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

Middle Grade Animal Fiction: Say hello to your new best friends!

Animal fiction is always popular – that’s why there’s so much of it! – and I’ve been getting a bunch of animal adventures to read over the last few months. Great for book bundles, Summer Reading, or just keeping in mind for your animal fiction fans, here are two I’ve just finished:

 

Hotel Flamingo, by Alex Milway, (March 2021, Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 9781684641260

Ages 7-10

Originally published in the UK in 2019, this is the first in an intermediate/middle grade series that’s just hitting US shores and it is hilarious. Anna is a young girl who recently inherits Hotel Flamingo, a once glamorous hotel that’s seen better days. Mr. Bear and Mr. Lemmy, the previous administration’s employees, have stayed on, trying to keep the lights on and the water running, and are happy to see Anna, hoping she’ll bring back the hotel to its former glory. As she mulls over how to compete with The Glitz Hotel, run by – oh yes, my friends – Ronald Ruffian, the demanding, boorish hotelier/businessman determined to keep his hold on Animal Boulevard’s clientele, Anna realizes a strength that the Flamingo has: they’ll treat all animals, even bugs, with dignity, respect, and as welcomed guests. With a cast of memorable and fabulous animal characters and situations, this first outing makes me want to check into the Hotel Flamingo again and again. The writing is wonderfully paced, engaging, and pink-and-black two color illustrations throughout make this a great bridge between intermediate chapter books and middle grade novels. A lovely story of teamwork, respect, and hard work paying off, kids will also love Anna, a human girl, being surrounded by new, anthropomorphic, animal friends. There are four books in total (so far?) in the Hotel Flamingo series; keep an eye out for the next ones.

Visit author Alex Milway’s website for a newsletter, free ebooks and excerpts, and his blog.

The Hotel Flamingo series works with the Tails and Tales Summer Reading theme and the Reading Takes You Everywhere theme! Ask your readers what kind of animals would run their hotel, and with what jobs, and cast an animal/human talent show. You’re bound to get some great responses. Print out a passport template (there are a bunch of good ones, for free, on TeachersPayTeachers.com) and either have kids create their own stamps or find some fun ones online. We’ve been stuck inside for a year – it’s time to (armchair) travel!

 

Dog Squad, by Chris Grabenstein, (May 2021, Random House Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 9780593301739

Ages 8-12

Mr. Lemoncello’s Library author Chris Grabenstein hits gold again with Dog Squad – the beginning to what I hope is a new series. Fred is a nice dog who’s had a rough time of it in his just about two years of life. He had a home with Susan, who loved him and treated him so well… until she chose her stuck-up boyfriend over Fred. Then, he was adopted from the shelter by a lout named Tony, who wanted to turn him into a guard dog by “toughening him up”, which really meant abusing him and neglecting him. Fred’s only refuge was the show, Dog Squad, where Duke, Scruffy, and Nala, three heroic dogs, had exciting adventures every week! When Tony kicks Fred out and he ends up in a shelter, it’s good fortune that he’s adopted again: this time, by Jenny, the producer of Dog Squad, and her niece, Abby, who claims to be a dog psychic! Fred’s thrilled to meet his idol, but he’s crushed when Duke turns out to be pretty awful in real life. The tables turn when Duke’s injured and Fred, who resembles Duke, is asked to stand in for Duke on Dog Squad until he heals up, but Fred isn’t brave like he thinks Duke is. It’ll take some real-life adventure, including standing up to bullies. to help Fred understand that bravery takes all sorts of forms, but it’s something that starts inside you. A touching story about friendship, self-worth, and finding a forever home, Dog Squad was inspired by Chris Grabenstein’s dog, Fred: have tissues when you read his words about Fred at the end of the story. Black and white cartoon illustrations throughout will make readers wonder when this will become a movie (at least, that’s what I was thinking). Have kids who loved Paw Patrol but have aged up from Easy Readers and 8×8 media tie-ins? This is your new go-to book. The story even has Paw Patrol-esque catchphrases like, “Pawsome!”

More Summer Reading tie-ins: Tails and Tales, sure, but the Dog Squad team travels around the New York/tri-state area to shoot their show. Maybe consider mapping the areas mentioned in the story? If you’re using reading passports, put a Dog Squad stamp in there (or, you know, New York and Connecticut stamps) for your readers!

