Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Redlocks and the Three Bears flips fairy tales for fun

Redlocks and the Three Bears, by Claudia Rueda, (Nov. 2021, Chronicle Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9781452170312

Ages 3-5

Claudia Rueda’s newest story is a sweet, humorous take on Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Bears, and that old trope of the Big Bad Wolf. Mama Bear is just about to get the porridge on the table when a knock sounds at the Bear Family’s door: it’s Little Red Riding Hood, and there’s a bear after her! Baby Bear convinces his parents to give Red some shelter; porridge is eaten, chairs get broken, a bed is too soft… but is the Big Bad Wolf really that bad? Redlocks takes a compassionate look at the maligned image of the Big Bad Wolf, who always finds himself in trouble throughout fairy tales, and offers readers some food for thought on how bad reputations can hurt.

The story offers a fun take on the Goldilocks story, with Little Red Riding Hood taking on some of Goldie’s actions in the story; narrated by Baby Bear, we get an empathetic storyteller who just wants to make others feel better. Colored pencil illustrations are soft and use warm colors with expressive characters and gentle movement moving the action forward. Mama’s porridge recipe is part of the back endpapers, and looks like it was written by Baby Bear himself.

A fun cameo from The Three Little Pigs and a twist ending will have readers chuckling, and the easy-to-read, unfussy storytelling is great for a readaloud. Grab your flannels for Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Bears, and The Three Little Pigs for this one!

Visit Claudia Rueda’s author website for more of her illustration work and information about her workshops.

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, Middle Grade, Middle School, Tween Reads

The Enchantment Lake Mystery concludes with The Silver Box

The Silver Box: An Enchantment Lake Mystery, by Margi Preus, (Nov. 2021, University of Minnesota Press), $11.95, ISBN: 9781517909697

Ages 10-14

I just picked up the Enchantment Lake Mysteries when I received an email inviting me to read the third book, The Silver Box, and really enjoyed this one. Francie is a 17-year old living in New York, who heads to Minnesota after receiving a call from her aunts, who need her help. What does she discover? Neighbors “dropping like flies” after a a series of dubious “accidents”, creepy noises in a bog, and a road that not everyone wants built, all tied in to a mysterious treasure that’s rumored to be under the lake. She’s also got a mystery surrounding her mother, her long-lost brother, and a small silver box that may contain all the answers she wants.

In this third mystery, Francie is still looking for answers, but finding the answers could cost her life. More mysteries lurk in the shadows, and this time, she realizes that her little silver box could be putting her in great danger: people seem to be determined to get that box at any cost.

This is a great mystery series for middle schoolers: the characters are interesting, the action moves at a great, page-turning pace, and the Northwoods setting is just perfect for a mystery. Threads from the first and second books all come together here, making for a satisfying end and a hope that Margi Preus has more adventures to come. Give this to your mystery fans.

Visit Margi Preus’s author webpage for book resources, information about school visits, and her other books.

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

Ace is A-Okay!

A-Okay, by Jarad Greene, (Nov. 2021, HarperAlley), $12.99, ISBN: 9780063032842

Ages 9-13

Eighth grader Jay gets a prescription for Accutane to deal with his acne, but that medication comes with serious side effects. A-Okay, a semi-autobiographical graphic novel from Jarad Greene, covers some of the scary moments most middle schoolers feel at some point: body issues, identity, and finding your people. Jay suffers bullying because of his acne, and he’s disappointed because none of his friends are in his classes or share his lunch period, and his best friend seems to be avoiding him. Meanwhile, Mark and Amy, two of his classmates, are each showing more than friendly feelings for him, and he doesn’t feel the same. Written with sensitive humor and insight, A-Okay is about the middle school experience as a whole, and about asexuality: a diminished or lack of sexual attraction.

The middle school years are fraught with a hormonal mix of emotion and reaction that would frighten anyone: our bodies seemingly go haywire, leaving us feeling confused and betrayed; friendships are fraught with drama and complexity; fears about the future threaten to crush us. Greene understands his audience and quietly gives middle schoolers a voice with his A-Okay characters, who let middle schoolers know that every one of these feelings and emotions are okay. Colorful and upbeat illustrations put readers at ease, and he writes with a gift for both dialogue and introspection. A story whose time has come, Bleeding Cool’s Rich Johnson nailed it when he wrote that A-Okay will be “to kids with acne what Smile was to kids with braces”. And then some.

