Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Never Show a T-Rex a Book! Or else…

Never Show a T-Rex a Book!, by Rashmi Sirdeshpande/Illustrated by Diane Ewen, (Jan. 2021, Kane Miller), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1-68464159-8

Ages 3-7

In this adorable nod to cumulative favorites like Laura Numeroff’s If You Give a… series, Never Show a T-Rex a Book! warns readers against letting their T-Rexes get hold of a book… because then they’ll want more, naturally! A little girl starts the story off, reading to her dinosaur toys, when her imagination takes her on a thrill ride: her T-Rex becomes real, and demands a trip to the library – and an all-night reading marathon that will result in a VERY clever dinosaur. Which could lead to the first dinosaur in government, the education of other dinosaurs, and a WORLD DINOSAUR TAKEOVER. Imagine? Giggle-worthy, with illustrations that show the power of books exploding all over the spreads, Never Show a T-Rex a Book! is all about imagination and embracing the fun of reading. We get frightened librarians and towering T-Rexes holding stacks of books (pshaw, I say; like we’ve never seen dinosaurs in the library before); dinos holding court in classrooms and in Parliament, and demanding luxuries like larger seats in the movie theatre! Get your dinosaur toys out and let them read along with you as you take your Kiddos on this cartoonish, wild, book-loving adventure.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me…

Pirate Nell’s Tale to Tell: A Storybook Adventure, by Helen Docherty & Thomas Docherty, (Sept. 2020, Sourcebooks), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1492698678

Ages 4-7

This rhyming tale of literacy on the high seas stars an all-canine cast. Nell, a younger pup, is so excited to join a pirate crew, but Captain Gnash scoffs at her bookishness and saves the ickiest tasks for her to do. A treasure map in a bottle shows up one night, but Captain Gnash manages to get himself and his crew into big trouble until Nell, and her Pirate’s Almanac, save the day! They finally make it to the island and discover the best treasure of all. Smart and light, this upbeat tale of books and how handy a little extra knowledge can be is great for library visits. Helen Docherty and Thomas Docherty always manage to create the best stories about book lovers: they also wrote The Snatchabook and The Storybook Knight; both wonderfully woven rhyming tales of books and how they make things better. The colorful acrylic artwork will attract all readers; who doesn’t love a rollicking pirate story with sea monsters and treasure? Endpapers show off a cross-section of a pirate ship before and after the plunder. See if kids can spot the differences! Pair with Ronan the Librarian for the ultimate class visit storytime. Visit Helen Docherty’s website for downloadable goodies including masks and coloring sheets!

 

Daniela and the Pirate Girls, by Susana Isern/Illustrated by Gómez, Translated by Laura Victoria Fielden, (Aug. 2020, NubeOcho), $16.95, ISBN: 978-84-17673-27-7

Ages 5-8

The second book to star Daniela the Pirate, Daniela and her crew spend a good part of this new adventure aboard their pirate ship, the Black Croc, tracking down a group of pirates called The Fearless Piranhas. They keep showing up to rescue sea folk just before the Black Croc arrives, and the crew is starting to get worried: what if they beat the Croc to the best treasure, too? Just as the Black Croc happens upon the Fearless Piranhas ship, they both get caught up in a dangerous storm: luckily, Daniela knows a friend who can help everyone out! The two crews finally meet and decide that teamwork is the best way to work! Upbeat and positive, this pirate story is all about sharing and teamwork, with the acknowledgement that sometimes, jealousy and competition can get in the way of how we perceive others. Gómez always uses bright, cheerful colors in her artwork; here, vibrant landscapes and pirates stand out against the light blue sea and sky, really giving the characters center stage. Originally published in Spanish, this English translation will appeal to pirate fans while teaching a lesson in kindness.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

The epic tale of Ronan the Librarian

Ronan the Librarian, by Tara Luebbe & Becky Cattie/Illustrated by Victoria Maderna, (Apr. 2020, Roaring Brook Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250189219

Ages 3-7

To truly enjoy this writeup, please click here to enjoy The Anvil of Crom from the Conan the Barbarian soundtrack, courtesy of Spotify and CimmercianRecords.com.

