Posted in Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

The Death-Cast Universe gets a prequel with The First to Die at the End

The First to Die at the End, by Adam Silvera, (Oct. 2022, Quill Tree Books), $19.99, ISBN: 9780063240803

Ages 13+

The prequel to 2017’s They Both Die at the End follows two teens who fall in love against the backdrop of New York City during the Death-Cast launch. Orion is a teen convinced he’s living on borrowed time thanks to his serious heart condition. He signed up for Death-Cast – an app that alerts subscribers on the day they are going to die – so that he would know when it was coming. Valentino just arrived in New York; a young model ready to take the City by storm, he signed up for Death-Cast on a lark after almost losing his sister to a car accident. The two meet and the attraction is instant: but one of them receives a call and the other doesn’t. Is Death-Cast real, or is it a hoax? The two don’t have time to mull it over; they have a day to create a lifetime. While it isn’t necessary to read They Both Die at the End before reading The First to Die at the End, you’ll want to. It’s a gorgeous story, and you’ll get a little more context from characters who make an appearance in this prequel. Using the space of one day, Silvera creates a story that is filled with expectation, joy, tension, and longing. His fully realized characters have no time to waste; they spend the most memorable day together, moving through relationship milestones and daring to to love in the face of the unthinkable. Thought-provoking discussions between the characters will translate well to discussion groups, and supporting characters and the connections made over the course of the day expand the Death-Cast universe and make this an unputdownable story that teens will devour. An essential first purchase.

Visit Adam Silvera’s author website for more about his books.

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, Realistic Fiction

Tales from the TBR: Nina Soni: Master of the Garden

Nina Soni, Master of the Garden, by Kashmina Sheth/Illustrated by Jenn Kocsmiersky, (Apr. 2021, Peachtree Publishing), $7.99, ISBN: 9781682632260

Ages 7-11

Join me in my never-ending quest to read down the TBR while I also keep up with up-and-coming kidlit! Today’s pick is the third book in the Nina Soni series: Master of the Garden. I love reading about Nina, her younger sister Kavita, and her best friend Jay. This time out, Nina, Kavita, and Jay learn how to plan out a garden, courtesy of Nina’s landscape architect Mom, for Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. They all love the idea of growing their own food, but Nina thinks bigger than that: she wants to grow so much that she can sell the extra vegetables and make money! The only thing she doesn’t plan for? The work it takes to make a garden successful: weeding, pest control, and harvesting, for starters. Kavita thinks that her singing will help the plants grow even bigger, but Nina’s not too sure about that – it’s driving her crazy! Sheth makes Nina very relatable and very likable, with a determination that underlies everything she does and an imagination that keeps moving her forward. Black and white illustrations and Nina’s famous checklists add context and interest. Nina and her family are Indian-American; each story is filled with cultural touches that provide texture to these rich, fun stories. A fun intermediate series that belongs on shelves.

Visit Kashmira Sheth’s webpage for a downloadable discussion guide to the series, and more information about the Nina Soni books.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade

New intermediate series: Leo’s Map of Monsters

Leo’s Map of Monsters: The Armored Goretusk, by Kris Humphrey/Illustrated by Pete Williamson, (Aug. 2022, Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 9781684644858

Ages 7-11

Set in a fantasy world where kids receive apprentice Assignments at the age of 9, Leo wakes up on the morning of his ninth birthday and discovers that he’s been given a Top Secret Assignment! The Village Chief appears and whisks Leo off to the curmudgeonly Guardian, who keeps everyone safe from the monsters that lurk in the forest outside the village walls. He hands Leo a map, some magical stones, and a slingshot, and sends him off on his first mission: to draw the Armored Goretusk away from the village. Black and white fantasy artwork with an Edward Gorey-bent features on almost every page; antiquing elements give the appearance of reading an ancient tome. The adventure is light and fun, with a buddy-cop partnership between Leo and Starla, one of the forest residents; the promise of more fantastic beasts to come will keep readers coming back. A map lets readers follow Leo’s adventures; back matter includes stats and descriptions of the creatures he encounters in this first book and a look at the different stones he uses. This one is a fun fantasy series to add to your chapter book/intermediate shelves.

Originally published in the U.K. in 2020, The Armored Goretusk is the first in the Leo’s Map of Monsters series. All four books are available in the States and fantasy fans will want them all, posthaste!

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

Marisol Rainey is back!

Surely Surely Marisol Rainey, by Erin Entrada Kelly, (Aug. 2022, Greenwillow Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062970459

Ages 7-10

Marisol Rainey is a middle grader with a little bit of an anxiety issue, introduced in Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey earlier this year. Her dad works on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, and she lives at home in Louisiana with her mom, older brother, and cat. This time out, Marisol is nervous when she her gym teacher introduces a unit on kickball: Marisol does NOT like kickball! She works on being brave, but it’s so hard, especially when classmate Evie, who is “an expert at throwing invisible darts at Marisol’s feelings”, is excellent at kickball. Newbery Medalist Kelly creates approachable, likable characters in her stories; Marisol and her best friend, Jada, are characters with depth that readers will see themselves in. Illustrations on almost every page make this a great book to move up from early chapter books and easy readers. Marisol is biracial; her mother is Filipino. Jada is brown-skinned with curly hair.

