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

Crossover YA/Adult SFF: The Nobody People

The Nobody People, by Bob Proehl, (Sept. 2019, Del Rey), $27, ISBN: 978-1-5247-9895-6

Ages 16+

What starts with a horrifying killing spree turns into a story about specially powered teens and adults and their alienation from society in this hefty story by Bob Proehl. Avi is a reporter who’s always chasing the the big story, at the expense of his marriage and his faltering relationship with his young daughter, Emmeline. An assignment in Iraq cost him his leg, and while he recuperates at home, a phone call from a police contact starts Avi off on the hunt again: a teenage boy has seemingly disappeared a chunk of a shopping mall food court and a church. How? As Avi begins an investigation into the case, he discovers that superpowered people walk among us, and that his precocious Emmeline is one, too. From there, we get what reads like a dark X-Men alternate universe, complete with a school for Resonants (the name given to the special-powered) run by a benevolent gentleman named Bishop, and a rebellious group of by-any-means-necessary Resonants, with a shadowy player pulling strings behind the scenes. Avi becomes more of a backdrop character to history as the clash between Resonants and “Damps”, as non-powered folks are called, becomes more tense and leads to a violent conclusion.

There’s an incredible amount of character development and world-building in The Nobody People, and the cast is diverse, making characters of color and gender identity primary characters, rather than relegating them to background or “friends” parts. The first half of the book is by far the stronger half, as the second half of the book gets caught up in itself, changing up a strong subplot to rapidly switch gears and justify the inevitable conflict at the conclusion. Overall, I enjoyed The Nobody People and think dedicated SFF (Sci-Fi Fantasy) readers will like it.

Posted in History, Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Voices of the Second World War connects generations

Voices From the Second World War: Stories of War as Told to Children of Today, by Candlewick Press, (March 2018, Candlewick Press), $24.99, ISBN: 9780763694920

Recommended for readers 10+

As generations grow farther and farther from World War 2, we live in danger of losing the stories of those who lived through the conflict. Voices From the Second World War collects the stories of veterans and citizens alike into one volume, but what sets this book apart from other first-person anecdotes and memories is the bridge that Voices builds: the stories are told to children from this generation; family members and students alike. Originally published in Britain, Voices began as an initiative by the British Children’s newspaper, First News, where they published these collected accounts. There are accounts from military men and women, including the Enola Gay’s navigator, telling the story of how he dropped the bomb on Hiroshima; and there are stories from civilians who endured the conflict, like the 8-year-old boy who survived that bombing, lost his mother and baby sister, and saw his father and surviving sisters die from radiation poisoning. There are stories from concentration camp survivors and German citizens who lived in fear of the Russian troops coming in after the Allied forces left. Vintage photos run throughout the book, and an index and glossary make this a necessary reference for history readers and collections.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Lost Boys chronicles the Iran-Iraq War through a boy soldier’s eyes

Lost Boys, by Darcey Rosenblatt, (Aug. 2017, Henry Holt & Co), $16.99, ISBN: 9781627797580

Recommended for readers 9-14

Twelve year-old Reza is a musical prodigy living in 1982 Iran. He lives with his widowed, fundamentalist mother, and craves visits from his Uncle Habib; a member of the resistance, he also encourages Reza’s love of music by slipping him cassettes of artists from Stevie Wonder to Thelonious Monk. His mother pushes him to join the war effort, telling him she would be proud to have her son die in service of Allah. Reza wants nothing to do with the conflict, but when his uncle is killed and his best friend, Ebi, signs up to serve, Reza feels he has nothing left without his best friend, and signs on. He and Ebi receive their “keys to heaven” – plastic keys that serve as symbols that they will achieve paradise when they die in service to Iran and the Ayatollah – and are sent into battle. War is not the glorious battle that Ebi dreamed about; it’s not full of exciting moments like he and Reza have seen in the movies. The boys are fodder for the minefields – tied together and sent into battle to clear the way for older troops. Reza is injured and sent to a prisoner of war camp, where he meets other boys his age and desperately tries to learn Ebi’s fate as he endures abuse at the hands of a sadistic prison guard.

I couldn’t put Lost Boys down, choosing instead to disregard my normal sleep schedule until I finished the last page. Reza is a heart-achingly real character based on far too many child soldiers. He and his classmates are promised glory and fed lies; in the end, all he lives for is the hope that he’ll be reunited with his best friend and live to enjoy music again. Set in 1982, the story is more relevant now than ever, as children are still pressed into service all over the world. Booktalk Lost Boys with Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis for tween and teen readers; booktalk with Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War, by Jessica Dee Humphreys and Michel Chikwanine to illustrate the worldwide epidemic of using children as combatants. This article from Global Citizen shines a light on seven countries that still use child soldiers, and what we can do to help stand against the practice.

