Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Disney Noir: City of Villains

City of Villains, Book 1, by Estelle Laure, (Jan. 2021, Disney-Hyperion), $17.99, ISBN: 9781368049382

Ages 12+

Mary Elizabeth Heart is a high school senior and a police department intern for the Monarch City Police Department. Magic, once part of the populace’s lives, has seemingly left the world and taken countless lives with it, leaving denizens of magical families called The Legacies left to fend for themselves against the up-and-coming Narrows families, who seek to gentrify the neighborhood now known as the Scar.  A victim of horrific loss, Mary Elizabeth is Legacy, as are her friends, many with recognizable names: Mally, the withdrawn teen whose pet raven is the only thing who brings her comfort; Ursula, Mary Elizabeth’s boyfriend, James and his best friend, Smee. When Legacy teens start disappearing from the Scar, Mary Elizabeth is put on the case, along with detective Bella, but they are in no way ready for what they find once they start digging into what’s really going on in the Scar.

Gritty, with memorable Disney characters and a taut, well-paced storyline, City of Villains is the first in a new YA series that acts as a new origin point for Disney villains. There’s a gritty feel that makes for a perfect noir setting; our favorite villains are goth without being over the top, and I loved every second of their complex backgrounds. The subplot of magical families versus gentrifiers who want magic by association is brilliant fantasy writing that takes storytelling in a fresh direction, and Mary Elizabeth’s traumatic family history sets the stage for bigger reveals in future books. Give this to your teen Disney fans that are ready for some new stories about their favorite villains. Talk this up to any of the teens you’ve been feeding the Twisted Tales books to – they will thank you.

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

The Dragon Pearl takes Korean mythology to the stars

Dragon Pearl, by Yoon Ha Lee, (Jan. 2019, Disney-Hyperion), $16.99, ISBN: 9781368013352

Ages 8-12

The latest from Disney’s Rick Riordan Presents line gives readers a space opera, Korean mythology, ghosts, nonbinary characters, and moral quandaries! Min is a 13-year-old shapeshifting female fox spirit who lives with her widowed mother and extended family on the planet Jinu. Her older brother, Jun, is part of the Space Force – where Min intends to follow him in a few years, when she hits age 16 – but things change when an investigator shows up at Min’s home, with news that Jun has deserted his post and is rumored to be searching for the Dragon Pearl, a mythical object that could help turn planets into paradises… or destroy them. Determined to find her brother and clear his name, Min runs away from home and finds her way onto a starship; when the ship falls under mercenary attack, she wakes up on the very ship her brother served on: the Pale Lightning. Assuming the form of Jang, a cadet who died during the mercenary attack and subsequent rescue attempt, Min tries to unravel the mystery of Jun’s disappearance, and stumbles onto a plot much bigger than she could have imagined. She joins forces with Jang’s friends: Hanuel, a female dragon spirit, and Sujin, a nonbinary goblin spirit and continues her detective work.

Dragon Pearl is a space opera, complete with space battles, intrigue and shifting loyalties, and a mythos, based on Korean mythology, all of which come together to build an epic adventure that middle grade readers will devour. Min faces racism/species-ism as a fox spirit; she and her family present as humans, because foxes have a bad reputation for trickery being untrustworthy. She has to lie to Jang’s friends to keep her secret; that guilt is with her day in and day out, especially as her own friendship with them grows. She has to break rules for the greater good: to find her brother, who’s also considered a deserter. She’ll deal with the fallout as it comes; Min’s family is her priority. Is she a hero? Is she a traitor? It depends on whose point of view you’re viewing from. The same can be said of the Dragon Pearl, which can create a lush homeworld or destroy a planet. Is it a valuable treasure or a cursed trinket?

