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

Fairy tale meets the half pipe: Beauty and Bernice

Beauty and Bernice, by Nancy Viau, (Sept. 2018, Schiffer Kids), $12.99, ISBN: 9780764355806

Ages 8-12

I continue my quest to read down my TBR and feature great backlist for your readers advisory and your booklists. This time out, I’ve got another Nancy Viau book, Beauty and Bernice. Twelve-year-old Bernice Baransky is a skater girl. She’s a grunge-loving whiz on a skateboard, on the verge of middle school, and she’s got a crush on fellow skater Wyatt – not that she can do anything other than nod when he calls her “Dude”. Enter Odelia, a new transplant to the neighborhood, who appears dressed in princess gowns and decides to make Bernice her new best friend and project. She’s determined to teach Bernice her guide to the “Social Graces”, with lessons on hygiene, posture, and manners, and Bernice reluctantly goes along for the ride, teaching Odelia that she can let loose a little, herself. Both spend a summer learning about one another while volunteering with Smile Academy, a summer camp for children with Down syndrome. A kind story that brings a little everyday magic to realistic fiction, this has some surprises that will make readers smile. The subplot with the girls volunteering – and encouraging their friends to help – with the Smile Academy gives nice depth to the characters and allows for Bernice’s character growth.  If you have skater fans, sell the detailed discussions on skateboarding.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Somethings Bugging Samantha Hansen – but it’s not bees!

Something’s Bugging Samantha Hansen, by Nancy Viau, (Aug. 2019, Schiffer Kids), $16.99, ISBN: 9780764357763

Ages 8-12

Samantha Hansen is a 10-year-old fourth grader with a love for bugs, especially bees! When she discovers that the local apiary owner is considering selling his bee farm, she launches into action, assembling her classmates to drop some knowledge on the importance of bees to her community, and encourage everyone to help save the apiary. She’s also dealing with some big feelings: she is learning to keep her temper under control, which is really difficult, because her best friend, Kelli, is hanging out with another girl lately, and she’s got big feelings to contend with. This is the second Samantha Hansen book; the first, Samantha Hansen has Rocks in Her Head (2008), introduced us to Samantha, her temper, and her coping mechanisms. It’s a good book for STEM/STEAM readers, with information about bees and apiaries; it’s a good family story that continues the exploration of loss within a family, and working through feelings in a positive way. Black and white illustrations introduce the chapter heads, and colorful endpapers show bee-friendly flowers, a honeycomb, and different types of bees. A good book club choice because there’s so much covered in this story, you can also use this Bee Hotel activity from Vivify as an end of book activity.

Posted in Historical Fiction, picture books, Realistic Fiction

Remembering Green: Spirit triumphs over assimilation

Remembering Green: An Ojibwe Girl’s Tale, by Lisa Gammon Olson/Illustrated by Lauren Rutledge, (Sept. 2020, Eifrig Publishing LLC), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1632332707

Ages 5-8

Wenonah is a young Ojibwe girl from northern Wisconsin. She seeks out her great-grandfather to talk. She’s upset; the chimookomaan school – the white school – she’s forced to attend has cut her hair; forbid her from speaking her language; and won’t even let her use her real name, telling her that she must now refer to herself as Evelyn. Set in the early 1900s, during the period where Native American children endured abusive forced  assimilation efforts that attempted to erase Native history, Remembering Green is a powerful story of remembering. Wenonah’s great-grandfather has wisdom in his words as he speaks about fear of the unknown, which motivated the U.S. government’s actions, and he leads Wenonah on a walk through nature, reminding her to “remember the green”: remember her people, remember their connection to the land, and remember who she is. A glossary and a word on the Indian residential schools make up the back matter. A strong supplemental text on a dark period in U.S. history, Remembering Green is a good addition to collections but should not be considered an #OWnVoices work. The artwork is bright, with natural greens and browns dominating the scenery. Wenonah and her grandfather have beautifully expressive faces, with their eyes communicating volumes.

Remembering Green is part of Eifrig Publishing’s Tales of Herstory series, a series of books that feature different American historical periods from girls’ perspectives. The book was a successful Kickstarter and has been reviewed by School Library Journal.

