Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Middle Grade Animal Fiction: Say hello to your new best friends!

Animal fiction is always popular – that’s why there’s so much of it! – and I’ve been getting a bunch of animal adventures to read over the last few months. Great for book bundles, Summer Reading, or just keeping in mind for your animal fiction fans, here are two I’ve just finished:

 

Hotel Flamingo, by Alex Milway, (March 2021, Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 9781684641260

Ages 7-10

Originally published in the UK in 2019, this is the first in an intermediate/middle grade series that’s just hitting US shores and it is hilarious. Anna is a young girl who recently inherits Hotel Flamingo, a once glamorous hotel that’s seen better days. Mr. Bear and Mr. Lemmy, the previous administration’s employees, have stayed on, trying to keep the lights on and the water running, and are happy to see Anna, hoping she’ll bring back the hotel to its former glory. As she mulls over how to compete with The Glitz Hotel, run by – oh yes, my friends – Ronald Ruffian, the demanding, boorish hotelier/businessman determined to keep his hold on Animal Boulevard’s clientele, Anna realizes a strength that the Flamingo has: they’ll treat all animals, even bugs, with dignity, respect, and as welcomed guests. With a cast of memorable and fabulous animal characters and situations, this first outing makes me want to check into the Hotel Flamingo again and again. The writing is wonderfully paced, engaging, and pink-and-black two color illustrations throughout make this a great bridge between intermediate chapter books and middle grade novels. A lovely story of teamwork, respect, and hard work paying off, kids will also love Anna, a human girl, being surrounded by new, anthropomorphic, animal friends. There are four books in total (so far?) in the Hotel Flamingo series; keep an eye out for the next ones.

Visit author Alex Milway’s website for a newsletter, free ebooks and excerpts, and his blog.

The Hotel Flamingo series works with the Tails and Tales Summer Reading theme and the Reading Takes You Everywhere theme! Ask your readers what kind of animals would run their hotel, and with what jobs, and cast an animal/human talent show. You’re bound to get some great responses. Print out a passport template (there are a bunch of good ones, for free, on TeachersPayTeachers.com) and either have kids create their own stamps or find some fun ones online. We’ve been stuck inside for a year – it’s time to (armchair) travel!

 

Dog Squad, by Chris Grabenstein, (May 2021, Random House Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 9780593301739

Ages 8-12

Mr. Lemoncello’s Library author Chris Grabenstein hits gold again with Dog Squad – the beginning to what I hope is a new series. Fred is a nice dog who’s had a rough time of it in his just about two years of life. He had a home with Susan, who loved him and treated him so well… until she chose her stuck-up boyfriend over Fred. Then, he was adopted from the shelter by a lout named Tony, who wanted to turn him into a guard dog by “toughening him up”, which really meant abusing him and neglecting him. Fred’s only refuge was the show, Dog Squad, where Duke, Scruffy, and Nala, three heroic dogs, had exciting adventures every week! When Tony kicks Fred out and he ends up in a shelter, it’s good fortune that he’s adopted again: this time, by Jenny, the producer of Dog Squad, and her niece, Abby, who claims to be a dog psychic! Fred’s thrilled to meet his idol, but he’s crushed when Duke turns out to be pretty awful in real life. The tables turn when Duke’s injured and Fred, who resembles Duke, is asked to stand in for Duke on Dog Squad until he heals up, but Fred isn’t brave like he thinks Duke is. It’ll take some real-life adventure, including standing up to bullies. to help Fred understand that bravery takes all sorts of forms, but it’s something that starts inside you. A touching story about friendship, self-worth, and finding a forever home, Dog Squad was inspired by Chris Grabenstein’s dog, Fred: have tissues when you read his words about Fred at the end of the story. Black and white cartoon illustrations throughout will make readers wonder when this will become a movie (at least, that’s what I was thinking). Have kids who loved Paw Patrol but have aged up from Easy Readers and 8×8 media tie-ins? This is your new go-to book. The story even has Paw Patrol-esque catchphrases like, “Pawsome!”

More Summer Reading tie-ins: Tails and Tales, sure, but the Dog Squad team travels around the New York/tri-state area to shoot their show. Maybe consider mapping the areas mentioned in the story? If you’re using reading passports, put a Dog Squad stamp in there (or, you know, New York and Connecticut stamps) for your readers!