The mighty Ronan was a barbarian invader, raider, and trader. He led his people and pillaged the best jewelry, precious metals, weapons, you name it. If you wanted to trade for it, Ronan had it. But when one of Ronan’s raids turned up a chest  of books, he was baffled. Barbarians don’t read, right? What was he supposed to do with these things? No one else wanted them either! Until… well, one night he figured reading a sentence won’t hurt. Maybe a paragraph. A page? Every reader worth their salt knows what happens next: a true disregard of bedtime; Ronan becomes a Reader and seeks out books on all of his pillages from then on. And again, like any true book fan… his collection threatens to overwhelm him. After all, no one else wants the books: Barbarians don’t read! So Ronan builds a library, and decides to entice his fellow barbarians into reading. Like any bookworm knows, one of the best parts about loving books is sharing them with friends! This hilarious, wonderful story about barbarians and books is perfect storytime reading (I’ve got one coming up myself): it’s got adventure, barbarians, and books! Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie create a story that book lovers will relate to, and give a wink, nudge, come to the Book Side for those kids who don’t think they’re readers… yet.

Victoria Maderna’s artwork is cartoony fun, with so many little moments to love: the Viking ship toppling over with books (I feel seen); Ronan riding into battle, axe held high in one hand, book wide open in his other hand; Ronan curled up with a cup of tea amidst his towering pile of books (so precarious!), the swirling, dreamlike story of Odin coming to life as it leaps from a book Ronan reads out loud to his fellow barbarians, and – one of my favorite pieces in the whole story – the bulletin board Ronan puts up in his library, with notes like “Keep Out: This Goat” (sharp-eyed viewers will notice the goat snacking on some books, a few spreads earlier), “Closed During Raids”, and a cautionary “Swords Make Terrible Bookmarks”. Clearly, library signage hasn’t seen the need to evolve much.

I’m gushing with love for Ronan the Librarian because it’s just too much fun and it’s all about discovering the joy of books and reading. Insta-buy for your collections if you don’t already have it. Consider it an investment in your class visits for life. Make sure to visit the authors’ website, and find activities, guides, and more information about their books!

Posted in Conferences & Events

The Tri-State Book Buzz: Coffee, Breakfast, and Books

I attended the Tri-State Book Buzz this morning, where over 20 publishers invited librarians and educators for a morning of breakfast and kidlit, from board books to YA. There are some fantastic books to come! Let’s take a look at some of the big reveals first:

Graphic Novels

The big news here is that Random House is starting their own dedicated graphic novel imprint, Random House Graphic, headed up by Publishing Director Gina Gagliano, who is just a great person, who genuinely adores graphic novels, and wants kids to love them, too. RH Graphic is dedicated to putting a graphic novel on every readers’ shelf; meaning, they’re going to publish graphic novels for all ages and interests. The debut list looks good, with graphic novels for intermediate readers, middle graders, and teens all lined up and ready to go in the near year: Bug Boys by Laura Knetzger is about two bug friends, aimed at intermediate readers, and fans of Narwhal and Jelly; The Runaway Princess by Johan Troïanowski and Thom Pico and Karensac’s Aster and the Accidental Magic are geared for middle graders and star strong female characters, and Witchlight is a YA graphic novel by Jessi Zabarsky, about two women traveling and growing together. These are the first four books in 2020, with 8 more to come later in the year.

 

GRAPHIX WEEK! Scholastic has a week of graphic novels programming coming up in December (the 9th-13th) for their TeachGraphixWeek celebration. There’s going to be classroom activities, Twitter chats, and a live Facebook broadcast with Raina Telgemeier, Kazu Kibuishi, and more, which assures that my Corona Kids will be losing their minds. For now, there’s a link to sign up for more information; the sites from previous Graphix Week haven’t been updated for this year’s content just yet.

Speaking of Graphix, the big news is that Lauren Tarshis’ I Survived books are getting the Graphix treatment! The first two books release in February (I Survived the Titanic) and June (I Survived the Shark Attacks of 1916), and this will surely send the kids into a frenzy. I found out from Ms. Tarshis herself a couple of weeks ago, when one of my Corona Kids and I were wondering why this series hadn’t gotten the graphic novel treatment yet; we Tweeted at the author, who responded, lightning-fast, with a copy of the Titanic cover, causing my Corona Kid and I to dance with joy. (Side note: Tweet your authors! They are amazing people and the kids love to be acknowledged!)