Lost Boys is an important book that sparks outrage and empathy, and is a must-add for collections. I’d love to see this on next summer’s reading lists.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Join the Dragonwatch!

Dragonwatch, by Brandon Mull, (March 2017, Shadow Mountain), $18.99, ISBN: 978-1-62972-256-6

Recommended for readers 9-12

After a seven-year wait, the sequel to the Fablehaven series is here! Dragonwatch starts a new chapter in the Fablehaven saga. The dragons are sick of their sanctuaries. They feel like prisons, and they want their freedom. Celebrant, a dragon resident and co-caretaker of the Wyrmroost Sanctuary, is testing his boundaries a little too much for anyone’s comfort. The wizard Agad, tells Kendra, Seth, and Grandpa Sorenson about an ancient group, the Dragonwatch, charged with keeping the dragons confined to their sanctuaries. Agad is resurrecting the Dragonwatch, and he also needs new caretakers at Wyrmroost: Seth and Kendra. As long as they work and together, they are the next hope for Wyrmroost, but Celebrant isn’t going to take having children as his new co-caretakers that willingly. Seth and Kendra must work with the supernatural residents around them to secure a magical artifact before the dragons can overthrow Wyrmroost.

I picked up my first copy of Fablehaven years ago, and fell in love with the story: the characters, the worldbuilding, the action, and the story of a family living under some pretty wild circumstances. Imagine finding out that your grandparents were caretakers of a preserve for magical creatures? Dragonwatch is every single thing I love about Fablehaven and more. There’s new worldbuilding and mythology that builds on everything we know so far; there’s a new conflict on the rise that will test our favorite characters and introduce us to new ones, and there’s an enduring commitment to the heart of the series: the family at the center of the story. We meet two possibly recurring characters from that family: cousins Knox and Tess, who bring a little of the outside world back to the novel while getting their feet wet in the world of Fablehaven. We meet a host of new magical friends, including Celebrant, the powerful dragon at the heart of the new conflict.

You don’t need to be well-read on Fablehaven to dive into Dragonwatch. It’s a new series, so Mull touches on the main points that newcomers need to be aware of, while giving readers an entirely new story to fall in love with. Kids will want to read Fablehaven once they start Dragonwatch – they’ll need something to read while waiting for the next installment – but they won’t be left out if they haven’t read the previous books just yet.

Courtesy of Brandon Mull’s Dragonwatch pageBrandon Mull’s Dragonwatch webpage has an excerpt, readers’ guide, and the VR experience that I linked to back when we were getting Decked Out for Dragonwatch back in January. There’s also a downloadable event kit and a sneak peek at some of Brandon Dorman’s amazing black and white artwork that you’ll see in Dragonwatch. Fablehaven fans and newbies can enjoy getting caught up at the Fablehaven page.Fantasy fans, especially dragon fans, are going to love this series. Booktalk it, display it, print out goodies from the website and share them!

Posted in Animal Fiction, Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

Percy, Dog of Destiny – What Ho!

percyPercy, Dog of Destiny, by Alison McGhee,/Illustrated by Jennifer K. Mann, (March 2017, Boyds Mill Press), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1-59078-984-1

Recommended for readers 3-6

Percy is so excited for his trip to the park. After finding his special ball, he and his human head out, meeting his friends along the way. Molly, the poodle, has her ladylike kerchief; dachshund Oatmeal Raisin Cookie has her frisbee, and giant Fluffy has his bone. With a hearty “What ho!”, the friends run to the park and play. While the group acts as one: racing along the fence, digging holes, peeing on the tree, Fluffy marches to the beat of his own drummer, garnering an “Oh, Fluffy”, from Percy. After a run-in with some squirrels puts Percy’s ball at risk, Fluffy shows just what he’s made of.

I picked this advanced reader copy up at ALA Midwinter because Percy looks like my doggie, Chester. When I opened it, and saw that “What ho!” was the second sentence in the book, I knew I needed to read this. This book is laugh-out-loud hilarious and works perfectly as a read-aloud. I read this with my little guy, and we took turns shaking our heads and saying, “Ohhhhh, Fluffy”, each more dramatic than the last. Surround yourself with fun stuffed doggies and let the kids mimic Percy and his friends, and hand out dog coloring sheets to finish up a fun storytime. What ho!

Alison McGhee is an award-winning author whose book Someday will bring any parent to tears. Jennifer K. Mann is an author and illustrator; you can see more of her artwork at her site.

