Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor, Middle Grade, Middle School, Tween Reads

More Graphic Novels!

I’ve got more graphic novels! Let’s get to it.

Nori, by Rumi Hara, (May 2020, Drawn & Quarterly), $24.95, ISBN: 978-1-77046-397-4

Ages 10+

Three-year old Noriko – Nori, for short – lives in Japan’s Osaka suburbs and spends most of her time with her grandmother while her parents are working. Set in the 1980s, Nori is all about a little girl’s adventures as she explores the world around her, accompanied by her best friend: her grandmother. The book contains five short stories and is infused with Japanese culture; the events of World War II still reverberate with the adults around Nori, and cultural festivals bring the excitement of the city alive in the pages. Nori brings childhood memories alive for readers: a part in a school play; chasing rabbits and watching neighborhood kids play with crawfish and beetles; she even wins a trip to Hawaii for herself and her grandmother, which leads to a healing moment for a family who’s lost their own matriarch. Black and white artwork has one-color moments for contrast and interest. Nori is a celebration of childhood and the special relationship between a child and grandparent and middle school-aged readers and young teens will especially love this.

Nori has a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. Read an interview with Rumi Hara on We Need Diverse Books, and visit her website for more information about her work. Nori is a nominee in the 2020 Cybils Graphic Novel category.

 

Marge’s Little Lulu: The Fuzzythingus Poopi, by John Stanley, (Sept. 2020, Drawn and Quarterly), $29.95, ISBN: 9781770463660

Ages 6+

This collection takes me back to my childhood in the best of ways. I used to read Little Lulu reprints when I was growing up, alongside issues of Richie Rich, Casper, and Archie, to name a few. Little Lulu comics were all about the adventures of Little Lulu Moppet and her best friend/frenemy, Tubby; originally published by Dell Comics in the 1940s and 1950s, they’re all about childhood adventures like having snowball fights, trying to gain admission to the “No Girls Allowed” clubhouse, telling stories to a sick friend, and various – hilarious – money-making schemes. This is Drawn and Quarterly’s second Lulu collection, and is filled with reprinted Lulu and Tubby comics, “Lulu’s Diry” diary pages that ran in individual issues, and a cover gallery. The stories are loaded with imagination, like the clip where Lulu houses a ghost who’s been ousted when the house they haunt is torn down; imagines herself in a desert and has to retrieve a nickel from a sewer grate (still in the desert!) by using strands of her hair, leaving her bald. She foils a burglar claiming to be Santa Claus because “he didn’t have a twinkle in his eye!”, and rallies the neighborhood girls together to fight back when they find themselves targeted for snowball attacks by the boys.

Great for new readers who want fun, day-to-day stories of childhood and adults who grew up with Lulu, Tubby, and Alvin. This is a keeper. Read more about The Fuzzythingus Poopi and read an excerpt at publisher Drawn and Quarterly’s page; discover the impact Little Lulu has had on comics, culture, and feminism through this Comics Alliance article and this New Yorker piece.

 

Mary: The Adventures of Mary Shelley’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddaughter, by Brea Grant, (Oct. 2020, Six Foot Press), $18.99, ISBN: 978-1644420294

Ages 12-16

Mary is perfect for every goth tween and teen you know. She’s the 5 times great-granddaughter of Frankenstein author Mary Shelley, and she’s from a family of overachieving women dedicated to that legacy. They’re all writers of renown, especially her superstar author mom, who can’t understand… Mary’s ennui? Lack of interest? The fact that she’s not an overachiever in school or life just yet? The thing is, Mary does have a very special family gift, and it makes its debut in these very pages. Mary can heal monsters. Actual, real-life monsters do exist, and Mary discovers that one night when she reattaches one walking dead guy’s foot. He tells his friends, and they tell their friends… and so on, and so on, and so on, as the old commercial goes. Monsters of all sorts show up at Mary’s with some amusing results, and Mary doesn’t know what to do with herself and this gift! Does she walk away from this gift, or does she embrace it?

