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

Dewdrop is the cheerleader we all need right now

Dewdrop, by Katie O’Neill, (Apr. 2020, Oni Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781620106891

Ages 3-7

One of the ruling monarchs of All That is Adorable, Katie O’Neill – whom you may know from her Tea Dragon series, Aquicorn Cove, or Princess Princess Ever After graphic novels – now gives us a cheerleading axolotl named Dewdrop, in an upbeat, sweet graphic novel.

Dewdrop and his underwater friends are practicing their skills to show off at the yearly sports fair. Mia is a weightlifting turtle, Newman the newt is a musician, and three minnows fancy themselves as chefs. Dewdrop? He’s a cheerleader! And as his friends practice for the fair, Dewdrop visits each one of them to cheer them on and get them past their fears, which is perfect practice for his own skills: cheering! Dewdrop is a sweet story with tips about mindfulness, positivity, and friendship, and it turns some antiquated gender tropes on their heads: Dewdrop is male. A pink, cheerleading, adorable male. Mia is a female turtle, rocking a little flower head decoration, and she’s a weightlifter. Having a male character radiate positivity – something we’ve often seen as the female characters’ responsibility – sends a refreshing, reassuring message to all children about how easy it is to be a good friend. Katie O’Neill is fantastic at upending outdated gender roles, and Dewdrop continues to deliver upbeat, inspiring messages through colorful and bright artwork with charming characters.

Katie O’Neill is an award-winning author and graphic novelist. Her author webpage has more of her illustrations, information about her graphic novels, and an online store.

Want to learn more about axolotls? Live Science has pictures and facts, as does National Geographic. Author Jess Keating has the cutest axolotl coloring page, and her book, Cute As An Axolotl, is all about “nature’s cutest weirdos”.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Early Reader, Fiction, picture books, Preschool Reads

Stanley the Hamster heads off to school in his latest picture book adventure

Stanley’s School, by William Bee, (Oct. 2018, Peachtree Publishers), $14.95, ISBN: 9781682630709

Ages 3-7

It’s another busy day at Stanley’s school, as he and his assistant, Hattie, get ready to welcome their students. The children follow their morning routine of hanging up their hats, bags, and teddy bears, and sit on the carpet while Stanley calls attendance. At storytime, they dress up: Sophie as a dragon, Little Woo as a knight, and Benjamin, a princess, complete with blue crown and tutu. There’s playtime, time in the garden, lunch, nap, and art to end the day, and Stanley brings his busy day to a close with supper and a bath.

The Stanley books are a hit because they’re adorable. They’re provide children with introductions to different careers, the direct, concise text is great for newly confident readers and for storytime, and the digital artwork is simple, attractive, and fun, with bright colors and bold lines. William Bee doesn’t limit gender roles in Stanley’s School, putting a kid named Benjamin in princess garb. (Jessica Spanyol’s Clive series is another good series that bucks genderized norms.)

Stanley’s School was on shelves in time for back-to-school, but it’s a great choice for storytimes now, because younger kids will recognize the students’ daily routine. It won’t be new and exciting or nerve-wracking; it’ll be familiar and comfortable. Let the kids tell you what else their daily routines include, and tell them yours. Do you, like Stanley, get home, eat, and go to bed? Maybe you play with a pet, or eat dinner with your family, or read to your kids. Stanley’s School is all about comforting routines, and a good add to your shelves.

There’s a school supply activity sheet free for download on the Peachtree website; you’ll find other Stanley activity sheets there, too. Stanley fans can find out more about Stanley’s world on the Peachtree Stanley Fan Site.

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

Blog Tour and Giveaway: The Turnaway Girls, by Hayley Chewins

Raised in a shelter cloister with other young women, Delphernia Undersea is a 12-year-old Turnaway Girl: girls raised to be silent, invisible; to weave male Masters’ music into gold they call “shimmmer”. Delphina is well aware of her place in society – Mother Nine beats it into her regularly enough – but still has a rebellious streak in her. While she can’t make shimmer, she can sing; a forbidden action in this world. Girls are told that the sea waits to swallow girls with musical throats, but Delphernia must sing, so she does so in secret until the day a young Master named Bly comes to claim her. Once out of the cloister, Delphernia’s world opens up, befriending a trans girl named Linna, who calls herself a Master and wears a dress covered in bells. Delphernia spends time with Bly, discovering more about him and his sister, the Childer-Queen, and in so doing, discovers more about herself and the society she moves through. It’s time for rebellion, and Delphernia holds the key.

