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

BOOK BLITZ! NatGeo Explorer Academy Forbidden Island

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A heart-pounding final showdown changes the life of Cruz Coronado forever in the seventh and final book in this thrilling fact-based fiction series.

Amid assignments that take the Explorer Academy recruits from the iceberg-filled waters of Antarctica to the bone-dry deserts of Argentina, Cruz Coronado is scrambling to complete the last piece of the cipher. With Nebula agents and the elusive explorer spy still out there, his opportunity to recover his mother’s world-changing formula is slipping away. But as Cruz has learned from his time aboard Orion, true explorers must never give up.

Even after completing dozens of high-risk missions and traveling to all seven continents, Cruz could never prepare himself for one ultimate surprise.

Explorer Academy features: Gripping fact-based fiction plot that inspires curiosity with new technology and innovations; amazing inventions and gadgets; a cast of diverse, relatable characters; secret clues, codes, and ciphers to track down within the text; vibrant illustrations; elements of STEAM; National Geographic explorer profiles in the "Truth Behind" section.

Check out the Explorer Academy website featuring videos, comic shorts, games, profiles of real-life National Geographic Explorers, chapter excerpts and more. 


"Sure to appeal to kids who love code cracking and mysteries with cutting-edge technology."  

"A perfect blend of adventure with real science and technology!"
New York Times #1 best-selling author Rick Riordan

"A fun, exciting, and action-packed ride that kids will love."
—J.J. Abrams, director and screenwriter of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Lost, Alias

"Inspires the next generation of curious kids to go out into our world and discover something unexpected.”
—James Cameron, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and acclaimed film-maker


About the Author

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TRUDI TRUEIT has written more than 100 books for young readers, both fiction and nonfiction. Her love of writing began in fourth grade, when she wrote, directed, and starred in her first play. She went on to be a TV news reporter and weather forecaster, but she knew her calling was in writing. Trueit is a gifted storyteller for middle-grade audiences, and her fiction novels include The Sister Solution, Stealing Popular, and the Secrets of a Lab Rat series. Her expertise in kids nonfiction encompasses books on history, weather, wildlife, and earth science. She is the author of all the narratives in the Explorer Academy series, beginning with Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret. Trueit was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, and lives in Everett, Washington.



  • Three (3) winners will receive the COMPLETE 7-book Explorer Academy series and an Explorer Academy map, showing all the places around the world that Cruz and his classmates visit over the course of the series!
  • US/Canada only
  • Ends 11/27 at 11:59pm ET
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Posted in Adventure, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Tales from the TBR: NatGeo’s Explorer Academy – Star Dunes

Explorer Academy: The Star Dunes (Book 4), by Trudi Trueit, (March 2020, National Geographic), $16.99, ISBN: 9781426336812
Ages 8-12
I am WAY behind on my Explorer Academy reading; Book 6 is coming out in October and I’ve only just finished Book 4, which came out in hardcover last year, and in softcover in January of this year. But do NOT be me: this middle grade adventure series has been one of the best I’ve read over the last few years; I’ve given it to my nephew, who’s devoured each book, and I talk it up to my library kids, who love all the cool James Bond-type intrigue and gadgets, along with the piece-by-piece solving of a mystery that takes Cruz Coronado, our main character, and his friends, all over the world. In this fourth installment, Cruz and Company take on poachers and heal mountain gorillas in Africa as they continue on their hunt for Cruz’s mother’s next clue. Meanwhile, not all is well at the Explorer Academy as Cruz gets some unsettling news and discovers that one of his classmates is increasingly hostile to him, calling him a “hero hog”. On the up side, a new student at Explorer Academy will satisfy longtime readers who were probably wondering when that particular development would finally happen (I know I did!). The cast we’ve all grown to know is here, and even first-time Explorer Academy readers will find themselves comfortable in this fourth volume – but really, to know the whole story, you should read the first three, too. Color illustrations and an introduction to the scientists that inspire the adventures in the book make this a great middle grade series. Hand this to all your action adventure readers – it’s science fiction that’s closer and closer to realistic fiction every day.
Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

The Endangereds: In this A-Team, the “A” stands for “Animals”

