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

Marshmallow & Jordan is a gentle friendship story

Marshmallow & Jordan, by Alina Chau, (Oct. 2021, First Second), $22.99, ISBN: 9781250300607

Ages 8-12

Set in Indonesia, Marhsmallow & Jordan is a story of friendship and finding one’s own way. Jordan is a middle schooler who loves basketball: even an accident that put her in a wheelchair can’t stop her, mostly. She can’t compete with the team like she used to, but still serves as captain. She’s feeling a bit unfulfilled, when she rescues a hurt white baby elephant that she promptly names Marshmallow. The two new friends quickly become attached. Meanwhile, Jordan’s basketball coach recommends she try out for water polo after Marshmallow digs Jordan a pool, letting her take to the water without worrying about her wheelchair weighing her down. The training isn’t easy, but Marshmallow’s loving support and her own determination keeps Jordan focused on practice and success. But Marshmallow is hiding a secret of her own. Rich with warm colors and Indonesian culture and a diverse group of characters, Marshmallow & Jordan is a great middle grade story that works as a book club pick and a realistic fiction piece. Back matter includes a glossary of Indonesian terms, an author’s note, Indonesian facts, and food recommendations.

Visit Alina Chau’s author website for more information about her books, to sign up for her newsletter, and connect to her social media. Read an interview with Alina Chau at SLJ’s Good Comics for Kids, TeachersPayTeachers has free Indonesian activities, including an animal word search from Teach With Mrs. T’s Class and a map of Indonedia from The Harstad Collection. Britannica for Kids has information about water polo.

 

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

Frankie and Amelia is a great buddy story

Frankie and Amelia, by Cammie McGovern, (Oct. 2021, HarperCollins), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062463326

Ages 8-12

Franklin is a cat who ends up separated from his family. He finds a temporary home with a family, where he meets a dog named Chester, a service dog to a boy with autism named Gus. But Gus’s dad is allergic to Franklin, so he ends up with one of Gus’s classmates, a girl named Amelia, who loves cats, and who really needs a good friend.

Frankie and Amelia is a the companion book to Chester and Gus (2017), but you don’t need to have read it to enjoy Frankie and Amelia. It’s a gentle story about found families, inclusion, and autism, particularly how it’s often missed in girls. The story is narrated by Franklin, who grows as a character as the story progresses and he learns more about and becomes more sensitive to his adopted humans, Gus and Amelia. Chester, a seasoned seizure response dog, is Franklin’s guide into this new world and provides an incredible amount of information to readers on autism and the sensitivity that companion animals provide to their charges. Cammie McGovern, the parent of a child with autism, writes with an understanding and sensitivity to the topic, and creates characters that are kind, realistic, and lovable. By exploring the relationship between pets and people, she’s able to give readers a new understanding of autism, how people with autism are often perceived by others, and how autism presents differently in boys and girls.

A must-have for your shelves.

 

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Horror, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

This Halloween, Zombert returns!

Return of Zombert, by Kara LaReau/Illustrated by Ryan Andrews, (July 2021, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536201079

Ages 8-12

Last summer, I read Kara LaReau and Ryan Andrews’s Rise of Zombert, and audibly squawked at the cliffhanger ending; needless to say, seeing Return of Zombert in my review box of goodies from Candlewick Press gave me a large amount of seasonal joy.

To catch you up: Lambert is a corporate town, with the YummCo corporation at the town’s heart. Everyone is employed by or affected by YummCo in some way, but it’s okay! Because YummCo is great! They have a catchy jingle, and the head of the company loves to give people the thumbs up! And they swear they don’t test on animals! Except they do. YummCo’s got their corporate fingers in a lot of pies, and some projects are shadowy and secret, and involve some awful animal testing. Zombert – known at the lab as Y-91 – is a cat that escaped from the lab with promises of revenge when he returns to liberate the other animals, but he’s found by a girl named Mellie, who cares for him, nurses him back to health, names him Bert, and doesn’t mind (too much) that he prefers to eat the heads of his live prey.

Zombert – as Mellie’s best friend Danny calls the “zombie cat” – has started easing into life with Mellie while haunted by nightmares of his mother, who never returned from a food run; his brother and sister, captured with him and brought to the lab, and the memories of Cold Hands, the cruel human at the lab who experimented on him. And YummCo hasn’t forgotten about Zombert, either: there are new plans afoot to get him back, and they have another inside man infiltrating Mellie’s and Danny’s lives to facilitate that. Mellie needs to earn some money to get Bert to the vet, and YummCo just happens to be holding a Best Pet contest. Is the contest legit? What do you think? This latest entry into the Zombert chronicles is even more compulsively readable than Rise of Zombert. It’s dark humor at its best, with poignant moments as we experience Zombert’s trauma through his memories. The ending will leave you yelling at the book yet again, and waiting not-so-patiently for the third part of the series, due in the Summer of 2022. Ryan Andrew’s black and white illustrations add the perfect touch of chiller to this story. Definitely grab this one.

Read a sample chapter of Return of Zombert here.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Horror, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads

Spooooktastic middle grade: SCARY STORIES FOR YOUNG FOXES

I can’t believe Halloween is THIS WEEKEND. I’ve been booktalking all the spooky books I’ve been reading year-round, in anticipation of this moment!

