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

Dan Unmasked: Everyone has a story

Dan Unmasked, by Chris Negron, (June 2021, HarperCollins), $7.99, ISBN: 9780062943071

Ages 8-12

Nate and Dan are best friends. They share a love of baseball and a love of comic books, especially Captain Nexus by comics legend George Sanderson. They’re always talking, always together, until an accident at baseball practice leaves Nate in a coma. Dan feels crushing guilt that he caused the accident and desperately comes up with an idea that HAS to work: convinced that Nate is trapped, like Captain Nexus in his latest storyline, he’s going to create a comic that will show Nate the way out. He joins forces with Nate’s brother, Ollie, and Courtney, a friend from school to plot out a storyline that has to work. Right?

Dan Unmasked is as much a story of grief, loss, and recovery as it is about friendship, comics, and baseball. Chris Negron weaves all the parts of a middle schooler’s life together in his story, including parental relationships and relationships with school friends and teammates. He gives a reclusive comic book artist real life as a fully realized character with as rich a backstory as the main characters. Baseball fans will love the game narration; comics fans will love the comic book references he liberally sprinkles throughout. John David Anderson fans will easily jump into this story; it’s got that wonderful mix of the extraordinary and the everyday. Get this on your Summer Reading shelves.

The hardcover release (July 2020) of Dan Unmasked was an Independent Booksellers’ Debut Pick of the Season.  Author Chris Negron has a Dan Unmasked Curriculum Guide available for download at his author website.

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

Hit the Court with The Fifth Quarter

The Fifth Quarter, by Mike Dawson, (May 2021, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250244185

Ages 8-12

Lori Block loves being on her school basketball team, even if she and her friends are relegated to playing “the fifth quarter” – the extra period where the not-so-good kids play and the points don’t count. Determined to get better, she practices and takes part in different basketball camps, but she’s got to learn how to finesse her social interactions: she can come off as brusque or downright mean to players she doesn’t think match her own drive to succeed. Meanwhile, her mom’s considering running for local office, taking more time away from Lori. Can Lori develop her own self-confidence, learn to navigate everyday social situations, and up her basketball game?

The Fifth Quarter is a good sports story and a good school story. Lori is a relatable character; she’s a fourth grader dealing with some big feelings: she’s got two younger siblings constantly clamoring for her parents’ attention; she gets frustrated by friends who don’t share her consuming passion for basketball, and may even be slightly threatened when a new friend shows up to play what she may feel is “her” sport. When her mom decides to run for public office, it adds another layer of frustration and stress to Lori’s life; it’s even more competition for her mother’s time, helping her mom campaign will take time away from basketball practice, AND since her mother is running against a school friend’s father, she’s worried that it will affect her friendship. That’s a lot for a fourth grader! Her parents are supportive and encouraging, and her friends stand firm and call Lori out when they see her being unreasonable, letting readers know that it’s okay to feel these things, but not okay to act negatively on those feelings. Readers will see themselves in Lori, and hopefully, her friends, too. A smart book that respects its readers, with artwork that realistic fiction graphic novel readers will recognize and enjoy, The Fifth Quarter is good reading for all graphic novel/realistic fiction readers. Suggest books like Pippa Park Raises Her Game, by Erin Yun, Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl, Cathy Johnson’s The Breakaways, and Jason Reynolds’s Track series.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade

No One Returns from the Enchanted Forest… yet.

