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.

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

Took – You’ll never look at your dolls the same way again

tookTook, by Mary Downing Hahn (Sept. 2015, Clarion Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780544551534

Recommended for ages 10-14

Local legend says that Old Auntie takes a new girl every 50 years to slave for the old witch. Once she’s worn out, she lets her go and takes another. And the girl let go never lives for long after.

Daniel and his sister Erica are new to West Virginia when they hear this story. It sounds ridiculous, right? And Daniel has more on his mind than worrying about some crazy old fairy tale. His family has relocated from Connecticut to this ramshackle house with a history in West Virginia after his father’s layoff. The kids at school are awful, and Erica withdraws further into herself and her doll, Little Erica. But when Erica disappears one night, word is that she’s been “took” – especially when a girl who looks like the one who disappeared 50 years before shows up wearing Erica’s clothes. His family is falling apart, and Daniel knows it’s up to him to get his sister back and make things right.

This book wraps itself around you like a fall chill. You can feel it creeping through you, but you can’t quite get it out of your bones until you finish it. Ms. Hahn creates a tale that had me searching the Web to find out if this was an actual local legend, it’s so fleshed out and believable. She gives us solid characters with issues we can certainly understand, possibly even empathize with – unemployment, underemployment, being bullied for being the new kid at school, and watching the cracks in one family threaten to tear it apart. It’s a very human story set within a paranormal thriller, and it’s a great read for kids who have aged out of Goosebumps and are ready for a little something more.

Mary Downing Hahn is an award-winning children’s book author and former children’s librarian (whoo hoo!). You can check out her author page and see a complete list of her books and read an FAQ with Ms. Hahn.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Realistic Fiction

The Carver Chronicles-Don’t Feed the Geckos! examines family frustration

geckosThe Carver Chronicles: Don’t Feed the Geckos!, by Karen English/Illus. by Laura Freeman (Dec. 2015, Clarion Books), $14.99, ISBN: 9780544575295

Recommended for ages 7-11

The latest Carver Chronicle features Carlos, who keeps his grades up so his parents will reward him by letting him keep the coolest pets in his room – he’s got an ant farm, and he’s got geckos. He’s creating the greatest room in the world, a place that’s just his, until his mom announces that his cousin, Bernardo, will be coming to live with them while his mother works out some difficulties. Overnight, Carlos’ family expects Carlos to accommodate Bernardo in every way – Bernardo get Carlos’ top bunk, a spot on the soccer team (where he outshines Carlos in a big way), and dad’s affection and attention. Now, Bernardo wants to take over feeding Carlos’ geckos and his ants! Maybe if he weren’t so rude about everything, Carlos would feel better, but between Bernardo’s attitude and his mother and father making him feel like he has to give up everything in his world to Bernardo, Carlos is miserable.

I loved this book. When I was a kid, my aunt and cousin came to live with us for a few weeks while they were going through a transition. They took over my room. My cousin became the apple of my dad’s eye, and I was expected to jump through metaphorical hoops to make sure they were happy and comfortable.  It’s a hard position for a young kid to be put into, and Karen English captures this perfectly in Don’t Feed the Geckos! I really felt for poor Carlos, and wanted to give his parents a talking-to. She takes the time to create a pretty unflattering portrait of Bernardo, too, and with one page, makes Bernardo a sympathetic figure that moves Carlos – and the reader – to forgive and understand where he’s coming from.

Karen English also writes the hugely popular Nikki and Deja series – and they make a brief appearance in this book! She’s a Coretta Scott King Honor Award-winner whose books give us realistic characters to connect with and stories that everyone can relate to. The Carver Chronicles is a great entry into the #WeNeedDiverseBooks canon. You can check out the first two books, Dog Days and Skateboard Party, while you’re waiting for Don’t Feed the Geckos! to come out in December.

 

Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction

Our Moon gives us a new look at an old friend

our moonOur Moon: New Discoveries About Earth’s Closest Companion, by Elaine Scott (Feb. 2016, Clarion Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9780547483948

Recommended for ages 10-13

You may have heard the old myth about the man in the moon, or even that the moon was made of green cheese. Did you hear about a Chinese princess named Chang-o or a rabbit, though? Those ancient Chinese stories are only the beginning of what I learned from Elaine Scott’s Our Moon: New Discoveries About Earth’s Closest Companion.

 

Our Moon is a great biography about our one and only satellite, Luna. The Moon. We get her all of her numbers: size, speed, temperature; we learn in depth about her phases, and her origin story. Ms. Scott gives us a history of lunar research and exploration, from the Turkish philosopher Anaxagoras’ ideas about moonlight being a reflection of the sun’s light back in the 5th century B.C.E. to the modern lunar landings and space travel. The book is loaded with photographs and quick facts that make for easy reading. A glossary breaks down terms used in the book, and there are resources for further reading, both on- and offline.

This is the book I’d have wanted in my astronomy library when I was a kid. It’s a great library purchase and a great home library purchase. Our Moon will be available in February, 2016, but you can pre-order it from Amazon.

Elaine Scott is an award-winning nonfiction author of children’s books. Her author website includes information about her books, honors, and school visits.