Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Watch Me is a powerful immigration story

Watch Me: A Story of Immigration and Inspiration, by Doyin Richards/Illustrated by Joe Cepeda (Jan. 2021, Feiwel & Friends), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250266514

Ages 3-5

Author and advocacy powerhouse Doyin Richards brings his father’s story to children with Watch Me.  As a child in Sierra Leone, Joe dreamed of going to America. People told him America wouldn’t accept him with his accent and his dark skin. Joe smiled and said, “Watch me”. It was a phrase he repeated often as he arrived in America and experienced racism and people questioned his intelligence. And Joe succeeded. More of a conversation than a one-sided narrative, Doyin Richards asks readers to think about times they were told they were different, or came up against things they couldn’t control. He asks them to think about times they may have seen kids at school be treated differently, or walk by themselves in the hall at school. He encourages readers to put themselves in Joe’s position – in the position of that classmate, eating lunch in the library alone – and to maybe consider a kind word, a smile, a simple act of kindness. As Richards says, “This land is your land. This land is my land. There is enough for everyone”. There’s no place for racism here. There is enough of everything for everyone; all we need to do is share. Beautiful oil and acrylic artwork makes each spread look like a portrait-worthy painting. A perfect readaloud for children.

Watch Me has a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Doyin Richards is a TEDx speaker who has spoken on anti-racism, and his book and blog, Daddy Doin’ Work, became a book that encouraged women to help dads become more engaged, hands-on fathers.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Gift ideas for Little Kiddos

They’re going to get tons of toys, why not be the cool gift-giver that gives books? Here are some recent faves:

My Favorite Color: I Can Only Pick One?, by Aaron Becker, (Sept. 2020, Candlewick Studio), $15.99, ISBN: 9781536214741

Ages 0-3

Caldecott Honor-winner Aaron Becker’s board book follow up to 2019’s You Are Light is all about choosing one’s favorite color… wait, can you choose a favorite color? Is it yellow, like the sun? Or blue, like the sea? But then again… there’s green… or pink! Yikes, how can someone have just one favorite color when there’s beautiful colors in all of nature? Aaron Becker takes readers through colors in nature, with die-cuts and small, colorful squares laid out; some translucent and beautiful to look at in the light. It’s an art book and a lovely meditation on nature; at its simplest, it’s a relatable book for any kid who’s been asked a question for which there is no one clear answer. Read and display with Mary Murphy’s What I Like Most, and, of course, You Are Light.

My Favorite Color has starred reviews from Booklist and Kirkus. Publisher Candlewick has a free, downloadable teacher’s guide with helpful tips to start a conversation.
This is a Book of Shapes, by Kenneth Kraegel, (Sept. 2020, Candlewick Press), $8.99, ISBN: 9781536207019
Ages 0-3
A laugh-out-loud concept book of shapes with curveballs thrown in, This is a Book of Shapes starts off like most concept books: A circle on one page; a statement on the other: This is a circle. The pattern follows for a few pages, and then… “This is an emu pushing a pancake wagon down a hill”. Wait, what? Perfect for those “are you paying attention?” moments, the book alternates shape statements with surreal, wacky divergences that will delight kids and grownups alike. Read as deadpan as you can – you may need to practice a few times to get there, I keep giggling as soon as I turn the page to the emu – for extra loud laughs. You can’t NOT read this for storytime. Make sure to have copies of Candlewick’s activity page handy for afterward.
1, 2, 3 Do the Dinosaur, by Michelle Robinson & Rosalind Bearshaw, (Jan. 2020, Kane Miller), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1-68464-044-7
Ages 2-5
Follow a little boy named Tom as he teaches all the dinos a new dance: The Dinosaur! Tom is a little boy dressed in dinosaur PJs, surrounded by all sorts of colorful dinosaurs as he leads them – and you! – through chomps, roars, tail swishes, and stomps. But what happens when the big T-Rex shows up? Why, you let him join in the fun, of course! The rhyming text is interactive and is perfect for storytime stomping and swishing. Colorful, friendly dinosaurs will appeal to all dino lovers. No scary ones here.  Think of Ed Emberley’s If You’re a Monster and You Know It, Sandra Boynton’s Barnyard Dance, Kelly Starling Lyons’s One More Dino on the Floor, or Laurie Berkner’s We Are the Dinosaurs. It’s a dino dance party and your readers are invited, so let them color in some dinosaurs and take them along!
Catch that Chicken!, by Atinuke/Illustrated by Angela Brooksbank, (July 2020, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536212686
Ages 2-5
The latest outing from Anna Hibiscus author Atinuke and illustrator B is for Baby illustrator Angela Brooksbank is all about ingenuity. Lami is a little girl who’s the best chicken catcher in her village, but when she chases a chicken up a baobab tree and has a fall, her ankle is sprained and she needs a new way to think about catching the fiesty birds. Her Nana encourages her to think differently: “It’s not quick feet that catches chickens – it’s quick thinking”, and with a little thought, Lami has an idea: make the chickens come to her! A simple, smart way to get kids to consider alternatives, Catch That Chicken! has short sentences with lots of repetition; alliterative action words that will be fun in a story time (“Lami leans! Lami lungues! Lami leaps!”), and the colorful mixed media artwork is done in warm colors. Characters have friendly, welcoming faces and body language, and there’s a lot of movement in the pictures. A fun story for storytime and for little ones’ bookshelves.
Arlo the Lion Who Couldn’t Sleep, by Catherine Rayner, (Oct. 2020, Peachtree Publishing), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-68263-222-2
Ages 2-6
Arlo is a lion who just can’t get comfortable and fall asleep. The grass is too prickly, his family wriggles too much, he just can’t make it work and he is EXHAUSTED. Luckily, Owl is nearby and teaches Arlo a sweet relaxation exercise that soothes him right to sleep. When Arlo finally has a refreshing night’s sleep, he’s so excited that he wakes Owl to tell her… and proceeds to help Owl soothe herself back to sleep. Together, the two friends teach the trick to Arlo’s family, and everyone is happily dozing in no time. Except for Owl, who’s nocturnal. Kate Greenway Medal winner Catherine Rayner creates a sensitive bedtime story that’s perfect for teaching kids to self-soothe using visualization and deep breathing. Mixed media artwork uses soft colors, with warm landscapes and a cuddly, sleepy lion; the meditative phrase repeats throughout the story, helping little ones listen to their reader lead them into a night of pleasant dreaming. Perfect for bedtime reading, read this one slowly and guide your littles through thoughts and breathing into naptime or bedtime.
Arlo the Lion Who Couldn’t Sleep has a starred review from Kirkus. Publisher Peachtree has an excerpt and Author Q&A available on their website.
Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

This Grandparents Day, let your kids read the stories to their grands

Grandpa Cacao: A Tale of Chocolate, from Farm to Family, by Elizabeth Zunon,
(May 2019, Bloomsbury USA), $17.99, ISBN:  978-1-68119-640-4
Ages 5-9

A girl and her father bake a cake and reminisce about “Grandpa Cacao” – her father’s father – and his life working on a cacao farm on the African Ivory Coast. Lush images come to life through Elizabeth Zunon’s oil paint, collage and screenprint artwork; there’s gorgeous texture and movement across the landscape, and Grandpa Cacao appears as a pale image, illustrating his existence as a “mythical figure” in the girl’s imagination. Inspired by the author’s own “Grandpa Cacao”, this is a heartwarming link across generations and celebrating the joy of creating together and uniting families. Back matter includes author’s notes and maps on the realities of the cacao trade, the sobering perseverance of child labor, and fair trade. There are notes on the science and history of chocolate, and a cake recipe to try with the kids.

Grandparents Day Idea: Talk to kids about their grandparents’ stories. Where are their grandparents from? Do they have memories of growing up to share? Does the family have any special recipes that have been handed down through generations?

 

Looking for Yesterday, by Alison Jay, (Aug. 2019, Candlewick Press),
$16.99, ISBN: 9781536204216
Ages 4-7

A young boy tries to use science to figure out how to travel back in time, so he can relive the great day he had the day before. When he asks his grandfather for advice, he learns that memories are great, but it’s exciting to look forward to the possibilities of adventure in the here and now. Alison Jay gives her character a wonderfully childlike reasoning process – yesterday was so great, let’s try to get back there and live it again! – and has him go through the motions of working on the science to make it happen; her crackled oil artwork giving a vintage-looking life to the story. As the boy calculates going faster than light speed, we see his mind at work: he’s flying around the world, wearing a cape; using a time machine that looks like a giant unicycle; configuring a garbage can into a rocket. The boy’s grandfather walks him through a photo album as he recounts the past, drawing the boy into his adventures as the two fly on a scrapbook to see mountain tops, whales, and hot air balloons. The grandfather-grandson relationship is warm and loving, communicated with warm colors and body language. A great book to encourage kids to seize the day.

