Posted in Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Graphic Novel Bonanza: Adora and the Distance

Adora and the Distance, by Marc Bernardin/Illustrated by Ariela Kristantina, (March 2022, Dark Horse), $14.99, ISBN: 9781506724508

Ages 12+

Like I said, I read a HUGE backlog of graphic novels while I had my little break, so be prepared for some “If you didn’t read it, it’s new to you!” posts. This time, I’ve got Adora and the Distance, by television writer-producer and comic book author Marc Bernardin. Set in a high fantasy world, Adora is a young woman of color living in a world full of adventure: there are pirates, ghosts, a royal family, and a malevolent entity known as The Distance. The Distance devours and destroys, and Adora, connected to The Distance, must leave her home on a mission to stop it.

The artwork is stunning. The colors, the shading, the depth, bring this book to life in a reader’s hands. The story builds to an incredible conclusion that made the world come to a halt around me as I took it all in. Adora and the Distance is a father’s love letter to his daughter in the best way he could reach her; the best way to let her know he sees her. Adora and the Distance is a story of autism, you see; Marc Bernardin’s author’s note at the end of the book  explains his impetus for creating this epic tale. Adora is smart, brave, and full of love.  There’s humor, adventure, family, and forgiveness all here, bound into this story that connects a father to his daughter.

Put Adora and the Distance in your distributor cart, and get it on shelves for your readers. Give it to parents, educators, and caregivers.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

The Monsters of Rookhaven is all about Family

The Monsters of Rookhaven, by Pádraig Kenny/Illustrated by Edward Bettison, (Sept. 2021, Henry Holt), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250623942

Ages 10-14

Mirabelle loves her very unique family: there’s Uncle Bertram, who can transform into a grizzy bear, and Aunt Eliza, entirely made up of spiders. There are the twins, Dotty and Daisy, who can be a little cruel, and Odd, who travels through portals. There’s Gideon, the newest addition to the family, and the mysterious Piglet; and there’s Uncle Enoch, who presides over the group. They have an agreement with the English village that separates them by way of a magical border: they don’t cross the border and eat the townsfolk, and the village keeps them fed and safe from the outside world. But Jem and Tom, two orphaned siblings, discover a tear in the magic and find their way into Rookhaven, with consequences for everyone on both sides of the border.

This book is gorgeous; beautifully macabre and perfect for kids who loved Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. The narration moves swiftly along but is never rushed; it’s deliberate and takes its time creating the world of Rookhaven and the post-War English countryside; we meet a group of people devastated by war and the grief and loss it brings, making them susceptible to the worst type of manipulation. We meet another group of beings, specially gifted but assumed terrible, also suffering from grief and loss, with the added confusion of having two very human children stumble into their secure world and turn things upside down. Pádraig Kenny masterfully brings these elements together with dark humor and gentle moments, tension and terror mixed with wonder and pain. Edward Bettison’s blackwork illustrations add the perfect moodiness to the story. An excellent choice for book groups

The Monsters of Rookhaven is out in hardcover now and will be released in paperback this September, to coincide with the hardcover release of the next Rookhaven book, The Shadows of Rookhaven.

The Monsters of Rookhaven has a starred review from Booklist.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Indie Spotlight: The Voting Tree by Gareth Griffith

The Voting Tree (The Pelagius Chronicles, Book 1), by Gareth Griffith, (Nov. 2018), $10.25, ISBN: 978-1729264485

