Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade

The Ocean Strikes Back in Super Sidekicks #2!

Super Sidekicks #2: Ocean’s Revenge, by Gavin Aung Than, (July 2021, RH Graphic), $12.99, ISBN: 9780593175125
Ages 8 to 12, Grades 3 to 7
The second book in the Super Sidekicks graphic novel series is all about the sidekicks standing on their own. The world’s leaders and the superhero grownups have been captured by The Mother of the Sea, who’s sick and tired of the damage us humans are wreaking on the planet, and it’s up to Junior Justice (JJ), Flygirl, Dinomite, Goo, and Ada, the most intelligent belt buckle in the universe, to save things and start the world on a better path. Mother of the Sea has put together a Trash Titan – a giant monster created out of all the trash from the Pacific Ocean – and wants to destroy all the land dwellers, so talking her down is going to take all of the skills the Sidekicks have at their disposal!
This is a perfect series for readers who are moving up from chapter books. It’s a fast-paced adventure story with fun superheroes who show the adults a thing or two about respecting kids and the planet. Illustrations are colorful, and the beginning of the story carries incredible weight: drifting trash in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch; seagulls feeding plastic bottle caps to their babies; a sea turtle swimming with a plastic soda ring around its neck. Watching the Trash Titan form from the tons of junk polluting the waters, you kind of want to root for the Mother of the Sea. Naturally, the adults are all clueless, but the kids know what’s up! Empowering kids to save the world one piece of junk at a time, Super Sidekicks: Ocean’s Revenge includes tips on reducing our trash footprint, and tips on how to draw Dinomite and Goo.
Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

A fun Summer mystery! Saltwater Secrets

Saltwater Secrets, by Cindy Callaghan, (Apr. 2021, Aladdin), $7.99, ISBN: 9781534417434

Ages 9-13

Originally published in hardcover last year, the paperback release of this fun Summer mystery is perfect for beach reading while ruminating on how water ices can save the world. Half-sisters Josie and Stella spend every summer together: Josie lives in Australia with her mom, while Stella lives in New York with her mom and stepdad. They share their summers – and their dad – together at the Jersey Shore, where they have their rituals. This year, Stella is pushing back against those rituals, because she’s on the verge of high school and wants to act more adult; Josie revels in their childhood memories. What starts out as a story where two sisters are growing up yet afraid of growing apart gets infinitely more interesting when you realize that chapters alternate between the sisters’ story and a debriefing at a police station. Something big has happened, as the story unfolds through each chapter, and it has to do, somehow, with the new smoothie store that took the place of Josie’s beloved water ice shop; a pop star coming to perform a concert at the pier, and the jellyfish population, currently undergoing a marine life crisis. This family story becomes a co-plot to an environmental mystery that brings the sisters back together to solve as they work out their growing pains, and it is guaranteed to keep readers glued to the pages. There’s a fun cast of supporting characters, great pacing and dialogue, and an eloquent statement about the environment and how we affect it, for better or for worse. Put this on your shelves with other summer books like Kayla Miller’s graphic novel, Camp, Mae Respicio’s Any Day With You, Melissa Savage’s Lemons, and – naturally! – Rita Williams-Garcia’s One Crazy Summer.

Posted in Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Unforgotten: The Wild Life of Dian Fossey remembers a conservationist icon

Unforgotten : The Wild Life of Dian Fossey and Her Relentless Quest to Save Mountain Gorillas, by Anita Silvey, (June 2021, National Geographic Kids), $18.99, ISBN: 9781426371851
Ages 8-12
Primatologist, conservationist, and advocate for mountain gorillas, Dian Fossey, brought to the screen by Sigourney Weaver in the 1988 film Gorillas in the Mist, is introduced to new audiences with Unforgotten: The Wild Life of Dian Fossey and Her Relentless Quest to Save Mountain Gorillas. Companion to Anita Silvey’s books on Jane Goodall (Untamed) and Biruté Mary Galdikas (Undaunted), Unforgotten is a testament to Dian Fossey’s life advocating for mountain gorillas and fighting against the poachers who would slaughter them. The book touches on Dian’s special connection to the gorillas, with gorgeous photos featuring Dian with them, cuddling and carrying orphaned babies and interacting with guides and children, all in her quest to educate everyone around her about the amazing creatures we share the planet with. The book discusses her murder and the work that continues to this day, in her name. Colorful maps and profiles on apes that Dian befriended, like Uncle Bert and Poppy, run throughout the book, as do callouts and spreads on the lives of mountain gorillas. Back matter on Dian’s legacy and her gorilla fund, a gorilla scrapbook with photos and biographies of the gorillas she lived with, and a timeline of Dian Fossey’s life will give readers an understanding and, hopefully, a love for the world Dian Fossey fought to protect. An excellent biography and book on conservationism.
Unforgotten has a starred review from Shelf Awareness. Read more about Dian Fossey’s Gorilla Fund here, and at the Gorilla Fund.
Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Be Careful What You Wish For: Mel the Chosen One

