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

Graphic Novel Bonanza: Swim Team

Swim Team, by Johnnie Christmas, (May 2022, HarperAlley), $12.99, ISBN: 9780063056763

Ages 8-12

Bree is starting her new middle school and can’t wait to select her electives. She’s got her eye on Math Club, but it’s closed out. In fact, everything is closed out of her time slot, except for Swim 101. Bree, afraid to swim, reluctantly takes the class, but tries to dodge it until she realizes that it will affect her grade point average. A mishap at her apartment complex leads her to Etta, an older woman who lives in the building, who also happens to be a former swim team captain from Bree’s school. As Etta trains Bree, she becomes a confident swimmer who gives the school team a chance at victory over rival Holyoke Prep. A strong subplot about Etta’s time in middle school delves into the history of segregation and public pools, and busts the “Black people don’t swim” myth wide open. Solidly constructed storytelling keeps readers invested and engaged; they’ll be white-knuckling the book and cheering Bree’s team, the Manatees, at every meet. A strong theme of social justice and change provides historical background and back matter includes resources for more reading. Talk this up with realistic fiction graphic novels like Jerry Craft’s New Kid and Class Act; Alyssa Bermudez’s Big Apple Diaries, and Gillian Goerz’s Shirley and Jamila Save Their Summer. Put this book on your shelves!

Swim Team has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Kirkus, and BookPage; it’s also been selected for the Kids’ Indie Next List.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Science Fiction

Indie spotlight: Immigrant from the Stars by Gail Kamer

Immigrant from the Stars, by Gail Kamer/Illustrated by Daniel F. Bridy, (June 2019, Gettier Group LLC), $12.99, ISBN: 978-0999459553

Ages 9-12

I’ve been working to catch up with review requests, so I dug into my indie review pile while I was off and caught up with Gail Kamer’s 2019 middle grade tale, Immigrant from the Stars. Iko is a middle school kid who’s like other middle school kids: he loves hanging out with his friends; he loves his grandfather and his parents, he loves his dog. Oh, and he’s an alien from the planet Trinichia, ruled by a totalitarian government, with eyes and ears seemingly everywhere. Iko’s parents put their escape plan in motion and leave Trinichia, fleeing to Earth, where they start their new lives in Kentucky, disguised as the Newman family, a completely normal Earthling family from Texas. Iko tries to adjust to this new life – this new species! – while desperately hoping he doesn’t give himself and his family away, and worrying about his grandfather and dog, who are still on Trinichia.

I enjoyed Immigrant from the Stars so much! Narrated in the first person by Iko, the story has humor and pathos in equal amounts, with some tense moments that inject some excitement into the story. The story puts a sci-fi spin on the challenges facing immigrants who arrive as refugees and find themselves faced with a new way of life – and possibly an unfriendly reception. If your readers loved Geoff Rodkey’s We’re Not From Here (2019), consider recommending Immigrant from the Stars.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor, Intermediate

Blue, Barry & Pancakes: Danger on Mount Choco is the epic adventure kids needed

Blue, Barry & Pancakes: Danger on Mount Choco, by Dan & Jason, (Jan. 2022, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250255570

Ages 6-8

The third Blue, Barry and Pancakes adventure is another laugh-out-loud hit. The three friends enter an epic sundae-making contest this time, in the quest to win a trophy for Barry’s trophy room. But the winning ingredient can only be found at Mount Choco… are the friends up to the task? Of course they are! In usual hilarious, frenetically paced style, Blue, Barry and Pancakes set out on an adventure that brings laughter, disagreement, adventure, and ice cream sundaes. It’s not necessary to read the previous books before picking up Danger on Mount Choco, but why wouldn’t you? These books are great.

Don’t forget to download a free activity kit from the first Blue, Barry and Pancakes adventure at Macmillan’s website!

