Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Uncategorized

Polly and Buster prove that witches and monsters should be friends

Kane Miller sent me a middle grade fantasy trilogy about Polly & Buster, a young witch and a young monster who are best friends despite monster and witch society not always seeing eye to eye.

Polly and Buster: The Wayward Witch and the Feelings Monster (Book 1), by Sally Rippin, (Sept. 2019, Kane Miller), $6.99, ISBN: 978-1-61067-926-8

Ages 7-11

The first book in the series introduces us to Polly, a 9-year-old witch who just can’t seem to get her witching schoolwork right. Her older sister, Winifred, is the star sibling, and her widowed mother is often frustrated by Polly’s inability to excel like Winifred, and by her friendship with Buster, the monster next door. Polly and her family are still reeling from her father’s death in the mines a few years ago, which seems to be the tipping point for witch-monster tensions. When Polly casts a powerful spell while trying to protect Buster from bullies, her actions are misinterpreted, and the relationship between witches and monsters grows dangerous. Polly and Buster have to work together to salvage their own relationship and keep one another safe as witches and monsters choose sides in what could be a brewing war.

I was pulled right into this easily readable adventure. Polly exhibits some ADHD, dyslexic, and OCD tendencies, which could be linked to her burgeoning witch power: think Percy Jackson and the similar issues exhibited by demi-gods in that series. Buster is a kind-hearted monster who tries to hide his sensitivity from other monsters; his feelings manipulate his size and color, leaving him open to bullying. Witch and monster society in this series is symbolic of our own society: racism, intolerance, and exclusion abounds in witch society, while monsters grow increasingly tired and angry of being considered second-class citizens. Throw in a mean girl bully, and her equally mean, manipulative mother, and Polly and Buster goes from being a sweet story about acceptance and friendship to a powerful look at inequality and revolt.

 

Polly and Buster: The Mystery of the Magic Stones (Book 2), by Sally Ripkin, (Sept. 2019, Kane Miller), $6.99, ISBN: 978-1-61067-927-5

Ages 7-11

The second book in the Polly and Buster series brings the action and the tension up several notches as readers witness the breakdown of relations in witch-monster society. Polly and Buster are on the run from witches who have determined that Buster is dangerous and needs to be taken prisoner (or worse); Polly turns to her favorite teacher, the sympathetic Miss Spinnaker, for help. Meanwhile, a handful of mysterious stones that Polly’s father left to her start to glow and feel warm to the touch; Polly feels them beckoning her… to the mines where her father died?

The Mystery of the Magic Stones brings the action on quickly – witch and monster society are breaking down, and the story has a very Harry Potter feel as a group of vigilante witches start taking policing matters into their own hands as monsters form gangs to protect one another and defend themselves against witches. There’s a feeling of urgency throughout the story, as Polly tries to unravel the mystery of the stones while she and Buster are running and hiding for their lives. No sophomore syndrome here; the second book in the Polly and Buster series will leave readers waiting to find out how this is all going to shake out: make sure you have that third book ready to give them.

 

Polly and Buster: The Seach for the Silver Witch (Book 3), by Sally Ripkin, (Sept. 2019, Kane Miller), $6.99, ISBN: 978-1-68464-095-9

Ages 7-11

The third book in the Polly and Buster series brings things to a big close. Polly and Buster have been on the run through all of the second book as relations between witches and monsters threaten to descend into violence. Polly has made discoveries about herself that will change how others see her – if she can stay safe long enough! Seeking out her aunt – an outcast from witch society – for answers, Polly hopes to unload the burden the stones have put on her. Meanwhile, there’s a dark power brewing in Polly and Buster’s neck of the woods, and it’s making everything worse!

In this third book, Polly learns that she’s far stronger than she ever dreamed – her inner strength will give her the power she and Buster need to make things right between their two communities, and will help her defend everyone she loves against the biggest danger that her village has ever faced. Polly has her hero’s journey across these three books, but Buster also comes into his own as a monster who accepts his feelings and can put aside his own fear to jump in and help when he’s needed.

The whole series, originally published in the UK, is great for emerging readers who are ready for a little more of a challenge in terms of book content and length. It’s an intermediate-level series with more heft and big social issues to unpack. There’s fantastic world-building, solid character development, and sympathetic heroes and villains alike. Black and white illustrations throughout will keep readers interested, and help with pacing and imagining. This series will be super-popular with your fantasy readers. U.S. publisher Kane Miller has a bunch of extras, including a free word search, discussion questions and activities, and some discussions points from the author herself.

