Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Mama in Congress! A working mom’s tale

Mama in Congress: Rashida Tlaib’s Journey to Washington, by Rashida and Adam Tlaib & Miranda Paul/Illustrated by Olivia Aserr, (Sept. 2022, Clarion Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9780358683438

Ages 4-8

Growing up in southwest Detroit, Michigan, Rashida Tlaib was the oldest of 14 children and the first in her immigrant family to graduate from high school. Having experienced prejudice and inequality growing up, she decided to “start opening doors for other people who had grown up poor or been treated unfairly”: she worked for an elected official at the Michigan House of Representatives, eventually being elected to the state House of Representatives – and then the U.S. House of Representatives – herself! Narrated by her son Adam, Congresswoman Tlaib’s story is motivational: She and her family encounter racism and threats, but she perseveres in her goal to make life better for her constituents. She remembers growing up with pollution and how leaders ignored their neighborhood; she remembers the racism and poverty around her, and uses these memories to fight for better. Adam writes from the point of view of a child who sees his mom as inspiration and yet, she’s still Mom, and humanizes her, endearing her to readers. Colorful illustrations are cartoon-realistic and include details like Tlaib’s sons walking through Congress with her and standing outside her office. The story and artwork both honor Tlaib’s Muslim culture and faith. Back matter includes a glossary of terms and an explanation on the three branches of the U.S. government. An excellent introduction to government and civics for younger readers, and a great choice for collections. Download a free guide to the First Amendment for kids on author Miranda Paul’s webpage.

Visit Congresswoman Tlaib’s Congressional webpage here.

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

Belittled Women: A Little Women for a new age

Belittled Women, by Amanda Sellett, (Nov. 2022, Clarion Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9780358567356

Ages 14+

Don’t ask Jo Porter how she feels about Little Women: she lives it. No, seriously. Her mother is a bit obsessed; not only did she name her three daughters Jo, Meg, and Bethamy (a mashup of Beth and Amy), and refer to herself as Marmee. Oh, and they play their namesakes in a running show called Little Women Live!, with school visits coming to watch the family act out – and put unique spins on – scenes from the Alcott classic. Jo is sick to death of it all, she’s constantly at odds with Amy, and Meg is just tuned out of everything. When a journalist and her son show up to write article about the Porter family, Jo is intrigued: the journalist asks pointed questions that get her thinking about life beyond home, and Hudson, the journalist’s son, is giving her signals. When Jo strikes out on her own and lands in New York on what she thinks is an invitation to stay with the journalist and learn from her, and pursue a relationship with Hudson, she learns that the grass ain’t always greener. Narrated by Jo, there are hilarious moments – the dialogue between Jo and Amy is particularly biting and witty – and moments that most teens will understand, like being frazzled by family relationships. You don’t need to read Alcott to read and enjoy Belittled Women. A good first purchase for teen collections.

Read Amanda Sellett’s laugh-out-loud Belittled Women FAQ on her author webpage.

Posted in Fiction, Horror, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

A middle grade horror classic gets a graphic novel retelling: Wait Till Helen Comes

Wait Till Helen Comes Graphic Novel, by Mary Downing Hahn/Illustrated by Meredith Laxton, (Sept. 2022, Clarion Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780358536895

Ages 8-12

A classic work of children’s horror gets its day in graphic novel form.  Siblings Molly and Michael have tried time and again to bridge the divide between them and their 7-year-old stepsister, Heather, but Heather only seems to want to make their lives miserable. She lies to get them in trouble, she spurns any overtures from Molly, Michael, and their mother, and wants 100% of her father’s time. When the family relocates to an old church with a graveyard in back and sets up residence, things become even worse: Heather claims to have made a new friend: Helen, the ghost of a girl who died in a fire years ago, and who will make Molly and Michael pay when she comes. Wait Till Helen Comes is a chilling ghost story that receives an equally chilling graphic adaptation, with creepy imagery and a chilling blue and purple palette. Meredith Laxton maintains the spooky atmosphere that Hahn masterfully creates with her words. Characters are realistically human, all presenting as white.