Wow. This book is high literary fantasy that has the gift of empowering readers. Delphernia is a strong, intelligent heroine who motivates those around her. This is a male-driven society that doesn’t want music, free thought, or questions. They twist the truth to suit their means, but this next generation of children is about to bring it all down. Hayley Chewins’ weaves gold – shimmer – with words that nearly brought me to tears as I read. I was Facebooking and texting passages from this book to my friends, family, and coworkers over the last two days, because I could not keep these words inside me.

 

This is how you talk to middle graders. This is how you write middle grade fantasy that makes a statement, always respecting your readers. This is fantasy that holds our society up to a mirror and lets readers see for themselves how change is theirs to make. Diverse and gender fluid characters, discussions about gender roles and corrupt leaders, and a tale of self-discovery, magic, and music put this firmly on my must-read, must-have list, and my Newbery and Hugo watch lists.

The Turnaway Girls has a starred review from Kirkus. Author Hayley Chewins has a playlist for the book available on her blog.

Want your own copy of The Turnaway Girls? Enter this Rafflecopter giveaway!

 

Blog Tour Roll Call! Visit these book bloggers for their The Turnaway Girl thoughts.

October 8 – Purple Readers

October 9 – YA Books Central

October 10 – Cheyenne Reads

October 11 – Mom Read It

October 12 – Wizard Library

 

The Turnaway Girls, by Hayley Chewins, (Sept. 2018, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763697921
Ages 10+

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

#AmalUnbound is unputdownable!

Amal Unbound, by Aisha Saeed, (May 2018, Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Kids), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0-399-54468-2

Recommended for readers 10-14

Twelve-year-old Amal is a girl living in a Punjabi village in Pakistan. When she has a rough interaction with the village’s wealthy and cruel landowner, Jawad Sahib, he demands payment for her “insult” by taking her on as an unpaid servant to work off her family’s debt. Charged for room and board, yet receiving no pay for her labor, it becomes clear all too quickly that Amal may be doomed to spend the rest of her life there. Jawad antagonizes her, and other servants are initially cruel to her, but she finds some solace as servant to Sahib’s mother, who is kinder. Amal fears her dreams of education and teaching are gone for good until a Sahib family venture opens the opportunity for Amal to attend school – and possibly, give her the chance to regain her freedom.

Inspired by Malala Yousafszai and young women like her, Amal Unbound is a compulsively readable upper middle-grade story about indentured servitude, gender inequality, and the right to education. Amal is a bookish young woman forced to drop out of school when her sister is born. She’s angry at the reaction that the birth of a girl, rather than a boy, brings not only to her family, but her neighbors. Furious that women are valued less than men, and angry that she must put her own dreams on hold, she lashes out at the local landowner, who takes advantage of her family’s debt to get even with her. She refuses to feel powerless, which further aggravates Jawad Sahib; his mother Nasreen Baji intervenes on Amal’s behalf, but she’s still part of a corrupt system that lets her family keep indentured servants – essentially, slaves – as labor. Amal discovers that Nasreen Baji is in a gilded cage of her own, but does that excuse her own injustices? It creates a good discussion point; one of many readers will discover in the pages of Amal Unbound. Publisher Penguin has you covered with a free, downloadable discussion guide.

Aisha Saeed creates complex characters and a strong story that you won’t want to put down until you’ve turned the last page. I hope I get summer reading lists with Amal Unbound on them; I can’t wait to booktalk this one to my library kids.

Book Riot has a good interview with Aisha Saeed and Shehzil Malik, designer of that beautiful cover, that you should check out and add to your booktalk info. Amal Unbound has starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, and Kirkus, and is on my Newbery shortlist.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Last Minute Shopping? No worries, find a bookstore!

