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

Odder will melt your heart

Odder, by Katherine Applegate/Illustrated by Charles Santoso, (Sept. 2022, Feiwel & Friends), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250147424

Ages 8-12

Newbery Medalist Katherine Applegate does it again. Odder is the “Queen of Play”: a curious young otter who loves to play in the water and wander where she really shouldn’t. While splashing in the water with her best friend, Kairi, they have a run-in with a hungry great white shark, and Odder is injured. Rescued by the same humans that saved her as an otter pup, the story takes an introspective turn as Odder confronts truths about herself and life in the ocean. Inspired by the true story of a Monterey Bay Aquarium program that rescues otters, Applegate creates movement and emotion through her verse: “…there is time for a bit of deep diving / wave chasing / tail spinning / smooth gliding / bubble blowing / FUN”; “She doesn’t just swim to the bottom, / she dive-bombs. / She doesn’t just somersault / she triple-doughnuts. / She doesn’t just ride the waves, / she makes them”. Applegate makes strong points about conservation and throughout the story and in her author’s note, which provides background on her inspiration for Odder. Charles Santoso’s black and white illustrations guarantee that you’ll need to stock your nonfiction section with more books on otters; kids will fall in love with gentle story. A glossary helps readers with new vocabulary. Visit Katherine Applegate’s author website for more about her books and educator resources. has some otter-related coloring sheets and worksheets for a book club or STEM extension activity.

Odder has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

AH-CHOO! Dragons Get Colds, Too!

Dragons Get Colds Too, by Rebecca Roan/Illustrated by Charles Santoso, (Feb. 2019, Bloomsbury Children), $17.99, ISBN: 9781681190440

Ages 3-6

A little girl’s dragon catches a cold, so, as any good dragon parent would do, she seeks help from a book, where a doctor explains the steps in how to cure your dragon. Each spread has featured steps in the process of caring for one’s sick dragon, and the visual gags that illustrate, in hilarious detail, the girl taking the book’s advice. For instance, when determining if your dragon has a cold, be careful and do NOT use tissues. They’re flammable, after all; that said, since dragons don’t wear sleeves, you should keep an extra shirt handy since, “dragon snot tends to be rather gooey”. The girl sits on her dragon, in mid-sneeze, with clothing flying around as it shoots gooey, green boogers all over the page.

The dialogue is written out as a medical manual: the “steps”, plus additional notes with “facts” and “tips”, all of which serve as an amusing foil to the illustrations, where the girl cares for her picky, moody, sick buddy. Any parent who’s read a medical manual knows that theory versus practice are two very, very different things; something our protagonist discovers along the way. The bright artwork and upbeat illustrations are great fun, and the endpapers extend the story all the way through: the beginning endpapers and title page show the dragon frolicking with his friend, then laying down, looking under the weather. At the book’s close, the dragon is flying high again, feeling great… until the closing endpapers, when we see the girl sneeze. The cartoony The doctor featured in the medical manual is a woman of color, and the girl treating her dragon is white.

Dragons Get Colds Too is adorable fun. It can pair with Adam Rubin’s Dragons Love Tacos for kids who love silly dragons, and it can be part of a sick day readaloud with Aliens Get the Sniffles, Too, by Katy Duffield, and Philip C. Stead’s classic, A Sick Day for Amos McGee.

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

A Boy Called Bat is gentle and kind

boy-called-batA Boy Called Bat, by Elana K. Arnold/Illustrated by Charles Santoso, (March 2017, Walden Pond Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062445827

Recommended for ages 8-12

Bixby Alexander Tam – Bat, for short – loves animals. Fortunately, his mom is a veterinarian, so he gets to be around them quite a bit, and he knows how to handle them, too. One day, his  mom brings home an orphaned baby skunk that needs to be nursed and cared for until he’s big enough to go to a wild animal shelter, and Bat falls in love. He just knows that the kit, who he names Thor, is meant to be his pet. Now, he just has to convince his mom!

A Boy Called Bat is a sweet story about a gentle boy who also happens to be on the autism spectrum. It’s never outwardly addressed – no giant, neon arrows here – but Elana Arnold alludes to it in her text, and rather than concentrating on a label for the boy, gives us a well-rounded story about a special boy and the special animal that comes into his life. At only 96 pages, with black and white illustrations, it’s a great book for all kids (and adults!) to read; it also would  make for a great classroom read-aloud. It helps further understanding, showing Bat doing the same things most kids do: not loving shuttling back and forth between his divorced parents’ homes; wanting a pet and learning how to take care of it; navigating friendships at school.

This is a solid addition to diversity collections. Booktalk this with Daniel Stefanski’s How to Talk to an Autistic Kid and Ben Hatke’s Mighty Jack; graduate readers to books like Ann M. Martin’s Rain Reign.