Grandparents Day Idea: Get out the photo albums and show kids your adventures! Show them your childhoods, talk to them about playing with your friends; going to school; exciting and ordinary things you did as a child. See how things are different, and how things are the same.

 

My Grandma and Me, by Mina Javaherbin, (Aug. 2019, Candlewick Press),
$16.99, ISBN: 9780763694944
Ages 4-8

This autobiographical story of a the author as a young girl and her grandmother, living in pre-revolutionary Iran, brought me to tears with it beautiful storytelling. The opening line – “In this big universe full of many moons, I have traveled and seen many wonders, but I have never loved anything or anyone the way I love my grandma” – poetically brings to life that everlasting love between grandparents and their grandchildren. Mira Javaherbin invites us to glimpse into her life as we see her lay across her grandmother during morning prayer; send down baskets to buy bread from the boy on his bicycle, bread piled high in a basket; waiting for her grandmother to break fast during Ramadan, so she can eat with her; hiding under a table strewn with her grandmother’s chadors, as she “helps” her make news ones. Lindsey Yankey’s mixed media illustrations create a cozy, welcoming space for us to spend time reading Mina’s story. Mina’s best friend and her grandmother are Christian; Mina and her grandmother are Muslim. The two girls play together while their grandmothers craft and enjoy each other’s company; each goes to their own house of worship and prays for the other. It’s a quietly strong celebration of two cultures, two faiths, living and playing together. With starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal, this loving look at the relationship between grandmother and granddaughter is a perfect gift book and storytime book.

Grandparents Day Idea: Do you have memories of your grandparents that you’d like to share with your kids? Talk to your kids about spending time with your grandparents as a child, or as an adult, if you have stories to tell. Ask them what they like to do when they’re with grandparents. Do they like to play board games together? Do they read together?
Around the Table that Grandad Built, by Melanie Hauser Hill/Illustrated by Jaime Kim, (Sept. 2019, Candlewick),
$16.99, ISBN: 9780763697846
Ages 3-7
A sweet take on the classic cumulative story, The House that Jack Built, this heartwarming story assembles a multicultural family for a celebration centering around a table that Grandad built. Each part of the celebration is warm, inclusive, and participatory: cousins gather sunflowers; Mom’s sewn napkins that go with the dishes; glasses come from Mom and Dad’s wedding, and flatware comes from Dad’s grandma, all coming together to create a global table where the family enjoys squash, tamales, samosas, and other tasty fare, all prepared by members of the family. It’s a celebration of family steeped in tradition, linked across generations. The acrylic, crayon, and digital artwork adds to the handmade feel of the story and is rendered with bright primary colors, making this an upbeat story that will work for any family gathering. (Definitely keep this one on hand for Thanksgiving.)
Grandparents Day idea: Prepare a favorite dish with your grandkids, or create something with them. If you have little ones, try a no-sew project, or consider a craft that brings your generations together – handprints are always a good choice, and you can easily take some inspiration from the choices out there, while making it your own.
Grandpa’s Top Threes, by Wendy Meddour/Illustrated by Daniel Egnéus, (Sept. 2019, Candlewick),
$16.99, ISBN: 9781536211252
Ages 3-6
Henry loves to talk to his Grandpa, but Grandpa hasn’t been talking much these days; preferring instead to silently work on his garden. When Henry nudges Grandpa by indulging in his favorite game – Top Threes – Grandpa finally starts talking, giving thoughtful answers that ultimately rebuild the bridge between them. And then we find out what’s really going on: Grandpa is mourning Granny. In a moment that’s at once touching and heartbreaking, Henry asks Grandpa who his three favorite Grannies are, citing his favorites as his two grandmothers, plus the granny from Red Riding Hood. Grandpa recounts his favorite three memories of Granny as his three favorites, including the Granny that first held Baby Henry. The simple, moving prose is eloquent and full of feeling; full of aching and loss, and yet, instilled with deep affection and love for a grandchild and for a spouse. A beautiful, tender story that you may need a tissue or two for, but one not to be missed. Daniel Egnéus’s watercolor illustrations are digitally assembled, giving a mixed media, textured feel to the layers of the story with each turn of the page. Make this one available to kids who have lost a grandparent, and encourage them to talk about their Top Threes.
Grandparents Day idea: Talk about your Top Three moments; Top Three grandmas and grandpas, or Top Three anything.
Our Favorite Day, by JoowonOh, (Sept. 2019, Candlewick Press),
$16.99, ISBN: 978-1-5362-0357-8
Ages 3-6
Grandpa has a routine he keeps to: a morning cup of tea, some light housework, and a bus ride into town, where he has lunch at his favorite dumpling shop, but Thursday is the best day of the week for Grandpa and his young granddaughter. It’s their day, and Grandpa is making sure it’s a good one! He chooses some crafting materials at a craft shop on his trip to town, gets two orders of dumplings to go, picks some flowers, and is ready to greet his granddaughter with a hug when she bounds out of the car! Together, the two enjoy their lunch, make a kite, and head out to fly it. With a narrative consisting of both omniscient narration and word-balloons, this adorably illustrated story is a wonderful way to celebrate grandparents and grandkids spending time together, and illustrates how important each is to the other. Grandpa has his own routine, but he lives for those Thursdays; he’s ready and waiting for his best buddy to arrive, and she can’t wait to get there. The affection and time they spend together is heartwarming and shows the mutual benefits of a multigenerational relationship. Joonwon On’s watercolor, gouache, and cut paper artwork creates texture and a scrapbook-like environment to envelop the reader. An absolutely adorable, touching story of grandparents and their grandkids.
Grandparents Day Idea: Craft together! Make a fun project together: it can be a kite, like the story shows, but it can be as easy as coloring together. I used to save a bag of fabric scraps from old clothes; when my Nana came to visit, I’d dump the bag on the table, and we’d make clothes for my dolls together. The craft doesn’t matter; the time you spend together does.
Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