Ages 10-13

The Voting Tree is an epic fantasy taking place across two worlds: Sydney, Australia in the year 2000, and a fantasy kingdom called the Land of Pelas. In the current world, Sam Archer is a middle schooler who’s just moved to Sydney, thanks to his dad’s new job. He starts school where he meets new friends Hamish, Sylvia, Athena, and Oscar… and the local bullies, who target Sam and his group of friends for being “freaks”. In the fantasy world of Pelas, there’s open war as Lord Boreas slays his brother, the king, and his wife; their child, Pelagius, is sent into hiding and will live in exile until he’s old enough to retake his father’s throne. Back in Sydney, Sam and his friends gather around a fig tree near their school, and discover that it’s a portal to Pelas, where they meet Pelagius and join his quest. Sam and his friends all have special abilities in this fantasy world to guide them and Pelagius on their way, and time works differently here: they can spend hours in Pelas, but almost no time has passed when they return home. At times, the differences between the two worlds made for a challenging transition, especially because there isn’t a lot of involvement with each of the worlds. Their time in Pelas does lead to character growth and confidence, making this a nice hero’s journey story to recommend. Characters deal with family stress, bullying at school, and inaction on the part of the teachers. Give this to your fantasy readers who love Garth Nix.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade

The Button Box is perfect for Magic Tree House readers!

The Button Box, by Fawzia Gilani-Williams, Bridget Hodder/Illustrated by Harshad Marathe, (Apr. 2022, Kar-Ben Publishing), $17.99, ISBN: 9781728423968

Ages 8-12

Cousins Ava and Nadeem are fifth graders and best friends. Ava is Jewish, from Sephardic descent, and Nadeem is Muslim; this opens them up to comments from bullies at school. After a particularly tough day, the two confide in their Granny Buena, who tells them a story of a legendary ancestor, Ester ibn Evram, and her role in saving a famous Muslim prince, Abdur Rahman, in Medieval Spain. As they look through Nanny Buena’s button box, which holds one of Ester’s buttons, the two discover that have traveled through time and landed back in Medieval Spain, just in time to witness – and maybe assist! – Ester ibn Avram on her quest, and help create a “legendary Golden Age for Muslims, Jews and Christians”. The story is exciting and the relationship between Ava and Nadeem is wonderfully supportive. Granny Buena speaks with a sprinkling of the Judeo-Spanish language Ladino, which leans closely to Spanish, giving readers some exposure to a new language. Back matter includes a glossary and an author’s note about Sephardic Jews, Muslims, and the actual Prince Adur-Rahman (Ester ibn Avram is fictional). An excellent choice for readers who enjoy the Magic Tree House series, and very similar to Marcia Berneger’s A Dreidel in Time (2021).

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

Margo Maloo is back in The Tangled Web

Time for another graphic novel roundup! I’ve been reading and tearing through both my new and pre-existing TBR, and work’s kept me on my toes, so please forgive the spotty posting schedule as of late.

The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo: The Tangled Web, by Drew Weing, (Dec. 2021, First Second), $15.99, ISBN: 9781250206831

Ages 8-12

The third Margo Maloo adventure is full of heart and humor, and introduces some new drama. Monsters’ hiding places are being discovered and they’re being run out by ghost-hunting teens, kids, and developers, who want to raze old buildings to make way for expensive new luxury housing (sound familiar?). There’s tension building between Margo and Charles, her assistant in monster ambassadorship, because Charles’s background as a monster journalist makes him a little sus in her eyes. A setup leads to a big misunderstanding between the two friends, but they have to put their differences aside when a family of giant spiders need to be saved from a factory about to be blown up!

Drew Weing has given us such fun, insightful characters in the Margo Maloo stories, and manages to address very real-world problems in the frame of a fantasy. He’s addressed diversity and prejudice in previous Case Files, and takes on gentrification and affordable housing this time around. Even Echo City’s human residents are feeling the stress as Charles’s superintendent dad fixes up the apartments in their building, expecting the rents to go sky high and price them out of their homes. Readers will be happy to see familiar characters, including Kevin Charles’s neighbor and friend, and Marcus, the Battlebeenz-playing monster. Drew Weing also starts an interesting new subplot that brings a shady new element into the story and causes strife between Margo and Charles. I can’t wait to see how this develops. Don’t miss this fun series.

