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

New Faith Erin Hicks! Ride On!

Ride On, by Faith Erin Hicks, (Aug. 2022, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250772824

Ages 10-14

Eisner Award winner Faith Erin Hicks is back with a new graphic novel! Ride On hits on all the things my middle graders love to read about: horses, friendship, and a challenging situation. Twelve-year-old equestrienne Victoria arrives at Edgewood Stables after a break from riding following a fallout with her former best friend, Victoria. She initially brushes off attempts at friendship from Norrie, one of the other students, but finds common ground in a science fiction TV show fandom and eventually lets her guard down and befriends Norrie and her friends, Hazel and Sam (the only boy at the school). When the Edgewood riders are invited to a competition at Waverly, Victoria realizes that she will have to face her former best friend.

Faith Erin Hicks masterfully creates characters and situations that speak to readers. Whether they’re new students at a boarding school (A Year at Ellesmere), a street urchin living in a city overrun by invaders (The Nameless City), or a homeschooled teen confronting a ghost (Friends with Boys), she has the ability to weave the fantastic with the everyday and create special people. Every character in Ride On is someone worth knowing, including Quinn, the newest horse in the Edgewood stable. From Norrie’s hilariously drama queen personality to Victoria’s initially brusque, withdrawn temperament, and Sam’s “bro-dude” older brothers, readers will see themselves and people they know in Ride On. She understands how fandom breaks through walls and unites people – for good! – and deftly uses that understanding to give us a wonderful subplot. Hicks’s illustration is realistic and soft, approachable. An author’s note provides more context for the story. An absolute must-buy for graphic novel collections.

Ride On has starred reviews from Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, and School Library Journal. Visit Faith Erin Hicks’s website for more about her work and to read her webcomics.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Speak Up! channels inner strength and confidence

Speak Up!, by Rebecca Burgess, (Aug. 2022, Quill Tree Press), $13.99, ISBN: 9780063081192

Ages 8-12

Middle schooler Mia is autistic and bullied by other kids at school, but when she and her best friend, Charlie, get together after school, they make musical magic together, posting videos where Mia is singer Elle-Q, accompanied by Charlie’s musical talent. If only Mia’s bullies knew that the singer they’re obsessed with is the same girl they laugh at for being “weird”, maybe they’d be singing a different tune. Mia and Charlie have differences of opinion when he pushes for the duo to appear in the local talent show: Mia is nervous afraid people will laugh at her for “stimming” – the self-stimulating behaviors triggered by stress or anxiety – and Charlie feels that Mia’s reluctance to appear will squash his chance to get notice for his music. Meanwhile, Mia’s mom seems to be completely clueless on how her daughter really feels, pushing her toward ways to “be normal” and “fit in”. Mia learns to advocate for herself in this graphic novel that’s sure to keep tweens and young teens turning pages. Speak Up! is a study in self-advocacy and an inspiring story about being true to onesself, with tween-friendly cartoon-realistic artwork that will draw readers who love Raina Telgemeier, Kayla Miller, and Terri Libenson. An excellent choice for graphic novel collections and a strong addition to the growing canon of books about autistic tweens living and thriving. Mia is white and Charlie is brown-skinned, uses “they/them” pronouns, and presents as nonbinary.

Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade

Are you ready for the National Menagerie of Art?

The National Menagerie of Art: Masterpieces by Vincent Van Goat and Lionhardo Da Stinki, by Thaïs Vanderheyden, (May 2022, Prestel Junior), $12.95, ISBN: 9783791375090

Ages 5-10

Art fans, animal fans, and folx who just love a good giggle will love this book of animal portraits based on 30 of the most famous and recognizable paintings in the world. Each painting and artist has an animal take, from Lionhardo Da Stinki’s Mona Piglet (La Gioinkonda) to Bunny Hopper’s Nighthares. Many adults will recognize the paintings that inspired these new works of art right off the bat; back matter includes the original works, artists, and a brief blurb. It’s a delightful introduction to art history, and just plain fun. Illustrator Thaïs Vanderheyden captures the spirit of each classic painting in her artwork, including similar colors and textures to the original, while working expressive animals into the reimagined piece. Birds hop along Mondrian’s bold lines and explore the bright primary colors of the work in “Four Birds, with Black, Red, Blue, and Yellow” by Pete Monkeyman; a panda takes on existential dread in Aardvark Mink’s “Pandamonium”, inspired by Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Absolute fun for art time storytimes. Pair these with Schiffer Publishing’s First Steps in Art board books.