Visit Chris Grabenstein’s author page for a Dog Squad excerpt and video piece on the real Fred’s story (and Mr. Lemoncello stuff galore).

 

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Soar lets readers spread their wings and face fear

Soar, by Hillary Daecher/Illustrated by Angie Hohenadel, (Aug. 2020, Schiffer Kids), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0-7643-5987-3

Ages 4-7

Ramone is a ruby-throated hummingbird who’s about to leave his nest for the first time. But he’s shy and he’s scared: what if something goes wrong? What if his wings don’t work? Luckily, Mom is there with comforting hugs and words. As he watches the other hummingbirds take to the sky, he screws up his courage and manages to get airborne! A rhyming story of facing one’s fears, Soar is beautifully illustrated with bright, vivid color. The rhyming meter makes for a good read-aloud, and you know what I’m going to say about flannels, right? Colorful birds are PERFECT flannel storytime accompaniment if you’ve got them! Back matter includes hummingbird facts, discussion questions, and a bibliography.

 

Ramone, a shy, ruby-throated hummingbird, is about to leave the nest for the first time. But his anxiety and fear keep him from taking off as he contemplates all that could go wrong. Full of kind words and encouragement, Ramone’s mother gives him room to work through his emotions, building his confidence and letting him set his own pace. Ramone watches as his friends soar through the sky, realizing all he might miss out on if he doesn’t conquer his fear. Ramone’s adventure showcases the emotions, both positive and negative, children experience as they approach new challenges. Accompanied by strikingly beautiful illustrations, this tale guides readers through Ramone’s emotional journey, showing kids that fear must be overcome in order to grow.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Bo the Brave knows that monsters aren’t always that easy to spot

Bo the Brave, by Bethan Woollvin, (Apr. 2020, Peachtree Publishers), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-68263-182-9

Ages 3-7

Any day I get to talk about a new Bethan Woollvin book is a good day. She creates fairy-tale heroines that upend all existing conventions, whether it’s the witch getting the goods on bratty Hansel and Gretel, or Little Red Riding Hood saving the day on her own. Her new book, Bo the Brave. stars another young girl who teaches readers that monsters aren’t always fairy tale creatures – they’re much closer.

Bo is a young girl who wants to be a monster hunter like her brothers. When they tell her she’s too little, so she strikes out on her own. On her travels, she meets a griffin, a kraken, and a dragon, all of whom seem much nicer, and certainly more helpful, than she’s been led to believe. In fact, the dragon is a mother, grieving because her baby’s been kidnapped by monster hunters! Bo, pretty sure she knows exactly who the culprits are, leads her new friends to the rescue: while delivering a stern lecture to her brothers. Bo the Brave has learned that rumors and hearsay are deceiving and can lead to a lot of misunderstanding and heartache. In this story, it’s her brothers that “were certainly acting like monsters”, not the griffin, the kraken, or the dragons!

That’s the best part of Bethan Woollvin’s storytelling. She takes a look at who the real monsters are, like Hansel and Gretel; she has heroines who save themselves – they have no time to deal with that whole helpless girl foolishness – like Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel. Bethan Woollvin’s heroines have no time to waste, waiting for someone to rescue them and no patience to follow someone who doesn’t value them for who they are. They’re out there on their own, using their brains and their own common sense to save the day, and teach some valuable lessons.

The endpapers illustrated Bo the Brave’s evolution, too: the front endpapers are a map, pre-journey, where Bo notes where the “horrid forest monsters”, “scary cave beasts”, and “slimy sea monsters” are, along with her “stinky brothers’. The back endpapers are edited to show that her “stinky brothers” are actually her “monster brothers”, and each of the new friends she’s made have their rightful names noted on the map.

Bo the Brave has a starred review from School Library Journal, and is essential reading.

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

The Perils of Daring Darleen, Queen of the Screen!

Daring Darleen: Queen of the Screen, by Anne Nesbet, (Apr. 2020, Candlewick Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781536211757

Ages 10-14

It’s 1914, and silent serials are all the rage at movie houses. Fort Lee, New Jersey, is the filmaking hotspot, and 12-year-old Darleen is the star of Matchstick Studios’s adventure serial, Daring Darleen. The studio, run by Darleen’s father, uncles, and aunt, churn out serials where Darleen faces bad guy after bad guy while searching for her dear papa, but the dangers she faces onscreen are nothing compared to the turn her real life takes when a publicity stunt goes haywire and Darleen finds herself kidnapped – FOR REAL – alongside a young heiress. Darleen and Victorine, a “poor little rich girl”, quickly bond and work on a way to escape their captors and keep Victorine safe from her money-hungry relations.