Visit Chris Grabenstein’s author page for a Dog Squad excerpt and video piece on the real Fred’s story (and Mr. Lemoncello stuff galore).

 

 

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Blog Tour: PAWCASSO by Remy Lai!

If you haven’t yet read and enjoyed Remy Lai’s books, you really must. She has a wonderful way of looking at life, whether it’s finding a way through grief by making cakes (Pie in the Sky), or striking out on one’s own to prove their independence (Fly on the Wall). Her newest book, Pawcasso, is about a lonely girl and a neighborhood dog with a shopping basket who quickly garners a fan club.

Pawcasso, by Remy Lai, (May 2021, Henry Holt BFYR),
$21.99, ISBN: 9781250774484
Ages 8-12

Jo is an 11-year-old girl who has trouble connecting with new friends. As she stares out her window, she’s drawn to a neighborhood dog who trots around, shopping basket in his mouth, stopping at stores and picking up groceries. Everyone seems to know the pup, and, intrigued, Jo follows him, to try and figure out where he lives. People from the neighborhood see Jo following “Pawcasso”, as he’s become known, and assume she’s his owner: chaos ensues as Jo just kind of allows everyone to believe Pawcasso is her dog, including the neighborhood dog catcher, who’s on Pawcasso’s trail after receiving complaints about an unleashed dog in the neighborhood. Jo finds herself in an uncomfortable middle as she’s caught in her own lie, and may have to come clean and risk the new friendships she’s formed, in order to keep Pawcasso from going to the pound.

Remy Lai’s artwork is here in full color, and she brings Pawcasso, Jo, and their little neighborhood to life with friendly, colorful panels. The story will appeal to a wide range of readers, from dog- and pet-lovers, to graphic novel and realistic fiction fans, to readers looking for a good story about friendship, family, and fun.

Pawcasso has starred reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, and Shelf Awareness. Visit Remy Lai’s author webpage for more about her books and to sign up for her newsletter!

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Blog Tour and Giveaway: Hudson and Tallulah Take Sides by Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant

Dogs and Cats… the eternal struggle. Can they ever be friends? This adorable antagonists-to-besties story by Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant (You Are (Not) Small,  I Am (Not) Scared, Eraser) believes they can. Hudson is a mud-loving, hole digging dog; Tallulah is a butterfly-chasing, self-cleaning cat. The two live on opposite sides of the same fence, and have very different outlooks on the world until they find themselves out on the town for a day of adventure. They bicker, they quibble, they flat-out squabble, until a moment arises when they discover that even those with different opinions can find a moment of community. From there, they discover how much they really can enjoy together, ending the day as besties.

Hudson and Tallulah Take Sides, by Anna Kang/Illustrated by Christopher Weyant,
(May 2021, Two Lions), $17.99, ISBN: 9781542006682
Ages 4-7

 

I adore the Kang/Weyant team; they have a gift with fun dialogue and make the most vehement disagreements gleefully silly. Christopher Weyant’s gouache and graphite artwork gives readers cartoonlike characters that kids will love from the outset; we know all we need to about this twosome from the opening spread, where Tallulah sits on a fluffy cat seat, surrounded by cat toys, as she swipes at a butterfly; Hudson’s yard is covered in balls, sticks, bones, and a tempting, muddy hole. The story takes place entirely in dialogue, letting readers develop their own voices for the two frenemies. Tallulah looks appropriately smug, as only a cat can do; Hudson, adorably disgruntled. Anna Kang’s back-and-forth dialogue reminds readers that they may see things differently, too; Hudson digs out from under his fence to explore, while Tallulah sits in judgment on the fence, as Hudson says, “I’m busting out. Fences keep me trapped”. Tallulah responds, “Fences keep us safe”. It’s a simple statement that appeals to both sides of the argument, and kids will see themselves in these two funny friends as they forge a new friendship.

Hudson and Tallulah Takes Sides has a starred review from Booklist, and anything by Team Kang/Weyant is an insta-buy for me.

Anna Kang and Chrisotopher Weyant are the creators of Theodor Seuss Geisel Award winner You Are (Not) Small as well as series titles That’s (Not) Mine, I Am (Not) Scared, and We Are (Not) Friends. They also wrote and illustrated Eraser, Can I Tell You A Secret?, and Will You Help Me Fall Asleep? Christopher’s work can also be seen in The New Yorker, and his cartoons are syndicated worldwide. This husband-and-wife team lives in New Jersey with their two daughters and their rescue dog, Hudson, the inspiration behind the character in this book. Visit them at www.annakang.com and www.christopherweyant.com.

