Posted in awards, Cybils, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Graphic Novel Roundup, CYBILS edition

The games have begun! Round 1 CYBILS Judges are clearing the shelves in our libraries and homes, wherever we can find the books in our categories. This is my second year as a Round 1 Graphic Novels panelist, so I’m reading all the graphic novels I can find! The CYBILS nomination period is still going strong, so please consider nominating your favorite J and YA reads this year. If you need some inspiration, or the books you’ve liked are already nominated, check out this Padlet for suggestions.

That said, I’ve got some graphic novels to gush about here – maybe this will inspire you. I’ll note any CYBILS nominees on this list.

Glam Prix Racers, by Deanna Kent/Illustrated by Neil Hooson, (May 2021, imprint), $10.99, ISBN: 9781250265388

Ages 7-10

My gushing for this book is so long overdue, I’m embarrassed. Deanna Kent and Neil Hooson, co-creators of one of my favorite middle grade series – the Snazzy Cat Capers series! – have begun their foray into intermediate graphic novels with Glam Prix Racers. Described as “Mario Kart meets My Little Pony”, this book is like a video game in graphic novel form. There are vibrant colors, expressive, kid-friendly fantasy characters, and a fun storyline that relies on teamwork and friendly competition. It’s race season on Glittergear Island, and Mil the Mermaid and her monster truck, Mudwick, get sidelined on their way to take their Glam Prix team photo. They suspect the Vroombot Crew is up to no good, but what can they do? The Racers have to band together to cross the finish line first! This is the first in a planned trilogy; the second book is due out in January, and anything Deanna Kent and Neil Hooson collaborate on is gold in my book.

Visit Deanna and Neil’s website for Glam Prix (and Snazzy Cat!) freebies all in one place; find coloring sheets here, an activity kit here, and digital resources, including wallpapers, a STEM kit, and videos, here.

Glam Prix Racers is a first round CYBILS nominee.

 

 

Mayor Good Boy, by Dave Scheidt/Illustrated by Miranda Harmon, (Aug. 2021, RH Graphic), $9.99, ISBN: 9780593124871