Daring Darleen is a great piece of historical fiction, with a rich background of the early filmmaking industry and Fort Lee’s place in it (an author’s note touches on the industry and real characters who cameo in the story). Darleen is a smart, spunky young heroine and Victorine is her protege; the two have a remarkable chemistry that comes together on the page and makes them a formidable duo. Victorine blossoms as Darleen’s daring rubs off on her, and Darleen is always working to keep one step ahead of everyone else. Two strong female heroines, a good supporting cast of characters, and a well-paced, plotted story make Daring Darleen a book to have on your shelves. Will Daring Darleen have more adventures? Like the silent serials of old, we just have to wait and see!

Daring Darleen: Queen of the Screen has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus. Publisher Candlewick has a sample chapter available on their website, and librarian/podcaster/reviewer extraordinaire, Betsy Bird, has an interview with author Anne Nesbet here. Want to show off a silent film to get your reading group in the mood for a Daring Darleen discussion? Check out one of Anne Nesbet’s favorites, Alice Guy Blaché’s Falling Leaves (1912), right here:

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Cucumber Quest: Bunny Siblings Save the World!

Cucumber Quest, Vol. 1: The Doughnut Kingdom, by Gigi DG, (Oct. 2017, :01FirstSecond), $14.99, ISBN: 9781626728325

Recommended for ages 8-12

If you’ve never read the webcomic Cucumber Quest, now’s your chance to dive in. The seven kingdoms of Dreamside are in trouble when the evil queen Cordelia plans to unleash some serious havoc. Cucumber – who’s all packed and ready to start his studies at Puffington’s Academy for the Magically Gifted – gets a letter from his dad, telling him that it’s up to him to save the kingdoms. His brave and way-more-heroic sister, Almond, offers to go in his place, but their mother and father seem to have some pretty outdated ideas about gender, and tells her it’s too dangerous for her. Almond joins Cucumber’s Quest, regardless, and the two head out in search of the Dream Sword: the only weapon powerful enough to defeat Cordelia’s supernatural thug, the Nightmare Knight. On the way, Cucumber and Almond meet a batty Dream Oracle, a trio of hare-brained guards, and a host of other wacky characters.

Beginning life as a webcomic (that you can still read online), Cucumber Quest: The Doughnut Kingdom collects the first 137 pages of Cucumber Quest (the Prologue and chapter 0); Cucumber Quest 2: The Ripple Kingdom will continue collecting stories from the online archive. Forty pages of additional comics, including Reader Q&A for various characters, and short bios for each character, complete with ability ratings in trading card format, concept art, and a tour of the world of Dreamside, home to the seven kingdoms.

The story is light and fun; the artwork is cute and Chibi-inspired. Manga fans will love it, as will adventure fans. Give this to your Adventure Time and Steven Universe readers; for your fantasy fans that want some lighter summer reading (or aren’t really passionate readers… YET), this will be a welcome addition to shelves.

Want to learn more? Check out the Cucumber Quest wiki and Cucumber Quest page, where you can access the complete comic archive and learn more about the characters.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Boo! Who’s biggest? Who’s bravest?

boo_1Boo!, by Ben Newman, (Apr. 2017, Nobrow), $12.99, ISBN: 9781911171058

Recommended for ages 3-6

A cute little mouse claims to be the bravest animal around, but he has no idea what’s coming up behind him… BOO! Each animal in Boo! is ready to brag about being the bravest, but there’s always a shadow lurking, waiting to pounce in the next spread in this fun cumulative story. This is a fun story about size and how being the biggest may not always mean being the bravest. It’s a fun, interactive read, giving kids the opportunity to call out when there’s a rising shadow that the current bravest animal doesn’t know about, and to yell, “BOO!” in each reveal. You can make animal noises, ask kids to predict what animal is in shadow, and what animal could be scarier as you progress.

There’s a nice rhythm to the story: animal states that he or she is the bravest; the opposite page shows a shadowy antagonist rising up behind the current star of the story, and the following spread features the jump scare reveal. Kids will love the suspense and the chance to be part of the story. Ben Newman’s retro art is fun and bright, with exaggerated scale and reactions for his characters. This is an especially great read-aloud, yell-along book for toddler and pre-k audiences! Fun endpapers show the progression of the scare chain.

