Posted in Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Graphic Novel Bonanza: Adora and the Distance

Adora and the Distance, by Marc Bernardin/Illustrated by Ariela Kristantina, (March 2022, Dark Horse), $14.99, ISBN: 9781506724508

Ages 12+

Like I said, I read a HUGE backlog of graphic novels while I had my little break, so be prepared for some “If you didn’t read it, it’s new to you!” posts. This time, I’ve got Adora and the Distance, by television writer-producer and comic book author Marc Bernardin. Set in a high fantasy world, Adora is a young woman of color living in a world full of adventure: there are pirates, ghosts, a royal family, and a malevolent entity known as The Distance. The Distance devours and destroys, and Adora, connected to The Distance, must leave her home on a mission to stop it.

The artwork is stunning. The colors, the shading, the depth, bring this book to life in a reader’s hands. The story builds to an incredible conclusion that made the world come to a halt around me as I took it all in. Adora and the Distance is a father’s love letter to his daughter in the best way he could reach her; the best way to let her know he sees her. Adora and the Distance is a story of autism, you see; Marc Bernardin’s author’s note at the end of the book  explains his impetus for creating this epic tale. Adora is smart, brave, and full of love.  There’s humor, adventure, family, and forgiveness all here, bound into this story that connects a father to his daughter.

Put Adora and the Distance in your distributor cart, and get it on shelves for your readers. Give it to parents, educators, and caregivers.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

The Monsters of Rookhaven is all about Family

The Monsters of Rookhaven, by Pádraig Kenny/Illustrated by Edward Bettison, (Sept. 2021, Henry Holt), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250623942

Ages 10-14

Mirabelle loves her very unique family: there’s Uncle Bertram, who can transform into a grizzy bear, and Aunt Eliza, entirely made up of spiders. There are the twins, Dotty and Daisy, who can be a little cruel, and Odd, who travels through portals. There’s Gideon, the newest addition to the family, and the mysterious Piglet; and there’s Uncle Enoch, who presides over the group. They have an agreement with the English village that separates them by way of a magical border: they don’t cross the border and eat the townsfolk, and the village keeps them fed and safe from the outside world. But Jem and Tom, two orphaned siblings, discover a tear in the magic and find their way into Rookhaven, with consequences for everyone on both sides of the border.

This book is gorgeous; beautifully macabre and perfect for kids who loved Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. The narration moves swiftly along but is never rushed; it’s deliberate and takes its time creating the world of Rookhaven and the post-War English countryside; we meet a group of people devastated by war and the grief and loss it brings, making them susceptible to the worst type of manipulation. We meet another group of beings, specially gifted but assumed terrible, also suffering from grief and loss, with the added confusion of having two very human children stumble into their secure world and turn things upside down. Pádraig Kenny masterfully brings these elements together with dark humor and gentle moments, tension and terror mixed with wonder and pain. Edward Bettison’s blackwork illustrations add the perfect moodiness to the story. An excellent choice for book groups

The Monsters of Rookhaven is out in hardcover now and will be released in paperback this September, to coincide with the hardcover release of the next Rookhaven book, The Shadows of Rookhaven.

The Monsters of Rookhaven has a starred review from Booklist.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Indie Spotlight: The Voting Tree by Gareth Griffith

The Voting Tree (The Pelagius Chronicles, Book 1), by Gareth Griffith, (Nov. 2018), $10.25, ISBN: 978-1729264485

