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

Kid-Friendly graphic novels for younger readers

I told you, this is a graphic novel summer! I’m so happy to see graphic novels coming out with younger and newer readers in mind: they helped develop a love of reading in my own kiddo, and I know the littles in my library love them as much as my middle graders do. Let’s take a look at what’s good.

Magic Tree House: Dinosaurs Before Dark Graphic Novel, by Mary Pope Osborne, Adapted by Jenny Laird, Illustrated by Kelly Matthews and Nicole Matthews, (June 2021, Random House Books for Young Readers), $9.99, ISBN: 9780593174715

Ages 6-9

Jack and Annie are headed to graphic novels! The Magic Tree House books have been a staple in libraries for decades; now they’re transitioning to more visual storytelling mediums with graphic novels, starting with the first Magic Tree House adventure, Dinosaurs Before Dark. Jack and Annie discover a treehouse loaded with stacks of books, make a wish to see dinosaurs, and discover that they’re been transported back in time to the prehistoric era! Annie befriends a couple of plant-eaters, they run from a T-Rex, and try to figure out how to get home again. The story translates wonderfully to a graphic novel medium, and the artwork has a manga influence, which makes for big facial expressions; the artwork is colorful and eye-catching. Less dense text relies on visual storytelling, making this even more appealing to emerging and struggling readers. This series is going to be a hit.

Be sure to check out the Magic Tree House Classroom Adventures website, where you can find lesson plans and more resources. The Magic Tree House website has resources for kids and parents, including a Mission Game and Kids Adventure Club.

Fitz and Cleo, by Jonathan Stutzman and Heather Fox, (May 2021, Henry Holt), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250239440

Ages 6-9

The dynamic duo behind the Llama Destroys the World series is doing graphic novels now!! Fitz and Cleo are sheet-wearing ghost siblings who find and adopt a cat they name Mr. Boo. There are 11 bite-sized stories in this first volume; perfect for newly confident readers to pick up and spend time with. Fitz sports a baseball cap and glasses and is more interested in science than cats; Cleo wears a head bow, is cheery and fun, and is always there to support her brother. The two are best friends, with Mr. Boo adding comic relief with his antics, usually aimed at Fitz. Adorable, fun, Fitz and Cleo is a great early graphic novel to add to your younger reader shelves. Download a Fitz and Cleo activity kit right here!

 

Blue, Barry & Pancakes: Escape from Balloonia, by Dan & Jason, (June 2021, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250255563
Ages 4-8
The second Blue, Barry, and Pancakes adventure is just as wacky and fun as the first. Blue and Barry want a day just for themselves, but Pancakes has other plans: she’s made a rocket, and a planet made of balloons, and before Blue or Barry can say a word, they’re zooming off into space, where they’ll find themselves facing a giant Balloonian – a resident of Balloonia, naturally – named Balloon Kong. Will the trio ever get home? Will Blue and Barry ever get their quiet day? You have to read it to find out! This is such a fun series that you can easily start reading with preschoolers. The humor is light, laugh-out-loud funny, and the characters are endearing and adorable.
Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell, by Melanie Watt, (June 2021, Random House Books for Young Readers), $12.99, ISBN: 9780593307557
Ages 6-9
Popular picture book friend, Scaredy Squirrel, makes his graphic novel debut in Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell. Scaredy has successfully secured his tree from wooly mammoths, woodpeckers, lumberjacks, and aliens, but now he’s faced with a seemingly insurmountable foe: his new neighbor, a friendly bunny named Ivy. Scaredy has to weigh all the potential risks and plan for every scenario before deciding whether or not to invite Ivy to share his takeout pizza, and he discovers that having a friend can be pretty fun, after all. If you’re familiar with the Scaredy books, you’ll give a hearty chuckle at seeing Scaredy’s familiar lists for everything. If you’re new to Scaredy, you will be quickly enchanted by how funny and sweet he is. The artwork is adorable, expressive, bold, and eyecatching; there are three easy-to-navigate chapters that advance the story and give readers easy spots to put the book down for a break if they need to. Scaredy Squirrel is a great choice to bring to graphic novels!
Shark and Bot #2: Sleepaway Champs, by Brian Yanish, (June 2021, Random House Books for Young Readers, $9.99, ISBN: 9780593173381
Ages 5-8
The two besties are back in their new adventure, where they head off to sleepaway camp (much to Bot’s chagrin: he wanted to go to Space Camp). Camp Sweet Sunshine is not what the friends expect: Bot is put in a giant bubble because “everyone swims at Camp Sweet Sunshine”; they’re glitter-bombed by another camper, and the bathroom may be haunted. But they have a talent show to practice for, and it’s the one place that has enough privacy! Sleepaway Champs is a funny, cheerful story about summer, friends, and trying new things, sure to make readers smile. The book is organized into 8 chapters, making for easily paced reading with breaks. Author Brian Yanish’s website has loads of resources for caregivers and educators, including a video on how to draw Shark and Bot. Back matter includes instruction on how to draw Batty, Shark’s stuffed wombat, and amusing and interesting facts about wombats.
Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Tween Reads

Strange, new worlds: A Total Waste of Space-Time!