B is for… Beautiful Baby Book!

B is for Baby, by Atinuke/Illustrated by Angela Brooksbank, (March 2019, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536201666

Ages 0-5

An adorable baby gives her grandfather and older brother a surprise visit in this adorable book of words, all featuring the letter B. Baby climbs into a basket full of bananas for a little nibble, but big brother puts the basket on his bicycle and goes on a bumpy trip to their Baba’s. Brother rides across the African landscape, where readers can see baobab trees, birds and butterflies, bougainvillea flowers, and buses and bridges, until they reach Baba’s home. When Baby pops out of the basket, it’s a happy surprise! Baba brings his grandchildren inside for some biscuits and cuddling, and Brother rides home and returns Baby to Mama’s arms.

I love Atinuke’s Anna Hisbicus books and her wonderful stories about African daily life. B is for Baby is another glimpse at family life, this time, aimed at younger children and early readers. Angela Brooksbank, who worked with Atinuke on Baby Goes To Market, introducing readers to a West African market. The mixed media artwork is sweet, loaded with hugs and cuddles, and lovely nature landscapes. What a fun way to introduce new readers to the letter B!

B is for Baby has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in Uncategorized

Deogratias is a graphic retelling of the Rwandan massacre

Deogratias, by JP Stassen, (Nov. 2018, First Second), $21.99, ISBN: 9781250189646

Ages 16+

Originally published in the States 2000, Deogratias is a brutal retelling of the Rwandan genocide. Deogratias is a young Hutu teen whose story is told in flashbacks. In love with Tutsi half-sisters, Apollinaria and Benina, he finds himself caught in the middle of a violent conflict when tensions between the two groups explodes. When he plays a part in Benina’s death, he begins spiraling into alcoholism and insanity. Deogratias is a hard read. There are panels depicting poverty, prostitution, and violence. The author doesn’t shy away from coarse language, or the core subject matter of the book: genocide. It’s painful to watch Deogratias’ decline, but Deogratias remains a solid choice for putting a human face on the Rwandan genocide. This one is for mature teens and up. Deogratias has starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly and has received multiple awards, including the Goscinny Prize for outstanding graphic novel script (2000), and designations as one of the American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults, YALSA Great Graphic Novels for Teens, YALSA Great Graphic Novel for Teens, and ALA Best Books for Young Adults.

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books, Preschool Reads

Lion (Forge), Tigers, and Bears… Oh, My!

