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.

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

Brenna Thummler’s Sheets and Delicates: Ghost friends are the best friends

Sheets, by Brenna Thummler, (Aug. 2018, Oni Press), $12.99, ISBN: 9781941302675

Ages 9-13

Seventh grader Marjorie Glatt has a lot on her shoulders: still reeling from her mother’s untimely death, she’s also running the family laundromat while her father copes with his depression and grief. She’s helping care for her younger brother, and she’s trying to fend off the sleazy businessman who insists he is going to take over the laundromat and open up his “five star extravagant yoga retreat” in its place – but that Marjorie and her dad can work for him. Marjorie is just going through the motions, pushing her own grief down, when Wendell – the sheet-wearing ghost of an 11-year boy who’s trying to find his own place in ghost society – arrives at her shop and unintentionally wreaks havoc. The sheets are the only way ghosts have available in order to be visible: a pretty hefty metaphor for tweens and young teens trying to find their own way in the world. The book sensitively and masterfully handles big topics like grief, visibility, and identity. The villain is perfectly awful, the customers are believably demanding and abrasive, and add to Marjorie’s sense of being overwhelmed. Brenna Thummler’s artwork tells its own story, with interesting details in the backgrounds and a color palette that uses faded blues, grays, and whites to bring the characters to life. A must-buy for your graphic novel collections. TeachingBooks.net has some educator resources available.

Sheets has been selected by YALSA as a Great Graphic Novel for Teens (2019).

Delicates, by Brenna Thummler, (March 2021, Oni Press), $14.99, ISBN: 9781620107881

Ages 10-14

The sequel to Sheets introduces a new character, and delves even deeper into social themes like bullying, trauma, and teen suicide. Picking up shortly after Sheets left off, things are looking up for Marjorie Glatt. She and Wendell are still friends, she’s still providing a place for the ghosts to hang out and kick back, and she’s even in with the  in-crowd at school: the mean girls from the last book. Marjorie’s not in love with hanging out with Tessi and her crew – they keep her around as more of a project than a friend – but she’s all about the path of least resistance. When one of their teachers asks the group to keep an eye on his daughter, Eliza, who’ll be repeating eighth grade at the school, the schism between Marjorie and Tessi; Tessi sees Eliza’s quirkiness as a target for bullying, and Marjorie, not one for conflict, tries to appease both sides until she realizes that failing to act is just as much an act of bullying. The storytelling is incredibly introspective here: Eliza emerges as a particularly brilliant character as she deals with feelings of isolation, depression, and suicidal feelings. Eliza’s family is supportive and stands with her, finding her help. Brenna Thummler’s color palette is lighter, incorporating more rose-colored hues this time, speaking to the characters’ continuing journey toward happiness. A great follow-up to a superb story. I’d love to see more.

Delicates has a starred review from Foreword Reviews. Visit author/illustrator Brenna Thummler’s webpage for more information about her books and her artwork.

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

The Great TBR Readdown Continues! Esme’s Wish by Elizabeth Foster

Esme’s Wish, by Elizabeth Foster, (2017, Odyssey Books), $13.95, ISBN: 978-1925652246

Ages 10-14

Esme Silver is a 15-year-old mourning her mother, Ariane, who disappeared when Esme was 8. Her father has just remarried, despite Esme’s objection (at the wedding!). Her father takes his new bride away on their honeymoon, leaving Esme under the eye of her stepmother’s sister; not thrilled with that situation, Esme, determined to use the time to learn more about her mother’s disappearance, finds her way to a magical underwater world, where she learns more about her mother and the secret part of her life she hadn’t shared with Esme. Esme’s Wish is geared toward teens, but is more accessible to upper middle grade-middle school students. There is a lot of fantasy world-building, including dragons and mysterious pasts, a mythical history, and new friends from other lands, but sometimes gets mired in itself rather than moving forward. Overall, though, it’s a solid fantasy book, with interesting characters who aren’t merely plot devices. The world-building will appeal to fantasy readers – there are dragons! – and Esme is a likable character that kids can relate to at her heart: a girl who’s lost a parent, and coping with her remaining parent remarrying. The girl who’s considered an outsider by her town, merely because of who her mother was. A girl trying to find out why. A good additional purchase for collections where you have big fantasy readers.