Work with me: this is relatable! Teens feel the pressure to know what they want to do with their lives by the time they’re seniors in high school. Imagine the stress of being Mary Shelley’s descendant? When there’s a shrine to your many times-great grandmother, who wrote an enduring classic at the age of 19, in your very own home? Imagine discovering you are good at something… it just happens to be something unusual, or different, and the extra stress that can carry with it! Mary is a teen trying to find her way in a family of high-achieving, highly valued women, and isn’t quite sure that being known for healing monsters is what she wants to be known for. To accept her gift and embrace herself is a journey that most tweens and teens can get on board with. Brea Grant’s moody artwork gives great atmosphere to the story, and the dialogue is wonderfully snarky and introspective all at once. Please buy this for your collections and the readers in your life.

Don’t believe me? EW has an excerpt and article on it. Check it out.

 

The League of Super Feminists, by Mirion Malle/Translated by Aleshia Jensen, (Oct. 2020, Drawn and Quarterly), $16.95, ISBN: 9781770464025

Ages 12+

A fantastic guide to feminism for tweens, teens, and beyond, The League of Super Feminists explains the basics of feminism: YES! you can still enjoy princess movies! NO! You don’t have to hate men! What we need everyone – EVERYONE – to understand is how to critically evaluate the media that makes men knights and dragon slayers, and women damsels in distress. That women don’t come in one size: skinny, white, blonde. That women need to build one another up, not tear each other down. That boys and girls can be friends! Diving into such topics as gender, representation, inclusivity, consent, and beauty, The League of Super Feminists uses a range of characters to illustrate and explain these concepts and deconstruct myths and falsehoods for readers. Written like a conversation between the friends, the book is fun, upbeat, and playful, but always self-aware and smart. Mirion Malle never talks down to readers; it’s straight talk that lets everyone know that feminism is good for all, leads to healthy thinking and self-image. A great beginning to an ongoing conversation. See an excerpt on publisher Drawn and Quarterly‘s webpage. Aleishia Jensen’s translation from the original French to English is flawless and picks up all the nuances set forth by Mirion Malle.

Read more about The League of Super Feminists at publisher Drawn and Quarterly’s webpage, including an excerpt on representation. Read an interview with Mirion Malle on We Need Diverse Books.

Psst… makes an excellent holiday gift for the tween in your life. Just saying. The League of Super Feminists is a nominee in the 2020 Cybils Graphic Novel category.

And one to look forward to!

 

Forever Home, by Jenna Ayoub, (Feb. 2021, Boom! Studios), $12.99, ISBN: 9781684156030

Ages 9-13

This sweet, funny haunted house story is perfect reading for kids who are big on comedy. Willow’s a girl who’s been raised all over the world: her parents are in the Army, and that means moving around every couple of years. She’s had to say goodbye to friends too many times, and she doesn’t want to move again! Her parents have just bought Hadleigh House, an old, pink house in need of some TLC, and Willow is happy to finally set down roots: but Gladys and Viola, the ghostly Hadleigh sisters, want their home all to themselves – and the two ghosts that live with them, the Lady and Thomas, a World War I veteran. The sisters raise a ruckus, but they don’t count on the fact that Willow can see and hear them, and she lets them know she isn’t going anywhere. A touching story of belonging and family, Willow is a smart kid who has no problem digging in her heels to stay in the home she loves; Viola and Gladys are delightfully mischievous ghosts, and The Lady’s habit of killing husbands and fiancees is played for laughs as it’s alluded to, never quite addressed. Thomas’s backstory is poignant, and he emerges as a sweet, almost tragic figure. Forever Home has a little bit of comedy, a touch of bittersweet, and enough affection to make this a sure bet for readers who get a kick out of spooky comedies like The Addams Family and The Boxtrolls. Good for middle grade, great for middle school.

 

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, picture books, Preschool Reads

August Picture Book Rundown

Loretta’s Gift, by Pat Zietlow Miller/Illustrated by Alea Marley, (Aug. 2018, little bee books), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1499806816

Recommended for readers 4-8

Loretta is a little girl who’s so excited when she learns that her aunt and uncle are having a baby! Everyone is busy getting ready for the baby; making things, buying things, preparing a room, but try as she might, Loretta can’t seem to make the perfect gift. When Baby Gabe is born, Loretta feeds with him and plays with him; she adores him and he has the biggest smiles for her. At Gabe’s first birthday party, Loretta is sad that she doesn’t have a gift for him yet, but when he falls and hurts himself, Loretta knows just what to do. Turns out, love is the best gift of all.

