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

Witches of Orkney Super-Post!

‘Morning, all! I’ve been digging deeply into Alane Adams’s Witches of Orkney series, courtesy of SparkPress, and… WOW. I read the Legends of Olympus books earlier this year, so when Spark offered me the full Orkney set to get caught up in time for the newest book, The Mermaid Queen, I went for it. The big feedback: great reads for your fantasy readers; good crossover for your Rick Riordan readers. Let’s get into each book, shall we?

The Blue Witch, (Witches of Orkney #1), by Alane Adams, (Oct. 2018, SparkPress), $12.95, ISBN: 9781943006779

Ages 8-12

Abigail Tarkana is a 9-year-old witch with a big problem: her magic is different, and that’s not exactly prized at her school, the Tarkana Witch Academy. While everyone else’s witchfire is green, hers is blue, which could mark her as a traitor, which targets her for even more bullying than she’s already putting up with. Together with her friend, Hugo, they will strip away the secrets of Abigail’s past, including the identity of her parents. Is she the daughter of a notorious coven traitor? Abigail and Hugo confront monsters on a quest into the Netherworld that test both their powers. Rich with Norse mythology, Alane Adams excels at worldbuilding and character development. Black and white illustrations throughout help give readers extra context and keep interest high. There’s action and intrigue with solid fantasy storytelling, and the characters are kid-friendly. Themes of friendship, protecting and supporting one another, and teamwork run strong.

An excellent choice for book groups, you can touch on Norse mythology and its presence in the series. Alane Adams offers free book club kits on her author website for all of her series, including maps, posters, and challenges. Offer as a readalike to Riordan fans who loved the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series, or Kelley Armstrong and Melissa Marr’s Blackwood Pages series, and have nonfiction like NatGeo Kids’ Treasury of Norse Mythology or Mathias Nordvig’s Norse Mythology for Kids available. Readers are going to devour this series.

The Blue Witch received multiple awards, including the 2020 IPPY Awards Bronze Winner in Cover Design, and Moonbeam’s Gold Medal in Pre-Teen Fiction/Fantasy.

 

The Rubicus Prophecy, (Witches of Orkney #2), by Alane Adams, (Oct. 2019, SparkPress), $12.95, ISBN: 9781943006984

Ages 8-12

The second book in the Witches of Orkney series ratchets up the action. Abigail is back at Tarkana Witch Academy and studying for her classes. She’s still dealing with Endera, her bully, and to make matters worse, Endera’s mother is one of Abigail’s teachers. Hugo, meanwhile, is hearing rumors about war and a prophecy that sounds uncomfortably similar to Abigail and her abilities. There’s even more action in this installment, including visits from the Norse gods, and draugars – zombies! – to be read. Illustrator Jonathan Stroh returns, creating exciting, spooky black and grey artwork that adds to the mood of the book. Readers can pick up the story without having read The Blue Witch, but I’d let them know taht they’re going to miss quite a bit of exposition if they do: story arcs continue here that were set up in the first book, after all, and established characters took an entire book to develop. This is a good series to give to readers who are ready for slightly grittier storytelling, as Ms. Adams reminds us that the Vikings didn’t worship the Norse gods for their gentle natures. (And hello, zombies.) Not overly gruesome, but something to keep in mind for readers who may need a heads-up.

Alane Adams has a gift for fantasy storytelling, and loads the book with adventure, humor, and magic elements. Giving her stories a background in Norse myth gives it the “Riordan Appeal” that lets me start off a strong booktalk, because in my readers advisory elevator pitches, I have to move fast: I’m competing with Minecraft and Roblox on our library computers, after all!