A Total Waste of Space-Time!, by Jeffrey Brown, (June 2021, Crown Books for Young Readers), $13.99, ISBN: 9780553534399

Ages 8-12

The second book in graphic novelist Jeffrey Brown’s Space-Time graphic novel series returns Jide, Petra, and their intergalactic student body on board the Potato, their orbiting classroom. This latest mission involves students visiting their home planets, giving Jide and Petra more insight and involvement with new populations. A prank war goes awry, and Commander G is along for the ride. Fast-paced dialogue and jokes make up the lion’s share of the story, with some smart insights into how humans and folx from other worlds are alike yet hilariously different, and a side discussion about hurt feelings resulting from escalating pranks encourage readers to put themselves in others’ people place… at least for a moment. It’s a fun story that celebrates fun. Great for travel themed summer reading!

You know Jeffrey Brown’s comics: Star Wars Jedi Academy, Lucy and Andy Neanderthal, and Darth Vader and Son are just a few of them. He writes for both kids and grown-ups; visit his website for more information about his books.

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

Graphic novels: real-life stories

More graphic novels to talk about, this time, real-life stories. Some are realistic fiction, some are inspired by moments in the author’s life. All are great reading!

My Own World, by Mike Holmes, (June 2021, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250208286
Ages 8-13
Inspired by events in his childhood, Wings of Fire and Secret Coders illustrator Mike Holmes delivers a graphic memoir with a splash of fantasy. Nathan is alone, but for his older brother, Ben. His other siblings and the neighborhood bullies torment him, but he always looks to Ben to spend time with; Ben is the one person who gets him. Unfortunately, there are things coming up that take Ben farther and farther away from Nathan, leaving him to create a fantasy world to escape to when the real world intrudes too much. A study in grief, loss, and healing, My Own World is a better reading choice for middle schoolers than younger readers; there’s trauma contained within these pages. It’s an excellent starting point for discussions on the lingering damage done by bullying, loneliness, and coping with loss. The real world is depicted in flat colors, but Nathan’s fantasy world is alive with color, vibrancy, and engaging characters that Nathan creates to spend time with.
My Own World has a starred review from Booklist.
Jukebox, by Nidhi Chanani, (June 2021, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250156372
Ages 10 to 14
Nidhi Chanani is amazing in her ability to create magical travels using everyday objects. She infused a shawl with the power to fantastical India in her 2017 award-winner, Pashmina; now, she weaves a story about a jukebox that can transport listeners to a moment in time, inspired by the albums they play, in Jukebox. Shaheen is a girl who feels like she and her mom come in second to her father’s love of – obsession with? – music, particularly with albums. He never seems to be present to hear her when she’s talking; he just wants to talk about the newest album he’s on the hunt for, and he spends hours searching record bins for new additions to his collection. When he doesn’t return home one night, Shaheen and her cousin, Tannaz, start a search, only to discover a glowing jukebox at the local record store where Dad spent so much of his time. A Bessie Smith record spins on the turntable, and the girls find themselves transported to Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom in 1929! The song ends, returning them to their present time and place, and the chase through musical history is on. The girls spin different records, visiting key moments in time. from political marches to landmark concerts, while searching for Shaheen’s father. Will they be able to find him before morning? Jukebox is an incredible journey through our history using music as the vehicle. Sections are organized by album cover, with Shaheen’s father’s notes on the albums and social climate, giving readers more context as they prepare to jump into a new decade: Bessie Smith’s section includes notes on the album’s 1929 release, the oncoming Depression, and a 1929 Oscar awards program; Nina Simone’s Black Gold includes a Golden State Comic Con program and a newspaper with an Earth Day headline, all of which happened in 1970. Notes from Shaheen’s father mention her career and marriage eroding in the 1960s, and the music industry’s punishment for her political music.
Brilliant storytelling and an essential look at the ties between music and social change. Visit Nidhi Chanani’s website for printables and more about her books, and get multiple copies of this book ready – your readers deserve them! If you’re doing a travel themed Summer Reading program this year, you couldn’t ask for a better concept: pick songs, get some facts, and create slideshows; invite readers to offer their own insight. What song was popular the year they graduated from kindergarten? What song makes them think of family? A favorite friend? Invite readers to talk about music from their culture that others may not know. There’s so much you can do here!