 

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Pippa Park is back!

Pippa Park: Crush at First Sight, by Erin Yun, (Sept. 2022, Fabled Films Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781944020804

Ages 9-12

In 2019, Pippa Park Raises Her Game hit middle grade shelves and made a splash: a modern-day take on Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, with a Korean-American lead character and a group of mean girls who broke all the stereotypes. I devoured the book and have booktalked this to dozens of my library kids. I’m so happy that we’ve got a follow-up to love now, too: Pippa Park: Crush at First Sight picks up shortly after Pippa Park Raises Her Game. Pippa’s getting into the swing of life at her school, she’s kinda sorta a Royal, even though Caroline seems to be trying her best to get Pippa to throw in the towel, and her best friend, Buddy, is now dating Helen. There’s a new crush on the scene, too: Marvel, an old friend, shows up on the scene when Pippa agrees to help volunteer with a local pastor’s drama club and sends Pippa into a tailspin: sure, Eliot is blonde and handsome, but Marvel is fun, makes her laugh, and likes the same things that she does! The fun begins when Pippa rashly agrees to host the Royals’ Christmas party at her sister’s apartment, just as Pippa’s sister takes in a very talkative neighbor, Ms. Lee, who’s recovering from an injury. Pippa hasn’t learned all of her lessons from the last time: she’s still trying to do it all, and putting off disaster for another day.

Pippa Park is such a great character: she’s got great depth, able to move from being bubbly and fun to stressed the heck out, to conflicted, all at once. She’s the very definition of tween! (Okay, and maybe 50, because honestly, I feel like this at least twice a day every day.) Erin Yun includes cultural references, particularly amazing food, and has a brilliant grasp of complex middle school relationships. Her characters are kids that readers know; that may be the kid reading this book. Kids separated from their parents and being raised by other family members; kids stressed about looking good in their friends’ eyes; kids trying to navigate friendship, growing up, and social status. It’s all real, and it’s all here. Here’s hoping we get more Pippa adventures.

Visit the Pippa Park webpage for downloadable resources, including an AAPI Guide and book club kit.

Pippa Park: Crush at First Sight is another slam dunk for Erin Yun. A great add to your shelves.

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

Finding comfort in the unthinkable: Morning Sun in Wuhan

Morning Sun in Wuhan, by Yin Chang Compestine, (Nov. 2022, Clarion Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780358572053

Ages 8-12

Award-winning kidlit, YA, and cookbook author Yin Chang Compestine brings readers into the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic’s early days in Wuhan, China. Mei is a 13-year-old girl grieving the loss of her mother and spending her days playing Chop Chop, an online cooking game. One of her friends asks for Mei’s help in getting medical attention for her ill grandmother, who can’t get a doctor’s appointment. Mei, whose father is a doctor at the local hospital, heads to the hospital when she can’t get in touch with her father, only to discover that the hospital is overcrowded, its staff stretched to their limits. Mei returns home and discovers, via the news, that a virus is spreading across Wuhan; determined to help her community, Mei turns to her friends to come up with a game plan: to turn her passion for cooking into a way to keep the people in her community fed.

Morning Sun in Wuhan gives readers a glimpse into the fear, uncertainty, and panic that COVID brought to Wuhan, but it’s ultimately an uplifting story of family and community.. Mei, grieving her mother’s death and feeling torn between her maternal aunt and her father, finds purpose in these early days. She uses the tools available to her: food, computer skills, and a talent for organizing, to bring her friends together to cook, pack, and deliver meals to the people in her neighborhood where the local services stumble. She is able to keep an eye and an ear on her neighbors, giving the elderly the comfort of knowing someone is there and cares.

Yin Chang Compestine’s writing brings the sights, scents, and sounds of Wuhan to readers, with rich descriptions of the historic and present-day city. Her cookbook authorship shines through in her mouth-watering descriptions of her food, and her characters come to life in her pages. Originally from Wuhan, Yin Chang Compestine’s Morning Sun in Wuhan is a love letter to the resilience of Wuhan’s people.