Posted in Fantasy, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Fire and Ice meet in Frostblood

frostbloodFrostblood, by Elly Blake, (Jan. 2017, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), $17.99, ISBN: 9780316273251

Recommended for ages 12+

Ruby is a 17 year-old girl living with her mother, learning the healing arts, until the soldiers come to her village. Ruby’s also a Fireblood – she has power over heat and flame, however unrefined – and in Ruby’s world, ruled by the Frostbloods, Ruby’s kind is hunted down. Her mother is killed trying to protect her, and Ruby is imprisoned, shackled to a wall and tormented by her captors. Rescued by rebel Frostbloods, she’s trained to wield her power in the hopes that she can melt the Ice Throne that warps the king’s mind and increases her power, returning peace to the land. She has one chance to destroy the throne, or it will mean certain death for the monks who have sheltered her and the Frostblood she finds herself falling in love with.

Frost Blood is the first in a new fantasy series that pits ice wielders against fire users in an age-old conflict, and I’m on board for this. This first installment has solid world-building and creates a nice history of fire and frost for readers. I cared about the characters, I got angry at some characters, I was invested. Medieval-world fantasy fans will grab this one, for sure. Display and booktalk with Sarah Maas’ Throne of Glass series, Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen series, and Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha (Shadow & Bone) series.

 

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Block and Jam! Trish Trash: Rollergirl of Mars!

trish-trash_1Trish Trash #1: Rollergirl of Mars, by Jessica Abel (Nov. 2016, Papercutz), $14.99, ISBN: 9781629916149

Recommended for ages 10+

About 200 years from now, Trish “Trash” Nupindju lives with her aunt and uncle on a Mars-based moisture farm. Mars is colonized, but settlers live and work under brutal conditions and live in abject poverty. Trish cuts school one day try out for the Novas, a hover derby team – think roller derby, but a little more off the ground – because she wants to become a star and leave this red rock already. She finds herself on the wrong side of hover diva Hanna Barbarian, but she lands a spot as team intern. Life’s starting to look up, until Trish discovers a weak and injured Martian, whom she takes in.

Rollergirl of Mars is the first in a new science fiction trilogy by Harvey Award-winning author Jessica Abel. It’s a promising beginning, but I’ve got a few questions; the biggest one being, does living on Mars age humans differently? Trish is supposed to be 7 1/2 years old, but looks and acts like a teenager. I hope this gets fleshed out in future issues. I love the idea of hover derby (I’ve mentioned being a frustrated derby girl when I’ve reviewed derby books here in the past), and the match in the first issue has energy that readers will enjoy. We’ve got a diva conflict setting up, and some family drama on the horizon, so there are quite a few elements set up here to move future narratives forward. I love the diversity reflected here, too. Give this to your Roller Girl readers who are ready for some more realistic, gritty art and storytelling, and talk this up with your teens. There’s a great Trish Trash section on Jessica Abel’s author page, too.

 

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

The Nocturnals reunite and face The Ominous Eye

nocturnalsThe Nocturnals: The Ominous Eye (Nocturnals #2), by Tracey Hecht/Illustrated by Kate Liebman, (Sept. 2016, Fabled Films Press), $15.99, ISBN: 978-1-944020-03-3

Recommended for ages 8-12

The three friends we met in The Mysterious Abductions are back! In this latest Nocturnals adventure, Dawn, the serious fox, Tobin, the sweet and nervous pangolin, and Bismark, the overconfident sugar glider, try to get to the bottom of a frightening jolt that shakes the earth. They meet a tuatara named Polyphema, who seems to know a lot more than she’s letting on. Polyphema talks about a Beast responsible for the earthquake and destruction, and how it will strike again if the animals don’t listen to her. Dawn seems to be the only one who doesn’t trust Polyphema; Bismark is smitten, and poor Tobin is just nervous.

Nocturnals is a fun animal series. This second book introduces some conflict into the small group of friends, illustrating that teamwork doesn’t always come easy, and that trust must be earned. Animal fiction fans will enjoy meeting more exotic animals in this book – I never knew what a tuatara was, or that they really do have a third eye! This little tidbit makes Polyphema an even more interesting character, making her insights and visions more believable to the animals in the story.

tuatarasource: The Quantum Biologist

This is a good follow-up to the first book, and yet newcomers to the series can jump right in without having read the first book (but read it – it’s good!). Kate Liebman’s color illustrations add to the text, giving the reader a nice frame of reference for some of these new animals he or she will meet during the course of the book.

nocturnals_1 nocturnals_2 nocturnals_3

Animal fiction fans will enjoy this series. See if you can put out some animal atlases and have the research where the novels take place! Talk up nocturnal animals, and ask the kids to identify more nocturnal animals. Use the educator resources available on the Nocturnals website, especially the printable animal fact cards, to help them along. There’s a third Nocturnals book coming in March 2017, too – mark your calendars!