Graphix is also taking on the Geronimo Stilton graphic novels, with the first one, The Sewer Rat Stink, coming in May and written by Origami Yoda writer (and HUGE Stilton fan) Tom Angleberger! (The Stilton graphic novels have been, up until now, published by Papercutz).

For the Shannon Hale/Raina Telgemeier readers, Graphix has a realistic fiction story, Nat Enough, by Maria Scrivan, coming in April. Nat is a sixth grader who feels like she isn’t cool enough for her best friend, and tries to change, but will figure out, along the way, that she’s just fine as is.

 

Macmillan (shout-out to First Second!) has some good graphic novels, too. I’m interested in Go With the Flow, a middle grade novel about body positivity, resistance, and feminism when a group of girls push back when their school invests more money in their (male) athletes’ comfort than in restocking menstrual products in their school. Breaking the menstrual taboo for middle grade is so important, especially when so many middle and high school bathrooms are sorely lacking in feminine hygiene product availability (don’t get me started on this). I’m definitely looking forward to this one. Romper has a good article and sneak peek for you.

Also coming from Macmillan/First Second: John Patrick Green’s InvestiGators (my son has nicked my BookExpo copy; if I can get it back, you’ll get a review from both of us), the first in a new series, coming in February.

 

Finally, Amulet, the children’s publishing imprint for Abrams, has a new Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tale! Major Impossible is the ninth book in the series and tells the story of John Wesley Powell, a one-armed geologist who explored the grand canyon.

Picture Books

There are TOO many picture books to shout out individually, so I’ll put up a couple of highlights. Let’s just say that end of 2019/beginning of 2020 is going to be a very good year.

Vanessa Brantley-Newton, whose Youngest Marcher and Mary Had a Little Glam are some of my recent favorites, is coming out with Just Like Me, “an ode to the girl with scrapes on her knees and flowers in her hair, and every girl in between”. Sounds like storytime magic happening to me!

Picture Book Biographies

Aretha Franklin is getting a picture book biography treatment from Katheryn Russell-Brown and illustrator Laura Freeman. Bloomsbury is publishing A Voice Named Aretha in January 2020. Mary Walker, who learned to read at the age of 116, is also getting a picture book biography; Random House Children’s Books is publishing The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read, by Lorrain Hubbard and illustrated by Oge Mora, in January; Disney/Hyperion has Ruth Objects: The Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Eric Velasquez, coming in February. Sourcebooks has a picture book biography of Jennifer Keelan, the young activist who participated in The Capitol Crawl in 1990 at the age of 8 to demand passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Jennifer, who has cerebral palsy, climbed out of her wheelchair and up the steps of the Capitol. Annette Bay Pimentel authors, Ali Haider illustrates, and Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins writes the forward.

Hello, Neighbor! The Kind and Caring World of Mister Rogers, by Matthew Cordell, debuts in May from Holiday House, created by Caldecott Medalist Matthew Cordell. It’s the only authorized picture book biography on Fred Rogers, and I can’t wait to see it. If you haven’t read A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: The Poetry of Mister Rogers, illustrated by Luke Flowers (from Quirk Books), please get a copy on your shelves. Introduce our kids to Mister Rogers; we need him back.

Little Bee’s Grandpa Grumps is an adorable multi-generational story about a little girl and her grumpy grandpa who comes to visit from China. The two bond over cooking, and there’s a recipe at the end. The art is Pixar-inspired, and absolutely adorable. Grandpa Grumps, by Katrina Moore, with art by Xindi Yang, pubs in April.

 

Disney Book Group has Love, Sophia on the Moon, a book I think I’ll have to buy my niece. Sophia writes a letter to her mother, telling her she’s run away to the moon., where there are no time-outs and early bedtimes. Mom responds with a sense of humor. Who hasn’t wanted to run away to the moon? Heck, I think about it even now.

 

Holiday House is also publishing In My Garden; originally written in 1962 by Charlotte Zolotow and reimagined by Philip Stead. It’s a lovely, intergenerational story about a child and older adult who spend time in a beautiful garden as the seasons pass.

The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh, by Supriya Kelkar and illustrated by Alea Marley, is already out, and is a beautifully illustrated book about an Indian American boy, a practicing Sikh, who matches his patka – his head covering – to his emotions and occasions. I haven’t seen this one yet, so I’ll be requesting it and reading it ASAP.