An incredible book that should make its way to current events reading lists. Keep your eyes on Yin Chang Compestine’s author webpage; many of her books have free downloadable resources available, and as the pub date for Wuhan gets closer, I expect we will see some good resources available.

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Tween Reads

Author Q&A with Ripped Away’s Shirley Vernick

I recently posted about Shirley Vernick’s time-traveling thriller, Ripped Away. I enjoyed the book so much, that I wanted to know more! Author Shirley Vernick was kind enough to answer some questions; read and enjoy.

Ripped Away, by Shirley Vernick, (Feb. 2022, Fitzroy Books),
$15.95, ISBN: 9781646032037

Ages 10-14

MRI: Ripped Away is an incredible time-travel story and work of historical fiction! Can you tell me how you discovered that Jewish immigrants in London came under suspicion of being linked to – or being – Jack the Ripper? I feel like this is a big historical cover-up!

SV: To answer this question, I need to take you back (way back) to my student days, when history was presented to me as a string of loosely knit factoids. It was cold, impersonal, distant—and not much fun to read, research or write about.

Things changed, though, when, as a college sophomore, I serendipitously learned that Real History had happened in my own hometown, a remote village on the Canadian border. My sociology professor had sent us off for fall break with an assignment: identify a local conflict, past or present, and write a paper analyzing it. So I asked around and learned that an anti-Semitic incident called a blood libel had occurred in my town in the 1920s. A small Christian girl had disappeared (in truth, she’d only gotten lost while playing in the woods behind her house), and the local Jews were accused of murdering her and taking her blood for a ritual sacrifice. The whole Jewish community was targeted with interrogations, property searches, boycotts, and threats of physical harm. A few years after that, Hitler would use the blood libel as part of his attack on Jews.

Learning about the local blood libel was a turning point for me. It showed me that history is made of real, three-dimensional people, some of whom are a lot like me, others of whom are very different. It proved that seemingly isolated incidents are often part of a complex web of issues. And it demonstrated that the past ripples into the future, into the now.

I quickly became hooked on history-focused books, podcasts, magazines and websites. Years later, in one of the history sites I follow, I happened to read that London’s Jewish immigrants were suspected of producing Jack the Ripper. By that time, I was already a children’s novelist and knew that this would be the subject of my next book.

 

MRI: Will we see any more adventures with Abe and Mitzy? Or will Zinnia set up shop and send some other tweens on an adventure?

SV: What a great idea for a series! But while Abe, Mitzy and Zinnia live on in my mind, I don’t have a current plan for a sequel.

 

MRI: Related to that question, what other historical periods would you like to visit?

SV: My novel The Sky We Shared (Lee & Low Books), was released in June 2022. It takes place during WWII and is also based on true events, both in the U.S. and Japan.

Next, I’d love to write about the 2020s from the viewpoint of someone in the 2070s. I think it would be a great challenge –– and a blast –– to imagine how our “now” will seem to someone in 50 years.

 

MRI: What is your research process like when you’re writing? Any good tips for readers and future authors?

SV: When writing historical fiction, I immerse myself in the specific event of interest, as well as in the broader socioeconomics, culture and zeitgeist of that era. This entails doing a lot of one of my favorite activities: reading! Regarding the Ripper history specifically, I read newspaper reports from 1888 (the year of the Ripper), court documents, and diverse modern analyses of the crimes. To understand what it was like to live in the London tenements at the time, I used relevant books, government websites, museum information, and other resources. How much would a loaf of bread have cost in 1888? What were some common idioms people used? What was the outdoor market experience like?

My first piece of advice for future authors is: keep reading and learning! It’s the best way to discover amazing true stories, quirky historical figures, and fascinating subcultures to write about. My second suggestion is: find a way to make your research process fun. This can be as simple as reminding yourself that the research isn’t just the tired sandwich you must eat before you can have dessert. The research is a vital and potentially captivating dive into another time and place. And the more experience you get with it, the smoother and more pleasurable it will feel.

 

Thanks so much to Shirley Vernick for (virtually) sitting down and chatting with me!

 

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

Animals, Animals, Animals! Books for everyone!

I’ve got a bunch of great animal books, courtesy of NatGeo Kids, to talk up today, so sit back and start your program and collection planning!