Turtle in Paradise, by Jennifer L. Holm/Illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau, (June 2021, Random House Graphic), $12.99, ISBN: 9780593126301
Ages 8-12
This graphic novel adaptation of Jennifer Holm’s 2010 Newbery Honor-winning novel is simply gorgeous. Set in 1935, eleven-year-old Turtle is a girl who’s had some tough times. She’s more level-headed than her mother, loves the movies, and really doesn’t like Shirley Temple. While figuring out where life will take her next, her mother sends Turtle to Key West, Florida, to live with her aunt when she takes a job housekeeping for a woman who doesn’t like children, and Turtle has never met her aunt or the many cousins she’s now living with. She starts getting into the swing of things, following the “Diaper Gang”: neighborhood boys with a babysitting club and a secret diaper rash formula that puts them in high demand. As she gets into a day-to-day groove, she learns some family secrets that leave her wanting more: more of her mother’s past, more of her family history, just… more. A family study, a piece of historical fiction that examines life in Depression-Era Florida, and a strong, smart female protagonist make this a great enough story, and then you Savanna Ganucheau’s artwork: filled with lush and humid outdoor spreads, we get a picture of 1930s life in Key West. Turtle’s cousins run barefoot through their day, while Turtle insists on her shoes. Babysitting moments are laugh-out loud funny, and Turtle interactions with a cantankerous senior citizen will make readers chuckle and admire the girl’s tenacity. Inspired by Jennifer Holm’s great-grandmother’s life in Key West, this is an adaptation that your readers will love and will absolutely gain the story some new fans.
Chunky, by Yehudi Mercado, (June 2021, Katherine Tegen Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780062972781
Ages 8-12
A memoir of Yehudi Mercado’s Mexican-Jewish upbringing, Chunky is more incredible storytelling. Set in the 1980s, Hudi has one lung after a childhood battle with lung disease, he’s overweight, and he loves video games, science fiction and fantasy, and being the funny kid. His parents want him to lose weight and be healthier, and try to push him toward different sports to get him more active. Hudi, not particularly in love with the idea, goes along with his parents to make them happy, but creates an imaginary friend: a pink-furred   cheerleader/mascot called Chunky, to cheer him on as he tries – and flops – at baseball, swimming, and tennis. Chunky is there to tell Yehudi he’s better at comedy and drawing; he’s Hudi’s inner compass, telling him to stay true to himself. When Hudi’s father loses his job and has to move to another state to find work, he finds himself faced with a crossroads and joins the football team in a last bid to fit the image his parents want to have of him. Chunky is more than a memoir; it’s a story of trying to please others before yourself; it’s a story of using humor as deflection; it’s a story of listening to your true self. Hudi is funny – he can’t help but crack up people he comes into contact with, especially medical professionals – and he’s pretty game to try anything his parents want, even if his heart may not be 100% committed. He’s good-natured and kind, which makes his break with Chunky painful when he attempts one more sport to satisfy his parents. We want funny Hudi back! We want to go get ice cream with him and feel like everything will work out! The artwork is bright, colorful, upbeat, and loaded with great details, like Hudi’s t-shirts (console video games! Chewbacca!) and his room, which his father constantly redecorates to affirm his dedication to the latest sport Hudi’s involved with – and that Chunky and Hudi take great pleasure in defacing time and time again. I can gush about Chunky all day, so let me just say that this is another must-add to your shelves.
Learn more about Yehudi Mercado and get a look at Chunky at his website. Chunky has a starred review from School Library Journal.
Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Uncategorized

Intermediate Book Bundles!

I’ve been bundling again, and Macmillan was kind enough to give me some book bundling ideas from their imprints. This bundle is a mix of intermediate chapter books and graphic novels, and I think this will be a super popular mix.

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen, by Debbi Michiko Florence/Illustrated by Elizabet Vukovic, (July 2017, Farrar, Straus and Giroux), $15.99, ISBN: 9780374304102

Ages 6-9

I read the first Jasmine Toguchi book back in 2017 and loved this fresh new face on my chapter book shelves! Since then, there have been three more Jasmine Toguchi books, and I know my library kids enjoy Jasmine as much as I did. In her first book, 8-year-old Jasmine really wants to be part of the mochi-making process when her grandmother flies in from Japan, but she’s not 10 yet, so her family says, “no way”. But Jasmine is set on building up her arm strength to be able to heft that mochi hammer. An author’s note and microwave mochi recipe at the end introduce readers to Japanese culture, and Jasmine is a spunky, smart young heroine that readers can immediately feel close to; she could be a friend at school or from the neighborhood. Black and white illustrations throughout are playful and let us into Jasmine’s world.

