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

Horse Trouble is a guide to tween life!

Horse Trouble, by Kristin Varner, (Oct. 2021, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250225887

Ages 8-12

Part horseback riding primer, part guide to tween life, Horse Trouble is the story of Kate, a 12-year-old who loves horses and is frustrated by her body. Her best friend is thin and gets the attention of Kate’s crush; the mean girls at the riding school and her middle school target her appearance and flaunt their expensive clothes and accessories while looking down on her. Kate is focused on riding – she works at the school to help pay for her lessons – and competing, but when she’s home, she’s at war with her reflection. Her brother calls her nicknames like “chubbs”, and her mother offers to join a weight-loss program with her, but Kate needs to find her confidence before she can see results. She finds that confidence at the riding school and through competition, but even there, she gets angry at the number of times she’s thrown from the horses. A strong story of finding one’s passion and inner strength, Horse Trouble hits all the right points: self-esteem and body image; coping with bullies; comparing oneself to others both in terms of body size and possessions; coping with crushes; finding mentors, and that connection to friends that we always come back to. Teal-and-white illustrations are appealing, the characters are all likable, and I love the fun character introductions, illustrated with fun facts about each. Each chapter introduction comes with a fun fact about the riding course, and there are great facts about horseback riding and competing throughout the story.

Inspired by Kristin Varner’s own tween experiences, Horse Trouble is just great reading. See more of her illustration at her website.

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

The Unlikeliest Friends: The Ghoul Next Door

The Ghoul Next Door, by Cullen Bunn/Illustrated by Cat Farris, (July 2021, Harper Alley), $12.99, ISBN: 9780062896094

Ages 8 to 12

An 11-year-old boy named Grey takes a shortcut through a cemetery on his way to school, drops his school project down an empty grave, and discovers the unlikeliest new friend: a young ghoul named Lavinia. Lavinia leaves little gifts for Grey that are a little unsettling to the living – finger bones, teeth necklaces, that sort of thing – and Grey seeks Lavinia out, leading to the two forging a friendship that’s as sweet as it is dangerous. Ghouls are forbidden from associating with the living, and Grey’s friend, Marshall, is determined to tell all because he just knows Grey’s making a bad decision. Eventually, Grey is caught up in a struggle between ghouls and ghosts, with his friend Marshall’s – and Grey’s own – life in the balance!

A funny, creepy story for readers who love all things Neil Gaiman, Doug TenNapel’s Ghostopolis, and – naturally! – Goosebumps. It’s a story of friendship with a touch of intrigue and just enough creepiness to make paranormal fans shudder with glee. Cullen Bunn writes a lot of big-people comics that I love (including Harrow County, which makes a fun little cameo in The Ghoul Next Door), and Cat Farris’s artwork is spooktastic, with color, great shadow work, and a ghoul that is as heartwarming as she is startling.

Posted in Adventure, Middle Grade, Middle School, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Reading Takes You Everywhere: Into the Clouds!

Into the Clouds, by Tod Olson, (April 2020, Scholastic Focus), $18.99, ISBN: 9781338207361

Ages 8-12

For my latest Reading Takes You Everywhere Summer Reading post, I’m taking you to the Himalayas, where we can – from a safe, much warmer distance – scale the heights of K2, a mountain “more treacherous” than Mount Everest. Fewer than 400 people have been able to successfully climb K2: “four every four mountaineers who have stood on its summit, one has died trying to get there”. Although Everest stands higher, K2 has unpredictable weather and gale-force winds that have swept climbers off its face entirely. Into the Clouds is the story of two parties that attempted K2: the first American Karakoram Expedition in 1938, and the 1953 Third American Expedition, which makes up a greater part of the book. Into the Clouds follows Charlie Houston’s team as they attempt to summit the mountain in the midst of vicious storms, risks of avalanche, frostbite, illness, and rivalry, turning the expedition into a rescue mission.

Tod Olson can write narrative non-fiction like the most exciting adventure/survival novel: if you haven’t read his Lost series, you need to check in with your I Survived readers, who likely have. Here, he puts together an exhaustively researched work filled with photos to set the reader at base camp along with Houston’s team. The biting winds, the constant fear of freezing and the aggravation each team member felt clearly comes through here. Adventure and survival readers who have moved on from I Survived and are ready to read middle grade and middle school narrative non-fiction like Trapped by Marc Aronson and Jennifer Armstrong’s Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World.

