The Way of the Hive: A Honeybee’s Story, by Jay Hosler, (Apr. 2021, HarperAlley), $12.99, ISBN: 9780063007352
Nyuki is an inquisitive honeybee larva who has a lot of questions for Dvorah, an older bee who ends up being her mentor. Why does her cell have to be capped off? Why does she have to go through metamorphosis? Why are some of the bees getting ready to leave the hive? Can she go? Should she go? Is Dvorah going to go? Dvorah patiently answers Nyuki’s questions, and helps Nyuki develop into an independent member of her colony. The story follows the life journey of one honeybee and the members of her hive. Nyuki is childlike in her interactions, and never loses her sense of wonder and curiosity, making her a wonderful character. She struggles with anxiety about the unknown and adapts, always puzzling over the “inner voice” that spurs her on to adventure. The story is sweet, funny, and moved me to tears. Illustrations are realistic, but Jay Hosler manages to make these realistic depictions of bees simply adorable; readers will want to cherish them and care for them. The science is solid, but never, ever feels like a lecture or a textbook. It’s simply a great story. An absolute must for your graphic novel collections, and perfect for Science Comics readers. Back matter includes even more information about bees.
Did you know World Bee Day is May 20th this year? Visit the Bee Culture website for some resources on bees and celebrating them on their special day. The National Parks Service has a great middle school curriculum for Bee Week available. Author Jay Hosler’s website is a treasure trove of information on using comic books in the classroom (yes!!) and links to more science comics.
The Way of the Hive has a starred review from Kirkus. It was originally published under the title, Clan Apis, in 1998.
Latinitas: Celebrating 40 Big Dreamers, by Juliet Menéndez, (Feb. 2021, Henry Holt), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250234629
This collection of biographies shines a light on 40 Latinx women from Latin America and the U.S. who have made outstanding contributions across the board: activists and advocates, educators, musicians, scientists, artists, politicians, and so many more. Some names will be familiar: Pura Belpré, Frida Kahlo, and Sonia Sotomayor are all here, as are names that will be new to many readers, like Rosa Peña de González, who built schools for girls in Paraguay; playwright and congresswoman Gumercinda Páez, who helped draft Panama’s new constitution in 1941, with an eye to Afro-Latinx rights and women’s rights; and Wanda Díaz-Merced, a blind astrophysicist who turned data points into rhythm and sound in order to create a “symphony of sounds for the stars, planets, and asteroids”. The women are outstanding, and this collection of stories should be the tip of the iceberg for more research. Hand-painted illustrations have beautiful folk art feel. Endpapers feature additional artwork with flowers representing each of the countries represented in the book. An inspiring collection with comprehensive back matter that includes brief looks at an additional 10 Latin women and full sources.
Latinitas has a starred review from Kirkus. Get a free activity kit and read a Q&A with author-illustrator Juliet Menéndez. Visit Juliet Menéndez’s author website to see more of her gorgeous artwork and more information about her books.
Fox + Chick: The Quiet Boat Ride and Other Stories, by Sergio Ruzzier, (May 2021, Chronicle Books), $7.99, ISBN: 9781797208848
Fox and Chick are friends who love each other. Fox loves Chick with all Chick’s little quirks, and Chick loves Fox, who seems a little more down to earth. This latest book is the second book of their adventures, and it’s already out in hardcover. Chronicle was kind enough to send me a softcover copy, which will be out in May. Consisting of three stories – The Quiet Boat Ride, Chocolate Cake, and The Sunrise – this graphic novel is perfect for emerging readers who are ready to stretch from picture books and easy readers, but either not quite ready for chapter books or just starting them. In “The Quiet Boat Ride”, Fox is all set to spend a quiet afternoon rowing his boat when Chick arrives and injects a wild series of scenarios into the day. In “Chocolate Cake”, Chick agonizes over the gift of a chocolate cake and whether or not to eat all of it and risk a sick belly. “The Sunrise” sees Fox trying to get Chick to hurry up and come downstairs so they can see the sunrise. Parents and caregivers will love the stories, too; Chick will remind every single adult reader of the Kiddos in their lives, from trying to get a meandering preschooler to get their shoes on so you can get out of the door on time, to explaining that having access to a box of cookies (or a chocolate cake) doesn’t mean one has to EAT all of the cookies (or cake) in one sitting. Soft colors, fun dialogue, and an overall feeling of friendship makes this an excellent choice to give to kids who’ve loved Elephant and Piggie, Frog and Toad, and who are heading toward Skunk and Badger.