Scary Stories for Young Foxes, by Christian McKay Heidicker/Illustated by Junyi Wu, (July 2019, Henry Holt & Co.), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250181428

Ages 9-14

A Newbery Honor-winning collection of interconnected stories, Scary Stories for Young Foxes stole the show when it hit shelves in 2019, and it’s still going strong today. Framed by the setting of a storyteller spinning tales for a group of young foxes, the heart of each story involves two kits, Mia and Uly, separated from their litters, and fighting scary creatures to get back. It’s a great concept, because the stories are told for young foxes, putting readers into the mindset of a fox, not a person, and thinking about things that would terrify a young animal, rather than a person, and realizing that we share similar fears. These are stories for older kids – there are some moments that may be tough to read about, including domestic abuse, a witch who wants to wear the kits’ skins, and a very hungry zombie – not fare for kids who are still loving Goosebumps. Think of your Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark fans, maybe a year or two older. Junyi Wi’s illustrations add additional chills. As Kirkus writes, “Dark and skillfully distressing, this is a tale for the bold”.

Scary Stories for Young Foxes has starred reviews from Booklist and the Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Books. You can visit author Christian McKay Heidicker’s author webpage and learn more about his books and school visits, and read his blog.

 

 

Scary Stories for Young Foxes: The City, by Christian McKay Heidicker/Illustated by Junyi Wu, (Aug. 2021, Henry Holt & Co.), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250181442

Ages 9-14

The stories continue in the companion to Scary Stories for Young Foxes! Scary Stories for Young Foxes: The City is back with eight new stories, more gloriously horrifying illustration, and two new foxes. Fox kit 0-730 loves the “old stories” about Mia and Uly, and is desperate for an exciting, adventurous life away from the Farm and what he thinks are the safe, wire dens the foxes inhabit. He escapes his cage to discover the truth behind what’s going on at the Farm, and runs for his life. Cozy is a fox who lives in the suburbs with her skulk, forced to escape her den when a terrifying creature that hunts foxes arrives. Both foxes arrive in The City, a scary new world with scary new dangers awaiting them.

The book can be read on its own as a stand-alone, or as a companion to the first book. Either way, the stories are scary: the kind of scary that creeps like dread as you read, and the heart-pounding panic you experience when you have information that the characters just don’t know (yet). Fans who love Katherine Arden, Mary Downing Hahn and Holly Black will love Scary Stories for Young Foxes and Scary Stories for Young Foxes: The City.

Visit illustrator Junyi Wu’s website to see more amazing artwork.

 

Posted in Adventure, Animal Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Blog Tour: Once Upon a Camel by Kathi Appelt

Two blog tours in one day, you ask? YES! That’s whatcha get when a cranky summer storm wrecks your Internet for a day. But look – a new Kathi Appelt book is always cause for celebration, especially one as good as…

Once Upon a Camel, by Kathi Appelt/Illustrated by Eric Rohmann,
(September 2021, Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781534406438
Ages 8-12

Newbery Honoree and National Book Award Finalist Kathi Appelt delivers an heir apparent to Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan (2015) and Sara Pennypacker’s Pax (2016). Set in Texas 1910 Texas, an aging camel named Zada has a life lived: she’s won camel races in Turkey for a high-ranking Turkish officer; she’s felt like she was flying across the fields and led army missions with her best friend, Asiye; she’s outsmarted lions and befriended birds. Now, protecting two baby kestrel chicks during a sandstorm, she keeps them entertained in an escarpment as she reflects on her life and hopes that she’ll find the chicks’ parents when the storm breaks… and before the lion returns. It’s an adventure with a heart as big as the desert, and with moments that will have readers enchanted and white-knuckled. Caldecott Medalist Eric Rohmann’s gorgeous oil painting, rendered here in blacks, greys, and whites, show sweeping sea voyages and cuddly camels and chicks; thrilling escapes and affectionate moments that give texture and life to Kathi Appelt’s sweet, funny, and bittersweet words. Once Upon a Camel is a gentle story of found family and survival, separation, and reunion. Animal fiction fans and fans of Kate DiCamillo and Katherine Applegate will love this story.
If you don’t trust me, trust Richard the Camel, seen here with author Kathi Appelt during what appears to be an impromptu storytime. Look at Richard’s smile! He’s a member of the Texas Camel Corps – maybe a descendant of Zada’s?
Photo was taken at Texas Camel Corps. Photo credit: Doug Baum

Kathi Appelt is the author of the Newbery Honoree, National Book Award Finalist, and bestselling The Underneath as well as the National Book Award Finalist for The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swap. Some of her award-winning books include Maybe a Fox (with Alison McGhee), Keeper, and Max Attacks, to name just a few. She lives in College Station, Texas. To learn more, visit her website at Kathi Appelt.com.

Find Kathi on Facebook and Pinterest!

 

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

Mr. Penguin and friends are all aboard for a catastrophic cruise!