 

 

boo_2

boo_3

Ben Newman is an award-winning illustrator who also works on the Professor Astro Cat children’s books with Dr. Dominic Walliman; also published by Nowbrow/Flying Eye Books. His website has a podcast, some great artwork and a trailer for Boo!, which is currently released in the UK.

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Posted in Early Reader, Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, programs, Storytime, Summer Reading

Storytime: Nobody Likes a Goblin, by Ben Hatke

nobody-likes-a-goblinNobody Likes a Goblin, by Ben Hatke, (Jun 2016, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626720817

Recommended for ages 5-10

If you read my stuff enough, you know there are a few authors and illustrators that I adore; Ben Hatke is one of them. From Zita the Spacegirl to Mighty Jack and Little Robot, he creates fun, exciting characters, very human stories, and beautiful art. I am eternally grateful that he has also started sharing the love with picture book readers; first, we had Julia’s House for Lost Creatures, and now, Nobody Likes a Goblin.

It’s the sweetest little book about a homebody goblin who lives in his cozy dungeon and hangs out with his best friend, Skeleton. One day, a gang of dumb old adventurers barges in, loots Goblin’s treasure, and makes off with Skeleton – RUDE. Goblin sets out to rescue his friend despite the oft-repeated cautionary advice, “Nobody likes a goblin.” But Goblin doesn’t care, because he has a friend to save!

goblinImage Source: GoodReads

How cute is this book? It’s got adorable messages about friendship and being brave, not worrying who likes you or not, and just doing what you do. I decided to read this one to some of my slightly younger kids on a preschool-aged summer camp visit a few weeks ago, and they seemed to enjoy it. They kind of “ewwww’d” my poor Goblin at first, but when I told them that he was just a nice little guy and didn’t bother anyone, they were more sympathetic. By the end of the book, they were cheering for him. I encouraged them to hiss and boo the adventurers who were mean and went into poor Goblin’s house, breaking things up and stealing his toys, and was that very nice? NO.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade

The Nocturnals: The Mysterious Abductions introduces a new bunch of woodland friends

nocturnals_1The Nocturnals: The Mysterious Abductions, by Tracey Hecht/Illustrated by Kate Liebman (April 2016, Fabled Films), $15.99, ISBN: 9781944020002

Recommended for ages 7-12

Animal fiction fans, get ready: there’s a new group in town, and they only go on adventures at night. The Nocturnals, or as they refer to themselves, the Brigade, are Dawn, a smart and serious fox; Tobin, a very sweet pangolin, and Bismark, a loud, well-meaning but self-centered sugar glider. (Don’t call him a squirrel or a bat!) Shortly after the three meet, they find themselves investigating a mystery: animals are disappearing! As the Nocturnals search for answers, they meet other animals along the way that will help them – but can they avoid being kidnapped by the mysterious culprit?

The Nocturnals is a fun, packed with humor and a little shot of adventure for intermediate and middle grade readers. Color artwork by Kate Liebman adds interest and kicks off each chapter, and she captures the various personalities created by author Tracey Hecht. Bismark is almost hilariously over the top, slipping into different languages, professing his love for Dawn, the fox, and making sure everyone within earshot knows he’s the star of the show, if only in his imagination. Dawn is observant, often serious, and quick to figure things out (she is a fox, after all), and Tobin is the kind peacemaker who finds his self-esteem on this first outing.  Book 2, The Ominous Eye, is due out in September.

I like the positive messages in the book – teamwork and keeping promises among them – and I like the use of animals we don’t normally discover on adventures: sugar gliders, wombats, and tobins! The book provides a great opportunity to introduce these animals to children’s vocabulary, and indeed, The Nocturnals website has some excellent educator resources available, including printable animal fact cards, book club questions, coloring sheets, and resources for ELA and Science education. I was excited to see a book club script suggestion, so I can get my readers busy acting the parts out (since book discussions don’t work with my kids, this is an interesting and fun project to approach them with). The Nocturnals website also offers to send a free cape for your stuffed animal if you join their Brigade!