For Ace resources, read the BBC’s article, “The Rise of the Invisible Orientation”; Stonewall.org’s “Six Ways to Be an Ally to Asexual People”; and visit the Asexual Visibility and Education Network’s website and follow them on Twitter. A-Okay is featured in HarperAlley’s Classroom Conversations brochure, offering booktalks and discussion questions.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Himawari House: A glimpse of adjusting to life as an expat

Himawari House, by Harmony Becker, (Nov. 2021, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250235572

Ages 14+

A glimpse into the lives of three exchange students living in Japan, Himawari House is about the friendships, frustrations, and adjustments that come with living in a new country: in this case, Japan. Nao, Hyejung, and Tina all move into Himawari House and attend the same Japanese school, but have different reasons for being there. Nao wants to reconnect to her Japanese heritage and worries about fitting in with Japanese culture. “Too Japanese” for her American life and “Too American” to Japanese classmates, she struggles with cultural identity. Hyejung, is Korean and moved to Japan to escape her overbearing parents and their unrelenting focus on her academic success. Tina is from Singapore and struggles with connection, preferring to lose herself in fandom. Although Nao’s story is the main driver, Hyejung and Tina have fully realized, moving backstories, all explored here, along with their roommates, two Japanese brothers with widely differing personalities. The group all come together and live here at Himawari House, and the story is a slice of life look into a year in their lives, as they all live and work side-by-side, eat, fall in and out of love, go to school, and talk late into the night. The language barriers are expertly illustrated here – largely bilingual, Japanese characters appear in many word bubbles; the dialogue has a blend of English, Japanese, Korean, and Singlish (the English Creole spoken in Singapore), with a brilliant explanation of the use of accents in the story at the end. Black and white artwork is largely realistic, with Chibi renderings to communicate extreme emotion. It’s a well-done character study and will be popular with teens and young adults.

Himawari House has starred reviews from Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, and School Library Journal.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Uncategorized

Itch the Witch learns about real friends in The Twitchy Witchy Itch

Twitchy Witchy Itch, by Priscilla Tey, (June 2021, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9780763689810

Ages 4-7

Itch the witch is having friends over to tea, but the worries are tickling her brain: is her house too twitchy? After some whirlwind housecleaning, her friends, Fidget and Glitch arrive, each with their own quirks, but Itch is too worried about her home’s appearance to enjoy herself. She casts another spell to get rid of the fidgets and glitches, only to discover that she’s banished her friends to the closet along with the itches, fidgets, and glitches! A humorous story about what really matters, Twitchy Witchy Itch shows readers – big and little! – that real friends don’t worry about appearances: they just want to spend time together.

Digital and gouache artwork gives feeling to the sensations described in the story: Itch has what looks like curly hair all over the house. As a proud pet mom, I feel Itch’s pain; my home is itchy, too. Fidget the witch appears blurred, in a constant state of fidgeting; she’s technicolor, and spreads her fidgets and colorful world to her surroundings. Glitch looks like a glitchy computer screen, with colorful, geometric smears that remind readers of a buggy video game. Like Fidget, she spreads her glitchiness around, but Itch doesn’t realize that these are her friends, sharing themselves with her; she immediately sees everything as a reflection on her and a need to be perfect. The rhyming text offers great opportunities for readaloud interaction, with knocks and amusingly worded spells for everyone to chant together.

 

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate

A new Definitely Dominguita book!

Definitely Dominguita: All for One, by Terry Catasús Jennings/Illustrated by Fátima Anaya, (August 2021, Aladdin), $6.99, ISBN: 9781534465114

Ages 6-9

I raved about the Definitely Dominguita series earlier this year, and received the nicest note from author Terry Catasús Jennings, along with a signed copy of Dominguita’s newest adventure, All for One. After I finished squealing, I dove right in. Thank you, Ms. Jennings!

This is the third adventure for Dom and her friends, Pancho and Steph (and their noble steed, Roco), all inspired by the classics that she and her abuela love. This time out, the kids are Musketeers, influenced by Alexandra Dumas’s The Three Musketeers, and it’s perfect timing: there’s a Bublassi plot underfoot to ruin a quinceañera, and Dom, Pancho, and Steph have to stay one step ahead to make sure things go as planned. The story follows Dumas’s classic in great – and often hilarious – fashion, including the spurned love interest side story and a fight scene with hoses rather than swords. There’s a massive hint as to the next book included in the storyline here, too: one of my favorites ever, so you know I’ll be waiting patiently for mid-November to arrive.