With the current trend of popular novels being adapted into graphic novels, Wait till Helen Comes Home is about to reach even more readers. A great add to graphic novel collections.

Written in 1986, Wait till Helen Comes has won multiple awards and garnered a 2016 film adaptation.

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

Finding comfort in the unthinkable: Morning Sun in Wuhan

Morning Sun in Wuhan, by Yin Chang Compestine, (Nov. 2022, Clarion Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780358572053

Ages 8-12

Award-winning kidlit, YA, and cookbook author Yin Chang Compestine brings readers into the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic’s early days in Wuhan, China. Mei is a 13-year-old girl grieving the loss of her mother and spending her days playing Chop Chop, an online cooking game. One of her friends asks for Mei’s help in getting medical attention for her ill grandmother, who can’t get a doctor’s appointment. Mei, whose father is a doctor at the local hospital, heads to the hospital when she can’t get in touch with her father, only to discover that the hospital is overcrowded, its staff stretched to their limits. Mei returns home and discovers, via the news, that a virus is spreading across Wuhan; determined to help her community, Mei turns to her friends to come up with a game plan: to turn her passion for cooking into a way to keep the people in her community fed.

Morning Sun in Wuhan gives readers a glimpse into the fear, uncertainty, and panic that COVID brought to Wuhan, but it’s ultimately an uplifting story of family and community.. Mei, grieving her mother’s death and feeling torn between her maternal aunt and her father, finds purpose in these early days. She uses the tools available to her: food, computer skills, and a talent for organizing, to bring her friends together to cook, pack, and deliver meals to the people in her neighborhood where the local services stumble. She is able to keep an eye and an ear on her neighbors, giving the elderly the comfort of knowing someone is there and cares.

Yin Chang Compestine’s writing brings the sights, scents, and sounds of Wuhan to readers, with rich descriptions of the historic and present-day city. Her cookbook authorship shines through in her mouth-watering descriptions of her food, and her characters come to life in her pages. Originally from Wuhan, Yin Chang Compestine’s Morning Sun in Wuhan is a love letter to the resilience of Wuhan’s people.

An incredible book that should make its way to current events reading lists. Keep your eyes on Yin Chang Compestine’s author webpage; many of her books have free downloadable resources available, and as the pub date for Wuhan gets closer, I expect we will see some good resources available.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Book Bundle: Books about living in a city

I’ve got two lovely new books taking place in a city, both with different points of view. Let’s wander in.

Mr. Walker Steps Out, by Lisa Graff/Illustrated by Christophe Jacques, (Aug. 2021, Clarion Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781328851031
Ages 4 to 7
Mr. Walker, the hard-working figure that lets pedestrians know when it’s safe to walk, has a serious case of FOMO (fear of missing out) as he watches the people go by, day after day. He decides to put up the red hand to keep everyone safe while he jumps out and experiences life for himself – just for a little while! He enjoys himself, having his own little adventure, until he realizes that what he does is really important, and heads back home where he’s needed.
Lisa Graff gives us a sweet story both about street safety and about embracing a little adventure – but remembering that we all have important things to go back to, whether it’s work or school! Christophe Jacques’ adorable digital illustrations give life to the story; we see Mr. Walker in his little light case… but as we get closer, we see his longing expression as people pass him by. He steps out and starts his adventure, growing larger with each new experience, showing readers how taking time to enjoy oneself is fulfilling… but when he realizes that he’s needed back at work, he returns, refreshed from his break. A sweet story about taking pride in what we do, and a great way to introduce street and road safety to kiddos.
My City Speaks, by Darren Lebeuf/Illustrated by Ashley Barron, (Sept. 2021, Kids Can Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781525304149
Ages 3 to 7
A visually impaired young girl explores the city alongside her father. Readers experience the city as she does: its feels, its sights, its scents; the city comes alive in the spare text, letting readers open up their senses to observe all that the city has to offer. The city is a supporting character here; the girl serves as our narrator, but the setting itself comes alive as it rushes through its day, with its “dings and dongs”, its “smelly and sweet” fragrances, its “echoes and trills”. Ashley Barron’s cut-paper illustrations give depth and texture to the story and add interest, possibly encouraging younger readers to create their own landscapes (have pieces of colorful paper handy). This is a great book to use when asking children to describe colors, shapes, and textures of their own homes and surroundings. The story and illustrations in My City were reviewed by a blind sensitivity reader.
Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Teen