 

Witch Wars, (Witches of Orkney #3), by Alane Adams, (Oct. 2020, SparkPress), $12.95, ISBN: 9781684630639

Ages 8-12

We’re two books in now, and the third book, Witch Wars, starts off with the Asgardian prologue we’ve grown accustomed to, which will set the tone for the story within, which leads into Tarkana, present day, where Abigail is beating herself up over the disasters from The Rubicus Prophecy. Now, Orkney is speeding toward war, an ancient power has been restored, and Hugo and Abigail set off to Jotunheim – land of the Frost and Rock Giants – to track down Thor and convince him to give them his hammer, Mjolnir, to help them set things right. No problem, right? Meanwhile, Endera and her friends are on Abigail’s trail, believing they’ll find proof that Abigail is truly a traitor, and their former friend Robert Barconian arrives on the scene with an army of dwarves to stop Abigail and Hugo. The characters are maturing and growing into themselves in this third book; Abigail, in particular, considers the fallout of her actions and has to contend with guilt and grief, while Hugo steps up to be the support that she needs as she works through some complex emotions. More gods and characters from Norse mythology make appearances, and the intrigue runs high. The action keeps readers turning pages, and the dialogue moves at an excellent pace. This series starts off strong and, three books in, maintains its forward motion.

 

 

The Mermaid Queen, (Witches of Orkney #4), by Alane Adams, (Oct. 2021, SparkPress), $12.95, ISBN: 9781684631131

The latest book in the saga, The Mermaid Queen, starts off with a major moment of foreboding in the Asgardian prologue. From there, we see that Abigail has fallen into a depression after putting her trust in the wrong ally during the events of Witch Wars. Capricorn, the mermaid queen, betrayed Abigail and her friends and unleashed Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent, and now Abigail and Hugo must cross the seas to find Odin and warn him that Jormungand is coming for him, and find a way to return the serpent to his underwater cell. Abigail discovers that her powers on their own aren’t enough, and may have to risk tapping into her dark magic. But can you use dark magic, even for a good cause, without being affected? It’s a choice she has to make. Big choices and the truth that life isn’t always black and white; good and evil, are the big themes here – perfect for a growing and maturing tween reader who is confronting similar quandaries (maybe no Midgard Serpent, but some moments sure feel as intimidating as one) in their own lives.

The Witches of Orkney series is the prequel to the Legends of Orkney series, so you can read this before you dig into Legends, and go straight through, or you can read Legends first, and then pick up Witches and get deeper context for events and characters in Legends. Either way, I really suggest you read the novels in order, so you can have a cohesive understanding of each series as it unfolds. It’s an excellent series that’s sure to have high interest. If you are new to Alane Adams’s universe, ask your big readers to give them a shot and get feedback before buying a set; I think it’s a purchase well made.

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

Hideaway is an excellent follow-up to Pam Smy’s Thornhill

The Hideaway, by Pam Smy, (Oct. 2021, Pavilion), $19.95, ISBN: 9781843654797

Ages 9-13

Pam Smy follows up her wonderfully chilling novel Thornhill (2017) with The Hideaway, which looks at themes of abuse, toxic masculinity, families, and forgiveness. Billy is a 13-year-old who cannot live in his home any longer. He feels guilty about leaving his mother to her abusive boyfriend, Jeff, but he is unable to bear hearing him hurt her and unable to live with this man any longer. He sneaks out one night and takes refuge in a small hideaway at a local cemetery, where he meets an old man who’s cleaning up the cemetery for an upcoming special event. The old man promises to keep Billy’s presence a secret for a couple of days while Billy works things out, in exchange for some help in cleaning up. Meanwhile, at Billy’s home, as his mother searches for Billy, she also finds the courage to reach out and ask for help – something she’d had drummed out of her until now.

Pam Smy breathes incredible life into her characters. Grace, Billy’s mother, is a strong, smart woman who learns to take back her power, discovering that asking for help is the first step in recovering that power. Billy is conflicted, a victim of trauma who escapes for his own sake, but struggles with the guilt of leaving his mother behind. Supporting characters steer the two toward good decisions, never forcing either into actions they aren’t ready to take. Billy addresses toxic masculinity by throwing off Jeff’s verbal barbs about “manning up”, and takes action when he sees a potential assault in the cemetery one night. Grace remembers that she had the strength to go it alone with Billy once before, and is fully prepared to do it again. Pam Smy creates moody, ethereal landscapes with her black and grey illustrations. The event that Billy and the old man prepared for unfolds over several pages of pure illustration, which will grab reader’s hearts and hold on, staying with them long after they’ve closed the book for good.