This gentle story is a sweet way to show kids that the best gifts aren’t bought; they’re already with us. Loretta’s capacity to love Gabe, to make him smile and laugh, and to comfort him, is a gift that means more to him than any toy that will break or be forgotten. The story delivers this message in the most loving of ways, while showing readers about the exciting preparations made for a new baby: the room decorating, the knitting, the collection of family photos, even wrestling with putting together the crib. Getting ready to welcome Gabe involves the whole family. Loretta’s parents makes the wonderful statement that “Babies are a celebration… of love. Of Life. Of hope”, and Loretta’s first response is to look at her aunt’s belly and wonder if all of that and a baby could fit in one belly? It’s an adorable and perfectly childlike reaction.

The artwork is warm, with earthy shades of green, orange, and muted, darker colors; there are some great textured patterns that make me think there may be some collage here. The illustrations give a comfortable, close feel to the story.

Loretta’s Gift is a nice addition to New Baby collections, and a good big brother/sister/relative gift idea.

 

How to Cook a Princess, by Ana Martinez Castillo/Illustrated by Laura Liz, Translated by Ben Dawlatly (Aug. 2018, nubeOCHO), $16.96, ISBN: 9788494692642

Recommended for ages 7-10

Dark fantasy fans with a morbid sense of humor, this one’s for you. No handsome princes are saving the day here: he’s likely to end up in a stew or as a side dish (with frog legs, to be precise). Gingrich the witch is famous for her recipes, and she dishes all here, where she cooks up the best of fairytale royalty. You’ll learn what kitchen utensils are best (a cage should have 12 padlocks and 2 chains, to prevent sneaky princesses from escaping) and how to trap a princess; there are recipes, like the Snow White Stew, which also gives a shout-out to the dwarves for their skill in rearing organic, free-range princess; and there are tasty treats, like little pigs, fairy godmothers, Puss in Boots, and, yes, Prince Charmings. It goes without saying that this hilarious book is best served with a side of tongue in cheek. The pencil artwork is loaded with gasps from horrified – or, really, more very annoyed – princesses and dark shades. This is a book of fairy tales for kids who don’t think they like fairy tales. Booktalk this one with The Lunch Witch graphic novels. How to Cook a Princess was originally released in Spanish in 2017.

 

A Place for Pluto, by Stef Wade/Illustrated by Melanie Demmer, (Aug. 2018, Capstone), $15.95, ISBN: 978-1-68446-004-5

Ages 5-8

Pluto is a happy little planet; he’s one of the famous Nine and life’s all good until the day the news breaks: he’s not a planet anymore. He’s confused and sad, and wanders around the universe trying to figure out where he fits in: can he be a comet, like his buddy, Haley? How about a meteoroid or an asteroid? Just when Pluto doesn’t think he fits in anywhere, he meets a whole new group of friends who are just like him: the dwarf planets! This book is just adorable, and it’s my son’s favorite of the BookExpo 2018 haul. It’s a smart approach to explaining Pluto’s history to readers, with a timeline (1930 – Pluto’s a planet! 2006 – Nope, it’s not!) and information on what makes Pluto, Ceres, Eris, Makemake, and Haumea dwarf planets, as opposed to part of the Big Nine. With an upbeat messages about identity, acceptance, and friendship, and adorable artwork, this is a must-add to your planet books. (We sing They Might Be Giants’ “How Many Planets?” planet song – modified to include all the dwarf planets, Haley’s comet, and a few galaxies – at home, after reading this one.)

 

 

The Truth About Dinosaurs, by Guido van Genechten, (Aug. 2018, Clavis Publishing), $18.95, ISBN: 978-1-60537-423-9

Ages 5-10

A chicken walks readers through its family history to prove that they are descended from dinosaurs. Family resemblances include has similar feet and feathers, in addition to that whole egg-hatching business. Presented as a family album, The Truth About Dinosaurs is a fun introduction to dino science for readers, with an accessible illustration of evolution from dinosaur to modern-day birds, and ends with the chicken hatching a rather large dino egg. Guido van Genecthen uses earth tones and his cartoony look to make non-threatening dinosaurs, and the green chicken is an amusing host to the book. The scrapbook features BC dates when showing off the “family photos” throughout history, and each dinosaur’s weight appears on tags that look like amusement part tickets. It’s a cute, additional add for your dino collections.