In a twist on the classic Wizard of Oz quote, I found myself with a tiger book, a bear book, but no lion book. Lion Forge came to the rescue with a hilarious (and animal-related) picture book! Enjoy!

This is a Taco!, by Andrew Cangelose/Illustrated by Josh Shipley, (May 2018, Lion Forge), $15.99, ISBN: 978-1941302729

Recommended for readers 4-8

Lion Forge Comics also puts out some really good kids’ books. This is a Taco! is a laugh-out-loud take on a nature book about squirrels that breaks the fourth wall. Taco is a squirrel who loves tacos. As the nonfiction narrative on squirrels progress, Taco is there to disabuse readers of any facts they may be picking up about squirrels. Squirrels eat tree bark? This is news to Taco, who really wants to know where his tacos are. Great climbers? Taco’s terrified! He lives in a bush! Taco has enough by the time a section on hawks – the greatest squirrel predator – shows up on the scene, and decides to change the story. Grabbing a red pen, Taco writes his own happy ending and imparts serious wisdom to readers: “if you want tacos in your story, then YOU make sure there are tacos in your story”.

Kids are going to love this hilarious book. Taco the Squirrel is right up there with Mo Willems’ Pigeon in terms of characters who take charge of their stories and bring the laughs. This makes for a great creative writing exercise with older kids; let them “rewrite” their own stories with weeded picture books or some photocopied pages. Show them Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett’s Battle Bunny for another example of a picture book taking on a life of its own. And for taco-loving readers, get those Dragons Love Tacos books on the display shelves. This book is way too much fun – get it into the hands of kids, ASAP! There’s a companion book, This is a Whoopsie, coming out in October.

 

The Tiptoeing Tiger, by Philippa Leathers, (Feb. 2018, Candlewick Press), $14.00, ISBN: 9780763688431

Recommended for readers 3-7

Everyone knows that tigers are sleek, silent, and totally terrifying. Except for Little Tiger. He can’t seem to get anyone in the forest to notice him, let alone be afraid of him! After his brother bets that he can’t scare any animal in the forest, Little Tiger sets off, determined to frighten someone. He tiptoes his way through the book, trying to scare boars, elephants, and monkeys, with no luck. Isn’t there anyone he can scare before the day is out?

This is a great book for the littles, who LOVE “scaring” people. I remember I couldn’t walk out of my bathroom without my little guy jumping and “boo!”-ing me starting around the age of 3. (He’s 5 now, and still tries it; these days, it’s usually with a Nerf sniper rifle.) The author speaks to a child’s desire to be seen as someone bigger, and the frustration at being ignored, or worse – laughed at – when they’re trying to be like the bigger folks. The repetition of Little Tiger’s tiptoeing up to his prey invites readers to be part of the story, whether they tiptoe with their toes or walk their fingers on a surface. Let them give their best ROAR! to see how they’d match up with Little Tiger.

The pencil and watercolor illustrations are adorable; very kid-friendly, and leave a lot of open space to show the size differences between Little Tiger and the rest of the animals. Green endpapers with fern leaf patterning bring readers into the story. The Tiptoeing Tiger is a fun story about being small, but determined. A fun additional book for animal lovers.

 

The Curious Cares of Bears, by Douglas Florian/Illustrated by Sonia Sánchez, (Aug. 2017, little bee books), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-4998-0462-1

This rhyming story takes readers through the four seasons with a group of bears and how they spend their time. In the spring, they love to climb trees and steal honey from bees, play and chase each other; in the summer, there’s swimming and games, family reunions, and parties; in the fall, they play all day and sing by a campfire at night; and when winter arrives, it’s time to make their way to their den to hibernate, until the spring thaw comes, and they get ready to explore their world all over again.

This is a gentle, fun read about the seasons. The group of cuddly bears pass their time in similar ways to our own families, which makes for some fun questions to pose to readers, especially near different seasonal school breaks. The rhyming text has a nice, steady rhythm for readers and the soft art makes the bears look fuzzy and cuddly, like the best bear books do. Endpapers feature an extended family group of bears wandering around the forest, setting the tone for the story. Give this to your teddy bear loving readers, and booktalk with some easy reader season books, like those from Rookie Readers.