The Hideaway is just a wonderful story; a visceral family story with a touch of the magical. See more of Pam Smy’s illustration work at her website. Don’t miss her Instagram, either.

Posted in Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Young Adult/New Adult

Blog Tour and Excerpt: Cynthia Starts a Band by Olivia Swindler

While this is a blog for kidlit and YA, every now and then there’s space for a book for the bigger folx; whether it’s a new adult book that can cross over to a YA audience, or a book that parents and caregivers will enjoy, it can’t hurt to grow every now and then, right? So please enjoy this excerpt from Olivia Swindler’s Cynthia Starts a Band, a debut novel about a lead singer of a successful band who disappears, seemingly out of nowhere. Meet Eleanor Quinn, a recovering celebrity who decides to start all over again.

Cynthia Starts a Band, by Olivia Swindler,
(Oct. 2019, Morgan James Fiction),
$17.95, ISBN: 978-1631954900

 

Cynthia

I had no idea what day of the week it was, but that was normal for me. Days of the week meant nothing to me when we were touring. My internal calendar instead went like this: today, the bus will take us there, and then tomorrow, we will get back on the bus and be there. It didn’t matter if it was Tuesday or Friday; all days had the same value.

On the other hand, this was the first time in a long time I hadn’t needed to incessantly check the clock on my phone. I wasn’t afraid of being late to a soundcheck. I didn’t feel that familiar pit in my stomach telling me that I had overslept and would be late for hair and makeup.

For the first time in years, my time was mine.

I opened my eyes and peered out the window. We were cruising along a major highway. I was sure that I had been on this road at some point in my life before. Before, this road had meant nothing, but now the same open road meant freedom.

I had told the ticket salesman that I wanted a ticket to get to Seattle—although I had no real idea of how to get there. I wasn’t even sure if I knew precisely where Seattle was. I had visited Seattle plenty of times, but it had been clouded by the tour haze. I knew it was a big city, which meant I would be able to slip into my new life there without standing out.

I hadn’t realized how far away Seattle was from Denver. They were both on the West Coast; somehow, I had figured it would only take a few hours to get from one to the other. They had always been so close together on our schedule.

In Portland, I changed buses. The stop made me surer than ever of my decision.

I had done it. I had gotten out.

It still didn’t feel real. I had dreamed about this moment for so long, without ever actually believing it would happen.

I hadn’t told anyone that I was leaving, but I was sure they knew by now.

After the incident, I had walked out of the arena and gone straight to the bus station. I hadn’t even bothered getting my things from my bus or the dressing room. It hadn’t occurred to me that I should have withdrawn some cash. I would get some money soon. If they wanted to find me, they would check my credit card statements. I had seen enough action movies to know this was usually the first thing checked when looking for a missing person: a credit card trail.

I guessed I also needed to change my name. Or at least go by a different one? I really hadn’t thought this part of the plan through very well.

When we were first starting out, someone had asked me if I planned on using a stage name. “Everyone does it,” I was told. But I was sixteen at the time and thought there was something cool about seeing my name up in lights. That was me! My real name. At no point had I imagined that I would need a pseudonym.

If I had gone by a stage name, this might have been easier. I could have just reverted to who I had been before the world cared about who I had become.

I needed the opposite of a stage name.

I reached for my phone—at least I had had the presence of mind to grab that—and had another realization: I would probably have to get a new phone. After checking the runaway’s credit card activity, people always tracked their phones. There was something techy that could be done by pinging off cell towers. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I had seen it in enough movies to be wary of calling anyone.

I looked down at my lit-up phone screen.

Of course, he had called. It would have been stupid to expect otherwise.

I didn’t have to call him back. A weight lifted from my shoulders, and I took a deep, shuddering breath. I was free! I never had to call him back ever again.