Ages 10-13

The Voting Tree is an epic fantasy taking place across two worlds: Sydney, Australia in the year 2000, and a fantasy kingdom called the Land of Pelas. In the current world, Sam Archer is a middle schooler who’s just moved to Sydney, thanks to his dad’s new job. He starts school where he meets new friends Hamish, Sylvia, Athena, and Oscar… and the local bullies, who target Sam and his group of friends for being “freaks”. In the fantasy world of Pelas, there’s open war as Lord Boreas slays his brother, the king, and his wife; their child, Pelagius, is sent into hiding and will live in exile until he’s old enough to retake his father’s throne. Back in Sydney, Sam and his friends gather around a fig tree near their school, and discover that it’s a portal to Pelas, where they meet Pelagius and join his quest. Sam and his friends all have special abilities in this fantasy world to guide them and Pelagius on their way, and time works differently here: they can spend hours in Pelas, but almost no time has passed when they return home. At times, the differences between the two worlds made for a challenging transition, especially because there isn’t a lot of involvement with each of the worlds. Their time in Pelas does lead to character growth and confidence, making this a nice hero’s journey story to recommend. Characters deal with family stress, bullying at school, and inaction on the part of the teachers. Give this to your fantasy readers who love Garth Nix.

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Kicking off 2022 YA with a bang: The Bone Spindle

The Bone Spindle, by Leslie Vedder, (Jan. 2022, Razorbill), $18.99, ISBN: 9780593325827

Ages 12+

This fantasy YA is heavily inspired by Sleeping Beauty, with a touch of Red Riding Hood, and a lot of adventure. Fi – short for Filore – is a treasure hunter with a curse on her head. Actually, it’s on her hand, but it’s a terrible one. Shane is an exiled female warrior who loves fighting and pretty girls. The two unlikely partners end up working together to free a kingdom when Fi pricks her finger on a bone spindle and discovers Briar Rose, the prince whose kingdom is under a sleeping curse until Love’s first kiss awakens him. Briar’s body is asleep, but his magic allows him to appear to Fi, leading her to his kingdom: if she can make it through the perilous thorns and other dangers that await.

The first in a new YA fantasy duology (or trilogy!), The Bone Spindle is a fantasy adventure that flips traditional fairy tales and gender roles, giving readers strong and smart female protagonists and a gentle hero with a mysterious dark side. Fi is afraid to fall in love after a terrible ex left her in a bad spot, but Briar is so awkward and sweet that she wonders what will happen when she finally gets to his kingdom to deliver his kiss. Shane comes from a warrior kingdom, but she’s chosen exile. She loves the heft of her axe and the smile on a pretty girl, but her partnership with Fi means she’ll put herself at risk for a friend. Fantasy readers, LGBTQ+ readers, romance readers, all will find something to love in The Bone Spindle – enjoy spotting the influences as you read.

Posted in picture books

Julia’s House comes to the end of its journey with Julia’s House Goes Home

Julia’s House Goes Home, by Ben Hatke (Oct. 2021, First Second), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250769329

Ages 4-8

The third book in the Julia’s House series will tug at heartstrings. The last time readers saw Julia’s house, in last year’s Julia’s House Moves On,the house had sprouted wings and was flying; Julia’s plans in the literal air. Now, the house lands, but takes a terrible tumble and rolls away, leaving Julia holding only the sign from her door! As she tries to track down the house, she gathers her Lost Creature friends, who’ve all been tossed and tumbled as the house bounced away, but just when she thinks she’s found the house, she makes a distressing discovery. Can she and her friends make things right again? A touching close to the Julia’s House trilogy, Julia’s House Goes Home shows a maturing Julia; a main character who’s gone from always having a plan, to learning that it’s okay to throw your plans out the window and just live in the moment, to having your plans fall apart in front of you – and having your friends be there to catch you when you fall. Readers familiar with Ben Hatke’s books will delight in seeing familiar monster friends and a wink to his 2016 story, Nobody Likes a Goblin. Watercolor artwork gives a moving, wistful, yet comforting feel to the story, and the back endpapers offer a sweet epilogue to sharp-eyed readers. I really loved reading all three books together. It’s a very gentle story that unfolds and invites you in to spend some time with it.

