Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, picture books

The Great TBR ReadDown, 2020 Edition

I’ve said it before: when it comes to books, my eyes are bigger than my reading capacity. I’m attempting to read down as much as I can before the new year, so please enjoy my TBR as I whittle it down.

21 Cousins, by Diane de Anda/Illustrated by Isabel Muñoz, (Feb .2021, StarBright Books), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-59572-915-6

Ages 4-8
Big families are big fun, and this mestizo family – a mix of Mexican people and cultures (Indian, Spanish, French) – is full of cousins! They’re all gathering for a special reason, and Alejandro and Sofia act as our narrators as they introduce us to each of their cousins. The family members are different ages, have different interests, abilities, and appearances that we learn about as we go through each colorful spread. There is some Spanish language infused into the English text, and the book is also available in Spanish. Beginning with the pages of a family photo album and closing with a family picture of all the cousins, it’s a wonderful story about how cultural diversity exists and flourishes within families: the small communities where it all begins.
Bronson Beaver Builds a Robot, by Teko Bernard/Illustrated by Howard Russell, (Apr. 2021, Tabron Publishing), $9.95, ISBN: 978-0986059360
Ages 7-11

Bronson Beaver is a 13-year-old builder, inventor, and video game fan whose family runs Beaver Valley Lodge, a hugely popular vacation resort. While Bronson just wants to spend a weekend playing video games with his best friends, his father has other plans: the big pancake festival is happening, and Bronson has a list of chores to get done for the festival! Like any brainiac inventor, Bronson decides to take the easy way out and invent a robot to do all the chores while he and his best friends can take part in the Zombie Fight video game tournament and win the cash prize that will allow them to build their dream workshop. You know the true course of video games and robots never did run smooth, though, and things go wrong in a big way: and now it’s up to Bronson and his friends to make things right. A smart chapter book about friendship, making good decisions, and with a nice STEM component, plus black and white illustrations throughout, I hope we see more of Bronson and friends in the future. Give this indie published book a shot and invite your kiddos to build robots of their own, with some after-holidays boxes and decorations you have available to repurpose.

Sharks at Your Service, by Mary Cerullo/Photos by Jeffrey Rotman, (July 2021, Tumblehome), $17.99, ISBN: 9781943431632

Ages 7-9

There are two stories at play in this story about sharks and all the jobs they do: the fictional story of a girl named Marina and her dad’s trip to the aquarium, where they see sharks and attend a talk by shark photographer (also the photographer behind the photos in this book) Jeffrey Rotman, and the nonfiction facts and photos of sharks that run parallel to the fictional narrative. Marina’s aquarium visit starts a growing fascination with sharks; on the way home, she sees sharks everywhere! This gets her thinking of all the jobs sharks have, keeping the ocean in balance and clean: sharks like tiger sharks eat just about anything they see, earning the nickname “garbage collectors of the sea”; they weed out weak and sick ocean life, keeping disease from spreading through schools of fish; their superior senses help them maintain their status as alpha predators of the sea. Manga-influenced color illustrations and incredible color photos on every page make this a book shark fans will pick up again and again.

 

Starboy : Inspired by the Life and Lyrics of David Bowie, by Jami Gigot, (May 2021, Henry Holt), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250239433

Ages 4-8

Inspired by artist, singer, actor, and icon David Bowie, Starboy is a breathtaking tribute to every kid who doesn’t feel like they fit in… until they find that they do. David is a boy who lives in a black and white world until he hears “star chatter” that brings color to his world… and then again when he hears music on the radio. Music brings color to his world, and gives him a place where he belongs: and reaches out to color other people’s worlds, too. Jami Gigot’s illustrations bring David Bowie’s magic to life through sparks of color and nods to his personas like the Starman, Major Tom the Astronaut, the chic ’80s music and fashion icon, even Labyrinth’s Goblin King. As David the Starboy comes to life through music, the spark spreads to his schoolmates and people on the street, showing readers the ability that music has to reach inside and speak to us – just like “star chatter”. An author’s note talks about the influence of David Bowie on fashion and music, an there are fun facts and further resources for readers interested in learning more. The cover is a gorgeous tribute to Bowie’s Starman persona from the 1972 Aladdin Sane album cover.

