Dragoslava is a vampire kid who works for the mean witch who cursed him ages ago. The witch wants her stolen grimoire back, so she dispatches Dragoslava and their two friends, Quintus and Eztli, to a town called Baneberry Falls, where the kids discover life in a small Michigan town around Halloween, and befriend Ayesha, the witch who has the grimoire in her possession – and her vampire partner, Sara. Posing as travelers interested in learning magic, Dragoslava wants to gain their trust and grab the book, but Quintus and Eztli are enjoying their new surroundings and suggest that maybe Dragoslava cut ties with the witch making their life miserable? The book, however, is too powerful to be contained, and there’s another being in Baneberry Falls keeping an eye on Dragoslava and their friends. A fun story with a few thrills and lots of adventure and humor, The Accursed Vampire will appeal to readers who like their spooky books on the funny side. It’s a story about found family and learning to stand up for oneself, with a diverse cast: Dragoslava is nonbinary, referred to with “they/them” pronouns; Quintus is a male child of color, from vampire society; Eztli is a Latinx female, likely from Mesoamerican mythology: the bird feet bring to mind the feathered serpent, quetzalcoatl, and the name Eztli originates from the Aztec word for “blood”.
The Accursed Vampire has a starred review from School Library Journal. Find more of Madeline McGrane’s artwork (and more Dragoslava!) at her website.
I pulled Coop Knows the Scoop off my TBR yesterday morning, and I finished it this morning. That’s how good this middle grade mystery is. Cooper Goodman – call him Coop, please! – lives with his mom and grandfather in Georgia, where he helps out in his mom’s bookstore/coffee shop when he’s not in school. His dad, a Marine, died in action, and his Gramps is the retired town doctor. It’s small town life, where everyone knows one another, and it’s pretty idyllic, until the morning a skeleton is discovered buried at the playground. After some DNA testing, the skeleton is revealed to be Coop’s grandmother, Tabby, whom everyone thought left Gramps years ago, when Coop’s dad was little more than a baby. When Gramps falls under suspicion – they always suspect the spouse, right? – Coop enlists his best friends, twin siblings Liberty and Justice, to help him search for clues and exonerate Gramps.
Written in the first person from Coop’s point of view, I could not put this book down. It’s got all the elements of a good whodunnit: a scandal, a quirky cast of local characters, smart dialogue, fleshed out characters with good backstories that make just about everyone a suspect, and an impending sense of danger that you just know is going to explode when you get these elements mixed together. You and your readers are going to want to know what the real scoop is, and that’s going to keep all of you reading this book until you get to the end, and its very satisfying conclusion. Put this on your mystery lists, for sure.
Read more about Taryn Souders and her books at her author website. Coop Knows the Scoop is a 2021 Edgar Award nominee for Best Juvenile mystery novel. Download a great activity kit, including a recipe for sweet tea, through publisher Sourcebooks, Download a discussion guide from Sourcebooks here, too!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.