Posted in Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Red Bunny & Yellow Bunny: The one that slipped by me!

Red Bunny & Yellow Bunny, by Claire Garralon, (March 2019, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $7.99, ISBN: 9781492680147

Ages 0-4

I sent off my Board Books post this morning, then realized I forgot one! Red Bunny & Yellow Bunny is the latest board book from Claire Garralon, who gave us the adorable Black Cat & White Cat in 2016. In Red Bunny & Yellow Bunny, two bunnies meet, fall in love, and have an orange baby bunny! What happens when that baby bunny grows up and falls in love? Keep reading!

I love how Claire Garralon communicates ideas about gender, social issues, and community for our youngest readers. The bunnies are genderless – no male or female pronouns needed; they are different colors, yet come together, fall in love, and have a baby that adorably blends their colors (red plus yellow makes orange, after all!). Bunnies fall in love with other bunnies, regardless of color, and create a rainbow of happy baby bunnies, all of whom play and live together. We saw a similar story emerge from Black Cat & White Cat, where two different color cats have to find a neutral place to play so they can see one another.

Naturally, we also have a sweet story that uses color concepts: explain that yellow and red make orange, and then ask what a yellow bunny and blue bunny’s baby would look like, or a red bunny and blue bunny’s baby. There’s a free, downloadable color mixing resource available on Teachers Pay Teachers, that you can hand out and let kids play with for a storytime activity. Let them fingerpaint and discover their own colors, or grab some Do a Dot! art markers.

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

Reckless Club “remixes The Breakfast Club for the Instagram generation”

The Reckless Club, by Beth Vrabel, (Oct. 2018, Running Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780762490400

Ages 9-13

I had to use Kirkus’ line in that opening, because how more perfect can one describe a book? Beth Vrabel, one of my favorite middle grade authors, reaches back into one of the movies that defined my generation and brought it back, with a few nips and tucks, to inspire a new generation. We take one group: a Nobody (Jason), a Drama Queen (Lilith), a Flirt (Wes), an Athlete (Ally, also known as “Sports Barbie”), and a rebel (Rex) all come together at a retirement home one day in the late summer. Each has done something so wrong in their last year of middle school that they’ve got to spend the last Saturday before high school here, helping elderly patients and their principal’s sister, who oversees the home. Each teen is paired with an elder, and their personalities quickly emerge, as does a mystery: is one of the nurse’s stealing from the patients?

The book has wonderful callouts to The Breakfast Club, meaning I’ll get to booktalk this to some of my parents, too. We Gen Xers never get tired of ’80s nostalgia! But the story is so much more than that. Beth Vrabel has the dual gifts of dialogue and character development, giving readers a voraciously readable story that delves into LGBTQ+, self-esteem and acceptance, and race matters.

I love Beth Vrabel’s books. I feel good at the end of a Beth Vrabel story, and I feel like people can and still want to make a difference when I read a Beth Vrabel story. She tells realistic stories about kids we could see in our classrooms, our libraries, and at our dinner tables every day, and provides insights that we may not even realize we’re overlooking. That handsome class president with the dimples may not have it as easy as you think. The drama queen that throws a hissy fit may have hit her last straw with an awful teacher. That star athlete may have something really unhealthy pushing her to excel. It reminds us, as adults, as well as middle graders and tweens, that everyone has something going on under the surface. A final note, a la the Breakfast Club, sums up the group’s experiences of the day, and we can only hope that The Reckless Club has another adventure in store for us soon.

Visit Beth Vrabel’s website for study guides, news about her other books, and info about school visits.

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

The Dollar Kids: Starting over, and fitting in

The Dollar Kids, by Jennifer Richard Jacobson/Illustrated by Ryan Andrews, (Aug. 2018, Candlewick), $17.99, ISBN: 9780763694746

Recommended for readers 9-13

Lowen Grover is a 12-year-old artist is using his comic book artwork to cope with the gun-related death of his young friend, Abe. He just wants to get away: away from the memories of Abe and the shooting; away from his neighborhood, where everyone knows. When he sees an article about a former mill town, Millville, holding a lottery of dollar homes to bring new life into the town, he mentions it to his parents, who apply and secure a home. It’s a chance for his family to own their own home, and a chance for his mother to start up a business, but rural life isn’t what Lowen expected, and the Millville families aren’t as welcoming to the new “Dollar Kids” and their families as he’d hoped. As the Grovers and the other new families try to make inroads into their new town, Lowen works through his grief and tries to rediscover friendship, his love for art, and his place in the community.