Author Debbi Michiko Florence’s website is amazing, from the adorable and colorful mochi at the top of the page, to the printable activities tied to each of her books, to her colorful and blog, always loaded with photos and updates.

 

Doggo and Pupper, by Katherine Applegate/Illustrated Charlie Alder, (March 2021, Feiwel & Friends), $9.99, ISBN: 9781250620972

Ages 6-9

Newbery Medalist Katherine Applegate and illustrator Charlie Alder join together to create an adorable story of two dogs. Doggo is a family dog who has his routines, like taking naps, walking the family’s daughter, and snuggling little family members. He has calming pursuits, like watching TV, even skateboarding, but it’s a pretty routine life, even if he does wistfully remember his younger, wilder days. When the family decides to get a new puppy, Doggo’s world is turned upside down! Pupper wants to talk ALL NIGHT. He is silly and lazy and… he’s a puppy! When Pupper gets sent to charm school, he returns home a different, more sedate Pupper, which gets Doggo thinking… he misses that wacky little Pupper. He quietly takes the pup out for a night of fun, where the two can let their wild sides out with no damage: or charm school. A sweet story of friendship and enjoying childhood, Doggo and Pupper is a story early graphic novel readers will love. Cat, the family cat, is there to add wisdom to the story, and Doggo has sage advice about puppies at the end of the story; good advice for anyone considering a Pupper of their own. Colorful collage and digital artwork are adorable, and the story is organized into easily readable chapters that give kids a place to pause.

Doggo and Pupper has a starred review from Booklist.

 

Blue, Barry & Pancakes, by Dan & Jason, (March 2021, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250255556

Ages 4-8

Childhood best friends Dan and Jason give kids a new graphic novel series about the hilarity of friendship. Blue is a worm, Barry is a frog, and Pancakes is a giant bunny, who live in the same house and get into the wackiest of situations. In this first graphic novel, Barry is just about to finish his tower of waffles when Pancakes insists they hit the beach. When Barry and Pancakes start playing with Blue’s collector beach ball, a giant whale eats it and sends the trio off into a silly adventure that will have every reader giggling uncontrollably (at least, my 8 year old did). The facial expressions, the frenetic pace of the action, and the “what next?” moments all make this the graphic novel kids will be asking for this summer. Reading takes you everywhere? It sure does here, as the trio goes from home, to the beach, to the inside of a whale, a rowboat, a UFO, the inside of a volcano, and more! If you asked one of your library kids to make up an adventure right on the spot, I guarantee you they’d come up with something very close to Blue, Barry and Pancakes. Endpapers show off other items in Blue’s collection, which makes me wonder what we’ll see in future adventures…

This is the first in a planned trilogy – the second one is due out in a matter of DAYS (stay tuned). Visit Dan and Jason’s website to see more about their projects, including Blue, Barry and Pancakes.

 

Stella Diaz Has Something to Say!, by Angela Dominguez, (Jan. 2018, Roaring Brook Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-62672-858-5

Ages 7-9

I read the first Stella Diaz book in 2018 and thoroughly enjoyed spending time with this shy second grader who had to find her voice. Stella Diaz loves fish and learning about the oceans and ocean life; she loves spending time with her mom and brother, and loves spending time with her best friend Jenny. She’s also incredibly shy and can’t find the words she wants to use, so she tends to stay quiet, afraid she’ll speak Spanish instead of English, or pronounce her words wrong. Either way, she’s made fun of by the class Mean Girl, but when her teacher assigns presentations that means Stella will have to speak in front of the class, she works to defeat her fears and find her voice. It’s a wonderful story about friendship, making new friends, and facing challenges. It’s infused with Mexican culture and Spanish language, inspired by the author’s own story of growing up Mexican-American, and features black and white illustrations throughout. There are two additional Stella Diaz books now, with a third coming next year – I’ve got books 2 and 3 on my desk right now, so keep an eye on this space for more.

Visit author Angela Dominguez’s website for more about her books!

 

How are you feeling about the book bundles talking? Too much? Not enough? Less description, more visual? I’d love to hear what you think!