Mel the Chosen One, by Rachele Aragno/Translated by Carla Roncalli Di Montorio, (Aug 2021, RH Graphic), $12.99, ISBN: 9780593301234

Ages 8 to 12

Mel is a kid who just wants to grow up already. Adults don’t listen to kids, after all, and Mel is fed up with not having a say in where she lives, what she wears, what she eats, or where she goes to school. Things change, though, when Mel discovers a magical world where she can make her own choices – and meets Otto, an old man who was just recently a young boy with the same wish. He cautions her that growing up quick isn’t all it’s cracked up to be: there are consequences, after all. Mel and Otto go on an adventure to make things right again, and Mel discovers that taking the time to enjoy childhood may be the better choice after all (because adults feel just as ignored by kids).

Random House Graphic has been bringing some great graphic novels in translation to American shores. I loved The Runaway Princess (2020) and Aster and the Accidental Magic (2020), both originally published in French; Mel the Chosen One was originally published in Italy in 2019 as Melvina. The story is engaging and addresses that need to grow up and be independent that so many kids have. Rachele Aragno acknowledges and respects Mel’s point of view, and gently introduces, through her storytelling, the reality behind the fantasy: rushing through life does no one any favors. Adults feel just as ignored as kids do. Maybe it’s time we all took a deep breath and started enjoying the moment, while actually hearing one another? It’s a magical story that brings home that age-old saying, “Be careful what you wish for… you just might get it.” Middle graders will understand, and hopefully share with the adults around them. Rachele Aragno’s artwork is expressive, and creates fanciful settings like magical animals, including a monocle-sporting fox and an owl sporting a top hat; a headless princess; a cheery graveyard filled with children yet to be born, and enchanted forests. Fun for your fairy tale fans and fantasy readers.

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

Horse Trouble is a guide to tween life!

Horse Trouble, by Kristin Varner, (Oct. 2021, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250225887

Ages 8-12

Part horseback riding primer, part guide to tween life, Horse Trouble is the story of Kate, a 12-year-old who loves horses and is frustrated by her body. Her best friend is thin and gets the attention of Kate’s crush; the mean girls at the riding school and her middle school target her appearance and flaunt their expensive clothes and accessories while looking down on her. Kate is focused on riding – she works at the school to help pay for her lessons – and competing, but when she’s home, she’s at war with her reflection. Her brother calls her nicknames like “chubbs”, and her mother offers to join a weight-loss program with her, but Kate needs to find her confidence before she can see results. She finds that confidence at the riding school and through competition, but even there, she gets angry at the number of times she’s thrown from the horses. A strong story of finding one’s passion and inner strength, Horse Trouble hits all the right points: self-esteem and body image; coping with bullies; comparing oneself to others both in terms of body size and possessions; coping with crushes; finding mentors, and that connection to friends that we always come back to. Teal-and-white illustrations are appealing, the characters are all likable, and I love the fun character introductions, illustrated with fun facts about each. Each chapter introduction comes with a fun fact about the riding course, and there are great facts about horseback riding and competing throughout the story.

Inspired by Kristin Varner’s own tween experiences, Horse Trouble is just great reading. See more of her illustration at her website.

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

Long Distance: A summer camp like you’ve never experienced!