Ages 7-10

The town of Greenwood has a new Mayor, and he’s a very Good Boy! He’s Mayor Good Boy – a talking dog who wants to do good things in his home town.  Not everyone is thrilled about the new mayor, though, so when some disgruntled citizens start trying to make trouble for the newly elected pup, siblings Aaron and Abby intervene and get hired on as junior aides. While Mayor Good Boy is all about kindness and finding ways to help make his town better, people are plotting to bring him down by releasing fleas all over the town so that he’ll get the blame! Aaron and Abby have to save the day AND find the culprit, and keep Mayor Good Boy’s good reputation intact. With likable characters, friendly art, and loads of fart and stinky feet jokes, this is warm-hearted comedy gold for intermediate and middle graders. The story touches on themes of diversity. advocacy,  and activism, as Abby gives a great speech about being able to create change, even as a kid; back matter includes how to draw instructions for Good Boy, Aaron, and Abby, plus the Mayor Good Boy Pledge and a side comic starring the two siblings on how to contact one’s representatives. Social consciousness, a great message about friends, working together, and a cameo by a comic favorite (I see you, Steenz!) make Mayor Good Boy a graphic novel series you won’t want to miss. There are adventures planned for 2022 and 2023, so keep your carts ready to load.
Mayor Good Boy hasn’t been nominated for a CYBILS yet, so maybe this is one you want to suggest.
Death and Sparkles, by Rob Justus, (Oct. 2021, Chronicle Books), $22.99, ISBN: 9781797206356
Ages 10-14
Big themes and hilarious writing make this a macabre, middle school winner. Death is… well, Death. He touches things, they die, he doesn’t discriminate. Sparkles is a self-obsessed social media celebrity who also happens to be the last unicorn. His manager loves making money off of Sparkles, which turns out pretty poorly for Sparkles, who discovers some hard and fast truths about friendship when he and Death meet. Sparkles, seemingly immune to Death’s touch, is stuck on Death in the most hilarious of ways, leading to the two becoming the unlikeliest of friends. On one hand, there are fart jokes aplenty. On the other hand, there are incredible discussions about the pervasiveness of social media, the cult of influencers, and the fake friends that follow celebrity. There’s an ecological subplot that I expect will come back in future books that shows how even the most genuine intentions can get lost in the murky social media waters, causing a vicious cycle where getting attention for a necessary issue feeds into the popularity machine, leading to the distortion of the message. Thought- and discussion-provoking, yet laugh-out-loud funny, Death and Sparkles is a good start to a new series. Download a free activity kit and enjoy a cupcake.
Death and Sparkles is a CYBILS first round nominee.
Bedhead Ted, by Scott SanGiacomo, (Aug. 2021, Quill Tree Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780062941305
Ages 8-12
Fourth grader Ted has is a bully target because of his “overactive hair follicles”, which give him a head of wild red hair and the nickname, “Bedhead Ted”. Taunted on the bus and in school, he and his best friend, a boy named Stacy, are on the lookout for The Brookside Beast, a fabled giant raccoon in their neighborhood. As if Ted wasn’t feeling bad enough, two of the boys’ tormentors decide to join Stacy’s Brookside Beast Research Center, causing Ted to distance himself from his best – and only – friend. Just as Ted is feeling his lowest, frustrated with his bullies, his friendship, and his hair, he discovers something incredible: his hair has superpowers! When Stacy disappears during the school’s ice cream social, Ted just knows he’s gone to track down the beast, and follows him: Ted’s hair may just save the day. Themes of bullying, appearances, friendship, and the rumor mill are all addressed in this smartly written, funny story about a kid and his hair. A fun mystery leads to a sweet conclusion, and I loved the subplot involving Ted’s family tree. Mixed media illustrations give life to Ted and his super-powered hair; as bullies throw things at him, readers will see various utensils, writing tools, paper airplanes, and more sticking to his hair as he goes through his day. His family is supportive and doesn’t ignore his bullying, checking in with him throughout the story and leading to his grandmother’s reveal. Visit Scott SanGiacomo’s webpage for Ted-related printables, draw-along videos, and more artwork.
Bedhead Ted hasn’t been nominated for a CYBILS award yet… you know what to do!
Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Book Bundles: Go Fish!

I’m brainstorming book bundles for the back-to-school season, and working on reviewing new books. Why not marry my two worlds? Enjoy some fishy ideas with brand new books for the littlest learners!
Fish by Fish, by Giuliano Ferri, (Sept. 2021, mineditionUS), $11.99, ISBN: 9781662650550
Ages 0-3
Board book master Giuliano Ferri tells an hilarious story about hungry fish in his book, Fish by Fish. Using die-cuts to create interest and action, a fish spies a tiny clownfish swimming nearby, and decides it would make a perfect snack. But as it opens its mouth, a bigger fish shows up to claim the fish! Each spread includes the big fish up against an even bigger fish, until the biggest fish gets a big surprise! Progressively larger die cuts accommodate the bigger predators, and colorful adjectives expand readers’ vocabulary, using words like “gigantic”, “colossal”, and “enormous” to describe the growing fish. There’s a good anti-bullying message, and a strong message about standing together with your friends. The fish are bright, as are their underwater surroundings. Sparsely worded, big exclamations, and a funny twist ending make this a fun read-aloud or lap-read for your little ones.
Ten in a Hurry: An Interactive Colors and Counting Book for Toddlers, by Lo Cole, (Oct. 2021, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $17.99, ISBN: 9781728215952
Ages 0-3
An amusing die-cut counting board book has 10 fish, swimming in a hurry… why could they be in a such a rush ? It could be the big fish swimming up behind them, gobbling them up one by one! The final fish makes a stand against this hungry bully, with hilarious results. A funny rhyme on each page keeps the story moving; bright fish against a black background, and die-cute pages, show the hungry fish getting bigger and bigger and the colorful fish bounce around inside its belly, a colorful GULP follows each fish down the big guy’s gullet. A great read for colors and counting; the die cuts will keep little fingers busy and engaged. If you have the budget, order some squishy fish in bulk and hand them out to let readers play along.
Add a song and fingerplay sheet with some Under the Sea Songs – I’m including a link to one I made in Canva, here, if you’d like. If you are doing grab-and-go activities, consider a fish handprint craft, like this one from CraftyMorning. All you need to include is a square of colorful paper large enough to track a child’s handprint on, a craft stick, and some decorations (Googly eyes,, stick-on jewels, beads) or extra pieces of scrap paper to add fins and designs.
I am not wonderful at origami, as you can see from my library’s latest program (I’m the hopeless goofball), but this origami fish video gave me some hope. There are relatively few folds, kids can decorate and color the completed fish, and you can link to the video in your grab and go, or make your own craft video (just be kind, let them know that @Wei5432 on TikTok made this video).
Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Oddbird: Vive la difference!