Surely Surely Marisol Rainey has a starred review from Horn Book. Visit author Erin Entrada Kelly’s webpage for resources on her books.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade

Prunella and the Cursed Skull Ring is sweetly ghoulish

Prunella and the Cursed Skull Ring, by Matthew Loux, (Oct. 2022, First Second), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250162618

Ages 8-12

A girl discovers a skull-shaped ring that transforms her into a skeleton girl, earning her the ire of her monster-fearing neighbors in this delightfully weird and macabre story by Time Museum creator Matthew Loux. The town turns on her, including her indifferent mother, who mistakes a lushly groomed dog for her daughter, banishing her and setting Prunella off on a journey to find a way to reverse the curse. She meets other monsters on the way, all of whom readily accept her, and realizes that maybe the so-called “monsters” aren’t the villains after all. Befriending Captain Rip Skeleton and a floating skull named Francis, Prunella quickly becomes a story of friendship and adventure, leaving Prunella with decisions to make at the end of her journey. Cartoony artwork makes for a friendly cast of ogres, skeletons, and ghosts. Prunella is a young girl with a head of ample red hair held with a bow that stays intact through her transformation. Give this one to your Margo Maloo fans. A good purchase for graphic novel collections that like a little dark humor.

Prunella and the Cursed Skull Ring has a starred review from Kirkus.

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

Fenris and Mott – you’ve never read Norse mythology like this!

Fenris and Mott, by Greg van Eekhout, (Aug. 2022, HarperCollins), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062970633

Ages 8-12

Greg van Eekhout’s latest novel is an hilariously adorable spin on Norse mythology starring a tween girl in need of a friend and an adorable dog who is much more than he seems. Mott is a 12-year-old root beer enthusiast, transplanted from Pennyslvania to California, and missing her best friend. She discovers an abandoned puppy in a recycling bin and promises to keep him safe, not realizing that she’s just sworn to protect Fenris, the Norse mythological wolf who will devour the moon, eat Asgardian god Odin, and move the events of Ragnarök – Doomsday – into motion. Aided by a Valkyrie in training, with a supporting cast of Norse gods, Fenris & Mott has laugh-out-loud humor, great dialogue and action, and characters readers will cheer for. Fenris is adorable enough to have readers coo every time he “mweeps”, and will stop readers in their tracks when he opens his gaping maw to devour Viking warriors and moving vehicles. Rick Riordan fans will love this new take on Norse mythology, filled with modern takes on ancient stories. Supporting cast is largely white and Nordic, and Mott is Indonesian and Dutch, and is picture on the cover as a brown-skinned girl. Nonstop action, characters with heart and devotion, and unbearably cute moments with a fluffy puppy make this an essential addition to your fiction collections.

Fenris & Mott has a starred review from Booklist. Visit Greg van Eekhout’s author page for more information about his books and appearances.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Listen Up, Louella is all about being a good friend

Listen Up, Louella, by Ashley Belote, (June 2022, Feiwel & Friends), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250812797

Ages 4-7

Louella is so excited about camp, but she doesn’t always listen very well. She charges into the cabin and barges her way through camp activities, never listening to her friends or noticing that they may not have the great time she’s having. But when Louella thinks she’s been left out of a group party, she learns that it’s important to take time and listen to others, and to play together so that everyone has a great time. Playful digital illustrations are loaded with fun little details that will clue sharp-eyed readers in to the very important message Louella’s missing. Animal characters are cartoony, with exaggerated expressions and body language that help deliver the point of the story; Louella, an elephant, uses her size to overpower the smaller campers and take over the show, from painting, to toilet paper forts, canoeing, and a talent show. Word bubbles add character reactions to the overall narration, and Belote uses fun animal turns-of-phrase like “tug-of-roar” and “slam trunk”. Endpapers lead into and out of the story, with Louella dragging her loaded red wagon into camp, and pulling her friends on a ride after shenanigans are done. A fun summertime story for sure, and a good reminder to remember how to be a good friend, as kids are getting ready to head back to school. A good purchase for picture book collections.

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

New Faith Erin Hicks! Ride On!

Ride On, by Faith Erin Hicks, (Aug. 2022, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250772824

Ages 10-14

Eisner Award winner Faith Erin Hicks is back with a new graphic novel! Ride On hits on all the things my middle graders love to read about: horses, friendship, and a challenging situation. Twelve-year-old equestrienne Victoria arrives at Edgewood Stables after a break from riding following a fallout with her former best friend, Victoria. She initially brushes off attempts at friendship from Norrie, one of the other students, but finds common ground in a science fiction TV show fandom and eventually lets her guard down and befriends Norrie and her friends, Hazel and Sam (the only boy at the school). When the Edgewood riders are invited to a competition at Waverly, Victoria realizes that she will have to face her former best friend.