You can follow Ben Hatke’s Instagram for more of his artwork.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade

A Dreidel in Time lets readers live the Hanukkah story

A Dreidel in Time: A New Spin on an Old Tale, by Marcia Berneger/Illustrated by Bernice Castro, (Sept. 2019, Kar-Ben Publishing), $8.99, ISBN: 9781541552654

Ages 8-12

This is a Hanukkah short story that puts readers right into the heart of the Hanukkah story. Devorah and Benjamin are siblings who can’t wait to open their Hanukkah presents, but are a little disappointed when they open their grandparents’ gift to both of them: an old dreidel. Their parents and grandparents have a secret, though, and encourage them to give it a spin – and when they do, they discover they’ve been transported to ancient Israel, and are in the middle of the Hanukkah story as is develops! They meet siblings Simon and Shoshana, whose parents have been arrested by the king Antiochus’s soldiers, and key figures from history, including Mattisyahu (also known as Mattathias) and his sons, Judah and Jonathan. The power of the dreidel shifts the two siblings through different moments in the Hanukkah story, from the opening flight from Antiochus to the battle of the Maccabees, destruction of the Temple, and the rejoicing when they discover that the menorah is still burning after eight days. Every spin of the dreidel not only shifts the action, but the mood: when the dreidel lands on “shin”, a “bad spin”, the siblings find themselves in the past. Landing on “nun” may mean that nothing happens, but there’s a shift in time.

Fast-paced with dialogue that educates and engages, A Dreidel in Time is perfect to give your Magic Tree House and I Survived readers. Black and white illustrations by Beatriz Castro run throughout the story.

Visit author Marcia Berneger’s website for more about her books, a Q&A, and some fun activities for kids.

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

Anne Ursu’s The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy is brilliant!

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy, by Anne Ursu, (Oct. 2021, Walden Pond Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9780062275127

Ages 9-13

Anne Ursu is an undisputed champion of kidlit fantasy. I’ve devoured The Real Boy and Breadcrumbs and am in awe of how she creates these incredible worlds with characters that are so realistic, so well-written, that looking up and realizing I’m still in my living room, dog across my legs, with a book in my lap, can be a little jarring. Her latest story, The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy, is kidlist feminist fantasy at its best. Taking place in a fantasy world and time, Marya Lupu is a girl living in a kingdom under attack from an army called The Dread. Her parents are straight-up awful; they dote on her brother, Luka, because in this world, the young men are sent into service as sorcerers to fight the dread while, if they’re lucky, the girls and families get to live off the sorcerer’s reputation. This sets the siblings up against each other, which never ends well: sure enough, on the day Luka is to be evaluated by the sorcerers for his skill, chaos ensues and it leads right back to Marya. The next day, a letter from a school called the Dragmoir Academy shows up for Marya: it’s a school for wayward girls, and her parents can’t pack her off quickly enough.  What she discovers at the Academy, though, are a group of young women who are far more than just a bunch of “troubled” young women, and the Dragomir Academy has a darker history than they’re owning up to.

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy is about women, power, and fear. It’s a school story, with different personalities and the conflict that comes with putting that many personalities together under stressful circumstances; it’s also a story of hidden women, hidden messages, and who really controls the dialogue, whether it comes to today’s news or a high-fantasy novel about a land under threat from a horrific enemy that devastates everything in its path. Brilliantly written, with characters that readers will love; Marya is a smart young woman who’s been beaten down for a long time; unlike many of the other girls in the novel, though, she refuses to second-guess or question herself when it’s time to take action, and she motivates her schoolmates to own their own power, too.

Anne Ursu is an award-winning, National Book Award-nominated fantasy author. Visit her website for more information about her books and teacher guides, and upcoming events.

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy has a starred review from Kirkus and is an Indie Next pick.

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

Witches of Orkney Super-Post!

‘Morning, all! I’ve been digging deeply into Alane Adams’s Witches of Orkney series, courtesy of SparkPress, and… WOW. I read the Legends of Olympus books earlier this year, so when Spark offered me the full Orkney set to get caught up in time for the newest book, The Mermaid Queen, I went for it. The big feedback: great reads for your fantasy readers; good crossover for your Rick Riordan readers. Let’s get into each book, shall we?

