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

Legends of Olympus by Alane Adams: Go Questing!

I just finished both Legends of Olympus books by Alane Adams, who you may know from the Legends of Orkney series. If you have Percy Jackson/Rick Riordan readers in your library or your family, this is the next series to hand them. Let’s take a look.

Eye of Zeus, by Alane Adams, (April 2020, SparkPress), $12.95, ISBN: 9781684630288

Ages 9-13

In the first book in the Legends of Olympus series, we meet Phoebe Katz, foundling. She was discovered by her social worker, Carl, as an infant, in a basket at a bus stop, and she’s been through a series of foster homes and schools since. Now 11 years old, she’s the ne’er do well at school, sticking with her two friends, Damian and Angie, to get through the days. But Phoebe learns that she’s not like the other kids – it’s not being a foster kid that sets her apart, either. Maybe it’s that giant statue of Atlas in New York’s Rockefeller Center, that starts talking to her, that gives her the clue? Phoebe has just learned that she’s a daughter of Zeus, king of the Greek gods, and more: she’s the twin sister to Perseus, slayer of Medusa. Being the daughter of THE head of the Greek gods brings trouble, though, especially when she learns that a prophecy claims she will destroy Olympus. Only a quest to collect six talismans from Greek monsters will fix everything, so Phoebe, Angie, and Damian are off to Ancient Greece to set things right. An exciting adventure through Greek mythology, with smart, likable characters kids will cheer for. There are interesting conversations to be had about friendship, loyalty, and found families, all topics kids will relate to. Black and white illustrations add to the interest.

 

The Medusa Quest, by Alane Adams, (April 2021, SparkPress), $12.95, ISBN: 9781684630752

Ages 9-13

This is the second book in the Legends of Olympus series. Things have been looking up for Phoebe, but don’t get too comfortable! The three friends learn that their last visit to Ancient Greece has messed up mythology, and if they don’t go back to fix things, there’s going to be BIG TROUBLE. When they arrive back in Ancient Greece, Phoebe learns that her twin brother, Perseus, is in big danger of being turned to stone by the Gorgon, Medusa, so Damien and Angie join the quest to help Hercules get his confidence back and save Perseus. They have some help, from their friends, the Pegasuses and Phoebe’s half-sister, the goddess Athena, and they’re going to need it! The action is absolutely ramped up in this sequel, and the characters have grown from their experiences in the first book. There’s a strong emphasis on family and found family, and some particularly strong emotions running through the last quarter of the story. A sequel worth reading.

Author Alane Adams’s website has a wealth of information about her books, including book club kits and readalong videos.

 

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

Brenna Thummler’s Sheets and Delicates: Ghost friends are the best friends

Sheets, by Brenna Thummler, (Aug. 2018, Oni Press), $12.99, ISBN: 9781941302675

Ages 9-13

Seventh grader Marjorie Glatt has a lot on her shoulders: still reeling from her mother’s untimely death, she’s also running the family laundromat while her father copes with his depression and grief. She’s helping care for her younger brother, and she’s trying to fend off the sleazy businessman who insists he is going to take over the laundromat and open up his “five star extravagant yoga retreat” in its place – but that Marjorie and her dad can work for him. Marjorie is just going through the motions, pushing her own grief down, when Wendell – the sheet-wearing ghost of an 11-year boy who’s trying to find his own place in ghost society – arrives at her shop and unintentionally wreaks havoc. The sheets are the only way ghosts have available in order to be visible: a pretty hefty metaphor for tweens and young teens trying to find their own way in the world. The book sensitively and masterfully handles big topics like grief, visibility, and identity. The villain is perfectly awful, the customers are believably demanding and abrasive, and add to Marjorie’s sense of being overwhelmed. Brenna Thummler’s artwork tells its own story, with interesting details in the backgrounds and a color palette that uses faded blues, grays, and whites to bring the characters to life. A must-buy for your graphic novel collections. TeachingBooks.net has some educator resources available.

Sheets has been selected by YALSA as a Great Graphic Novel for Teens (2019).