 

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

The Explorer’s Code is great for puzzle mystery readers

The Explorer’s Code, by Allison K. Hymas, (Sept. 2020, Imprint), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250258854

Ages 9-13

Idlewood Manor was a home with a storied history, but has been empty for decades, until recently. The current owner has opened the doors, and a group of guests is coming to stay for a weekend; among them, Charlie, a math whiz who won the trip for his family, and his sister, Anna, who is far less scholastic in her pursuits, but that’s because she’s got the entire world to explore, just like her idol, explorer Virginia Maines. Also visiting with her family is Emily, whose historian parents have their own reasons for wanting to visit Idlewood. The three kids separately discover mysterious clues to Idlewood’s history, and the history of those who lived there; they also notice that other guests seem to have a major interest in unlocking the Manor’s secrets. It’s a race to solve Idlewood’s mysteries, but can the three kids work together to solve them in time? Loaded with actual puzzles, ciphers, and riddles, The Explorer’s Code is full of mystery and scandal,with very likable, realistic characters at its core. A note about ciphers at the end invites readers to test their own coding mettle. The relationships are spot-on, with the ups and downs experienced by Anna and Charlie, who were close when they were younger, but have drifted apart in recent years, and Emily, desperate to make her parents proud of her. Anna and Emily rush into things for different reasons: Anna, because she’s caught up in the spirit of curiosity and adventure; Emily, because she feels like she’s racing against the clock. Charlie is slow and deliberate, thinking things through, which clashes with his sister’s impulsive wandering. Together, these qualities make them stronger – something they have to work on over the course of the story. Perfect for readers who enjoyed Ben Guterson’s Winterhouse, Jennifer Chambliss Bertman’s Book Scavenger series, and of course, Chris Grabenstein’s Mr. Lemoncello’s Library series.

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

Creepy, good fun: Embassy of the Dead

Embassy of the Dead, by Will Mabbit/Illustrated by Taryn Knight, (Sept. 2020, Walker Books US), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536210477

Ages 8-12

Jake Green is a pretty ordinary kid who becomes pretty extraordinary when he accepts a box from a mysterious stranger. The box contains a severed finger, and if that’s not freaky enough on its own, the act of opening the box – hey, it didn’t come with instructions – has put Jake on a very dangerous radar: a grim reaper is after him, intent on sending him into the Eternal Void. But it’s not entirely Jake’s fault: Stiffkey, a ghostly undertaker, gave Jake the box! But he can’t be entirely at fault, right? Jake used the secret phrase: “Good morning”. But Stiffkey’s in danger of getting thrown into the Void, too, so he appears to help Jake get the Reaper off his trail – which is how Jake discovers he has a talent for ghosts, and may be of some help to the mysterious Embassy, who has enough problems of their own. Jake has a habit of collecting ghosts, and his retinue expands to include a ghostly girl trapped by her trophy and a sweet pet fox, all of whom stand ready to help save the day.

Embassy of the Dead is the first in a new series, and it’s got adventure, laugh-out-loud moments, and some thoughtful, moving moments that readers will love. There are some creepy moments, but they’re fun, with chills and giggles, rather than outright fear or terror. The characters are each extraordinary in their remarkably ordinary-ness, which is the appeal of a good adventure. Graveyard Book fans will love this one. Black and white illustrations throughout add to the gothic, quirky mood of the story. I can’t wait to see what Jake gets himself into next. This is just the type of spooky story my library kids love. I can’t wait to get it to them when we open back up… but in the meantime, I’ll crow about it here, and to the kids in the community I’m subbing at for now.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Amazing Middle Grade!

In the interest of holiday season posting: need gifts for the kid who has every video game, or a bookworm who has read everything, and needs something new? Allow me to be your guide through a few fantastic middle grade reads I’ve just finished.

Malcolm and Me, by Robin Farmer, (Nov. 2020, SparkPress), $16.95, ISBN: 9781684630837

Ages 10-14

Where do I even start with Malcolm and Me? This book blew my mind in the best way possible. It’s 1973, and 13-year-old Roberta has a lot of feelings. She’s reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X and discussing Black history and Black Power with her father at home, and clashing with a racist nun at her Philadelphia Catholic school. When she’s sent home after a blowup with Sister Elizabeth, she deep dives into the Autobiography, examining her own feelings and frustrations through Malcolm X’s lenses. Already a writer, she begins journaling her verse and diary entries, guided by Malcolm, and it gives her the strength she needs as her home life and school life begin unraveling.

There is such power in this book and in the characters. Roberta emerges as an incredible heroine; a self-aware 13-year-old coming of age in the aftermath of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, during Watergate, she questions her own faith in God and in organized religion, in family, and in color. Inspired by an event in the author’s life, Malcolm and Me is essential reading that hits that often hard-to-reach middle school/high school age group. Please put this on school (and adult) reading lists, and talk about this book with your tweens and your teens. Talk this up to your Angie Thomas fans, Nic Stone fans, and – naturally! – Ilyasah Shabazz, Malcolm X’s daughter. Author Robin Farmer’s author website has more information on the author’s articles, her books, and a link to her blog.