The Endangereds, by Philippe Cousteau & Austin Aslan/Illustrated by James Madsen, (Sept. 2020, HarperCollins), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062894168

Ages 10-13

This is a new adventure series that animal adventure fans are going to want to pay attention to. A team of endangered animals from all over the world – an orangutan, a narwhal, and a pangolin – meet at a rehabilitation and research facility called The Ark, and discover they are hyperaware. They can understand humans, and they can understand and communicate with each other. Nukilik, a polar bear, joins the Ark and is solely focused on one thing: going home. But when a mated pair of ferrets leave the Ark to be reintroduced into the wild and go missing, Nukilik joins the team as they launch into action to find their friends and discover an insidious plot to cause pure mayhem. A fun story, colorful characters with strong, standout personalities and solid backstories, and great pacing and dialogue, this is just nonstop action and great reading; there are strong themes of climate change and environmental encroachment that will appeal to younger readers, who will be motivated to think about our impact on the planet and how we can work to make things better for ourselves and the creatures we share this world with.

Philippe Cousteau, grandson of Jacques Cousteau and host of Xploration Awesome Planet, and award-winning author Austin Aslan – who also holds a master’s degree in Tropical Conservation Biology, have a great new series on their hands. I’m looking forward to seeing where the Endangereds go next!

Definite must-add for your animal fiction fans. Display and talk up with Tracey Hecht’s Nocturnals novels, The Lost Rainforest books by Eliot Schrefer, and Katherine Applegate’s The Ending series.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

ER for the weird: Saint Philomene’s Infirmary for Magical Creatures

Saint Philomene’s Infirmary for Magical Creatures, by W. Stone Cotter, (Jan. 2018, Henry Holt & Co), $16.99, ISBN: 9781627792578

Recommended for readers 9-13

Twelve-year-old Chance Jeopard digs a giant hole, cracks a pipe, and discovers a mysterious letter with an urgent message. He never knew that there was a hospital for magical creatures right underneath him until that moment, but St. Philomene’s Infirmary for Magical Creatures – a 955-year-old underground infirmary with over 6,000 levels and 1.8 million patients – is in grave danger if he doesn’t get this letter delivered. There’s a human down there, ready to unleash a deadly virus, and this letter details the cure. The only problem? No. Humans. Allowed. Chance and his science-minded sister, Pauline, along with her best friend, goth girl Mersey, are on a mission to save the day, as long as they avoid getting sniffed out by the current inhabitants. They’ll encounter ghouls, vampires, Deviklopts, Geckasofts, and more as they race against time to save the Infirmary.

Saint Philomene’s is madcap, crazy fun. Chance is an earnest, likable character who finds himself tossed into the middle of a crazy mission, when he really just wanted to be the messenger. Pauline is a pragmatic realist, and her friendship with goth Mersey make them wonderful foils for one another, especially once they find themselves pulled into the madness of Saint Philomene’s. While the frenetic pacing may overwhelm some readers, fantasy fans will get a kick out of this one.



first chapter

Posted in Adventure, Espionage, Middle School, Tween Reads

Chris Bradford’s Bodyguard series: a good series for Alex Rider fans

As pop culture phenomenons get younger, the need for these teens can only increase. From pop stars and young stars and starlets to trust fund kids and scions of political powerhouses, everyone is a potential target. Now, imagine if there were an elite team of teens that receive Special Forces training to be that next line in defense. They’re trained to blend in with the crowd, to be a member of an entourage; they’re trained to protect. The teens of Guardian are a private, elite force, and Connor Reeves is their newest member.

Bodyguard is an interesting series. Part Alex Rider, part Jack Bauer from 24, it’s the story of 14 year-old Connor Reeves, a new recruit to the Guardian organization. Most of the first book chronicles Connor’s recruitment and training, with an interesting subplot that frames the series on a larger level. There’s a big terror plot afoot, and a Yemeni group is behind it, creating havoc on each of Connor’s missions as they progress toward their as-yet unknown greater goal. The first four books chronicle Connor’s first two missions; each mission spans two novels. In the first two books, Recruit and Hostage, Connor is sent to protect the US President’s headstrong, rebellious daughter; in Hijack and Ransom, he and a fellow Guardian protect an Aussie media mogul’s daughters as they vacation on their luxury yacht.


