Posted in picture books

“If only humans were as easy to understand!”: Leo and the Octopus

Leo and the Octopus, by Isabelle Marinov/Illustrated by Chris Nixon, (Sept. 2021, Kane Miller), $12.99, ISBN: 9781684642779

Ages 4-8

“The world was too bright for Leo. And too loud.” Leo is a boy who feels like he’s on the wrong planet. Other kids don’t understand him; he doesn’t understand them. Stressed and lonely, everything changes the day he meets Maya, an octopus who looks like an alien! And Leo feels like an alien, so this should be great! Once he reads up on octopuses, he discovers how interesting they are, and decides that maybe Maya could be his first friend. The octopus and the boy form a friendly bond, which helps him understand a day when Maya is overwhelmed by all the attention she’s getting at her aquarium tank.

Author Isabelle Marinov was inspired to write Leo and the Octopus by her own son and turns in a sensitive and accurate portrayal of a child on the autism spectrum. The storytelling is gentle, respectful to both Leo and Maya and their growing friendship. The two characters develop a very sweet relationship that helps Leo grow: he recognizes when Maya is distressed and takes action to relieve her stress, and he learns to reach out and discover another friend in the course of the story. Soothing colors make this an easy read that all kids will love. Endpapers spotlight Maya and Leo interacting across the spread. A must-read, must-have to teach empathy and understanding to others as well as to provide kids on the spectrum with a child they recognize on the page.

Leo and the Octopus has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade

Johnny Constantine, the Early Years!

The Mystery of the Meanest Teacher: A Johnny Constantine Graphic Novel, by Ryan North/Illustrated by Derek Charm, (June 2021, DC Comics), $9.99, ISBN: 9781779501233

Ages 7-10

More DC Comics for Kids! You know how much I love this middle grade series, and introducing hard-bitten demonologist John Constantine – one of my favorites! – to kids with a kid-friendly background makes me SO happy. Don’t fret, none of his dark backstory or unattractive habits show up here. Johnny Constantine is a kid who just happens to know magic and knows a handful of demons in his native London, but when he’s sent to boarding school in America, he discovers that his magic isn’t as easily accessible here. Johnny, who prefers to be called “Kid”, is a loner with no patience for friends, but a fellow student named Anna is too interested in Johnny’s abilities when she sees him manifest a pencil out of thin air. Turns out, Anna likes magic, too! The two new friends also have some concerns about one of their teachers, who seems to have it out for Johnny and who may or may not be a witch.

The story is hilarious and so well done. We perfectly get the feel for Johnny’s loner, antihero character, a guy who learned in childhood that you push people away before they can reject you, or run screaming from your abilities; whatever happens first. It’s a guessing game, and a few well-known and loved DC characters make appearances, making this a book kids and their parents can enjoy together (still thrilled that The Secret Spiral of Swamp Kid introduced my then 7-year old to Swamp Thing). There’s magic mixed with the struggles of being a kid – making friends, enduring school, staying out of the way of a teacher who doesn’t like you – and will appeal to graphic novel readers in a big way. I’m really hoping I get to see more of Kid Constantine.

Author Ryan North is a comic book writer who kids will know from his Eisner- and Harvey Award-winning run on Adventure Time. Sign up for his newsletter at his author page. Derek Charm is an Eisner Award winner whose work you’ll recognize from Star Wars and Archie Comics.

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

Come back to the Cardboard Kingdom!

The Cardboard Kingdom #2: The Roar of the Beast, by Chad Sell, (June 2021, Knopf Books for Young Readers), $12.99, ISBN: 9780593125557

Ages 9-12

Before I get into the bones of this book, I need to say it right here: I had to request the first Cardboard Kingdom from a library other than mine, because both my copies ARE NEVER THERE. When I covered at my neighborhood branch while mine was closed? Their copy was out, too! Chad Sell has tapped into something incredible with his Cardboard Kingdom and Doodleville books: he’s woven fantasy storytelling into a realistic setting that captures what we’ve been doing as children for as long as any of us can remember. His characters create their own fantasy worlds with cardboard costumes and by bringing their doodles to life, and as you read it, he (and his collaborators – there are so many, find them here!) seamlessly has his characters inhabit the “real world”, having a conversation, and then – in the space of a panel – the conversation continues, but those cardboard costumes are now high fantasy dress pieces, and we see these kids as they see one another. It’s just incredible, and the kids in my library system can’t get enough of it.