Sergio Ruzzier is a Sendak Fellow who has written and illustrated many critically acclaimed children’s books. The Fox + Chick books have starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal, and Fox + Chick: The Party and Other Stories is included on many “Best Of” lists, including NPR Best Books of the Year, New York Times Notable Children’s Book,School Library Journal Best Book of the Year,
and The Horn Book Magazine Fanfare Best Book of the Year
. Visit Sergio Ruzzier’s author website for more information about his books
Rescue at Lake Wild, by Terry Lynn Johnson, (Apr. 2021, HMH Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 9780358334859
Twelve-year-old Madi wants to be an “animal whisperer” like her wildlife rehabber grandmother was; her town doesn’t have a wildlife rehabber since her grandmother died, and her mother has forbidden her to bring home any more animals. If she does, her upcoming trip to meet Jane Goodall will be canceled. But what is Madi supposed to do when she and her best friends, Aaron and Jack, discover two orphaned beaver kits? She saves the kits and cares for them in secret when the friends discover another murdered beaver in the process. There’s a secret to be uncovered here, and Madi, Jack, and Aaron mean to be the ones to do it: as long as Madi can stay out of trouble with her mom, that is. A fast-paced adventure story about friendship, found families, and wildlife rehab, Rescue at Lake Wild has elements adventure readers will love: action, a mystery to solve, and a determined, smart protagonist with a love for animals and nature. Author Terry Lynn Johnson writes action-adventure nature stories, including 2019’s Dog Driven and The Survivor Diaries, and readers who love the I Survived series will dive right in. She has knowledge to share, and she does it in a way that respects and nudges the reader into wanting more: more storytelling and more learning. Have readers who loved Carl Hiaasen’s Hoot and Celia C. Pérez’s Strange Birds? This is the next book for them.
Terry Lynn Johnson writes about the wild with the wisdom and passion of someone who has spent her life working to preserve and protect it – both as a backcountry canoe ranger in Quetico Provincial Park and in her current job as a conservation officer with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. She lives at the edge of a lake in northern Ontario, Canada, where she loves watching all wildlife, including beavers. Visit her online at terrylynnjohnson.com
Video extra! Terry Lynn Johnson talks about the inspiration behind Rescue at Lake Wild here.
Kate in Waiting, by Becky Albertalli, (April 2021, Balzer + Bray), $18.99, ISBN: 9780062643834
The best-selling, award-winning author of Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda and Leah and the Offbeat is back with her latest YA novel! Kate Garfield and her best friend, Anderson Walker, are high school juniors who have communal crushes. It’s their thing. But when their latest shared crush from drama camp ends up as a student at their high school, things get a little uncomfortable. Matt is sweet, funny, and is a theatre fan, just like they are. He’s cast in the school production of Once Upon a Mattress as Kate’s love interest; he’s in the same drama class as Anderson, while Kate is left out. Kate and Anderson realize that this is not a usual passing crush, and have to figure out how to navigate these new waters while still maintaining their bestie status. There’s great character development here, and discussions between Kate and Anderson touch on some sensitive points like being gay, out, and Black in the U.S. South; splitting a life between homes when one’s parents are divorced, and images versus reality when it comes to “bro culture” (or, as they’re often referred to in Kate in Waiting, “f-boys”). The dialogue is wonderful, realistic, and smart; friendships withstand ebbs and flows of daily teen life. It’s just an all-around great YA novel that should be a big book this summer. Theatre kids will love the process of seeing a production come together, and teens will love the smart, funny writing that breaks your heart and puts it back together again.
Kate in Waiting has starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and made the Indie Next Great Reads list.
We Became Jaguars, by Dave Eggers/llustrated by Woodrow White, (March 2021, Chronicle Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9781452183930
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.
Dan Unmasked, by Chris Negron, (June 2021, HarperCollins), $7.99, ISBN: 9780062943071
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.
The Fifth Quarter, by Mike Dawson, (May 2021, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250244185
Lori Block loves being on her school basketball team, even if she and her friends are relegated to playing “the fifth quarter” – the extra period where the not-so-good kids play and the points don’t count. Determined to get better, she practices and takes part in different basketball camps, but she’s got to learn how to finesse her social interactions: she can come off as brusque or downright mean to players she doesn’t think match her own drive to succeed. Meanwhile, her mom’s considering running for local office, taking more time away from Lori. Can Lori develop her own self-confidence, learn to navigate everyday social situations, and up her basketball game?