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

Pacey Packer – a new spin on unicorns for middle graders

Somehow, I missed out on Pacey Packer when her first book arrived last year, but I’m remedying that right now. For any readers that think unicorns are froofy, rainbow-pooping, and sickly-sweet, I submit to you the Pacey Packer graphic novel series.

Pacey Packer: Unicorn Tracker Book 1, by J.C. Phillipps, (August 2020, RH Graphic), $12.99, ISBN: 9781984850546
Ages 7-10
Pacey is an older sister left in charge of her younger sister, Mina. Mina just wants to spend time with Pacey and have tea parties, but Pacey isn’t the greatest older sister, until she discovers Mina on the back of an actual unicorn, leaving her room! Pacey chases Mina across a rainbow and into a land called Rundalyn, where she learns that unicorns are real, and that Mina’s stuffed unicorn Slasher, is real, too. She also learns that Slasher used to be a real, full-sized unicorn, until his powerful brother, Arkane, turned him into a plush and left him in the world of humans. Arkane is a cruel leader who turns kids to stone for kicks, and Slasher has led Mina and Pacey right to him! As Slasher turns Mina into stone, Pacey decides to fight back, and Slasher, with a change of heart, joins her in the fight. Pacey learns what it means to be a good sister, and that “…you stick by family, even if they drive you up the wall sometimes”, and Slasher discovers that his home is no longer Rundalyn, trying to get back in his brother’s good graces. A fun adventure with a fantastically snarky unicorn, Pacey Packer: Unicorn Tracker is an adventure you’ll want on your Summer Reading list. Artwork is purple-black 2-color with plenty of expressive cartoon characters.
Summer Reading idea:  Travel theme! You’re in Rundalyn, do the unicorns have run of the whole place? What other kinds of fantastic animals and plants live there? Get a unicorn stamp for passports.
Pacey Packer Unicorn Tracker 2: Horn Slayer, by by J.C. Phillipps, (June 2021, RH Graphic), $12.99, ISBN: 9781984850577
Ages 7-10
Picking up where the first adventure left off, Mina and Pacey, now known as “The Horn Slayer”, are planning to free the statue children in Arkane’s palace, encountered in the first book, when Lucky, the dog the girls are watching for a neighbor, gets loose. The girls and Slasher run after Lucky, encountering Carlos – the first of the statue children and Slasher’s old friend – in a forest. The group returns to Rundalyn, where Pacey has a plan to save the statue children. She has to rely on Slasher to guide her in using the power of Arkane’s horn to free the kids, all the while trying to stay out of Arkane’s way, because he is REALLY mad at her. While not absolutely necessary to read the first book in order to know what’s going on – an illuminated manuscript-like retelling begins this volume – I found I enjoyed the second reading much more after I read the first book. There are parallels between Arkane and Pacey being neglectful and self-centered older siblings, helping us see Pacey’s character growth across the two novels. New characters add some extra friends, and the conflict between Pacey and Slasher helps readers understand that blundering into a situation without all the facts is not always the best way to success. The story ends with an open storyline, getting readers ready for the next book in the series, which hits shelves in 2022. Back matter includes a drawing lesson for Loomi, one of the new characters. Way too much fun and a good adventure tale; no sophomore slump here.
Some bundling/display ideas: Grumpy Unicorn Hits the Road by Joey Spiotto, where we learn that “inside every grump is a happy person that’s just having a bad day”. The adorably cranky unicorn story is loaded with sight gags and a story of friendship that assured me that, even when I’m feeling my most unlovable, someone out there is willing to see past that. There’s also Pip Bird’s Dave the Unicorn series. Dave is not like your usual unicorns. He farts, loves doughnuts, and doesn’t really pay attention as much as he should. Mix and match books, formats, and add some fun unicorn-type printables or crafts to your giveaways.
Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Middle Grade Animal Fiction: Say hello to your new best friends!

Animal fiction is always popular – that’s why there’s so much of it! – and I’ve been getting a bunch of animal adventures to read over the last few months. Great for book bundles, Summer Reading, or just keeping in mind for your animal fiction fans, here are two I’ve just finished:

 

Hotel Flamingo, by Alex Milway, (March 2021, Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 9781684641260