Can’t Get Enough Shark Stuff: Fun Facts, Awesome Info, Cool Games, Silly Jokes, and More!, by National Geographic Kids, (May 2022, National Geographic Kids), $14.99, ISBN: 9781426372582

Ages 7-10

The latest NatGeo Kids offering fits perfectly with the CSLP “Oceans of Possibilities” Summer Reading theme, and it’s a good add to your collections and programming. Filled with fun spreads and facts, quizzes, and experiments, this is part workbook (remind kids that we don’t write in library books!), part STEM/Discovery Club handbook, and part primer on sharks for shark fans. A glossary “Catch and Match” game challenges readers to match terms with their definitions and a “Find Out More” section offers resources for further reading and a list of scientists and researchers who contributed to this volume. Over 250 color photographs show a variety of sharks, many labeled with names. A great resource to create shark-related scavenger hunts, trivia programs, and science projects for the summer and beyond.
Don’t forget that Shark Week starts on July 24th! STEAMsational has some great Shark Week activities that I want to try out with my Queens Kids (my affectionate term for my library kiddos); TeachersPayTeachers has some great freebies, too, including these coloring sheets courtesy of The WOLFe Pack; these Facts vs. Opinion cards from A Classroom for All Seasons would make for fun trivia or debate programs, and Simply Learning Life’s Feed the Shark Counting Game is a quick and fun printable for busy bags.

Critter Chat, by National Geographic Kids, (May 2022, National Geographic Kids), $9.99, ISBN: 9781426371707

Ages 8-12

If animals used social media, it would probably look like this amusing digest from NatGeo Kids. Using imagined screenshots, webpages, and social media accounts like “Llamazon”, “Dolphinstagram”, and “Yowl”, Desert_long-eared_bat reviews the Algerian Desert (5 stars – “…everything I could ever want in a dining establishment! It’s hot, it’s dry, it’s sandy, and it’s packed with scorpions”) and Upside_down_jellyfish posts selfies from the Caribbean Sea. Animals chat to one another via “Critter Chat”, and Animal Influencers spotlight famous animals like Fiona the Hippo, Punxsutawney Phil, and Brigadier Sir Nils Olav, the only penguin who’s also a knight. Hashtags and selfies communicate fun facts about animals, habitats, and more. It’s a fun way to learn little tidbits about animals, and perfect for middle graders to relax with and enjoy. Great for trivia and a side project – ask readers what they think animals would post to social media!

TeachersPayTeachers has fun social media templates that your kids can customize to make their own Critter Chats: here’s one from ZippaDeeZazz, and The Cute Teacher has phone screen layouts.

 

 

Little Kids First Nature Guide: Bugs, by National Geographic Kids, (May 2022, National Geographic Kids), $9.99, ISBN: 9781426371493

Ages 4-8

Great for younger nature fans, the Little Kids First Nature Guide: Bugs introduces little learners to all sorts of bugs. Full-color photos are labeled and accompanied by easy-to-read and understand facts, scientific terms, and diagrams. Spreads on insect life cycles of demonstrate a photo-by-photo, step-by-step explanation, using photos of different bugs. Profiles on ants, bees, beetles, and other bugs give readers a close-up look at different insects, with facts and related (but not the same!) bugs. Fun activities like Hide-and-Seek and Move Like a Bug! encourage readers with extension activities, and a glossary of terms keeps all that new vocabulary on hand. The flexible binding is made of sturdy cardboard and will hold up to many, many nature walks. Fully indexed for easy reference. A fun, informative guide for preschoolers and early school-age kids.

Education.com has fantastic butterfly activities you can download and print for free; ditto for sheets on bugs in general. There are some adorable activities on Pocket of Preschool that you can do on a budget.