Let’s talk about the rich characters Yoon Ha Lee creates. Min and her fellow cadets inhabit a universe where rank and personal pronouns are part of the uniform. Sujin, the goblin cadet, uses “they/their” pronouns and no one has an issue with it. Sujin is a funny, creative character whose gender identity fits seamlessly into the Dragon Pearl universe. They wield a magical spork, for heaven’s sake. That’s the exciting news! Haneul is a dragon spirit who can communicate with the weather; the Pale Lightning’s captain is a tiger spirit who exudes charisma and a more than a wee bit of menace. Min, a fox spirit, exudes Charm to head off potential problems at the pass and is clever, constantly thinking of her next moves to get her to her goal. An exciting adventure, moral conflict, and rich character diversity make this one a nice addition to your fantasy middle grade collections, and yet another hit from Rick Riordan’s Disney imprint.

Dragon Pearl has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in Early Reader, Intermediate, picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Epic Hanukkah Books Post!

Happy Hanukkah, everyone! I’ve been browsing a lot of lists, and found some books for the season to share with you. There aren’t nearly as many Hanukkah or Kwanzaa books as there are Christmas books, so most of these are not brand spankin’ new, but I’m still excited to spread the joy of the season with everyone. Let’s dig in.

All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah, by Emily Jenkins & Paul O. Zelinsky, (Sept. 2018, Schwartz & Wade Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9780399554193

Ages 4-8

Based on the All-of-a-Kind Family series of books (1951-1958) by Sydney Taylor, All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah celebrates Hanukkah with the All-of-a-Kind Family in New York’s Lower East Side in the early 20th Century. Four-year old sister, Gertie, is desperate to be part of the Hanukkah preparation, but Mama says she’s just too young to help make the latkes: she can get hurt by the potato peeler, cut herself with the knife, and get splattered by the hot oil. Frustrated, Gertie yells and stomps her feet, which earns her some thinking time in the girls’ bedroom; but Papa comes home and gives Gertie a very special Hanukkah task, and the family – Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, Gertie, Papa, Mama, and Uncle Hyman – enjoy their first night of Hanukkah meal together.

I haven’t read Sydney Taylor’s series since I was in grade school, but All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah brought me right back to the warm feeling of family I always had, reading these books. Paul O. Zelinsky’s artwork wonderfully sets the tone for the story, with a look at the lower east side’s crushed together tenement buildings and bustling city streets. He captures little Gertie’s spirit on every page, whether she’s dancing through the snow, placing herself in the middle of holiday preparation, or communicating her frustration at being too young to be part of the action. Bold lines and warm colors draw readers right in, and intimate family moments, like Gertie being held by her sisters or Papa holding his daughter after a long day (for both of them), bring all the love from their family to yours. I love the humorous moments, like Papa searching for Gertie as she’s hiding under the bed, asking a pillow or library book where his daughter is; it’s a sweet twist on the whole “wait ’til your father gets home!” business, and it reveals a playful nature in this family. Emily Jenkins has fully realized the family dynamic here, and Paul Zelinsky gives them life.

Back matter includes a glossary, an author note putting the story into historical context and her own relationship with Sydney Taylor’s books. An illustrator note talks about Paul Zelinsky’s deliberate decisions when making choices for the story’s artwork. There’s also a link to extra back matter, including downloadable coloring pages, educator resources, and a latke recipe.

An essential addition to your holiday collections, and a comforting storytime read. All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus, and has been written up by The New York Times and the Jewish Book Council.

Grover’s Eight Nights of Light, by Jodie Shepard/Illustrated by Joe Mathieu, (Sept. 2017, Random House), $6.99, ISBN: 9781524720735

Ages 3-5

Hanukkah is coming to Sesame Street, and Grover is so excited! He and his Mommy decorate their home and open it up to their friends for the next eight days and nights. Grover’s Eight Nights of Light explains Hanukkah rituals to younger readers, from the shamash candle (the helper candle that lights the candles in the menorah) to the story of Judah Maccabee and the Hanukkah miracle. Some big Sesame Street names pop up here: Cookie Monster shows up and discovers that latkes are the same shape as cookies: what could be wrong with that?; Oscar the Grouch likes watching the dreidel fall over; Elmo and Abby arrive with gifts, the Bear family drops by to celebrate and trade gifts, Prairie Dawn sings a song with Grover, and Bert and Ernie accompany Grover and his mom to the food pantry on tzedakah night, when they perform an act of charity. Big Bird and Grover talk patterns of color candles in the menorah, and what would an 8-night holiday be without Count von Count? On the last night of Hanukkah, Grover and his Mommy have a party for everyone, and readers are invited to throw their own: the book includes stickers and a poster for a Pin the Candle on the Menorah game.