Oddbird, by Derek Desierto, (May 2021, Feiwel and Friends), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250765314

Ages 3-6

It’s a really hot day in the jungle, but all the birds at the pool wouldn’t dream of going into the water and messing up their feathers! It’s a place to see and be seen, until a little gray bird shows up and dips their toes in the water, attracting everyone’s attention. Those rude birds tease Oddbird for being different and bullying him until they flies away, crying… but they’ve got a plan! Oddbird is a smart story for young readers about fitting in… and standing out. It’s a great readaloud and provides a lot of food for thought, whether you’re approaching from a social-emotional learning perspective or a diversity, equity, and inclusion frame of mind. Oddbird celebrates individuality and acceptance, and it’s a hat tip to perseverance. Oddbird is gendered as male in the flap text and in the story, but if you prefer, can easily be nonbinary during a readaloud; I’d read the story using they/them pronouns, myself; it flows nicely either way. The bright illustrations are cheery and pop right off the white background; readers will love seeing these colorful birds. Have feathers in your craft storage? Make Oddbird grab and go kits by putting some feathers, some gray construction paper (cut into a vaguely Oddbird shape if you’d like), and some googly eyes and link it to a virtual (or in-person) storytime!

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

Graphic novels: real-life stories

More graphic novels to talk about, this time, real-life stories. Some are realistic fiction, some are inspired by moments in the author’s life. All are great reading!