I saw a piece on the news today that said today – December 23rd – is the second biggest holiday shopping day of the year.

https://giphy.com/embed/3oEjI1erPMTMBFmNHi

via GIPHY

If you still have kids and teens on your shopping list, I humbly offer a few more suggestions to make the season bright.

Brooding YA Hero: Becoming a Main Character (Almost) as Awesome as Me, by Carrie Ann DiRisio and Broody McHottiepants/Illustrated by Linnea Gear,
(Oct. 2017, Sky Pony Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781510726666

Recommended for readers 13-17

You know him. You may have loved him. He’s the EveryBroody – that dark, brooding bad boy main character that shows up in darned near every YA novel. He’s got a deep, dark history; he has trust issues; he may be an intergalactic prince, a scoundrel smuggler, or… dare I say? a sparkly vampire. Here, we get the scoop – straight from the Broody’s mouth – on what it’s like to be a Brooding YA Hero. It’s a writing guide with a wink and a nudge to YA tropes, with some straight talk – in the form of nemesis Mean Girl Blondi DeMeani – about smashing the patriarchy and recognizing the value of diverse characters. Give this to your fanfic writer, your feminists, and anyone who loved Jennifer Mathieu’s Moxie. And if you’re not already following the @broodingYAhero account on Twitter, you are doing yourself a disservice.

 

Hey, Baby! A Collection of Pictures, Poems, and Stories from Nature’s Nursery, by Stephanie Drimmer,
(Nov. 2017, National Geographic Kids), $24.99, ISBN: 978-1426329319

Recommended for ages 4-12 and beyond

It’s an entire book of baby animal pictures. The cutest, funniest, littlest baby animals. This is a win-win for everyone! Added to the pictures are the sweetest companion folktales, stories, and poems, to make this a great gift for new moms and moms-to-be, kids who love their baby animals, and middle-aged librarians who follow accounts like @emergencykittens and @fluffsociety on Twitter. Add a copy of NatGeo’s Animal Ark, for more beautiful photos and poetry by Newbery award winner Kwame Alexander.

 

A World of Cookies for Santa, by M.E. Furman/Illustrated by Susan Gal,
(Oct. 2017, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt),$16.99, ISBN: 9780544226203

Recommended for readers 7-10

Take a tasty sleigh ride around the world and find out how children across the globe celebrate Christmas, from the different names Santa goes by (Papai Noel, Father Christmas, Christmas Baba, to name a few) to the tasty treats left out for Santa and his reindeer to enjoy on their journey. Try your hand at a multicultural Christmas with nine recipes for holiday cookies, included at the end! Pair with a copy of Clement Moore’s classic The Night Before Christmas and add a few cookies.

 

Top Elf, by Caleb Zane Huett, (Sept. 2017, Scholastic Press),
$14.99, ISBN: 978-1-338-05212-1

Recommended for readers 9-12

Santa’s ready to pass on the Big Red Suit. The call to competition goes out across the North Pole, and Ollie the Elf decides to go for it. Thing is, he’s up against Santa’s kids, a bullying elf named Buzz, Ramp, who swears he’s a kid, but looks and smells suspiciously grown-up, and even his best friend, Celia. How’s Ollie going to prove he’s the Top Elf for the job? This middle grade story is pure Christmas fun and adventure with a touch of Christmas magic. Stick this in a stocking for readers who love a good giggle, and add a couple of candy canes and some hot cocoa mix – maybe with a Minecraft or Lego mug. 

 

Ultimate Dinopedia, Second Edition, by “Dino” Don Lessem/Illustrated by Franco Tempesta,
(Oct. 2017, National Geographic Kids), $24.99, ISBN: 978-1426329050

Recommended for readers 8-13

It’s the ULTIMATE dinosaur encyclopedia! This updated edition is one of the most comprehensive dinosaur references going, with profiles on favorite dinos like the T-Rex and Velociratpr, to new finds like the Anzu, Kosmoceratops, and Yi. There are maps, comparison renderings to show kids how they stack up against different dinos, and descriptions of dino diets, geographic areas, and eras. There are over 600 dinosaurs in this volume, with profiles for 10 newly discovered dinos, and a comprehensive dino dictionary. Full-color illustrations from dinosaur artist Franco Tempesta come right off the page – look at that T-Rex on the cover! – and “Dino” Don Lessem – a world-renowned dinosaur presenter who also happened to be the dinosaur adviser for the first Jurassic Park movie – writes in a language that respects, but never speaks down, to readers. Kids love dinos. They’ll love this book. Tuck a tube of dino toys in the stocking and call it a holiday.