Faith Erin Hicks masterfully creates characters and situations that speak to readers. Whether they’re new students at a boarding school (A Year at Ellesmere), a street urchin living in a city overrun by invaders (The Nameless City), or a homeschooled teen confronting a ghost (Friends with Boys), she has the ability to weave the fantastic with the everyday and create special people. Every character in Ride On is someone worth knowing, including Quinn, the newest horse in the Edgewood stable. From Norrie’s hilariously drama queen personality to Victoria’s initially brusque, withdrawn temperament, and Sam’s “bro-dude” older brothers, readers will see themselves and people they know in Ride On. She understands how fandom breaks through walls and unites people – for good! – and deftly uses that understanding to give us a wonderful subplot. Hicks’s illustration is realistic and soft, approachable. An author’s note provides more context for the story. An absolute must-buy for graphic novel collections.

Ride On has starred reviews from Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, and School Library Journal. Visit Faith Erin Hicks’s website for more about her work and to read her webcomics.

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

Speak Up! channels inner strength and confidence

Speak Up!, by Rebecca Burgess, (Aug. 2022, Quill Tree Press), $13.99, ISBN: 9780063081192

Ages 8-12

Middle schooler Mia is autistic and bullied by other kids at school, but when she and her best friend, Charlie, get together after school, they make musical magic together, posting videos where Mia is singer Elle-Q, accompanied by Charlie’s musical talent. If only Mia’s bullies knew that the singer they’re obsessed with is the same girl they laugh at for being “weird”, maybe they’d be singing a different tune. Mia and Charlie have differences of opinion when he pushes for the duo to appear in the local talent show: Mia is nervous afraid people will laugh at her for “stimming” – the self-stimulating behaviors triggered by stress or anxiety – and Charlie feels that Mia’s reluctance to appear will squash his chance to get notice for his music. Meanwhile, Mia’s mom seems to be completely clueless on how her daughter really feels, pushing her toward ways to “be normal” and “fit in”. Mia learns to advocate for herself in this graphic novel that’s sure to keep tweens and young teens turning pages. Speak Up! is a study in self-advocacy and an inspiring story about being true to onesself, with tween-friendly cartoon-realistic artwork that will draw readers who love Raina Telgemeier, Kayla Miller, and Terri Libenson. An excellent choice for graphic novel collections and a strong addition to the growing canon of books about autistic tweens living and thriving. Mia is white and Charlie is brown-skinned, uses “they/them” pronouns, and presents as nonbinary.

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

Pippa Park is back!

Pippa Park: Crush at First Sight, by Erin Yun, (Sept. 2022, Fabled Films Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781944020804

Ages 9-12

In 2019, Pippa Park Raises Her Game hit middle grade shelves and made a splash: a modern-day take on Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, with a Korean-American lead character and a group of mean girls who broke all the stereotypes. I devoured the book and have booktalked this to dozens of my library kids. I’m so happy that we’ve got a follow-up to love now, too: Pippa Park: Crush at First Sight picks up shortly after Pippa Park Raises Her Game. Pippa’s getting into the swing of life at her school, she’s kinda sorta a Royal, even though Caroline seems to be trying her best to get Pippa to throw in the towel, and her best friend, Buddy, is now dating Helen. There’s a new crush on the scene, too: Marvel, an old friend, shows up on the scene when Pippa agrees to help volunteer with a local pastor’s drama club and sends Pippa into a tailspin: sure, Eliot is blonde and handsome, but Marvel is fun, makes her laugh, and likes the same things that she does! The fun begins when Pippa rashly agrees to host the Royals’ Christmas party at her sister’s apartment, just as Pippa’s sister takes in a very talkative neighbor, Ms. Lee, who’s recovering from an injury. Pippa hasn’t learned all of her lessons from the last time: she’s still trying to do it all, and putting off disaster for another day.

Pippa Park is such a great character: she’s got great depth, able to move from being bubbly and fun to stressed the heck out, to conflicted, all at once. She’s the very definition of tween! (Okay, and maybe 50, because honestly, I feel like this at least twice a day every day.) Erin Yun includes cultural references, particularly amazing food, and has a brilliant grasp of complex middle school relationships. Her characters are kids that readers know; that may be the kid reading this book. Kids separated from their parents and being raised by other family members; kids stressed about looking good in their friends’ eyes; kids trying to navigate friendship, growing up, and social status. It’s all real, and it’s all here. Here’s hoping we get more Pippa adventures.

Visit the Pippa Park webpage for downloadable resources, including an AAPI Guide and book club kit.

Pippa Park: Crush at First Sight is another slam dunk for Erin Yun. A great add to your shelves.