 

The Clockwork Crow, by Catherine Fisher, (Sept. 2020, Walker Books US), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536214918

Ages 9-13

Orphan Seren Rhys thinks she’s being rescued from the orphanage when her mysterious godfather, Captain Jones, sends for her. His country mansion, Plas-y Fran, is just going to be wonderful, Seren knows it! She’ll be the apple of Captain Jones and his wife, Lady Mair’s eyes, have wonderful parties, and play with the couple’s young son, Tomos. She realizes things are very different when she’s picked up at the train station and arrives, late at night, at Plas-y Fran, which looks rundown and all but abandoned; Mrs. Villiers, the cold housekeeper, tells her that the family is in London for the foreseeable future. Seren turns to the mysterious package entrusted to her at the train station and discovers a mechanical crow. Upon assembly, the crow can talk, fly, and complain. A lot. But when Seren learns that Tomos has been taken by fairies, she decides to rescue him and restore life to Plas-y Fran: and the crow will help her do it.

A fun fantasy with a bit of steampunk, which I always enjoy, this is a quick read with adventure and a warm family story at its heart. Seren is the hopeful orphan, and the cantankerous Crow is a great foil, making this a fine buddy comedy. Fairie lore amps up the action and the tension, and adds some dark fantasy and magic to the plot. A good choice for readers who loved the Nevermoor/Morrigan Crow series by Jessica Townsend.

 

The Sisters of Straygarden Place, by Hayley Chewins, (Oct. 2020, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536212273

Ages 10-14

Hayley Chewins is back! Her 2018 novel, The Turnaway Girls, was one of the best books I’d read that year, so I was excited to read her newest, The Sisters of Straygarden Place. The Ballastian Sisters – Winnow, Mayhap, and Pavonine – have lived in the house by themselves after their parents left seven years before, only a note telling them to “sleep darkly” left behind. The house takes care of their basic needs – food, clothing, shelter – but they cannot leave the house, lest the tall silver grass take them. Winnow grows tired of waiting and ventures outside, leaving 12-year-old Mayhap to take care of their youngest sister, Pavonine, and figure out how to heal 14-year-old Winnow. As Mayhap discovers more about the house and the history of the magic within it, the mystery deepens. Readers will love this gorgeous, dark fantasy written with prose that’s almost lyrical, magical. Hayley Chewins writes like Neil Gaiman, where the words just caress you, wrap themselves around you, and when you’re fully under their spell, tell you stories that will leave you wondering. In a world where dogs crawl into your mind to help you sleep and the grass tempts you to come outside so it can take you away, The Sisters of Straygarden Place is truly magical reading.

The Sisters of Straygarden Place is is one of Kirkus’s Best MG Fantasy & SF Books of 2020.

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, gaming, Science Fiction, Steampunk, Tween Reads

Here it is… The First Holiday Gift Guide of the Season!

Finally, right? Here is my little contribution to the holiday season’s gift guides: a few of these over the next couple of weeks, as I try to match my Reader’s Advisory skills with my love of gifty books and book-adjacent goodies.

Build a Skyscraper, by Paul Farrell, (Sept. 2020, Pavilion Children’s Books), $19.69, ISBN: 978-1843654742

Ages 3-8

If you haven’t played with Paul Farrell’s Build a Castle, you have been missing out, but no worries: just in time for the holidays, he’s released Build a Skyscraper, the next in his series of graphic-designed cards that let you and your kiddos create the skyscraper of your dreams. The box contains 64 cards with slots cut to let you build and expand your building in any way you like. Add glass, decorative elements and flourishes, and build up or out. It’s all up to your little one! Perfect for stocking stuffers, this is great for hours of play and you can build a new skyscraper each time. An 8-page booklet contains some inspiration and descriptions of skyscraper elements. Get out the minifigs and let them move into a new neighborhood!

Elevator Up card game, (2020), $9.99

Ages 7+

Created by a 17-year-old, Elevator Up is – in the words of creator Harrison Brooks – “kid-created, kid-designed, kid-marketed, kid-shipped, and kid-loved card game”. It’s pretty easy to pick up, fast-paced, and way too much fun to play. The goal is to be the first player to get rid of all your cards as your elevator rides through a building. You can use cards to get your opponents stuck, sent back down to the lobby, or have the doors closed on them. There are a lot of laughs to be had – my Kiddo loves closing the door on his older brothers – and the chance for friendly trash talk is high. Support indie game makers and kid creators, give this one a look. For more information, check out the game website at PlayElevatorUp.com.