In the second Cardboard Kingdom book, we have Vijay, who goes by The Beast, decide he’s not going to be The Beast anymore. He’s being bullied by some mean teenagers, and he pulls into himself, unreachable to his friends and even his older sister. Meanwhile, another friend, Nate, sees what he swears is a giant monster outside his window one night, and breaks his leg trying to get a better look at it. Who is this scary monster? Is it a new cardboard character, or is this something really, really, real and scary? (Depends on who you’re talking to.) With a gender- and culturally-diverse group of friends working together, this latest Cardboard Kingdom adventure is exactly what middle graders need. They have the chance to see themselves and receive encouragement to continue living through their imaginations and creativity. I love this series, and even more, I love Chad Sell’s webpage, where you can find costume designs and coloring book pages for Cardboard Kingdom and Doodleville.

The Cardboard Kingdom was an Eisner nominee (2019), received 5 starred reviews, and was a Texas Bluebonnet second place.

The Cardboard Kingdom: Roar of the Beast was created, organized, and drawn by Chad Sell with writing from nine other authors: Jay Fuller, David DeMeo, Katie Schenkel, Molly Muldoon, Vid Alliger, Manuel Betancourt, Michael Cole, Cloud Jacobs, and Barbara Perez Marquez.

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

She’s Grace, not “Kyle’s Little Sister”!

Kyle’s Little Sister, by BonHyung Jeong, (June 2021, Yen Press), $13.00, ISBN: 9781975316549

Ages 8-12

Grace is excited to start middle school with her best friends, Amy and Jay, but there’s one thing she’s not thrilled about… her older brother, Kyle, is an 8th grader in the same school. Her extroverted, handsome, older brother who loves to tease her whenever he gets the chance. She’s in Kyle’s shadow whether she’s at school or at home, forever being referred to as “Kyle’s little sister”, but she’s so much more than that! Grace and her best friends have a falling out, but she falls in with a school mean girl, Cam, who decides to “help” Grace out by bullying Amy. Grace looks the other way, not realizing that Cam has her own reasons for wanting to be friendly with Grace – and Amy and Jay can see that a mile away, but have to figure out how to help Grace from a distance. Maybe Kyle isn’t the awful big brother that Grace thinks he is after all? Kyle’s Little Sister is, at its heart, a story of friendship and those inevitable middle school conflicts, and it’s a relatable story about defining oneself. Manga illustrations make for expressive characters and playful storytelling. A good realistic fiction story to add to your graphic novel shelves, and a good way to introduce younger readers to manga outside of Pokemon.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Best Friend in the Whole World brings friends together

Best Friend in the Whole World, by Sandra Salsbury, (March 2021, Peachtree Publishing), $17.99, ISBN: 9781682632505

Ages 4-8

This gentle story is all about connection, friendship, and how your best friend may be waiting just around the corner to meet you. Roland is a rabbit who leads a quiet life of drawing, music, and drinking tea, but it’s a lonely life until he happens upon a pine cone in the woods one day! He names the pine cone Milton, and takes joy in doing all of the things he loves with his new friend: until signs in the forest show up, giving Roland the feeling that his best friend may be someone else’s lost best friend. Reuniting Milton – whose name is Popkin – with their best friend, Lucy, leaves Roland temporarily feeling the loss, but he discovers that there’s always room for new friends, as Lucy and Popkin invite him to join their group! Moving storytelling comes together with soft watercolor artwork to create a touching story.

Great for a storytime, you can also invite readers to make their own pine cone friends: get some craft pine cones, pipe cleaners, and googly eyes from craft bulk wholesalers and make them a grab-and-go craft that readers can come pick up, if you’re not doing in-person programming; hold a virtual storytime where you can walk them through the craft.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Uncategorized

Intermediate Book Bundles!

I’ve been bundling again, and Macmillan was kind enough to give me some book bundling ideas from their imprints. This bundle is a mix of intermediate chapter books and graphic novels, and I think this will be a super popular mix.

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen, by Debbi Michiko Florence/Illustrated by Elizabet Vukovic, (July 2017, Farrar, Straus and Giroux), $15.99, ISBN: 9780374304102

Ages 6-9

I read the first Jasmine Toguchi book back in 2017 and loved this fresh new face on my chapter book shelves! Since then, there have been three more Jasmine Toguchi books, and I know my library kids enjoy Jasmine as much as I did. In her first book, 8-year-old Jasmine really wants to be part of the mochi-making process when her grandmother flies in from Japan, but she’s not 10 yet, so her family says, “no way”. But Jasmine is set on building up her arm strength to be able to heft that mochi hammer. An author’s note and microwave mochi recipe at the end introduce readers to Japanese culture, and Jasmine is a spunky, smart young heroine that readers can immediately feel close to; she could be a friend at school or from the neighborhood. Black and white illustrations throughout are playful and let us into Jasmine’s world.

Author Debbi Michiko Florence’s website is amazing, from the adorable and colorful mochi at the top of the page, to the printable activities tied to each of her books, to her colorful and blog, always loaded with photos and updates.