Ages 7-10

Originally published in the UK in 2019, this is the first in an intermediate/middle grade series that’s just hitting US shores and it is hilarious. Anna is a young girl who recently inherits Hotel Flamingo, a once glamorous hotel that’s seen better days. Mr. Bear and Mr. Lemmy, the previous administration’s employees, have stayed on, trying to keep the lights on and the water running, and are happy to see Anna, hoping she’ll bring back the hotel to its former glory. As she mulls over how to compete with The Glitz Hotel, run by – oh yes, my friends – Ronald Ruffian, the demanding, boorish hotelier/businessman determined to keep his hold on Animal Boulevard’s clientele, Anna realizes a strength that the Flamingo has: they’ll treat all animals, even bugs, with dignity, respect, and as welcomed guests. With a cast of memorable and fabulous animal characters and situations, this first outing makes me want to check into the Hotel Flamingo again and again. The writing is wonderfully paced, engaging, and pink-and-black two color illustrations throughout make this a great bridge between intermediate chapter books and middle grade novels. A lovely story of teamwork, respect, and hard work paying off, kids will also love Anna, a human girl, being surrounded by new, anthropomorphic, animal friends. There are four books in total (so far?) in the Hotel Flamingo series; keep an eye out for the next ones.

Visit author Alex Milway’s website for a newsletter, free ebooks and excerpts, and his blog.

The Hotel Flamingo series works with the Tails and Tales Summer Reading theme and the Reading Takes You Everywhere theme! Ask your readers what kind of animals would run their hotel, and with what jobs, and cast an animal/human talent show. You’re bound to get some great responses. Print out a passport template (there are a bunch of good ones, for free, on TeachersPayTeachers.com) and either have kids create their own stamps or find some fun ones online. We’ve been stuck inside for a year – it’s time to (armchair) travel!

 

Dog Squad, by Chris Grabenstein, (May 2021, Random House Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 9780593301739

Ages 8-12

Mr. Lemoncello’s Library author Chris Grabenstein hits gold again with Dog Squad – the beginning to what I hope is a new series. Fred is a nice dog who’s had a rough time of it in his just about two years of life. He had a home with Susan, who loved him and treated him so well… until she chose her stuck-up boyfriend over Fred. Then, he was adopted from the shelter by a lout named Tony, who wanted to turn him into a guard dog by “toughening him up”, which really meant abusing him and neglecting him. Fred’s only refuge was the show, Dog Squad, where Duke, Scruffy, and Nala, three heroic dogs, had exciting adventures every week! When Tony kicks Fred out and he ends up in a shelter, it’s good fortune that he’s adopted again: this time, by Jenny, the producer of Dog Squad, and her niece, Abby, who claims to be a dog psychic! Fred’s thrilled to meet his idol, but he’s crushed when Duke turns out to be pretty awful in real life. The tables turn when Duke’s injured and Fred, who resembles Duke, is asked to stand in for Duke on Dog Squad until he heals up, but Fred isn’t brave like he thinks Duke is. It’ll take some real-life adventure, including standing up to bullies. to help Fred understand that bravery takes all sorts of forms, but it’s something that starts inside you. A touching story about friendship, self-worth, and finding a forever home, Dog Squad was inspired by Chris Grabenstein’s dog, Fred: have tissues when you read his words about Fred at the end of the story. Black and white cartoon illustrations throughout will make readers wonder when this will become a movie (at least, that’s what I was thinking). Have kids who loved Paw Patrol but have aged up from Easy Readers and 8×8 media tie-ins? This is your new go-to book. The story even has Paw Patrol-esque catchphrases like, “Pawsome!”

More Summer Reading tie-ins: Tails and Tales, sure, but the Dog Squad team travels around the New York/tri-state area to shoot their show. Maybe consider mapping the areas mentioned in the story? If you’re using reading passports, put a Dog Squad stamp in there (or, you know, New York and Connecticut stamps) for your readers!

Visit Chris Grabenstein’s author page for a Dog Squad excerpt and video piece on the real Fred’s story (and Mr. Lemoncello stuff galore).

 

 

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Middle School, Teen, Tween Reads

Quick Takes: Graphic Novels

This is a graphic novel summer: so many good ones hitting shelves week after week! Perfect for Summer Reading and anytime reading, there are some gorgeous, fun, fantastic stories to be found.

Ham Helsing #1: Vampire Hunter, by Rich Moyer, (June 2021, Crown Books for Young Readers), $12.99, ISBN: 9780593308912

Ages 8-12

Ham Helsing is a young descendant of a long line of vampire hunters who never seem to live quite long, usually because they make rather silly decisions. Ham was always content to let his older brother, Chad, wear the monster hunting mantle; he preferred more creative pursuits, like painting and poetry, but Chad’s daredevil acts led to… well, Ham is the new monster hunter in the family, so he’s off to hunt a vampire. The only problem is, the vampire he’s out to get isn’t what you’d expect. Ham Helsing: Vampire Hunter is the first in a planned trilogy and is a fun, not-at-all scary story about learning that people aren’t always what they seem, and that it’s always good to have friends to back you up. The action is animated, the dialogue is fun and witty, and there are robotic knights, sight gags, a toddler werewolf, and animated bacon. What more can you ask from a graphic novel?