James had called me twenty-three times, to be exact. While I had expected that, I still felt a slight pang of remorse. I had known James since high school. I was just a long-legged teenager when he became our manager. We had walked through everything together. He had turned me from a gangly teenage girl to a polished pop star. And here I was, on a bus, running away.

I needed to let James know I was safe. I felt like I owed him at least that.

I turned off all the location services on my phone. I didn’t know if that would actually do anything, but at least I felt a little more secure.

“I am safe. Promise. Will call if I can.” I texted. But I knew that I was never going to call.

I needed a plan.

While I had been fantasizing about this escape for months, it had always felt like something belonging to the distant future, like a dream that would never come to fruition. Now, it was actually happening, and I needed to figure out my next move.

One of my cousins, Kristy, lived in Seattle. I needed to let her know I was coming. She and I had always been close. If I could stay with her, I wouldn’t have to put something else on my credit card. Maybe she could front me the money for a hotel. I had never had to do any of this by myself before. I wasn’t sure if I even knew how to get a hotel room. Or how to figure out which hotel was decent and safe. These things had always been taken care of for me. In fact, now that I thought about it, this was the first time that I was able to choose for myself. No one was telling me what I needed to wear. No one was telling me what time I needed to go to bed or wake up. No one had made a dinner reservation for me in Seattle. I didn’t have any obligation to make an appearance. For the first time in as long as I could remember, I had the freedom to make my own decisions.

The entire bus ride had been filled with peace and quiet. It was almost too much to take in all at once.

The only decision I had made for myself in the recent past was my decision to leave. I could not have imagined how many subsequent decisions would result.

I could feel myself getting overwhelmed. Was this really what I desired? The events of the previous hours flashed through my mind. I wanted to hide. I had abandoned my life without a second thought or a clear plan of what to do next.

What had I done? I had left the life that most people only dreamed of living, and for what? Nothing? I had no plan. No boyfriend. I had given no warning to my friends or family. There was no promise of another job (though it wasn’t like I would need the money). But I was starting to realize that this was probably not my most responsible decision.

James had once told me that I was his favorite client because I always did what I was told. He never had to worry about me get- ting caught in the wrong bar or getting cited with a DUI. I was a dream client. I did what I was told, and people loved me.

Maybe they just loved the person James had made me into. I wasn’t sure that person had ever been me.

James had texted me back right away, “Ellie, you need to call me right now. Your bus had to leave without you. The plane is already waiting for you in Denver. Go to the airport now, and you will be able to meet us in Dallas by soundcheck.”

I was not going to get on that plane. I was not going to make it in time for soundcheck. A piece of my soul had been slowly suffocating. I knew my choice was not just affecting me; this was James’s life as well. The lives of the rest of the band. But after last night, I knew I wouldn’t be able to continue as Eleanor Quinn.

They could do the set without me. Our publicist would release some statement about how I had come down with bronchitis or lupus. It would be something nasty (but not life-threatening), and I would rejoin the tour as soon as I was cleared.

The publicist would be lying.

I would not be rejoining the tour. After what happened, I couldn’t be Eleanor Quinn, singer extraordinaire from Kittanning. I was going to become someone new.

Outside the window, the road markers flashed past, dimmed by the rain. The bus passed a billboard advertising a weight loss company that had helped a woman named Cynthia lose seventy-five pounds. I was going to be Cynthia. Cynthia, who had just lost more than seventy-five figurative pounds of a band that had been controlling her every waking moment.

I ignored James’s text. I didn’t know how to tell him that I would not be on the plane. It felt unfair to him. I had never intended for him to end up in the crosshairs of my consequences. Our lives had become intertwined; that was just the harsh reality. But I couldn’t let that change my mind. I would figure out how to break the news to him once I had settled. The tour was going to take a week off after Dallas, so that would give them time to regroup.

I tried to focus on that.

Giving up on my vain attempt to shove my guilt aside, I started searching for Kristy’s number. It was almost 8:00 a.m. This, I thought to myself, was when most people got up. I checked my phone and saw that it was a Tuesday. She worked for Amazon, and the last time I’d seen her, she had mentioned how long and crazy the hours were, so it was a safe assumption that she would be either getting ready or on her way to work. Or maybe already there.