Delicates, by Brenna Thummler, (March 2021, Oni Press), $14.99, ISBN: 9781620107881

Ages 10-14

The sequel to Sheets introduces a new character, and delves even deeper into social themes like bullying, trauma, and teen suicide. Picking up shortly after Sheets left off, things are looking up for Marjorie Glatt. She and Wendell are still friends, she’s still providing a place for the ghosts to hang out and kick back, and she’s even in with the  in-crowd at school: the mean girls from the last book. Marjorie’s not in love with hanging out with Tessi and her crew – they keep her around as more of a project than a friend – but she’s all about the path of least resistance. When one of their teachers asks the group to keep an eye on his daughter, Eliza, who’ll be repeating eighth grade at the school, the schism between Marjorie and Tessi; Tessi sees Eliza’s quirkiness as a target for bullying, and Marjorie, not one for conflict, tries to appease both sides until she realizes that failing to act is just as much an act of bullying. The storytelling is incredibly introspective here: Eliza emerges as a particularly brilliant character as she deals with feelings of isolation, depression, and suicidal feelings. Eliza’s family is supportive and stands with her, finding her help. Brenna Thummler’s color palette is lighter, incorporating more rose-colored hues this time, speaking to the characters’ continuing journey toward happiness. A great follow-up to a superb story. I’d love to see more.

Delicates has a starred review from Foreword Reviews. Visit author/illustrator Brenna Thummler’s webpage for more information about her books and her artwork.

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

The Great TBR Readdown Continues! Esme’s Wish by Elizabeth Foster

Esme’s Wish, by Elizabeth Foster, (2017, Odyssey Books), $13.95, ISBN: 978-1925652246

Ages 10-14

Esme Silver is a 15-year-old mourning her mother, Ariane, who disappeared when Esme was 8. Her father has just remarried, despite Esme’s objection (at the wedding!). Her father takes his new bride away on their honeymoon, leaving Esme under the eye of her stepmother’s sister; not thrilled with that situation, Esme, determined to use the time to learn more about her mother’s disappearance, finds her way to a magical underwater world, where she learns more about her mother and the secret part of her life she hadn’t shared with Esme. Esme’s Wish is geared toward teens, but is more accessible to upper middle grade-middle school students. There is a lot of fantasy world-building, including dragons and mysterious pasts, a mythical history, and new friends from other lands, but sometimes gets mired in itself rather than moving forward. Overall, though, it’s a solid fantasy book, with interesting characters who aren’t merely plot devices. The world-building will appeal to fantasy readers – there are dragons! – and Esme is a likable character that kids can relate to at her heart: a girl who’s lost a parent, and coping with her remaining parent remarrying. The girl who’s considered an outsider by her town, merely because of who her mother was. A girl trying to find out why. A good additional purchase for collections where you have big fantasy readers.

The second book in the trilogy, Esme’s Gift, was published in in 2019. Visit author Elizabeth Foster’s webpage to learn more about the books and view trailers for each.

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

H.E. Edgmon’s The Witch King: All Hail the Kings!

The Witch King, by H.E. Edgmon, (June 2021, Inkyard Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781335212795

Ages 14+

Wyatt Croft is a witch on the run. Originally from the fae kingdom of Asalin, Wyatt – a transgender 17-year-old boy – escaped a past loaded with trauma and abuse, finding home and family in our world. That all changes when Wyatt’s fated mate, the fae prince Emyr, shows up and demands that Wyatt return with him to fulfill his role as Emyr’s husband and take the throne of Asalin. Wyatt reluctantly returns to Asalin, with his best friend, Briar, in tow, and learns that relations between witches and fae are heading toward revolution – and Wyatt, who’s trying to resolve his own conflicted feelings about Emyr – is right in the middle of it. An anti-fascist, queer fantasy with incredible worldbuilding and characters you’ll love – and love to loathe – The Witch King has it all: romance, high fantasy meets contemporary fiction, and a wicked sense of humor. There’s powerful storytelling throughout The Witch King: being trans isn’t at the heart of the hatred toward Wyatt; transgender and nonbinary characters are major characters in the story, but Wyatt’s being a witch is the issue. The abuse and abandonment of witches takes the place of being LGBTQ+ in our society here, allowing readers to both see a functioning society where diversity is embraced in theory, but in practice, it’s very different. Sound familiar? Revolution, reform, and the idea of burning everything down to rebuild make The Witch King one of the most readable, relevant novels you’ll read this year.