The writing is fast-paced and action-packed, with interesting characters and the potential for an exciting conclusion to this building subplot. I had some issues with the author’s initial descriptions of the terrorists, though: it’s a bit discomfiting, especially for someone like me, who works in one of the most diverse library systems in the country. Happily, Bradford puts more emphasis on plot development as the novels progress. Connor tends to come across as a white knight, and Bradford needs to let his female characters breathe a little more, but overall, this is a good middle school-level series for kids who wants to read a series similar to Alex Rider.

Chris Bradford’s Bodyguard series was originally released in the UK; the first four books are available in the States now, with three more to come. The Bodyguard series webpage offers a rundown on the books, plus audio excerpts; bodyguard training tips, and a teacher’s guide for the series.

Want a shot at winning your own BODYGUARD set? Enter my raffle by filling out this Google Form! Good luck!

Bodyguard: Recruit, by Chris Bradford, (May 2017, Philomel), $8.99, ISBN: 9781524736972
Bodyguard: Hostage, by Chris Bradford, (May 2017, Philomel), $8.99, ISBN: 9781524736996
Bodyguard: Hijack, by Chris Bradford, (May 2017, Philomel), $8.99, ISBN: 9781524737016
Bodyguard: Ransom, by Chris Bradford, (May 2017, Philomel), $8.99, ISBN: 9781524737030

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

Bridget returns in Spy to the Rescue!

bridgetwilderBridget Wilder: Spy to the Rescue, by Jonathan Bernstein, (May 2016, Katherine Tegen Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062382696

Recommended for ages 9-13

Middle school spy-in-the-making Bridget Wilder is not having a great re-entry to “normal” society after being recruited by her former super-spy biological father in Bridget Wilder: Spy-in-Training. The agency that recruited her? Fake. Her super spy dad? Retired, and wants a “normal” relationship with his daughter (read: BORING). Her obnoxious brother is dating someone even more annoying, her best friend has moved across the country, and she’s being framed by someone for stealing cheerleading secrets AND ruining the birthday party of the season! Bridget senses something amiss, though; her spy instincts kick in and she decides to investigate.

Just when you think you’re about to read a fun, fluff middle school drama about mean girls, though, Jonathan Bernstein hits you with the real story: Bridget’s dad goes missing, and she’s pulled back into the spy game. Mean girls have nothing on an international crime syndicate, and Bridget’s going to need all of her skills, plus some new ones, to save her dad, her family, and herself.

I LOVED this book. Written in the first person from Bridget’s point of view, we get a narrator who’s 100% tween/teen girl: smart, funny, sarcastic, and a good kid who cares about her often wacky, extended family. I also love that we get an adopted heroine – yay for adoptees! – who refers to her parents and her siblings as her parents and her siblings, not her “adoptive family” like we see ad nauseum (I’m looking at you, Olympic coverage of Simone Biles and her family). Bridget has her family, and when her long-last dad reappears, he wants a relationship with her, but it’s her choice, and it involves her whole family; it’s not this long last dad appears, daughter runs off with him like the family who raised her never existed scenario, and I am grateful to Jonathan Bernstein for giving us a great, positive portrayal of an adoptee’s relationship to her family. Her entire family. It’s a bit of a touchy spot, being an adoptee myself, so when I find good writing, I applaud it.

But back to the story. Spy to the Rescue is fast-paced and fun. There’s some intrigue, there’s a lot of action, great dialogue, and continued strong character development. I booktalked Bridget Wilder: Spy-in-Training to my Corona Kids during my Spy Week program at the library, and they loved it, especially coming off the Spy Kids movie day, when they were empowered to be spies and save the grownups for a change. Wait until I put this one on the shelves, and let them know that a third book will be coming next year.

If you have action fiction fans, spy fans, or kids who enjoy a good book with a nice dose of girl power, add Bridget Wilder to your collection. Check out Jonathan Bernstein’s author webpage for more about Bridget and her author, Jonathan Bernstein.