 

Lost in the Imagination: A Journey Through Nine Worlds in Nine Nights, by Hiawyn Oram/Illustrated by David Wyatt, (Oct. 2020, Candlewick Studio), $19.99, ISBN: 9781536210736

Ages 8-12

This book is just amazing, perfect for the reader always looking for new worlds and new adventures. Taken from the “found” journals of the late theoretical physicist Dawn Gable, the book is an armchair adventure: writing, drawings, research, and keepsakes from Dr. Gable’s nightly journeys into fantastic worlds: Asgard, Camelot, The Lost City of Kôr, and a city of machines, Meganopolis, are only a handful of the worlds explored here. Fantasy artwork brings readers from the fantasy of Camelot, with knights and shields, to the steampunk mechanical world of Meganopolis; dragons fly around Wyvern Alley, with fantastic beasts sketched on journal pages to delight and entice, and the ancient ruins of Atlantis wait for readers in its underwater kingdom, with squid and nautiluses. Perfect for your fantasy fans and anyone who loves the “Ology” series by Dugald Steer. Books like this are a gateway to more reading, so have some Tales of Asgard and Thor on hand, Gulliver’s Travels, or Tales of King Arthur handy.

Keeping this short and sweet, but there is much more to come!
Posted in Historical Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Zora and Me: The Summoner brings a brilliant trilogy to a close

Zora and Me: The Summoner, by Victoria Bond, (Oct. 2020, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9780763642990

Ages 10-14

The third book in the outstanding Zora and Me trilogy sees young Zora Neale Hurston and her best friend, Carrie, facing quickly changing times in Eatonville: grief, loss, and racism are closing in on Eatonville and will change Zora’s life forever. A fugitive is hunted down and lynched in Eatonville – America’s first incorporated Black township – and the mob gleefully terrorizes the citizens of Eatonville; a longtime resident’s death and grave desecration sparks fear into the town and Zora and Carrie worry that voodoo and zombies are somehow involved. Zora’s mother, meanwhile, is in failing health and her father decides to run for town mayor; a decision Zora knows will make her egotistical, grandstanding father even more difficult to live with. Carrie, meanwhile, worries about her own future with her beau, Teddy, when he falls mysteriously ill. Paralleling major events in Zora Neale Hurston’s life, Victoria Bond brings this early part of the author to a bittersweet close. The characters are so fully created, so real, that it’s sad to leave them, especially knowing what awaits Zora in the years ahead. Back matter includes a brief biography, a time line of Hurston’s life, and an annotated bibliography. Powerful, loaded with emotion, this is a necessity for your historical fiction shelves. Handsell this to your middle schoolers; you’ll be giving them her work, Their Eyes Were Watching God, for Banned Books Week when they’re in high school. Publisher Candlewick has a chapter excerpt and discussion guide available on their website.

Zora and Me: The Summoner has starred reviews from School Library Journal and Kirkus.

Posted in Fantasy, Historical Fiction, History, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Tween and Teen Fiction that keeps readers on the edge of their seats

I’m at that odd moment when my TBR and my HBR (have been read) piles are toppling. Which is a good problem to have, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that I’m constantly catching up to something, be it reading or reviews. Let’s take a look at some YA, including a book that’s being touted for middle grade, but I feel would work much better for older tweens/teens.

 

They Threw Us Away, by Daniel Kraus/Illustrated by Rovina Kai, (Sept. 2020, Henry Holt BYR), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250224408

Ages 12+

I’m going to kick things off with the book I feel is better for older tweens. They Threw Us Away is being billed as “Lord of the Flies meets Toy Story”, and it’s a pretty accurate description. A blue teddy bear wakes up in a garbage dump and frees himself; he notes his name tag, which says his name is Buddy, and he sees other boxes of teddies on the pile and works to free the others before rats, seagulls, or a terrifying machine gets to them. Together, Buddy and the other teddies – Sunny, Sugar, Horace, and Reginald – put their memories together: they were in the Store, waiting for children to take them home and love them. Once they are loved by a child, teddies fall into the Forever Sleep. So what happened? The group sets out to get some answers, but they learn that the world is a scary place; even scarier than the Dump, and that the answers they seek may not be the answers they want to hear.

The first in a planned trilogy, They Threw Us Away is bleak and often brutal. There are graphic depictions of teddy bear death, which, when I say it, may sound like something to laugh off, but reading it is pretty horrific. Younger readers and more sensitive readers may be upset by the unrelenting danger and horror. Black and white illustrations throughout reinforce the story. There are some loose ends that we can expect future books to pick up on. Each Teddy has a distinct personality and struggles with their circumstances accordingly: Buddy is kind and gentle; the peacemaker and ersatz leader; Sugar, whose damaged box meant she suffered some bumps, too, is flighty and quirky; Sunny is a conflicted character with flashes of rage and a desire to keep the group together; Reginald is a serious, sagelike teddy, and Horace is fearful. Give this to your dedicated horror fans, and save it for your higher elementary readers and middle schoolers.