Twitter: @annakang27 @ChristophWeyant

Instagram: annakangbookschristopherweyant   

Facebook: Anna Kang – AuthorChristopher Weyant

New Yorker cartoonist Weyant’s illustrations, which use gouache, graphite, and lots of white space, carry the day, filling the dog’s and cat’s reactions to what they encounter with plenty of comic details (like the bold lettering conveying the dog-park dogs’ frantic barking at the cat). Madcap fun.” —Booklist (starred review)
“Charming cartoons convey the nearly wordless story augmented with dialogue between the two rivals…An amusing exploration of how opposite personalities can learn to appreciate their unique relationship.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Aptly captured by married team Kang and Weyant (You Are (Not) Small), the unlikely friends’ comic path to camaraderie unfolds nearly wordlessly, with expressive gouache and graphite scenes that burst with physical humor, showing that even those who fight like cats and dogs can be friends.” —Publishers Weekly

 

 

 

One lucky winner will receive a copy of Hudson and Tallulah Take Sides, courtesy of Two Lions (U.S. addresses). Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway here!

Posted in picture books

Blog Tour and Author Interview: Perdu, by Richard Jones

Back in February, I wrote about Richard Jones’s latest book, Perdu – his first as an author and illustrator! This book about a little dog who really needs a friend melted my heart, so I’m happy to talk about it again for the book’s blog tour. Peachtree Publishers was wonderful and secured me an interview with author Richard Jones, too!

Perdu, by Richard Jones, (Apr. 2021, Peachtree Publishing),
$17.99, ISBN: 9781682632482
Ages 4-8

Poor Perdu finds himself lost and all alone on a dark rainy night, with nothing of his own except for an old red scarf. Hefollows a tumbling leaf through the countryside to the city, from night to day,in hopes of finding a place of his own. But in the busy city, people rush and shoo Perdu away.Will he ever find a comforting place to rest his aching legs or fill his grumbling tummy?

Your most recent book, Perdu, is also your first as an author! Is this the first story you were moved to write?

Richard Jones: Perdu’s story is very dear to me, but it’s not quite the first! The publishing world is a roly-poly business and projects get moved forward and back all the time. There are one or two other tales that came before this one that are waiting patiently for their time! However, Perdu is the first story of mine to be published and I’ll always think of it fondly.

Perdu’s little red scarf becomes such an emotional part of his story. What inspired it?

Richard Jones: Perdu is a dog with a mysterious past and I wanted him to carry a little piece of it with him as he searches for a place to call home. His scarf is his only possession, so when he loses it after a mix up in a café, he feels entirely lost. When the little girl kindly ties it back on, she’s not only returning to him his possession but also giving him back his self-worth and confidence.

You use color to communicate so many things in your books. I loved that the red of Perdu’s scarf matches the little girl’s knit hat. Can you talk about how you decide what colors to use when you’re working?

Richard Jones: I have pages and pages of sketches for the little girl’s coat and hat, I think I counted over 25 variations! In the end, red seemed the perfect color to use as it contrasted well with his night-black coat and made her stand out in the crowded city streets. I try and have a new palette of colors for each book, picked from photos and paintings I’ve spotted during the early stages of a project. I sometimes wonder if I’m not just a little bit color blind!

Was writing and illustrating Perdu more challenging than illustrating other authors’ work?

Richard Jones: I love reading other people’s stories and imagining how I might illustrate them. It’s one of the best parts of the job! However, working on Perdu felt a little more organic than other projects, as the two strands—the pictures and the words—developed together. As the pages evolved over time, they suggested little changes or shifts in the story that required a re-write or two. That’s something I wouldn’t always expect of another author!

 

Thank you so much!

Visit other stops on the Richard Jones/Perdu blog tour!

Additional resources:

Website with book summary and author bio: https://peachtree-online.com/portfolio-items/perdu/

Author Q&A: https://peachtree-online.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/QA_JonesR.pdf

Activity Sheets: https://peachtree-online.com/pdfs/Activity_Event/PerduActivitySheets.pdf

Book excerpt: https://peachtree-online.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/PerduExcerpt.pdf

How to Draw Perdu video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yeNUtKJtczA

Richard Jones background about the creation of Perdu: https://www.paintedmouse.com/perdu-blog

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Poojo’s Got Wheels! Look at him go!