Her phone started ringing.

“Hey, El, what’s up! Why are you calling so early? Didn’t you have a show last night?”

Okay, so she hadn’t heard about the incident.

“It’s a long story, and I can’t tell you over the phone.” I was still worried about those nasty cell tower pings, “Basically, I’m on a Grayhen heading to Seattle. Can I stay with you?”

“Wait, what? You mean a . . . Greyhound? Uh . . . yes, of course, what time does your bus get in? I’ll pick you up.”

“Oh, yeah, a Greyhound, and I can’t tell you more over the phone. I think we should be there in, like, two hours. Is that okay?”

“Yes, I’ll be there.”

“Hey, also, could you bring me a change of clothes?”

Kristy was waiting for me on the bus platform, clearly dressed for work, brown hair twisted into an easy, elegant bun. I was impressed. I realized that if I had gotten a call like that, I wouldn’t have even known where the bus stop was, let alone on which platform to wait.

As soon as I stepped off the bus, she burst out laughing. “What on earth are you wearing?”

“This is why I asked for a change of clothes,” I motioned down to my cobalt-blue bejeweled onesie. “Isn’t this what the kids are wearing in Seattle? This is all the rage in New York right now.” I tried to joke.

She looked over the top of her designer glasses at me: “You know, they probably are. I’ve never really been able to keep up with what kids are wearing these days.”

Kristy was eight months older than me. When we were kids, that eight-month gap had felt like years. It meant that she was a grade above me in school. She got her license before me. She experienced everything just a bit before me.

If only we had known as kids that our lives would turn out so differently.

She walked me over to her car. On the passenger seat sat a bottle of wine, a change of clothes, and a bar of chocolate. I knew what this meant.

“Is there a video? Oh gosh. How bad is it?”

“Well, it’s not all bad. You guys went viral, which is something most people only dream of!”

“Kristy, my whole life has been viral for like the past year.” “Okay, fair point.”

We drove in silence for a few blocks. The weight of the unspoken was almost unbearable.

“So,” Kristy broke the silence first, “Do you want to talk about

it?”

I thought about this for a second. The request was expected.

After all, I had just barged into my cousin’s life without any warning. The familiar fear of letting someone down wormed its way into my heart.

I barely managed: “I don’t think I know how to yet.” It was the only honest answer I could give. The incident flashed through my mind. Again.

Kristy smiled warmly from the driver’s seat, “That’s okay.” And, just like that, the weight on my chest lifted just a little more.

Website and Social Media:

https://www.oliviaswindler.com/

FB: @olivia.swindler

IG: @oliviaswindler

Twitter: @oliviaswindler

To Buy:

Amazon

B&N

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

Three graphic novels for dragon fans

Dragons have always been a popular subject in fantasy fiction, so their popularity in a visual medium like graphic novels makes complete sense: creators can let their illustrations soar, bringing these beautiful and exciting creatures to life. Here’s a potential graphic novel book bundle for you: three novels, three dragon stories; two are the first entries into new series.

Tidesong, by Wendy Xu, (Nov. 2021, Quill Tree), $21.99, ISBN: 9780062955807

Ages 8-12

This beautifully illustrated story is for the Studio Ghibli fans out there. Sophie is a young witch whose mother and grandmother send her off to her curmudgeonly great-aunt and cousin, to prepare for the entrance exams to witch school. Sophie’s never met these relations, but there’s history between her grandmother and her sister, Sophie’s great-aunt, and the tension is there right from the beginning. Auntie Sage is younger and friendlier, but they won’t let her actually study spells; Great-Auntie seems to be from the Mr. Miyagi school of study, giving Sophie chores upon chores to do to build character. Frustrated, Sophie sneaks off and attempts magic on her own, only to get herself into trouble; a young water dragon named Lir rescues her, but loses his memory and his ability to morph back into his dragon form. Sophie has to choose between proving herself on her own, or leaning on Lir’s magic to pass her exams, but to do that, she interferes with Lir’s chance to get his memories and his dragon form back. The artwork is breathtaking, the colors gentle, flowing from one panel to the next. Inspired by Chinese mythology and the myth of water dragons, this story has a magical family history, stirrings of first romance, and an introspective heroine with an internal conflict. Back matter has an author’s note on the dragons of Chinese mythology and the “ecological backbone” of Tidesong, encouraging readers to to learn about and respect our oceans.

