Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate

Surviving the Wild: Remy Lai’s new graphic novel series!

I’ve been enjoying Remy Lai’s storytelling ever since I picked up an ARC for Pie in the Sky a few years ago. She creates a great mix of visual and prose storytelling, creates instantly memorable and lovable characters, and successfully weave humor and pathos into her stories to get at the heart of deep issues. She’s got a new graphic novel series, Surviving the Wild, that tells fictional animal stories based on true events, and calls attention to the effects of climate change and habitat encroachment on the animals we share this planet with. Let’s look at the first three stories!

Surviving the Wild: Star the Elephant, by Remy Lai, (Apr. 2022, Henry Holt & Co), $13.99, ISBN: 9781250784995

Ages 6-9

Star is a young elephant living in a herd with his mom and aunt, but the herd needs to find a new home because resources are becoming scarce. During the journey, Star is separated from his family and left to find his own way to safety and, hopefully, his family. Inspired by a 1990 story about bull elephants losing their home, Star’s story has some differences, noted in the back matter, but the heart of the story is the same: deforestation and human interference are causing animals to lose their homes. Star’s fear of humans is not without cause, but there’s some tension as readers worry that Star won’t be able to tell the difference between harmful humans and the humans who wants to keep elephants safe, bringing them to a sanctuary. Star reacts in a very relatable, childlike way to being separated from family and to stranger danger. The colorful artwork and dialogue makes for a very readable animal story; back matter includes deeper insight on the 1990 story that inspired Star’s tale, elephant facts, and ways kids can help keep the Earth livable for everyone.

Surviving the Wild: Rainbow the Koala, by Remy Lai, (Apr. 2022, Henry Holt & Co), $13.99, ISBN: 9781250785442

Ages 6-9

Rainbow is a young koala who’s enjoyed life in his mom’s pouch. When Mom tells him it’s time for him to go off and live on his own, he’s scared! It’s not as friendly out there when you don’t have your mom with you, and poor Rainbow can’t find a good tree of his own or a place where he can get water. It’s hot and the forest is dry, and the creek that he remembers mom taking him for water seems to be dried up. Thirsty, tired, and dispirited, he escapes humans and finds himself in the middle of an exodus: there’s a forest fire coming, and Rainbow is right in the middle of it. Rainbow’s story is inspired by the Australian bush fires of early 2020, which impacted over 60,000 koalas and millions of other animals and insects. Rainbow’s story hits hard; there are painful moments as he surveys the devastation around him and burns his own paws as he tries to find safety and shelter. Rainbow’s fear clearly comes through in his first-person narration, whether it’s through his speaking out loud to his mother as he struggles to survive in the wild, or to calm himself as he sees the forest burning around him. The stark, decimated landscape is heartbreaking in the aftermath of the fire.  Once again, we worry that Rainbow won’t understand that some humans – in this case, the rescuers searching the forest to bring animals back to animal hospitals and rehabilitation facilities. Back matter includes the story behind Rainbow’s tale, koala facts, facts about climate change and ways that kids can take action.

Surviving the Wild: Sunny the Shark, by Remy Lai, (Aug. 2022, Henry Holt & Co), $13.99, ISBN: 9781250785459

Ages 6-9

Sunny is an oceanic whitetip shark on the hunt for some food, but ends up the protector for a group of pilot fish who promise to keep her clean in exchange for food crumbs. Sunny isn’t sure she’s thrilled about having a group of chatty fish swimming around her, but she tries to be good-natured about it. One day, what she thinks is a yummy squid tentacle turns out to be a plastic ring, which wraps itself around one of her fins and impacts her movement. Since she’s a growing shark, that ring is going to get tighter and more uncomfortable as she gets bigger – and it’s already causing a problem for her when trying to eat. She’s got to find a way to break free of the ring, especially before the winter sets in. Will the oceanographers who tagged her be able to help? Inspired by a 2019 news story, back matter talks about the creative adjustments made to the original story while still bringing home the impact of pollution on our oceans and ocean life. Back matter also includes shark facts and ways kids can help keep plastic use down.

Each of these stories is such a strong statement on how humans are failing as stewards of the planet, yet filled with hope and awareness of how we can also be the change that puts things back in balance. Remy Lai creates characters that have much in common with readers, to foster a relationship between kids and the planet, and them empowers them with simple, powerful ways to bring about change. The Surviving the Wild series is a must for your graphic novel collections.

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Armchair Traveling? Take Australian Baby Animals with you!

Australian Baby Animals, by Frané Lessac, (Aug. 2021, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536215274

Ages 2-5

Animal lovers are going to flip for this adorable book full of Australian baby animals and their parents. Fun facts run throughout the book, grouping animals together by their baby names (kangaroo, wombat, possum, koala, and Tasmanian devil babies are all called “joeys”‘) and how they interact with their parents. A sea dragon dad carries fry eggs (baby sea dragons!) on their tails until they hatch and drift away; echidna puggles (one of the cutest baby animal names ever) don’t have any spines, and flying fox pups get all the cuddles when  mom wraps her wings around them like a blanket. Bold fonts, fluid text that moves around the artwork, and colorful gouache artwork will delight readers. Spare text is informational and fits in well for an animal storytime.

Pair this with Frané Lessac’s 2018 abcedary, A is for Australian Mammals, for a unit on Australia, and check out this virtual field trip to the Australia Zoo, courtesy of Teach or Travel on TeachersPayTeachers.com.

Posted in picture books

G’day, mate! This baby kangaroo’s mom has a Bobby-Dazzler of a Pouch!

A Bobby-Dazzler of a Pouch!, by Janet Halfmann/Illustrated by Abira Das, (May 2020, Pen It! Publications), $13.99, ISBN: 978-1951263126

Ages 4-7

A little gray kangaroo wants to wander off on his own, but can he find his way back to Mum’s pouch? He can if he and his friends decorate it so her pouch stands out – a real bobby-dazzler! Award-winning author Janet Halfmann‘s newest book is an amusing little story of a kangaroo and his mom, and a bunch of Austalian animal friends that give Mama Kangaroo a bedazzling. The phrase “bobby dazzler” is British slang for somethin outstanding, striking, or showy, and boy, does her pouch get the showy treatment! A lorikeet and an emu contribute some feathers; a sugar glider shares some blossoms, even an echidna contributes some spikes – yikes! Little Joey has a lot of friends, but he finds a way to include everyone’s contribution. It’s a good thing, too: the easy-to-spot pouch does the trick when he has to dash for Mama when a dingo makes an appearance!

The artwork is cartoony and cute, with smiley animals and a bright Australian landscape. A little note about Australian kangaroos accompanies fun kangaroo facts, and lists of Australian words, animals, and plants. A cute read-aloud for animal fans, especially fans of those ‘roos! Have some Aboriginal-inspired coloring sheets available for storytime.

Janet Halfmann is a multi-award-winning children’s author who strives to make her books come alive for young readers and listeners. Many of her picture books are about animals and nature. She also writes picture book biographies about little-known people of achievement. Janet has written more than forty books for children. Visit Janet at: janethalfmannauthor.com
Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

The Great TBR Read-Down Continues: Squint and Pie in the Sky

My middle grade TBR read-down continues with two more great books, both realistic fiction: Squint, by Chad Morris and Shelly Brown, the duo that gave us Mustaches for Maddie; and Pie in the Sky, by Remy Lai. Let’s dive in!

 

Squint, by Chad Morris & Shelly Brown, (Oct. 2018, Shadow Mountain Publishers), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1629724850

Ages 9-13

Flint is a middle schooler who loves to draw and loves superheroes. He’s creating a comic starring his kinda sorta superhero alter ego, Squint, who fights the villains who used to be his buddies, with the help of his rock dog. Flint’s been nicknamed Squint by his former best friend, because he has keratoconus, an eye disease that could leave him blind. Raised by his grandparents, Squint copes with his frustration through his comic, but when he meets McKell – a Filipina with a terminally ill brother who puts up YouTube challenges, daring others to live the life that he can’t – he may just have made a real friend again, after all.

Squint is a beautifully written book of grief, loss, and coping. It’s as much McKell’s story as it is Flint’s, and Chad Morris and Shelly Brown have created another sensitive, compelling story about kids coping with illness, and about the adults who are there to shepherd these kids through the heavy stuff. Flint’s grandparents have had to raise their grandson because their daughter couldn’t; they’ve given Flint the best they could with what they’ve had, and they’ve been the ones to see him through the multiple doctor appointments, and, now, surgery. McKell’s parents are working through grief and loss, and sometimes, that takes a toll on their daughter. Flint and McKell find in each other someone who may not understand, but who gets it, if that makes sense. They push each other to be their best, and when they combine their talents – Flint, with his art, and McKell, with her rhyming and songwriting – they shine.

Squint is a great addition to your middle grade fiction collections. It’s got realistic characters with strong backstories, and deals with real world issues like abandonment, grief, loss, illness, and navigating the aggravations of middle school.

 

Pie in the Sky, by Remy Lai, (May 2019, Henry Holt & Co), $21.99, ISBN: 978-1-250-31410-9

Ages 8-12

Twelve-year-old Jingwen, his younger brother, Yanghao, and his mother leave China for Australia, but this wasn’t the original plan. They were supposed to move to Australia with Jingwen’s and Yanghao’s father, so he could open his dream bakery, Pie in the Sky. But Jingwen’s father died in a car accident almost two years ago, and Jingwen is wracked with guilt over events leading up to his father’s death. When they arrive in Australia, he feels like everyone around him is speaking Martian, but that he’s the alien – especially with little Yanghao seems to fit right in, quickly learning English and making friends. To deal with his grief and his frustration with his new life in Australia, Jingwen decides he’s going to make all the cakes he and his father talked about making for Pie in the Sky. Yanghao is only too happy to have cake every night, and Jingwen sets to work while his mother works. After all, cake makes everything better, right?

I LOVED Pie in the Sky. It’s a graphic novel within a novel, with 2-color illustrations on almost every page, that keep the action moving and keep readers invested in the story. When Jingwen tells readers he feels like an alien, we see that he’s an alien! He’s drawn as an alien for every time someone can’t understand him; on the occasions where he successfully speaks a word or two of English, a fourth eye will disappear, or something else will make him slightly more human. But all around him, people speaking English – including his brother and mother – may as well be an alien language, something we see as Remy Lai brilliantly illustrates a single word here and there, surrounded by alien glyphs in speech bubbles. Remy Lai creates a moving story about a family working through grief and loss, but each seem to be in isolation, when they need to come together to move on. Jingwen’s fear and frustration at being in a new country, speaking an unfamiliar language, comes across through prose and illustration, making him even more likable and empathetic. Jingwen and Yanghao have an realistic sibling relationship, with ups and downs, general silliness, and the love the always manages to shine through. Kids will love how they call each other – and anyone who annoys them, really – a “booger”.  Pie in the Sky works as a humorous and touching look at a family working their way through a tragedy. The tasty recipe at the end encourages families to bake together – because cake really does make everything better.

Pie in the Sky has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Concept Books for little learners

Hello Lilac Good Morning, Yellow: Colors and First Words, by Judith Drews, (Oct. 2018, Prestel), $14.95, ISBN: 9783791373515

Ages 3-6

This cute book features eleven colors; one per each spread. There’s a warm greeting on one side, and objects showcasing the color on the other: “Good morning, Yellow! You glow so warm and bright”, with hand-drawn pictures of a lion, a construction helmet, lemon, and crown. It’s a lovely way to introduce colors; letting kids greet them and name a property of the color that makes them enjoyable: “Ahoy, Blue! I want to splash about in you”; “Hi, White! Where is your color?” Some object choices may leave readers scratching their heads; a syringe is included for White, and blood for Red; a screw falls under Black, which I tend to associate with Silver. I’m also not sure on how words like “trousers”, “domino tile”, and “fly agaric mushroom” are considered first words.

Overall, it’s a cute enough concept book for an additional add to collections, but there are other books that are better.

 

A is for Australian Mammals, by Frané Lessac, (Aug. 2018, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763694845

Ages 7-9

This book combines an abcedary for early readers with a geographic tour of Australia. There are 38 animals to be found here: tried and true favorites like the kangaroo, platypus, and koala are here, but there are other fantastic animals to be discovered, including the flying fox (it’s actually a huge bat); the red crab and robber crab (keep an eye on your valuables), a crayfish called the yabby, and the x-shaped crusader bug.  Loaded with facts about these Australian creatures, and featuring colorful gouache illustration, this one is a hit. Pull out some cool facts to share during a science storytime or Discovery Club program. Here’s one that will go over big with the kids in my library: “In a Tasmanian devil’s poop, a wildlife biologist discovered: the head of a tiger snake, an owl’s foot, a sock, aluminum foil, half a pencil, and the knee of a pair of jeans”. Also, a koala’s fingerprints are almost identical to human’s fingerprints. Back matter includes maps of animal distribution, highlighting areas where each animal can be found on the continent. There are free, downloadable teacher’s notes available through author Frané Lessac’s website. The Educate Empower blog has some great ways to use this book across subjects, too.