 

 

Little Kids First Big Book of Baby Animals, by National Geographic Kids, (March 2022, National Geographic Kids), $14.99, ISBN: 9781426371462

Ages 4-8

The Little Kids NatGeo Kids books are adorable, aren’t they? I’ve got a bunch here at my library, and my now 10-year-old loved them when he was in Pre-K and Kindergarten. (As he’s 10, he is no longer a “little kid”, as he tells me. Often.) The Little Kids First Big Book of Baby Animals contains over 120 pages of squeal-worthy color photos of baby animals with their families. You pull this out and show it to your kids – library or otherwise – and you will have a roomful of little ones in the palm of your hand. And when you tell them things like a panda cub’s cry sounds like a human baby’s cry? Or that a hippo can’t swim yet, so it gallops underwater? They will tell you ALL about their favorite animals, and the cute things that the animals in their lives do, so get ready to have the best, cutest conversations about baby animals. Fun facts and thought-provoking questions run throughout the book, and text is larger in size, making it easier and less dense for younger kids and emerging readers. A map of the world at the end of the book is color coded to show where animals referenced in the book live, and parent tips help caregivers extend the knowledge from the book into the real world. There is a glossary of terms, a list of additional resources, and a full index. Add this book to your animals collections.

123Homeschool4me has some free printables where kids can match baby and adult animals and learn the terms for different baby animals.

 

 

Little Kids First Board Book: Birds, by National Geographic Kids, (March 2022, National Geographic Kids), $7.99, ISBN: 9781426371448

Ages 0-3

I love NatGeo Kids’s First Board books! They’re so bright and cheery, and the photos and activities are perfect for engaging littles during a lapsit storytime. The latest is Birds, and contains 12 spreads with color photos of different birds. Each spread has a simple, one-sentence factual statement and a colorful callout fact about birds, and each picture is labeled with the name of the bird in a colorful box with bold black lettering. Names of birds and key phrases get a nice, colorful font that sets them off from the rest of the text. A final spread invites readers to try different activities to identify six featured birds: “Tap the toucan’s beak. / Flap your arms like the eagle.”

This is the seventh Little Kids First Board Book. It’s a great series for beginning learners, with sturdy cardboard to hold up to many circs and readings. NatGeo Kids has a birds website where learners can watch videos, see maps, and learn facts about 24 different birds, presented in alphabetical order. Also check out their Strange Birds website for photos of more feathered friends.

Happy Hooligans has a great list of 25 bird crafts for little ones that are easy on easily done on a budget.

 

National Geographic Readers: Mythical Beasts: 100 Fun Facts About Real Animals and the Myths They Inspire, by National Geographic Kids, (Jan. 2022, National Geographics Kids), $4.99, ISBN: 9781426338939

Ages 7-10

Unicorns, dragons, and krakens all have one thing in common: they’re mythical creatures with origins in very real history. NatGeo Kids’s Mythical Beasts is a Level 3 Reader, good for most readers ages 7-10, that provides 100 facts on real animals and the myths they’ve inspired or are named for. A helpful key to NatGeoKids’s leveling system is right on the back cover, and I like using the 5-finger rule for choosing a book when I do my Readers Advisory. The book is organized into 3 chapters and two 25 Facts spreads that give readers the roundup on history’s mysteries: mermaids were most likely manatees, who have fishy tales but can turn their heads from side to side like humans; the giant Kraken was most likely a giant squid. Using research and the fossil record, color photos and illustrations, NatGeo Kids author Stephanie Warren Drimmer takes kids through the process of figuring out why ancient people mistook a distant ancestor of the elephant was mistaken for a cyclops, and how dinosaur fossils led folks to believe that they discovered proof of dragons. We get some modern-day mythical behavior, too: the basilisk lizard can run across water, and adult jellyfish can age in reverse and regrow into adults again, like the phoenix’s power to be reborn (sans ashes, though). The back matter rounds up all 100 facts across a spread (and makes for great trivia questions).

Fun for a STEM/Discovery Club, fun for collections. And you can extend the activity with mythical creature-inspired crafts. Give kids a manatee coloring page and let them create mermaid friends. They can create a giant squid of their own, or try their hands at this fun paper roll squid craft. Make a handprint unicorn and give it a narwhal friend.

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Exciting Afrofuturistic middle grade reading: Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun

Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun, by Tolá Okogwu, (June 2022, Margaret K. McElderry Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781665912617