The Dollar Kids unpacks a lot of ideas and moments, and it’s beautifully done by author Jennifer Richard Jacobson and illustrator Ryan Andrews. It’s a book about grief and loss, and the guilt that comes with grief. It’s also about friendship, and accepting friendship, even when one doesn’t think he or she deserves it. It’s a book about family. Finally, it’s a book about acceptance. Lowen is grieving the loss of a kid who was somewhat of a friend; a younger kid who hung around him constantly; he embraces this chance to start a new life in a rural town, but he and his family discover that a dollar home takes a great emotional and financial toll; the families in Millville don’t like change much, even when it’s to benefit their town, and feel almost contemptuous toward the newcomers. The characters are realistic and relatable, with the author giving as much attention to her supporting characters as she does her main characters. The comic book artwork by Ryan Andrews is an outlet for Lowen, and helps readers work through his grief with him.

A great middle grade book for realistic fiction readers. Explain to readers that dollar homes do, in fact, exist, and what the stigmas associated with buying a foreclosed home could entail: how may the Millvillians see the families that purchase them, in light of the town’s history? I’d booktalk this with Beth Vrabel’s Blind Guide to Stinkville and The Doughnut Fix by Jessie Janowitz, both of which look at life in a rural community, and The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin and Lisa Graff’s Lost in the Sun for addressing grief.

Posted in Uncategorized

Books for Pride: Julian is a Mermaid

June is coming up quickly (yikes!), so let’s get our Pride collections ready to read and booktalk! I’ll be spotlighting a few new books, and some favorites, this month. Let’s start with a relatively new book: Julian is a Mermaid.

Julián is a Mermaid, by Jessica Love, (Apr. 2018, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763690458

Recommended for readers 4-8

I love this gorgeously illustrated story of a little boy who embraces his inner mermaid. As Julián rides the subway home with his abuela, he spies three women, dressed and gorgeous, and pronounces them mermaids. He daydreams about his own transformation into a mermaid; shedding his tank top and shorts (he keeps his undies on); letting his hair grow wild and free, and develops a fabulous pink and yellow mermaid tail as he heads off to swim with a group of fish. When he and Abuela arrive home, he tells her that he’s a mermaid, too. When she goes to take a bath, Julián transforms himself: he sheds his clothes (keeping those tidy whities on), gives himself a fierce head of hair using Abuela’s fern and some flowers, gets into her makeup, and wraps a curtain tail around himself. Voila! Abuela takes one look at him, hands him a necklace, and takes her fabulous and fierce mermaid to the Mermaid Parade at Coney Island, telling him, “Like you, mijo. Let’s join them.” And they do, following right behind the trio of mermaids the two met earlier on the subway.

What an empowering, fantastic story. I love the New York flavor: the street scenes are pure New York, from the green subway entrances to the faces and body language of every character in this book. A group of girls plays at an open fire hydrant; a seagull hangs out on the street by an older man, sitting out on his chair, with his dog in his lap. The Mermaid Parade is full of fanfare, and the colors pulse off the page. Abuela accepts Julián and takes her grandson to be with his fellow mermaids, but most importantly, Julián accepts himself. The endpapers give us a little more of the story, too: Abuela, Julián, and four older woman enjoy themselves at the public pool; at the end, the same group are all mermaids, enjoying themselves in the sea. Put this on your Pride reading lists, and read this in your storytimes and to your kids often.

Julián is a Mermaid has five starred reviews and is a Junior Library Guild Selection.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Books for your Spring radar!

Spring always brings some good books to read. In April and May, there’s a little something for everyone – come and see!