 

 

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

The Greatest Thing takes a real look at adolescence, art, and anxiety

The Greatest Thing, by Sarah Winifred Searle, (Feb. 2022, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250297235

Ages 13+

A fictionalized memoir, The Greatest Thing follows Winifred as she starts the school year after her two closest friends go to a different school. Winifred is talented, creative, and plagued by anxiety. Uncomfortable with her body, she engages in habits like “tricking” her body into “forgetting it was hungry by making it sick”. When she meets new friends April and Oscar, her world opens up: the three friends love art and also deal with self-esteem and anxiety; together, the three find their voices by creating a zine, Gutterglimmers. Eventually, Winifred – with the help of her supportive mom – seeks help, and starts finding comfort in real life as well as the pages of her zine. Filled with helpful instructions on making a zine, and positive portrayals of nonbinary and pansexual characters, The Greatest Thing provides an honest and raw look into adolescent anxiety and depression, and the role art can play in working through emotions and feelings. If you haven’t purchased this book for your YA graphic novels collections yet, you really should.

Visit Sarah Winifred Searle’s website and seem more of her artwork and learn about more of her books.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Blog Tour: Pruett and Soo!

A robot and alien make friendship and life colorful in this adorable story by Nancy Viau.

Pruett & Soo, by Nancy Viau/Illustrated by Jorge Lacera,
(March 2022, Two Lions), $17.99, ISBN: 9781542043427
Ages 4-7

Pruett is an adorable little robot with a computer monitor for a head, living on Planet Monochrome, where everything is… well, monochrome. Signs all over the place remind citizens to “Blend In. Wear Only Black, Gray, or White. Be Calm”, and encourage them to never ask questions, never play, and never use colorful crayons. That all changes when Soo, a colorful alien from Planet Prismatic, shows up in class one day! She’s a friendly extrovert who wants to share crayons and talk to her new classmates, and is stymied by the distanced reaction she gets. Pruett, who desperately wants to break out of his black, white, and grey world, sees Soo being rebuffed and becoming progressively sadder and lonelier, takes the chance: a colorful exclamation point lights up above his head, and he invites Soo to play tag. The two friends have so much fun together, that they spread a little of their joy – and their color – through the classroom. A colorful, playful story about taking the first step and affecting positive change, Pruett and Soo combines picture book narration with comic book word balloons to denote conversations between characters. The story begins in monochromatic black, white, and gray, and uses color to show the infectious fun Soo and Pruett bring to Planet Monochrome; a change reflected in the characters’ mannerisms and fonts, which become as colorful as Soo’s with time. The digital illustrations will delight young video gamers familiar with 8-bit games like Minecraft and Roblox.

Bottom line: Don’t let anyone dull your color. Change the world by adding some color! Pair this with F. Isabel Campoy, Theresa Howell, and Rafael López’s book, Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood, to illustrate how bringing color to a landscape brings positive change.

“The unlikely friendship at the heart of this allegorical picture book is touching. Viau’s writing is engaging.” Kirkus Reviews

“Highlighting the value of asserting one’s individuality in the face of pressures to conform, this vivid episode can stand alone or fit neatly into a storytime. – Booklist

Nancy Viau is the author of a number of books for children including Storm Song, illustrated by Gynux; Today Is a Beach Day!, illustrated by Charlie Alder; First Snow, illustrated by Talitha Shipman; and the Samantha Hansen series. A former teacher, she currently lives in New Jersey and travels around the solar system in her imagination. Learn more at nancyviau.com.

Twitter: @NancyViau1

Instagram: @nancyviau1

Facebook: Nancy Viau

 

Jorge Lacera was born in Colombia and grew up in Florida. He attended Ringling College of Art and Design and has worked as an artist or art director at major gaming studios and entertainment companies. He is the illustrator of Zombies Don’t Eat Veggies by Megan Lacera and XO, Exoplanet by Deborah Underwood. He lives in Canada with his family. Learn more at studiolacera.com.