 

Rainbow Fish author Marcus Pfister has a new book out! Who Stole the Hazelnuts? starts off with a terrifying scream when Squirrel discovers that someone has stolen his hazelnuts! The art on this is hilarious, and Squirrel’s face is my entire mood on some days. I mean, honestly. Tell me you can’t relate:

 

We are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom and illustrated by Michaela Goade is the beautifully illustrated and narrated story of the Standing Rock Pipeline protest, from a Native American child’s perspective. Due out in March, this is a book I’m going to make sure we have on our shelves.

 

Look at this adorable book! Oliver the Curious Owl is a young owl who wants to know all the big questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why? He decides to go on his own adventure to see if he can learn some answers to his questions. I’m already planning owl storytimes for this book by Chad Otis. The book won’t be out until August 2020. I can wait. I can wait. I won’t be patient about it, but I can wait.

 

STEM

Picture books, nonfiction books, there are all sorts of ways to work STEM/STEAM into kids books, and there are some really good ones coming.

Chris Ferrie, my favorite kidlit science guru, has My First 100 Science Words, introducing the littlest readers to awesome science words like food chain, fluorescence, and cell. Illustrated by Lindsay Dale Scott, it’s the cutest little science book I’ve ever seen. (Until, let’s be honest, his next book.)

 

Charlesbridge has a great Winter/Spring line, with loads of STEM/STEAM books in the works. Mario and the Hole in the Sky is about Mexican-American scientist and Nobel Laureate Mario Molina. Publishing simultaneously in English in Spanish, by Elizabeth Rusch and illustrated by Teresa Martinez, Mario publishes in less than a month: you can get it in November. Earth Hour, by Nanette Heffernan and illustrated by Bao Luu, invites kids to take part in Earth Hour, where communities all over the world are encouraged to turn off non-essential electricity for one hour. Earth Hour is publishing in January, with activities and ideas for kids all over the world; there’s more than enough time to prepare Earth Hour activities for March, when Earth Hour happens. You’re Invited to a Moth Ball is a collaboration with scientist Loree Griffin Burns and photographer Ellen Harasimowicz; it’s a “nighttime insect celebration” with advice on how kids can throw their own Moth Ball. Sterling is releasing The Boy Who Thought Outside the Box: The Story of Video Game Inventor Ralph Baer, by Marcie Wessels and illustrated by Beatriz Castro, in March.

Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann have Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera coming in April from Holiday House, and the artwork is just breathtaking. It’s the story of a honeybee’s journey through life, and the detail is just wonderful.

 

Sterling has three adorable STEM/STEAM stories coming soon: When Grandpa Gives You A Toolbox (March 2020), by Jamie L.B. Deenihan and illustrated by Lorraine Rocha; where a young boy wants storage for his dolls, receives a toolbox from his grandfather, and overcomes his disappointment when he discovers that he can use the toolbox to make a storage box by himself. Invent-a-Pet (May 2020), by Vicky Fang and illustrated Tidawan Thaipinnarong, a a STEM and coding story about a girl who decides that the best pet you can have is the one you make on your own. 

 

There were SO MANY BOOKS. This is just a quick rundown of some of the picture books and graphic novels to come. Up next, middle grade and YA.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Go on a Big Book Adventure with two friends!

The Big Book Adventure, by Emily Ford/Illustrated by Tim Warnes, (Sept. 2018, Silver Dolphin Books), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-68412-378-0

Ages 3-7

A pig and a fox excitedly tell each other about their reading adventures, having spent their day at a Mad Tea Party, swimming with mermaids, running from Big Bad Wolves, and more! The rhyming story communicates the transformative power of reading by placing the characters – and readers – into the middle of beloved fairy tales and exciting new adventures, including a spaceship voyage and a dragon ride. The two friends decide to share books and exchange adventures, their favorite new and old literary friends surrounding them.

The artwork is sweet and whimsical, using soft colors for the main characters and changing palettes to fit each story: bold, vibrant colors for a science fiction story; classic Alice in Wonderland artwork for the tea party; muted blues and greens for a mermaid swim. The endpapers continue the story, with the front endpapers showing Piggy sitting on a tree branch, reading; a library-like “book club” meeting place at the base of a tree, where Foxy leaves, with a wagon holding books. Membership cards for the “Maple Leaf Book Club” show Foxy and Piggy’s credentials. The back endpaper shows different literary characters – and the Maple Leaf Book Club’s owl mascot – reading.