My Own World, by Mike Holmes, (June 2021, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250208286
Ages 8-13
Inspired by events in his childhood, Wings of Fire and Secret Coders illustrator Mike Holmes delivers a graphic memoir with a splash of fantasy. Nathan is alone, but for his older brother, Ben. His other siblings and the neighborhood bullies torment him, but he always looks to Ben to spend time with; Ben is the one person who gets him. Unfortunately, there are things coming up that take Ben farther and farther away from Nathan, leaving him to create a fantasy world to escape to when the real world intrudes too much. A study in grief, loss, and healing, My Own World is a better reading choice for middle schoolers than younger readers; there’s trauma contained within these pages. It’s an excellent starting point for discussions on the lingering damage done by bullying, loneliness, and coping with loss. The real world is depicted in flat colors, but Nathan’s fantasy world is alive with color, vibrancy, and engaging characters that Nathan creates to spend time with.
My Own World has a starred review from Booklist.
Jukebox, by Nidhi Chanani, (June 2021, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250156372
Ages 10 to 14
Nidhi Chanani is amazing in her ability to create magical travels using everyday objects. She infused a shawl with the power to fantastical India in her 2017 award-winner, Pashmina; now, she weaves a story about a jukebox that can transport listeners to a moment in time, inspired by the albums they play, in Jukebox. Shaheen is a girl who feels like she and her mom come in second to her father’s love of – obsession with? – music, particularly with albums. He never seems to be present to hear her when she’s talking; he just wants to talk about the newest album he’s on the hunt for, and he spends hours searching record bins for new additions to his collection. When he doesn’t return home one night, Shaheen and her cousin, Tannaz, start a search, only to discover a glowing jukebox at the local record store where Dad spent so much of his time. A Bessie Smith record spins on the turntable, and the girls find themselves transported to Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom in 1929! The song ends, returning them to their present time and place, and the chase through musical history is on. The girls spin different records, visiting key moments in time. from political marches to landmark concerts, while searching for Shaheen’s father. Will they be able to find him before morning? Jukebox is an incredible journey through our history using music as the vehicle. Sections are organized by album cover, with Shaheen’s father’s notes on the albums and social climate, giving readers more context as they prepare to jump into a new decade: Bessie Smith’s section includes notes on the album’s 1929 release, the oncoming Depression, and a 1929 Oscar awards program; Nina Simone’s Black Gold includes a Golden State Comic Con program and a newspaper with an Earth Day headline, all of which happened in 1970. Notes from Shaheen’s father mention her career and marriage eroding in the 1960s, and the music industry’s punishment for her political music.
Brilliant storytelling and an essential look at the ties between music and social change. Visit Nidhi Chanani’s website for printables and more about her books, and get multiple copies of this book ready – your readers deserve them! If you’re doing a travel themed Summer Reading program this year, you couldn’t ask for a better concept: pick songs, get some facts, and create slideshows; invite readers to offer their own insight. What song was popular the year they graduated from kindergarten? What song makes them think of family? A favorite friend? Invite readers to talk about music from their culture that others may not know. There’s so much you can do here!
Turtle in Paradise, by Jennifer L. Holm/Illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau, (June 2021, Random House Graphic), $12.99, ISBN: 9780593126301
Ages 8-12
This graphic novel adaptation of Jennifer Holm’s 2010 Newbery Honor-winning novel is simply gorgeous. Set in 1935, eleven-year-old Turtle is a girl who’s had some tough times. She’s more level-headed than her mother, loves the movies, and really doesn’t like Shirley Temple. While figuring out where life will take her next, her mother sends Turtle to Key West, Florida, to live with her aunt when she takes a job housekeeping for a woman who doesn’t like children, and Turtle has never met her aunt or the many cousins she’s now living with. She starts getting into the swing of things, following the “Diaper Gang”: neighborhood boys with a babysitting club and a secret diaper rash formula that puts them in high demand. As she gets into a day-to-day groove, she learns some family secrets that leave her wanting more: more of her mother’s past, more of her family history, just… more. A family study, a piece of historical fiction that examines life in Depression-Era Florida, and a strong, smart female protagonist make this a great enough story, and then you Savanna Ganucheau’s artwork: filled with lush and humid outdoor spreads, we get a picture of 1930s life in Key West. Turtle’s cousins run barefoot through their day, while Turtle insists on her shoes. Babysitting moments are laugh-out loud funny, and Turtle interactions with a cantankerous senior citizen will make readers chuckle and admire the girl’s tenacity. Inspired by Jennifer Holm’s great-grandmother’s life in Key West, this is an adaptation that your readers will love and will absolutely gain the story some new fans.
Chunky, by Yehudi Mercado, (June 2021, Katherine Tegen Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780062972781
Ages 8-12
A memoir of Yehudi Mercado’s Mexican-Jewish upbringing, Chunky is more incredible storytelling. Set in the 1980s, Hudi has one lung after a childhood battle with lung disease, he’s overweight, and he loves video games, science fiction and fantasy, and being the funny kid. His parents want him to lose weight and be healthier, and try to push him toward different sports to get him more active. Hudi, not particularly in love with the idea, goes along with his parents to make them happy, but creates an imaginary friend: a pink-furred   cheerleader/mascot called Chunky, to cheer him on as he tries – and flops – at baseball, swimming, and tennis. Chunky is there to tell Yehudi he’s better at comedy and drawing; he’s Hudi’s inner compass, telling him to stay true to himself. When Hudi’s father loses his job and has to move to another state to find work, he finds himself faced with a crossroads and joins the football team in a last bid to fit the image his parents want to have of him. Chunky is more than a memoir; it’s a story of trying to please others before yourself; it’s a story of using humor as deflection; it’s a story of listening to your true self. Hudi is funny – he can’t help but crack up people he comes into contact with, especially medical professionals – and he’s pretty game to try anything his parents want, even if his heart may not be 100% committed. He’s good-natured and kind, which makes his break with Chunky painful when he attempts one more sport to satisfy his parents. We want funny Hudi back! We want to go get ice cream with him and feel like everything will work out! The artwork is bright, colorful, upbeat, and loaded with great details, like Hudi’s t-shirts (console video games! Chewbacca!) and his room, which his father constantly redecorates to affirm his dedication to the latest sport Hudi’s involved with – and that Chunky and Hudi take great pleasure in defacing time and time again. I can gush about Chunky all day, so let me just say that this is another must-add to your shelves.
Learn more about Yehudi Mercado and get a look at Chunky at his website. Chunky has a starred review from School Library Journal.
Posted in picture books