April Books

Dr. Coo and the Pigeon Protest, by Sarah Hampson/Illustrated by Kass Reich,
(Apr. 2018, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771383615
Recommended for readers 4-8
Dr. Archibald Coo is a sophisticated pigeon who’s tired of the way he and his fellow pigeons are treated by humans. They’re shooed at, swatted, and treated like a general menace. Dr. Coo remembers when pigeons enjoyed a higher profile in history: in ancient Greece, they delivered news about the Olympic Games; during World War I, they carried messages across battlefields. Now? pfft. So Dr. Coo and his pigeon friends organize and decide to strike: they disappear from every public space, leaving a confused public wondering what happened. Dr. Coo heads over to the mayor’s office a history of the pigeon and a note, asking for tolerance, opening the door to a new era of pigeon-human relations. It’s a cute urban story with a wink to New York and other urban spaces, and has a nice thread about inclusivity and diversity running through the book. Gouache paint and colored pencil art makes for a soft illustration, with attention to the different types of pigeons – there are! – in the cityscape. This would be cute to booktalk with James Sage’s Stop Feedin’ Da Boids!

My Teacher’s Not Here!, by Lana Button/Illustrated by Christine Battuz,
(Apr. 2018, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771383561
Recommended for readers 4-6
Kitty gets to school and knows something’s up when her teacher, Miss Seabrooke, isn’t there to meet her. What’s going on? There’s another teacher there today! How does school even work when your teacher is absent? This sweet rhyming tale about a student’s first substitute teacher is great for younger kids who are just getting into the swing of school routines and provides some fun advice for coping with and adjusting to unexpected change. Kitty teaches readers some coping strategies, including helping out her friends and the teacher by contributing to class and modeling good behavior using cues she learned from her teacher, that the substitute may not be aware of. This is an animal story, so kids will enjoy seeing the “ginormously tall” teacher, a giraffe named Mr. Omar; pigs, elephants, bears, a whole menagerie of students. Hand-drawn artwork and digital collage come together to create colorful, textured, cartoony fun. This one’s a good addition to preschool and primary collections.

Tinkle, Tinkle Little Star, by Chris Tougas,
(Apr. 2018, Kids Can Press), $9.99, ISBN: 9781771388399
Recommended for readers 1-3
One of my favorite books coming out this season is this adorable board book! Set to the tune of everybody’s favorite classic song, this sweet and funny version is all about where not to go: not in a plane, not on Grandpa’s knee, not at a puppet show. Luckily, the poor Little Star gets relief by the story’s end, and sits on a potty to… “Tinkle, Tinkle, Little Star”. It’s adorable with the cutest digital art. Little Star is beyond cute, and gender neutral! Sing along at storytime – I know I’ll be throwing plenty of voice inflection (“Did you just pee on this page?”) and leg-crossing as I read this one. Absolutely adorable, must-add, must-give for collections and toddlers everywhere.

May Books

Polly Diamond and the Magic Book, by Alice Kuipers/Illustrated by Diana Toledano,
(May 2018, Chronicle), $16.99, ISBN: 9781452152325
Recommended for readers 7-9
Polly Diamond is an aspiring, biracial young writer who discovers a magic book on her doorstep one day. Not only does the book write back to her when she writes in it, Everything she writes in the book happens in real life! At first, Polly is psyched: who wouldn’t be, right? But you know how it goes… for every magic journal action, there’s a pretty wild reaction! Written in the first person, with excerpts from Polly’s book, including a pretty great intermediate-level book list for awesome display purposes (“Read Polly Diamond’s favorite books HERE!”). Chapter book readers who love books like Juana and Lucas (on Polly’s favorites list), Jasmine Toguchi, and Katie Woo will thoroughly enjoy Polly’s adventures. There are short, descriptive sentences and a nice amount of new words – Polly is an aspiring writer, after all! Lots of fun for chapter book readers; I’d have kids create their own aquariums as a related craft.

Old Misery, by James Sage/Illustrated by Russell Ayto,
(May 2018, Kids Can Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781771388238
Recommended for readers 5-10
Readers with a darker sense of humor (and parents who are Gorey fans) will get a chuckle out of Old Misery, the story of a cranky old woman named – you got it – Old Misery, and her old cat, Rutterkin. She’s broke, and the apples keep disappearing from her apple tree! Lucky for Old Misery, she’s not completely heartless and feeds a wandering visitor, who grants her one wish: she wants all the apple thieves to be caught in the tree until she lets them go! Old Misery decides to play a little risky game when Death himself shows up at her door – and she sends him to the apple tree. Be careful what you wish for! The black and white, pen and ink artwork has a creepy, quirky feel to it, which will appeal to kids who like Lemony Snicket’s work, but may go over some kids’ heads. Old Misery narrates the story, offering an opportunity for a fun read-aloud.

