling from the life-changing discovery he found buried in the mysterious archive, Cruz Coronado grapples with an important secret as the gang heads to China in search of the second-to-last piece of the cipher. Under the watchful eye of a new adviser, life on the ship returns to almost normal…Almost.

Just as things seem to be going smoothly, a familiar face shocks Cruz back into reality, and the final piece in this life-and-death scavenger hunt veers toward a dead end.

Check out the Explorer Academy website, featuring videos, comic shorts, games, profiles of real-life National Geographic Explorers, chapter excerpts and more. 

Follow Trudi: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Youtube

TRUDI TRUEIT has written more than 100 books for young readers, both fiction and nonfiction. Her love of writing began in fourth grade, when she wrote, directed, and starred in her first play. She went on to be a TV news reporter and weather forecaster, but she knew her calling was in writing. Trueit is a gifted storyteller for middle-grade audiences, and her fiction novels include The Sister Solution, Stealing Popular, and the Secrets of a Lab Rat series. Her expertise in kids nonfiction encompasses books on history, weather, wildlife, and earth science. She is the author of all the narratives for the Explorer Academy series, beginning with Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret. Trueit was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, and lives in Everett, Washington.


 

 GIVEAWAY

a Rafflecopter giveaway

  • One (1) winner will receive all 6 Explorer Academy hardcovers (The Nebula Secret, The Falcon’s Feather, The Double Helix, The Star Dunes, The Tiger’s Nest, and the NEW book The Dragon’s Blood)
  • US/Canada only
  • Ends 11/1 at 11:59pm ET
  • Check out the other stops for more chances to win!

 

Blog Tour Schedule

October 18thPragmatic Mom
October 19thImagination Soup
October 20thMom Read It
October 21stAlways in the Middle
October 22ndBookHounds