 

Maximillian Villainous, by Margaret Chiu Greanias/Illustrated by Lesley Breen Withrow, (Aug. 2018, Running Press Kids), $16.99, ISBN: 9780762462971

Ages 5-8

Poor Maximillian Villainous! He’s from a long line of villainous monsters, but he doesn’t have it in him to be mean. He always finds a way to make up for things his family does, like giving Santa Claus the keys to the family car when his father stole Santa’s sleigh, or sending Mother Nature to a spa when his mother stole her powers. But when his family threatens to get rid of his pet bunny – it’s not a suitably villainous sidekick – he promises to succeed at three evil tasks to make things right. He’s got to steal something; make someone cry, and gain fame by being devious. What his family doesn’t realize is how open to interpretation that is! Maximillian Villainous is a sweet story about being true to oneself, accepting who you are – even if that’s different from how those around you think you should be – and the wonderful power of kind acts. The storytelling is light and plays with interpretation, and the artwork reminds me of Richard Scarry’s bold colors and big facial expressions. Pair this one with Mo Willems’ Leonardo the Terrible Monster for some monsters that aren’t really very monstrous.

 

That’s a taste of what August has in store. What books are you excited for?

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction

Last Laughs: Prehistoric Epitaphs is laugh out loud, slightly macabre, fun!

Last Laughs: Prehistoric Epitaphs, by J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen/Illustrated by Jeffrey Stewart Timmins, (Oct. 2012, Charlesbridge), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-58089-706-8

Recommended for readers 5-10

*step up to podium, adjust microphone*

Ahem.” *adjusts index cards*

Iguanodon, Alas Long Gone
Iguano dawned,
Iguano dined,
Iguano done,
Iguano gone.”

This is all you need to know in order to understand how much I love Last Laughs: Prehistoric Epitaphs. I would beg my kids (both my own and my library kids) to have a poetry slam, be it in my living room or in my library, where they would read nothing but selections from this book while I giggled and played bongos in the back for them. This book is that hilarious and that much fun. It’s a morbidly hysterical tribute to the dinosaurs that came and went so long ago, organized by era (Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic) and further, by period, with fun facts about each dinosaur (because learning can be fun, you see?). Some creatures get a full 2-page spread, some a single page, but every single one gets a silly Photoshop illustration of paleontologist Professor M. Piltdown and the prehistoric pals he imagines as they run from predators, try to fly (poor Terror bird), or meet their demise in a Scottish loch. Eras and periods mark the margins of each page, reinforcing the timeline for readers as they go. The wordplay is spectacular – so many fun new words for kids to learn, and put together with wit and a wink. What can you expect from a team that includes the How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight author and a children’s Poet Laureate?  An author note at the end invites kids to write some of their own epitaphs – there are plenty of dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures to go around!

This is a follow-up to the authors/illustrator team’s Last Laughs: Animal Epitaphs, so now I have two more books to order for my library. I’m adding some of these epitaphs to a dinosaur storytime, because they are perfect. Display with Jane Yolen’s How Do Dinosaurs… series, get out your Laurie Berkner We Are the Dinosaurs book and crank up a video, just have fun with this one!

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Humor, Middle Grade

My Daddy is More Powerful Than Yours: Jack Death

jack-death_1Jack Death, by M.L. Windsor, (Sept. 2016, Creston Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9781939547286

Recommended for ages 8-12

Lots of kids have Secrets in this story, but Jack’s got a really big Secret: his dad is Death. Like, THE Death. He tends to keep to himself until the day his best friend, Booger Reynolds, is eaten by a troll – that sets him off. He’s determined to find out how the troll escaped its enclosure, and ends up making a friend along the way: his neighbor, Nadine, who’s got a pretty big Secret of her own. Together, the two stumble upon a high-level conspiracy to kill off half their town’s residents in this hilarious, morbid, and compulsively readable debut by M.L. Windsor.

