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

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

Witches of Orkney Super-Post!

‘Morning, all! I’ve been digging deeply into Alane Adams’s Witches of Orkney series, courtesy of SparkPress, and… WOW. I read the Legends of Olympus books earlier this year, so when Spark offered me the full Orkney set to get caught up in time for the newest book, The Mermaid Queen, I went for it. The big feedback: great reads for your fantasy readers; good crossover for your Rick Riordan readers. Let’s get into each book, shall we?

The Blue Witch, (Witches of Orkney #1), by Alane Adams, (Oct. 2018, SparkPress), $12.95, ISBN: 9781943006779

Ages 8-12

Abigail Tarkana is a 9-year-old witch with a big problem: her magic is different, and that’s not exactly prized at her school, the Tarkana Witch Academy. While everyone else’s witchfire is green, hers is blue, which could mark her as a traitor, which targets her for even more bullying than she’s already putting up with. Together with her friend, Hugo, they will strip away the secrets of Abigail’s past, including the identity of her parents. Is she the daughter of a notorious coven traitor? Abigail and Hugo confront monsters on a quest into the Netherworld that test both their powers. Rich with Norse mythology, Alane Adams excels at worldbuilding and character development. Black and white illustrations throughout help give readers extra context and keep interest high. There’s action and intrigue with solid fantasy storytelling, and the characters are kid-friendly. Themes of friendship, protecting and supporting one another, and teamwork run strong.

An excellent choice for book groups, you can touch on Norse mythology and its presence in the series. Alane Adams offers free book club kits on her author website for all of her series, including maps, posters, and challenges. Offer as a readalike to Riordan fans who loved the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series, or Kelley Armstrong and Melissa Marr’s Blackwood Pages series, and have nonfiction like NatGeo Kids’ Treasury of Norse Mythology or Mathias Nordvig’s Norse Mythology for Kids available. Readers are going to devour this series.

The Blue Witch received multiple awards, including the 2020 IPPY Awards Bronze Winner in Cover Design, and Moonbeam’s Gold Medal in Pre-Teen Fiction/Fantasy.

 

The Rubicus Prophecy, (Witches of Orkney #2), by Alane Adams, (Oct. 2019, SparkPress), $12.95, ISBN: 9781943006984

Ages 8-12

The second book in the Witches of Orkney series ratchets up the action. Abigail is back at Tarkana Witch Academy and studying for her classes. She’s still dealing with Endera, her bully, and to make matters worse, Endera’s mother is one of Abigail’s teachers. Hugo, meanwhile, is hearing rumors about war and a prophecy that sounds uncomfortably similar to Abigail and her abilities. There’s even more action in this installment, including visits from the Norse gods, and draugars – zombies! – to be read. Illustrator Jonathan Stroh returns, creating exciting, spooky black and grey artwork that adds to the mood of the book. Readers can pick up the story without having read The Blue Witch, but I’d let them know taht they’re going to miss quite a bit of exposition if they do: story arcs continue here that were set up in the first book, after all, and established characters took an entire book to develop. This is a good series to give to readers who are ready for slightly grittier storytelling, as Ms. Adams reminds us that the Vikings didn’t worship the Norse gods for their gentle natures. (And hello, zombies.) Not overly gruesome, but something to keep in mind for readers who may need a heads-up.

Alane Adams has a gift for fantasy storytelling, and loads the book with adventure, humor, and magic elements. Giving her stories a background in Norse myth gives it the “Riordan Appeal” that lets me start off a strong booktalk, because in my readers advisory elevator pitches, I have to move fast: I’m competing with Minecraft and Roblox on our library computers, after all!

 

Witch Wars, (Witches of Orkney #3), by Alane Adams, (Oct. 2020, SparkPress), $12.95, ISBN: 9781684630639

Ages 8-12

We’re two books in now, and the third book, Witch Wars, starts off with the Asgardian prologue we’ve grown accustomed to, which will set the tone for the story within, which leads into Tarkana, present day, where Abigail is beating herself up over the disasters from The Rubicus Prophecy. Now, Orkney is speeding toward war, an ancient power has been restored, and Hugo and Abigail set off to Jotunheim – land of the Frost and Rock Giants – to track down Thor and convince him to give them his hammer, Mjolnir, to help them set things right. No problem, right? Meanwhile, Endera and her friends are on Abigail’s trail, believing they’ll find proof that Abigail is truly a traitor, and their former friend Robert Barconian arrives on the scene with an army of dwarves to stop Abigail and Hugo. The characters are maturing and growing into themselves in this third book; Abigail, in particular, considers the fallout of her actions and has to contend with guilt and grief, while Hugo steps up to be the support that she needs as she works through some complex emotions. More gods and characters from Norse mythology make appearances, and the intrigue runs high. The action keeps readers turning pages, and the dialogue moves at an excellent pace. This series starts off strong and, three books in, maintains its forward motion.