Gizmo Girl Geraldine is back, and taking a stand against bullies!

Geraldine and the Anti-Bullying Shield, by Sol Regwan/Illustrated by Denise Muzzio, (March 2020, Schiffer Kids), $16.99, ISBN: 9780764361135

Ages 5-8

The Gizmo Girl’s third adventure has her joining forces with her friends to stand up against Jimmy, the school bully. He’s making everyone miserable, and Geraldine plans to teach him a lesson using her inventor skills! Culling bits of technology and supplies from her home and her friends’ homes, she invites everyone over where they construct the Anti-Bullying Shield: a shield with mirrors on its front, and an old cell phone on the back, so show Jimmy what he looks and sounds like when he’s at his meanest! Will Jimmy see how mean he looks and sounds, and change his ways? Geraldine is a smart kid who uses her STEM/STEAM skills to solve problems, and her idea to stand up against a bully by showing him what other kids see is a smart way to turn the tables. She also encourages her friends to stand together, forming a united front against the bully. Adults are ready to help out here, as Geraldine’s dad assists with the bully shield construction and a teacher takes a walk with Jimmy to help him work through whatever could be causing him to act out.

There are many anti-bullying resources available to share with kids and caregivers alike. KidPower.org and StopBullying.gov are both excellent resources, and this Edutopia article has more information and links available.

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

The Tornado takes on a tough question about bullies

The Tornado, by Jake Burt, (Oct. 2019, Feiwel & Friends), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-250-16864-1

Ages 10-14

Fifth grader Bell Kirby loves systems and structure. He uses them to excel in his school’s Creator’s Club, he creates an enviable habitat for his pet chincilla, Fuzzgig, and he stays under the radar, away from the school bully, Parker Hellickson – who also happens to be the principal’s son. When Daelynn Gower shows up – a new kid in town, straight out of homeschool, with rainbow-colored hair and a personality to match – and befriends Bell, she puts all of his hard work and systems at risk. Because Daelynn can’t help but be noticed. But when Daelynn finds herself in the bully’s sights, Bell finds himself at a crossroads: back in Parker’s good graces if he stands by and lets the next kid take the abuse, or stand up for himself and his new friend.

This is a strong story about bullying, looking at it from a less examined point of view. What happens when your bully moves on to another kid? Bell struggles with this because he’s relieved, but he knows that even standing by, pretending not to see the bullying, is wrong. When he learns that he was another kid’s relief from being in Parker’s sights, he knows, even more, that he has to take a stand. It’s a topic that can contribute to a meaningful class discussion. Jake Burt gives us fully realized characters here. Bell loves building and creating things to order his world, likely influenced by his military parents, who pass that love for structure onto him: he messages with his father, who’s stationed overseas and sends him engineering puzzles to figure out; his mother, a major in the US Army, is working on her Ph.D. and is referred to as a “mad scientist” by Parker. Parker is an unrepentant bully who uses the fact that his father has his own blind spot when it comes to his son’s bullying, brushing aside repeated complaints and believing the thinnest of excuses while letting readers glimpse into a home life that may not be ideal for Parker, either. His father talks down to Bell’s mother on several occasions, and she needs to correct him about her rank in the Army on at least one occasion, noting that she outranks her husband.