Starboy has a starred review from School Library Journal.

 

I Can Be Kind, by Rainbow Gal, (June 2021Fat Cat Publishing), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1-989767-00-9

Ages 4-7

A cute pet shop fairy tale, I Can Be Kind is the story of Oscar, a 2-year-old piranha found in the sewer after being flushed by his owner. He ends up at a pet shop in Brooklyn, where he terrorizes the fish in the tank next to him. Being a carnivorous fish, the pet shop owner fed goldfish to Oscar until one day, when Maria – a friendly goldfish who refused to be scared off by Oscar’s posturing – ends up in Oscar’s tank! Oscar can’t eat Maria – she’s his friend, and he’s got a crush on her – and the two end up sharing fish food together, living happily ever after. It’s a sweet story, illustrated in full color, with coloring sheets available with the paperback version and for free at Rainbow Gal’s website.

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, picture books, Preschool Reads

Another Holiday Gift Guide!

Last minute shoppers, I feel you. I AM you. Last minute 2021 book budget shoppers, I got you, too. Spent your 2021 dollars? No problem; these books are set to keep your readers happy next year, too.

The Secret of the Magic Pearl, by Elisa Sabatinelli/Illustrated by Iacopo Bruno/Translated by Christopher Turner, (Oct. 2021, Red Comet Press), $21.99, ISBN: 9781636550060

Ages 7-11

New kid on the block Red Comet Press has been hitting home runs this year! The Secret of the Magic Pearl is a magical story for kids who love picture books, newly independent readers who are ready to take on denser material, and chapter book readers alike. Hector is a boy living with his family in an Italian coastal town. He wants to be a deep-sea diver like his father, and his family organizes underwater expeditions for tourists. But Amedeo Limonta, a man who “lost his sailor’s soul and betrayed the sea”, forces Hector’s family out of business so that he can continue on his obsession: to find a legendary Pearl and sell it. Hector, determined to save his family and his connection to the sea, has to figure out a way to throw a wrench into Amedeo’s plans.

Originally published in Italian in 2019, this book is gorgeous. The story is about love of family and a passion for the sea. First-person narrator Hector immediately warms readers with his voice, full of fun details and emotion. The artwork is simply beautiful, bringing a sense of movement and wonder. Together, the words and artwork make for a breathtaking fantasy that readers will return to time and again. Red Comet has been great about creating activity kits for their books, too; download one for The Secret of the Magic Pearl here.

The Secret of the Magic Pearl has starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly.

 

Guitars (Made by Hand series), by Patricia Lakin, (Nov. 2021, Aladdin), $17.99, ISBN: 9781481448352

Ages 8-12

The Made by Hand series by Patricia Lakin is a great nonfiction series to have available to your middle graders and middle schoolers. The newest, Guitars, is a great introduction to the art and science of guitar music, including a history of the instrument, the science behind how electric and acoustic guitars work, and a tour through luthier (a maker of string instruments!) Meredith Coloma’s custom guitar-making workshop. Color photos detail the step-by-step process of making both electric and acoustic guitars, and there’s a fun and easy STEM challenge for kids to learn how sound travels over string (we used to call it a tin can telephone). A timeline, list of guitar greats, a glossary and further resources make this a must-have for music collections and for kids with an interest in science or music.

Do I have a program in mind for this? Glad you asked! PBS Kids has a great DIY Guitar activity here, and all the materials are available in the home! The Michigan Children’s Hospital has a similar DIY here, using a tissue box instead of a cereal box. Get the band together and jam at Christmas!