 

 

The Mermaid Queen, (Witches of Orkney #4), by Alane Adams, (Oct. 2021, SparkPress), $12.95, ISBN: 9781684631131

The latest book in the saga, The Mermaid Queen, starts off with a major moment of foreboding in the Asgardian prologue. From there, we see that Abigail has fallen into a depression after putting her trust in the wrong ally during the events of Witch Wars. Capricorn, the mermaid queen, betrayed Abigail and her friends and unleashed Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent, and now Abigail and Hugo must cross the seas to find Odin and warn him that Jormungand is coming for him, and find a way to return the serpent to his underwater cell. Abigail discovers that her powers on their own aren’t enough, and may have to risk tapping into her dark magic. But can you use dark magic, even for a good cause, without being affected? It’s a choice she has to make. Big choices and the truth that life isn’t always black and white; good and evil, are the big themes here – perfect for a growing and maturing tween reader who is confronting similar quandaries (maybe no Midgard Serpent, but some moments sure feel as intimidating as one) in their own lives.

The Witches of Orkney series is the prequel to the Legends of Orkney series, so you can read this before you dig into Legends, and go straight through, or you can read Legends first, and then pick up Witches and get deeper context for events and characters in Legends. Either way, I really suggest you read the novels in order, so you can have a cohesive understanding of each series as it unfolds. It’s an excellent series that’s sure to have high interest. If you are new to Alane Adams’s universe, ask your big readers to give them a shot and get feedback before buying a set; I think it’s a purchase well made.

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

Hideaway is an excellent follow-up to Pam Smy’s Thornhill

The Hideaway, by Pam Smy, (Oct. 2021, Pavilion), $19.95, ISBN: 9781843654797

Ages 9-13

Pam Smy follows up her wonderfully chilling novel Thornhill (2017) with The Hideaway, which looks at themes of abuse, toxic masculinity, families, and forgiveness. Billy is a 13-year-old who cannot live in his home any longer. He feels guilty about leaving his mother to her abusive boyfriend, Jeff, but he is unable to bear hearing him hurt her and unable to live with this man any longer. He sneaks out one night and takes refuge in a small hideaway at a local cemetery, where he meets an old man who’s cleaning up the cemetery for an upcoming special event. The old man promises to keep Billy’s presence a secret for a couple of days while Billy works things out, in exchange for some help in cleaning up. Meanwhile, at Billy’s home, as his mother searches for Billy, she also finds the courage to reach out and ask for help – something she’d had drummed out of her until now.

Pam Smy breathes incredible life into her characters. Grace, Billy’s mother, is a strong, smart woman who learns to take back her power, discovering that asking for help is the first step in recovering that power. Billy is conflicted, a victim of trauma who escapes for his own sake, but struggles with the guilt of leaving his mother behind. Supporting characters steer the two toward good decisions, never forcing either into actions they aren’t ready to take. Billy addresses toxic masculinity by throwing off Jeff’s verbal barbs about “manning up”, and takes action when he sees a potential assault in the cemetery one night. Grace remembers that she had the strength to go it alone with Billy once before, and is fully prepared to do it again. Pam Smy creates moody, ethereal landscapes with her black and grey illustrations. The event that Billy and the old man prepared for unfolds over several pages of pure illustration, which will grab reader’s hearts and hold on, staying with them long after they’ve closed the book for good.

The Hideaway is just a wonderful story; a visceral family story with a touch of the magical. See more of Pam Smy’s illustration work at her website. Don’t miss her Instagram, either.

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

Three graphic novels for dragon fans

Dragons have always been a popular subject in fantasy fiction, so their popularity in a visual medium like graphic novels makes complete sense: creators can let their illustrations soar, bringing these beautiful and exciting creatures to life. Here’s a potential graphic novel book bundle for you: three novels, three dragon stories; two are the first entries into new series.