Sesame Street is synonymous with diversity and representation, and Grover’s Eight Nights of Light is a fun book that informs with love. The kids’ favorite characters are here, and present the history of Hanukkah in a child-friendly, accessible way. If you’ve got PBS/Sesame fans in your life, this is a great little gift to tuck into your gift bag for one of those eight nights. (Librarians, save the stickers and poster for programs; your book will last a little longer that way, too.)

From Joe Mathieu’s webpage

 

Simon and the Bear: A Hanukkah Tale, by Eric A. Kimmel/Illustrated by Matthew Trueman, (Sept. 2014, Disney/Hyperion), $16.99, ISBN: 9781423143550

Ages 4-8

A tale of miracles follows Simon, a Russian boy, who leaves home and heads to America in search of a better life. Once he secures a job, he’ll send for his mother, brothers, and sisters. But the ship hits and iceberg, and Simon saves a man’s life by switching places in a lifeboat with him. He’s marooned on an iceberg on the first night of Hanukkah, with only his menorah, candles, matches, and some food, which he shares with a polar bear who happens by. Over the next few days, Simon and the bear shares freshly caught fish with him and keeps him warm at night, while he lights Hanukkah candles and tells her stories. He reflects on the seven miracles he’s experienced so far, and prays for just one more: to be rescued and make it to America. Simon’s optimism pays off, and he’s rescued; reunited with the man whose life he saved, he discovers that there’s one extra Hanukkah miracle in store for him – just like the menorah has one extra candle.

Simon and the Bear pairs historical storytelling with a touch of holiday magic: and isn’t that the best kind? Matthew Trueman’s artwork, a combination of collage, crushed paper cutouts and acrylics, creates a textured story that comes to life as readers turn the pages. Icy blue shades add a little bit of chill to Simon’s marooning, but his ever-present knit red hat and the warm glow of the Hanukkah candles adds the optimism and warmth we all need. His family wears traditional Russian clothing for the time period, all in warm colors, really bringing the family together. Endpapers show a cold, clear, starry sky.

A cheerful story about optimism and the power of a good deed, and a nice addition to shelves and collections. An author’s note offers a brief explanation of the holiday. Simon and the Bear has a starred review from Kirkus.

 

Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama, by Selina Alko, (Sept. 2012, Alfred A. Knopf), $16.99, ISBN: 9780375860935

Ages 3-7

A little girl has the best of both worlds: she’s a “mix of two traditions. From Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama”, in this lovable story about blending holiday traditions. Little Sadie and her family decorate their home for the holidays, leaving latkes out for Santa and hanging candy canes on the menorah, and sing Christmas carols and Hanukkah songs as they go caroling. The last night of Hanukkah is a big night, as Daddy stuffs a turkey with cranberry kugle and Mama makes sweet jelly donuts and fruitcakes for dessert. The families celebrate together, retelling the stories of both the miracle of the oil and the birth in the manger: “Wide-eyed, we listen to these traditional tales, which link us together today”. When everyone’s gone home, the family relaxes together and shares final gifts, getting ready to do it all again next year.

Selina Alko evokes big holiday feelings and childhood excitement here. Her gouache, collage, and colored pencil on watercolor paper artwork is bold and colorful, contributing to the excitement and anticipation of the holidays, and she brings Judeo-Christian traditions together with fun and childlike joy. A timeline at the end of the story illustrates all the holidays Sadie and her family celebrate together, from Hanukkah/Christmas (Kwanzaa gets a mention, but the family here is white) through to Easter and Passover, and Thanksgiving. Endpapers are colorful portraits of Sadie and her parents, and include icons for each holiday: a dreidel and a menorah, a tree and an angel. Inspired by the author and her husband’s decision to integrate each of their religious backgrounds into their home for the holidays, Daddy Christmas & Hanukkah Mama is a lovely addition to holiday collections and storytimes.How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah?, by Jane Yolen/Illustrated by Mark Teague, (Sept. 2012, Blue Sky Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0545416771