 

Doggo and Pupper, by Katherine Applegate/Illustrated Charlie Alder, (March 2021, Feiwel & Friends), $9.99, ISBN: 9781250620972

Ages 6-9

Newbery Medalist Katherine Applegate and illustrator Charlie Alder join together to create an adorable story of two dogs. Doggo is a family dog who has his routines, like taking naps, walking the family’s daughter, and snuggling little family members. He has calming pursuits, like watching TV, even skateboarding, but it’s a pretty routine life, even if he does wistfully remember his younger, wilder days. When the family decides to get a new puppy, Doggo’s world is turned upside down! Pupper wants to talk ALL NIGHT. He is silly and lazy and… he’s a puppy! When Pupper gets sent to charm school, he returns home a different, more sedate Pupper, which gets Doggo thinking… he misses that wacky little Pupper. He quietly takes the pup out for a night of fun, where the two can let their wild sides out with no damage: or charm school. A sweet story of friendship and enjoying childhood, Doggo and Pupper is a story early graphic novel readers will love. Cat, the family cat, is there to add wisdom to the story, and Doggo has sage advice about puppies at the end of the story; good advice for anyone considering a Pupper of their own. Colorful collage and digital artwork are adorable, and the story is organized into easily readable chapters that give kids a place to pause.

Doggo and Pupper has a starred review from Booklist.

 

Blue, Barry & Pancakes, by Dan & Jason, (March 2021, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250255556

Ages 4-8

Childhood best friends Dan and Jason give kids a new graphic novel series about the hilarity of friendship. Blue is a worm, Barry is a frog, and Pancakes is a giant bunny, who live in the same house and get into the wackiest of situations. In this first graphic novel, Barry is just about to finish his tower of waffles when Pancakes insists they hit the beach. When Barry and Pancakes start playing with Blue’s collector beach ball, a giant whale eats it and sends the trio off into a silly adventure that will have every reader giggling uncontrollably (at least, my 8 year old did). The facial expressions, the frenetic pace of the action, and the “what next?” moments all make this the graphic novel kids will be asking for this summer. Reading takes you everywhere? It sure does here, as the trio goes from home, to the beach, to the inside of a whale, a rowboat, a UFO, the inside of a volcano, and more! If you asked one of your library kids to make up an adventure right on the spot, I guarantee you they’d come up with something very close to Blue, Barry and Pancakes. Endpapers show off other items in Blue’s collection, which makes me wonder what we’ll see in future adventures…

This is the first in a planned trilogy – the second one is due out in a matter of DAYS (stay tuned). Visit Dan and Jason’s website to see more about their projects, including Blue, Barry and Pancakes.

 

Stella Diaz Has Something to Say!, by Angela Dominguez, (Jan. 2018, Roaring Brook Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-62672-858-5

Ages 7-9

I read the first Stella Diaz book in 2018 and thoroughly enjoyed spending time with this shy second grader who had to find her voice. Stella Diaz loves fish and learning about the oceans and ocean life; she loves spending time with her mom and brother, and loves spending time with her best friend Jenny. She’s also incredibly shy and can’t find the words she wants to use, so she tends to stay quiet, afraid she’ll speak Spanish instead of English, or pronounce her words wrong. Either way, she’s made fun of by the class Mean Girl, but when her teacher assigns presentations that means Stella will have to speak in front of the class, she works to defeat her fears and find her voice. It’s a wonderful story about friendship, making new friends, and facing challenges. It’s infused with Mexican culture and Spanish language, inspired by the author’s own story of growing up Mexican-American, and features black and white illustrations throughout. There are two additional Stella Diaz books now, with a third coming next year – I’ve got books 2 and 3 on my desk right now, so keep an eye on this space for more.

Visit author Angela Dominguez’s website for more about her books!

 

How are you feeling about the book bundles talking? Too much? Not enough? Less description, more visual? I’d love to hear what you think!

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, Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Middle School, Teen, Tween Reads

Quick Takes: Graphic Novels

This is a graphic novel summer: so many good ones hitting shelves week after week! Perfect for Summer Reading and anytime reading, there are some gorgeous, fun, fantastic stories to be found.

Ham Helsing #1: Vampire Hunter, by Rich Moyer, (June 2021, Crown Books for Young Readers), $12.99, ISBN: 9780593308912

Ages 8-12

Ham Helsing is a young descendant of a long line of vampire hunters who never seem to live quite long, usually because they make rather silly decisions. Ham was always content to let his older brother, Chad, wear the monster hunting mantle; he preferred more creative pursuits, like painting and poetry, but Chad’s daredevil acts led to… well, Ham is the new monster hunter in the family, so he’s off to hunt a vampire. The only problem is, the vampire he’s out to get isn’t what you’d expect. Ham Helsing: Vampire Hunter is the first in a planned trilogy and is a fun, not-at-all scary story about learning that people aren’t always what they seem, and that it’s always good to have friends to back you up. The action is animated, the dialogue is fun and witty, and there are robotic knights, sight gags, a toddler werewolf, and animated bacon. What more can you ask from a graphic novel?