Binky fans, Gordon’s got his own adventure! For readers who love Ashley Spires’ Binky the Space Cat graphic novels will love Gordon, fellow member of PURST (Pets of the Universe Ready for Space Travel) and Binky’s house-mate, as he finds himself traveling through time to stop an alien invasion. But Gordon travels back too far – before PURST even exists! He’s got to get back to his normal time and set things right! This is fun reading for graphic novel fans, and a nice addition to a popular series. There’s time-travel, problem-solving, aliens, and humor, along with fun art.

See How We Move!: A First Book of Health and Well-Being, by Scot Ritchie,
(May 2018, Kids Can Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781771389679

Recommended for readers 5-8
Author Scot Ritchie’s multicultural group of friends are back together again. Last time we save them, they visited a farm to learn how to grow grains and vegetables in See How We Eat!; this time, Pedro, Yulee, Nick, Sally, and Martin are training as their swim team, The Flying Sharks, prepares to compete. They learn about using proper equipment for different activities, warming up before beginning your activity, teamwork and encouragement, goal-setting, nutrition, the mind-body connection, and more. There are suggestions for fun activities and words to know, all coming together to give kids a fun story about a group of friends staying strong and having fun together while encouraging kids to create lifelong habits of health, nutrition, and physical fitness. I like this See How! series; it offers a wealth of information on healthy living, made accessible to younger readers. I can easily read this in a storytime and get the kids talking about the different ways they play, how they eat, and good habits to get into.

The Bagel King, by Andrew Larsen/Illustrated by Sandy Nichols,
(May 2018, Kids Can Press), $16.99, ISBN; 978-1-77138-574-9
Recommended for readers 4-8

Zaida, Eli’s grandfather, gets bagels from Merv’s Bakery every Sunday morning. One morning, when no bagels show up, Eli gets a phone call: Zaida’s fallen on his tuchus and can’t get the bagels! Eli and his family aren’t the only ones waiting on bagels, either – Eli visits Zaida, only to discover that Zaida’s friends are verklempt, too. No bagels! What a shanda, as my stepdad would say! Eli helps care for his zaida and keep him company, but he knows the best way to cheer Zaida up, and heads to the bagel store on his own the very next Sunday. This story is the most charming book about grandparents and grandchildren, loaded with compassion, a wink and nudge type of humor, and loads of fun, new Yiddish terminology. If you’re an urban dweller, like me, these words are kind of a second language: Zaida is grandfather, and tuchus is your bottom; there’s a little glossary of other Yiddish words that show up in the story, too. (Verklempt is overwhelmed with emotion, and shanda is a shame – you won’t find them in the story, but all I could hear was my stepdad when I read this, so there you go.) I loved the sweet storytelling, the compassion and the decision to act on Eli’s part, and Zaida and his group of friends were wonderful. It’s got an urban flavor that everyone will enjoy, and is good storytelling. Use this story as an opportunity to get your kids talking about relationships with their grandparents: what do you call your grandparents? Do they cook, bake, or shop for food? Do you go with them? (I’d love to get some bagels to hand out with my group… hmmm…) The acrylic artwork has a soft, almost retro feel, but really emphasizes the relationship story with colors, gentle expressions, and soft lines.

The Golden Glow, by Benjamin Flouw,
(May 2018, Tundra/Penguin Random House), $17.99, ISBN: 9780735264120

Recommended for readers 4-8
A fox who loves nature and botany goes on a quest for a rare plant to add to his collection. The Golden Glow is a plant from the Wellhidden family, and only grows high in the mountains. There’s not even a picture of it; it’s never been described. Fox packs his supplies and heads off to the mountains, meeting different animals and noting different plants and trees along the way. When Fox finally reaches the mountaintop, he waits… and discovers the Golden Glow! It’s stunning! It’s breathtaking! And Fox realizes that “the golden glow is more beautiful here on the mountaintop than it ever would be in a vase in his living room”. Part story and part nature journal, The Golden Glow is just gorgeous and teaches a respect for nature. The angular art draws the eye in; there’s so much to see on every page, every spread. Flouw creates detailed lists of Fox’s hiking pack, plus trees and flowers that he encounters on his way, and a map of different zones on the way up to the mountain, from the foothill to snow zones, all in beautiful detail for younger readers to enjoy. Fox’s decision to leave the flower where it is presents a love of and respect for nature that can lead to a great discussion on conservation. Bright red endpapers with angular design could be a topographic map of the area – talk about how different areas look from above! I know it’s way early, but I’ll quietly whisper this one now: Caldecott contender.
Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Intermediate, Realistic Fiction

Series fiction gift ideas!