Jack Death takes place in a supernatural world where many of the residents are supernatural hybrids, belonging to either Golden or Black bloodlines. Golden bloodlines are descended from cutesy types like fairies and pixies, while Black bloodlines are descended from less desirable creatures, like ogres and trolls. Jack and Nadine are both great middle grade characters: very likable, adventurous, and with big secrets that they struggle with. Being Death’s son, Jack doesn’t have any manifested powers to speak of, but the Grim Reapers that only he can see seem to be concerned about him and drop hints that Death is holding onto a pretty big Secret of his own about his son. The omniscient narrator – Jack’s Guardian Reaper – is morbidly funny, reminding me of Roald Dahl with a twist of Lemony Snicket. The  conspiracy to kill off the Goldenbloods uncomfortably parallels the Holocaust, including a roundup of the town’s Goldenbloods, herding them into a darkened warehouse to meet their fate.  The story is a smart parable about genocide and racism with important side discussions about bullying, friendship, and keeping secrets. The ending leaves me hopeful that there will be a sequel; I enjoyed meeting these characters and would love to see them in action as they develop into adolescents. Most of the diversity in this book covers the two bloodlines, but there is a reference to Nadine and her dad being of Asian descent.

Jack Death is a fun middle grade novel that will open up some good discussions. I’d booktalk this and display it with the Series of Unfortunate Events series; throw in some David Walliams and Roald Dahl to talk about dry humor, too.

Creston Books has a link to a Curriculum Guide for Jack Death and the author’s webpage has links to her newsletter and information about her tour schedule. Here’s a quick excerpt.

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Posted in Horror, Humor, Teen, Tween Reads

Gina Damico’s Wax: You’ll never look at a candle the same way again.

waxWax, by Gina Daminco, (Aug. 2016, HMH Books for Young Readers), $17.99, ISBN: 9780544633155

Recommended for ages 12+

Welcome to Paraffin, Vermont, home of the Grosholtz Candle Factory. The town stinks. No, really, it does; imagine all those different scents in the air all the time, and what they must smell like when combined? Seventeen year-old Poppy is so tired of Paraffin and their candle tourism, but she and her bestie end up touring the factory one day, for giggles. She ends up discovering some batty old woman talking about living wax, and gives Poppy a candle that will protect her. When gets home, there’s a naked teenage boy in her trunk. A boy who looks suspiciously like a wax figure that she saw in the batty old woman’s workshop. He doesn’t really know much about who or what he is, but he answers to the name, Dud. A fire destroys the workshop, and with it, any chance for Poppy to talk to the woman and discover more, but no worry: she’s going to find out what’s really happening in the town of Paraffin soon enough. People are starting to act a little odd. A little… waxy.

Wax, like Damico’s previous book, Hellhole, combines horror with humor, with laugh-out-loud results. If you’re like me and love horror comedies like Evil Dead: Dead by Dawn and Return of the Living Dead, with a little less gore, you’re going to enjoy Wax. There’s something really horrific going on in the town of Paraffin, but with a sarcastic lead character like Poppy and a sweet, but dense sidekick named Dud, just sit back and enjoy the ride. There’s some true creepiness here; it’s not all snorts and giggles, so horror fans, if you want a break from gore and just want some good storytelling, pick up this book.

I loved Wax because there’s a good story and good characters, and it reminded me a little bit of Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets one of my favorite cult films from the late ’80s. Does anyone remember Waxwork? I have such great memories of being in college, staying up all night, and watching movies like Waxwork and the Puppet Master movies from Full Moon Entertainment. If you haven’t treated yourself to a viewing of Waxwork, I highly encourage it. Here’s the trailer.

But back to the book. Give this to your morbid humor fans who enjoy a little chuckle with their scares. Please booktalk this one with Damico’s Hellhole, because I feel like that book doesn’t get the love it deserves. Quirk Books has a great list of horror comedies that you can display, too, and don’t discount the tried and true work horses, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Have teens who love movies? Have a horror fest with the cheesiest of cheese! My teen and I bonded over Evil Dead 2, and my tween understands the power behind the phrase, “Hail to the King, baby”.

Shop Smart, shop S-mart, and consider adding Gina Damico to your horror collection if you’re a fan or have fans in your patronage.