Graphic Novels to add to your Fall carts

I’m still reading graphic novels by the bunch: I’ve even applied to be a CYBILS Graphic Novel judge this year, because I had such a great time being one last year! There are such good books coming out for middle grade and YA, and with a new focus on early reader graphic novels picking up strength, I can honestly say we comic book fans have inherited the earth and it feels good. Here are a few more to add to your Fall order carts.

In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers : The Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Days, Weeks, Months, and Years after the 9/11 Attacks, by Don Brown, (Aug. 2021, Clarion Books), $19.99, ISBN: 9780358223573
Ages 12+
This year is the 20th anniversary of September 11th. Award-winning author and illustrator Don Brown’s graphic novel takes readers into the moments directly after, the attack, and follows the ramifications of that day, still felt in 2021. Don Brown helps put readers into the middle of that day, with quotes from survivors and family members, to help contextualize the events September 11th and its effect on global history and politics. It’s respectful, never melodramatic, thought-provoking, and a strong tribute to the people that we lost, and those we left behind. Artwork is bleak, rendered in shades of brown and grey, with periodic red-orange flames, illustrating the Ground Zero landscape. Back matter includes source notes, statistics, citations, and an afterword. An important addition to your nonfiction collections.
In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers has starred reviews from Horn Book and Publishers Weekly.
Witch for Hire, by Ted Naifeh, (Aug. 2021, Amulet Paperbacks), $12.99, ISBN: 9781419748110
Ages 12-15
High school freshman Cody is sent immediately to the loser table by a cruel sibling, where she meets Faye Faulkner; a goth chick with a witch hat and a group of “losers” that are accomplished students who don’t fit the “mean girl/jock” mold. When a series of pranks go from amusing to outright dangerous and destructive, Faye’s on the case – and the trail leads to Cody. Faye has to decide whether or not to reveal her true identity – she really is a teenage witch! – to Cody and help release her from a very bad deal, or to keep to herself, affecting her usual social distance? I love a good goth tale, and who better than Eisner Award-nominated series Courtney Crumrin’s creator, Ted NaifehWitch for Hire goes beyond the usual mean girls high school story and masterfully weaves a tale of social media, influence, and manipulative magic. Faye Faulkner is your next favorite character; cool beyond compare, with witch powers, excellent baking skills, and who doesn’t give a good gracious fig about what you, or the cool kids, think of her. But she has a heart, and she cares, and that’s what makes her an endearing, interesting character. I hope this is a fun new series I can look forward to; my Courtney Crumrin trades need a break!
Treasure in the Lake, by Jason Pamment, (Sept. 2021, HarperAlley), $12.99, ISBN: 9780063065178
Ages 8-12
Two friends discover a long-lost city and friendship on an adventure of their own in this debut middle grade graphic novel. Iris is a bookworm who craves adventure outside of her tiny town, while Sam seems to like the comfort of small town life. They discover a dry river while exploring one day, and from there, happen on an ages-old mystery that involves a hidden city, and, possibly, a ghost or a time traveler. The key to Iris’s and Sam’s friendship is tied into this adventure, and the two have to get to the bottom of the mystery in time to salvage their own relationship. The artwork is the champ in this beautifully illustrated graphic novel; wordless panels and spreads let readers absorb the beauty of the artwork.
Treasure in the Lake has a starred review from Kirkus and is an IndieNext Children’s Pick.
Nightmare in Savannah, by Lela Gwenn, Rowan MacColl, & Micah Myers, (Nov. 2021, Mad Cave Studios), $17.99, ISBN: 9781952303265
Ages 14+
Alexa is a teen, sent to live with her grandfather in Savannah, Georgia, while her parents serve prison sentences. Word gets out – it always does – and Alexa immediately finds herself an outcast at her new school before she’s even shown up. She falls in with a group of fellow outcast teens – Chloe, Fae, and Skye – and discovers, after a night of partying too hard, that they’ve become Fairies. And not the cute, Tinkerbell-type, winged little dots of light, either. Fairies of legend; changelings who steal human babies, cause trouble, that sort of thing. I was excited to pick this book up – the art is fantastic, with loads of shadows and goth overtones; as a fan of The Craft (1996), it spoke to my post-college soul – but I never quite got onto an even footing with the pacing. I loved Alexa, who emerges as a strong female character, and Fae, who has the Fairuza Balk influence for a new generation. It’s a book I’ll put into my collection – I know I have readers who will love it – but this one wasn’t quite my book.
Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Welcome to the world, Robobaby!