There are some nifty things about series fiction: there are usually a few published throughout a calendar year, and they’re usually reasonably inexpensive, so you can scoop up a few as a nice gift. Here are a few I’ve enjoyed lately.

Anna Hibiscus

Welcome Home, Anna Hibiscus!, by Atinuke/Illustrated by Lauren Tobia, (Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-61067-678-6
Go Well, Anna Hibiscus!, by Atinuke/Illustrated by Lauren Tobia, (Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-61067-679-3
Love From Anna Hibiscus!, by Atinuke/Illustrated by Lauren Tobia, (Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-61067-680-9
You’re Amazing, Anna Hibiscus!, by Atinuke/Illustrated by Lauren Tobia, (Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-61067-681-6
Good for readers 6-8

This series is wonderful. While it is a running series, you won’t be lost if you don’t read in numerical order. I came in on books 4-8 and have the first four on request from another library; I was captivated by this slice of life series about a young girl who lives with her paternal, extended family, in Africa. The book celebrates African culture and community, family, and empathy. In Welcome Home, Anna Hibiscus, Anna has returned to beautiful Africa after vacationing with her maternal grandmother in Canada. She’s thrilled to be home, gains a new pet, and eases back into daily life. Go Well, Anna Hibiscus! sees Anna and her family returning to her grandparents’ village, where life is slower; there’s no running water or electricity, and kids don’t go to school. Anna learns how to make new friends and learns from them even as she teaches. In Love from Anna Hibiscus!, Anna’s grandfather discovers that an old friend of his has passed away, leaving a young grandson, Sunny Belafonte, on his own. The boy is starving and steals in order to eat; Grandfather and Anna know they must intervene. You’re Amazing, Anna Hibiscus! is the strongest book in this very strong series: Grandfather is becoming more and more tired. Anna is left to work through the grief that that comes with a death in the family. The books paint a beautiful picture of everyday family life and the compassion Anna and her family have for others. Anna and her family are African but for her mother, who is Anglo-Canadian; something that is communicated through illustration. The black and white illustrations throughout show a loving family and scenes of African life: Anna teaching village children to write the alphabet using sticks and the ground; Grandmother weaves a basket; the kids ride an uncomfortably crowded bus to Grandfather’s village. Originally published between 2012-2016 by Walker Books, the series is now available from American publisher Kane Miller. Give this set to kids and broaden their horizons.

 

Animal Planet Adventures

Dolphin Rescue, by Catherine Nichols, (Feb. 2017, Liberty Street), $14.95, ISBN: 978-1-61893-169-6
Farm Friends Escape!, by Catherine Nichols, (Feb. 2017, Liberty Street), $14.95, ISBN: 978-1-61893-416-1
Puppy Rescue Riddle, by Catherine Nichols, (Sept. 2017, Liberty Street), $14.95, ISBN: 978-1-68330-008-3
Zoo Camp Puzzle, by Gail Herman, (Sept. 2017, Liberty Street), $14.95, ISBN: 978-1-68330-009-0
Good for readers 6-10