 

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Kicking off 2022 YA with a bang: The Bone Spindle

The Bone Spindle, by Leslie Vedder, (Jan. 2022, Razorbill), $18.99, ISBN: 9780593325827

Ages 12+

This fantasy YA is heavily inspired by Sleeping Beauty, with a touch of Red Riding Hood, and a lot of adventure. Fi – short for Filore – is a treasure hunter with a curse on her head. Actually, it’s on her hand, but it’s a terrible one. Shane is an exiled female warrior who loves fighting and pretty girls. The two unlikely partners end up working together to free a kingdom when Fi pricks her finger on a bone spindle and discovers Briar Rose, the prince whose kingdom is under a sleeping curse until Love’s first kiss awakens him. Briar’s body is asleep, but his magic allows him to appear to Fi, leading her to his kingdom: if she can make it through the perilous thorns and other dangers that await.

The first in a new YA fantasy duology (or trilogy!), The Bone Spindle is a fantasy adventure that flips traditional fairy tales and gender roles, giving readers strong and smart female protagonists and a gentle hero with a mysterious dark side. Fi is afraid to fall in love after a terrible ex left her in a bad spot, but Briar is so awkward and sweet that she wonders what will happen when she finally gets to his kingdom to deliver his kiss. Shane comes from a warrior kingdom, but she’s chosen exile. She loves the heft of her axe and the smile on a pretty girl, but her partnership with Fi means she’ll put herself at risk for a friend. Fantasy readers, LGBTQ+ readers, romance readers, all will find something to love in The Bone Spindle – enjoy spotting the influences as you read.

Posted in Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Teen, Uncategorized, Young Adult/New Adult

Wishes aren’t free: The Well

The Well, by Jake Wyatt/Illustrated by Choo, (Apr. 2022, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626724143

Ages 14+

A seaside village is attacked by a monster. A woodcutter, his wife and mother in law, two powerful witches, join forces to battle it, and disappear, leaving behind their child and her grandfather, to raise her. Thirteen years later, Lizzie is a teen who helps her grandfather by selling their wares at the local market, but when she needs money to cover her passage home, she grabs money from the sacred well and awakens a spirit that urges her to repay her debt. Lizzie must grant wishes, but every wish comes with a price; some are painful to bear. In her quest to cover her debts at the well, Lizzie will learn about the magic that almost destroyed her family.

The Well unfolds like a fairy tale: a monster, a tragedy, a child left behind, and a legacy of magic to be discovered. The moral – every wish comes with a price, and having a wish granted isn’t always what it seems – runs through the story, reminding readers to think before they act, even before they wish. The artwork is dreamlike, with vibrant color and fantastic monsters. A must for your fantasy fans.

I love the idea of having tweens and teens create their own fairy tales, and The Well is a great way to introduce a program like that. Invite readers to volunteer fairy tale elements they see in the story. Outback Aussie Teaching has a planning template on Teachers Pay Teachers, to help writers organize their thoughts; the Bilingual Language Institute has a Spanish/English picture board with options for characters, setting, problems, solutions, and magic powers to help give readers a flow to work with.

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

Anne Ursu’s The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy is brilliant!

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy, by Anne Ursu, (Oct. 2021, Walden Pond Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9780062275127

Ages 9-13

Anne Ursu is an undisputed champion of kidlit fantasy. I’ve devoured The Real Boy and Breadcrumbs and am in awe of how she creates these incredible worlds with characters that are so realistic, so well-written, that looking up and realizing I’m still in my living room, dog across my legs, with a book in my lap, can be a little jarring. Her latest story, The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy, is kidlist feminist fantasy at its best. Taking place in a fantasy world and time, Marya Lupu is a girl living in a kingdom under attack from an army called The Dread. Her parents are straight-up awful; they dote on her brother, Luka, because in this world, the young men are sent into service as sorcerers to fight the dread while, if they’re lucky, the girls and families get to live off the sorcerer’s reputation. This sets the siblings up against each other, which never ends well: sure enough, on the day Luka is to be evaluated by the sorcerers for his skill, chaos ensues and it leads right back to Marya. The next day, a letter from a school called the Dragmoir Academy shows up for Marya: it’s a school for wayward girls, and her parents can’t pack her off quickly enough.  What she discovers at the Academy, though, are a group of young women who are far more than just a bunch of “troubled” young women, and the Dragomir Academy has a darker history than they’re owning up to.