 

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

My Best Friend’s Exorcism gives a touch of ’80s horror to YA

my best friendMy Best Friend’s Exorcism, by Grady Hendrix (May 2016, Quirk Books), $19.99, ISBN: 9781594748622

Recommended for ages 12+

It’s 1988 and Abby and Gretchen, two high school sophomores, have been BFFs since fourth grade. After a night of partying goes a little awry, Abby notices Gretchen acting strangely. Really strangely. She finds herself on the outs with her group of friends when Gretchen turns on her, but Abby knows there’s something more to it than usual teenage friendship drama. The more she digs to find out what’s wrong with her friend, the worse the news seems to get. Abby’s convinced that Gretchen is possessed, but can she save her best friend without getting herself in more trouble?

I loved Grady Hendrix’s previous book, Horrorstor, so I dove into My Best Friend’s Exorcism with delight. Hendrix’s characters are in my age bracket, so the generous ’80s references (shout-out to Duran Duran!) and the song-titled chapters were just what the doctor ordered. I was in the frame of mind, and Hendrix captures the time and the attitude beautifully.

The creepiness of the actual possession story is deliciously insidious and skin-crawling. It builds, and I was right there with Abby, feeling my guts squirm and my knuckles tighten, waiting for someone to realize what was going on. Freaking adults, man! When Abby takes matters into her own hands, I was rooting for her; I was right there with her.

Then the exorcism happened, and I have to be honest, it fell a little flat for me. I get what Hendrix was doing, but it felt like the manufactured plot of an ’80s teen chick flick. If that’s what he was going for, he hit it on the head, but I was hoping for more. I was ready for an all-out ’80s horror fest, but what I got was a little more anticlimactic, a bit more melodramatic. Still, the book had a satisfying ending and overall, I enjoyed it.

Teens will get a kick out of it; it appeals to fans of high school drama and horror alike; there’s some truly creeptastic stuff to be found in here. Give it a whirl. My Best Friend’s Exorcism has received a starred review from Booklist. Check out an excerpt, below:

my best friend_1

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Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Humor, Preschool Reads

There’s a Sword in the Stove! But who left it there?

sword1The Sword in the Stove, by Frank W. Dormer (May 2016, Atheneum Books for Young Readers), $17.99, ISBN: 9781481431675

Recommended for ages 4-8

Harold the Knight runs off to the bathroom as his buddy heads to the kitchen for some dinner. He peeks into the stove, only to find – HOLY HADDOCK! There’s a sword in the stove! Who would put a sword in the stove? The knight and the chef run through questions and scenarios as they uncover more armor hidden in the stove, leading up to an answer that is as hilarious as it is morbid. This lends itself to a wonderfully loud screwball storytime with knights, dragons, and cookery. Bonus points for introducing kids to words like “rapscallion” and phrases like “Holy Haddock!” and “Wobbling Wizards!”

Watercolor cartoony art and a nice large font, with illuminated manuscript-type emphasis on the first letter in each exclamation makes this a fun read-aloud for readers and audiences alike. Make it silly, make it fun!

Frank W. Dormer has an author website where you can take a look at more of his art, check out his Tumblr, and get in touch. Take a look at some more of the art from The Sword in the Stove, below.

 

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Posted in Historical Fiction, Horror, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

The Divah takes New York!

divahDivah, by Susannah Appelbaum (March 2016, Sky Pony Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781634506748

Recommended for ages 12+

Itzy Nash is not looking forward to this summer vacation. Her dad is sending her off to her stuffy aunt, who doesn’t even like kids, while he goes off to Paris to do some research. But when Itzy arrives at New York’s elite Carlyle Hotel, she gets the strange feeling that something’s not right – for starters, Aunt Maude isn’t around, either; she’s left word that she’s hired a governess to keep an eye on Itzy. Plus, there’s a weird sound coming from one of the closets, and there are tons of flies. And that’s just the beginning.

Itzy learns that the Queen of the Damned – the Divah – is at the Carlyle, and she’s trying to open the gates of Hell itself. With the help of a fallen angel that she may or may not be able to trust, an aging star, and a host of colorful New Yorkers, Itzy also discovers that it’s up to her to save New York – and the world – from the Divah and her minions. Better hope she’s up to the task.