Ages 3-6

Those misbehaving dinosaurs are here to demonstrate what to do – and what NOT to do – during Chanukah! We see Rugops fuss through prayer and Nodosaurs blow out menorah lights while Ichtyostega writes his own name on everyone’s gift cards and Chirostenotes grabs all the gelt, all while horrified parents bear witness. But we know that’s not really what dinosaurs do when they celebrate Hanukkah. Camarasaurus shows readers that dinosaurs sing every prayer, and Chirostenotes is sharing the gelt and taking turns with the dreidel. Dinosaurs give Bubbie and Zaida holiday kisses, and then head off to bed.

I remember reading the first book in this series – How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight (2000) – when my eldest was barely a year old; these books have become a touchstone in kids’ lives, with books to celebrate everything from managing emotions to table manners. Having Dinosaurs celebrate the holidays is just a natural addition to this series. The rhyming pattern is soothing and consistent through each book, and the dinosaurs are always drawn as larger-than-life goofballs having larger-than-life emotions: which is kind of what it’s like, being a kid. Different facets of the holiday get the spotlight, including latkes, gifts, lighting menorahs, and prayers.

Plus, kids love dinosaurs. So, home run. This series does well wherever it lives, so why not add to it?

 

Happy Hanukkah, Curious George, by H.A. Rey and Margret Rey, (Sept. 2012, HMH Books for Young Readers), $7.99, ISBN: 9780547757315

Ages 2-5

Six short rhyming stories show readers how Curious George and the Man with the Yellow Hat celebrate Hanukkah with friends. Each story, tabbed for little fingers to turn quickly to, looks at a different moment in the eighth night celebration: George and his friend wrap gifts and head out visiting; they arrive and the party begins; the Man in the Yellow Hat (with his hat respectfully off) lights the menorah, George and the children spin the dreidel, George tries to help makes latkes; George and the kids play; and finally, George does a mitzvah by cleaning up and packing up some latkes to take to a sick friend.

Illustrated in the classic Curious George style we all know and love, and with a shiny, silver foil cover, Happy Hanukkah, Curious George is a good add to toddler holiday collections. The book and tabs are in shades of blue and yellow, with colorful Hanukkah symbols on each tab, and Curious George is one of the most recognizable children’s icons in literature. His familiarity will draw in readers, and the rhyming cadence is perfect for storytime reading.

Maccabee! The Story of Hanukkah, by Tilda Balsley/Illustrated by David Harrington, (Sept. 2010, Kar-Ben Publishing), $7.95, ISBN: 9780761345077

Ages 3-7

Maccabee! is the historical Hanukkah story, made into a rhyming epic tale for younger readers. The polytheist Greeks and their leader, King Antiochus, weren’t happy that the Jews refused to bow to their gods, and decided to desecrate their holy ground, raise statues of their gods, and force the people into worship. Mattathias, an elder, turned to his sons, his son Judah, in particular, for support in raising a resistance. Judah led his army of Maccabees against Antiochus’ armies until they won, and then lead his people in rebuilding their civilization, devastated by war. An epilogue asks readers what Judah would do if he were alive today, and posits that he’d be pretty happy that his people are still thriving.

This is a very readable, child-friendly history of the struggle behind the celebration of Hanukkah. The rhyme scheme is simple and easily falls into pattern for a readaloud. A repeated phrase, “Sometimes it only takes a few, Who know what’s right, and do it, too”, brings home the message embodied by the Maccabees: see the need to do the right thing, and do it. It takes bravery, it takes strength, and it takes determination; here, the Maccabees model the behavior and inspire readers.

The artwork is bright, with a realistic cartoon feel: think of Judah Maccabee like a buff superhero. The spreads are full-bleed and colorful, with movement across the pages to keep little eyes engaged. Back matter includes a brief backgrounder on the festival of Hanukkah. This one’s a fun addition to holiday collections; it’s more history-based, yet still includes the focus on family that is central to the celebration.