Poojo’s Got Wheels, by Charrow, (March 2021, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536210361

Ages 4-8

Poojo is an adorable dog born without back legs, but don’t you feel sorry for him: he’s got wheels! Little Poojo has a big smile and a super-cool wheelchair that lets him zip around, being a good friend to everyone and everything. When he gets a flat at a costume parade, he’s momentarily flummoxed, but Poojo? He’s got it all handled, and he’s got support from all his friends. This adorable can-do story about a pup and his wheelchair is just a feel-good, wonderful story about ability and spirit. Brief text lets emerging readers build their confidence, and lets the illustrations transport the reader into the story to play with Poojo and his friends. Digital and gouache artwork creates colorful illustrations with cute dogs and green spaces for them to frolic within. Poojo has a big smile, a bright red wheelchair, and very cool pockets that fit all his stuff. Green-washed endpapers sport a shower of bones, most likely snacks for Poojo to enjoy after his parade. Don’t miss this one; it’s an upbeat read that your littles will love.

Poojo’s Got Wheels has a starred review from Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

Posted in picture books

Unconditional love: Can I Sit With You?

Can I Sit With You?, by Sarah Jacoby, (March 2021, Chronicle Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9781452164649

Ages 5-8

A lonely dog sees a young girl walking with her mother and pursues her, sensing she needs a friend as the pup does: “Can I sit with you?” The girl and the dog are loyal to one another through the passing of time, and each understands the other’s need to grow and wander a bit, make others friends, yet always come back to one another: “So if you hear another call / or disappear from view, / I’ll understand the stray in you. / It is in my nature, too.” As the girl returns from home her travels, the dog joyfully leaps into her arms and declares, “I will sit with you”. A loving testament to unconditional love and friendship, the verse is quiet and soft, perfect for a lapsit or a stuffed animal storytime when you can encourage cuddles. Pastel and watercolor artwork is soft, blending into one another, with gorgeous color reflecting emotions and the relationship between the two friends. As Kirkus says, “Young readers will want to sit with this pair. They’re made for each other.”

Can I Sit With You? has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Lost little Perdu needs a home

Perdu, by Richard Jones, (Apr. 2021, Peachtree Publishing), $17.99, ISBN: 9781682632482

Ages 4-8

Perdu is a pup with no home. He’s hungry, cold, and lonely, and wanders the city trying to find something to eat. When he slips into a restaurant, he smells wonderful smells… but gets into terrible trouble. Will anyone find this poor pup and give him a home? Perdu – the French word for “lost” – pulls at the heartstrings in a big way; he’s small, cute, and author/illustrator Richard Jones makes him look so sad, alone with his little red scarf, the only thing he has to call his own, that readers won’t be able to help but want to take him home and cuddle him. The cruel language others yell at him – “Get out! Go away! Shoo!” – increases Perdu’s feelings of isolation, and when, out of desperation, he tries to get food in a restaurant, the public’s increased reaction causes a scared, aggressive reaction that Richard Jones masterfully illustrates with Perdu against a completely red background. Sharp-eyed viewers may notice Richard Jones’s Snow Lion on one page. This is Richard Jones’ debut as an author and illustrator, and he nails it on both counts. His artwork always communicates emotion and depth, and his gift for words creates a heartaching, and then, heartwarming story of a dog searching for a forever home. A good storytime choice.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

New chapter book series: Twig and Turtle

I received review copies of the first two books in the new chapter book series, Twig and Turtle, from Pixel+Ink toward the end of last year and just sat down to read them, as I get my TBR self together. They are SO much fun! You don’t need to read them in order, but you’ll certainly want to read them all.