Ages 8-12

Onyeka is a tween living in the UK with her mom. She’s got a thick head of hair that makes people stop, stare, and whisper, but her best friend, Cheyenne, couldn’t be bothered what other people think, which helps calm Onyeka’s anxiety. When the two head to the pool for some swimming, Cheyenne almost drowns, until Onyeka – or, is it Onyeka’s hair? – saves her. Everything moves quickly from here: Onyeka’s mother reveals that she is Solari, a secret group of people with unique powers, unique to their home in Nigeria. Her scientist father has disappeared while trying to research the Solari, and her mother brings Onyeka to Nigeria, to the Academy of the Sun, a special school – think the X-Men’s school run by Charles Xavier – for Solari, where they are trained to work with their powers. But nothing’s ever that easy; as Onyeka starts learning more about her family and the Rogues, a group of Solari working against the school, she and her new friends have to figure out where they stand.
Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun is the first in a new series, written by British-Nigerian author Tolá Okogwu and inspired by a lack of representation in children’s books. The decision to empower Onyeka by channeling her power through her hair is a deliberate move, as she notes in her author’s note: “our hair has never just been hair… the lie we’ve all been fed that Afro textured hair is somehow inferior because it doesn’t conform to the Western standards of beauty”. Onyeka’s hair is incredible: it shields her; it saves Cheyenne’s life; it curls around her to comfort her. The characters are African; the Solari are all Nigerian, and the school is organized into different areas, according to student’s Ike – the Igbo word for “power”. The story moves at a brisk pace while still bringing these characters to life, fully-fleshed out with backstories and personalities. The students will empower and inspire readers, and the family relationships are beautifully realistic, with conflict and love often sharing the same space. A glossary of words and an explanation of Nigerian Pidgin English provides even further depth and educates readers. I can’t wait for the second book.
Give this to your Rick Riordan Presents fans; your Black Panther readers (not just the comics! Remember, Shuri and Black Panther have middle grade novels, and Okoye’s got a YA novel, too!), and your Tristan Strong readers. Give this to any of your readers who love reading about different cultures, and are always up for adventure. It’s awesome.

Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun is an Indie Next pick.

Posted in gaming, Librarianing, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads

Tabletop Tuesdays with Nightmarium

I’ve been behind on… well, everything, but especially on my gaming posts. Our gaming club is coming along nicely, and since I’ve sent Carcassone out to the next library on the rotation, the kids are back to playing the games we’ve got in house and the goodies I bring from my home stash. The last couple of weeks, Nightmarium has been all the rage here – and why not? It’s creating monsters that turn on one another with glee! I backed Nightmarium as a Kickstarter a few years ago, and it has been a mainstay of gaming in my own home. You don’t need to read to play, the monsters are hilariously weird, and game play moves along at a good pace. Let’s dig in.

Nightmarium: A Game About Conquering Nightmares, Ares, Igrology, et al (2014)
Ages The box says 10+; I’ve actively played this with my then 5-year-old, and easily explained to 7-10 year-olds here at the library. I’d go 7+
Play time: 20-30 minutes, depending on number of players
Number of players: 2-5

Find Nightmarium on Board Game Geek

The monsters featured in this game are a group of Night Terrors ready to haunt your dreams. The backstory is fun, organizing the monsters, by color, into four Legions of Horror. The backstory isn’t necessary for game play, but it adds to the fun. Each legion has its own color: blue stands for Necromunculi, brown for Constricti, green for Chimeridae, and red for Mansters.

Cards come in three types: feet/legs, trunks/bodies, and heads. Some cards can serve multiple functions, like this striking fella, who can be either a head or a body:

 

Players get two actions per turn. You can:

  • draw a card from the top of the deck
  • play a card from your hand
  • discard cards and redraw: one card for every two you discard

If you draw a card and play a card, that’s two actions. If you draw two cards, that’s two actions. If you draw two cards and you want to play the second card, you have to wait until it’s your turn again; playing that card would be a third action. You can discard two cards, draw one card to replace them, AND play or draw another card. That counts as two actions.

You have to assemble your monsters from the bottom up. Feet first; if you have a handful of really great heads, that’s awesome, but you have to start from the feet. There’s no hand minimum or maximum; if you don’t want to get rid of any of your cool head cards, keep them, and keep drawing until you get feet you want to play to start things off.

When you complete a monster, congrats! See those See those pictures in the upper right hand corner of most cards (not all have them)? Those are different abilities that activate once you complete a monster.

Watch out for that Devourer – you have to cut one of YOUR Creatures’ heads off, not your opponents! This can actually be a good thing, because you can add another head and reactivate powers, if you have good ones. It’s a good secret weapon to have. Creature powers are only active when the Creature is completed – not every turn, and not while under construction.