Robobaby, by David Wiesner, (Sept. 2020, Clarion Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9780544987319

Ages 4-7

Three-time Caldecott Medalist David Wiesner is back! Robobaby is the giggle-worthy story of the chaos a new baby brings to the family, set in a robot world. Baby Flange arrives at his family’s home; he’s got great packaging and he’s a big baby: 278 pounds! Big sister Cathode, nicknamed Cathy, is positively aglow at her brother, but no one is letting her help: until a series of hilarious catastrophes, that is! Remaining calm and relying on her tools and tech smarts, she manages to make sure updates are installed, instructions are followed, and brand new Robobaby is adorably – and correctly – assembled. Perfect for a STEM/STEAM storytime, this loving tribute to girls in science is also a great idea for Women’s History Month storytimes. The artwork is incandescent, with bright yellows and artistically placed shadows to provide depth and interest. Barely-controlled chaos reigns across the spreads, which you can play for laughs during a readaloud. Sparse text is relegated to word balloons from characters, further proving the David Wiesner doesn’t need words to tell a great story: he does all the talking with his artwork. Kids will recognize and enjoy the familiarity of new baby pandemonium: the relatives arriving en masse, everyone contributing opinions, and most importantly, kids being shuttled aside in the interest of letting the grownups talk. Having Cathode triumph over the adults to bond with her brother is such a lovely, respectful way to let kids know that we see them. Must-have for collections.

Robobaby has starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist.
Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Community meets Big Brother: Nice Try, Jane Sinner!

Nice Try, Jane Sinner, by Lianne Oelke, (Jan. 2018, Clarion Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9780544867857

Good for readers 13+

Seventeen-year-old Jane Sinner has been trying to reinvent herself after an incident that resulted in her being expelled from high school. She enrolls in Elbow River Community College to finish her high school credits, and while there, discovers what could be her chance: a reality show. A student-led production, House of Orange is basically Big Brother, starring Elbow River students, produced and directed by Elbow River students, and streamed online. Jane sees this as a twofold opportunity: to reinvent herself and to move out of her home, away from her overbearing Christian family. She applies for the show, makes it in, and moves out. The show starts ramping up, gaining popularity and sponsors, and Jane loves the chance to be her competitive and snarky self. She’s determined to win, but things don’t always go as planned…

Nice Try, Jane Sinner is alternately hilarious and unexpectedly deep. Jane, who narrates the novel, is deliciously snarky while deeply conflicted. Her incident – no spoilers – brings up plenty of discussion opportunities, one of the biggest being: can we reinvent ourselves? Do we need to, at 17? Jane and her fellow competitors form cautious friendships, but it’s tempered with the knowledge that, as the group shrinks and the stakes get higher, people are going to be backstabbed: something that will fuel Jane’s fire even more.