 

My Christmas Wish for You, by Lisa Swerling & Ralph Lazar, (Oct. 2021, Chronicle Books), $14.99, ISBN: 9781452184364

Ages 3-7

A sweet poem about Christmas and good wishes to last the whole year long, My Christmas Wish for You is the latest book from Happiness Is… creators and spouses Lisa Swerling and Ralph Lazar. This poem works for children and adults alike, and is full of goodwill and cheer; reading it, you can’t help but feel warm inside, with couplets like “Friends joined together in goodwill and song, / a welcome to others… the sense you belong”, and “Mugs of hot chocolate for tummies’ delight, / breathing like dragons to warm up the night”. Whimsical illustrations show a variety of people and pets celebrating the Christmas season as hearts and stars abound. It’s a great little gift book, and a wonderful way to bring the chaos of Christmas Day to a close, as we all look hopefully toward a new year.

 

A Donkey Called Mistletoe (Jasmine Green Rescues), by Helen Peters/Illustrated by Ellie Snowdon, (Sept. 2021, Walker Books US), $6.99, ISBN: 9781536222463

Ages 7-10

This is one of my favorite more recent intermediate series. Jasmine Green is an aspiring vet who, with her best friend, Tom, rescue all sorts of animals they discover around Jasmine’s Oak Tree Farm. Luckily for the two friends, Jasmine’s mom is an actual veterinarian and her dad is a farmer, so they can learn from the pros! In this outing, Jasmine and Tom learn that their neighbor is moving to an assisted-care facility and is rehoming his animals, including his donkey, Mistletoe. Jasmine, stricken by the thought of Mistletoe moving far away, impulsively offers to adopt him and keep him at Oak Tree Farm, but her little brother, Manu, proves to be a challenge: Mom isn’t sure Manu will be safe around Mistletoe, and vice versa! But Jasmine is not giving up on Mistletoe, and when a Christmas play needs an extra donkey, she knows exactly what to do. These stories are such feel-good stories, balanced by realistic moments that remind kids that animals need special care by professionals. Previous books have touched on orphaned and abandoned animals and reckless pet ownership, and this story, centered on an elderly man going into assisted care and worrying about finding homes for his animals, reminds kids once again that pets of any kind are a commitment. Black and white illustrations throughout give deeper texture to the narrative, and a quiz on donkeys invites readers to test their knowledge. I will always love this series, and am happy to booktalk them to my animal-loving readers.

 

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, picture books, Preschool Reads

Indie author spotlight!

Yes, it’s another Indie Author Spotlight! I’ve got loads of books to talk about, but I’ll start with these very lovely books.

The Very Determined Dragonfly: Odonata’s Adventure, by Midge Newth & Ruth Cruz/Illustrated by Spencer Epps, (July 2019, Indepedently Published), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1079290844

Ages 6-9

Odonata is a baby dragonfly – a nymph – who wants more adventure in her life. Her brother, Darner, wishes she’s just stay put and stay away from danger, but that’s not Odie’s way! Set in a graphic novel format, The Very Determined Dragonfly is part Science Comic, part adventure. Illustrations are bright and cheerful, and the storytelling is upbeat and positive, encouraging readers to take hurdles as they present themselves and always envision going past them. Back matter includes a glossary of scientific terms and fun facts about dragonflies.

National Geographic has a page about dragonflies that you can steer your learners to; SuperColoring has plenty of dragonfly coloring pages to put out, and if your library has access to World Book Online, there is a good entry with related reading available.