The Fifth Quarter is a good sports story and a good school story. Lori is a relatable character; she’s a fourth grader dealing with some big feelings: she’s got two younger siblings constantly clamoring for her parents’ attention; she gets frustrated by friends who don’t share her consuming passion for basketball, and may even be slightly threatened when a new friend shows up to play what she may feel is “her” sport. When her mom decides to run for public office, it adds another layer of frustration and stress to Lori’s life; it’s even more competition for her mother’s time, helping her mom campaign will take time away from basketball practice, AND since her mother is running against a school friend’s father, she’s worried that it will affect her friendship. That’s a lot for a fourth grader! Her parents are supportive and encouraging, and her friends stand firm and call Lori out when they see her being unreasonable, letting readers know that it’s okay to feel these things, but not okay to act negatively on those feelings. Readers will see themselves in Lori, and hopefully, her friends, too. A smart book that respects its readers, with artwork that realistic fiction graphic novel readers will recognize and enjoy, The Fifth Quarter is good reading for all graphic novel/realistic fiction readers. Suggest books like Pippa Park Raises Her Game, by Erin Yun, Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl, Cathy Johnson’s The Breakaways, and Jason Reynolds’s Track series.
Zoe Rosenthal is Not Lawful Good, by Nancy Werlin, (Apr. 2021, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536214734
High school senior Zoe Rosenthal is a planning machine, bullet journal set for stun. She and her boyfriend, Simon, are the definition of power couple: they’re researching college choices to attend together (so many color-coded spreadsheets); she’s working to save money while he volunteers for a local politician and envisions a socially just career in political science, and then they’ll marry, have their 2.5 kids, and live happily ever after. All she has to do is sneak off to Dragon Con for a season premiere of her secretly favorite show, Bleeders. It’s great science fiction, which Simon poo-poos as “ridiculous”. She should be watching Very Serious Documentaries, not wasting time on genre “garbage”. But once at DragonCon, she falls in love with fandom and meets a group of “Bloodygits” – the Bleeders fandom – that may just be the best thing that ever happened to her. A story of how fandom is always there to catch you when you fall, Zoe Rosenthal is Not Lawful Good is filled with great little pop culture and fandom winks and nudges. Zoe and her fellow supporting characters are all pretty well realized, and encompass a diverse cast. Author Nancy Werlin is a National Book award finalist, Edgar award winner, and NYT bestselling author who not only gets fandom, she enjoys it; she sees how it brings people together. Give to your fandom fic fans; the readers who loved The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love by Sarvenaz Tash (2016), Ashley Poston’s Once Upon a Con series, and Jen Wilde’s Queens of Geek (2017).
Rosie Loves Jack, by Mel Darbon, (March 2021, Peachtree Publishers), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-68263-289-5
Set in the United Kingdom, we meet Rosie, a 16-year-old girl with Down syndrome who loves her boyfriend, Jack. Jack’s temper gets him into trouble and gets him sent away to a school in Brighton; Rosie’s father hopes this marks the end of Rosie’s and Jack’s relationship, but Rosie is determined to see Jack, and she’s determined to keep her independence. She discovers that Jack’s been writing postcards to her because he smashed his phone in a rage, but her father’s been holding them from her. Angry and set on finding Jack, Rosie runs away, Jack’s postcards and an address of his school guiding her toward their reunion. But the world is dangerous for a young teen girl, and Rosie discovers that not only can people be cruel to someone different, they can be predatory. At times uncomfortable, always consuming, Rosie Loves Jack is an engrossing story that gives readers a strong, smart heroine in Rosie. Readers will identify with Rosie’s struggles with well-meaning, but fearful parents, who may take what they see as extreme measures in the interest of protecting their daughter. They’ll understand the all-consuming love Rosie and Jack have for one another that sends Rosie out into the world, unattended, on a search for him, and the love postcards he sends her give her strength and guide her through some awful scenarios. They’ll see how dehumanizing people can be when encountering someone with special needs. A strong book to consider for a reading group. Rosie emerges as the most realized character, with supporting characters not as fleshed out, but keep her journey moving forward. Publisher Peacthree has a discussion guide on Rosie’s book detail page, as well as an author Q&A, where author Mel Darbon talks about her inspirations for both Rosie and Jack.