 

My First Chanukah, by Tomie DePaola, (Sept. 2008, Grosset & Dunlap), $5.99, ISBN: 9780448448596

Ages 2-5

Tomie DePaola has a sweet board book that uses simple language and his immediately recognizable watercolor artwork to explain Chanukah to babies and toddlers. My First Chanukah simply and eloquently explains why families light candles (“to remember Judah Maccabee and his brothers”) and how the menorah is lit each night; he makes sure to cover latkes (“delicious potato pancakes”) and the dreidel, gelt, presents, and songs and prayers. He closes, reminding readers that they’ll celebrate again next year.

My First Chanukah covers the kid-friendly parts of Hanukkah: food, family, goodies, and together time. His illustrations are warm and intimate, with a welcoming glow from the menorahs and a smiley baby with its family. It’s a great pick to have in your board book collections, and a perfect storytime choice for the holiday.

 

That’s it for my first Hanukkah round-up! I’ve got a few more holds waiting to come in, so I hope to have at least one more post before the holiday is over. Happy Hanukkah, everyone!

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

Sanity & Tallulah are a STEAM Dream Team!

Sanity & Tallulah, by Molly Brooks, (Oct. 2018, Disney-Hyperion), $21.99, ISBN: 9781368008440

Ages 8-12

Life aboard a space station is never boring, especially when you have to cobble things together to keep things running. Sanity Jones, and her best friend, Tallulah Vega-Davisson, certainly know how to keep things interesting aboard Wilnick Station: their latest experiment is Sanity’s project; a three-headed kitten named Princess Sparkle Destroyer of Worlds (one name for each head, naturally!). Princess Sparkle is discovered, but the kitten escapes into the duct system. As the girls go on the search for their pet, before she can get hurt or caught, Dr. Vega, the station’s senior scientist and Tallulah’s mom, has bigger problems on her hands: Wilnick Station is experiencing some big-time glitches that could put the station at risk. While some of the crew point their fingers at Princess Sparkle Destroyer of Worlds, Sanity and Tallulah find evidence of something else in those ducts. They’ve got to solve the mystery and save their kitten, and they may just have to rescue the whole space station!

This is such a positive, fun read. The cast is diverse, with our two heroines coming from African-American and biracial (Latinx-white) families of prominence: Sanity’s dad is Wilnick’s station director, Tallulah is the daughter of the senior scientist. Her white dad rocks a man bun, prosthetic leg, and context clues allude to his being a celebrity heartthrob at some point in the past. There’s humor and technospeak that kids will love. The three-color white, purple, and pink artwork has bold lines and gives a real feel for the sheer size and scope of a space station.  Molly Brooks gives readers a vision of a diverse future where strong female characters are valued. A must-add to graphic novel collections – put this with your Zita the Spacegirl and Star Scouts books!

Sanity & Tallulah has starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly.

Posted in Uncategorized

Rick Riordan Presents: The Storm Runner, and the Mayan Pantheon!

The Storm Runner, by JC Cervantes, (Sept. 2018, Disney-Hyperion), $16.99, ISBN: 9781368016346

Ages 8-13

The next Rick Riordan Presents book is out! The next Rick Riordan Presents book is out!! I’m as excited as my library kids are, because The Storm Runner has got the GOODS.

Middle schooler Zane Obispo is an ordinary kid. Kinda. I mean, he’s being raised by his single mom, hangs out with his pro wrestling-loving uncle, and loves exploring with his 3-legged dog, Rosie. But he also has his own volcano – there’s a dormant volcano right near his New Mexico home – and he tries to avoid the jerks at school who make fun of him, because one leg is shorter than the other. When a new girl named Brooks shows up at school and tells him he’s destined to release an evil god from the underworld, he thinks she’s crazy: until it really happens. Brooks is a shapeshifter than can turn into a hawk, Rosie is lost to the underworld while trying to protect Zane from a Mayan god who smells like puke, and Zane? He’s the son of another Mayan god. And now, with Ah-Puch unleashed, there’s a war brewing between the gods, including Zane’s father. Zane’s the only one who can put things right, but all he wants to do is save Rosie and leave them to it.