Twitter: jlacera

Instagram: jlacera

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Apple and Magnolia: A STEM story woven into a friendship tale

Apple and Magnolia, by Laura Gehl/Illustrated by Patricia Metola, (Feb. 2022, Flyaway Books), $18, ISBN: 9781947888357

Ages 3-7

Apple and Magnolia are two trees with a connection, witnessed by a young girl of color named Britta. She enjoys the tree’s relationship to one another; her father and sister may not believe her, but her grandmother assures her that “unusual friendships can be the most powerful of all”. When Magnolia begins to show signs of being ill, Britta does her best to stay by her friends and support them both, using the scientific method to help facilitate the trees’ connection to the other: she connects two cups to a string so they can hear each other; wrapping a scarf between the two to feel each other’s warmth; measuring the distance between the trees to see if they are growing closer together, and journaling her findings, all with the support and love of her grandmother. Britta’s father and sister are largely for comic relief, providing the devil’s advocate side of science: the nay-sayer. Cheery illustrations that look like they could be taken from Britta’s own journal make this a wonderfully playful readaloud, including endpapers that depict Britta’s sketches of the trees and their flowers and fruit. Inspired by the science of trees and how they communicate with one another, Apple and Magnolia is a great storytime readaloud and perfection for a STEM storytime or Discovery Club-type story. Author Laura Gehl’s website has a free downloadable Educator’s Guide for Apple and Magnolia, plus resources her many of her other books.

For more information about trees and their relationships to one another, visit this NPR article on an ecologist who’s studied trees; this article from Smithsonian magazine; and this article from One Tree Planted. Andy Hirsch’s Science Comics Trees: Kings of the Forest also delves into these complex and amazing relationships.

Apple and Magnolia has starred reviews from Kirkus and Foreword Reviews.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

It’s Spring, and Little Red Fox and Hazel Dormouse are awake! The Friendship Surprise

The Friendship Surprise, by Giorgio Volpe & Paolo Proietti, (March 2022, Red Comet Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781636550282

Ages 4-8

Little Red Fox and Hazel the Dormouse, the duo we fell in love with in August 2021’s Before We Sleep, is back in The Friendship Surprise! When we last left Little Red and Hazel, Hazel had just gone to hibernate for the winter, and Fox was going to wait for his best friend to wake up come the spring. In The Friendship Surprise, Little Red is all ready to welcome Hazel back – but he’s worried, because he’s made a new friend over the winter break. Will Hazel like Brock the Badger more than Little Red? Will one be jealous of the other? Little Fox is so worried that he tries to split his time between his two friends, but has a lovely surprise when they all come together to play: after all, Hazel says, “we can all three have fun together!” The Friendship Surprise gently confronts the fear or worry some children may have over adding a new friend to their friendship group, with Little Red running back and forth between Brock and Hazel. When each ultimately discovers where Little Red goes when he leaves abruptly, there’s no arguing or jealousy; just a lovely welcome to a new friend. The three animals play together across Spring forests and grass, showing kids that a duo can easily and happily become a trio, and that friendship is a gift that multiplies, not divides. The warm color palette shows lush green fields, pink poppies, and full trees. A perfect Spring storytime book, with a playful sense of hope, joy, and renewal to share. The Friendship Surprise was originally published in Italy in 2021.

Print out some Before We Sleep coloring sheets from Red Comet’s website to have handy for a post-storytime activity.

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

The Great TBR Read-Down: Carry Me Home, by Janet Fox

Carry Me Home, by Janet Fox, (Aug. 2021, Simon & Schuster), $17.99, ISBN: 9781534485082