Simultaneously available in hardcover or $5.99 paperback, this Animal Planet fiction series debuted earlier this year and blends fiction and nonfiction. I enjoyed the first two books, Dolphin Rescue and Farm Friends Escape!, earlier this year; I just read the next two, Puppy Rescue Riddle and Zoo Camp Puzzle, and can honestly say I get a kick out of this series. It’s a true series in that each book is its own separate adventure; there’s no crossover with other characters or locations, so every book stands alone and makes it easy to dive in and enjoy whatever appeals to readers. Don’t like farm animals much? No worries, just read another book. There’s a major plot running through each book and a mystery subplot that the characters must work together to solve: with Puppy Rescue Riddle, a group of friends volunteer at an animal shelter and have to find a puppy who’s gotten lost in a house; Zoo Camp Puzzle stars twin siblings, temporarily living with and being homeschooled by their father at a zoo while he works on a book. The twins notice that animals are going into hiding, and work to get to the bottom of the mystery. Zoo Camp Puzzle has fun word searches and puzzles throughout (which will necessitate a “Do Not Write in This Book” label on my library copy). Each book also has a cute flip book feature – flip the pages, and see dolphins swim, ducks waddle, puppies run, and zoo animals shuffle along.  The illustrations are in color, and full-color nonfiction sections throughout each book provide information on veterinarians, how animals react to changes in weather patterns, and more. The set is available in both hardcover and paperback. Great set for young animal fans.

 

Ella and Owen

Ella and Owen: The Cave of AAAAAH! Doom!, by Jaden Kent/Illustrated by Iryna Bodnaruk, (March 2017, little bee books), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-4998-0368-6
Ella and Owen: Attack of the Stinky Fish Monster!, by Jaden Kent/Illustrated by Iryna Bodnaruk, (March 2017, little bee books), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-4998-0369-3
Ella and Owen: Attack of the Knights vs. Dragons, by Jaden Kent/Illustrated by Iryna Bodnaruk, (May 2017, little bee books), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-4998-0372-3

Dragon siblings Ella and Owen are forever bickering. Owen is bookish and likes staying home, reading; Ella is adventurous and always ready to push the envelope. In The Cave of AAAAAH! Doom!, the two search for a cure for Owen’s cold, only to go up against an ogre and evil vegetable wizard. In Attack of the Stinky Fish Monster!, the siblings want to surprise their mom with a cake made of delicious stinky fish, so off they go. They end up turned into newts by a wizard named Ken, bargain with a pixie, and find a stinky fish monster: a very large, very grumpy, stinky fish monster. Knights vs. Dragons goes a little deeper as the dragons find a group of knights who hate dragons because they’ve followed a culture of hating dragons for years: fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers have always hated dragons; that’s just the way it is, right? When the knights encounter a group of trolls who hate knights for the same reason – and are a lot bigger, stronger, and scarier than the knights are – Ella and Owen have a chance to teach the knights a valuable lesson about acceptance. This is a fun series – there are four in print at the moment – that kids who love dragons and silly fantasy will enjoy. There are black and white illustrations throughout, but, sadly, no recipe for stinky fish cake.

Unicorn Princesses

Unicorn Princesses: Sunbeam’s Shine, by Emily Bliss/Illustrated by Sydney Hanson, (Aug. 2017, Bloomsbury USA), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1681193267
Unicorn Princesses: Flash’s Dash, by Emily Bliss/Illustrated by Sydney Hanson, (Aug. 2017, Bloomsbury USA), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1681193304
Unicorn Princesses: Bloom’s Ball, by Emily Bliss/Illustrated by Sydney Hanson, (Dec. 2017, Bloomsbury USA), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1681193342
Unicorn Princesses: Prism’s Paint, by Emily Bliss/Illustrated by Sydney Hanson, (Dec. 2017, Bloomsbury USA), $5.99, ISBN: 978-168119338

This series is a no-brainer for fantasy fans who love their unicorns and My Little Pony books. A human girl named Cressida is convinced that unicorns are real, happens upon the Rainbow Realm where unicorns live, and befriends them, receiving a magical key to re-enter their realm whenever she wants to visit. She helps the unicorns out with each visit. In Sunbeam’s Shine, a wizard’s mistake costs Princess Sunbeam her magic yellow sapphire, which causes her to lose her powers. The key to regaining them is to enlist the help of a human who believes in unicorns! In Flash’s Dash, the big Thunder Dash race is coming up, and Princess Flash lets non-unicorns compete for the first time. Cressida’s invited to take part, but the bumbling wizard (who’s also a lizard) casts a spell that covers the track in sticky goo. Bloom’s Ball has Princess Bloom trusting the wizard-lizard with a spell to deliver her special birthday ball invitation by mail, but an errant word brings on an army of quails who wreck the party, leaving Cressida to help salvage the day. In Prism’s Paint, that wizard – seriously, why is he even allowed to practice magic at this point? – changes Princess Prism’s power from turning objects different colors to removing color altogether. Cressida’s got to help find the rainbow to restore Prism’s power. The series is adorable, wacky, and full of good-hearted dilemmas, with black and white illustrations throughout. Bloom’s Ball and Prism’s Paint are due out on 12/26, making them good Kwanzaa gifts, or hold onto them for Little Christmas in January. There are two more books forthcoming in 2018. Trust me, someone you know loves unicorns. I have one little girl at my library waiting desperately for these next two books to come out. Want to mix it up a little? Consider some My Little Pony books, or anything in the Rainbow Fairies series by Daisy Meadows.

