Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Folx and children of all ages, I present… The Greatest Show Penguin!

The Greatest Show Penguin, by Lucy Freegard, (Feb. 2021, Pavilion), $22.95, ISBN: 978-1-84365-483-4

Ages 3-7

Poppy is a show penguin descending from a long line of show penguins. She’s been in show business from early on, and the audience loved her, but she wasn’t enjoying herself. She didn’t like the crowds, bright lights, and noises, and, despite worrying about disappointing her family, stops performing, only to discover a talent for the backstage business of putting on a show! The Greatest Showpenguin is an engaging story about finding your talents and discovering your strengths. Poppy’s parents are supportive and encourage her to pursue what makes her happy; Poppy is happy when she feels in control of her life and her environment, which will resonate with readers. The illustrations are cheery, colorful but not overwhelming. Endpapers feature Poppy, rolling in a hoop, across the spreads. A fun storytime that would pair nicely with Hannah E. Harrison’s Extraordinary Jane (2014).

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

#BooksfromQuarantine: Baby Clown and Follow Me, Flo!

Baby Clown, by Kara LaReau/Illustrated by Matthew Cordell, (Apr. 2020, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763697433

Ages 3-7

Parents and littles alike will love this book. Frieda and Boffo are two circus clowns who’ve just had a baby clown! Everyone is thrilled for them, especially the Big Boss, Mr. Dingling, who swears the new baby is going to be a star. There’s one eensy problem, though… Baby Clown cries all the time! Boffo can’t calm him down, Frieda can’t calm him down, and Mr. Dingling is getting frustrated. There’s no crying at the circus! Each member of the circus tries to lend a hand, but neither the trapeze artists, the animals, nor the wire walker are successful. Will Baby Clown calm down in time for his Big Top debut?

This book is SO RELATABLE. Who hasn’t tried to calm a baby who will not be soothed? The baby’s dry, not hungry, not sleepy, just cranky, and amount of juggling, antics, or soothing voices will do a darned thing. The artwork from Caldecott Medalist Matthew Cordell brings the story to life with his colorful inks and watercolors, giving us a baby who becomes, as Geisel Honor Winner Kara LaReau writes, “a big, wide, loud, mouth” in full meltdown mode. The characters take on frantic, manic expressions as the baby continues to scream; one of my favorite illustrations has poor Mom Frieda curled up in a fetal position next to the screaming baby, as Dad Boffo, kneeling, pleads for peace. Does Baby Clown get it together? Heck, you need to see for yourself, but I promise you: you’ll recognize yourself in this one right away if you’ve ever been around young children. Inspired by Kara LaReau’s own experience with colic, Baby Clown is a must for storytime.

 

Follow Me, Flo!, by Jarvis, (March 2020, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536212709

Ages 3-7

Another book that is SO relatable to kids and grownups, Flo is a young duckling who loves to do her own thing, much to her father’s chagrin. When they go visit Aunt Jenna’s new nest, though, Daddy Duck lays it all out for Flo: she MUST follow him or she’ll get lost. He even makes up a song with directions for the trip, but Flo – you guessed it! – decides that she’s bored and decides to take a little side trip of her own. But when she finds herself in big trouble, Daddy’s directions will save the day!

Kids will immediately love Flo, an adorably bright, yellow duckling with some sass. She doesn’t want to follow Daddy’s boring instructions; he doesn’t even sing loud like she does! But, as we parents and caregivers know, when she strays off that path, things may look fun at first, but there’s always a moment when things aren’t quite so fun any more. After a brush with stranger danger, Flo quickly discovers that her dad’s directions are there for a reason, and thankfully, easy enough to remember! The pencil, chalk, and painted artwork is cheery and fun, and both Flo and Dad’s faces are expressive, communicating both the seriousness of Dad’s discussion with Flo, and Flo’s increasing impatience with him as they head out on their trip. Will Flo stick to the straight and narrow? In the short run, sure… but maybe, just maybe, Flo will be back with a new adventure? Follow Me, Flo! is a fun story for readalouds and a no-pressure way to broach the concept of stranger danger.

Follow Me, Flo! has a starred review from School Library Journal.

Posted in Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

When Elephants Fly digs deeply into trauma and healing

When Elephants Fly, by Nancy Richardson Fischer, (Sept. 2018, Harlequin TEEN), $18.99, ISBN: 9781335012364

Ages 14+

Lily is a high school senior with a plan: she’s going to avoid stress, drugs, booze, and romantic entanglements; anything that can trigger a stressful episode. She’s in a race against time, because the odds are against her: her mother, and women in her family, have all developed schizophrenia. Schizophrenia most commonly manifests between the ages of 18 and 30, so for the next 12 years, Lily’s on guard. She even has her best friend, Sawyer, give her psych quizzes to catch any developing symptoms. Lily’s mother stopped taking her meds when Lily was a child, and during one episode, tried to kill Lily; she later committed suicide in prison, and Lily, who’s still dealing with the trauma, is getting no help from her father, who won’t discuss Lily’s mother or the incident.