 

Let’s Make a Rainbow: A Yoga Story for Kids, by Susan Rose/Illustrated by Timna Green, (Dec. 2020, Susan Rose Yoga), $16.99, ISBN:  978-0578811680

Ages 4-7

I do enjoy a fun yoga story, and this rhyming ode to yoga is just what my toddler yoga storytime needs (when I get to start that up again, that is). It’s a rainy day, and siblings Lily and Lee need something to do: so why not enjoy some yoga? Touching on the mind-body connection and how movement can cheer you up, the book’s rhyme scheme is playful and uplifting: “Yoga makes you happy / when you feel bad, / and can turn the day / sunny instead of sad”. Flowing through a series of poses, the story describes how to create each pose and enjoy the good feelings that flow with each movement. As the story nears its conclusion, kids can enjoy – along with Lily and Lee! – a flowing series, ending with a rainbow. Colorful artwork shows the two characters demonstrating each pose.

Author Susan Rose’s webpage includes free resources for parents and educators, including lesson plans and coloring pages.

 

Stop That Lion, by Lois Wickstrom/Illustrated by Timna Green, (Nov. 2020, Look Under Rocks), $12.99, ISBN: 978-0-916176-64-8

Ages 4-8

STEM storyteller Lois Wickstrom spins a tale about two kingdoms and the young girl who helped solve their differences. Mir and Sher are neighboring kingdoms, but there are some problems: the kingdom of Sher had a lion that liked sneaking into the Kingdom of Mir to eat the farmers’ sheep. Suggestions like building a wall or placing an archer on the wall fail, and more sheep disappear until a young girl named Wynnie asks some thoughtful questions of the king, and comes up with an answer that will work for everyone. It’s a story about common sense and listening that highlights the value of asking questions when problem solving. Illustrations are soft and colorful.

 

The Upside-Down Gardener, by Chrysa Smith/Illustrated by Pat Achilles, (Nov. 2018, The Well-Bred Book), $12.95, ISBN: 978-1730777271

Ages 5-8

Dory Oslo is a kid who can’t wait for the warm weather: she wants her new baseball uniform, and she wants color! Her mom encourages her to discover color a different way, and earn some money for her new uniform, while she’s at it: plant a garden of colorful flowers! The only thing is, Dory’s not a patient kid: she wants these flowers to wake up and grow already! She hilariously sets off an alarm clock, pours coffee, and blows a coach’s whistle by the seeds in her attempt to force them to wake up, but could her actions have wacky consequences? Colorful artwork and light storytelling make The Upside-Down Gardener is an easily read, fun story that Easy Readers and beginning Intermediate readers will enjoy. It celebrates imagination and creativity while embracing a sense of humor.

Visit The Well Bred Book’s webpage for activity sheets. Consider a container gardening program (hey, it’s winter right now) to encourage your kiddos to explore their own gardens!

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction

A gift for every learner!

It’s that time of year, expect the gift guides to be coming at you fast and furious. Let’s see what’s making my lists this year.

Mercury: 100 Piece Puzzle (Featuring Photography from the Archives at NASA), (Aug. 2021, Chronicle Books), $19.99, ISBN: 9781797210346

Ages 6+

Puzzle fans, astronomy fans, science fans, everyone will love the next planetary puzzle from Chronicle Books. Mercury is the newest 100-piece puzzle using photography from the Archives at NASA, a follow-up to April’s Earth puzzle (which my kid and I still haven’t solved). It’s a beautiful photo of Mercury, and it is huge: 2 1/2 feet in diameter, so clear off a table for Thanksgiving/holiday gatherings and let the family and friends have at it. Puzzle pieces are sturdy, and they’re a good size, inviting little hands to help out, too. It’s a round puzzle, so you can somewhat figure out the outside of Mercury, but don’t forget: it’s a photo, so have fun trying to figure out which crater is goes where (G, my kiddo, and I are still arguing over them).