The Blue Witch, (Witches of Orkney #1), by Alane Adams, (Oct. 2018, SparkPress), $12.95, ISBN: 9781943006779

Ages 8-12

Abigail Tarkana is a 9-year-old witch with a big problem: her magic is different, and that’s not exactly prized at her school, the Tarkana Witch Academy. While everyone else’s witchfire is green, hers is blue, which could mark her as a traitor, which targets her for even more bullying than she’s already putting up with. Together with her friend, Hugo, they will strip away the secrets of Abigail’s past, including the identity of her parents. Is she the daughter of a notorious coven traitor? Abigail and Hugo confront monsters on a quest into the Netherworld that test both their powers. Rich with Norse mythology, Alane Adams excels at worldbuilding and character development. Black and white illustrations throughout help give readers extra context and keep interest high. There’s action and intrigue with solid fantasy storytelling, and the characters are kid-friendly. Themes of friendship, protecting and supporting one another, and teamwork run strong.

An excellent choice for book groups, you can touch on Norse mythology and its presence in the series. Alane Adams offers free book club kits on her author website for all of her series, including maps, posters, and challenges. Offer as a readalike to Riordan fans who loved the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series, or Kelley Armstrong and Melissa Marr’s Blackwood Pages series, and have nonfiction like NatGeo Kids’ Treasury of Norse Mythology or Mathias Nordvig’s Norse Mythology for Kids available. Readers are going to devour this series.

The Blue Witch received multiple awards, including the 2020 IPPY Awards Bronze Winner in Cover Design, and Moonbeam’s Gold Medal in Pre-Teen Fiction/Fantasy.

 

The Rubicus Prophecy, (Witches of Orkney #2), by Alane Adams, (Oct. 2019, SparkPress), $12.95, ISBN: 9781943006984

Ages 8-12

The second book in the Witches of Orkney series ratchets up the action. Abigail is back at Tarkana Witch Academy and studying for her classes. She’s still dealing with Endera, her bully, and to make matters worse, Endera’s mother is one of Abigail’s teachers. Hugo, meanwhile, is hearing rumors about war and a prophecy that sounds uncomfortably similar to Abigail and her abilities. There’s even more action in this installment, including visits from the Norse gods, and draugars – zombies! – to be read. Illustrator Jonathan Stroh returns, creating exciting, spooky black and grey artwork that adds to the mood of the book. Readers can pick up the story without having read The Blue Witch, but I’d let them know taht they’re going to miss quite a bit of exposition if they do: story arcs continue here that were set up in the first book, after all, and established characters took an entire book to develop. This is a good series to give to readers who are ready for slightly grittier storytelling, as Ms. Adams reminds us that the Vikings didn’t worship the Norse gods for their gentle natures. (And hello, zombies.) Not overly gruesome, but something to keep in mind for readers who may need a heads-up.

Alane Adams has a gift for fantasy storytelling, and loads the book with adventure, humor, and magic elements. Giving her stories a background in Norse myth gives it the “Riordan Appeal” that lets me start off a strong booktalk, because in my readers advisory elevator pitches, I have to move fast: I’m competing with Minecraft and Roblox on our library computers, after all!

 

Witch Wars, (Witches of Orkney #3), by Alane Adams, (Oct. 2020, SparkPress), $12.95, ISBN: 9781684630639

Ages 8-12

We’re two books in now, and the third book, Witch Wars, starts off with the Asgardian prologue we’ve grown accustomed to, which will set the tone for the story within, which leads into Tarkana, present day, where Abigail is beating herself up over the disasters from The Rubicus Prophecy. Now, Orkney is speeding toward war, an ancient power has been restored, and Hugo and Abigail set off to Jotunheim – land of the Frost and Rock Giants – to track down Thor and convince him to give them his hammer, Mjolnir, to help them set things right. No problem, right? Meanwhile, Endera and her friends are on Abigail’s trail, believing they’ll find proof that Abigail is truly a traitor, and their former friend Robert Barconian arrives on the scene with an army of dwarves to stop Abigail and Hugo. The characters are maturing and growing into themselves in this third book; Abigail, in particular, considers the fallout of her actions and has to contend with guilt and grief, while Hugo steps up to be the support that she needs as she works through some complex emotions. More gods and characters from Norse mythology make appearances, and the intrigue runs high. The action keeps readers turning pages, and the dialogue moves at an excellent pace. This series starts off strong and, three books in, maintains its forward motion.