Lily’s on a journalism internship when she witnesses the birth of a new elephant calf at the local zoo. When the calf’s mother tries to kill her calf, and a story goes out with Lily’s byline, she’s stuck with the story – and the fallout. A traveling circus enacts a claim on the calf, and the zoo director is furious with Lily’s betrayal. Swifty bonds with Lily, but the calf’s grief puts her health at risk. Lily’s determination to save Swifty is at odds with her resolve to stay away from stressful situations, but she’s committed to the calf.

Nancy Richardson Fischer brings together a fantastic amount of elements to create When Elephants Fly: trauma; mental illness; the animal captivity debate, and journalistic integrity, for starters. Lily is a fascinating and complex character; she may not always be sympathetic, but she is empathetic. She’s not always likable – she’ll admit it – but readers will always feel for her, because she’s facing down a very real monster and fighting it every step of the way. Swifty is as a strong supporting character in the book, too; she brings out the vulnerable, human side of Lily that she tries to push down. Before Swifty, Lily seems determined to barrel through the next 12 years as mildly and quietly as possible: Swifty makes her engage with her surroundings and with people other than Sawyer.

When Elephants Fly is a strong, moving story that allows for big discussions. A must-add to YA collections; a must-read for caregivers and educators that know tweens and teens dealing with trauma.

Posted in Adventure, Animal Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Animal Crackers – a circus like you’ve never seen!

animal-crackers_1Animal Crackers: Circus Mayhem, by Scott Christian Sava/Illustrated by Mike Holmes, (March 2017, First Second), $15.99, ISBN: 9781626725041

Recommended for ages 7-11

Seven year-old Owen’s parents drop him off for a visit at Buffalo Bob’s Rootin’ Tootin’ Animal Circus. Uncle Bob’s his great-uncle, but he’s really not looking forward to this visit, no matter how cool these animals are supposed to be. A knife-throwing elephant? A jump-roping giraffe? They HAVE to be people dressed up as animals, right? Pfft. When Owen and his family arrive at the circus, they find chaos: Uncle Bob’s missing, and so are the animals. The number one suspect is Bob’s nemesis, Contorto, and his henchcreeps. Stuck in Uncle Bob’s office while the staff try to find Bob and calm the angry masses of circus-goers waiting to see animals, Owen discovers a box of magical animal crackers. Maybe this circus thing isn’t going to be so bad, after all, especially if he can help save the day with a little help from the magical cookies.

Animal Crackers is a fun story to give to younger readers. It’s a great way to turn kids onto graphic novels and sequential storytelling. Mike Holmes, the artist on Gene Luen Yang’s Secret Coders series, illustrates the wacky, fun hijinks going on in the circus. His characters, particularly Owen and his animals, have wonderfully exaggerated facial expressions and movements to match the story’s pacing. Scott Sava creates a fun intermediate tale that kids will enjoy, and with an Animal Crackers movie coming in March, this is going to be a hot book on shelves and on wish lists.

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Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Sideshow Stalkers and Secrets: Freeks

freeksFreeks, by Amanda Hocking, (Jan. 2017, St. Martin’s/Griffin), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250084774

Recommended for ages 14+

Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow isn’t your run of the mill carny act: the performers are all special. They have necromancers, firedancers who make their own fire, levitating trapeze artists, and supernaturally strong men. Nineteen year-old Mara travels with the sideshow, where her necromancer mother reads tarot cards, but she’s torn between the familiarity of the sideshow and the family atmosphere around her, and the desire to live in a real home. She worries for her mother, who’s showing fatigue from years of communicating with the dead. And when the sideshow pulls into Caudry, Louisiana, she meets Gabe, a townie who has secrets of his own, but embraces her despite knowing almost nothing about her. And then, the attacks start.

It starts when Blossom, a runaway who travels with the sideshow, disappears. Next, their strong man is mauled by a beast that no one seems to see. Is the town – not terribly friendly toward the “freeks” – up to no good, or is there something hunting the supernatural performers? Desperate to save her sideshow family and herself, Mara starts her own investigation and opens herself to the power that her mother has tried to keep at bay for most of her life.

Freeks is a slow build, with Hocking giving us little shakes and scares to start, but when things take off, hang onto something. There’s solid worldbuilding and great character development. The YA romance aspect of it takes over every now and then, but it’s a YA romance set in a carny/suspense universe. Paranormal romance fans will love this one for sure. Pair with Kate Ormand’s The Wanderers for more paranormal carnival storytelling (and its sequel, The Pack, to be published this year!).