Check out the book trailer for Spy in Training right here:

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

Dragons vs. Drones: D&D fantasy meets today’s tech

dragons vs dronesDragons vs. Drones, by Wesley King (Mar. 2016, Razorbill), $16.99, ISBN: 9781595147974

Recommended for ages 9-12

In a land called Dracone, Dree labors away as a welder. Her family was once nobility; her father, a dragon rider, until their fortunes reversed. Now, dragon riders are considered traitors, dragons hunted for their fangs and scales, and Dree’s father spends his day as a shadow of the man he once was while Dree and her mother work to scrape together a living for their family.

In our world, Marcus, the son of a CIA analyst who disappeared when he was only 4 is desperate to find out what happened to his father. He’s told by the government that his father was a traitor; his mother died when he was a baby. Raised by his father’s best friend – who seems to know more than he’s letting on – Marcus has been studying weather patterns that may lead to some answers. The only problem is, he’s being watched by government drones.

When Marcus breaks a code that sends him into an alternate world, he meets Dree and discovers a world like nothing he’s ever known. But the drones have followed him and are wreaking havoc on the Draconian citizens. Can Dree and Marcus forge a peace between humans and dragons to save themselves from an evil plan to destroy the land?

Dragons vs. Drones is a fantasy novel that’s part fantasy and part tech/sci-fi thriller. It’s been called “Eragon meets Transformers”, which is a pretty accurate description. We’ve got dragons, and we’ve got codebreaking. STEM fans, there is some pretty intense discussions of welding/metalworking and coding/hacking here, so it’s a good book to give the kids in your life who love to play around at the computer, fool around with their own Raspberry Pi, and dream about dragons, swords and magic. Magic and science co-exist here, broadening the audience, and there are both male and female main characters, for anyone who still flinches at “boy books” vs. “girl books” (I’ve got a few in my library).  There’s quite a bit of world-building on both worlds, and the ending provides a promise for a sequel.

Some timely topics to discuss in a group setting include government surveillance, deforestation for industrial progress, and ethics of hunting/endangered species.

A good addition to science fiction and fantasy collections.

Posted in Adventure, Fiction, Middle Grade

Introduce middle graders to a young Harry Houdini with Magician’s Fire

magiciansfireThe Magician’s Fire, by Simon Nicholson, (October 2014, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky). $15.99, ISBN: 9781492603320

Recommended for ages 8-12

Young Harry Houdini was a shoeshine kid on the streets of New York long before he captivated audiences with his illusions – but he was always interested in magic. The Magician’s Fire introduces readers to Harry and his friends – fellow street urchin Billie, and Arthur, a wealthy boy from an unhappy home.

We also meet Herbie, a magician who serves as Harry’s mentor – he’s a tired older man who performs in a local theatre. One night, Herbie disappears, the only evidence being a puff of purple smoke. Harry and his friends turn investigators, using their skills and their wits to get to the bottom of Herbie’s disappearance. But are they also attracting some unwanted attention?

I love the idea of introducing kids to Harry Houdini. It worries me that icons of previous generations may fade away to the general public, so seeing Harry brought back to life in a mystery-type series – think Alfred Hitchcock’s investigators, but with magic! – that also gives him a chance to show off his developing illusionist skills, really makes me happy.

Harry is obnoxious in this first book. He wants the attention, he wants to do everything by himself, and his idea of teamwork really relates to how his friends can get him noticed or pave his way to save the day. He realizes this, thankfully, when Billie and Arthur call him on it, and while I think this will be a struggle we see in future plotlines, it presents a great growth opportunity for the characters and gives middle graders an entry point to the character. Readers will recognize themselves in Harry, sympathize with Arthur, and cheer for Billie. There’s some good character development at work here, and interesting insights into the world of illusion that will appeal to everyone.

The book leaves off with an obvious cliffhanger, so I hope this new series has a long, successful life. I read the first chapter to a storytime group of middle graders, and they were captivated by the opening scene. One boy asked me to make sure I included that book in my next library order – duly noted!

The Sourcebooks website offers a free, downloadable Educator’s Guide to The Magicians’ Fire, along with an excerpt.