Lianne Oelke writes reality TV well. Her characters have the omnipresent camera and learn to work it to their advantages. She also creates smart, believable characters that you may like, you may loathe, but you’ll recognize; whether from your own reality TV viewing or real life. This one will be a hit with teens, who don’t remember life before reality, and readers will love Jane’s snark.

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

Podkin One-Ear is perfect for fantasy fans!

Podkin One-Ear (Longburrow #1), by Kieran Larwood/Illustrated by David Wyatt, (Sept. 2017, Clarion Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9781328695826

Recommended for readers 10-12

An old bard weaves a tale of the legendary warrior, Podkin One-Ear, for an audience gathered for the winter holiday, Bramblemas. In rabbit society, Podkin was the pampered son of a chieftain, lazy and shiftless, while his older sister, Paz, trains hard, knowing she won’t be chieftain because she’s female. When a savage warrior tribe of rabbits – red-eyed, iron-clad, iron-infused – called the Gorm attack Podkin’s burrow, Podkin, Paz, and their baby brother, Pook, run for their lives, the Gorm always one step behind them. Podkin has a magical sword that the Gorm want, and they’ll stop at nothing to get it.

Told in the third person in the bard’s voice, with occasional interludes to provide dialogue between the bard and some curious young rabbits, Podkin One-Ear makes the reader feel like he or she is sitting in a dining hall, listening to an epic tale unfold. David Wyatt’s black and white illustrations add to the epic feel of the story, and inject emotion into the tale; the action scenes and the emotion in his character’s faces evoke strong emotion. It’s a wonderful story about the rise of a hero, and I can’t wait to read more. There are big battles, arms and armor, magic weapons and witches – something for every fantasy fan!

Give this one to your Redwall fans, for sure. If you’ve got Mouse Guard graphic novels (and if you don’t, and have fantasy fans, you really need to), get those ready for readalikes. Lisa Fiedler’s Mouseheart series, plus Erin Hunter’s Warriors (and Seekers, and Survivors) are also great read-alikes, and if you’ve got readers that devour those, this is a good book to introduce them to.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Horror, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

One for Sorrow mixes ghost stories with historical fiction

One for Sorrow, by Mary Downing Hahn, (July 2017, Clarion Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780544818095

Recommended for ages 10-14

Annie is the new girl at her school. Desperate to make new friends, she’s thwarted when the school pariah, Ellie, latches onto her on the first day. Annie quickly discovers that there’s a reason the other girls don’t like Ellie: she’s a liar, a tattletale, and a thief who bullies her way into Annie’s life. When Ellie is out sick for a few days, Annie manages to befriend the other girls at school and becomes one of Ellie’s tormentors. When the 1918 flu epidemic reaches Annie’s town, it claims Ellie as one of its victims, but Ellie’s spirit won’t rest. She returns as a vengeful ghost, punishing all the girls who bullied her through Annie, thus ensuring that Annie will be as hated as Ellie was in her lifetime.

Mary Downing Hahn is one of the reigning queens of middle grade horror. I still can’t look at a doll in the same way after reading Took (2015), and she’s the first author I go to when my library kids ask me for a good, scary story. One for Sorrow, inspired by the 19th century nursery rhyme, seamlessly blends elements of an intense ghost story with historical fiction. Hahn addresses World War I and anti-German sentiment and the 1918 flu epidemic in a small American town while drawing on her own mother’s childhood for inspiration, having her characters visit various homes with funereal wreaths on the door in order to eat their fill of sweets and pastries put out for the wakes. Ellie’s vicious haunting will keep readers turning pages late into the night, feeling Annie’s helpless frustration as Ellie systematically destroys her reputation and her life.

 

Mary Downing Hahn has won many awards for her writing. You can find out more about her (like the fact that she’s a former children’s librarian!), her books, and her awards, through her publisher’s website.