 

The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep: Voices from the Donner Party, by Allan Wolf, (Sept. 2020, Candlewick), $21.99, ISBN: 9780763663247

Ages 13+

This novel in verse is the latest retelling of the Donner Party and their fate in the Sierra Nevadas during the winter of 1846-1847. Poet Allan Wolf gives voice to members of the ill-fated party in his book: James Reed and George Donner, leaders of the doomed caravan; Baptiste Trudeau, a 16-year-old orphan taken under George and Tamzene Donner’s wing; Salvador and Luis, two Miwok Indian guides; Ludwig Keseberg, a haunted man; Patty and Virginia Reed, two of James Reed’s children, and more are all here, telling their stories in haunted verse. Hunger narrates the story, giving readers familiar with Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief a familiar touch. Hunger is dispassionate and yet evokes emotion in the narration. Beginning as the party begins experiencing misfortune, the voices grow more desperate and the verse, more haunting, as the snow falls; the party’s desperation is palpable. Moments dedicated to the snowfall include names of the fallen sprinkled in with the repeated word, “snow”. Comprehensive back matter includes an author’s note, biographies, statistics, a timeline of events, and resources for more reading and research. It’s an incredibly detailed work of historical fiction and nonfiction all at once.

The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep has starred reviews from Booklist and BookPage.

 

This is Not the Jess Show, by Anna Carey, (Nov. 2020, Quirk Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9781683691976

Ages 13+

I am DYING to talk about this book, but there’s so much I can’t say because I CAN’T SPOIL IT. So here are the main details: Jess Flynn is a 1990s high school junior wears babydoll dresses and watches Party of Five. She’s developing a crush on her childhood best friend, Tyler. Her sister, Sara, is suffering from a blood disease and has been getting worse. Things are in constant flux for Jess, and things have been getting weird in her home town of Swickley, too: half the population has been hit by a mysterious flu. Her dog goes from lavishing attention on her to growling and hiding from her. She hears strange chanting, and people either stop speaking when she enters a room, or she catches glances that people around her give one another. And what the heck is that black device with an apple on it that fell out of her friend’s backpack? Things are weird in Swickley, and Jess means to get to the bottom of it.

I LOVED this book! The ’90s vibe, the pacing, the overall story, everything is so well crafted and paced. Jess is a smart character who is sensitive enough to her surroundings to know something’s up: this is the constant in a plot that keeps trying to shift her world around. What I can say is that Jess gets a crash course in what people are willing to do for selfish reasons; what she does in response to that fact keeps the story in motion. ’90s pop culture references make this even more fun. Hand this to all your teens, and booktalk Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism, for it’s awesome ’80s references, too. Tell ’em to read them with their parents.

 

 

Posted in Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

YA/Adult Crossover: RING SHOUT is a must-read!

Ring Shout, by P. Djèlí Clark, (Oct. 2020, Tor Books), $19.99, ISBN: 9781250767028

Ages 16+

Nebula Award Winner P. Djèlí Clark (The Black God’s Drums) creates an incredible alternate America, where the Ku Klux Klan are actual monsters, in his latest book, Ring Shout. It’s 1922, DW Griffith is a sorcerer whipping legions of demons into a frenzy with his film The Birth of a Nation, and a trio of young Black women are all that stands in their way. Maryse Boudreaux is a woman with a gift for seeing the real faces of the Ku Kluxes – the demons who feed on the Klans, who are the racist humans whose black hate leaves them open to possession. Teaming up with a gloriously profane sharpshooter named Sadie and a WWI vet, Cordelia, who goes by the nickname Chef, the three have a gift for taking down the Kluxes, until Butcher Clyde, a Klan leader, makes it personal with Maryse. The Ku Kluxes have plans for Maryse, but so do the mysterious Aunties that appear to her. Ring Shout is incredible dark fantasy, loaded with Gullah tradition and African-American folklore and main characters that readers will immediately take to. The storytelling is rich and haunting, filled with humor, action, and body horror. The characters are so vivid, so strong, they could be sitting next to you, whispering their tale. If you loved Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation and The Deathless Divide, make sure to get Ring Shout on your reading list, STAT.

Want more Black Girl Magic suggestions? Epic Reads has a good list; consider navigating over to Black Girls With Magic & Books Club.

Ring Shout has a starred review from Publishers Weekly.