Tidesong was selected for the November Kids’ IndieNext list. Wendy Xu, the award-nominated co-creator of Mooncakes (2019), has an author webpage where you can read her online comics and see more of her artwork.

By the way, since Tidesong publishes in November, it’s not eligible for the 2021 CYBILS awards… but you can keep it in your CYBILS 2022 wish list!

 

City of Dragons: The Awakening Storm, by Jaimal Yogis/Illustrated by Vivian Truong, (Sept. 2021, Scholastic Graphix), $12.99, ISBN: 9781338660425

Ages 8-12

This is the first book in a new graphic novel series, and I am all in for it. Grace is a middle schooler whose mother and stepfather move her to Hong Kong, where he works for a biotech company. Still grieving her father’s death from cancer three years before, she’s working on moving on and is happy that her mom has found happiness again, and her stepdad, Hank, seems like a good guy, even if it’s worthy of a little side-eye, knowing that he was her dad’s doctor at the time he died. Anyway. At a market, an old woman gives Sophie what looks like a lovely crystal egg, but when she wakes up the next morning, she discovers an adorable, blue water dragon hanging out in her bathroom! Sophie and her new group of friends are enchanted with the dragon, whom she names Nate after her father, but realize that the dragon’s power is more than a group of schoolkids can shoulder – especially when men in masks and suits start chasing them all around Hong Kong. Desperate to get Nate to safety and get to the bottom of who’s chasing them and why, Sophie is about to learn even more about Chinese mythology – and how it may not be all “fantasy” after all.

This is going to be an AMAZING new series. There’s action, a shadowy plot with far-reaching consequences, and a smart, likable group of characters on the run. Characters are multicultural, and Sophie is biracial (Asian and Caucasian). Throw in an adorable blue water dragon and eye-catching, colorful illustration with a manga influence, and this is a book I am booktalking to all my graphic novel readers (read: 99% of the kids at my library, and my own dragon-obsessed 9-year-old). Got Wings of Fire fans? They’re now City of Dragons fans, too. Trust me on this one.

Much thanks to Geo Librarian, who nominated City of Dragons: The Awakening Storm for the CYBILS; I hadn’t seen this one and would likely have missed out on it if it hadn’t been nominated!

 

Dragon Kingdom of Wrenly: The Coldfire Curse, by Jordan Quinn/Illustrated by Glass House Graphics, (Feb. 2021, Little Simon), $9.99, ISBN: 9781534475007

Ages 6-10

I can’t believe I didn’t hear about this series, either; the Wrenly chapter books are popular with my library kids. Shout out to Little House of Reading for the nomination that put this into my hands. A graphic novel for slightly younger readers, but by no means too young for the 8-12 middle grade sweet spot, The Coldfire Curse is another great book to talk up to your Wings of Fire fans and your Chis D’Lacey Dragon Chronicles readers. Ruskin is a dragon, but he’s more of a pet to the Prince of Wrenly. He lives the good life, and has no idea what’s in store for him when Cinder, a dragon from Crestwood shows up to ask for help. A curse is running rampant through Crestwood and will threaten all dragons in Wrenly if Ruskin can’t help him. Ruskin is in, and the two head off on an adventure that will be nothing like he’s ever experienced, especially when he discovers that he’s the target of a nefarious plot. Why is a pampered pet dragon the center of intrigue? Only one way to find out!

You don’t need to be familiar with the Wrenly chapter books to fall in love with this series; a love of dragons and adventure is all you’ll need. Vibrant colors, an epic storyline, and adorable characters that will alternately delight you and break your heart make this essential dragon reading.