Ages 8-12

Twelve year-old Lulu and her younger sister, third grader Serena, live in their car with their father. It’s not so bad; the Suburban has a big back seat, the showers in the RV park aren’t too far away, and the food pantry is near enough to get their food to keep in the car. It’ll be okay. Daddy tells the girls it will get better, and they hope it will, until the morning when the girls wake up and their father is gone. Lulu, afraid and distrustful of adults, keeps the girls’ father’s disappearance a secret – he’s done this before, right after their mother died – and tries to keep their RV park bill paid, get food from the pantry, and navigate both her and Serena’s school schedules, hoping upon hope that no one will discover their secret and separate the sisters. The weather in Montana is getting cold – much colder than their home in Texas – and the stress of keeping up appearances and being hungry and cold is starting to wear on Lulu. Told in the first person from Lulu’s point of view, and moving between past and present, Carry Me Home has characters that instantly feel real, with heartbreaking moments and the incredible strength exhibited by each character. It’s a story of friendship and finding home as much as it is a story of grief, loss, and poverty. A reminder that we never know what any given person is dealing with in a given moment, Carry Me Home is a book for readers who love realistic fiction. A side subplot links to Eleanor Coerr’s Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, and author Janet Fox’s author webpage includes downloadable instructions on folding paper cranes, a curriculum guide, and other resources.

Display and booktalk with readalikes like Katherine Applegate’s Crenshaw and Melissa Sarno’s Just Under the Clouds.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Blog Tour and Giveaway: This is (Not) Enough

The Orange and Purple Fuzzy Friends are back! Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant’s adorable twosome are wracked with anxiety over the perfect gift in This is (Not) Enough.

This is (Not) Enough, by Anna Kang & Christopher Weyant,
(March 2022, Two Lions), $17.99, ISBN: 9781542018517

Ages 4-8

The two BFFs are excited: they’re giving each other gifts! But how do you find a gift that’s worthy of your best friend? Like Orange says, it “has to be COOL and FUN and BIG and ‘WOW’!” Each tries to choose the perfect gift for their perfect friend, only to discover that the love and time that goes into the gift is everything. Perfect for preschoolers and younger school-age kids who are navigating those strong feelings and how to communicate them, This is (Not) Enough is all about the moment we realize that the best gifts come from the heart. The dialogue between the two friends is heartfelt, and two additional friends add even more humor to the story. The artwork brings the humor  to the forefront, with hilarious facial expressions and body language. Another fun readaloud with characters we’ve grown to love.

 

Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant are the creators of Theodor Seuss Geisel Award winner You Are (Not) Small as well as series titles That’s (Not) MineI Am (Not) ScaredWe Are (Not) Friends, and It Is (Not) Perfect. They also wrote and illustrated Christopher Award winner EraserHudson and Tallulah Take SidesCan I Tell You a Secret?, and Will You Help Me Fall Asleep? Christopher’s work can also be seen in The New Yorker and the Boston Globe and his cartoons are syndicated worldwide. This husband-and-wife team lives in New Jersey with their two daughters and their dog, Hudson. Visit them at www.annakang.com and www.christopherweyant.com.

Twitter: @annakang27 @ChristophWeyant

Instagram: annakangbookschristopherweyant   

Facebook: Anna Kang – AuthorChristopher Weyant

 

One lucky winner will receive a copy of This is (Not) Enough, courtesy of Two Lions (U.S. and Canada). Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway!

Posted in Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Sometimes Cake finds reasons to celebrate

Sometimes Cake, by Edwina Wyatt/Illustrated by Tamsin Ainslie, (Jan. 2022, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536217810

Ages 2-5

A little girl named Audrey happens upon a Lion holding a balloon and asks if it’s his birthday. It isn’t, but they discover a mutual love of celebrating, so they sing songs, have cake, and give a few cheers. When Audrey finds Lion again, he seems a bit down, and claims it isn’t a day for celebrating; it’s just “an ordinary day”. To cheer him up, Audrey throws a party to celebrate ordinary days, and the two friends play, dance, and enjoy one another’s company. Sometimes Cake is about celebrating something; anything, for the pure joy of it. Pencil and ink watercolors provide a gentle, colorful look into a sweet story about joy and about lifting up friends when they could use a hand. Read this with your storytime group and invite them to make their own party hats and dance.

Sometimes Cake was originally published in Australia in 2020. Author Edwina Wyatt’s webpage offers a free downloadable storytime kit for all of her books.