Read the book, and tell your readers to visit Tod Olson’s webpage where they can find an Into the Clouds scavenger hunt. Into the Clouds has a starred review from School Library Journal.

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

And now, the catch-up posts begin! First up: The Okay Witch and the Hungry Shadow

Get ready for graphic novels! I’m working on my massive catch-up, so there will be several round-ups posts as I get all my cats herded and book notes together.

Personal note: Library’s open! We opened today and had a nice, fairly small (for us) group in and out today. It was a relaxing, wonderful way to start reconnecting with our families. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!

Personal note 2: Did we finish weeding and adding the new books yet? To quote Pete the Cat, Goodness No! But we’re rocking and rolling, and I’ve weeded my way through the adult collection 300s; onward and upward. And now… let’s get graphic!

The Okay Witch and the Hungry Shadow, by Emma Steinkellner, (July 2021, Aladdin), $12.99, ISBN: 9781534431485

Ages 8-12

The follow-up to 2019’s The Okay Witch takes on some big issues, and it’s so good. We get a quick recap from Lazlo the Cat (if you don’t remember him, or haven’t read the first book yet, don’t worry: he’ll catch you up nicely). Moth and her mom are still hanging in there, and the racist and creepy jerks at her school are still… racist and creepy. Moth is stressed out, frustrated, and no one can quite understand; even her best friend, Charlie, isn’t able to. The minute Moth pushes back against her tormentors, she’s the one taking the heat and she’s the one who “can’t take a joke”. Issues of race and equity take center stage here in a way that kids can identify with and understand; others will hopefully gain more of an understanding. Adults could do with reading this book, too; there’s a moment when Moth chafes at having to attend a school founded by someone who tried to wipe out witches that really eloquently frames what I like to call “the great statue debate”.

I digress. Moth manages to get hold of a charm that contains a power to make Moth into the popular, funny, confident girl she wants to be – but we all know what happens when you get what you wish for, don’t we? Great story, great artwork, characters you’ll love (and love to rage about), and an altogether great graphic novel for middle graders who love fantasy as much as they love realistic fiction.

 

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

She’s Grace, not “Kyle’s Little Sister”!

Kyle’s Little Sister, by BonHyung Jeong, (June 2021, Yen Press), $13.00, ISBN: 9781975316549

Ages 8-12

Grace is excited to start middle school with her best friends, Amy and Jay, but there’s one thing she’s not thrilled about… her older brother, Kyle, is an 8th grader in the same school. Her extroverted, handsome, older brother who loves to tease her whenever he gets the chance. She’s in Kyle’s shadow whether she’s at school or at home, forever being referred to as “Kyle’s little sister”, but she’s so much more than that! Grace and her best friends have a falling out, but she falls in with a school mean girl, Cam, who decides to “help” Grace out by bullying Amy. Grace looks the other way, not realizing that Cam has her own reasons for wanting to be friendly with Grace – and Amy and Jay can see that a mile away, but have to figure out how to help Grace from a distance. Maybe Kyle isn’t the awful big brother that Grace thinks he is after all? Kyle’s Little Sister is, at its heart, a story of friendship and those inevitable middle school conflicts, and it’s a relatable story about defining oneself. Manga illustrations make for expressive characters and playful storytelling. A good realistic fiction story to add to your graphic novel shelves, and a good way to introduce younger readers to manga outside of Pokemon.

Posted in Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Middle School, Teen, Tween Reads

Happy Book Birthday to Goblin by Eric Grissom and Will Perkins!

Goblin, by Eric Grissom/Illustrated by Will Perkins, (June 2021, Dark Horse Books), $14.99, ISBN: 9781506724720

Ages 10-14

Rikt is a stubborn young goblin who argues with his parents and storms off to bed. He wakes to the smell of smoke, and discovers his home is under attack by a raiding party of humans. His parents are slain, and he’s forced to run into the woods to escape with his life. Angry, grieving, alone, Rikt vows revenge, but where does he begin? A benevolent deity intervenes and sets him on a path to what he thinks will give him the tools to exact vengeance – but along the way, he meets friends and learns a great deal about himself.