There are five Dragon Kingdom of Wrenly graphic novels out right now, with a sixth one coming at the end of November. Update your order carts!

 

Posted in Uncategorized

There’s a Dodo on the Wedding Cake!

There’s a Dodo on the Wedding Cake, by Wade Bradford/Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes, (Sept. 2021, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536208849

Ages 4-8

Mr. Snore is back in this comical follow-up to 2018’s There’s a Dinosaur on the 13th Floor. He’s back at The Sharemore Hotel, this time to play violin at a wedding taking place at the venue, when he notices a dodo bird sampling the wedding cake! He shoos the dodo off, and appoints himself guardian of the cake, taking on all manner of characters who venture too close: but who’s a guest, and who’s a pest? This is, as Kirkus calls it, “a riotous, rib-tickling comedy of errors” that kids are going to laugh out loud reading or listening to as a readaloud. This begs for a flannel adaptation where you can nominate readers to come up and place a new animal on or near the cake, and make sure to get a nice big pink *splat* for the finale. Acrylic and ink illustrations have a pleasing, vintage feel to them, giving some old-school glamour to the hijinks. More Mr. Snore, please!

Author Wade Bradford has free, downloadable resources, including some great plays for kids, on his author website. Kevin Hawkes is an award-winning illustrator. Visit his website for more of his artwork and information about his books.

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

Spooky Reads for Halloween: Ghost Girl b Ally Malinenko

Ghost Girl, by Ally Malinenko, (Aug. 2021, Katherine Tegen Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780063044609

Ages 8-12

Horror for tweens is on the rise, and I couldn’t be happier. My library kids are hungry for it, having gone past Goosebumps and cleared my Holly Black and Mary Downing Hahn books off the shelves. They’re ready for spookier, and I love reading and booktalking these to them. Ghost Girl is definitely on my must-talk list: a girl who discovers that she has a gift for seeing and communicating with ghosts, a new school principal that’s way too creepy, a missing Kindergarten teacher, and three friends that have to stand against an entire town that’s fallen under a spell? Tell me more!

Zee Puckett is a middle schooler who loves ghost stories. She’s living with her 21-year-old sister, Abby, who’s dropped out of college and taken a job at a diner to keep their family going while her widowed father is out of state looking for work. Bullied at school, Zee’s only friend is Elijah, an African-American boy who’s got a bully of his own: his father, who is constantly at his brainy son who’d rather do science projects than hit the gym with his dad. After an altercation with Nellie, the middle school gets a new principal, Mr. Scratch, who comes off like a self-help guru on steroids. While everyone in town seems to be falling under Mr. Scratch’s spell, Zee starts seeing frightening things, including what feels like… looks like… a ghost. Zee knows that somehow, Mr. Scratch is at the center of everything; now, she has to get Elijah and Nellie – yes, her bully – to help her save the ghost, themselves, and their town. Filled with fantastically creepy moments, there are great themes of feminism and family in Ghost Girl. Zee embraces her Ghost Girl moniker, put on her by Nellie, to get to the bottom of all the mysteries plaguing her town, but the talent also connects her to her mother, who died giving birth to her. Guilt, grief, and anger power the subplots in Ghost Girl, and Ally Malinenko writes in a way that will thrill and chill readers as powerfully as it will let readers know that she sees them. There are some genuinely creepy, unsettling moments that will satisfy any spooky fiction fan, making this a story to booktalk to your burgeoning horror fans.

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

The Longest Letsgoboy brings a dog’s journey to a close

The Longest Letsgoboy, by Derick Wilder/Illustrated by Cátia Chien, (Oct. 2021, Chronicle Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9781452177168

Ages 3-6

A dog reflects on his life, his human, and his last day in this painfully beautiful story about the relationship we have with our pets and how love goes beyond our time on earth. Told using the dog’s language, we see a white-faced dog spending the day with his “foreverfriend”, Little. They run and play, and he takes in all the joy, all the feeling of this day as he quietly bids his farewells to the world around him. When he lays down to sleep one more time, he keeps an eye on Little and her “pack of twopaws”, watching them from beyond. I can’t even describe this book accurately, because it’s such a powerful experience to read. If you’ve ever loved a pet, you’ll feel Good Boy’s words in your heart; it’s painful, yet so comforting to read, and will call to mind your own Good Boys, Girls, and Pals who have moved on, and maybe you’ll look up to see if they wigglewag down at you, too. Mixed media illustrations create feelings rather than images, with muted colors that come together and give life to Good Boy’s thoughts and emotions. Endpapers show GoodBoy’s life with Little, and how he stays on as a guardian after he’s moved on, and how he’s still playing with Little and her Awpuppy.