Author Rich Moyer’s website has links to more of his illustration work, social media, and school visit information. Get a look at some more of Ham Helsing at Random House’s website.

 

 

Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Goo Book 3: Battle of the Bards, by James Parks & Ben Costa, (Apr. 2021, Knopf Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 9780399556203

Ages 11-14

A fantasy more geared toward middle- and high schoolers rather than middle graders, the third volume of the Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Goo book continues the adventures of the skeletal bard and his jelly-like friend, Gelatinous Goo. In this adventure, Rickety Stitch – an animated skeleton who retains his love of music and his gentle soul, despite having no memory of who he was when he was alive – and Goo travel with an acting troupe to perform in a music competition, but Rickety discovers another performer, a woman named Canta, who brings back memories of his past. It becomes clear that the competition is a distraction from some seedy behavior underneath the city, and Rickety and Goo find themselves right in the middle of the action. The story is full of action and adventure and manages to tug at readers’ heartstrings with Rickety’s genuine tale of loss and memory. Middle schoolers and early high schoolers in particular will love this great wrap-up to a fantasy tale. It helps to read the first two before beginning the third; you may feel lost otherwise, as there is a lot of world-building and character development that’s gone on thus far. Great for your fantasy section.

Check out the Land of Eem website for Rickety Stitch and Eem-related role-playing games and sign up for a newsletter!

 

Apple of My Pie, by Mika Song, (June 2021, Random House Graphic), $12.99, ISBN: 9781984895851

Ages 5-8

The follow-up to last year’s Donut Feed the Squirrels, the newest Norma and Belly adventure is an adorable romp to save Pops, who falls onto a truck and heads to the apple orchard where he may end up in a pie! Norma, Belly, and their friend, B, are on the case in this sweet story, perfect for newly confident readers. The watercolor artwork is colorful but not overwhelming, with lots of calming earth colors and cute animal artwork. A school trip to the orchard provides some extra fun as the squirrels dash around the kids on their race to find Pops first.

Mika Song’s website has all sorts of treasures for readers, including extra comics, a newsletter signup, and printable activity sheets! Great to bundle with other graphic novels for young readers, like Narwhal and Jelly, Blue Barry and Pancakes, Fox and Chick, and Shark and Bot. You can also mix up the formats and include other books, like Mo Willems’s Unlimited Squirrels series, or Mélanie Watt’s Scaredy Squirrel series (graphic novels are forthcoming, too: future post!).

Apple of My Pie has a starred review from Kirkus.

 

Much, much more to come: let these three start you off!

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 Animal Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Tales from the TBR: Otto P. Nudd

Otto P. Nudd, by Emily Butler, (Dec. 2020, Crown Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 9781524717759

Ages 8-12

My latest TBR pick is the animal adventure Otto P. Nudd by Emily Butler. Otto P. Nudd is a raven, a bird for the ages: just ask him; he’ll tell you. He’s simply brilliant, has a wife, Lucille, and an egg on the way, and he spends his mornings with Bartleby Doyle, an old inventor who’s been taking care of Otto since he found him on the forest floor, having fallen from his nest as a baby. He’s friends with Pippa, a girl who’s just lost her father, and Bartleby’s neighbor. It’s all lovely and cozy until one morning, when Bartleby injures himself while testing out one of his experiments before Otto arrived to assist him. Now, Otto is locked out of the workshop, Pippa’s in school, and Otto’s puffed-up ego has alienated him from all of the animals he knows! He’s going to have to reconsider the way he approaches others and ask for help if he’s going to be able to help poor Bartleby. A funny, quirky story about friendship, being kind, and making amends, I loved spending time with Otto and his friends. There’s a tough squirrel named Marla, and a group of dumpster-diving birds that kids will love, especially when they interact with Otto; a side plot explores a developing crush between Pippa and a school friend, and the heart of the story is Otto’s deep love for his human friend and the roots of that relationship. It’s a great choice for a middle grade book group, and there are passages that make for good readalouds. Black and white artwork throughout the book introduces readers to the adorable characters, and a few cut-away chapters provide readers with deeper dives into STEM and friendship, courtesy of Wilma the Mouse and her friend Raúl the Guinea Pig. Hand this to Kate DiCamillo and Katherine Applegate fans; display with classic animal adventures like E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and Trumpet of the Swan.