The Storm Runner is SO. GOOD. It’s a brilliant introduction to the Mayan pantheon, for starters. Narrated by Zane, we get some real talk about the awesomeness of a people that worshiped a goddess of chocolate (Ixcacao) and a Mayan giant who likes to tinker and invent things that would make the As Seen on TV people drool. There’s action and adventure, and a strong bonds of family and friendship that run through the book. The worldbuilding is fantastic, with delightfully gross descriptions of gooey, oozing gods and poisoned meatballs. There are key elements that fantasy fans will look for and love: the bonds of family and friendship, a strong sense of humor, and a disabled character who discovers the true nature of his disability as a source of power. (In Percy Jackson, kids with ADHD were descended from the Greek gods. Here, Zane’s leg is directly linked to his heritage, and the reveal is outrageous and fantastic.) There’s a glossary of Mayan terms, including pronunciation help.

Look at Irvin Rodriguez’s cover! That artwork is incredible! Want a program-in-a-book idea? Scholastic has some good activities; there are Mayan gods coloring pages. and The British Museum has good ideas. Spice up your library programming or ELA/History lessons!

This trend of exploring cultures through different pantheons is such fun and such a great learning experience. Give this to your Percy Jackson/Kane Chronicles/all the Riordan fans; your Aru Shah fans, your Serpent’s Secret fans – all your action, adventure, and fantasy fans. See what else is coming from Rick Riordan Presents here, and check out award-winning novelist JC Cervantes’ website here. The Storm Runner has starred reviews from Booklist and School Library Journal.

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

The Mortification of Fovea Munson is hilarious Summer Reading!

The Mortification of Fovea Munson, by Mary Winn Heider/Illustrated by Chi Birmingham, (June 2018, Disney-Hyperion), $16.99, ISBN: 9781484780541

Ages 9-13

From the opening line, “Dead bodies are the worst”, you just know you’re in for a good time with this book. Fovea Munson is the 12-year-old daughter of two doctors: cadaver surgeons. They operate on dead folks, and they teach medical students how to work their craft on dead folks. They’ve got the corniest senses of humor, a never-ending love for Hippocrates, the father of medicine, and they’ve just hired Fovea to be their receptionist for the summer. This is bad enough for a 12-year-old who’s already feeling tragically uncool, but wait: three heads in the cadaver lab start talking to her. Death isn’t necessarily final, after all, and Lake, McMullen, and Andy – the three heads in question – want to start a barbershop quartet, hit a recording studio, and have a release party, and it’s up to Fovea to make it happen. Quickly. Because that receptionist that quit left a lovesick, slightly unhinged cremator, behind, and he’s got information that will ruin Fovea’s family. The heads know something, so it’s a little quid pro quo in action.

Is this madcap? Absolutely! Is it hilarious? Without question! Fovea narrates this laugh-out-loud story of a summer vacation gone sideways with a priceless, put-upon tween voice as she navigates her relationship with her parents, her friends (both dead and living), and her scooter-riding grandmother. There’s an unexpected amount of pathos here as Fovea comes to care for a classmate and the trio of cadaver heads in her care, and a bittersweet realization that some friendships aren’t meant to last. There are black and white illustrations throughout, adding some visual humor to the story, and chapters titles remind us how much Hippocrates has influenced Fovea’s life. The end of the book leaves me hopeful that we’ll get some more fun with Fovea down the road, and an appendix (snicker) includes amusing little in-jokes that readers will get a kick out of.

The Mortification of Fovea Munson is a perfect summer read, especially for kids who think their parents are weird (which is, honestly, most of ’em). Don’t miss it. Add it to your STEM reading – cadavers science is a thing!

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Black Panther: The Young Prince: Middle Grade superhero fiction!