Mr. Penguin and the Catastrophic Cruise, by Alex T. Smith, (Sept. 2021, Peachtree Publishing), $9.99, ISBN: 9781682633304

Ages 8-12

The third Mr. Penguin adventure is coming to paperback this Fall, and it’s a doozy! Mr. Penguin and his Adventurers – his friend, Edith her pet pigeon, Gordon, and his partner, the unibrowed, karate-kicking spider, Colin, are off on a posh cruise aboard the Saucy Sandra where Colin’s been invited to sing with the Seven Sisters Choir, and Mr. Penguin and Edith are excited to mix with movie stars and millionaire Herbert Chuckle, accompanied by his girlfriend, Honey Chrystelle. But just as Mr. Penguin is about to relax and enjoy a cruise filled with fish finger sandwiches, he discovers that there’s a pirate plot afoot! A young stowaway named Marina is on board to save her grandfather, who’s been kidnapped. There’s trouble brewing above and below the water and it’s up to Mr. Penguin to get to the bottom of things before they get too out of hand! The bumbling Mr. Penguin is charming and relies heavily on his friends to get himself out of trouble, and the adventure and plot twists are fun and will keep readers guessing. You don’t need to be familiar with the characters to enjoy this book, so make sure readers know they can join Mr. Penguin on any of his adventures. The orange, black and white artwork is visually interesting, with pages being splashed in orange or gray with drawings of underwater and seaboard spreads framing the story’s prose. There’s humor, adventure, fun dialogue, and a good story to keep readers entertained. Perfect for Tails and Tales AND Reading Takes You Everywhere Summer Reading themes.

The hardcover Mr. Penguin and the Catastrophic Cruise is already available, so make sure you’ve got it handy for your displays!

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 Animal Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Blog Tour: PAWCASSO by Remy Lai!

If you haven’t yet read and enjoyed Remy Lai’s books, you really must. She has a wonderful way of looking at life, whether it’s finding a way through grief by making cakes (Pie in the Sky), or striking out on one’s own to prove their independence (Fly on the Wall). Her newest book, Pawcasso, is about a lonely girl and a neighborhood dog with a shopping basket who quickly garners a fan club.

Pawcasso, by Remy Lai, (May 2021, Henry Holt BFYR),
$21.99, ISBN: 9781250774484
Ages 8-12

Jo is an 11-year-old girl who has trouble connecting with new friends. As she stares out her window, she’s drawn to a neighborhood dog who trots around, shopping basket in his mouth, stopping at stores and picking up groceries. Everyone seems to know the pup, and, intrigued, Jo follows him, to try and figure out where he lives. People from the neighborhood see Jo following “Pawcasso”, as he’s become known, and assume she’s his owner: chaos ensues as Jo just kind of allows everyone to believe Pawcasso is her dog, including the neighborhood dog catcher, who’s on Pawcasso’s trail after receiving complaints about an unleashed dog in the neighborhood. Jo finds herself in an uncomfortable middle as she’s caught in her own lie, and may have to come clean and risk the new friendships she’s formed, in order to keep Pawcasso from going to the pound.

Remy Lai’s artwork is here in full color, and she brings Pawcasso, Jo, and their little neighborhood to life with friendly, colorful panels. The story will appeal to a wide range of readers, from dog- and pet-lovers, to graphic novel and realistic fiction fans, to readers looking for a good story about friendship, family, and fun.

Pawcasso has starred reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, and Shelf Awareness. Visit Remy Lai’s author webpage for more about her books and to sign up for her newsletter!

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

Tales from the TBR: Otto P. Nudd

Otto P. Nudd, by Emily Butler, (Dec. 2020, Crown Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 9781524717759

Ages 8-12

My latest TBR pick is the animal adventure Otto P. Nudd by Emily Butler. Otto P. Nudd is a raven, a bird for the ages: just ask him; he’ll tell you. He’s simply brilliant, has a wife, Lucille, and an egg on the way, and he spends his mornings with Bartleby Doyle, an old inventor who’s been taking care of Otto since he found him on the forest floor, having fallen from his nest as a baby. He’s friends with Pippa, a girl who’s just lost her father, and Bartleby’s neighbor. It’s all lovely and cozy until one morning, when Bartleby injures himself while testing out one of his experiments before Otto arrived to assist him. Now, Otto is locked out of the workshop, Pippa’s in school, and Otto’s puffed-up ego has alienated him from all of the animals he knows! He’s going to have to reconsider the way he approaches others and ask for help if he’s going to be able to help poor Bartleby. A funny, quirky story about friendship, being kind, and making amends, I loved spending time with Otto and his friends. There’s a tough squirrel named Marla, and a group of dumpster-diving birds that kids will love, especially when they interact with Otto; a side plot explores a developing crush between Pippa and a school friend, and the heart of the story is Otto’s deep love for his human friend and the roots of that relationship. It’s a great choice for a middle grade book group, and there are passages that make for good readalouds. Black and white artwork throughout the book introduces readers to the adorable characters, and a few cut-away chapters provide readers with deeper dives into STEM and friendship, courtesy of Wilma the Mouse and her friend Raúl the Guinea Pig. Hand this to Kate DiCamillo and Katherine Applegate fans; display with classic animal adventures like E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and Trumpet of the Swan.