Happy reading and happy holiday shopping!

 

 

 

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

Who’s the newest and fairest of them all?

charmedCharmed, I’m Sure, by Sarah Darer Littman, (Sept. 2016, Aladdin), $17.99, ISBN: 9781481451277

Recommended for ages 8-12

What happens when you’re the daughter of the fairy tale world’s version of Brangelina – Snow White and Prince Charming – and you can’t get a date for the Fall Festive school dance? This is Rosie White Charming’s dilemma in Charmed, I’m Sure. She grits her teeth and asks her mom – now a lifestyle blogger for her hugely famous brand – for help, receiving a complete makeover and magic compact from Snow White. At first, it’s great – guys are noticing her! Her friends think she looks fabulous! – but things aren’t always what they seem. Rosie swears the compact is talking to her, and it’s sounding a heck of a lot like the magic mirror that her evil step-grandmother used; next thing she knows, her friends are mad at her, and so is the cute guy she was talking up at the coffee joint. Rosie isn’t giving up, though – she’s going to find a way to get her happily-ever-after.

Charmed, I’m Sure is another fun entry into the flipped/fractured fairy tale genre for middle graders. It’s fun, has some cameos from other famous fairy tale offspring, and the characters are light and silly. There’s a nice message about staying true to yourself, and Snow White gets her message across to her daughter in a very sly way that will make you realize that she knows a lot more than she lets on. (Like most parents, am I right?)

A fun addition to your fun fairy tales collection. Talk it up with Jen Calonita’s Fairy Tale Reform School series and The Secret Destiny of Pixie Piper for extra fun reading!

Posted in Animal Fiction

Quackers – A story about fitting in and standing out

quackers_1Quackers, by Liz Wong (Mar. 2016, Knopf Books for Young Readers) $15.99, ISBN: 978-0-553-51155-0

Recommended for ages 3-7

“Quackers is a duck. He knows he is a duck because he lives at the duck pond with all the other ducks.”

Quackers is the story of a cat who’s grown up with ducks. He doesn’t see himself as anything other than a duck, and neither do the ducks around him. But sometimes, Quackers doesn’t feel like he quite fits in. He has trouble making himself understood, he’s not in love with the food, and he really, really hates getting wet! One day, when Quackers meets Mittens, he learns that he’s what others call a cat – he’s not a duck at all! He tries to fully embrace his feline side, but he ends up missing the duck life. And that’s when Quackers learns that bringing all the parts of your different backgrounds together makes for a wonderful feeling. .

Quackers is a great book to have on hand for read-alouds and libraries with multicultural populations. It’s a great book to give to an adoptive family as a welcome home gift for baby, too! Quackers is a duck – no one thinks any differently. Once he learns that he’s a cat, though, he tries to throw himself into being a cat – but when you’ve been raised lovingly by one group, why walk away? This is the heart of the story, and it’s when Quackers realizes that he can be a cat and be a duck, he’s happiest. Kids from different backgrounds will learn that they can embrace more than one culture, whether it’s a culture they’re adopting, like moving to a new city/state/country, or a culture that they’ve been adopted into.

On a different note, Quackers works for all kids who may feel like they don’t fit in, for whatever reason. I’d pair this with Harvey Fierstein’s The Sissy Duckling to reach LGBT kids and kids being raised by LGBT families. Quackers teaches kids (and their caregivers!) to embrace themselves first and foremost – you can’t ask for a better message than that.

The art, created digitally and with watercolor, is adorable and soft, with soothing greens and teals for the water and grass. The text is set off almost like an old photo album, placed in small text boxes with a font that looks almost handwritten. Kids will love reading this book and adults will love reading it to them. Take a look at some of the art, below.

 

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You can find more of Liz Wong’s illustrations at her website.