 

The Witch Boy, by Molly Ostertag, (Oct. 2017, Scholastic Graphix),
$12.99, ISBN: 978-1-338-08951-6

Recommended for readers 8-13

Aster is a 13-year-old, raised in a society of of supernatural beings. The girls are raised to be witches, the boys, to be shapeshifters. That’s the way it is, and anyone who falls outside those lines faces exile. Aster waits for his ability to shift to kick in, but is fascinated by magic, despite the disciplinary action and ridicule he faces. Aster befriends a non-magic neighbor named Charlotte, who goes by Charlie, who has her own frustrations with gender lines at her school; neither can figure out what the big deal is, saying, “You should just be allowed to do it!” Charlie discovers Aster’s magic abilities, and tries encouraging him to continue practicing magic; Aster will need that support when a mysterious force threatens his community; he may be the only one able to save them. A brilliant story about smashing gender expectations, The Witch Boy is a brilliant, compelling story about finding one’s place and speaks volumes to every kid out there who feels, at some point, like she or he doesn’t fit in. Molly Ostertag is the writer/artist on Shattered Warrior and the webcomic Strong Female Protagonist. The Witch Boy has starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal, and Fox Animation has feature film rights. Bundle this one up with Victoria Jamieson’s All’s Faire in Middle School.

 

Bet You Didn’t Know!, by National Geographic Kids, (Aug. 2017, National Geographic Kids),
$19.99, ISBN: 978-1426328374

Recommended for readers 8-13

Kids love fact books; when they’re accompanied by amazing photos and include facts like, “A storm on Neptune was a wide as THE ENTIRE EARTH”, “Chewing gum can make your heart beat faster”, or “The Bahamas once had an undersea post office”, this becomes GOLD. Pair this one with NatGeo’s Weird But True Christmas, and you’re set.

 

The World of the Bible: Biblical Stories and the Archaeology Behind Them, by Jill Rubalcaba,
(Nov. 2017, National Geographic Kids), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1426328817

Recommended for readers 9-13

More than a book of Bible stories, The World of the Bible is a great reference for budding history buffs and archaeologists, going deeper into the text to study the time periods and geographic locations where these stories took place, to learn more about human history. Stories like Moses and the Ten Commandments and the Garden of Eden get a closer look, accompanied by classic paintings, photos, and illustrations of the lands where the events in the Bible took shape. Give to your budding young Indiana Jones or Lara Croft.

 

1,000 Facts About the White House, by Sarah Wassner Flynn, (Sept. 2017, National Geographic Kids),
$14.99, ISBN: 978-1-4263-2873-2

Recommended for readers 8-13

Wild and crazy facts about the most famous house in America: The White House. Learn about White House ghosts, events like the Easter Egg Roll, and presidential pets. Check out photos of the interiors and exteriors of the White House and grounds, and view some of the history-making moments that took place there. Learn about the different people who live and work there, those who keep it safe, and those who built it. There are groups of fun lists, like 25 Rooms That Rock, and there are loads of cutouts and info bits throughout. It’s a fun reference on American History for history fans. Pair with a copy of Weird But True! US Presidents and you’re set.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Middle School, Tween Reads

Monstertown gets Mutant Mantis Lunch Ladies!

9781484713242Monstertown Mysteries (#2): Mutant Mantis Lunch Ladies!, by Bruce Hale, (Mar. 2017, Disney/Hyperion), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1-4847-1324-2

Recommended for readers 8-12

When we last saw Carlos and his friend Benny, they’d just saved their social studies teacher from a miserable life as a were-hyena. Just when they think it’s safe to relax, they’re… bored. Seriously, where do you go from were-animals, right? They shouldn’t have worried – the lunch ladies are acting weird. I mean, weird. They start feeding the boys junk food, and the girls… well, the boys catch a glimpse of what the girls are eating, and it looks like “greenish glop, scrambled eggs, fish sticks, and a sloppy joe thing with maybe-grasshoppers inside it”. Over the next few days, kids start disappearing – all boys – and the girls start getting very aggressive. They’re talking back, bullying kids, acting kind of like the boys do! They sneer at their male classmates and threaten to bite off their heads and suck out their insides! Carlos and Benny start investigating, and they’re pretty sure that the lunch ladies are giant preying mantises that have plans for both the girls and boys in their neighborhood, but who’s going to believe them?