Tidesong, by Wendy Xu, (Nov. 2021, Quill Tree), $21.99, ISBN: 9780062955807

Ages 8-12

This beautifully illustrated story is for the Studio Ghibli fans out there. Sophie is a young witch whose mother and grandmother send her off to her curmudgeonly great-aunt and cousin, to prepare for the entrance exams to witch school. Sophie’s never met these relations, but there’s history between her grandmother and her sister, Sophie’s great-aunt, and the tension is there right from the beginning. Auntie Sage is younger and friendlier, but they won’t let her actually study spells; Great-Auntie seems to be from the Mr. Miyagi school of study, giving Sophie chores upon chores to do to build character. Frustrated, Sophie sneaks off and attempts magic on her own, only to get herself into trouble; a young water dragon named Lir rescues her, but loses his memory and his ability to morph back into his dragon form. Sophie has to choose between proving herself on her own, or leaning on Lir’s magic to pass her exams, but to do that, she interferes with Lir’s chance to get his memories and his dragon form back. The artwork is breathtaking, the colors gentle, flowing from one panel to the next. Inspired by Chinese mythology and the myth of water dragons, this story has a magical family history, stirrings of first romance, and an introspective heroine with an internal conflict. Back matter has an author’s note on the dragons of Chinese mythology and the “ecological backbone” of Tidesong, encouraging readers to to learn about and respect our oceans.

Tidesong was selected for the November Kids’ IndieNext list. Wendy Xu, the award-nominated co-creator of Mooncakes (2019), has an author webpage where you can read her online comics and see more of her artwork.

By the way, since Tidesong publishes in November, it’s not eligible for the 2021 CYBILS awards… but you can keep it in your CYBILS 2022 wish list!

 

City of Dragons: The Awakening Storm, by Jaimal Yogis/Illustrated by Vivian Truong, (Sept. 2021, Scholastic Graphix), $12.99, ISBN: 9781338660425

Ages 8-12

This is the first book in a new graphic novel series, and I am all in for it. Grace is a middle schooler whose mother and stepfather move her to Hong Kong, where he works for a biotech company. Still grieving her father’s death from cancer three years before, she’s working on moving on and is happy that her mom has found happiness again, and her stepdad, Hank, seems like a good guy, even if it’s worthy of a little side-eye, knowing that he was her dad’s doctor at the time he died. Anyway. At a market, an old woman gives Sophie what looks like a lovely crystal egg, but when she wakes up the next morning, she discovers an adorable, blue water dragon hanging out in her bathroom! Sophie and her new group of friends are enchanted with the dragon, whom she names Nate after her father, but realize that the dragon’s power is more than a group of schoolkids can shoulder – especially when men in masks and suits start chasing them all around Hong Kong. Desperate to get Nate to safety and get to the bottom of who’s chasing them and why, Sophie is about to learn even more about Chinese mythology – and how it may not be all “fantasy” after all.

This is going to be an AMAZING new series. There’s action, a shadowy plot with far-reaching consequences, and a smart, likable group of characters on the run. Characters are multicultural, and Sophie is biracial (Asian and Caucasian). Throw in an adorable blue water dragon and eye-catching, colorful illustration with a manga influence, and this is a book I am booktalking to all my graphic novel readers (read: 99% of the kids at my library, and my own dragon-obsessed 9-year-old). Got Wings of Fire fans? They’re now City of Dragons fans, too. Trust me on this one.

Much thanks to Geo Librarian, who nominated City of Dragons: The Awakening Storm for the CYBILS; I hadn’t seen this one and would likely have missed out on it if it hadn’t been nominated!

 

Dragon Kingdom of Wrenly: The Coldfire Curse, by Jordan Quinn/Illustrated by Glass House Graphics, (Feb. 2021, Little Simon), $9.99, ISBN: 9781534475007

Ages 6-10

I can’t believe I didn’t hear about this series, either; the Wrenly chapter books are popular with my library kids. Shout out to Little House of Reading for the nomination that put this into my hands. A graphic novel for slightly younger readers, but by no means too young for the 8-12 middle grade sweet spot, The Coldfire Curse is another great book to talk up to your Wings of Fire fans and your Chis D’Lacey Dragon Chronicles readers. Ruskin is a dragon, but he’s more of a pet to the Prince of Wrenly. He lives the good life, and has no idea what’s in store for him when Cinder, a dragon from Crestwood shows up to ask for help. A curse is running rampant through Crestwood and will threaten all dragons in Wrenly if Ruskin can’t help him. Ruskin is in, and the two head off on an adventure that will be nothing like he’s ever experienced, especially when he discovers that he’s the target of a nefarious plot. Why is a pampered pet dragon the center of intrigue? Only one way to find out!