 

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

YA Fantasy with Greg Johnson’s Beyond the Red Mountains

beyondBeyond the Red Mountains, by Greg Johnson (June 2015, Morgan James Fiction), $26.95, ISBN: 978-1630474348

Recommended for ages 14+

Teenagers Kelvin and Elizabeth are from two different worlds – or so they think. Kelvin, an apprentice fisherman, comes from a land called Triopolis, ruled by a corrupt bishop. Elizabeth, orphaned as a child, has been raised to marry the future king – a marriage that exists on paper only. When Kelvin and his mentor, Henry, end up in Elizabeth’s land of Westville, it’s the first each of them have heard of people outside of their own lands, other than the barbarians. As they learn more about one another, they discover that there are many secrets surrounding their lives; secrets kept by men in power all around them. A tragic accident causes Elizabeth and Kelvin to flee Westville; Kelvin decides to bring Elizabeth back to the safety of Triopolis. The journey they embark upon will introduce them to more men, with more secrets – secrets about Elizabeth’s own burgeoning special abilities, and secrets that can save or destroy Triopolis.

The overall plot of Beyond the Red Mountains is intriguing. I love a good epic fantasy, and had high hopes for this one. I have to admit, it was a bit of a struggle when it came down to it. The book could have used more of a guiding touch from an editor; many concepts and ideas were over-explained and over-emphasized. Short, choppy sentences added to start-stop reading; ideas could have been joined together and made for a smoother read. The book ends with the promise of a sequel, which I look forward to – it’s a good premise that true fantasy fans will stick with, but a more reluctant reader or a casual reader may not stick with this one.

Posted in Graphic Novels, History, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Child Soldier tells a survivor’s story

child soldierChild Soldier, by Michel Chikwanine & Jessica Dee Humphreys/Illus. by Claudia Davila, (Sept. 2015, Kids Can Press), $18.95, ISBN: 9781771381260

Recommended for ages 10+

In 1993, Michel Chikwanine was a 5 year-old boy living in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He admired his father, a human rights lawyer, and loved his mother, who took care of children from all over the neighborhood who needed food or care. He was surrounded by friends and family, played soccer, and goofed off with his friends.

His father talked to him about the world as they listened to the news on the radio together; he had no idea that he would become directly involved in world events so soon, though.

On the way home from school one day, he was kidnapped by rebel militants and forced to become a child soldier. He was drugged and forced to kill, tortured and starved, until weeks later, he was able to escape and return to his family. But how do you return to a life when, at the age of 5, your childhood has been taken away?

This heartbreaking, yet inspirational biography is Chikwanine’s story, told in graphic novel format. Michel provides a brief background on his country, so that we may follow the history of conflict that has led to a society that creates child soldiers. We see his parents struggle to give Michel his life back and the risks they take as activists to fight against this happening to another child, ever again: his father is jailed, his home attacked, and his family separated as they escape to protect Michael and his siblings.

The story is told, both in words and pictures, in a way that will grasp younger readers’ attention. They can see themselves in Michel’s childhood: playing games, enjoying friends and family, attending school. The story, while horrific, never becomes too graphic for younger readers – it’s important, because we need younger readers here to know this is happening to children their age and younger. It’s also important for children to see that adults can take care of their children; we see Michel escape on his own, but adults in his village return him to his family, and his family takes action to protect their son.

Child Soldier is ultimately an inspirational story: Michel’s childhood has been taken from him, but he rises from the ashes and recreates himself, becoming a young man with a mission. He is a human rights activist with a story to tell and motivates young people to action. A graphic novel is a wonderful and powerful way to introduce a discussion on human rights in the classroom, and Child Soldier includes discussion questions and information, information on how to get involved and help, and primary sources for further research to facilitate these discussions.

Over the last two summers, I’ve noticed more books on child soldiers showing up on summer reading lists for kids in grades 4 and up. I’m glad to see this subject being addressed in the schools, and hope that this book is on next year’s summer reading lists.

Child Soldier is a book in Kids Can Press’ Citizen Kid series, a collection of books about global issues that seeks to make our kids better global citizens.

Child Soldier is on sale on September 1, but you can take a look at the book trailer here and see some of Claudia Davila’s beautiful artwork.