Woven into this story is Bell’s interest in systems and creating, and bringing a great STEAM challenge into the plot. The Creator Club challenge for this school year is to recreate one of Leonardo DaVinci’s creations, DaVinci-era style. No Internet. No electricity. Working by candlelight and looking up information in books. It’s a great subplot about friendship, teamwork, and cooperation. There’s also some great references to The Wizard of Oz throughout the book – see how many you can find, and challenge your readers. The one question that came up for me multiple times throughout the reading: Who is the Tornado here? I don’t know about you, but I got a different answer each time I considered it.

Author Jake Burt’s website offers updates and more information about his books. John Schu has an interview with Jake Burt available at Watch.Connect.Read, and The Tornado has a starred review from School Library Journal.

 

Posted in picture books

My Footprints addresses family, bullying, and imagination

My Footprints, by Bao Phi/Illustrated by Basia Tran, (Sept. 2019. Capstone), $19.99, ISBN: 9781684460007

Ages 5-8

Thuy is a biracial child with two moms who feels “double different”. Walking home one winter afternoon, she tries to ignore the bullies who go at her, but she’s frustrated – and then she sees a bird, which takes her away from the bullies and into the air, soaring like the bird; from there, she wonders about taking on characteristics of other animals: sprinting like a deer; roaring like a bear; anything that can help her channel her frustration. She arrives home to her moms, Momma Ngoc and Momma Arti, and talks with them as the three walk together, creating all sorts of footprints: a phoenix, a Sarabha from Hindu mythology, even a new creature that leaves heart-shaped footprints in the snow, as Thuy walks between her mothers.

This is a quietly captivating book about imagination and family; about taking power away from bullies by talking things out with family, and gaining strength from coming together. Using mythological animals like a phoenix, which rises from its ashes, and a Sarabha, a powerful beast with the ability to leap great distances, is a nod to both Thuy’s and her mothers’ Asian and Southeast Asian backgrounds. These animals also let readers follow Thuy further into an imaginary world where she – and we – can channel the strength of these creatures into ourselves when faced with adversity.

Beautifully told, beautifully illustrated, My Footprints is a solid addition to picture book collections.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Blob Tour Stop: A. Blob on a Bus

Hi, all! Happy to be a stop on this fun book tour about a bully, a blob (one and the same), and a bus. Read on!

A. Blob on a Bus, by L.A. Kefalos/Illustrated by Jeffrey Burns,
(July 2019, Laughing Leopard Press), $9.95, ISBN: 978-1-731251107
Ages 3-6

The second book in the A. Blob series stars A. Blob, who’s just a big, gooey bully. He pulls hair, he oozes all over the place as he shoves his way through the bus, he throws erasers, he’s just awful. One day, a little girl named Alexandra has had enough. She confronts the bully, and the other kids, bolstered by her courage, stand behind her. Faced with a united front, the bully puts itself in their shoes, and stops oozing! What lies beneath the muck that is A. Blob?

The first book, This is A. Blob, took a look at the other side of bullying, introducing us to the big, oozing bully tormenting kids at the school playground, and hints that bullies can be sad and lonely people who have trouble connecting with others. Here, we’ve got another common bully setting – the school bus – and the story of what happens when one person says, “Enough”. With A. Blob’s ooze slithering away, we see that possibly, that ooze is a wall built up to keep others out. The third book promises to reveal all!

The artwork reminds me of Nick Jr.-like characters; a realistic cartoony feel. Characters are diverse, with large, expressive eyes. Blob’s eyes are just as expressive, on eye stalks at the top of his head, letting readers know that there’s more than just what’s on the surface. The A. Blob books are a nice addition to your anti-bullying bookshelf, adding a thoughtful look at a bully’s internal motivation while encouraging kids to stand up for themselves and others. Display and read with Kathryn Otoshi’s books, particularly One.