 

Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright! An Animal Poem for Each Day of the Year, selected by Fiona Waters/Illustrated by Britta Teckentrup, (Oct. 2021, Nosy Crow), $40.00, ISBN: 9781536217186

Ages 3-8

This is a beautiful collection of animal poems for readers, poetry fans, and animal lovers. There are 366 poems – one for every day, including Leap Year – organized by month. Each month begins with a table of contents that lays out each poem and author by day. The spreads are beautiful and the poems are related on each spread, giving a feeling of cohesion. January 1-3 have poems about polar bears; 4-5 about whales; the action moves through the days, with spreads turning to sheepdogs on guard, wolves, and more. Britta Teckentrup’s artwork is just beautiful, with cold, quiet winter spreads moving into warm, home interiors; crocodiles lurk on one spread, gazelles leap through grass in another. Colorful, not overwhelming, the artwork brings the ideas in each poem to life. Endpapers offer lush, green leaves, inviting us in, and closing their doors behind us. Read a few a time, or savor them day by day.

 

The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame/Illustrated by Grahame Baker-Smith, (Nov. 2021, Templar Books), $19.99, ISBN: 9781536219999

Ages 7-12

The classic children’s novel gets a gift hardcover release just in time for the holidays! If you’ve never read The Wind in the Willows, you’re missing out. The adventures of Mr. Toad, Mole, Ratty, and Badger have been delighting readers since its publication in 1908. This hardcover gift version has illustrations from Kate Greenway Medal winner Grahame Baker-Smith that give gorgeous life to the story; some are sepia-toned, some rendered in shades of blue, green, or brown, some in rich, warm, earth colors. The cloth cover looks like a copy of the book I found on my own public library’s shelves a lifetime ago; just running my hand over the cover brought back memories of sitting down with it and wandering into Mr. Toad’s magic world. Give this to a younger reader, give it to a grownup who needs to go back in time, even if just for a moment.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade

A Dreidel in Time lets readers live the Hanukkah story

A Dreidel in Time: A New Spin on an Old Tale, by Marcia Berneger/Illustrated by Bernice Castro, (Sept. 2019, Kar-Ben Publishing), $8.99, ISBN: 9781541552654

Ages 8-12

This is a Hanukkah short story that puts readers right into the heart of the Hanukkah story. Devorah and Benjamin are siblings who can’t wait to open their Hanukkah presents, but are a little disappointed when they open their grandparents’ gift to both of them: an old dreidel. Their parents and grandparents have a secret, though, and encourage them to give it a spin – and when they do, they discover they’ve been transported to ancient Israel, and are in the middle of the Hanukkah story as is develops! They meet siblings Simon and Shoshana, whose parents have been arrested by the king Antiochus’s soldiers, and key figures from history, including Mattisyahu (also known as Mattathias) and his sons, Judah and Jonathan. The power of the dreidel shifts the two siblings through different moments in the Hanukkah story, from the opening flight from Antiochus to the battle of the Maccabees, destruction of the Temple, and the rejoicing when they discover that the menorah is still burning after eight days. Every spin of the dreidel not only shifts the action, but the mood: when the dreidel lands on “shin”, a “bad spin”, the siblings find themselves in the past. Landing on “nun” may mean that nothing happens, but there’s a shift in time.

Fast-paced with dialogue that educates and engages, A Dreidel in Time is perfect to give your Magic Tree House and I Survived readers. Black and white illustrations by Beatriz Castro run throughout the story.

Visit author Marcia Berneger’s website for more about her books, a Q&A, and some fun activities for kids.

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 Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

A 40-year old whodunnit! Soccer Trophy Mystery

Soccer Trophy Mystery, by Fred Bowen (Sports Story #24), (Sept. 2021, Peachtree Publishing), $6.99, ISBN: 9781682630792

Ages 7-12

Sports mystery author Fred Bowen’s latest Sports Story looks at a decades-old mystery and examines the impact of Title IX on generations of female athletes. Soccer playing twin siblings Aiden and Ava and their friend Daniel are working hard to get their teams into the championships and get their teams’ names inscribed on the league’s soccer trophy when they learn that this isn’t the first and only soccer trophy for their league: the original one went missing 40 years ago and the mystery has never been solved. While practicing for championships and keeping up with their schoolwork, Aiden and Ava are intrigued by the history of the trophy and start investigating what could have happened to it. Fast-paced action sequences and an intriguing mystery and how it ties into sports history will appeal to readers who love sports, especially soccer. Back matter tells “The Real Story” about the mystery of the original FIFA Word Cup trophy and women’s sports. Give this to your Baseball Mysteries readers, your Ron Roy mystery fans, and your Mike Lupica and Tim Green readers.

