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

I start #MGMarch with Fly Back Agnes

Fly Back Agnes, by Elizabeth Atkinson, (March 2020, Carolrhoda), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-5415-7820-3

Ages 10-13

It’s Middle Grade March (#MGMarch on social media), and I’m working my way through some incredible Middle Grade in my pile. Let’s start with Elizabeth Atkinson’s Fly Back, Agnes; a book I did not want to put down.

Agnes is a 12-year-old living in Vermont with her mother, who Agnes sees as a “bulldozer” that just rolls over everything in her path. Agnes is frustrated by her mother’s pushiness and opinions about Agnes’s clothes and imminent “becoming a woman”; she really isn’t crazy about her mother’s mumbling artist boyfriend, Richard, and Richard’s weird and obnoxious kid, George. She misses her father, who lives in a nearby town, where he’s a cellist and teaches at a university. She misses her sister, Viva, who’s pulled away from their family entirely. She feels betrayed by her best friend, Megan, who’s become enchanted with the new mean girl, Lux. So when her mother announces that they’re moving to Kansas for the summer, for a project Richard’s been hired to do – despite Agnes having made plans to work at an animals shelter – she has had it. It all starts with a white lie, so she can spend the summer with her dad, who’s housesitting for a friend. She’s thrilled to have the summer with her father, but he’s finishing up his dissertation, so he doesn’t have a lot of time to spend with her, leaving Agnes to wander the town and decide to take on a persona that isn’t Agnes at all. She becomes Chloe, an actress-dancer 14-year-old who has the life Agnes desperately wants. Even as she makes friends in town – a young woman named Stella, Stella’s grandmother, Birdie, and a cute 15-year-old named Fin – the lies get bigger and deeper. Agnes wants to tell them the truth, especially as each reveals their own secrets to her, but she just can’t seem to find a way out.

Two major themes in Fly Back, Agnes are secrets and identities. Agnes is struggling with her identity because she’s on the cusp of “womanhood” – getting her period – something that, for her, is a sign that her childhood is over. She sees her visit to her father as a chance to escape the life she’s in, and tries a new identity on for size while she’s away. Being the main character, she’s the most fleshed out: biracial, with a part-Korean father and American mother, she has her mother’s freckles and curly red hair and her father’s skin tone. Her friends are ready to take on the tween/teen mantle, consumed with their smartphones and appearances, and it feels like a betrayal to Agnes, especially when she overhears mean girl Lux talking with them behind Agnes’s back at a sleepover. Stella and Fin have their own secrets, but they haven’t created a new persona: their identities are wrapped up in their secrets, and their trust in Agnes makes her feel guilty. Agnes’s parents are less fleshed out but have enough background to give us a pretty good picture of them. I wanted to learn more about Viva, but she and Megan were both there to give Agnes more depth, and ultimately, that was fine with me.

Fly Back, Agnes, has great pacing, good characters, and is a story I can’t wait to booktalk to my middle graders. It’s relatable, with (mostly) likable characters, and an interesting mini-plot with rehabilitating wild birds. It’s a good add to your realistic fiction collections.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Science Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Happy Book Birthday to A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity – and an author tour calendar!

A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity, by Nicole Valentine, (Oct. 2019, Carolrhoda), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-5415-5538-9

Ages 10+

Twelve-year-old Finn’s twin sister, Faith, drowned when they were three years old. His mother up and left Finn and his father a few months ago. As his father loses himself in his academic research, Finn clings to science for a concrete hold on life, and relies on his friend, Gabi, to be his steadying constant. But one night, his grandmother tells him a secret that throws everything he’s ever known – everything he’ll ever know – into chaos: the women in Finn’s family are Travelers; women who can travel through time, and each generation is more powerful than the last. Finn’s mother didn’t leave him. She’s traveling through time trying to put things right, and she needs Finn to find her and help her, leaving him a portal for him to Travel through. He has to be careful about who he can trust, though; there are people who don’t have his family’s best interests at heart, which could lead to disastrous consequences. Can Finn put his faith in something he’s never been able to believe in before, and embrace the unknown, the abstract, in order to save his family?

Theory is a story of grief and loss, with hope and the courage to believe in a bigger worldview. Filled with plot twists and shifts that make this a good read for science fiction and fantasy fans, and readers who are ready to take a step into a bigger world, we meet Finn, is a solidly constructed character with a tragic backstory. Finn can be the reader’s entry point into the story, giving us a character who’s haunted by loss and cleaving to science: dependable, real. But when you think about it, physics is a pretty abstract science; there’s an entire branch of physics dedicated to theoretical study, and time travel theories abound when discussing quantum physics. That Finn chooses physics as his scientific field of choice is an interesting one, and shows that he’s willing to reach beyond the concrete… maybe. Gabi, Finn’s best friend, is Puerto Rican and mentions that she and her mother have had friction in the past being “newcomers” to their town, and not only because they haven’t spend their entire lives there. She’s ready to face anything with Finn. Other characters – mostly Finn’s extended family – have bits and pieces of backstory that unfold throughout the story, making them interesting and slightly mysterious. A good read for book clubs, Theory comes with some discussion questions at the end; the questions are also available through the publisher’s website, as is a chapter-by-chapter educator guide.

