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

Houdini and Me – he’s back for one last trick!

Houdini and Me, by Dan Gutman, (March 2021, Holiday House), $16.99, ISBN: 9780823445158

Ages 8-12

Eleven-year-old Harry Mancini lives at Harry Houdini’s old address, so he’s learned quite a bit about the magician. But when someone leaves him a mysterious old flip phone, and someone calling himself Houdini starts texting himself on it, Harry thinks someone has to be playing a prank on him, but the texter knows way too much about Houdini, and Harry’s current apartment… is he really Houdini, and how did he find a way to text from beyond the grave? As the two exchange text conversations, Houdini lays out his plan: he wants to come back and experience life again, and in return, he’ll make Harry famous. But there are always strings attached, aren’t there?

Dan Gutman is already a celebrity in my home and my library for books like his My Weird School and The Genius Files series, and Homework Machine. He has a way of writing that kids relate to so well; it’s like having another kid level with them, and they love it. Houdini and Me has that same first-person narration and conversational voice that kids love, rapid-fire dialogue between characters, and a solid history lesson Harry Houdini, magic, and the early 20th century, that kids will enjoy, too. It’s an interesting take on Harry Houdini – this would make a good reading group book.

Check out Dan Gutman’s author website, loaded with resources, including his My Weird Read-Aloud, excerpts, and information about virtual school visits. Houdini and Me is on the Indie Next List.

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

Pepper Page Saves the Universe!

Pepper Page Saves the Universe (Adventures of the Supernova, Book 1), by Landry Q. Walker, (Feb. 2021, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250216922

Ages 8-12

What happens when a comics superfan discovers that she IS her favorite superhero? That’s what happens to orphaned Pepper Page, a high schooler who loves her Supernova comics more than anything: she can rattle off major storylines, lament retcons and canon versus headcanon and fancanon with the best of us fangirls, but imagine if you woke up one day to find a supreme being telling you that you’re really Wonder Woman, and all these comics have been chronicling your adventures? It’s a little much for Pepper to handle; thank goodness she’s got her cat companion and her two best friends to help out. When they aren’t under a supervillain’s influence, that is. Comics fans will love the nods to comics fan favorites like Peter David and the iconic Jack Kirby; there are tips of the hat to Golden and Silver Age comics throughout the story, and this is just a great new series to get in on right now. Parents and caregivers, read along with your tweens and share your comics knowledge! I know I will. Have Zita the Spacegirl fans? Get them reading this series immediately.

Pepper Page Saves the Universe has a starred review from The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

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 Fantasy, Middle School, Science Fiction, Tween Reads

Middle Grade SF Mystery: The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel, by Sheela Chari, (Oct. 2020, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536209563

Ages 9-13

Mars Patel is a middle schooler with a penchant for getting in trouble. He and his friend, Aurora, love pranks and practical jokes that land them in detention, but when Aurora disappears – followed by his friend, Jonas – Mars is determined to find out what happened. All signs are pointing toward Oliver Pruitt, a tech genius (think Elon Musk) and Mars’s hero. Pruitt runs an elite school for the best and brightest; a school that Mars’s own school tests for every year, and he has a podcast that seems to be dropping hints tailor-made for Mars. Mars and his group of friends – Toothpick, JP, and Caddie – start digging and investigating, which puts them on Pruitt’s radar, and that’s when the kids learn that Oliver Pruitt may not be the benevolent mentor everyone thinks he is. Based on an award-winning podcast, this is the first in a series that mixes mystery, sci-fi, and a little touch of the paranormal.

There is so much going on in this book that I didn’t want it to end! Mars and his friends are a great group of kids; well-written and fully realized on the page. There’s a lot happening that we don’t know about in this first volume: what does Mars’s mom do for a living, for starters? All roads in this book lead to Oliver Pruitt. There’s science, conspiracy theories, and, at its heart, an engrossing character-driven story told in narrative, e-mails, and text messages. The end will leave you impatiently waiting for the next volume, and I’ve just subscribed to the podcast to learn more. A definite win for bookshelves and readers.

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel has a starred review from School Library Journal. You can read a sample and get a free, downloadable discussion guide at Candlewick’s website.

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

Books from Quarantine: Pleasant Grove

Pleasant Grove, by Jason Price, (June 2020, Independently Published), $3.99, ASIN: B08C21Y281

Ages 12-16

Agnes Goodwin is a 12-year-old girl living in Pleasant Grove, a small town where families live in peace… and under a glass dome. The adults are all keeping a secret from the kids of Pleasant Grove, and Agnes is determined to find out what that secret is, especially after spotting a strange boy in a field one day. There are no new families in Pleasant Grove, you see; and when word of the boy gets out, the adults are determined to find him. Agnes, her brother, Charlie, and her group of friends set out to find the boy, see the alleged “wasteland” beyond the dome, and learn the secrets of Pleasant Grove for once and for all, but are they prepared for the truth?

Keeping readers guessing from the beginning, Pleasant Grove is a little bit Stephen King’s Under the Dome, a little bit Stranger Things, and a splash of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village. I thought the narrative was going in one direction, but I was wrong: the plot twists were unexpected and clever, keeping me wondering until the very end. Agnes is a smart, capable character who is determined to get to the bottom of the Pleasant Grove mystery; her brother and her friends have strong personalities that readers will take to and identify with, whether it’s the timid friend, the smart-aleck friend, or the protective older brother who still isn’t sure about the whole business. Good for tweens and early teen readers who enjoy being kept off balance with their sci-fi/fantasy/horror thrillers and dystopian fiction.

Posted in Science Fiction, Steampunk, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Delightfully eldritch, creepy storytelling from Frances Hardinge: Deeplight

Deeplight, by Frances Hardinge, (Apr. 2020, Amulet), $13.99, ISBN:  978-1509897568

Ages 12+

(This review and ISBN are the paperback version. The hardcover was released in October 2019.)

Taking place in a time and world where gods were earthbound monsters who killed themselves in battle, Deeplight is set on an island named for one of these gods, Lady’s Crave, where the inhabitants scavenge the waters for pieces of the gods, referred to as “godware”, imbued with small but noticeable power. Hark, a 14-year old orphan, and his best friend, Jelt, are petty crooks who get involved in schemes of varying illegality. Hark is caught and sold to a godware “expert’, Dr. Vyne, as an indentured servant; she puts him to work in a home for the aging priests, to find out what he can about the gods and where key pieces and archives remain. Meanwhile, Jelt hasn’t let go of his hold on Hark, and convinces him to go on one more expedition, where Hark discovers a pulsing piece of godware that has healing powers. But nothing comes without a cost, and healing Jelt sets events into motion that will have huge repercussions.

I love Frances Hardinge’s work. She creates wonderfully creepy stories; Deeplight adds a level of eldritch horror with a dash of steampunk and takes the conversation to a new level, throwing in themes of idolatry, greed, and the part fear plays in holding onto belief. Each character is fully realized, with backstory and motivation; whether or not they’re likable is entirely up to you – but you will never forget them. I’ll be gushing about this book for a long time. Frances Hardinge is the author you give your Mary Downing Hahn fans when they’re ready for more. Give this to your horror fans, your steampunk fans, and slide it in front of any HP Lovecraft fans you may have come across.

Deeplight has starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly.

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

Last year, Sal and Gabi broke the universe. This year, they’re going to fix it.

Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe, by Carlos Hernandez, (May 2020, Rick Riordan Presents), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1368022835

Ages 8-12

I finally got to read Sal and Gabi Break the Universe for the 2019 Cybils earlier this year, and WOW. I loved it all: the Cuban-American characters and cultural references; the great storytelling and witty dialogue; the wild magic-meets-science; the overwhelming power of family, in all its forms, that comes through the story. When I had the chance to read an advanced reader copy of the sequel, Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe, I jumped for it!

You had to know, if you read the first book, that Sal and Gabi’s second adventure is even more fun than the first. Avoiding spoilers, I’ll just say that events in Break the Universe have reverberations in Fix the Universe. Sal’s calamity physicist father and Dad: The Final Frontier, one of Gabi’s dads, have been working on a machine that can fix the wormholes Sal creates. This causes some problems, as a rogue alternate Gabi arrives on the scene to warn Sal about. Meanwhile, bully Yasmany has gone missing from school, adding another mystery for the two to solve. American Stepmom, the Gabi-Dads, and Principal Torres are all back, joined by Rogue Gabi and a self-aware bathroom. There’s more non-stop action, hilarious dialogue and more creativity from the Culeco Academy crew as they work to put on a school show in the middle of everything. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Here’s a helpful list of Gabi’s Dads, if you need help keeping up. There’s a great Educator’s Guide for Sal and Gabi Break the Universe, which can serve as a jumping-off point for new questions and discussion topics. If you have been to Rick Riordan’s website, you know there’s a wealth of Riordan resources for his books available; the Read Riordan website is working toward offering the same types of resources for the Rick Riordan Presents books. Keep both of these links in your reference resources folder; they’re good to have. Visit author Carlos Hernandez’s website for links to blog posts and social media.
Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe has a starred review from Kirkus. Don’t miss out!
Posted in Post-apocalyptic/Dystopian, Science Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Books from Quarantine: Dogchild, by Kevin Brooks

Dogchild, by Kevin Brooks, (June 2020, Candlewick Press), $22.99, ISBN: 9781536209747

Ages 15+

This is a stark, often unsettling post-apocalyptic story. Jeet, a child raised by the wild dogs that killed his human family, lives in a settlement where there are few other “dogchildren” – most dogchildren don’t rehabilitate back to being human well; they run away, back to their dog families or die in the process of rehumanizing. Jeet lives with his uncle, Starry, after the settlement kills his pack of Deathland dogs on a raid, and eventually, becomes trusted enough that town head Marshal Gun Sur first asks him to write a history of their people, and then, to be part of a spying mission as the group gets ready to go to war against their enemy settlement, the Dau. Chola Se, another dogchild, and the closest thing Jeet has to a friend, has been kidnapped in a raid on the settlement; Jeet rescues her and learns that she has been sexually assaulted mutiple times – including by their own settlement’s second in command, Deputy Pilgrim. Jeet and Chola Se believe that Deputy is a traitor, but before they can enact their own plans, Pilgrim puts actions in motion that will turn the entire encampment against the two. While they want to flee, go back to their dog family and forget about the settlers entirely, but Chola also wants revenge against Pilgrim.