This one is great for a library read-aloud, and a class visit storytime. I’d pair this with Nibbles the Book Monster for more fairy tale fun.

Posted in Conferences & Events

BookExpo 2019: That’s a wrap!

BookExpo is my Super Bowl. Every year, I look forward to it: I print out dozens of pages of ARC giveaways and author/illustrator signings, and make sure to wear my comfiest Doc Martens to hit the Javits Center.

The festivities started off with the Library Reads author dinner – this one was for adult books (as in grownup books), and the list of authors was amazing: literary powerhouses Colson Whitehead and Jacqueline Woodson, TV writer and producer Gary Janetti (shoutout to my fellow Vicious fans out there!), Annalee Newitz, founder of one of my favorite SFF sites, i09, E.R. Ramzipoor, whose novel, The Ventriloquists, has shot to the top of my TBR, and Nefertiti Austin, who blew me away just reading the summary of her new book, Motherhood So White.

So my TBR continues to grow…

Motherhood So White: A Memoir of Race, Gender, and Parenting in America, by Nefertiti Austin

Do You Mind if I Cancel? (Things That Still Annoy Me), by Gary Janetti

The Future of Another Timeline, by Annalee Newitz

The Ventriloquists, by E.R. Ramzipoor

The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead

Red at the Bone, by Jacqueline Woodson

 

I was Instagramming and Tweeting from BookExpo, so if you want to see all of the pics, that’s where to go. Some highlights here:

 NOS4A2 creeping the bejesus out of me as I walked into Javits

The Javits Center welcoming all book lovers and geeks home

 

Meeting Dav Pilkey and telling him how much  my kiddo loves Dog Man, plus getting a signed Dog Man strip for said kiddo.

 

 Dog Man, Cat Kid, and enough Petes to make for a groovy storytime!

 

More to come when I’ve had a chance to start wandering through my BookExpo goodness and start blogging it!

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

The Book Tree: Books as resistance!

The Book Tree, by Paul Czajak/Illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh, (Sept. 2018, Barefoot Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781782854050

Ages 4-8

A boy named Arlo gets so wrapped up in his book that he doesn’t catch it in time when it slips, falls, and thumps the mayor on the head, prompting the official to tear up all the books, telling the people that “I will tell you what you need to know”. Luckily, a single page manages to float away and plant itself in the earth, where it will eventually grow; in the meantime, though, life is pretty awful without books: schools have nothing to teach; actors have nothing to act; and story time becomes nap time, because there’s nothing to read. Arlo begins making up his own stories, which feed the fledgling book plant, so Arlo writes and reads to the plant until it grows into a fantastic book tree, yielding ripe new stories, which Arlo harvests and shares with the town, which blossoms, once again, thanks to the fresh infusion of knowledge. Even the mayor ultimately discovers the joy to be found in a book.

Talk about a timely story. With an autocrat who’s afraid of books (“Books are dangerous! I don’t trust them. They act like seeds, which grow into ideas, and ideas turn into questions.”) and tries to control the flow of knowledge, reading becomes the ultimate act of resistance. The Book Tree also illustrates a very gloomy life without stories: no storytimes; no theatres; no new learning. Taking away the written word takes away a culture, a history, a civilization – why else are libraries and archives deliberately targeted during times of war?

Paul Czajak also shows how quickly people can lose interest in reading if it isn’t nurtured: Arlo reads his original stories out loud to an ignorant populace. Thanks to Arlo’s determination, the buried page hears him and thrives; he nurtures the love of reading, the new ideas feeding the plant, until it blossoms – and finally, boredom brings readers back to the tree, where Arlo hands out more books, sparking the public’s interest again. The Book Tree eloquently captures society today, making it a cautionary tale as much as it’s an inspirational one. Rashin Kheiriyeh’s oil paint and collage artwork gives a lovely crispness to the work, and brings the books to life by making them stand out against the page. Arlo, with his little beret and blue hair, is a little counterculture activist for a new group of readers. Her collage and drawn artwork present a fantastic contrast, really letting the stories yet to be told flow from books and Arlo’s imagination. I particularly love the dragon emerging from a book in her tree, seeming to joyfully respond to Arlo’s narrative.

 

Paul Czajak’s Monster books have been a favorite on my library shelves for a couple of years; I’m looking forward to seeing the kids enjoy The Book Tree. Add this one to your activist collections, and make sure to stick this one on your Banned Books Week storytime for next year.