Okay, let’s talk about Legions. I don’t tend to play Legions at the library, because I modify to make things as simple and fun as possible for my younger gaming kids. Legions, like I said before, are organized by color. You don’t HAVE to create Creatures with all parts from the same Legion, though – you’ll still get your abilities when you complete one. Look:

       

Here’s a creature composed of parts from all different Legions (Notice the bottom in #2 can also function as the middle in #3). In #1, the Creature has only one power to activate: the Scavenger, where the player can discard any incomplete creature belonging to another player. If I’m playing against this player, and I have a 2- or 1-card Creature under construction, that player can say goodbye to it, and I have to put it in the Discard pile.

The #2 Creature has Scavenger and the Herald, which lets that player reveal two cards from the deck, face up, so all other players can see it, and play them if they can. If the player gets a pair of feet, awesome; they can play it. If the player draws a body and a head, they can only play them if they have under construction Creatures that can use those cards. Anything that the player can’t use right then and there goes in the Discard pile.

Other powers include the Weeper, which lets the player draw two cards from the deck. They don’t have to play them, they just add them, regardless of what they are.

The Mocker lets you play one card from your hand.

The Executioner lets you take another player’s top card – heads, but also anything that’s on top – if you have a monster under construction and the top card you have is a body, your opponent can take that with Executioner. Cards claimed when someone plays Executioner goes into the player’s hand, not the Discard pile.

Playing abilities does NOT count toward your actions! If the first move you make during your turn is to complete a monster, you play the abilities, and THEN play your second action. It’s pretty awesome.

Okay, so let’s talk about Legions. Like I said, I tend not to play Legions because it’s easier for younger kids to just get used to playing cards, but playing Legions can mix things up for extra fun. Match the colors of your creatures to trip up your opponents: when you finish a monster with cards from the same Legion, everyone else has to discard a card of that Legion OR discard any two cards. Look:

Here’s we’ve got a Manster and a Constricti. If you were to complete these guys on your turn, everyone else would have to discard either one red card and one brown card. If your opponents don’t have those colors? Get rid of any TWO cards per color. Have a red, but no brown? Discard a red and two other cards. Have only blue and green in your hand? Discard four.

You don’t have to complete two at a time; I just took a picture of these two together. But you catch my drift.

Okay, if you are playing Legions, you also have to be careful when you’re putting down cards. If you play a card belonging to a certain Legion, your second action cannot be to play a card from another Legion. If you put down a red pair of legs, you can’t play a blue pair of legs or put a brown body down next. (This is why I don’t play Legion with my library kids yet.)

That’s about it! First player to complete five Creatures wins the game! I play this game pretty regularly at home with my own family; it’s one of my 10-year-old’s favorite games. The library kids ask for this every Monday and Tuesday (our gaming days), too; it’s fun, you can be as silly as you want, and the opportunity for good-natured smack talk is mighty. While Board Game Geek lists it as only available via eBay, I’ve seen it available in several places online, including GameNerdz, Boarding School Games, and Target. Average price is about $20, and it’s well worth the cost. This one will become a foundation game for a lot of collections.

If you feel like testing before you buy, head over to Tabletopia and play online for free!

Happy Gaming!

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Coping with Loss: Burt’s Way Home

Burt’s Way Home, by John Martz, (July 2022, Tundra Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780735271029

Ages 6-9

Burt is an “intergalactic, transdimensional time traveler”. His parents, also time travelers, have been separated from him during a journey, and now he’s stuck on Earth, living with a woman named Lydia, until he can figure out the antiquated Earth technology and find his way home. Lydia, however, tells a very different story. A graphic novel created with two narratives, Burt’s Way Home is an aching look at a child in foster care, dealing with confusion and grief, and the caregiver who tirelessly works at understanding him, supporting him, and caring for him. Illustrated in two-color blue and white, with bold black outlines, John Martz creates an unfussy atmosphere that carries cartoon appeal while delivering a poignant message. This is a completely different story about grief and loss, and I want this in my collection first and foremost, for any child that may need it – for a child living in a foster situation, or for any children whose primary caregiver is not their parents: a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, an older sibling, a family friend – and to explain and engender empathy in others. Sensitive and respectful, this is a great book to have in your collections.

Burt’s Way Home was originally published in 2016 by Koyama Press.