Give Theory a shot, and hand it to your sci-fi and fantasy readers for sure. Give it to your realistic fiction readers that are ready for a good time-traveling mystery, too. Booktalk it with A Wrinkle in Time, which also touches on the mechanics of time travel and science, or Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me; a great example of using time travel within a compelling realistic fiction setting.  A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity is a Junior Library Guild selection.

Want to meet author Nicole Valentine? She’s on tour!

Nicole Valentine (https://www.nicolevalentinebooks.com/) earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and teaches writing workshops at the Highlights Foundation in Honesdale, PA. As the former chief technology officer at Figment.com and Space.com, Nicole loves science and as a writer enjoys pondering the times when science falls short of explanation and magic has room to sneak in. When not engaged in fictional world-building, Nicole can often be found with a hawk on her arm. A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity is her debut novel. She lives in Pennsylvania with her family. Twitter: @nicoleva IG: @nicolevalentine

Blog: https://steamg.org/

Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction, picture books, Preschool Reads, Tween Reads

Space… The Final Frontier…

…these are the voyages of the starship Bibliomaniac. My continuing mission: to bring you the coolest books about space, while butchering a beloved TV show’s intro. This post has a books that should appeal to fiction and non-fiction lovers alike. Because it’s SPACE! Planets! Stars! Rocket ships! So whaddaya say? Join me! After all… Stardust Explores the Solar System (Stardust Science), by Bailey and Douglas Harris, (Apr. 2018, StoryBook Genius Publishing), $10.95, ISBN: 9781941434918 Ages 5-9 Stardust Science is a kids’ nonfiction series from a small-press publisher that I’ve just been turned onto. Bailey and Douglas Harris are a daughter-father team who write some pretty fun books starring a girl who loves science and is named named Stardust. Stardust Explores the Solar System is the second Stardust book, and here, Stardust takes readers on a tour of our solar system and its formation, and a trip to each planet. Spreads have a brief, informative paragraph and artwork placing Stardust on each planet, whether she’s driving an exploration craft across Venus or freezing atop Uranus. Extra fun facts focus on the possibility of extraterrestrial life, the Kuiper belt and dwarf planets, and the asteroid belt. Stardust Explores the Solar System was a successful 2017 Kickstarter (which is where I found the internal artwork for this post), and there’s a current Kickstarter for the next book, Stardust Explores Earth’s Wonders. You can pick up copies of My Name is Stardust and Stardust Explores the Solar System from the Stardust Science webpage. It’s a fun book, co-written by a 12-year old Neil DeGrasse Tyson fan, so how can you go wrong? It’s a nice additional book to big collections, and a sweet way to empower your younger readers. My 6-year-old loves this one and says he’s ready to write his own book.   The Universe Ate My Homework, by David Zeltser/Illustrated by Ayesha L. Rubio, (Aug. 2018, Carolrhoda Books), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1512417982 Ages 6-8 Abby’s a little girl who has homework to do, but UGH. She’d rather be stargazing with her dog, Cosmo, or talking to her physicist dad. He’s been thinking about universes, and how to make a baby universe, which gets Abby thinking. She sneaks into her dad’s study and works on making her own black holeout of the dreaded homework! It takes a lot of squeezing and a lot of energy, but Abby and Cosmo have done it! But what happens when a black hole’s gravity kicks in? HELP! This is an absolute fun way to explain the science of black holes to kiddos. What better way to get rid of your homework than by turning it into an actual science experiment? Kids will be squeezing the daylights out of their looseleaf for weeks to come, waiting for their own wee Big Bang. The artwork is too much fun, with something to see in every spread: the John Coltrane album and record player in the family living room; Dad’s study is loaded with things to see, including a framed picture of Marie Curie, family photo, Abby’s family drawing, and a postcard depicting a scene from  Georges Méliès’s 1902 A Trip to the Moon. The mini galaxy Abby creates unfolds for readers, starting first with swirls and stars, then with planets. It’s a fun book that makes for a great storytime, and a teacher’s note to Abby (you didn’t forget about the homework, did you?) at the story’s end will leave kids and adults alike laughing out loud. An author’s note gives a little more information about black holes and baby universes. Add this one to your collections and get your little ones contemplating astrophysics! Apollo 8: The Mission That Changed Everything, by Martin W. Sandler, (Oct. 2018, Candlewick), $24.99, ISBN: 978-0-7636-9489-0 Ages 10+ It was 1968, and the U.S. was about to make a huge gamble. America was deep into the Cold War with the USSR, and the country was fraying at the seams after the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy; it was a country where the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War caused violent clashes. We needed something to unite us. Russia had already launched the first man-made satellite to orbit Earth, Sputnik I – in 1957, but now, they were getting ready to go to the moon. America was determined to get there first. But first, we had to get into space. Apollo 8: The Mission That Changed Everything is a brilliantly written chronicle of NASA’s mission to put a craft into orbit around the earth. Loaded with black and white and color archival photos and written by one of the most well-known names in children’s and young adult nonfiction, this is a must-have for your middle grade and middle school collections. With the 50th anniversary celebration of the Apollo 8 mission falling in December of this year, this is going to be an in-demand title in classrooms and libraries. Martin W. Sandler is an award-winning writer – a two-time Pulitzer nominee, five-time Emmy winner, and Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor winner – who makes nonfiction read as compulsively as solid fiction; There are extensive source notes and a bibliography for further reading and research.
Earthrise: Apollo 8 and the Photo That Changed the World, by James Gladstone/Illustrated by Christy Lundy, (Oct. 2018, OwlKids Books), $16.95, ISBN: 9781771473163
Ages 4-8
This is the year for Apollo 8 books! Earthrise is a gorgeous picture book that tells that story of Earthrise, the history-making photo of Earth, taken from lunar orbit, taken by astronaut Bill Anders. The story shows readers how this single photo took us from a planet full of conflict to a global community – if only for a moment. We see the story from shifting perspectives: the crowds gathered in anticipation, the men in Mission Control, and an African-American family, with a little girl who dreams of being an astronaut one day.
The text is just beautiful. James Gladstone creates a mood of wonder as he writes lines like, “Now the craft was coasting on a human dream, speeding the crew off to another world”, and “The astronauts saw the whole turning Earth – no countries, no borders – floating in the vastness of space”. Back matter includes a piece on how the Earthrise photo changed the world, and an invitation to readers to share what Earthrise means to them. It’s the perfect program in a book! Show the original Apollo 8 launch broadcast, this NASA Apollo 8 documentary, and/or the broadcast Apollo 8 Christmas Eve message and ask kids to talk about what seeing the Earthrise makes them feel, 50 years later. Paired with Christy Lundy’s vintage-inspired artwork, Earthrise is a necessity in your nonfiction collections. Earthrise has a starred review from Kirkus.
To the Moon and Back, by Buzz Aldrin with Marianne J. Dyson/Paper engineering by Bruce Foster, (Oct. 2018, National Geographic), $32, ISBN: 978-1-4263-3249-4
Ages 6+
How much fun is a pop-up book about SPACE? With ROCKETS?! Buzz Aldrin, Marianne J. Dyson, and Bruce Foster take readers on a trip through “humanity’s greatest adventure”. Learn Buzz Aldrin’s nickname on the mission; read about the launch and landing; souvenirs left on the lunar surface, and the astronauts’ return, all accompanied by amazing paper engineering: pop-up rockets, fold-out lunar landings, and side flaps that offer even greater information – and a few laughs. If you’re getting this for a library or classroom collection, put it in reference; it will get beaten up pretty quickly. The book also comes with a paper Apollo 11 lunar module kids can engineer on their own. (We haven’t built that one yet.) Want to make a space fan happy? Put this on your holiday and special occasion shopping lists. Read more about the 1969 Moon Landing on NatGeo’s webpage.
Whew! Okay, that’s all I’ve got for now, go forth and explore!
Posted in Fiction, Intermediate