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

Mysterium #1: The Black Dragon has suspense, magic, and mystery

black dragonMysterium #1: The Black Dragon, by Julian Sedgwick/Illustrated by Patricia Moffett (Mar. 2016, Carolrhoda Books), $18.99

Recommended for ages 10-14

Danny Woo didn’t have the most traditional upbringing. As the child of circus performers in a traveling circus, he learned a great deal from his death-defying parents, until a suspicious fire left him an orphan in the care of his journalist aunt, Laura. When an explosion at Danny’s boarding school closed the school while repairs are made, Laura swept him off to his mother’s homeland, Hong Kong; she’s researching a dangerous triad gang known as the Black Dragon, but Danny feels like she knows more than she’s letting on. After his aunt is kidnapped, Danny and his old circus friend, a dwarf named Major Zamora, are left to save Laura – and themselves – using every trick they learned at the circus.

The Black Dragon is the first book in a new series. Mysterium follows the adventures of Danny Woo, a tween who survived the fire that killed his parents. Brought up in a traveling circus, Danny has some tricks up his sleeve and knows that his remaining family – his aunt Laura and his friend, Zamora – knows more about his parents’ deaths than they’re willing to let on. Previously published outside the US, there are three books in the series (so far); I hope they’ll also be published in the U.S., to give audiences a chance to read the whole series.

I liked what I’ve read so far. There’s a lot of action and intrigue, with some questions posed and just enough answers given to tease readers into getting the next book. Danny is a smart, capable kid who uses the hypnosis and sleight of hand techniques he learned from his dad to aid his own investigation. He tends to go with his gut feelings on things, because he’s good at “reading” people – another talent he picked up from his father. His friend Zamora is a loyal friend who acts as Danny’s partner and protector. We’ve got good exposition, interesting characters with talents not usually explored by tween fic, and multi-ethnic, diverse characters that make this a good choice to add to reading lists. I’d pair this with Simon Nicholson’s Young Houdini middle grade series for a nice display on magic in fiction.

Check out the Mysterium webpage for more information on the rest of the series, which you can also buy for your reader if you can’t wait for them to be published stateside.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Teen, Tween Reads

Not Your Ordinary Circus: Kate Ormand’s The Wanderers

9781634502016_a39a9The Wanderers, by Kate Ormand (Sept. 2015, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781634502016

Recommended for ages 12+

Sixteen year-old Flo lives with a traveling circus group. She’s getting ready for her first performance- a performance she’s a little nervous about – when she realizes she’s being watched. Her circus is being watched, and she’s terrified The Hunters have caught up with them at last.

You see, this is no ordinary circus, and Flo’s no ordinary girl. This is a circus of shape-shifters, and The Hunters are tracking them, and anyone like them. When The Hunters finally make their move, Flo and a small group of friends find themselves on the run, relying on contacts their elders have made over the years. They’ll learn about the  secrets and lies they’ve been raised to believe, and worse, they’ll learn that they may have had a traitor among them all along.

When I first started The Wanderers, I wasn’t really sure where this was going to go. I thought I was going to get a shape-shifting teen angsty romance with some conflict from supporting characters, which isn’t really my wheelhouse. I’m very happy to say that wasn’t the case. The overall story is established fairly quickly, and when the action hits, there’s no slowing down. I was trying to figure things out, but Ms. Ormand is three steps ahead – let the story take you there. There’s a morality play deftly woven into the storyline that will break your heart as you strip away the layers of deceit, with a strong pathos for this ragtag group of refugees that can’t seem to find sanctuary. The ending leaves the possibility of a sequel open – I’m interested to see if we’ll meet these characters, or their shadowy nemeses, again. Teens and tweens interested in speculative fiction, adventure, and romance will enjoy this one.

Posted in Graphic Novels

Guest Post: Chuck from WhatchaReading Talks Zoötrope

Today, my good friend Chuck posted about reading Zoötrope by Andrea Tsurumi, which looks at a troupe of talking animals getting ready for a big performance.  I loved Chuck’s review, so I had to share!

I’m not usually the one around here who talks children’s lit, that falls on the ever capable shoulders of Rosemary , but while looking over the ComiXology Submit Releases from last week this book caught my eye…

With decidedly surreal and moody artwork, and a somehow both soothing and frenetic pace, Zoötrope tells the story of a theater company on the night of a big performance. The troupe is populated by talking animals and the performance is anything but smooth sailing.

Read the rest of his review over at WhatchaReading, then go check out the story!

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