 

Posted in Humor, Non-Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Dear Fahrenheit 451: A Librarian’s Letters to Books

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks, by Annie Spence, (Sept. 2017, Flatiron Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250106490

Recommended for readers 16+

Dear Fahrenheit 451 is the kind of book I wish I’d written. It’s the kind of book all book lovers kind of write in our mind, but Annie Spence is the one who took it and turned it into literary gold.

Librarians weed. It’s kind of our job. But book lovers (usually) weed, too, right? You stare at that overworked bookshelf, and you know that some of those books are visitors, whose time has come to go and visit other readers; some, like your Neil Gaiman books, your Doctor Who novels, and your Gail Carriger books, have permanent residency on those shelves. (Or is that just me?) You weed, talking to yourself as you go, letting the books – and yourself – down easy: “You were so much fun during my chick lit phase! But you know… I’m sure they’ll love you at the library, think of how many other people will love you.” Or, “Good lord, you’re still here?  You need to go; you don’t have to go to the trash, but you can’t stay here. Is Book Crossing still live?”

Annie Spence writes letters to books (and, in one story that got me a look on the bus when I seal-bark laughed out loud, a bookshelf) in her library, in her home, anywhere. She writes to Frog and Toad and tells them everything I wanted to say but never realized. She has an wonderful obsession with Jeffrey Eugenides (as a Neil Gaiman fangirl, I relate) and feels bad for a much-loved copy of The Goldfinch. Her essays are funny and touching and my friends are tired of me texting them, saying, “Wait, you have to read this part”; one friend finally texted back, “I’m requesting the book now, can you STOP?”

The second half of the book moves from her letters to brief essays – lists, really – that book lovers will adore: Excuses to Tell Your Friends So You Can Stay Home with Your Books (so guilty); Readin’ Nerdy (books about librarians, whoo hoo!); Blind Date: Good Books with Bad Covers (you know we all think it), and Recovery Reads: books to read after you’ve been traumatized by a previous book (looking at you, A Monster Calls).

While it isn’t a teen book, it’s easily crossed over. It’s a great book to hand to teens who may not “get” reading. This. THIS is why we read, I will tell them. (Do you hear me, Alex Awards Committee?) Dear Fahrenheit 451 is perfect for book lovers. Annie Spence is one of us. *group hug*

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Humor, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Meet two new middle grade heroines with big imaginations

Ruby Starr, by Deborah Lytton, (Aug. 2017, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $7.99, ISBN: 9781492645771

Recommended for readers 8-12

Ruby Starr loves getting lost in a good book. She even has a lunchtime book group with her BFFs at school: The Unicorns! Things change when Charlotte, the new girl in school, shows up and starts making big changes: she scoffs at reading and wants to make The Unicorns a drama club, and she’s spending more and more time with Ruby’s best friend, Siri. Ruby needs to dig deep into her imagination to help bring things back to normal again.

Part Secret Life of Walter Mitty, part Dork Diaries, Ruby Starr is a lovable new protagonist for middle grade readers. She daydreams scenarios to help her cope with the everyday frustrations – or imagine exciting outcomes for upcoming events – and zones out while she’s doing it, making for some giggleworthy moments throughout the story. The imagination sequences are illustrated, letting readers in on the joke. The stress of friendship – and losing it – will resonate with middle graders, as will the fear of being the outsider in the group; Ruby handles these challenges with humor and style, even reaching out to her frenemy and offering a helping hand. I loved seeing a nice librarian-student relationship, too; maybe the author can give us a Ruby Starr/Unicorns reading list to promote to our kids!

Ruby Starr is a fun entry into the humorous journal fiction sub-genre. Give this to your Dork Diaries, My Dumb Diary, and Frazzled (by Booki Vivat) readers. Ask them to draw an imaginary scenario for themselves! There’s a reader’s guide on Deborah Lytton’s author webpage, along with an author Q&A and link to her blog.