Black Panther: The Young Prince, by Ronald L. Smith, (Jan. 2018, Disney Book Group), $16.99, ISBN: 9781484787649

Recommended for readers 10-13

YES. A middle grade novel about an African superhero, written by a Coretta Scott King Award-winning author? ALL THE YES, PLEASE. Ronald L. Smith brings T’Challa to life with this first novel, where we meet the not-quite-yet Black Panther and his best friend, M’Baku, in their homeland, Wakanda. Ulysses Klaue (Marvel fans, heads up for continuity!) has shown up in Wakanda, and T’Chaka, current King of Wakanda and Black Panther, knows that’s never a good sign. He sends his son and M’Baku off to Chicago and safety while Wakanda braces for an invasion. T’Challa wants to keep his head down and blend in, but M’Baku couldn’t want anything less. The opportunity presents itself in the form of local middle school tough guy Gemini Jones and his gang, the Skulls. Kids whisper that Gemini’s a warlock, but that doesn’t stop M’Baku from falling in with Gemini and turning a cold shoulder to T’Challa. If middle school squabbling were the only problem, right? But nope, things are about to go south in a big wayl; luckily for T’Challa, his father packed a Black Panther suit for his son… just in case of emergencies.

This novel is SO GOOD. It’s unputdownable, whether you’re a superhero/Marvel fan or not. Ronald L. Smith brings his talent for creating interesting characters and conflict, plus his gift for writing about magic, and gives life to one of Marvel’s most exciting characters.

Yes, I’m a Black Panther fan. Yes, I’m thrilled about the movie coming out. And yes, this book is fantastic and deserves its spot on every middle grade/middle schooler’s library shelf. Representation counts, and by giving an African superhero his own novel, written by an award-winning African American novelist, Disney has shown readers their commitment to diversity and #ownvoices. I’m thrilled with The Young Prince, and want to read more. Maybe next, we can get a story about the Dora Milaje? How about a Shuri mention? (She’s Black Panther’s sister, in the comics.) Indulge me!

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

Click’d: Coding, apps and friendship drama!

Click’d (Code Girls #1), by Tamara Ireland Stone, (Sept. 2017, Disney-Hyperion), $16.99, ISBN: 9781484784976

Recommended for readers 8-12

Sixth grader Allie Navarro is SO excited about the friendship app she built at CodeGirls summer camp. Click’d collects data about user interests and sends users on a scavenger hunt to find other users with similar interests. It went over big at camp, and now Allie is going to show it to her BFFs at school. She’s also presenting her game at the big Games for Good competition, but she’s going up against her nemesis: Nathan Frederickson, who wins EVERY science fair and drives her crazy.

The app goes over in a big way, but it’s not as great as Allie thought it would be. People are upset about their standings on friendship leaderboards, and a technical glitch ends up embarrassing one of her best friends. Things start spiraling out of Allie’s control; even with Nathan’s help, she’s not sure if she can make things right in time for the competition.

I’m excited about the new coding fiction trend that’s emerging in light of Girls Who Code’s nonfiction/fiction releases! Click’d is great to hand to readers who may be ready to move on from the Girls Who Code series fiction, or readers who may not be ready for Lauren Myracle’s TTYL books just yet. There’s friendship drama for sure, as well as positive messages about resilience and friendship. Each chapter contains screenshots of the Click’d app, adding to the fun; readers can watch Allie’s user count change, and monitor different leaderboards to better envision how the app works (and maybe get some ideas of their own). Tamara Ireland Stone gives us realistic characters and an interesting storyline and builds an extended universe of CodeGirls – girls who all met through a Girls Who Code-type camp – that will work for future novels.

Make sure to check out the Click’d teacher’s guide on the author’s website!

Posted in Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

What’s hiding under The Suffering Tree?

The Suffering Tree, by Elle Cosimano, (June 2017, Disney-Hyperion), $17.99, ISBN: 9781484726594

Recommended for ages 14+

After her father’s death and her family’s eviction, Tori Burns, her mother, and younger brother, Kyle, move from Washington DC to Chaptico, Maryland; a small town with a lot of history. She’s received an inheritance of a house and land from a man named the patriarch of the Slaughter family, one of the oldest families in the area – she’s never met him, never heard of him – and his family are none too happy with it. Tori is miserable in the new house and with the Slaughter family, who seize every opportunity to be spiteful to Tori and her mother. Tori learns more about the Slaughter family’s dark history – and the history of the mythical Chaptico witch – when Nathaniel Bishop claws his way out of a grave under the oak tree in her backyard. It’s no zombie movie: Bishop was an abused, indentured servant for the Slaughter family in the 18th century, and he’s been brought back for a purpose that hasn’t yet revealed itself. Tori shelters him in the shed on her property as she struggles to make sense of the weird dreams she’s having. As she and Nathaniel unravel their histories, Tori uncovers the Slaughters’ secrets, finding herself a part of the mystery.