The second book in the trilogy, Esme’s Gift, was published in in 2019. Visit author Elizabeth Foster’s webpage to learn more about the books and view trailers for each.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Twitter: @annakang27 @ChristophWeyant

Instagram: annakangbookschristopherweyant   

Facebook: Anna Kang – AuthorChristopher Weyant

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

 

 

 

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

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Wolf learns a valuable lesson in Sheepish

Sheepish (Wolf Under Cover), by Helen Yoon, (Jan. 2021, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536207323

Ages 3-7

Wolf’s got plans: dress like a sheep, infiltrate the flock, eat all the sheep things. As he follows his own rules, though, he discovers something he didn’t expect – becoming a beloved part of the flock! As Wolf spends day in and day out with the sheep, alongside them, playing with them, doing aerobics with them, and reading stories to them, he realizes the sheep aren’t quite so temptingly tasty anymore. He can’t even imagine trying to make a meal out of one of his friends! Separating himself from temptation, he leaves the community only to learn that just maybe, he wasn’t as crafty as he thought he was and that good friends always show up for one another. Mixed media illustrations tell the real story, and readers will chuckle to see the wily wolf surrounded by sheep who clearly know what’s going on, and will enjoy seeing how each side develops a love for the other, as they spend time together. The lighting in these illustrations is just gorgeous; light from behind Wolf and the sheep on a line create orange-tinged shadows that telegraph Wolf’s long ears and fluffy tail; a dejected Wolf heads home as sunset and a single evening star light up the sky. The light sources are part of the story and bring a warmth to the pages that I just adored with every turn of the page. A sweetly funny, heartwarming book that kids will turn to again and again.

Sheepish has starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist.

Posted in picture books

Blog Tour and Author Interview: Perdu, by Richard Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Thank you so much!

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

Additional resources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Posted in Animal Fiction, Early Reader, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate

Fox + Chick are sweet and funny buddies

Fox + Chick: The Quiet Boat Ride and Other Stories, by Sergio Ruzzier, (May 2021, Chronicle Books), $7.99, ISBN: 9781797208848

Ages 5-8

Fox and Chick are friends who love each other. Fox loves Chick with all Chick’s little quirks, and Chick loves Fox, who seems a little more down to earth. This latest book is the second book of their adventures, and it’s already out in hardcover. Chronicle was kind enough to send me a softcover copy, which will be out in May. Consisting of three stories – The Quiet Boat Ride, Chocolate Cake, and The Sunrise – this graphic novel is perfect for emerging readers who are ready to stretch from picture books and easy readers, but either not quite ready for chapter books or just starting them. In “The Quiet Boat Ride”, Fox is all set to spend a quiet afternoon rowing his boat when Chick arrives and injects a wild series of scenarios into the day. In “Chocolate Cake”, Chick agonizes over the gift of a chocolate cake and whether or not to eat all of it and risk a sick belly. “The Sunrise” sees Fox trying to get Chick to hurry up and come downstairs so they can see the sunrise. Parents and caregivers will love the stories, too; Chick will remind every single adult reader of the Kiddos in their lives, from trying to get a meandering preschooler to get their shoes on so you can get out of the door on time, to explaining that having access to a box of cookies (or a chocolate cake) doesn’t mean one has to EAT all of the cookies (or cake) in one sitting. Soft colors, fun dialogue, and an overall feeling of friendship makes this an excellent choice to give to kids who’ve loved Elephant and Piggie, Frog and Toad, and who are heading toward Skunk and Badger.