Happy British National Tea Day! Spend it with The Queen!

How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea, by Kate Hosford/Illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska, (March 2017, Carolrhoda Books), $18.99, ISBN: 978-1-4677-3904-7

Recommended for ages 5-10

A pampered queen is fed up with her usual cup of tea and demands that her butler take her in search of the perfect cup of tea. The duo travel via hot air balloon to gorgeous, green, tea-growing lands and meet three children: Noriko, from Japan; Sunil, from India, and Rana, from Turkey, all of whom teach the Queen to make tea as they do – after she snuggles a kitten, dribbles a soccer ball, and dances. The Queen, noticeably more relaxed with each trip, returns home, invites the children to a tea party, and greets them, hair askew, smiling, and happy.

The soothing repetition of this story, combined with Gabi Swiatkowska’s colored pencils and the strong individual characters Kate Hosford creates all come together to give readers a story about unity, multiculturalism, and letting your hair down. The Queen’s transformation from stuffy and coddled to open and self-sufficient is a joy to watch. Each new experience, each new child she meets, expands her world view, signified by the different teas she enjoys.

The tea rituals are also repetitive in their own way; each ingredient is laid out, and the steps in making each tea are illustrated, inviting readers (with adult help) to make their own tea. An author’s note at the end touches on the history of tea and the author’s inspiration in coming up with the Queen.

This makes a great addition to a multicultural storytime, or a fun addition to a food-related storytime (have some cooled tea prepared for kids to try). I read this one with my 4 year old, who loved the idea of traveling by balloon and meeting new kids – wasn’t so interested in the tea – and that’s the whole point of the book. Talk to kids about being self-sufficient and open to new experiences, and you’ll be just fine.

Want a Queenly storytime? Pick up Gabi Swiatkowska’s own book, Queen on Wednesday (2014), and see how the two monarchs match up.

Updated: Lerner Books just posted an interview with the author AND downloadable tea recipes!

Don’t forget to enter this Rafflecopter giveaway for your chance to win a copy of How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea!