Posted in Fiction, Humor, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Jamie Sumner’s Roll With It gives life with CP a face and a story

Roll With It, by Jamie Sumner, (Oct. 2019, Atheneum), $17.99, ISBN: 9781534442559

Ages 10-14

Twelve-year-old Ellie loves to bake. She writes letters to famous chefs and cookbook authors, asking questions to make her own art better. She’s frustrated by her overprotective mom, having to go to the bathroom at school with the help of an aide, and her father, who exists in theory, not so much in practice. Ellie also has cerebral palsy, or CP, which keeps her wheelchair-bound, but never out of the game. After her grandfather, who has dementia, drives his car into a local supermarket, Ellie’s mom packs up and heads to Eufala, Oklahoma, to live with and help out. Ellie’s grandmother is thrilled to have her family for a visit, but makes it clear that she’s not putting her husband into a home. Ellie starts school and a new life in Oklahoma, befriending Coralee and Bert; schoolmates who have their own eccentric flairs, and taking on a school that isn’t ready for Ellie.

Inspired by her son, Roll With It is author Jamie Sumner’s first novel, and with it, she has given us a main character who is upbeat, smart, funny, and darned independent. She’s a tween on the verge of teenhood, coping with adolescent feelings and frustrations on top of family worries, like her grandfather’s increasing dementia, concern about her grandmother, and a father that she’s disappointed in and hurt by. On top of that, she has the struggles that come with being in a school ill-equipped to work with her needs, and being the new kid in the middle of a school year. How does she cope? She lets you know what’s going on! Her voice is strong and clear, in her fantastic tweenage snark and honesty. Her friends Coralee and Bert have fully-realized backstories, giving them life beyond being Ellie’s friends in the background. Ellie’s grandparents and mother emerge as realistic, three-dimensional characters with big concerns of their own: family health, an absent spouse, bills, bills, bills.

A story about fitting in and standing out, following a dream and making your own way, Ellie is a character you want to cheer for and your kids will want to hang out with. Hand this to any of your realistic fiction readers, especially the kids that love Aven’s adventures in Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling or Sharon Draper’s Out of My Mind; for your baking aficionados, give to readers who loved Jessie Janowitz’s The Doughnut Fix/The Doughnut King, and Anna Meriano’s Love Sugar Magic books. Talk this up to your teacher visitors, and suggest they take a look at it (I’m always ready to push good Summer Reading list ideas).

Roll With It has starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly. Check out Jamie Sumner’s author webpage, where you can sign up to receive her newsletter and download a free discussion guide.

 

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 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 Graphic Novels, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

February Graphic Novels bring big feelings

PTSD, by Guillaume Singelin, (Feb. 2019, First Second), $24.99, ISBN: 9781626723184

Ages 16+

A veteran home from an unpopular war, Jun is an outsider whose fate is similar to many of our own vets in the here and now. She’s mentally and physically broken, finding relief in the drugs she’s addicted to. When she connects with a single mom running a food booth, and a fellow vet and his dog, Red, Jun begins to heal and works toward helping her fellow vets heal.

Set in a fictional, Hong Kong-inspired city, PTSD chooses a gritty, urban futuristic landscape to tell the story of a veteran who went off to fight a war, and came home to indifference. Jun gives us a chance to glimpse into a vet’s psyche: beaten down, haunted by her memories, and physically broken, she’s been left behind by the people she thought she went off to defend. She’s angry, she’s in pain, and the only thing that seems to take the edge off is drugs. Basic human kindness angers her – she initially rebuffs the woman who runs a food stand, because she’s so unused to humane gestures. Readers will see our vets reflected in Jun and her fellow homeless vets.

The story is strong, although I struggled with the artwork. The manga-inspired artwork is dark and often muddy. It’s atmospheric, but often left me struggling to figure out what was going on and where. Manga fans will snap this up, and booktalk this with books like Elizabeth Partridge’s National Book Award nominee, Boots on the Ground. This is a young adult and up-level graphic novel with language and content that may be too rough for middle grade readers.

Bloom, by Kevin Panetta/Illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau, (Feb. 2019, First Second), $24.99, ISBN: 9781250196910
Ages 13+

This YA/New Adult graphic novel is a gentle love story. High school is over, and Ari can’t wait to move out of his hometown. He and his bandmates are planning on a big move to the city, where they can get more gigs and make their names – now, all Ari needs to do, is convince his dad to let him quit his job at the family bakery. At the same time, Hector comes to town to wrap up his deceased grandmother’s affairs and sell her house. He loves to bake as much as Ari is sick of it, and he ends up being the perfect replacement for the struggling bakery: even Ari’s dad loves Hector! But as Ari works side by side with Hector, getting him up to speed on the bakery, the two fall in love… until disaster hits, in more ways than one. Can Ari’s family recover when their business and home burns to the ground, and can Hector and Ari ever work out their relationship?