An incredible book to help kids work through grief, and a wonderful way to talk about what happens to our pets when they die. It’s optimistic and hopeful while honoring the grief and loss we feel. An essential purchase.

The Longest Letsgoboy has starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

Posted in Uncategorized

Celebrate YOU! How to Have a Birthday

How to Have a Birthday, by Mary Lyn Ray/Illustrated by Cindy Derby, (Sept. 2021, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536207415

Ages 4-8

All the expectations of a birthday are wrapped up in this warm, enjoyable tribute to the most special, most personal, of days. How to Have a Birthday is a celebration of the potential of the birthday: “On the morning of your birthday, you can tell already that the day is not like others. / Maybe you wake early, wondering what will happen. / You know something will. / And that’s your first present: you get to wonder”. It’s a celebration of all the ways we mark the day, from songs and gifts, to rituals and traditions to mark the passing of another year; it’s the power of the birthday wish. The story follows three children as they observe and enjoy their days, in their own ways, with the people in their lives, and the mixed media illustrations are created in warm, soothing colors that wrap readers in their cozy world and invite them in to celebrate. A great birthday story for a special storytime, make reading this a part of your own rituals and traditions.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Maybe… is hilarious

Maybe… by Chris Haughton, (Sept. 2021, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536220247

Ages 3-7

A mother monkey warns her three little ones against going to the mango tree. There are tigers lurking! As soon as Mom leaves, you know what happens. The three rationalize, rationalize, rationalize: “Hmm… maybe… maybe we could just look at the mangoes. That’d be OK. Right?” Naturally, looking at the mangoes leads to getting closer… closer… This hilarious story about pushing boundaries will make kids and grownups alike laugh out loud in recognition. The suspense keeps readers turning the pages and makes for a fantastically dramatic readaloud that will make your listeners gasp if you play it along with Haughton’s expert pacing and theatrical pauses. Chris Haughton’s digital artwork is bold and dramatic, with expressive monkeys whose blue and green coloring stand out against the brightly colored backgrounds. Sharp-eyed readers will see the murky outlines of the tigers lurking in the background, just like Mom said. Every single Chris Haughton book is a storytime hit for me; this joins the ranks.

Maybe… has a starred review from The Horn Book. Download a free activity kit at publisher Candlewick’s website.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Every Little Kindness makes goodwill contagious

Every Little Kindness, by Marta Bartolj, (Oct. 2021, Chronicle Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781797207926

Ages 5-8

A young woman hangs posters of her missing dog, handing an apple to a street musician as she goes about her day. Her act of kindness inspires others, creating a link between the inhabitants of a town as they inspire each other to do something kind for another. This wordless story speaks volumes about humanity, and how one good act can inspire countless others. They don’t need to be grand gestures, full of extravagance; one simple, thoughtful action is filled with meaning. The pencil, ink, acrylic, and watercolor artwork is rendered largely in shades of gray, with yellows to warm up various moments and reds to signify the passing of one good deed to another: handing a red apple to a musician inspires a man with a red bag to pick up a discarded red soft drink can, motivating a young boy wearing red overalls to buy a red balloon for a little girl who’s lost hers. The lost dog’s posters run throughout the book, reminding readers of the story that began this chain of empathy. A lovely way to explain good deeds, and how kindness links us to one another; it offers an opportunity for children to tell you their own stories. An essential book for your SEL (social-emotional learning) collections.

Every Little Kindness has a starred review from Foreword Reviews.