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy is about women, power, and fear. It’s a school story, with different personalities and the conflict that comes with putting that many personalities together under stressful circumstances; it’s also a story of hidden women, hidden messages, and who really controls the dialogue, whether it comes to today’s news or a high-fantasy novel about a land under threat from a horrific enemy that devastates everything in its path. Brilliantly written, with characters that readers will love; Marya is a smart young woman who’s been beaten down for a long time; unlike many of the other girls in the novel, though, she refuses to second-guess or question herself when it’s time to take action, and she motivates her schoolmates to own their own power, too.

Anne Ursu is an award-winning, National Book Award-nominated fantasy author. Visit her website for more information about her books and teacher guides, and upcoming events.

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy has a starred review from Kirkus and is an Indie Next pick.

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

Garlic and the Vampire: An unlikely friendship story

Garlic and the Vampire, by Bree Paulsen, (Sept. 2021, Quill Tree Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780062995087

Ages 8-12

This very sweet graphic novel is one for the readers who never think they can do the thing… until they do. Garlic and her fellow vegetables live with friendly Witch Agnes, where they work on tending her garden. But rumors start spreading that a vampire lives in the neighboring castle! Oh, no! Celery, a surly member of the bunch, decides that Garlic should go confront the vampire. After all, garlic repels vampires, right? Scared but resolute, Garlic sets out to face the vampire… and learns that rumors and stereotypes are no match for meeting and talking to someone!

I love Garlic and the Vampire’s artwork, which is so warm and comforting, so cuddly and kind, that kids are going to love it. Garlic is a childlike, feminine character; a bulb of garlic with rosy cheeks, sporting a little red dress. Carrot, her best friend, offers sage advice and comfort, and sports a shirt, tie, and overalls. The vegetable characters are all anthropomorphic, with distinct personalities and expressive faces and gestures. Alice the Witch isn’t at all threatening, with a warm burgundy top, forest green skirt, and a white apron; she sports less of a witch’s black hat and more of a pilgrim’s hat, not pointed but squared off, with a brown band around the brim. The colors throughout the book are warm, natural colors; lots of greens, oranges, and reds. Even the so-called horrible vampire looks like a kindly gentleman who’d rather have a cup of tea than rampage through a town. The character interactions are as humorous as they are gentle. Have this ready as an alternative to kids who aren’t into the scary side of Halloween, but still want to feel a part of things.

Visit Bree Paulsen’s website to see more of her illustration work, and read her webcomic, Patrik the Vampire.

Garlic the Vampire has a starred review from the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

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

Blog Tour and Giveaway! NEW NatGeoKids Explorer Academy: Dragon’s Blood!

I have been WAITING on this book! I’ve been absolutely hooked on the Explorer Academy series from book one, and finally, Dragon’s Blood is here – grab your copy!

Welcome back to the Explorer Academy! and…

The Explorer Academy: The Dragon’s Blood Blog Tour!

To celebrate the release of Explorer Academy: The Dragon’s Blood by Trudi Trueit on October 5th, blogs across the web are featuring exclusive guest posts from Trudi, as well as 5 chances to win all 6 books in the series so far! The 7th and final book in the series will be released in Fall 2022.


 

What a Character!
by Trudi Trueit

“How do you come up with interesting characters?”

It’s the question I got most often from writers. For me, it’s not a magical thing. Most of the time, characters don’t pop into my head fully formed. If you don’t base them on anyone you know (and I don’t) character building takes time. It’s like getting to know a new friend. The more time you spend together the more that person reveals to you.