 

 

The Mermaid Queen, (Witches of Orkney #4), by Alane Adams, (Oct. 2021, SparkPress), $12.95, ISBN: 9781684631131

The latest book in the saga, The Mermaid Queen, starts off with a major moment of foreboding in the Asgardian prologue. From there, we see that Abigail has fallen into a depression after putting her trust in the wrong ally during the events of Witch Wars. Capricorn, the mermaid queen, betrayed Abigail and her friends and unleashed Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent, and now Abigail and Hugo must cross the seas to find Odin and warn him that Jormungand is coming for him, and find a way to return the serpent to his underwater cell. Abigail discovers that her powers on their own aren’t enough, and may have to risk tapping into her dark magic. But can you use dark magic, even for a good cause, without being affected? It’s a choice she has to make. Big choices and the truth that life isn’t always black and white; good and evil, are the big themes here – perfect for a growing and maturing tween reader who is confronting similar quandaries (maybe no Midgard Serpent, but some moments sure feel as intimidating as one) in their own lives.

The Witches of Orkney series is the prequel to the Legends of Orkney series, so you can read this before you dig into Legends, and go straight through, or you can read Legends first, and then pick up Witches and get deeper context for events and characters in Legends. Either way, I really suggest you read the novels in order, so you can have a cohesive understanding of each series as it unfolds. It’s an excellent series that’s sure to have high interest. If you are new to Alane Adams’s universe, ask your big readers to give them a shot and get feedback before buying a set; I think it’s a purchase well made.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Middle School, Teen, Tween Reads, Uncategorized

A graphic novel on every shelf!

More graphic novels are hitting shelves in time for school, and that makes me happy! For me, it’s like seeing an endorsement that graphic novels are finally being seen as “real” reading! (I mean, you knew it, I knew it, lots of folx knew it, but still…) Let’s see what we’ve got for each age group, coming right up.

We Have a Playdate, by Frank Dormer, (Aug. 2021, Harry N. Abrams), $12.99, ISBN: 9781419752735

Ages 6-10

This intermediate graphic novel is perfect for all your Narwhal and Jelly and Blue, Barry, and Pancakes fans. Tuna the Narwhal, Margo the Bird, and Noodle the Snake have a playdate at the park, where they meet a hostile robot and a bear named Ralph, who quickly joins their playgroup. The story unfolds in four chapters that takes readers – and the group of friends – to each area of the playground: The Slide, The Swings, The Monkey Bars, and The SeeSaw, and the action is both hilarious and written with an eye to being a good playground friend. There’s playful language, like “fizzled their neenee bopper” or “zizzled my zipzoo” for playground injuries, and laugh-out-loud moments when the group tries to figure out ways to “help” one another, like scaring Ralph off the slide to get him to go down, or tying Noodle onto the swing to help them stay on. Cartoon artwork and colorful panels will make this a big favorite with you intermediate and emerging readers.

Visit Frank Dormer’s webpage and see more of his work, including the 10-foot monsters he drew to guard New Haven’s library in 2015!

 

 

 
Hooky, by Míriam Bonastre Tur, (Sept. 2021, Etch/Clarion Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780358468295
 
Ages 8-12
 
I’m always happy when an online comic makes it to print. Many of my library kids only have computer access here at the library, so print comics and graphic novels are the way to reach them best (also, they’re here to do homework and play Minecraft and Roblox; reading comics online isn’t always on their radar). Hooky is a compiled comic from WEBTOON, and follows twin siblings Dani and Dorian, who’ve missed the bus to magic school (no Whomping Willow here) and don’t know the way there. Looks like they’re going to miss that first year of school – and wow, will their parents be upset! They decide to search for a mentor, which leads to a score of amusing situations; cleaning up the Huntsman to “steal Snow White’s heart” by making her fall in love with him is just the tip of the iceberg. But there’s trouble ahead, and the twins need to find a way to clear their names and heal their kingdom when more complicated challenges arise.
 