Sergio Ruzzier is a Sendak Fellow who has written and illustrated many critically acclaimed children’s books. The Fox + Chick books have starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal, and Fox + Chick: The Party and Other Stories is included on many “Best Of” lists, including NPR Best Books of the Year, New York Times Notable Children’s Book,School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, and The Horn Book Magazine Fanfare Best Book of the Year. Visit Sergio Ruzzier’s author website for more information about his books.
Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

The Animal Whisperer: Rescue at Lake Wild

Rescue at Lake Wild, by Terry Lynn Johnson, (Apr. 2021, HMH Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 9780358334859

Ages 8-12

Twelve-year-old Madi wants to be an “animal whisperer” like her wildlife rehabber grandmother was; her town doesn’t have a wildlife rehabber since her grandmother died, and her mother has forbidden her to bring home any more animals. If she does, her upcoming trip to meet Jane Goodall will be canceled. But what is Madi supposed to do when she and her best friends, Aaron and Jack, discover two orphaned beaver kits? She saves the kits and cares for them in secret when the friends discover another murdered beaver in the process. There’s a secret to be uncovered here, and Madi, Jack, and Aaron mean to be the ones to do it: as long as Madi can stay out of trouble with her mom, that is. A fast-paced adventure story about friendship, found families, and wildlife rehab, Rescue at Lake Wild has elements adventure readers will love: action, a mystery to solve, and a determined, smart protagonist with a love for animals and nature. Author Terry Lynn Johnson writes action-adventure nature stories, including 2019’s Dog Driven and The Survivor Diaries, and readers who love the I Survived series will dive right in. She has knowledge to share, and she does it in a way that respects and nudges the reader into wanting more: more storytelling and more learning. Have readers who loved Carl Hiaasen’s Hoot and Celia C. Pérez’s Strange Birds? This is the next book for them.

 

Terry Lynn Johnson writes about the wild with the wisdom and passion of someone who has spent her life working to preserve and protect it – both as a backcountry canoe ranger in Quetico Provincial Park and in her current job as a conservation officer with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. She lives at the edge of a lake in northern Ontario, Canada, where she loves watching all wildlife, including beavers. Visit her online at terrylynnjohnson.com

Twitter: @TerryLynnJ

Instagram: terry_lynn_johnson

Video extra! Terry Lynn Johnson talks about the inspiration behind Rescue at Lake Wild here

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

Live, Love, Theatre: Kate in Waiting

Kate in Waiting, by Becky Albertalli, (April 2021, Balzer + Bray), $18.99, ISBN: 9780062643834

Ages 14+

The best-selling, award-winning author of Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda and Leah and the Offbeat is back with her latest YA novel! Kate Garfield and her best friend, Anderson Walker, are high school juniors who have communal crushes. It’s their thing. But when their latest shared crush from drama camp ends up as a student at their high school, things get a little uncomfortable. Matt is sweet, funny, and is a theatre fan, just like they are. He’s cast in the school production of Once Upon a Mattress as Kate’s love interest; he’s in the same drama class as Anderson, while Kate is left out. Kate and Anderson realize that this is not a usual passing crush, and have to figure out how to navigate these new waters while still maintaining their bestie status. There’s great character development here, and discussions between Kate and Anderson touch on some sensitive points like being gay, out, and Black in the U.S. South; splitting a life between homes when one’s parents are divorced, and images versus reality when it comes to “bro culture” (or, as they’re often referred to in Kate in Waiting, “f-boys”). The dialogue is wonderful, realistic, and smart; friendships withstand ebbs and flows of daily teen life. It’s just an all-around great YA novel that should be a big book this summer. Theatre kids will love the process of seeing a production come together, and teens will love the smart, funny writing that breaks your heart and puts it back together again.

Kate in Waiting has starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and made the Indie Next Great Reads list.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Line and Scribble make beautiful art together

Line and Scribble, by Debora Vogrig/Illustrated by Pia Valentinis, (May 2021, Chronicle Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9781797201870

Ages 3-5

This friendship story stars Line and Scribble, two friends who see things differently, but come together to create beautiful artwork. Where Line sees things in a straightforward way, like a train track, Scribble wanders, like a path of butterflies. Line creates a stick-straight hairdo, while Scribble curls and twirls; Line offers a breadstick, and Scribble wants cotton candy. Each interprets life differently, but together, the two can create a whirling, swirling, storm with lightning and whirlwinds, tornadoes and hurricanes! A fun, creative story about embracing differences and finding common ground, the verse is almost like a poem, each observation quietly sitting on the page and finding voice through black and red line crayon and fountain pen illustrations, which come alive against the ivory background of the paper. There’s joy to be found here. A wonderful choice for an art storytime. Consider displaying with books like When Pencil Met the Markers and Perfect by Max Amato.