I love this series. It’s fun, prizes brains, family, and ingenuity, and not only prizes a love of classic literature, but makes it accessible to all readers, in the most fun and creative of ways. Fátima Anaya’s illustrations keep readers engaged and give them even more ideas for dressing up and creating their own Dominguita-like adventures.

You know? I may just have to start creating some Dom grab-and-go bags. Let me go mull this over. In the meantime, go read All for One, and visit Terry Catasús Jennings’s author website for more information about her books.

 

 

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

Garlic and the Vampire: An unlikely friendship story

Garlic and the Vampire, by Bree Paulsen, (Sept. 2021, Quill Tree Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780062995087

Ages 8-12

This very sweet graphic novel is one for the readers who never think they can do the thing… until they do. Garlic and her fellow vegetables live with friendly Witch Agnes, where they work on tending her garden. But rumors start spreading that a vampire lives in the neighboring castle! Oh, no! Celery, a surly member of the bunch, decides that Garlic should go confront the vampire. After all, garlic repels vampires, right? Scared but resolute, Garlic sets out to face the vampire… and learns that rumors and stereotypes are no match for meeting and talking to someone!

I love Garlic and the Vampire’s artwork, which is so warm and comforting, so cuddly and kind, that kids are going to love it. Garlic is a childlike, feminine character; a bulb of garlic with rosy cheeks, sporting a little red dress. Carrot, her best friend, offers sage advice and comfort, and sports a shirt, tie, and overalls. The vegetable characters are all anthropomorphic, with distinct personalities and expressive faces and gestures. Alice the Witch isn’t at all threatening, with a warm burgundy top, forest green skirt, and a white apron; she sports less of a witch’s black hat and more of a pilgrim’s hat, not pointed but squared off, with a brown band around the brim. The colors throughout the book are warm, natural colors; lots of greens, oranges, and reds. Even the so-called horrible vampire looks like a kindly gentleman who’d rather have a cup of tea than rampage through a town. The character interactions are as humorous as they are gentle. Have this ready as an alternative to kids who aren’t into the scary side of Halloween, but still want to feel a part of things.

Visit Bree Paulsen’s website to see more of her illustration work, and read her webcomic, Patrik the Vampire.

Garlic the Vampire has a starred review from the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

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

‘Tis the season for great graphic novel reading!

I know, that was awful, but trying to find new graphic novel headlines is tough! With that, let the games begin.

 

Barb the Last Berzerker, by Dan Abso & Jason Patterson, (Sept. 2021, Simon & Schuster), $13.99, ISBN: 9781534485716

Ages 8-12

A young Berzerker warrior is on a mission to save her fellow warriors after a villain named Witch Head takes them captive. With the help of a Yeti named Pork Chop, and wielding the Shadow Blade that she took from Witch Head, Barb goes on a journey that changes her thinking: where she once fought monsters, she’ll learn that monsters – including sausage-eating yetis – aren’t all bad, and not all humans are good. She meets snot goblins, vampire goats, and a giant who’s sensitive about his foot odor while calling on the power of the Shadow Blade to help her in battle. But the Shadow Blade’s power is not something to be used lightly, and Barb may find that relying on it too much could hurt more than it could help. The first in a new series, Barb is chaotic and hilarious, with gross-out jokes and positive messages about independence and unlearning endemic bias. Readers will cheer for Barb and Pork Chop, who are a buddy movie waiting to happen. Dan & Jason are the creators behind the younger readers’ series Blue, Barry, & Pancakes; visit their website to find out more about their graphic novels.

Barb the Last Berzerker has a starred review from Kirkus. It hasn’t been nominated for a CYBILS yet, hint hint!

 

Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero, by E. Lockhart/Illustrated by Manuel Preitano, (Sept. 2021, DC Comics), $16.99, ISBN: 9781401293222