The Half-True Lies of Cricket Cohen, by Catherine Lloyd Burns, (Aug. 2017, Farrar, Straus & Giroux), $16.99, ISBN: 9780374300418

Recommended for ages 8-12

Cricket Cohen has a big imagination. Sometimes, it gets away from her – especially when she wants to impress someone, or just make a boring autobiography school assignment a little more exciting. After all, it’s fun when she and her grandmother pretend, right? Well… wrong, at least according to her schoolmates, who are tired of her making up stories, and her teacher, who wants her to redo her autobiography assignment with the truth this time. When her parents leave her alone with her grandmother, Dodo, while they go summer house-hunting in the Hamptons, Dodo convinces Cricket that they’re going to run away and have an adventure; Cricket’s all too happy to go. But Dodo starts becoming confused, and Cricket finds herself having to bail herself AND Dodo out of hot water when she’s the only one who knows what’s fact and what’s fantasy.

The Half-True Lies of Cricket Cohen is much more than a novel about a kid who likes to embellish the truth. It’s a story about grandparents and grandchildren, and it’s a story about what happens when children find themselves with the responsibility of caring for an adult: something that today’s kids sometimes find themselves managing.

Cricket finds herself disappearing into her imagination to deal with her boring classmates who prefer talking about clothes, shoes, and crushes to geology and stuffed animal brain surgery, but you can also argue that it’s an attention-seeking response to her parents, who are consumed with their nonprofit fundraising for the city’s public schools. They live above their means, and her mother – a control freak and perfectionist – treats her own mother like an inconvenience. Artsy free spirit Dodo pushes back against her daughter’s rules and regulations, and Cricket embraces her kindred spirit; but Cricket, previously unaware of her grandmother’s health struggles, finds herself in the position of being responsible for herself and her grandmother when her grandmother’s failing memory causes a problem in a department store.

The New York setting is fun – it’s got a touch of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler to it. The story handles big issues like family relationships, aging grandparents, and embellishing the truth with a shot of fun and adventure. At the same time, the Dodo is the one character that remains truly likable throughout the story. Cricket and her family may be living above their means, but they are still an upper middle class family, living on New York’s Upper West Side and renting summer homes in the Hamptons. Her parents border on neglectful, putting the welfare of New York City’s public school children ahead of their own daughter’s. Cricket’s actions are understandable in the bigger picture, and she becomes a more sympathetic character as the story progresses.

Have The Half-True Lies of Cricket Cohen available, along with Death by Toilet Paper by Donna Gephart, and There Will Be Bears, by Ryan Gebhart, for readers who may be coping with an aging grandparent. Booktalk it with Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Kay Thompson’s Eloise, Laura Marx Fitzgerald’s Under the Egg, and Nadja Spiegelman’s Lost in NYC graphic novel for a fun New York reading theme.

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

Can our favorite Book Scavengers figure out The Unbreakable Code?

The Unbreakable Code (Book Scavenger #2), by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman, (April 2017, Henry Holt & Co. BYR), $16.99, ISBN: 9781627791168

Recommended for readers 8-12

The sequel to Book Scavenger (2015) continues the adventures of friends, code breakers, and bookworms Emily and James. Emily’s parents have put a hold on their state-hopping, giving Emily a feeling of permanence she missed terribly. She and James find themselves in the middle of another mystery when they notice their teacher, Mr. Quisling, acting strangely; they follow a trail of encrypted messages in Book Scavenger-laid Mark Twain books. The messages are an attempt to break a legendary, historic puzzle known as the Unbreakable Code, which leads to either a treasure or a curse. As mysterious and suspicious fires pop up around them, Emily and James are worried that Mr. Quisling is the arsonist – unless they can figure out who his mysterious Book Scavenger messenger is.

The Unbreakable Code is loaded with the adventure, mystery, and code-breaking fun that made the first book so enjoyable. There are mysteries within mysteries, and a real sense of urgency as the tweens try to get to the bottom of the arsonist on their trail. There’s a very good subplot about the history of Chinese immigrants during the California Gold Rush that shines a light on a part of history that doesn’t get as much discussion as it should. Ms. Chambliss also presents a very different Mr. Griswold, changed by the events in Book Scavenger. He’s withdrawn, hesitant, apprehensive; his buoyant style is toned down, and he surrounds himself with his assistant, Jack, and the company of dogs to guard him. Emily and James’ secondary mission is to nudge Mr. Griswold back to his former self.

A fun follow-up and a fun accompaniment to coding and spy programs. Introduce kids to coding with Book Scavenger and Gene Luen Yang’s Secret Coders! Kids can play their own game of Book Scavenger at the Book Scavenger website and sign up for the newsletter.