Posted in Fantasy, picture books

An adventure with Grandmother… We Became Jaguars

We Became Jaguars, by Dave Eggers/llustrated by Woodrow White, (March 2021, Chronicle Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9781452183930

Ages 5-8

Bestselling author Dave Eggers creates a story about a boy, his grandmother, and the wild world. A young boy’s grandmother comes to visit him, with her long, white hair and her spotted black and yellow coat. When his parents leave the two alone, Grandmother suggests the two become jaguars and explore the night! The two roam the night, having adventures, until the boy decides it’s time to head home. Was it all in good fun? Eggers’s dreamlike storytelling has a childlike feel, as he blends the fantastic – “She laughed like great thunder and I laughed like lesser thunder and we jaguared on” – with the adorably kidlike – “I didn’t want to eat raw rabbit so I said I was allergic” – to create a story that will transport readers to rainforests and the Himalayan mountains. Woodrow White’s mixed media illustration opens up an incredible, exotic world. A gatefold panel begins with the boy and his grandmother transforming into jaguars, and opens to place them, fully “jaguared”, in a wild, nighttime world. The grandmother’s jaguar face looks self-assured; the boy’s, tentative, like he’s never quite sure about this whole experience. When the two drink from a lake, their blurred reflections reveal their human faces. Endpapers show the light and dark of their journey, with vines striping the pages, and bursts of color at the edges. A stunning and playful story.

We Became Jaguars has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and School Library Journal.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade

No One Returns from the Enchanted Forest… yet.

No One Returns from the Enchanted Forest, by Robin Robinson, (May 2021, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250211538

Ages 8-12

Earthquakes are rocking a goblin village, causing the Midsummer Festival to be cancelled. The villagers blame the Earth Queen for the earthquakes, and young Pella decides it’s time to give the Queen a piece of her mind – but her older sister and caregiver, Bix, is determined to keep Pella home and safe, so Pella sneaks out one night and heads into the Enchanted Forest. From where no one returns. Bix discovers that Pella’s gone, swallows her fear, and heads into the forest after Pella, armed with a ball of yarn to help her out of scary situations, and hopefully, to help them back home. Robin Robinson is a wonderful fantasy storyteller; she illustrated Mairghread Scott’s City on the Other Side (2018) and created a fairy world that the protagonist discovered. Here, she worldbuilds a goblin society, and a family of paranormal Nature beings at odds with one another. No One Returns from the Enchanted Forest is a story of siblings, found families, and of being a good custodian to the world. This one will be a popular choice with fantasy fans. Artwork is colorful, filled with fantasy imagery, and expressive characters.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Kitty Sweet Tooth serves up movies and magic candy!

Kitty Sweet Tooth, by Abby Denson/Illustrated by Utomaru, (Apr. 2021, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250196774

Ages 6-10

Kitty Sweet Tooth is a cat who loves candy and movies, so when her Pop-Pop gives her the chance to realize her dream of running a combination restaurant and movie house, she is thrilled! With the help of magical candy makers, she’s off and running. But playing with magic is never easy, so when the creations start taking on lives of their own, Kitty and her viewers all get a little more than they bargained for! Manic, adorable, and just plain fun, Kitty Sweet Tooth is perfect graphic novel reading for younger readers who love a good, silly story. The artwork is bright and jumps off the page, enchanting readers with magical food like crepes that grow into waving towers, rainbow chips that give the snacker their own case of the stripes, or blooming tea and scones that grow into a veritable garden inside the theatre! Luckily for Kitty, her customers love it all! This is the first in a new series of adventures for intermediate readers. Back matter lets readers create their own candy-making magic with an illustrated recipe for rock candy, including step-by-step instructions, ingredients, and a suggestion to seek grownup help.