Ages 13+

Yet another great DC YA graphic novel, this time from award-winning author and National Book Award Finalist, E. Lockhart. Willow Zimmerman is a 16-year-old Jewish teen activist, living in the Down River section of Gotham. It’s a run-down neighborhood and she’s tired of it being overlooked; she takes to the streets in protest when she’s not at school or at home, caring for her mother, who’s going through treatment for cancer. She works part-time in an animal shelter and feeds her friend, a stray Great Dane she’s named Leibowitz, on the side. When E. Nigma – her mom’s estranged friend – gets in touch with Willow, she learns that he’s cleaned himself up and is a successful real estate entrepreneur who runs an underground gambling promotion on the side, and he wants to give her a job. Faced with mounting bills and the fear of eviction, Willow accepts and starts earning more money than she could have ever imagined. When she and Leibowitz are attacked by Killer Croc, who has a grudge to settle with Nigma, the two realize that they can understand one another – where other people hear assorted growls and barks, Willow hears Leibowitz talking! The two decide to become a superteam and do their part to clean up Gotham: even if it means playing double agents to Nigma, aka The Riddler, and Pamela Isley, who’s helping Nigma out as her alter ego, Poison Ivy. I love the origin stories DC’s YA authors have been putting out, and their new heroes are go good, I can’t help but hope they’ll eventually show up in the big titles. Willow is a smart, likable heroine faced with big, real-world issues: lack of healthcare, a single, ailing parent, and the aggravation of living in a neighborhood that’s ignored by all but real estate developers who will gentrify for cheap and push the incumbent citizens out. She combats this first by taking it to the streets; when that isn’t working fast enough, she learns to play both sides of the game. Leibowitz is her steadfast sidekick with a funny, sly sense of humor (once we can hear him talk), and it’s great to see some Gotham familiar faces (including a surprise cameo) and a new spin on The Riddler. All around, a solid hit from DC yet again.

Whistle has not yet been nominated for a CYBILS yet – you know what to do.

 

 

Friends Forever, by Shannon Hale/Illustrated by LeUyenPham, (Aug. 2021, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250317568

Ages 9-13

The third installment in Shannon Hale’s autobiographical “Friends” series sees Shannon in eighth grade and dealing with anxiety over her looks, her grades, and her popularity. She sees her friends dating, but worries that no one wants to date her. She wants eighth grade to be her perfect year, but she just can’t seem to be happy. She becomes increasingly anxious, with OCD behaviors starting to creep into her daily life. A solidly relatable, realistic picture of the big emotions and worries facing kids as they become teens, Shannon’s adolescence in the 1980s is still every bit as relevant to tweens and teens today; with mental health issues gaining more mainstream attention today, Friends Forever can spark important conversations about the pressures tweens and teens face and coping mechanisms that can help. Friends Forever is about change and finding the courage to accept and love yourself. Beautifully illustrated, and with back matter that includes an author’s note from Shannon Hale that addresses mental health, actual school photos, a peek at LeUyen Pham’s sketchbook, and notes from Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham to one another, just like real friends share. Download a free activity kit with discussion questions and a Readers Theater script, and find activities for all three Friends books at the Real Friends website.

Friends Forever is a first round Graphic Novels CYBILS nominee.

More to come!

Posted in awards, Cybils, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Graphic Novel Roundup, CYBILS edition

The games have begun! Round 1 CYBILS Judges are clearing the shelves in our libraries and homes, wherever we can find the books in our categories. This is my second year as a Round 1 Graphic Novels panelist, so I’m reading all the graphic novels I can find! The CYBILS nomination period is still going strong, so please consider nominating your favorite J and YA reads this year. If you need some inspiration, or the books you’ve liked are already nominated, check out this Padlet for suggestions.

That said, I’ve got some graphic novels to gush about here – maybe this will inspire you. I’ll note any CYBILS nominees on this list.

Glam Prix Racers, by Deanna Kent/Illustrated by Neil Hooson, (May 2021, imprint), $10.99, ISBN: 9781250265388

Ages 7-10

My gushing for this book is so long overdue, I’m embarrassed. Deanna Kent and Neil Hooson, co-creators of one of my favorite middle grade series – the Snazzy Cat Capers series! – have begun their foray into intermediate graphic novels with Glam Prix Racers. Described as “Mario Kart meets My Little Pony”, this book is like a video game in graphic novel form. There are vibrant colors, expressive, kid-friendly fantasy characters, and a fun storyline that relies on teamwork and friendly competition. It’s race season on Glittergear Island, and Mil the Mermaid and her monster truck, Mudwick, get sidelined on their way to take their Glam Prix team photo. They suspect the Vroombot Crew is up to no good, but what can they do? The Racers have to band together to cross the finish line first! This is the first in a planned trilogy; the second book is due out in January, and anything Deanna Kent and Neil Hooson collaborate on is gold in my book.

Visit Deanna and Neil’s website for Glam Prix (and Snazzy Cat!) freebies all in one place; find coloring sheets here, an activity kit here, and digital resources, including wallpapers, a STEM kit, and videos, here.