There are bullying facts and free, downloadable materials guides for both This is A. Blob on A. Blob on a Bus at the Laughing Leopard website.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Can friendship can make Spiky less prickly?

Spiky, by Ilaria Guarducci/Translated by Laura Watkinson, (June 2019, Amazon Crossing Kids), $17.99, ISBN: 9781542040433

Ages 4-8

Spiky is one of the new books from Amazon’s new imprint, Amazon Crossing Kids, publishing children’s books in translation. Originally published in Italian, Spiky tells the story of a rather prickly fellow named Spiky. He’s brown and covered with spikes, and he’s a big bully. His spikes keep everyone around him at arm’s length, and he just revels in being mean; he pulls the wings off butterflies, he puts birds in glass jars, and he pokes holes in snail shells, all for the sake of being mean. But one day, his spikes start falling out. Before he knows it, Spiky is now a big, pink, spikeless marshmallow who isn’t scary at all. How the tables have turned! Bernardo, a kind bunny, befriends Spiky and shows him how nice it is to be surrounded by friends, especially when there are no spikes to stand between them. Eventually, Spiky’s spikes come back and he begins to re-embrace the Bad Side, but his heart just isn’t in it anymore. Bernardo still sees his friend under all those spikes, and that kind gesture is all Spiky needs to realize that feeling good is pretty darn awesome.

Spiky is a sweet story about a bully who changes his ways and the difference having one good friend can make. Spiky is raised to be mean – the story even notes that his father sends him to “the best school for badness in the whole country” – giving readers a heads-up, particularly us grown-ups, that children learn what they live. Raised and encouraged to be mean, Spiky’s badness runs unchecked until he finds himself in a vulnerable position. From here, Bernardo the bunny comes in and nudges the story into a sweet one of redemption and friendship, leading Spiky down a very different, upbeat path by showing him kindness.

A cute story for storytime, and offers some good moments for discussion with preschoolers to second graders. Ilaria Guarducci’s Facebook page also offers some adorable Spiky artwork that you can have your kiddos easily create: get some brown (and pink) construction paper, a box of toothpicks, some glue, and voila!

See more of Ilaria Guarducci’s artwork at her blog.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Bully on the Bus – a novel in verse

Bully on the Bus, by Kathryn Apel, (Sept. 2018, Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 9781610677707

Ages 7-10

Elementary schooler Leroy loves his teacher, Mrs. Wilson. He loves being one of her “Superkids”. But he hates taking the bus to school every day, because there’s a bully on the bus: a high schooler named DJ has it out for him every single day, and no one can stop her. Not the bus driver, and not his older sister, Ruby. Every day, DJ pinches, pokes, insults, and steals from Leroy, threatening him if he tells. When he brings a special cupcake to school, one he made just for Mrs. Wilson, DJ takes it and eats it, ruining his schoolwork in the process. From there, Leroy begins to withdraw until he can hold it in no longer. With Ruby’s encouragement, he tells his parents, who meet with the Mrs. Wilson; together, they come up with a plan to deal with the bully on the bus.

Told in verse from Leroy’s point of view, Bully on the Bus is sensitive, often heartbreaking, and ultimately, hopeful. Leroy’s employs self-confidence, bolstered by his family’s and teacher’s support, and a ‘secret weapon’ that holds messages – strategies – to distract him from DJ’s bullying. There’s strong advice for kids enduring their own bullies: “Show the bully you don’t care. Tell an adult.” The story ends on an optimistic note, and while Leroy’s “secret weapon” and support system may not apply to every reader’s situation, it is a story that lets kids know they are seen; their stories heard. It’s a story that encourages kids to seek help and assures them that someone out there wants to listen and wants to help. The story is set in Australia, but can easily take place anywhere.

My library system just kicked off a Time for Kind program, starting on World Kindness Day (Nov. 13). This book is going to be a strong booktalker for me.

Author Kathryn Apel has some wonderful resources to accompany Bully on the Bus, including downloadable wolf masks and bus shape templates to create shape poetry.