No One Returns from the Enchanted Forest, by Robin Robinson, (May 2021, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250211538

Ages 8-12

Earthquakes are rocking a goblin village, causing the Midsummer Festival to be cancelled. The villagers blame the Earth Queen for the earthquakes, and young Pella decides it’s time to give the Queen a piece of her mind – but her older sister and caregiver, Bix, is determined to keep Pella home and safe, so Pella sneaks out one night and heads into the Enchanted Forest. From where no one returns. Bix discovers that Pella’s gone, swallows her fear, and heads into the forest after Pella, armed with a ball of yarn to help her out of scary situations, and hopefully, to help them back home. Robin Robinson is a wonderful fantasy storyteller; she illustrated Mairghread Scott’s City on the Other Side (2018) and created a fairy world that the protagonist discovered. Here, she worldbuilds a goblin society, and a family of paranormal Nature beings at odds with one another. No One Returns from the Enchanted Forest is a story of siblings, found families, and of being a good custodian to the world. This one will be a popular choice with fantasy fans. Artwork is colorful, filled with fantasy imagery, and expressive characters.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Escaping Greenland: The #WonderListAdventures continue

Escape Greenland (The Wonder List Adventures #2), by Ellen Prager, Ph.D./Illustrated by Tammy Yee, (Apr. 2021, Tumblehome Learning), $13.95, ISBN: 978-1-943431-70-0

Ages 9-13

The second book in Dr. Ellen Prager’s new Wonder List Adventures takes siblings Ezzy and Luke to the next stop on their mother’s “Wonder List”: Greenland. The siblings and their father, who are visiting the places their mother wanted them to see for her when she passed away. After visiting the Galápagos Islands and finding themselves in the middle of a poaching ring in Escape Galápagos (2019), they’re hoping for a calmer vacation in Greenland. No such luck, my friends. Dr. Skylar, Ezzy’s and Luke’s dad, is called away to help out an injured researcher, just as the siblings overhear a plot to attract tourism by speeding up the melting of a glacier and find themselves in some very unfriendly company! In between once-in-a-lifetime adventures like seeing humpback whales breach (and being under them when they’re eating!), playing with puppies and getting a ride from sled dogs, they’re on the run from some pretty scary bad guys. Dr. Prager creates likable, interesting characters and uses her wealth of knowledge about marine science and climate change to put readers in the middle of the story with them. Settling her stories in incredible locales, she encourages environmental awareness by creating a love for the natural wonders of our planet and by spotlighting the very real types of people who would wreak ecological havoc through illegal and shady business practices, Dr. Prager sets readers’ sights on the big villain: personal gain.

The Wonder List Adventures is a good series to recommend to your Nat Geo Explorer Academy readers and your Carl Hiaasen readers. And fans of her previous series, Tristan Hunt and the Sea Guardians, will love the little Easter Egg she put in there!

 

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Kitty Sweet Tooth serves up movies and magic candy!

Kitty Sweet Tooth, by Abby Denson/Illustrated by Utomaru, (Apr. 2021, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250196774

Ages 6-10

Kitty Sweet Tooth is a cat who loves candy and movies, so when her Pop-Pop gives her the chance to realize her dream of running a combination restaurant and movie house, she is thrilled! With the help of magical candy makers, she’s off and running. But playing with magic is never easy, so when the creations start taking on lives of their own, Kitty and her viewers all get a little more than they bargained for! Manic, adorable, and just plain fun, Kitty Sweet Tooth is perfect graphic novel reading for younger readers who love a good, silly story. The artwork is bright and jumps off the page, enchanting readers with magical food like crepes that grow into waving towers, rainbow chips that give the snacker their own case of the stripes, or blooming tea and scones that grow into a veritable garden inside the theatre! Luckily for Kitty, her customers love it all! This is the first in a new series of adventures for intermediate readers. Back matter lets readers create their own candy-making magic with an illustrated recipe for rock candy, including step-by-step instructions, ingredients, and a suggestion to seek grownup help.

 

 

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

Elvin Link, doodler, sketch artist… and THAT kid?