Goblin is a gorgeously illustrated fantasy graphic novel. The colors are as incredible as they are horrible at points: the insidious curling of the smoke around Rikt when he awakens; the firelight as his home burns; the colors dance across the page, looking almost real. Will Perkins brings Rikt’s grief and terror to the page, using color and shadow, to hit readers in the feelings. The majesty of the Goddess as she appears to Rikt is one of the best panels I’ve read so far this year.

Let’s talk about Eric Grissom’s writing: his dialogue is wonderful, with humor, pathos, and wisdom throughout the book. He expertly addresses negative stereotypes, and the damage it wreaks, in a fantastic setting. Think of your own literary biases: when you think of a goblin, do you think of a loving family? A sweet, typical kid? Probably not: and that’s the point of the story. Rikt often hears that goblins are “filthy monsters”, or “dirty filthy thieves”. Grissom touches on the cycles of violence that cause generation after generation to kill (see Jason Reynolds’s Long Way Down for a brilliant, meditation on this cycle) and even hints at the violence against indigenous populations, with the murder of Rikt’s family. There is an incredible amount of wisdom waiting in this book. Perfect for fantasy fans and middle schoolers. A must-add to your shelves.

 

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 Middle Grade, Middle School, Tween Reads

Year of the Buttered Cat is amazing!

The Year of the Buttered Cat (A Mostly True Story), by Susan Haas and Lexi Haas, (April 2021, Penelope Editions), $17.99, ISBN: 9781734225938

Ages 9-13

What a book! This mostly-true memoir of Lexi Haas, a Star Wars and superhero-loving teen, shines a light on a rare – and preventable – neurological disease called kernicterus. Written by Lexi and her mother, Susan Haas, The Year of the Buttered Cat moves between Lexi at ages five and six, when she learns about her diagnosis and waits for the “five gifts, more or less” that an ersatz preacher wishes for her, and the age of 13, on the eve of a major surgery that she, and her family, hope will give her more control over her body and give her a voice. Not a story about kernicterus, Lexi’s story is a story about fandom, friendship, and discovering that the gifts you need are to be discovered within. We read Lexi’s frustrations and her ups and downs – feeling left out by friends; having strangers ask “what’s wrong with her?”; knowing her parents are keeping secrets – and see our own. We read her joyful moments – her laughter, teasing and being teased by siblings, watching Saturday Night Live with her parents, cuddling with her dog – and smile and laugh along with her. Do we find out why the cat was buttered? Yes. Do we want to find Lexi and the next Comic Con and hang out in cosplay with her? Definitely. Lexi’s voice is strong, clear, and focused, whether she’s making us laugh or suggesting we stop, take a moment, and think.

Give this to your readers who loved Wonder, Mustaches for Maddie, and Roll With It, A great add to your social-emotional learning shelves.

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

Dan Unmasked: Everyone has a story

Dan Unmasked, by Chris Negron, (June 2021, HarperCollins), $7.99, ISBN: 9780062943071

Ages 8-12

Nate and Dan are best friends. They share a love of baseball and a love of comic books, especially Captain Nexus by comics legend George Sanderson. They’re always talking, always together, until an accident at baseball practice leaves Nate in a coma. Dan feels crushing guilt that he caused the accident and desperately comes up with an idea that HAS to work: convinced that Nate is trapped, like Captain Nexus in his latest storyline, he’s going to create a comic that will show Nate the way out. He joins forces with Nate’s brother, Ollie, and Courtney, a friend from school to plot out a storyline that has to work. Right?

Dan Unmasked is as much a story of grief, loss, and recovery as it is about friendship, comics, and baseball. Chris Negron weaves all the parts of a middle schooler’s life together in his story, including parental relationships and relationships with school friends and teammates. He gives a reclusive comic book artist real life as a fully realized character with as rich a backstory as the main characters. Baseball fans will love the game narration; comics fans will love the comic book references he liberally sprinkles throughout. John David Anderson fans will easily jump into this story; it’s got that wonderful mix of the extraordinary and the everyday. Get this on your Summer Reading shelves.

The hardcover release (July 2020) of Dan Unmasked was an Independent Booksellers’ Debut Pick of the Season.  Author Chris Negron has a Dan Unmasked Curriculum Guide available for download at his author website.