This is a gritty, rough story that includes sexual assault, graphic violence, and cannibalism. Definitely not for the younger set. The story is harrowing, with desperation that reaches out and grabs readers with every turn of the page. Kevin Brooks has created a stark, desolate landscape and characters that will stay with you after you finish the book. The love between Jeet and his dog mother makes for emotional, moving writing; Chola’s rage, always simmering, ready to explode, will leave readers gritting their teeth. He gets to readers on a visceral level. The book is written as if it were Jeet’s chronicle, so you won’t see punctuation; there aren’t traditional paragraphs, sentence structures, or spelling; there are no real chapter breaks, either; more like pauses between entries. If you have teen post-apocalypse fans that can handle rougher subject matter, give them this book.

Dogchild has a starred review from Booklist.

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Science Fiction

Books from Quarantine: Secret Explorers and the Comet Collision

The Secret Explorers and the Comet Collision, by SJ King, (July 2020, DK), $5.99, ISBN: 978-0744021066

Ages 7-10

This is the second book in an upcoming new series from DK; the first, The Secret Explorers and the Lost Whales, also publishes on July 7, 2020. Perfect reading for kids who loved Little Einsteins, Octonauts, or Wild Kratts when they were younger, these chapter books introduce a group of Secret Explorers – kids who specialize in different areas of the sciences – who go on secret missions to gather knowledge and solve a big problem. In Comet Collision, two explorers, Roshni and Ollie, have to work together when they’re sent into space to fix a broken space probe by the planet Jupiter. A comet is set to collide with the planet and will wipe out all the probe’s important data if they don’t fix it in time, so they have to work together and work fast!

Loaded with adventure, facts, and fast-paced reading, this is a fun new STEM-based series for readers. You don’t need to read the first book to enjoy this one (I picked this up at ALA Midwinter, and thought it was the first in the series until I finished it and saw the “2” on the spine). The kids play with cool technology, are specialists in different areas of science, and take readers to space and beyond. This will be a good series to fit with the Imagine Your Story Summer Reading theme this year, too – ask your readers to think of their favorite type of science (or give them one to explore) and ask them to imagine their story as a scientist in space, in a rain forest, in a lab, anywhere. Black and white cartoony artwork throughout helps place readers on a spacewalk and at the controls of a spaceship. The cast of characters is multicultural, from all over the world.

Invite kids to learn more about space probes from NASA, and about Jupiter and the other planets here.

Posted in Science Fiction, Young Adult/New Adult

YA Crossover: Followers, by Megan Angelo

Followers, by Megan Angelo, (Jan. 2020, Graydon House Books), $26.99, ISBN: 9781525836268

Ages 16+

This satire, thriller, quasi-dystopian story tells the tale of two women, Orla and Floss, who become friends through a mutual desire for fame. Starting in the 20-teens, Orla is a writer, slaving away at a pop culture news site and waiting for her big break. Floss is a Kardashian wannabe: she wants to be an influencer, she wants followers, she wants insta-fame. She and Orla, her roommate, hatch a plan where Orla creates the Floss persona, and it works, to dizzying success. The story shifts between 2015-2016 and 2041, where society lives in the aftermath of an event that leaves those of us glued to our screens shadows of our former selves. Reality stars are moved to a government-run, enclosed village where they live their whole lives on camera, with implants that buzz to let them know when they’ve gained or lost followers, or if they’ve been off screen too long. Here, we meet Marlow, a 30-something who lives in the village, and dreams of a life off-screen. Discovering a long-held family secret gives her the courage to go on the run, where she heads to New York to get answers.

Followers is a realistic sci-fi thriller that posits an entirely plausible future. Social media-obsessed characters and a screen-consumed society are instantly recognizable – it does take place in 2016, after all – and the tempting mystery that unfolds through two timelines is fascinating and kept me turning pages, wanting to know what happens next. It’s a good book to handsell/booktalk to teens, and let them work through the story by asking them what they think future social media and reality stars will look like. Put this on your “this could be our future” shelf with Vox by Christina Dalcher (another YA/Adult crossover), and Caragh O’Brien’s Vault of Dreamers trilogy.

Followers has four starred reviews, and author Megan Angelo has a free, downloadable book club kit available on her website (minus the cotton candy champagne recipe – mix some cotton candy with sparkling water for a similar treat).