Long Distance, by Whitney Gardner, (June 2021, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), $14.99, ISBN: 9781534455658

Ages 10-14

Vega is a girl who’s not thrilled with summer vacation this year. Her parents have moved her from Portland, Oregon, to a new life in Seattle, and she’s miserable. She’s left behind her best friend, Halley, and to add insult to injury, her dads are sending her off to Camp Very Best Friend, hoping she’ll make some new friends. When the Camp VBF bus pulls up, Vega’s got a strange feeling about this camp… and it only gets weirder once she and the other campers arrive! Cell phones don’t work, and the counselors are just… different. Together with fellow campers Qwerty (like the keyboard), and twins Gemma and Isaac, Vega decides to get to the bottom of this odd camp in a hilarious story about making friends! Early in the story, Vega Googles how to make friends; each piece of advice she receives heads a different chapter, giving readers a humorous idea of what to expect. The characters are likable, and dialogue and story move at a good pace, and readers are going to love this summer camp story. Artwork is colorful with cartoon-realistic characters, similar to Raina Telgemeier and Shannon Hale’s characters. A good book to hand to introverts – Camp VBF is filled with kids who don’t find it that easy to make friends, until they’re put into the unusual situation that sets the stage for this story. Vega is interested in astronomy, Qwerty relates to computers “better than people”, and Gemma and Isaac are all about rocks and minerals, so there’s a nice little STEM/STEAM thread quietly running through the story. A fun summer story that satisfies wanderlust.

Visit Whitney Gardner’s webpage for coloring pages and more info about her books, including one of my favorites from last year, the 2020 Cybils-nominated Becoming RBG.

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

The Unlikeliest Friends: The Ghoul Next Door

The Ghoul Next Door, by Cullen Bunn/Illustrated by Cat Farris, (July 2021, Harper Alley), $12.99, ISBN: 9780062896094

Ages 8 to 12

An 11-year-old boy named Grey takes a shortcut through a cemetery on his way to school, drops his school project down an empty grave, and discovers the unlikeliest new friend: a young ghoul named Lavinia. Lavinia leaves little gifts for Grey that are a little unsettling to the living – finger bones, teeth necklaces, that sort of thing – and Grey seeks Lavinia out, leading to the two forging a friendship that’s as sweet as it is dangerous. Ghouls are forbidden from associating with the living, and Grey’s friend, Marshall, is determined to tell all because he just knows Grey’s making a bad decision. Eventually, Grey is caught up in a struggle between ghouls and ghosts, with his friend Marshall’s – and Grey’s own – life in the balance!

A funny, creepy story for readers who love all things Neil Gaiman, Doug TenNapel’s Ghostopolis, and – naturally! – Goosebumps. It’s a story of friendship with a touch of intrigue and just enough creepiness to make paranormal fans shudder with glee. Cullen Bunn writes a lot of big-people comics that I love (including Harrow County, which makes a fun little cameo in The Ghoul Next Door), and Cat Farris’s artwork is spooktastic, with color, great shadow work, and a ghoul that is as heartwarming as she is startling.

Posted in Adventure, Middle Grade, Middle School, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Reading Takes You Everywhere: Into the Clouds!

Into the Clouds, by Tod Olson, (April 2020, Scholastic Focus), $18.99, ISBN: 9781338207361

Ages 8-12

For my latest Reading Takes You Everywhere Summer Reading post, I’m taking you to the Himalayas, where we can – from a safe, much warmer distance – scale the heights of K2, a mountain “more treacherous” than Mount Everest. Fewer than 400 people have been able to successfully climb K2: “four every four mountaineers who have stood on its summit, one has died trying to get there”. Although Everest stands higher, K2 has unpredictable weather and gale-force winds that have swept climbers off its face entirely. Into the Clouds is the story of two parties that attempted K2: the first American Karakoram Expedition in 1938, and the 1953 Third American Expedition, which makes up a greater part of the book. Into the Clouds follows Charlie Houston’s team as they attempt to summit the mountain in the midst of vicious storms, risks of avalanche, frostbite, illness, and rivalry, turning the expedition into a rescue mission.

Tod Olson can write narrative non-fiction like the most exciting adventure/survival novel: if you haven’t read his Lost series, you need to check in with your I Survived readers, who likely have. Here, he puts together an exhaustively researched work filled with photos to set the reader at base camp along with Houston’s team. The biting winds, the constant fear of freezing and the aggravation each team member felt clearly comes through here. Adventure and survival readers who have moved on from I Survived and are ready to read middle grade and middle school narrative non-fiction like Trapped by Marc Aronson and Jennifer Armstrong’s Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World.