Fred Bowen is an award-winning author and Washington Post KidsPost sports columnist. Visit his author website for more information about his books.

 

Posted in awards, Cybils, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Graphic Novel Roundup, CYBILS edition

The games have begun! Round 1 CYBILS Judges are clearing the shelves in our libraries and homes, wherever we can find the books in our categories. This is my second year as a Round 1 Graphic Novels panelist, so I’m reading all the graphic novels I can find! The CYBILS nomination period is still going strong, so please consider nominating your favorite J and YA reads this year. If you need some inspiration, or the books you’ve liked are already nominated, check out this Padlet for suggestions.

That said, I’ve got some graphic novels to gush about here – maybe this will inspire you. I’ll note any CYBILS nominees on this list.

Glam Prix Racers, by Deanna Kent/Illustrated by Neil Hooson, (May 2021, imprint), $10.99, ISBN: 9781250265388

Ages 7-10

My gushing for this book is so long overdue, I’m embarrassed. Deanna Kent and Neil Hooson, co-creators of one of my favorite middle grade series – the Snazzy Cat Capers series! – have begun their foray into intermediate graphic novels with Glam Prix Racers. Described as “Mario Kart meets My Little Pony”, this book is like a video game in graphic novel form. There are vibrant colors, expressive, kid-friendly fantasy characters, and a fun storyline that relies on teamwork and friendly competition. It’s race season on Glittergear Island, and Mil the Mermaid and her monster truck, Mudwick, get sidelined on their way to take their Glam Prix team photo. They suspect the Vroombot Crew is up to no good, but what can they do? The Racers have to band together to cross the finish line first! This is the first in a planned trilogy; the second book is due out in January, and anything Deanna Kent and Neil Hooson collaborate on is gold in my book.

Visit Deanna and Neil’s website for Glam Prix (and Snazzy Cat!) freebies all in one place; find coloring sheets here, an activity kit here, and digital resources, including wallpapers, a STEM kit, and videos, here.

Glam Prix Racers is a first round CYBILS nominee.

 

 

Mayor Good Boy, by Dave Scheidt/Illustrated by Miranda Harmon, (Aug. 2021, RH Graphic), $9.99, ISBN: 9780593124871