Author Rich Moyer’s website has links to more of his illustration work, social media, and school visit information. Get a look at some more of Ham Helsing at Random House’s website.

 

 

Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Goo Book 3: Battle of the Bards, by James Parks & Ben Costa, (Apr. 2021, Knopf Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 9780399556203

Ages 11-14

A fantasy more geared toward middle- and high schoolers rather than middle graders, the third volume of the Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Goo book continues the adventures of the skeletal bard and his jelly-like friend, Gelatinous Goo. In this adventure, Rickety Stitch – an animated skeleton who retains his love of music and his gentle soul, despite having no memory of who he was when he was alive – and Goo travel with an acting troupe to perform in a music competition, but Rickety discovers another performer, a woman named Canta, who brings back memories of his past. It becomes clear that the competition is a distraction from some seedy behavior underneath the city, and Rickety and Goo find themselves right in the middle of the action. The story is full of action and adventure and manages to tug at readers’ heartstrings with Rickety’s genuine tale of loss and memory. Middle schoolers and early high schoolers in particular will love this great wrap-up to a fantasy tale. It helps to read the first two before beginning the third; you may feel lost otherwise, as there is a lot of world-building and character development that’s gone on thus far. Great for your fantasy section.

Check out the Land of Eem website for Rickety Stitch and Eem-related role-playing games and sign up for a newsletter!

 

Apple of My Pie, by Mika Song, (June 2021, Random House Graphic), $12.99, ISBN: 9781984895851

Ages 5-8

The follow-up to last year’s Donut Feed the Squirrels, the newest Norma and Belly adventure is an adorable romp to save Pops, who falls onto a truck and heads to the apple orchard where he may end up in a pie! Norma, Belly, and their friend, B, are on the case in this sweet story, perfect for newly confident readers. The watercolor artwork is colorful but not overwhelming, with lots of calming earth colors and cute animal artwork. A school trip to the orchard provides some extra fun as the squirrels dash around the kids on their race to find Pops first.

Mika Song’s website has all sorts of treasures for readers, including extra comics, a newsletter signup, and printable activity sheets! Great to bundle with other graphic novels for young readers, like Narwhal and Jelly, Blue Barry and Pancakes, Fox and Chick, and Shark and Bot. You can also mix up the formats and include other books, like Mo Willems’s Unlimited Squirrels series, or Mélanie Watt’s Scaredy Squirrel series (graphic novels are forthcoming, too: future post!).

Apple of My Pie has a starred review from Kirkus.

 

Much, much more to come: let these three start you off!

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, mythology, Uncategorized

Tails and Tales Bundle: Thundercluck and Zeus the Mighty

Since I’ve been talking about Summer Reading and book bundles, I thought I’d start making some fun suggestions. For anyone doing the Tails and Tales theme, Thundercluck: Chicken of Thor by Paul Tillery IV and Meg Wittwer and the Zeus the Mighty series from Crispin Boyer fit the bill and have the shared mythological theme, too!

Thundercluck! Chicken of Thor: Recipe for Revenge, by Paul Tillery IV/Illustrated by Meg Wittwer, (Sept. 2020, Square Fish), $7.99, ISBN: 9781250619785

Ages 8-11

The second Thundercluck adventure is just as much fun as the first. Thundercluck and Brunhilde, the Valkyrie, find themselves on the outs with Odin, and head to Midgard (that’s us, Earth!) to match wits against three foes. Gorman the angry skull is back with two new fiends: Medda, a shape-shifting enchantress, and War-Tog, a warthog warrior that is too easily led into poor decisions. Thundercluck is a story of friendship being tested, and family secrets learned, but at its heart, it’s a story of learning to admit one’s mistakes. Black and white illustrations and a quickly-moving story makes this an excellent Summer Reading choice; you don’t need to have read the first book to jump on board, but the kids will want to.

Summer Reading ideas: Book bundle with the first Thundercluck and printables from the Thundercluck website; book bundle with Zeus the Mighty for a Tails and Tales spin on mythology; display with other mythology chapter books, like Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams’s Thunder Girls seriesDon’t forget to have reference resources, like National Geographic’s Everything Mythology, available!