This is a fun add to your natural history books, and it doubles as a concept book for learning readers who can benefit from learning about exciting new animals and their names.

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade

You’ll want a Bob of your own!

Bob, by Wendy Mass & Rebecca Stead/Illustrations by Nicholas Gannon, (May 2018, Feiwel & Friends), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250166623

Recommended for readers 7-11

Livy is heading to Australia with her mother and new baby sister, BethAnn, to spend time with her grandmother. The last time she was in Australia was five years ago, so she’s a bit anxious about being back; she’s also anxious because her mother is going away for a few days to spend time with friends once she gets there. Once Livy arrives, she’s even more anxious when she doesn’t really remember much about Australia – and she certainly doesn’t remember Bob, the greenish, kinda zombie-looking thing she finds in the closet once she gets there. Bob remembers Livy, though; he’s been waiting for five years for her to come back. The two re-explore their friendship and try to remember how to get Bob back home in this celebration of friendship, the environment, and the magic of childhood.

When two award-winning authors like Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead collaborate on a book, you just know it’s going to be something amazing, and Bob is. Told in alternating first-person chapters, we get each characters’ point-of-view as the story progresses, which also fills in valuable backstory. Livy is a relatable character, dealing with anxiety: there’s a new baby in the family, she’s got separation anxiety about her mom, and her grandmother and neighbors are living through a five-year drought that’s killing their town and their livelihoods. Bob is sweet and funny, loyal to a fault, and gives his spark to Livy; to give her hope, to rekindle their friendship, to bring back the “old Livy”. I can’t get into too much without giving spoilers, and you don’t want that with this book. So let me just say that Bob is wonderful middle-grade storytelling that embraces imagination and joy. I can’t wait to see an illustrated version (my ARC didn’t have any). (Psst… would also make a good Earth Day reading assignment for next year.)

There’s been a lot of buzz about Bob lately: SLJ and Publisher’s Weekly gave it starred reviews, and you can read author interviews at The Horn Book and Publisher’s Weekly. You can download an excerpt see artwork that will melt your heart, and learn how to start a Bob book club at the Bob and Livy website.

Posted in Adventure, Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade

The Nocturnals Return in The Fallen Star

The Nocturnals (Book 3): The Fallen Star, by Tracey Hecht/Illustrated by Kate Liebman, (May 2017, Fabled Films Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781944020057

Recommended for readers 8-12

The lovable group of Nocturnal sleuths is back in their third adventure, this time with high stakes: the forest’s pomelos have been poisoned, and the flowers that cure the sickness are disappearing! As the group watches a star fall one evening, they meet a mysterious aye-aye, Iris, who declares that the forest is being invaded and monsters from space have poisoned the pomelos! Dawn, ever the thoughtful and skeptical fox, is suspicious, and seeks a more down-to-earth reason, but things become more tense when they discover that animals in the forest are getting sick, including poor Tobin, who’ve all eaten pomelos. The blue flowers that help cure the sickness are disappearing, and a strange blue glow shows up right before the flowers start disappearing. This sounds like a job for the Nocturnals!

This third book in the animal friends series takes no prisoners: things are tense, with the friends racing against time to help their sick friends and find out the truth behind the poisoned fruit and disappearing cure. Bismark is in full narcissist with a heart of gold mode, proclaiming he speaks alien (and then slipping and admitting it was gibberish) and wooing Dawn every chance he gets. Dawn is still the most focused and perceptive member of the group, and sweet, gentle Tobin is the source of possibly the greatest fart joke in the history of children’s literature, giving readers much-needed comic relief throughout the white knuckle moments The Fallen Star is filled with.

We also meet some more animals in this book; most notably, an Aye-aye named Iris, and the woylies, a group of small marsupials who pitch in to help the Nocturnals. You can find more information about Aye-ayes at Zooborns.com, and Whiteman Park, a conservation center in Australia, has a downloadable fact sheet available on the endangered woylie.