Ages 7-10

The town of Greenwood has a new Mayor, and he’s a very Good Boy! He’s Mayor Good Boy – a talking dog who wants to do good things in his home town.  Not everyone is thrilled about the new mayor, though, so when some disgruntled citizens start trying to make trouble for the newly elected pup, siblings Aaron and Abby intervene and get hired on as junior aides. While Mayor Good Boy is all about kindness and finding ways to help make his town better, people are plotting to bring him down by releasing fleas all over the town so that he’ll get the blame! Aaron and Abby have to save the day AND find the culprit, and keep Mayor Good Boy’s good reputation intact. With likable characters, friendly art, and loads of fart and stinky feet jokes, this is warm-hearted comedy gold for intermediate and middle graders. The story touches on themes of diversity. advocacy,  and activism, as Abby gives a great speech about being able to create change, even as a kid; back matter includes how to draw instructions for Good Boy, Aaron, and Abby, plus the Mayor Good Boy Pledge and a side comic starring the two siblings on how to contact one’s representatives. Social consciousness, a great message about friends, working together, and a cameo by a comic favorite (I see you, Steenz!) make Mayor Good Boy a graphic novel series you won’t want to miss. There are adventures planned for 2022 and 2023, so keep your carts ready to load.
Mayor Good Boy hasn’t been nominated for a CYBILS yet, so maybe this is one you want to suggest.
Death and Sparkles, by Rob Justus, (Oct. 2021, Chronicle Books), $22.99, ISBN: 9781797206356
Ages 10-14
Big themes and hilarious writing make this a macabre, middle school winner. Death is… well, Death. He touches things, they die, he doesn’t discriminate. Sparkles is a self-obsessed social media celebrity who also happens to be the last unicorn. His manager loves making money off of Sparkles, which turns out pretty poorly for Sparkles, who discovers some hard and fast truths about friendship when he and Death meet. Sparkles, seemingly immune to Death’s touch, is stuck on Death in the most hilarious of ways, leading to the two becoming the unlikeliest of friends. On one hand, there are fart jokes aplenty. On the other hand, there are incredible discussions about the pervasiveness of social media, the cult of influencers, and the fake friends that follow celebrity. There’s an ecological subplot that I expect will come back in future books that shows how even the most genuine intentions can get lost in the murky social media waters, causing a vicious cycle where getting attention for a necessary issue feeds into the popularity machine, leading to the distortion of the message. Thought- and discussion-provoking, yet laugh-out-loud funny, Death and Sparkles is a good start to a new series. Download a free activity kit and enjoy a cupcake.
Death and Sparkles is a CYBILS first round nominee.
Bedhead Ted, by Scott SanGiacomo, (Aug. 2021, Quill Tree Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780062941305
Ages 8-12
Fourth grader Ted has is a bully target because of his “overactive hair follicles”, which give him a head of wild red hair and the nickname, “Bedhead Ted”. Taunted on the bus and in school, he and his best friend, a boy named Stacy, are on the lookout for The Brookside Beast, a fabled giant raccoon in their neighborhood. As if Ted wasn’t feeling bad enough, two of the boys’ tormentors decide to join Stacy’s Brookside Beast Research Center, causing Ted to distance himself from his best – and only – friend. Just as Ted is feeling his lowest, frustrated with his bullies, his friendship, and his hair, he discovers something incredible: his hair has superpowers! When Stacy disappears during the school’s ice cream social, Ted just knows he’s gone to track down the beast, and follows him: Ted’s hair may just save the day. Themes of bullying, appearances, friendship, and the rumor mill are all addressed in this smartly written, funny story about a kid and his hair. A fun mystery leads to a sweet conclusion, and I loved the subplot involving Ted’s family tree. Mixed media illustrations give life to Ted and his super-powered hair; as bullies throw things at him, readers will see various utensils, writing tools, paper airplanes, and more sticking to his hair as he goes through his day. His family is supportive and doesn’t ignore his bullying, checking in with him throughout the story and leading to his grandmother’s reveal. Visit Scott SanGiacomo’s webpage for Ted-related printables, draw-along videos, and more artwork.
Bedhead Ted hasn’t been nominated for a CYBILS award yet… you know what to do!
Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate

Bridge Easy Readers and Intermediate chapter books with Barkus and Charlie & Mouse

Transitioning from Easy Readers to chapter books is even more fun with these colorful chapter book series!

Barkus: The Most Fun, by Patricia MacLachlan/Illustrated by Marc Boutavant, (Sept. 2021, Chronicle Books), $14.99, ISBN: 9781452173344

Ages 6-9

Newbery Medalist Patricia Machlachlan’s Barkus series is adorable and perfect for easy readers who are ready to take on some more complex reading. The third book, Barkus: The Most Fun, has Barkus, the family dog, and his family going on a series of outdoor adventures. Composed of four stories, Barkus, Baby the Kitten, and his human family go camping, visit grandmother and grandfather’s farm, visit a parade, and head to their winter cabin. Narrated by the young girl who happens to be Barkus’s favorite human, the stories are brief enough to read one at a time or all at once; sentences are simple and informative, and the colorful illustrations show a happy family doing things together. There are warm and funny moments in each story: Barkus and Baby end up making news in “The Most Fun!” and witness the birth of a calf in “The Crazy Cows of Spring”. The images are warm, comforting, and familiar: a family traveling in their car, a dog and cat curled up together in the back; a grandparent hugging his granddaughter and patting Barkus’s head as he leans into the loving touch; even a mildly put-upon dad, frowning as his daughter, her dog, and cat peek out from a pile of leaves that he was raking. Patricia MacLachlan and Marc Boutavant make magic and memories here.