Twig and Turtle: Big Move to a Tiny House (Twig and Turtle #1), by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, (Oct. 2020, Pixel+Ink), $6.99, ISBN: 9781645950226

Ages 5-7

Sisters Twig and Turtle were living with their parents in a big home in Boston, but their parents decided to live more authentically, so they sold everything and moved their family to a tiny house in Colorado, where they can pursue their real interests. Dad’s a comic book artist, mom’s a photographer, and Twig and Turtle are navigating their new lives in a tiny home. In this first Twig and Turtle adventure, the sisters are adjusting to a new school and making new friends, but Twig is also worried about Bo, her uncle’s dog who’s been living with her grandmother. She loves Bo, but Bo – a great dane – has been making a ruckus and the neighbors are getting fed up, so she may need to rehome Bo – and Twig is so upset! Mom and Dad say there’s no room for Bo in their tiny new home, but maybe another solution will present itself? Twig and Turtle presents an interesting new take on moving and settling into a new home, new school, and new neighborhood. Twig is a third grader, Turtle is a first grader, and Turtle seems easier and quicker to acclimate than does Twig. The relationships between the girls and the girls and their parents is positive and optimistic. A fun new series; I’m always on the lookout for good chapter books for my intermediate readers and this fits the bill nicely. With Ivy and Bean coming to an end, this will be a nice new realistic fiction series to booktalk.

 

Twig and Turtle: Toy Store Trouble (Twig and Turtle #2), by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, (Oct. 2020, Pixel+Ink), $6.99, ISBN: 9781645950257

Ages 5-7

The second Twig and Turtle story centers on the new toy store opening in the neighborhood, which gets the kids all excited: especially since there’s a contest to name the new store, and the grand prize winner will also get to choose a toy of their own! Twig and Turtle are excited to win: they were only allowed to pick five toys each to take with them when they moved, but Twig is worried; Mom has already told them that for every new toy they receive, they need to choose one to part with. What if Twig doesn’t want to part with any of them? Toy Store Trouble looks at tough decisions kids have to make, and the solutions they can come up with when given time to think things through. The book also features thrift store shopping and trade-ins, so it’s a nice nod to stepping away from “fast fashion” and consumer culture.

 

Twig and Turtle: Quiet Please! (Twig and Turtle #3), by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, (Feb. 2021, Pixel+Ink), $6.99, ISBN: 9781645950455

Ages 5-7

Full disclosure: I haven’t read this one yet, but it’s just come out, so I wanted to make sure to include it here. The family is starting to chafe against tiny house living, especially when Twig is participating in a school read-a-thon while the rest of the family is living in the same space! One of Twig’s classmates is able to log more reading time, so she starts staying up way past her bedtime to keep up, making Mom and Dad realize that there need to be some changes made.

The Twig and Turtle series has black and white illustrations throughout, and is a nicely written series that looks at a different way of living than we normally see. I think the kids will enjoy this one.

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate

A puppy searches for his “yip” in a new series

Finding My Yip (Boomers Tales, Book 1), by Christine Isley-Farmer/Illustrated by Taylor Bills, (March 2021, Wandering in the Words Press), $8.95, ISBN: 978-1733212663

Ages 7-10

Boomer is a young Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy, adopted by Nana Weathers and her nine-year-old orphaned granddaughter, Chloe. Chloe has a stutter and wants to sing like her Nana, a music teacher, and Nana is confident that Boomer – a puppy who can’t “yip!” just yet – and Chloe can help one another. Chloe and Boomer quickly bond and discover other friends at dog obedience classes. Nana’s magic ring helps her communicate with Boomer, and Chloe’s love encourages Boomer to keep trying and find his Yip; Boomer’s and Nana’s love and encouragement help Chloe find the confidence to be part of the school talent show. Narrated by Boomer, the story is a cute intermediate read for animal lovers with likable characters. Black and white illustrations are cartoony, cute, and will keep readers turning pages.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Cover Reveal: YES & NO by Elisha Cooper

How adorable is this new cover for Elisha Cooper’s new book, Yes & No?

Yes & No, by Elisha Cooper, (April, 2021, Roaring Brook Press),
$18.99, ISBN: 9781250257338
Ages 2-6

Elisha Cooper is the critically acclaimed author/illustrator of many children’s books, including Caldecott Honor-winning BIG CAT, LITTLE CAT. This new story is a timeless tale of friendship, adjusting your perspective, and the joys (and trials) of siblinghood.

As a mother of three children, a dog, and a cat, I can tell you that sibling relationships cross species lines. Reading the sneak peek at Macmillan’s website, I realized it, and you will, too, with chuckles and grins. Visit the book’s page at Macmillan’s site for yourself – Elisha Cooper’s artwork is always a joy to see.