I loved this book. There’s a bit of historical fiction with a twist, some horror, and through it all, a fantastically witty thread of the darkest humor. It’s a sendup of high New York society and celebrity, a thrill ride in a book, with an End of Days bent. There are well-developed characters and a backstory that comes to fruition over the centuries. Ms. Appelbaum takes pop culture and weaves it into her story’s history to establish the ubiquity of demon and demon hunter culture in our world, from Evian water to Hermès scarves.

Add this to collections where YA thrillers/paranormal fiction is popular. Booktalk New York touchstones like the Carlyle Hotel in New York, particularly the Bemelmans Bar within the hotel; show art from the Madeline books to link the readers to Bemelmans’ work. For teens, booktalk Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, for similar New York-based horror.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

Little Red ain’t afraid of no wolf!

littleredLittle Red, by Betan Woollvin (Apr. 2016, Peachtree Publishers), $16.95, ISBN: 9781561459179

Recommended for ages 3-8

We all know the story by now – Little Red Riding Hood goes to visit her sick grandmother, meets the Big Bad Wolf, who forms a plan that has pretty dire circumstances for grandma, depending on which version you’re reading. Little Red gets a scare, huntsman saves the day.

But not this little girl. With this repeated phrase throughout the book, we know that this Little Red Riding Hood knows how to take care of herself just fine, thank you very much. Digital and gouache art come together with dramatic black, white, red, and grey to create bold lines perfect for storytime read-alouds. The twist ending will make fans of I Want My Hat Back smile and chuckle.

With a savvy heroine, a sense of humor, and great visuals, Little Red is a fun addition to the fractured fairy tales book collection. You do have one, don’t you? You may also want to add this to your Mighty Girl reading lists, the girls will love it.

Author and illustrator Beth Woollvin is the 2014 winner of the Macmillan Childrens Book Competition 2014. I’m looking forward to seeing more from her!

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

Dead Boy by Laurel Gale – An Unconventional Kid, An Unconventional Friendship

DEADBOYDead Boy, by Laurel Gale (Sept. 2015, Random House Children’s), $16.99, ISBN: 9780553510089

Recommended for ages 9-13

Crow is a boy who should be in 6th grade by now. He’s lonely and wants a friend, but he’s stuck indoors by his overprotective mom, who worries that the outside world will take Crow away from her once they discover her secret: Crow died two years ago.

Crow doesn’t remember much about how he died; he just sort of died. But he remembers waking up to his mother’s tears. Since then, he’s been a bit stinky, has a bit of a maggot problem, and tends to lose body parts. All Crow wants is a friend, and maybe not to stink so much. When an eccentric girl named Melody moves in next door, she’s fascinated by Crow. She’s undeterred by his mother’s efforts to keep her away – keep everyone and everything away – from Crow, and at last, Crow finally has a friend. When they go wandering one night, they discover a creature, the Meera, that has deep ties to Crow and his family – and another family in the neighborhood. Can Crow learn the Meera’s secrets, save one of his former classmates, and maybe – just maybe – be a real boy again?

This was a great read for middle graders who like a touch of the macabre in their fiction. If your kids have read and enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and Graveyard Book, or Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, consider introducing them to this one. I’d like to pair this book with A.F. Harrold’s The Imaginary for a heck of a book discussion. (Hmm… I see a really interesting book display forming in my brain.) Laurel Gale gives us such an empathy toward poor Crow, at the same time letting us cringe and chuckle at his… well, deadness. I felt his yearning for a friend and his loneliness, his frustration with his mother, who keeps too many secrets “for his own good”, and the desperation to know what happened to him. Melody is a great sidekick, a friend with some wild theories that aren’t too off the mark. We get some great comeuppance for mean girls and bullies, too.

At the same time, we see the toll that the loss of a child takes on a marriage, and the lengths that parents will go to in order to keep their children safe and happy. It’s a bit disturbing at times, but it’s an honest look into a parent’s psyche that will make for some great family book group discussions. Read this book with your kids, with your classes, and let the dialogue flow.

Laurel Gale ‘s author page features Dead Boy and some basic contact info for the moment; hopefully, as the book gets closer to publishing date, we’ll get some more resources.