The Suffering Tree is a paranormal mystery that hinges on self-harm. There’s blood magic throughout the book, and the entire plot is set into motion once Tori – who self-harms – spills her own blood on the property. With references to rape, abuse, racism, and slavery, this is a novel that tackles some very big issues. Tori emerges as a strong character who struggles with cutting as a way to deal with the pain of her father’s loss and more recent stresses as the novel unfolds. Her mother isn’t a strong character at all, preferring to handle her daughter’s psychological issues by asking her if she’s okay and suggesting therapy throughout the book.

Teens are going to love this one. There’s suspense and the pace is intense. Booktalk with historical YA mysteries, like the Jackaby series from William Ritter; Stefan Petrucha’s Ripper, and Stephanie Morrill’s The Lost Girl of Astor Street.

Posted in Adventure, Fantasy, Young Adult/New Adult

New fantasy YA brings a together a group of Royal Bastards

Royal Bastards (Royal Bastards #1), by Andrew Shvarts, (Jun 2017, Hyperion), $18.99, ISBN: 9781484767658

Recommended for ages 14+

This new fantasy series follows a group of Royal Bastards – illegitimate children of royals – as they try to save a royal princess’ life and prevent a war. Sixteen year-old Tilla is the bastard daughter of Lord Kent of the Western Province; she lives in comfortable accommodations, but her father has held her at arm’s distance ever since his legitimate wife bore him two daughters. Tilla’s half brother, Jax, from a different father, lives on Kent’s lands as a stablehand. While Jax is happy with life as it is, Tilla longs for legitimacy and a better relationship with her father; two things he’s withheld from her thus far. She’s invited to her father’s banquet honoring the visiting royal princess Lyriana, and sits at the bastard table with Miles, a bastard from neighboring House Hampsted, and Zell, a trueborn son-turned-bastard from the warrior Zitochi clan of the North. Lyriana insists on sitting with them and getting to know them, and ends up tagging along on what was supposed to be an evening out between just Jax and Tilla. While out at the shore, the group stumbles upon a horrific and treasonous episode that puts every one of their lives in danger: in Miles’ and Tilla’s cases, even from their own parents.

The group of teens is on the run, hoping to make it back to Lyriana’s kingdom before the combined forces of Lord Kent, Lady Hampsted, and the Zitochi clan can catch them. The bastards have to stay alive, prevent a mage slaughter, and a civil war that will claim thousands of lives – can they get along long enough to survive the journey?

There’s a lot of story to unpack in this first book. The biggest stumbling block for me was the contemporary language used in the high fantasy setting. It’s off-putting and took me out of the flow of the novel. Vernacular aside, Royal Bastards is a fast-paced adventure, loaded with intrigue, betrayal, and teen romance. I like the world-building: a fantasy world where bastards are recognized and can gain legitimacy if their parents choose to bestow it upon them; a major coup in the works, and plenty of intrigue and betrayal to keep things interesting. There’s rich character development, particularly in the relationship between Jax and Tilla and Tilla’s growth throughout the novel. There’s some diversity in the characters, although some fantasy tropes pop up here; most notably, the clueless royal who wants to meet “the little people” and the brooding, fur-wearing savage.

YA fantasy fans will dig in and enjoy this one. I’d booktalk Erin Bow’s The Scorpion Rules as an interesting counterpart that looks at the relationship between royals and their children and war. Talk up the Game of Thrones books to readers that may be familiar with the HBO series. Give a copy of Joshua Khan’s Shadow Magic and Dream Magic books to younger siblings who aren’t ready for this one yet.