Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Got a mystery? Julieta’s on the case!

Julieta and the Diamond Enigma, by Luisana Duarte Armendáriz, (June 2020, Lee & Low Books), $18.95, ISBN: 9781643790466

Ages 8-12

Winner of the 2018 Lee & Low/Tu Books New Visions Award, Julieta and the Diamond Enigma is a fun whodunit with a smart heroine who has a penchant for finding trouble. Julieta is the nine-year-old daughter whose parents both work at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts (BFA). Her mom is due to give birth to her baby brother soon, and her dad, an art handler, needs to fly to Paris to collect pieces for a new BFA exhibit. After some great Paris sightseeing, Julieta and her dad are ready to pack up and head home – until she and her dad walk in on a burglar stealing the prized Regent Diamond! The diamond was going to be a key piece in the BFA exhibit, and all eyes are on Julieta’s father. Julieta starts putting together some clues, desperate to save her father’s job and reputation, all the while hoping they can get home in time to be there when her baby brother is born. With nods to to Greek mythology (especially the goddess Athena) and smartly placed clues that will lead readers to the answers alongside Julieta, this is a fun cozy mystery for burgeoning whodunit fans. Museum fans will love seeing what goes on behind closed museum doors – a realistic Night at the Museum, so to speak. I loved reading about Julieta’s goofing around with her parents in the museum and Back matter has the true story of the Regent Diamond, the goddess Athena, the art mentioned in Julieta and the Diamond Enigma, and a handy glossary of terms. A note at the beginning of the book has a helpful glossary of Spanish and French words, as words and phrases come up during the course of the story. A great book to introduce to readers that are moving from intermediate chapter books to more detailed middle grade fiction.

 

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate

The Major Eights: New intermediate series for girls who wanna rock!

The Major Eights: Battle of the Bands, by Melody Reed/Illustrated by Émile Pépin, (Jan. 2018, little bee books), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-4998-0564-2

Recommended for readers 6-8

Jasmine, Maggie, Becca, and Scarlet are four eight year-old friends who love rocking out together, even if their bands major gigs are happening in one another’s basements. Jasmine’s competitive streak gets the best of her when she enters the girls into a Battle of the Bands happening at the Fall Festival – and now they all have to learn how to really play and sing, AND come up with a song to perform!

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the formation of The Major Eights: a fun new intermediate series about four friends who navigate friendship and music together. Books look like they will spotlight one character – in Battle of the Bands, it’s Jasmine; in the next book, Scarlet’s Big Break, it will be Scarlet – and bring the group together to help the character achieve her goal. The story is heavy on friendship and working together, with some conflict resolution to help the characters grow. The characters are multicultural. Black and white illustrations keep the pace moving for younger readers who are getting used to longer chapter books.

Battle of the Bands is a fun, easy read for chapter book readers. Test these out with your Ivy and Bean and Jasmine Toguchi readers, and tie a fun reading group activity into it, like band poster contest or a talent show.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate

Detective Gordon and Buffy the Mouse are on the case

detgordon_acaseinanycase_cover_lrDetective Gordon: A Case in Any Case, by Ulf Nilsson/Illustrated by Gitte Spee, (Mar. 2017, Gecko Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781776571086

Recommended for readers 6-8

Swedish author Ulf Nilsson’s third Detective Gordon series pairs the toad detective with his mouse sidekick for a very important case and a little bit of a misunderstanding. Detective Gordon has taken a break – he may have retired – and Buffy is holding down the fort in his absence, until she has to call him out of retirement when two schoolchildren go missing. Buffy has her own way of doing things, and Detective Gordon has his own way of doing things; the friends have a misunderstanding, but put aside their differences to work on what’s important. After the case is solved, they resolve their own differences.

This was my first Detective Gordon book. You don’t need to have read the previous books; readers can jump right in and follow the Detective and Buffy’s adventure. It’s a great next step for Frog and Toad readers, with a similarly tender pace and narration. Nilsson creates an adventurous subplot for the two missing kindergarten children, who want to create the steps that bring one of their favorite storybooks to life; he also explores themes of friendship, conflict resolution, teamwork, and talking things over. Gitte Spee’s soft colors and gentle characters will attract readers who love a good animal tale. This makes a good read-aloud selection, too, with many discussion topics to introduce to the kids in your classroom, library, and home.

Detective Gordon: A Case in Any Case received a starred review from School Library Journal.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Early Reader, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor, Intermediate

Ape and Armadillo TAKE OVER THE WORLD… Maybe.

ape-arm_1Ape and Armadillo Take Over the World, by James Sturm (Sept. 2016, TOON Books), $12.95, ISBN: 978-1-943145-09-6

Recommended for ages 6-8

Ape and Armadillo want to take over the world, but the whole plan seems a lot more fun for Armadillo – the ringleader, naturally – than it will be for Ape. While Armadillo gets to sneak in and get all the work done, Ape is stuck fighting spitting serpents, an army of robots, and escape through sewer tunnels – YUCK! Armadillo needs to learn how to compromise, or he may lose a friend and fellow Agent of Evil.

Kids will love this graphic novel that touches on a situation very familiar to kids: the bossy friend who wants everything done his or her way. Ape decides that he’s not going to be the flunky any more, and Armadillo has to adjust his own point of view and work – together with Ape – on a game that they can both play and enjoy equally. It’s a fun resolution, loaded with armor, magic wands, magical creatures, and butter pecan ice cream. Secondary Ape and Armadillo comics run at the bottom of each page, providing more insight into these characters and leaving me hoping we’ll meet this dynamic duo in more adventures to come.

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This is a good book to use when talking about feelings and playing nicely with others; the dialogue and art treats the audience respectfully and examines a potentially frustrating situation with honesty and humor. It’s a TOON Level 3 book, considered a chapter book comic for advanced beginners, so ages 6 and up will dig right in. TOON includes parent resources at the end of each book, including tips on reading comics with your kids, and levels breakdown: Lexile, Guided Reading, and Reading Recovery, and appropriate grades. There’s a Teacher’s Guide in progress, so check the Ape & Armadillo page on the TOON site to get yours when it’s ready.

I love James Sturm’s books. He just knows how to create great stories for kids, and get his messages across in a fun, bold way. He’s also written the Little Knight books with his fellow Adventures in Cartooning compatriots, and he’s written Birdsong: A Story in Pictures for TOON.