You don’t need to be familiar with the Wrenly chapter books to fall in love with this series; a love of dragons and adventure is all you’ll need. Vibrant colors, an epic storyline, and adorable characters that will alternately delight you and break your heart make this essential dragon reading.

There are five Dragon Kingdom of Wrenly graphic novels out right now, with a sixth one coming at the end of November. Update your order carts!

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Teen

Graphic Novels to add to your Fall carts

I’m still reading graphic novels by the bunch: I’ve even applied to be a CYBILS Graphic Novel judge this year, because I had such a great time being one last year! There are such good books coming out for middle grade and YA, and with a new focus on early reader graphic novels picking up strength, I can honestly say we comic book fans have inherited the earth and it feels good. Here are a few more to add to your Fall order carts.

In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers : The Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Days, Weeks, Months, and Years after the 9/11 Attacks, by Don Brown, (Aug. 2021, Clarion Books), $19.99, ISBN: 9780358223573
Ages 12+
This year is the 20th anniversary of September 11th. Award-winning author and illustrator Don Brown’s graphic novel takes readers into the moments directly after, the attack, and follows the ramifications of that day, still felt in 2021. Don Brown helps put readers into the middle of that day, with quotes from survivors and family members, to help contextualize the events September 11th and its effect on global history and politics. It’s respectful, never melodramatic, thought-provoking, and a strong tribute to the people that we lost, and those we left behind. Artwork is bleak, rendered in shades of brown and grey, with periodic red-orange flames, illustrating the Ground Zero landscape. Back matter includes source notes, statistics, citations, and an afterword. An important addition to your nonfiction collections.
In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers has starred reviews from Horn Book and Publishers Weekly.
Witch for Hire, by Ted Naifeh, (Aug. 2021, Amulet Paperbacks), $12.99, ISBN: 9781419748110
Ages 12-15
High school freshman Cody is sent immediately to the loser table by a cruel sibling, where she meets Faye Faulkner; a goth chick with a witch hat and a group of “losers” that are accomplished students who don’t fit the “mean girl/jock” mold. When a series of pranks go from amusing to outright dangerous and destructive, Faye’s on the case – and the trail leads to Cody. Faye has to decide whether or not to reveal her true identity – she really is a teenage witch! – to Cody and help release her from a very bad deal, or to keep to herself, affecting her usual social distance? I love a good goth tale, and who better than Eisner Award-nominated series Courtney Crumrin’s creator, Ted NaifehWitch for Hire goes beyond the usual mean girls high school story and masterfully weaves a tale of social media, influence, and manipulative magic. Faye Faulkner is your next favorite character; cool beyond compare, with witch powers, excellent baking skills, and who doesn’t give a good gracious fig about what you, or the cool kids, think of her. But she has a heart, and she cares, and that’s what makes her an endearing, interesting character. I hope this is a fun new series I can look forward to; my Courtney Crumrin trades need a break!
Treasure in the Lake, by Jason Pamment, (Sept. 2021, HarperAlley), $12.99, ISBN: 9780063065178
Ages 8-12
Two friends discover a long-lost city and friendship on an adventure of their own in this debut middle grade graphic novel. Iris is a bookworm who craves adventure outside of her tiny town, while Sam seems to like the comfort of small town life. They discover a dry river while exploring one day, and from there, happen on an ages-old mystery that involves a hidden city, and, possibly, a ghost or a time traveler. The key to Iris’s and Sam’s friendship is tied into this adventure, and the two have to get to the bottom of the mystery in time to salvage their own relationship. The artwork is the champ in this beautifully illustrated graphic novel; wordless panels and spreads let readers absorb the beauty of the artwork.
Treasure in the Lake has a starred review from Kirkus and is an IndieNext Children’s Pick.
Nightmare in Savannah, by Lela Gwenn, Rowan MacColl, & Micah Myers, (Nov. 2021, Mad Cave Studios), $17.99, ISBN: 9781952303265
Ages 14+
Alexa is a teen, sent to live with her grandfather in Savannah, Georgia, while her parents serve prison sentences. Word gets out – it always does – and Alexa immediately finds herself an outcast at her new school before she’s even shown up. She falls in with a group of fellow outcast teens – Chloe, Fae, and Skye – and discovers, after a night of partying too hard, that they’ve become Fairies. And not the cute, Tinkerbell-type, winged little dots of light, either. Fairies of legend; changelings who steal human babies, cause trouble, that sort of thing. I was excited to pick this book up – the art is fantastic, with loads of shadows and goth overtones; as a fan of The Craft (1996), it spoke to my post-college soul – but I never quite got onto an even footing with the pacing. I loved Alexa, who emerges as a strong female character, and Fae, who has the Fairuza Balk influence for a new generation. It’s a book I’ll put into my collection – I know I have readers who will love it – but this one wasn’t quite my book.
Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Magic for All! The Gilded Girl fights for magical equality