 

Great Polar Bear, by Carolyn Lesser, (Apr. 2018, Seagrass Press), $17.95, ISBN: 9781633225022

Recommended for readers 5-8

I had to add an extra bear book here, because Great Polar Bear is just beautiful. A nonfiction book written in verse, Carolyn Lesser takes readers through a year in the life of a polar bear. Originally published in 1996 as The Great Crystal Bear (illustrated by William Noonan), this new edition features all-new collage artwork by Lesser; it gives beautiful texture and depth to the illustrations. The narrative brings facts to readers through rhythmic verse, rather than terse statements: the bear’s fur, for instance, “gathers sunlight, to heat your black skin and thick layer of fat”. We also learn about the endangered environment and problems caused by climate change. Back matter contains “Explorer’s Notes” and emphasizes conservation. This is a good additional text for nonfiction collections where bears are popular.

 

Africa Calling, Nighttime Falling, by Danny Adlerman/Illustrated by Kim Adlerman, (March 2018, Lee and Low Books), $9.95, ISBN: 9781620147955

Recommended for readers 3-7

For my Oh My! book, I’ve got the bedtime story, Africa Calling, Nighttime Falling; a mellow story about African animals in their habitats as the sun sets for the day. The rhyming text leads includes quiet accompanying phrases for each animal: “As moonlight cloaks the desert land, Viper slinks across the sand… swiftly sliding, vipers gliding”. I read them as whispered phrases, between stanzas, because it seems to really work with my Kindergartner. The artwork includes collage over paintings, with what looks like some photographic media mixed in. The twist at the end brings this full circle when readers see that it’s a little girl’s imagination, before bedtime, and that she’s surrounded by her jungle’s worth of stuffed animals. It’s a nice additional add where bedtime stories and animal books are popular, and a good one to test out with stuffed animal sleepover storytimes.

 

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Eoin Colfer’s Illegal is a powerful statement on behalf of refugees

Illegal, by Eoin Colfer & Andrew Donkin/Illustrated by Giovanni Rigano, (Aug. 2018, Sourcebooks), $19.99, ISBN: 9781492662143

Recommended for readers 10+

The Artemis Fowl graphic novel team assembles to bring readers a powerful, emotional story about the struggles of undocumented immigrants: in this story, three African siblings. Ebo’s alone. Orphaned and living in squalor, his sister set out months ago to find her way to Europe and a better life, promising to send for Ebo and their brother, Kwame, when she gets settled. But the boys can’t wait any longer, and Kwame sets out next. Ebo follows Kwame, and the brothers endure a journey across the Sahara Desert to find their way to the sea. The journey is inhumane, often unbearable, but Ebo will not be denied. He deals with loss, hunger, and thirst; filthy living conditions; and brutal treatment by nature and man, but he holds out hope to be reunited with his sister, and the promise of a better life somewhere else.

There’s been quite a bit of attention focused on undocumented immigrants, and it’s a conversation we need to continue. War, disease, poverty, and hunger are global problems that force men, women, and children to undergo unthinkable scenarios for the sole purpose of cultivating a better life. Illegal, while fictional, is inspired by true events: just pick up a newspaper or turn on the news. Ebo’s story is one story of millions: the United Nations records 65.6 million people are forcibly displaced worldwide. Told in Ebo’s voice, readers will feel like they are reading a private journal. His voice is strong and clear, and evokes anger, grief, and the desire to do more. The artwork supports the text, laying out the slums of an African neighborhood; the devastating stretch of desert, and the terrifying expanse of the ocean. Ebo’s face will stay with readers long after they finish the book.

(Images courtesy of Entertainment Weekly‘s article)

Illegal should be on every middle school and/or high school’s Summer Reading list, and needs to be discussed in our classrooms and in our homes. The book is currently out in the UK, and there are teaching materials online, including this downloadable one from the U.S. publisher, Sourcebooks. Author Andrew Donkin has articles about Illegal on his website, and Eoin Colfer has the US and UK covers on his website. Entertainment Weekly has a featured excerpt and The Guardian made it the Children’s Book of the Week when it was published in the UK in October 2017.

Illegal was shortlisted for the 2017 Irish Book Awards and was chosen for EmpathyLabUK’s Read for Empathy List (a downloadable copy of which can be found here). I’ve embedded the trailer below:

 

Booktalk and display Illegal with Michel Chikwanine and Jessica Dee Humphreys’ Child Soldier and Barron’s Children in Our World books (Refugees & Migrants, Poverty & Hunger, Racism & Intolerance, and Global Conflict).