Elvin Link, Please Report to the Principal’s Office!, by Drew Dernavich (July 2021, Square Fish), $7.99, ISBN: 9781250791702

Ages 8-12

Fifth grader Elvin Link is a doodler. He doodles on everything, everywhere, including his desk, which clearly looks cooler as a rocket ship… despite what the custodian and his teacher think. While he’s scrubbing down the desk, an incident involving a teacher’s glasses, an ill-fated ice cream cone, and a schoolyard collision lands him back in the principal’s office, this time, as a sketch artist. He’s so good at it that the principal brings him back in shortly after, to solve a school mystery! Meanwhile, the school bully, who specializes in wedgies, has his sights set on Elvin. Elvin has to navigate his twin sisters, one of whom has a crush on the bully, keep his best friend out of trouble, and cover his rear end: literally. For readers who loved Timmy Failure and, yes, that other illustrated diarist, Elvin Link: Please Report to the Principal’s Office is an insta-read. Award-winning New Yorker artist Drew Dernavich creates a likable, laugh-out loud funny character with Elvin and his best friends and family members are equally fun to spend time with. The book is laid out like a journal, with Elvin’s doodles and opinions throughout. He’s got the Wimpy Kid snark with a slightly more generous personality, and the black and white illustrations and added back matter will have your library kids asking when the next book is coming out. (Hey, Mr. Dernavich, when is that happening?)

Released in hardcover last July, Elvin Link is coming to paperback this July and is a good fit for your middle grade shelves.

 

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Meet Dominguita!

Dominguita Melendez is a third grader who loves books! When her abuela (grandmother) has to move to Florida to live with her sister, Dominguita comes up with a way to share their mutual loves of books with one another: by finding adventures in all the books her abuela left her. Definitely Dominguita is a great intermediate series for kids – there’s an adventure that introduces them to classics titles in every book, and sets those stories on city streets, where kids can see themselves and even think about recreating their own favorite books.

Knight of the Cape (Definitely Dominguita #1), by Terry Catasús Jennings/Illustrated by Fátima Anaya, (March 2021, Aladdin), $17.99, ISBN: 9781534465039

Ages 6-9

Dominguita misses her abuela and her best friend, both of whom have moved away. She spends her recess time reading in the schoolyard until the school bully makes fun of her, her choice of reading – Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes – and tells her girls can’t be knights. Incensed, Dominguita is determined to become a knight AND have her brother Rafi write about her adventures to share with Abuela! She and Rafi put together an outfit worthy of a knight, and transforms into Dom Capote: Knight of the Cape! Along her travels, she gains a steed (the local stray dog, Roco) and a companion, Pancho Sanchez, who sees through her grand plans to keep things real. In this wonderful re-imagining of Don Quixote, a young girl uses her creativity and her love of books to see herself in her own stories, based on the classics. Dom is fun, likable, and smart; all of the characters receive backgrounds with a foundation to build future adventures, and black and white illustrations add visual reference for readers. A great new series to introduce to intermediate readers.

 

Captain Dom’s Treasure (Definitely Dominguita #2), by Terry Catasús Jennings/Illustrated by Fátima Anaya, (March 2021, Aladdin), $17.99, ISBN: 9781534465060

Ages 6-9

Dominguita and her friends, Pancho and Sarah, are back in their second adventure! This time, inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Dom goes from Dom Capote to Captain Dom and discovers a treasure map on a trip to the library! After some quick research, Dom and her friends discover that the map is linked to a robbery that happened in her neighborhood back in 1967 – a mystery that she and her friends need to solve and put things to rights! But a boy Pancho refers to as “Juan Largo” (Long John) has been following them around, saying he’s there to be a babysitter… a story that the group finds a lot of holes in. Can Dom and her friends find the treasure and save the day, or will Long John beat them to it? While it’s not necessary to read these books in order, it’s much more fun to see the progression of the characters from the first story to the second. The action unfolds with parallels to Treasure Island, and gives us an idea as to what the next adventure will be. Kids are going to love getting to know these characters and figuring out the mysteries with them. How much fun would a kids’ book club be, using Dom’s adventure as a jumping-off point for young reader versions of the featured classics?

Psst… All for One is due in August and Sherlock Dom is coming in November. You may want to start booktalking The Three Musketeers and Sherlock Holmes now.