Created with soft blue and white artwork, Bloom is a sweet story of first love, identity, and independence. Ari can come off as pretty whiny, but his friends are even worse. Hector is the strong, silent type that pulls Ari out of himself and helps him discover who he is – and that he doesn’t need his friends in order to give him an identity. Bloom also explores consequences: Ari has to make big choices in this book, and not every choice is going to be the best one for him. It’s part of growing up, and growing up can be painful. It’s how you work through it that matters. Bloom is a good add to your YA/New Adult graphic novel collections and a love story that will give readers the warm fuzzies.
Posted in Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Maker Comics: DIY your life!

First Second has a new line of nonfiction graphic novels debuting in February: Maker Comics is a perfect DIY companion to their Science Comics series, adding a more hands-on component to the science behind everyday things. The first two titles to hit shelves are Bake Like a Pro! and Fix a Car! With the tag line, “Who Can? You Can!”, these books are ready to take readers step-by-step into the world of making and hands-on STEAM.

Maker Comics: Bake Like a Pro!, by Falynn Koch, (Feb. 2019, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250150066

Ages 10-14

Written and illustrated by Science Comics alum Falynn Koch, Bake Like a Pro! follows a young wizard in training, Sage, as she’s apprenticed to baking master mage Korian. Sage is not thrilled with this turn of events, because she thinks baking is boring. Where’s the pyromancy? Where’s the transfiguration? But what Sage doesn’t realize yet is that baking is a magic and science all its own: it’s a delicious form of alchemy! Korian and a group of enchanted ingredients teach Sage all about the science behind baking: how to combine different proteins, fats, and liquids to craft incredible pies, cookies, breads, cookies, dough, and more.

At once a science lesson, a fantasy tale, and a recipe book for new bakers, Bake Like a Pro! is perfect for middle schoolers and upper elementary readers who are ready to take on some next-level making. There are step-by-step explanations of how ingredients come together – and what happens when ingredients go wrong (always sift the flour!), plus an illustrated walk-through for 8 different recipes, including chocolate chip cookies, cheesy biscuits, pizza dough, and sponge cake with buttercream frosting. At the end of the story, Sage proudly serves up her delicious treats to her fellow novice mages, proudly proclaiming, “Every step in baking is magic!”

Like Science Comics, there’s a quick reference at the end that puts all the major info in one place. Here, we get some helpful reminders on the six baking methods, effects of ingredients and conversion tables, bread techniques, and continued reading (including one of my favorites, I’m Just Here for the Food, by Alton Brown).

Maker Comics: Fix a Car!, by Chris Schweizer, (Feb. 2019, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250150042

Ages 10-14

Next up is Fix a Car! by Crogan’s Adventures and The Creeps author and illustrator Chris Schweizer. A group of tweens and teens meet up when they join Car Club, overseen by auto whiz Ms. Gritt. Lena, Mason, and Abner are teens with their own wheels, and twin siblings Rocky and Esther are seventh graders who  love cards and want to learn all they need to know so they can be ready when they are old enough to drive. They’re different kids with different lives and circumstances, but the one thing they have in common is a love for automobiles, and Ms. Gritt is happy to show them all they need to know.

The story smoothly moves between each character’s life outside of car club, building a relationship between characters and readers and giving kids background that they can relate to, from a stressed out teen determined to excel in all the things, to the kids working through grief over a parent. Car Club gives them all a landing place, a place to belong, and place to come together and get their hands dirty.

Fix a Car! is incredible in its detail: Ms. Gritt teaches her group how to check the oil and how often to check it; how to check the pressure in their tires, and how to change a tire; how to investigate a squeaky noise. Full-color diagrams introduce readers to the complex systems and inner workings of autos, and safety is paramount, with Ms. Gritt providing smart advice on how to be safe while changing a tire including how to locate a spare tire in your car and the difference between spare tires and donuts (not of the Dunkin’ variety). There are instructions on 10 different parts of auto care, including creating a portable tool kit, changing the oil, replacing a drive belt or pulley, and washing and detailing a car (bonus: adding a racing stripe). There’s a wealth of resources at the end of the book, including an author’s note on how Chris Schweizer learned to take care of his car and some further reading.

Because of the hands-on subject matter, I’d definitely include Maker Comics in my middle school collections, but the reading level works for middle grade as well. With adult supervision, I’m all for teaching younger kids to bake and learn their way around a car, so I’d consider it for either collection in a public library – many of the middle schoolers in my library go between Juvenile and YA collections – and a solid choice for middle school libraries. Create a solid graphic novel nonfiction section, and the kids will love you for it.

Posted in Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Don’t read on an empty stomach: NatGeo Kids Food Fight

Food Fight! A Mouthwatering History of WHO Ate WHAT and WHY Through the Ages, by Tanya Steel, (Sept. 2018, National Geographic Kids), $19.99, ISBN: 9781426331626

Ages 10-14

Did you know that the Visigoths demanded 3,000 pounds of pepper as a gift when they conquered the Western Roman Empire in the 5th Century AD? Or that some medieval bakers whitened their flour with ground bones or chalk? Those are just a few of the wild food facts readers will pick up when they pick up Food Fight! by former Bon Appétit and Food & Wine editor Tanya Steel. Food Fight! is a history of food, combined with some fantastic (and frightful) facts, and recipes. The book covers food fads and eating habits from 14 different moments in history, from the prehistoric era through the 1960s, and there’s a special chapter imagining a future life (and food) on Mars! There are fun Popcorn Quizzes (you can’t have a plain pop quiz in a book about food) throughout, and amazing and hilarious photos, plus quotes from kid chefs who’ve made and enjoyed the 30 recipes you’ll find here. The book kicks off with safety tips, and a food timeline, recipe index, bibliography, and further reading and resources rounds everything out.

Kids in my library are big nonfiction fans, and Food Fight! offers history, fun, and kid-friendly recipes all in one volume. It’s a fun add to collections, and a good gift for budding chefs and food historians. (Psst… introduce older tweens and teens to Alton Brown’s excellent Food Network show, Good Eats, for more food history and cooking tips.) It’s a big plus that author Tanya Steel is a major name in the food journalism, so she knows how to write about food and food history, and she makes it accessible to younger readers. Plus, she originated the White House’s Healthy Lunchtime Challenge & Kids’ State Dinner, hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama, which brought recipes created by young chefs from each state to the White House. Kids are invited to make and upload photos of their Food Fight dishes – check out the Instagram tag #natgeofoodfight, and check out the Food Fight webpage for more info.

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

Fiction plus food is a winning reader combo!

Who doesn’t love curling up in your favorite reading spot with a snack and a book? These middle grade reads feature yummy treats as part of their stories – perfect for reading groups and snack suggestions (minus the flying pig cookies: read on)!

Love Sugar Magic, by Anna Meriano/Illustrated by Mirelle Ortega, (Nov. 2017, Walden Pond Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062498465

Recommended for readers 8-12

Leonora Logroño’s is an almost 12-year-old whose family owns Love Sugar Magic, the local bakery that makes the most delicious cookies and cakes. She’s the youngest among her five sisters, and she just knows the family is keeping something secret from her. With a little snooping and gentle, sisterly nudging, Leo learns the truth: her family are brujas – witches – who infuse their baked goods with rich magic. Leo discovers she has some magic ability already – it usually manifests in early adolescence – and decides to put it to the test by helping Caroline, her best friend, with a crush on at school, but things go upside down pretty quickly… Leo may need to draw on her sisters to make things right!

I adore this story! It’s got humor, great characters with a rich Mexican heritage, and they’re strong, smart young women. Leo is headstrong, sure – what tween isn’t? – and reacts to feeling left in the dark about family business by taking matters in to her own hands. It’s one thing, after all, to enchant flying pig cookies, but it’s entirely something else to play with someone’s free will. But the magical mix-ups are largely hilarious and mostly harmless. Readers can relate to Leo’s frustrations about being considered “too young” for the secret stuff, and author Anna Meriano makes Love Sugar Magic into a nicely handled cautionary tale about rushing into things without taking the time to think. I’m thrilled that this is the first book of a new series – I want to spend more time with the Logroño family. Especially that feline snitch, Mr. Gato. There are some tasty-looking recipes at the end of the story – you’re on your own for the magic – and the book is sprinkled with Spanish and English phrases that really bring readers into its world.

Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble has starred reviews from School Library Journal, Kirkus, and Shelf Awareness.

 

The Doughnut Fix, by Jessie Janowitz, (Apr. 2018, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $16.99, ISBN: 9781492655411

Recommended 8-12

Eleven year-old Tristan is a New York City kid who’s pretty happy with life as it is until his parents announe that they’re moving upstate. Petersville, New York, to be exact. It ain’t Westchester, this is up in the mountains. There’s one road, no restaurants, and a general store that used to sell legendary doughnuts, as Tristan discovers one morning, as he rides around town trying to find something to do. But Millie, the general store proprieter, stopped making the donuts, and if Tristan – a baking enthusiast who’s sold on the legend of these doughnuts – wants the secret recipe, he has to provide Millie with proof that he’s going to use it wisely. He needs a business plan. Luckily for him, Petersville does have a public library (whoo hoo!), and with the help of his new friend, Josh, Tristan starts pulling it all together to bring the chocolate cream doughnuts back to Petersville.

The Doughnut Fix surprised me with its depth and its readability. It’s very readable, very engaging, and provides smart tips on starting one’s own business for kids – throughout the story, Tristan refers to his library copy of Starting Your Own Business for Dummies, and drills things down into kid-digestible bits. It’s empowering! Teachers can challenge kids to read this book and create their own summer job business plans, or librarians (and caregivers) can produce a similar challenge as a summer reading program. There are recipes and a recap of important information for starting a business at the end of the book. The story emphasizes themes of friendship, collaboration, planning, and budgeting, offering solid life lessons for middle graders.

Both books are great reading group selections that lend so much to deeper exploration, from Mexican culture and its celebration of ancestry, to life in a small town versus life in a city. Food is the easy in to discussing these books, but there are great ideas waiting to be touched on in each. These are great adds to your shelves or your gift list.

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

Mush! A baker and a sled dog racer work together in Cookie Cutters & Sled Runners

Cookie Cutters and Sled Runners, by Natalie Rompella, (Nov. 2017, Sky Pony Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781510717718

Recommended for readers 9-13

Ana and Lily are best friends, getting ready to start middle school together. They’re also burgeoning chefs, creating their own recipes with the goal of writing and selling their own cookbook one day. Things go awry when Ana and Lily discover that they’re not in one single class together, though; you see, Lily is the only person who understands Ana. The only person Ana wants as a friend. Lily understands Ana’s need to wash her hands and keep her cooking surfaces and food flawlessly clean; she knows that Ana can’t handle red food. She is Ana’s shield against the world. Ana ends up with the meanest teacher in sixth grade, too: Mr. Creed has a list of rules a mile long (“never use contractions in my class”) and decides that the big Exploration Project – the project Ana and Lily planned working on together – will be done in partnership with another person from class. Ana’s assigned Dasher, the new girl from Alaska, who dresses weird and wants to do a project on her favorite sport and hobby: sled dog racing!

I adore this book! I love the characters, and I love that in Ana, we get a positive portrayal of a character struggling with OCD. Cookie Cutters & Sled Runners gives us a central character that lives with a disorder, and incorporates that challenge into her daily living. Yes, we see Ana washing her hands and spraying down her surfaces; we read her internal struggle when she has to choose between cleaning and a critical moment in the story, but we also see her meeting with a therapist, being supported by her parents and friends, and working through her challenge through daily exercises and taking on new, exciting challenges. She’s not cured by the end of the story, but that’s not the point of the story: she’s growing, and she makes major gains here. Dasher is great fun to read, and I loved learning a little bit more about snow dog racing. Finally, I appreciated a middle grade novel that turns the “new friends” dilemma on its head by having the “rival friends” befriend one another and form a supportive group together.

A positive, upbeat story that introduces readers to characters with obsessive-compulsive behaviors and provides some insight on the challenges of daily life for those characters. have Wesley King’s OCDaniel on hand for readers who want to read and learn more.

Posted in Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Book Review: Mr. Cookie Baker, by Monica Wellington (Dutton, 2006)

cookie bakerRecommended for ages 2-4

Every day, Mr. Baker makes cookies for his crowded store. When the day is done, he gets to have one, himself.

The story takes the reader through Mr. Baker’s day, most of which is devoted to baking cookies. He counts and measures his ingredients, mixes the dough, rolls out the dough and cuts shapes with cookie cutters, bakes the cookies, takes them out and decorates them, and greets his customers. When the customers go home and all of the cookies are gone, his day ends and he enjoys a cookie. It’s a simple story that features gouache and colored pencil artwork. The flat, bright colors and clean lines, along with the fun shapes of the cookies framing the text page of each spread, adds interest to the page. Ms. Wellington’s pages are busy – there are cooking utensils and ingredients, children, sprinkles, and cookies on every page, giving the eye many places to look. The font changes color to contrast with its backgrounds – white for darker backgrounds, brown and red for lighter backgrounds.  There are four recipes at the end of the book for any parents and/or guardians interested in baking.

This book would be part of a fun cooking and baking read-aloud. With permission, parents and guardians could receive copies of the four recipes included in the back of the book. A fun storytime craft would allow children to “make” their own cookies by using precut cookie shapes and “sprinkles” (stickers).

The author’s website offers some printable activities and recipes.