This Aye-aye has its eyes on you! (source: Zooborns.com)
Woylie: Now say it with an Australian accent! (Source: whitemanpart.com.au)

Teamwork, friendship, and determination sees the friends through this latest adventure, and there’s a lovely message about tolerance that is especially important reading.

Things have started taking off for Nocturnals since the first book published last year!  The Nocturnals World website offers Boredom Busters, face painting tips, and a wealth of educational resources for classrooms and libraries, and the New York Public Library, in conjunction with Fabled Films, launched a read-aloud writing program in New York City public schools.

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Blog Tour Promo: SUPERSTITION

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SuperstitionSuperstition_EBOOK
by Lucy Fenton
Release Date: 08/03/15

Summary from Goodreads:
What happens when your childhood nightmares of being bitten by strange creatures in a dark wood aren’t just dreams?

Sixteen-year-old Arden St. John’s life takes a strange turn when she finds an unusual animal injured near her new house on the south east coast of Australia. When she takes it to the local vet, a terrible truth is inadvertently exposed to her.

She discovers a secret underworld, where witches are commonplace and trolls masquerade as queen bees, terrorising the other students with impunity. A world where vampires traffic in the lives of children, draining their bodies once they reach maturity. Where adults auction their own children to extend their lives.

Arden finds out she’s one of those kids, her life traded by the mother she never knew. Now she’s caught up in this ancient and corrupt economy operating just below the surface of modern society. She’s a hot commodity, and it’s only a matter of time before the vampire who bought her comes to claim his prize.

But Arden’s not going down without a fight.

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Buy Links: Amazon

EXCERPT

The further into the bush she went, the more anxious Arden felt. If something happened to me, how long would it be before Dad noticed? I could be dead for days before someone found me, Arden thought, unhappily. The compulsion to turn around and seek out others grew stronger and her footsteps slowed.

And then through the trees, she saw something. Curiosity overcoming her disquiet, at first she thought it was a rocky outcrop and moved towards it, trying to see what was veiled by the leaves of the trees. The flash of sunlight whitened out her vision as she stepped out of the shade into the clearing. Blinded, she waited for her eyes to adjust. Squinting, the blurred shapes gradually resolved into the ruins of a stone building. The roof was gone and the walls stuck up like the blunt teeth of a fallen giant. Arden walked around what had once been a large structure that had been left to crumble back into the earth. It was built on a headland, the view of the ocean clear on the far side. A lone gum tree clung to the edge of the cliff, roots visible where the earth had crumbled away. Dead, its bare branches stood out starkly white against the dark clouds forming over the ocean. There was a storm coming in, but it was still a way out to sea. Catching sight of a marking on the stone, she moved towards it to examine it more closely. It was weathered almost flat, but tracing the rough gritty surface with her finger, she made out the distinctive shape of a convict arrow.

Amazed, she walked in through a doorway, trying to work out what type of building it had been. There had been a large central room with many tiny rooms opening from it. They were small, storerooms perhaps? Exploring deeper into the ruins, there was a room that had been more protected at the rear and the purpose became apparent. The stubbed remains of bars were still embedded in the stone in one section and in the corner of the room were cross hatched markings on the walls, counting off the days. She was standing in a convict gaol.

Beautiful female Surfer looking for the waves

About the Author
lucy fentonL. C. Fenton lives in Sydney, Australia with her husband and two children. In addition to her cake- making business, she works as a freelance copywriter and pens occasional articles for various online magazines.
Not being one of those people who had a burning desire to be anything in particular, L. C. worked her way alphabetically backwards through the available degrees at Sydney University. Surprisingly, given the amount of fun she had at school, L.C. finally managed to graduate with a completely unemployable degree in Philosophy. A Law degree soon followed, however, simply to make it possible for some organization to hire her.

After ten soul-destroying years wandering aimlessly in the corporate wilderness, L. C. threw it all in and reassessed. Deciding to bring the “one day I will write a book” idea to the present, she started and hasn’t stopped. As a huge fan of the romance genre, she writes the kinds of books that she enjoys to read.

In her spare time, L. C. Fenton…actually she has no spare time. She sleeps or reads copious amounts of romance novels instead of sleeping.

Author Links:

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