Animal fiction is great for intermediate and middle graders – The Nocturnals should be a good fit with collections. Booktalk and display this with your Erin Hunter books (Warriors/Seekers/Survivors), the Spirit Animals series, and Kathryn Lasky’s Guardians of Ga’Hoole and Horses of the Dawn series.

Take a look at the book trailer for The Mysterious Abductions.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

Spotlight On: A Halloween Scare at My House!

From the opening invitation to a Halloween Scare t0 the Halloween-motif endpapers, A Halloween Scare at My House is a perfect read-aloud for toddlers to Kindergarteners! Check out the Sourcebooks Spotlight below, with the chance to win your own copy of the book!

halloween scare

A Halloween Scare at My House Series, by Eric James/Illustrated by Marina Le Ray

Series Info:
Title: A Halloween Scare at My House
Author: Eric James
Illustrator: Marina Le Ray
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Description:
The perfect gift for every child or kid-at-heart who also loves celebrating the most eerie and thrilling night of the year, the Halloween Scare regional series offers a jaunty tale with a humorous bent—sure to ward off any creature who goes bump in the night in cities and states across the country!

Now with 78 titles highlighting different cities, states, and regions in the U.S. and Canada, each book in the Halloween Scare series features art and text created especially for a specific state or city. Fun Halloween creatures and critters haunt your favorite landmarks, including famous sites like the Statue of Liberty in New York, California’s Hollywood sign, the Mackinac Bridge in Michigan, Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp, Churchill Downs in Kentucky, the San Jacinto Monument in Texas and the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in North Carolina.

With its bouncing rhyme, colorful illustrations, and funny story, the Halloween Scare series is a delightful Halloween adventure for everyone who loves a silly, spooky tale. It’s perfect for younger readers who can explore their state or city and little learn more about the places and landmarks that make their homes unique.

Prepare, if you dare, for a Halloween scare,
A night of pure terror to whiten your hair.
A tale full of sights that are best left unseen. You ready? You sure?
This was my Halloween.

About the Author and Illustrator:

Eric James is a children’s book author, word tickler, and champion asparagus thrower. You can find him online at http://www.ericjames.co.uk. He lives in Bath, England, with his family.

Marina Le Ray has had success both as a children’s book illustrator as well as a greeting card designer. She lives and works in Nantes, France.

My two cents: This is an adorable book. The fact that it’s customized for different regions of the states makes it a great choice for read-alouds and for classrooms that want to incorporate some fun into their Social Studies curriculum. Leave time in a lesson to talk about Halloween in your cities, versus traditions from other cities. The rhyming text and story about a little boy who overcame his fear of Halloween and monsters will draw kids in, so don’t be afraid to read with different voices, make spooky sounds, and invite the kids to shriek and moan along with you. Halloween storytimes are the best storytimes ever!

Buy Links:
Available at all major booksellers

Don’t forget, enter this Rafflecopter giveaway for a chance to win your own copy!
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Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

Max the Brave is FEARLESS!

max the braveMax the Brave, by Ed Vere (Sept 2015, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $15.95, ISBN: 978-1-4926-1651-1

Recommended for ages 2-6

Max is a fearless kitten. He is a brave kitten. He does not like being dressed up in cutesy bows. He is a kitten who catches mice… or, he would, if he knew what a mouse looked like. He sets off in search of a mouse, politely asking several animals along the way if they are mice. Somewhere along the way, though, it looks like someone told Max a fib…

This book is adorable. The cartoony artwork will grab little readers and storytime attendees right away. Max is bold and black, with big yellow eyes. The animals he encounters are largely bold and black, set against bright background pages. The minimalist artwork makes it easy for younger readers to follow along, and the plain black text makes for an easy read for storytime.

The story reinforces manners – even though Max is brave and fearless, he’s always polite when asking for directions to Mouse. The story’s end will make parents giggle along with their children, and they will cheer for Max on his quest. There’s just enough repetition on Max’s search to keep kids engaged and interactive with the story.

I read this story to preschoolers and toddlers, and each time, they LOVED it. There was a fantastic amount of interaction, with kids calling out the names of the animals Max encounters and calling out advice to Max. The toddlers giggled and clapped and asked me to read it again – so I did!

Bottom line: Put this one on your Fall reading lists. The kiddies love it. There are great activities available as a free download from the publisher, and there’s also a free Common Core educator’s guide.

Watch this space – there’s going to be a Rafflecopter giveaway on this blog shortly!