Glam Prix Racers is a first round CYBILS nominee.

 

 

Mayor Good Boy, by Dave Scheidt/Illustrated by Miranda Harmon, (Aug. 2021, RH Graphic), $9.99, ISBN: 9780593124871

Ages 7-10

The town of Greenwood has a new Mayor, and he’s a very Good Boy! He’s Mayor Good Boy – a talking dog who wants to do good things in his home town.  Not everyone is thrilled about the new mayor, though, so when some disgruntled citizens start trying to make trouble for the newly elected pup, siblings Aaron and Abby intervene and get hired on as junior aides. While Mayor Good Boy is all about kindness and finding ways to help make his town better, people are plotting to bring him down by releasing fleas all over the town so that he’ll get the blame! Aaron and Abby have to save the day AND find the culprit, and keep Mayor Good Boy’s good reputation intact. With likable characters, friendly art, and loads of fart and stinky feet jokes, this is warm-hearted comedy gold for intermediate and middle graders. The story touches on themes of diversity. advocacy,  and activism, as Abby gives a great speech about being able to create change, even as a kid; back matter includes how to draw instructions for Good Boy, Aaron, and Abby, plus the Mayor Good Boy Pledge and a side comic starring the two siblings on how to contact one’s representatives. Social consciousness, a great message about friends, working together, and a cameo by a comic favorite (I see you, Steenz!) make Mayor Good Boy a graphic novel series you won’t want to miss. There are adventures planned for 2022 and 2023, so keep your carts ready to load.
Mayor Good Boy hasn’t been nominated for a CYBILS yet, so maybe this is one you want to suggest.
Death and Sparkles, by Rob Justus, (Oct. 2021, Chronicle Books), $22.99, ISBN: 9781797206356
Ages 10-14
Big themes and hilarious writing make this a macabre, middle school winner. Death is… well, Death. He touches things, they die, he doesn’t discriminate. Sparkles is a self-obsessed social media celebrity who also happens to be the last unicorn. His manager loves making money off of Sparkles, which turns out pretty poorly for Sparkles, who discovers some hard and fast truths about friendship when he and Death meet. Sparkles, seemingly immune to Death’s touch, is stuck on Death in the most hilarious of ways, leading to the two becoming the unlikeliest of friends. On one hand, there are fart jokes aplenty. On the other hand, there are incredible discussions about the pervasiveness of social media, the cult of influencers, and the fake friends that follow celebrity. There’s an ecological subplot that I expect will come back in future books that shows how even the most genuine intentions can get lost in the murky social media waters, causing a vicious cycle where getting attention for a necessary issue feeds into the popularity machine, leading to the distortion of the message. Thought- and discussion-provoking, yet laugh-out-loud funny, Death and Sparkles is a good start to a new series. Download a free activity kit and enjoy a cupcake.
Death and Sparkles is a CYBILS first round nominee.
Bedhead Ted, by Scott SanGiacomo, (Aug. 2021, Quill Tree Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780062941305
Ages 8-12
Fourth grader Ted has is a bully target because of his “overactive hair follicles”, which give him a head of wild red hair and the nickname, “Bedhead Ted”. Taunted on the bus and in school, he and his best friend, a boy named Stacy, are on the lookout for The Brookside Beast, a fabled giant raccoon in their neighborhood. As if Ted wasn’t feeling bad enough, two of the boys’ tormentors decide to join Stacy’s Brookside Beast Research Center, causing Ted to distance himself from his best – and only – friend. Just as Ted is feeling his lowest, frustrated with his bullies, his friendship, and his hair, he discovers something incredible: his hair has superpowers! When Stacy disappears during the school’s ice cream social, Ted just knows he’s gone to track down the beast, and follows him: Ted’s hair may just save the day. Themes of bullying, appearances, friendship, and the rumor mill are all addressed in this smartly written, funny story about a kid and his hair. A fun mystery leads to a sweet conclusion, and I loved the subplot involving Ted’s family tree. Mixed media illustrations give life to Ted and his super-powered hair; as bullies throw things at him, readers will see various utensils, writing tools, paper airplanes, and more sticking to his hair as he goes through his day. His family is supportive and doesn’t ignore his bullying, checking in with him throughout the story and leading to his grandmother’s reveal. Visit Scott SanGiacomo’s webpage for Ted-related printables, draw-along videos, and more artwork.
Bedhead Ted hasn’t been nominated for a CYBILS award yet… you know what to do!