The Gilded Girl, by Alyssa Colman, (Apr. 2021, Farrar Straus Giroux), $16.99, ISBN: 9780374313937

Ages 8-12

This middle grade book about magic feels like it’s set in JK Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them-era New York, and has such a strong social class storyline that makes it so relevant today. Magic exists in the world, but it’s been co-opted by the wealthy. When magical winds blow, you either “kindle” – take on the magic that manifests itself with the winds, or “snuff” – have your magic snuffed out, leaving you with no gifts. The wealthy have warped the entire idea that magic must run free, and the process has become more and more precarious as magic is limited, cornered, controlled. Izzy is a 12-year-old girl working as a maid in a prestigious school for magic run by the awful social climber Miss Posterity. She has plans to kindle on her own and leave Miss Posterity, to seek her younger sister who was taken from her when her parents died. Emma is a 12-year-old girl with a wealthy father who enrolls as a student with Miss Posterity. The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake upends Emma’s life, but bonds her with Izzy as the two plan to free themselves from Miss Posterity’s crushing yoke. With the help of a house dragon (in the form of a cat) and some friends on the inside and outside of Miss Posterity’s, the two may just start a revolution. The story is a journey for both Emma and Izzy; Emma begins as a child of privilege who learns big lessons when the tables turn. Izzy learns how to let her guard down and rely on people other than herself. It’s a study in friendship, in social class, and social change; having the recent immigrants living in New York City tenements in an area called “The Tarnish” is like reading a fantasy version of Jacob Riis’s How the Other Half Lives. The house dragon, in the form of a cat, is a wonderful addition to the story and injects some levity and cuteness into the storyline. (My own house dragon, Tiger, was not amused at being found out.)

Great fantasy for middle graders; if you’re a New York history fan like I am, you can talk for days about the implications of magic being kept out of the literal hands of immigrants and the poor and how the wealthy warped the natural flow of magic by making it unattainable except to the privileged. Must-read! Enjoy a discussion guide (spoilers in some of the questions, look at your own risk) courtesy of the publisher.

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

Chaos Bunnies, portal dimensions, and witches! ParaNorthern has it all!

ParaNorthern : And the Chaos Bunny A-hop-calypse, by Stephanie Cooke/Illustrated by Mari Costa, (July 2021, Etch/Clarion Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780358169000
Ages 8 to 12, Grades 3 to 7
Abby is a witch in the supernatural town of North Haven, where her mom runs a coffee house called Witch’s Brew. She helps her mom and hangs out with her friends – a pumpkin-headed activist for gourd rights (the carnage of pumpkin spice season!), a ghost-girl (not dead, just in a different dimension), and a wolf-girl – and her younger sister. But when she comforts her younger sister after being bullied by speed demons, something weird happens. Abby’s accidentially – unknowingly – released a burst of magic so strong that it opened a portal to a realm inhabited by chaos bunnies. Oh yes, my friend. Chaos Bunnies. They’re adorable, but destructive beyond belief, and unless Abby can figure out how to close that portal, North Haven is about to be overrun with them! What Abby doesn’t realize is that she’s a more powerful witch than she could ever have realized, and she’s got an ancestor warning her against going down a dark path. With the power of her friends and her sister, Abby learns to work her magic, and with her ancestor’s guidance, she’s aware that too much power can lead to corruption. The story is light, with action and humor. There’s a diverse cast of characters that readers will love, and a fun, fantasy storyline that readers who get a kick out of fantasy will enjoy. Display and booktalk with books like No One Returns from the Enchanted Forest, Dungeon Critters, Witches of Brooklyn, and The Okay Witch books for a magical touch!

 

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

Beware the Accursed Vampire! (Not really…)

The Accursed Vampire, by Madeline McGrane, (July 2021, Harper Alley), $12.99, ISBN: 9780062954343

Ages 10-13

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.