I almost always start with a name. Until I have that, it’s hard to get into the writing. I tend to stay away from more common names. I also like to mix things up. I might name a villain something soothing, like Serene, or a timid boy, Rocco. Whenever I hear an interesting name, I write it down so I always have a long list to start with when I am creating a character. Once I choose a name, I start asking questions about that character to get a feel for who they are—and I ask A LOT of questions. I fill out a questionnaire for each major character. First, I cover the basics: name, age, physical description, ancestry, family details, pets, hobbies, sports. Next, I ask:

  • What’s in my character’s purse or pocket right now?
  • What’s my character’s most prized possession?
  • Describe my character’s personality in four words.

Then it’s time to go deeper. The answers to these questions will determine how the character will think and act throughout the story.

  • What’s my character’s biggest flaw?
  • What’s my character’s greatest hope?
  • What’s my character’s biggest problem or fear?
  • What’s my character’s most treasured secret?

And the most important question of all:

  • What does my character want more than anything in the world?

It’s the protagonist’s goal that will drive the plot, so this is a question that must be answered.

If I get stuck in the development phase, I try writing a letter to myself from the character’s point of view. This gets me out of my head and into theirs, where it belongs. I am free to be open and truthful. Once I am, it usually unlocks the character’s true personality and motivations.

Also, you don’t need to know everything about a character when you begin writing. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. Start with a name, a problem, and a goal. Go from there. The more you write, the more your character will share—just like a friend. And yes, I think of all of my characters as real people. They are, aren’t they?

Just for fun, if you’d like to find out what Explorer Academy character you are most like, take the quiz!

As for me, I am most similar to Emmett but then I already knew that!


 

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

“a fully packed high-tech adventure that offers both cool, educational facts about the planet and a diverse cast of fun characters.” —Kirkus

“This exciting, fast-paced, far-flung story is full of science facts and James Bond-like gadgets, accompanied by colored illustrations.  The ending is guaranteed to keep readers eager for the next series installment.” –Booklist

Explorer Academy is exciting and smart.” —Karen Bokram, Editor-in-Chief, Girls’ Life

An explosive revelation and a familiar face heighten the mystery for Cruz and friends in the sixth book in this adventure-packed series.

Still reeling from the life-changing discovery he found buried in the mysterious archive, Cruz Coronado grapples with an important secret as the gang heads to China in search of the second-to-last piece of the cipher. Under the watchful eye of a new adviser, life on the ship returns to almost normal…Almost.

Just as things seem to be going smoothly, a familiar face shocks Cruz back into reality, and the final piece in this life-and-death scavenger hunt veers toward a dead end.

Check out the Explorer Academy website, featuring videos, comic shorts, games, profiles of real-life National Geographic Explorers, chapter excerpts and more. 

Follow Trudi: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Youtube

TRUDI TRUEIT has written more than 100 books for young readers, both fiction and nonfiction. Her love of writing began in fourth grade, when she wrote, directed, and starred in her first play. She went on to be a TV news reporter and weather forecaster, but she knew her calling was in writing. Trueit is a gifted storyteller for middle-grade audiences, and her fiction novels include The Sister Solution, Stealing Popular, and the Secrets of a Lab Rat series. Her expertise in kids nonfiction encompasses books on history, weather, wildlife, and earth science. She is the author of all the narratives for the Explorer Academy series, beginning with Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret. Trueit was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, and lives in Everett, Washington.


 

 GIVEAWAY

a Rafflecopter giveaway

  • One (1) winner will receive all 6 Explorer Academy hardcovers (The Nebula Secret, The Falcon’s Feather, The Double Helix, The Star Dunes, The Tiger’s Nest, and the NEW book The Dragon’s Blood)
  • US/Canada only
  • Ends 11/1 at 11:59pm ET
  • Check out the other stops for more chances to win!

 

Blog Tour Schedule

October 18thPragmatic Mom
October 19thImagination Soup
October 20thMom Read It
October 21stAlways in the Middle
October 22ndBookHounds