Visit Scribd and download Barkus activity sheets!

 

Charlie & Mouse: Lost and Found, by Laurel Snyder/Illustrated by Emily Hughes, (Aug. 2021, Chronicle Books), $14.99, ISBN: 9781452183404

Ages 6-9

Siblings Charlie and Mouse have new adventures in their fifth outing. Lost & Found has four short stories, taking the sibs on slightly smaller – but no less exciting – adventures, all taking place in the course of one day. In “Somewhere”, the two search high and low for Mouse’s blanket; in “Errands”, they join Mom on the dreaded series of errands – the bank, the post office – but make a BIG discovery! In “Silly”, Charlie and Mouse have a sad goodbye, but in “Boop”, another discovery warms their hearts. Chapters are short, with simple sentences; stories are kid-friendly and oh-so relatable (the very mention of the words “bank”, “grocery store”, or “post office” strikes fear into my 9-year-old’s heart), Illustrations are softly illustrated, with friendly, expressive characters. The body language between the siblings is comforting and playful. The siblings slump on each other in the car during the dreaded errands; Charlie comforts a distraught Mouse, who cannot locate Blanket. Parents show up for a few moments in the stories, but the focal point is the relationship between Charlie and Mouse, as it should be. The first book in the series, Charlie and Mouse, is a 2018 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award winner.

Get a free Teacher’s Guide to the series, and two activity sheets here.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate

Indie author/publisher spotlight!

It’s time for another independent author/publisher spotlight!

Ms. Flygirl and Sky Daisy, by Miho Madarame, (Sept. 2020, Independently Published), $7.99, ISBN: 979-8684124501

Ages 6-8

The first in a series, Ms. Flygirl and Sky Daisy is a collection of six short stories about a widow named Ms. Flygirl who takes to the skies in her yellow helicopter, Sky Daisy, where she has all sorts of adventures. She saves a tree, eats a lot of sweets, does a fox’s laundry, and more. Each story begins with a colorful illustration, and the stories are told in short sentences. Kids will get a kick out of the situations Ms. Flygirl finds herself in. A cute first outing.

 

Adventures with Divot & Swish in Costa Rica: The Superpower of Courage, by Beth Brown, PhD/Illustrations by Charlotte Strickland, (Jan. 2021, Divot & Swish Publishing), $17.95, ISBN: 9781735170008

Ages 5-7

This adorable outing is also the first in a proposed new series, starring Divot – a golf ball with a little tuft of grass around their middle – and Swish, a net with a basketball for a head. In this first book, the friends head to Costa Rica for surfing lessons with Sammy the Surfer, who teaches them the mechanics of surfing, and the courage to face their fears of not being perfect on their first outing. The rhyming story teaches readers about overcoming fears and embracing new challenges: “It’s important to know / That you can do it afraid / If you never had tried / On shore, you’d then stayed”. The Costa Rican countryside is host to this story, but really only serves as a backdrop. I’d love to see future Divot and Swish adventures have some fun facts about their locations pop up at the end of the story, giving kids a little more information about their literary friends’ globe-trotting.

Nat Geo Kids has some fun facts about Costa Rica, as does Kids World Travel Guide. Lonely Planet has some fun suggestions for traveling with kids in Costa Rica, which you can use as a jumping-off point for some armchair travel programs. Visit Divot & Swish’s website to sign up for updates!