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Black Panther: The Young Prince: Middle Grade superhero fiction!

Black Panther: The Young Prince, by Ronald L. Smith, (Jan. 2018, Disney Book Group), $16.99, ISBN: 9781484787649

Recommended for readers 10-13

YES. A middle grade novel about an African superhero, written by a Coretta Scott King Award-winning author? ALL THE YES, PLEASE. Ronald L. Smith brings T’Challa to life with this first novel, where we meet the not-quite-yet Black Panther and his best friend, M’Baku, in their homeland, Wakanda. Ulysses Klaue (Marvel fans, heads up for continuity!) has shown up in Wakanda, and T’Chaka, current King of Wakanda and Black Panther, knows that’s never a good sign. He sends his son and M’Baku off to Chicago and safety while Wakanda braces for an invasion. T’Challa wants to keep his head down and blend in, but M’Baku couldn’t want anything less. The opportunity presents itself in the form of local middle school tough guy Gemini Jones and his gang, the Skulls. Kids whisper that Gemini’s a warlock, but that doesn’t stop M’Baku from falling in with Gemini and turning a cold shoulder to T’Challa. If middle school squabbling were the only problem, right? But nope, things are about to go south in a big wayl; luckily for T’Challa, his father packed a Black Panther suit for his son… just in case of emergencies.

This novel is SO GOOD. It’s unputdownable, whether you’re a superhero/Marvel fan or not. Ronald L. Smith brings his talent for creating interesting characters and conflict, plus his gift for writing about magic, and gives life to one of Marvel’s most exciting characters.

Yes, I’m a Black Panther fan. Yes, I’m thrilled about the movie coming out. And yes, this book is fantastic and deserves its spot on every middle grade/middle schooler’s library shelf. Representation counts, and by giving an African superhero his own novel, written by an award-winning African American novelist, Disney has shown readers their commitment to diversity and #ownvoices. I’m thrilled with The Young Prince, and want to read more. Maybe next, we can get a story about the Dora Milaje? How about a Shuri mention? (She’s Black Panther’s sister, in the comics.) Indulge me!

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 Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

A young girl finds One Good Thing About America every day

One Good Thing About America, by Ruth Freeman, (March 2017, Holiday House), $16.95, ISBN: 9780823436958

Recommended for readers 8-12

At home in the Congo, nine year-old Anaïs is the best English student in her class. She loves spending time at her grandmother’s home. She loves her family: her father, her older brother, Olivier, and younger brother, Jean-Claude, and her mother. But now, her father is in hiding, her older brother, stayed in Africa with their grandmother, and Anaïs, Jean-Claude, and their mother are living in a shelter in Crazy America. Nothing about the people or the language makes sense to her – why would anyone eat chicken fingers? Why do vowels change sounds with every word? – and she misses her home, her life before.

Written in the form of letters from Anaïs to her grandmother, One Good Thing About America, by Ruth Freeman, a teacher who works with English Language Learners. Motivated by her students’ determination and their stories, this is her tribute to them as much as it is a chance to create an understanding of the immigrant experience in America. Anaïs, her family, and her classmates and neighbors develop through the course of the story; experiencing sleepovers, mac and cheese dinners, Halloween, and even a frightening emergency room trip. We never get the full story behind Anaïs’ father’s trouble with the mining company, but readers understand the urgency of the situation: her father is in hiding, on the run, and no one that associates with him is safe. While Anaïs longs for her family to be whole again, she has the added challenge of learning a new language and making a new life in a strange country where nothing makes sense. She has good days and bad days; goes from hopeful to frustrated, and every reader will appreciate and understand where she’s coming from. Little doodles throughout the book illustrate new things Anaïs encounters, from the crunchy fall leaves that “make the sound of eating toast” to ice cream and pizza.

A list of English words Anaïs struggles with – what she hears, as opposed to what she learns – also helps readers understand the challenges our language and colloquialisms present to English language learners. Words in French, Anaïs’ native tongue, introduce readers to some new vocabulary.

One Good Thing About America is a good book for all communities. In our current socio-political climate, I daresay it should be a summer reading selection for middle graders (and their families). I suggest booktalking with Andrea Davis Pinkney’s The Red Pencil and Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out & Back Again for excellent discussions about the differences within the refugee experience.