 

Zeus the Mighty: The Quest for the Golden Fleas (Book 1), by Crispin Boyer, (Oct. 2019, Under the Stars), $12.99, ISBN: 9781426335471

Ages 8-12

The first book in another fun series from National Geographic Kids and their fiction imprint, Under the Stars. Zeus the Mighty is a hamster who lives in Mount Olympus Pet Center with a variety of rescued animals, and heroines. Artie – short for Artemis, naturally – is the human the runs the Center and names her favorite rescues after Greek mythological heroes. The group all listen to a podcast, Greeking Out, that tells the stories of the Greek gods, but the animals take the stories to heart. Zeus believes he rules Mount Olympus, putting him at odds with Poseidon, the puffer fish who won’t give up control of his watery Atlantis and bristles at Zeus’s attempts to boss him around. Their first adventure is a quest for the Golden Fleas: a fun retelling of the tale of Jason, the Argonauts, and the Golden Fleece. The storytelling is light, there are cute black and white illustrations throughout, and a section on “The Truth Behind the Fiction” adds the perfect amount of nonfiction context to the story. Consider adding this to your shelves.

Summer Reading Ideas: Bundle with the second book in the series, The Maze of the Menacing Minotaur (the third book is out in August!) and add some printables from the Zeus the Mighty website. Display with other Greek mythology-flavored fiction, like Joan Holub and Suzanne William’s Goddess Girls and the Heroes in Training series, by Joan Holub, Suzanne Williams, and Tracey West. National Geographic has a great Weird But True book on Greek Mythology, too.

 

Posted in Middle Grade, Middle School, Tween Reads

Year of the Buttered Cat is amazing!

The Year of the Buttered Cat (A Mostly True Story), by Susan Haas and Lexi Haas, (April 2021, Penelope Editions), $17.99, ISBN: 9781734225938

Ages 9-13

What a book! This mostly-true memoir of Lexi Haas, a Star Wars and superhero-loving teen, shines a light on a rare – and preventable – neurological disease called kernicterus. Written by Lexi and her mother, Susan Haas, The Year of the Buttered Cat moves between Lexi at ages five and six, when she learns about her diagnosis and waits for the “five gifts, more or less” that an ersatz preacher wishes for her, and the age of 13, on the eve of a major surgery that she, and her family, hope will give her more control over her body and give her a voice. Not a story about kernicterus, Lexi’s story is a story about fandom, friendship, and discovering that the gifts you need are to be discovered within. We read Lexi’s frustrations and her ups and downs – feeling left out by friends; having strangers ask “what’s wrong with her?”; knowing her parents are keeping secrets – and see our own. We read her joyful moments – her laughter, teasing and being teased by siblings, watching Saturday Night Live with her parents, cuddling with her dog – and smile and laugh along with her. Do we find out why the cat was buttered? Yes. Do we want to find Lexi and the next Comic Con and hang out in cosplay with her? Definitely. Lexi’s voice is strong, clear, and focused, whether she’s making us laugh or suggesting we stop, take a moment, and think.

Give this to your readers who loved Wonder, Mustaches for Maddie, and Roll With It, A great add to your social-emotional learning shelves.

Posted in Adventure, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Tales from the TBR: NatGeo’s Explorer Academy – Star Dunes

Explorer Academy: The Star Dunes (Book 4), by Trudi Trueit, (March 2020, National Geographic), $16.99, ISBN: 9781426336812
Ages 8-12
I am WAY behind on my Explorer Academy reading; Book 6 is coming out in October and I’ve only just finished Book 4, which came out in hardcover last year, and in softcover in January of this year. But do NOT be me: this middle grade adventure series has been one of the best I’ve read over the last few years; I’ve given it to my nephew, who’s devoured each book, and I talk it up to my library kids, who love all the cool James Bond-type intrigue and gadgets, along with the piece-by-piece solving of a mystery that takes Cruz Coronado, our main character, and his friends, all over the world. In this fourth installment, Cruz and Company take on poachers and heal mountain gorillas in Africa as they continue on their hunt for Cruz’s mother’s next clue. Meanwhile, not all is well at the Explorer Academy as Cruz gets some unsettling news and discovers that one of his classmates is increasingly hostile to him, calling him a “hero hog”. On the up side, a new student at Explorer Academy will satisfy longtime readers who were probably wondering when that particular development would finally happen (I know I did!). The cast we’ve all grown to know is here, and even first-time Explorer Academy readers will find themselves comfortable in this fourth volume – but really, to know the whole story, you should read the first three, too. Color illustrations and an introduction to the scientists that inspire the adventures in the book make this a great middle grade series. Hand this to all your action adventure readers – it’s science fiction that’s closer and closer to realistic fiction every day.