Read the book, and tell your readers to visit Tod Olson’s webpage where they can find an Into the Clouds scavenger hunt. Into the Clouds has a starred review from School Library Journal.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Bad Sister touches on sibling relationships

Bad Sister, by Charise Mericle Harper/Illustrated Rory Lucey, (Aug. 2021, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250219053

Ages 8-12

Award-winning author/artist Charise Mericle Harper writes a middle-grade memoir about her relationship with her younger brother in Bad Sister, and it will resonate with so many siblings who may feel conflicted about their own siblings. Charise is older, and therefore, better… right? Her younger brother, Daniel, is just such an attention-suck. He gets attention from her parents from the very beginning, he wants to play with her toys, he even monopolizes the family cat’s affection. Daniel gets hurt time and again, causing Charise to wonder: is she a bad sister? Try as she might, it’s hard being the eldest, and sometimes, she gets exasperated. But slowly, surely, as the two get a little older and a little more mature, they find themselves able to enjoy one another’s company more. Charise’s frustration is palpable, and the changing color palette alerts readers, with changes in her facial expressions and body language, plus cooler colors, particularly blues, calling the reader’s attention. Readers will see both sides of the equation – Daniel isn’t always guilt-free – and empathize with the injustices on either side. A good book for navigating sibling relationships, even close friend and classmate relationships, Charise Mericle Harper gets to the heart of family dynamics and doesn’t hide the highs and lows of these complicated relationships, going from antagonism, to guilt, to love and understanding with honesty and respect to the reader. Charise’s frustration is palpable, and the changing color palette alerts readers, with changes in her facial expressions and body language, plus cooler colors, particularly blues, calling the reader’s attention. Colors warm up as the two become closer.

Bad Sister has starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly, and is a Junior Library Guild selection. Visit Charise Mericle Harper’s website for printables, crafts, and comics!

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

Great middle grade fantasy in two giant graphic novels: Scales & Scoundrels!

Fantasy fans have so much to read this year, but make space on your shelves for a graphic novel duo: Scales and Scoundrels is a fantasy series that will resonate with fantasy role-playing gamers and fantasy fans alike. Publisher TKO Studios released definitive versions of Volumes 1 and 2, which include the collected issues plus incredible, new material. I wasn’t familiar with the story until I saw these on Edelweiss, but I am so glad I rectified that.

Scales & Scoundrels Definitive Edition Book 1: Where Dragons Wander , by Sebastian Girner/Illustrated by Galaad, (July 2021, TKO Studios), $14.99, ISBN: 9781952203220,
Ages 8-13
Luvander is a female treasure hunter who sets off for the fabled “Dragon’s Maw”, where she hopes to find riches beyond comprehension. (Naturally, that whole “Dragon’s Maw” business also suggests that maybe there’s a dragon who will protect their hoard, but she’s not going to let that stop her!) She teams up with a group of adventurers, including a prince, his bodyguard, and a dwarf, and together, the group sticks together while fighting monsters and braving dungeons, but Luvander has a secret she’s not sharing just yet… is this her epic journey, or just a simple treasure looting operation? A heroine’s journey filled with excitement, adventure, great dialogue and an inclusive cast of characters, the writing and the fantastic artwork make this aces for your middle grade and middle school readers. Display and booktalk with Nimona by Noelle Stevenson, Kazu Kazubuishi’s Amulet series, James Parks and Ben Costa’s Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Goo series, Faith Erin Hicks’s The Nameless City series, and Robin Robinson’s No One Returns From the Enchanted Forest.

Scales and Scoundrels Definitive Edition Book 2: The Festival of Life, by Sebastian Girner/Illustrated by Galaad, (July 2021, TKO Studios), $14.99, ISBN: 9781952203237

Ages 8-13

The second Scales and Scoundrels volume, like the first, contains a wealth of new material, and picks up the adventure from where we left off in Book One. Luvander continues on her journey to break her curse; it’s a quest that will bring her to a monastery that guards a secret entrance to The Dragon Dream, where few have dared to enter. She and her group of friends face dark trials ahead, including demons and their own deepest fears. An introspective adventure that prompts conversations, this is an excellent companion to Book One. The artwork is gorgeous, with bright and vibrant colors, movement, and beautiful fantasy artwork. There’s great world-building – seriously, you can create a Dungeons and Dragons adventure based on the information contained in these two books – that readers will return to time and again.

To paraphrase School Library Journal, the Scales and Scoundrels books roll a natural 20 – and that’s pretty awesome.