Illustrated in manga style, this is going to be big with my middle graders and middle schoolers. They’re manga fans, and finding graphic novels incorporating manga artwork is a great way to get them to stretch their reading interests and introduce them to new titles. Plus, it’s fantasy, with some similar tropes, like magic twins, magic school, and bringing unity to a divided society; all familiar fantasy scenarios that readers will feel comfortable setting down with. The artwork has some truly outstanding moments, like Dorian standing atop books as he works in his aunt’s library; the relationship between the siblings is relatable as it moves from affectionate to teasing to bickering and back again. This release of Hooky includes additional content you won’t find on the WebToon page, making it even more attractive to readers. Give this one a look.
 
 

 

Other Boys, by Damian Alexander, (Sept. 2021, First Second), $21.99, ISBN: 9781250222824
 
Ages 10-14
 
An autobiographical middle school graphic novel about being the new kid, crushes, and coming out, Other Boys absolutely needs space in your graphic novel memoir sections. Damian decides that he’s not going to speak when he enters seventh grade. He’s the new kid, and was bullied at his last school, so it’s just easier to not speak at all, he figures. But it doesn’t work, because Damian isn’t like other boys in his school: he lives with his grandparents; his mom is dead and his father isn’t in the picture, and his family is low-income. Plus, Damian doesn’t like a lot of things that other boys in his school like: he likes flowers in his hair; he’d rather play with Barbie than with G.I. Joe, acting out stories rather than playing fighting games. Damian doesn’t feel like he fits in as a boy or a girl, and now… he’s got a crush on another boy.
 
Other Boys is a middle school story along the lines of Mike Curato’s Flamer and Jarrett Krosoczka’s Hey, Kiddo. It draws you in with first person storytelling and a narrator that you want to befriend; it places you next to Damian in the narrative, walking with him and seeing his story unfold in front of you. Put this on your shelves – there are kids who need this book.
 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Magic for All! The Gilded Girl fights for magical equality

The Gilded Girl, by Alyssa Colman, (Apr. 2021, Farrar Straus Giroux), $16.99, ISBN: 9780374313937

Ages 8-12

This middle grade book about magic feels like it’s set in JK Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them-era New York, and has such a strong social class storyline that makes it so relevant today. Magic exists in the world, but it’s been co-opted by the wealthy. When magical winds blow, you either “kindle” – take on the magic that manifests itself with the winds, or “snuff” – have your magic snuffed out, leaving you with no gifts. The wealthy have warped the entire idea that magic must run free, and the process has become more and more precarious as magic is limited, cornered, controlled. Izzy is a 12-year-old girl working as a maid in a prestigious school for magic run by the awful social climber Miss Posterity. She has plans to kindle on her own and leave Miss Posterity, to seek her younger sister who was taken from her when her parents died. Emma is a 12-year-old girl with a wealthy father who enrolls as a student with Miss Posterity. The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake upends Emma’s life, but bonds her with Izzy as the two plan to free themselves from Miss Posterity’s crushing yoke. With the help of a house dragon (in the form of a cat) and some friends on the inside and outside of Miss Posterity’s, the two may just start a revolution. The story is a journey for both Emma and Izzy; Emma begins as a child of privilege who learns big lessons when the tables turn. Izzy learns how to let her guard down and rely on people other than herself. It’s a study in friendship, in social class, and social change; having the recent immigrants living in New York City tenements in an area called “The Tarnish” is like reading a fantasy version of Jacob Riis’s How the Other Half Lives. The house dragon, in the form of a cat, is a wonderful addition to the story and injects some levity and cuteness into the storyline. (My own house dragon, Tiger, was not amused at being found out.)

Great fantasy for middle graders; if you’re a New York history fan like I am, you can talk for days about the implications of magic being kept out of the literal hands of immigrants and the poor and how the wealthy warped the natural flow of magic by making it unattainable except to the privileged. Must-read! Enjoy a discussion guide (spoilers in some of the questions, look at your own risk) courtesy of the publisher.