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

A young journalist looks for The Leak

The Leak, by Kate Reed Petty/Illustrated by Andrea Bell, (March 2021, First Second), $22.99, ISBN: 9781250217950

Ages 8-12

It starts at the dentist’s office. Ruth, an aspiring young journalist, is frustrated when her dentist scolds her for not brushing and flossing, and scoffing when she insists that she does. Shortly after the dentist visit, she and her friend Jonathan go fishing, only to discover dead fish and a thick, oily sludge by the water. Ruth decides to investigate and report her findings, with the help of her brother’s girlfriend – an intern at the New York Times – and finds herself on the radar of the local country club owner and the power company. Dealing with frenemies, a middle school crush, and finding herself thrust into the spotlight and being intimidated by people who have a lot to lose, Ruth has to choose between personal and journalistic integrity or getting out of the way of controversy. A brilliantly done story about freedom of the press, pollution, and integrity, readers will cheer Ruth on. Artwork is vivid and characters are expressive. This is the kind of art my library kids love; it’s super middle grade friendly and has so much to say. The dialogue keeps pace with the action and readers will get to challenge themselves by wondering what they would do in a similar situation. Give this to readers along with Kayla Miller’s Act and Dress Coded by Carrie Firestone for a surefire primer in activism.

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

Houdini and Me – he’s back for one last trick!

Houdini and Me, by Dan Gutman, (March 2021, Holiday House), $16.99, ISBN: 9780823445158

Ages 8-12

Eleven-year-old Harry Mancini lives at Harry Houdini’s old address, so he’s learned quite a bit about the magician. But when someone leaves him a mysterious old flip phone, and someone calling himself Houdini starts texting himself on it, Harry thinks someone has to be playing a prank on him, but the texter knows way too much about Houdini, and Harry’s current apartment… is he really Houdini, and how did he find a way to text from beyond the grave? As the two exchange text conversations, Houdini lays out his plan: he wants to come back and experience life again, and in return, he’ll make Harry famous. But there are always strings attached, aren’t there?

Dan Gutman is already a celebrity in my home and my library for books like his My Weird School and The Genius Files series, and Homework Machine. He has a way of writing that kids relate to so well; it’s like having another kid level with them, and they love it. Houdini and Me has that same first-person narration and conversational voice that kids love, rapid-fire dialogue between characters, and a solid history lesson Harry Houdini, magic, and the early 20th century, that kids will enjoy, too. It’s an interesting take on Harry Houdini – this would make a good reading group book.

Check out Dan Gutman’s author website, loaded with resources, including his My Weird Read-Aloud, excerpts, and information about virtual school visits. Houdini and Me is on the Indie Next List.

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

Deadman’s Castle and a family on the run

Deadman’s Castle, by Iain Lawrence, (March 2021, Margaret Ferguson Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9780823446551

Ages 9-12

Twelve-year-old Igor and his family have been on the run for years. When he was five, his father saw a terrible crime; ever since, they’ve been leaving homes in the middle of the night, creating new identities never settling in one spot, as a man his dad refers to as The Lizard Man hunts them down. But when they settle in yet another town, Igor is tired of running. He wants to be a normal middle school student. He wants to go to school, have friends, go to sleepovers – and he’s more and more worried that The Lizard Man may be a construct of his father’s imagination. But what if it’s not? Deadman’s Castle is is a solid psychological mystery that will keep readers turning pages – I finished this in the course of a day rather than put it down – as they, like Igor, discover new secrets with each turn of the page. It’s intense at some points, taut at others, and a thoroughly enjoyable read.

This one has an easy booktalk: “You think your parents are overprotective? Igor can’t have a computer, video games, or even a cell phone because his father is convinced a bad guy is going to track him and his family down using them! And no, he isn’t allowed to come to the library to use them, either.” (Because I know that’s what at least one of my wisecrackers would come up with.)