The second Monstertown Mystery is just as much fun as the first one, with more laughs and a lot more gross humor. (Seriously, put down that snack or that sandwich while you read this. You’re welcome.) There’s some nice social commentary about sexism, even if it comes with the whole female-biting-a-male’s-head-off sort of thing; a particularly strong statement by Carlos’ friend Tina toward the book’s conclusion. Put this out with your Goosebumps books, your Lovecraft Middle School books, and your Haunted Mansion novel (when are we getting another volume of that?) and watch the kids swarm. Mutant Mantis Lunch Ladies! comes with a lenticular cover, just like The Curse of the Were-Hyena did, for transformation fun.

Come on, this is a no-brainer add to collections.

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

The Only Girl in School is no shrinking violet!

only girl in schoolThe Only Girl in School, by Natalie Standiford/Illustrations by Nathan Durfee (Jan. 2016, Scholastic Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780545829960

Recommended for ages 9-12

Claire’s best friend, Bess, moves away just before the start of fifth grade, leaving her the only girl in her entire elementary school. To make matters worse, her other best friend, Henry, has just decided to stop talking to her, and replaced her with Webby (aka Webster), a colossal jerk! How is Claire going to get through this school year?

Told in letters from Claire to Bess, The Only Girl in School is a quick, fun read about growing up, friendship, and the hunt for pirate treasure. Claire is a funny and sympathetic protagonist, whether she’s lamenting the loss of the girl’s locker room, now the coach’s private office (“he probably likes having an office with his own shower in it”) or asking “Yucky” Gilbert – who has a tremendous crush on her – to crew for her for the upcoming boat race (“…the first and most important rule is: No Slobbering”). It’s a story about change: friendships change; being on the verge of leaving elementary school for middle school; and approaching the way boys and girls see one another. It’s also about how adults may treat boys versus girls, especially when there’s only one girl in an entire school: when there’s only one female voice, injustices, no matter how seemingly small, are overlooked a lot more easily, whether it’s removing a locker room where Claire can change or ignoring aggressive and chauvinistic behavior on a soccer field.

I like Claire: she’s smart, she’s athletic, and she’s spunky. She calls out unfair attitudes and behavior when she sees and experiences it, even if it’s happening in her own dining room. She isn’t going to let anyone get to her or make her feel badly for being the only girl in her school. She misses her best friends, but she doesn’t mope around school. She draws pictures on the wall in her “clubhouse” at school to journal her feelings but when her sanctum is invaded by someone who’s defacing her pictures, she takes it upon herself to act and launches an investigation. She’s a fun heroine, and the fact that she can inject snarky humor into her story should resonate with tweens.

The Only Girl in School is a fun middle-grade read and open the doors for interesting discussions about gender relations. Ask boys and girls alike to read it, and see what the different feedback sounds like. Read along with The Last Boy at St. Edith’s and compare the two main characters’ situations!

Posted in Uncategorized

The Last Boy at St. Edith’s wants OUT!

last boyThe Last Boy at St. Edith’s, by Lee Gjersten Malone (Feb. 2016, Aladdin), $16.99, ISBN: 9781481444354

Recommended for ages 8-12

Seventh-grader, Jeremy, is not thrilled. His school, St. Edith’s, was formerly an all-girls’ school that briefly admitted boys, but it never quite caught on. He’s been counting down the number of boys leaving the school, until Andrew – #2 on his list – announced he was leaving, making Jeremy the last boy at St. Edith’s. It’s embarrassing and it’s really annoying, but his mom, who works at the school so he and his sisters can go for free, will not even consider letting him go to the local public school. Desperate, Jeremy decides to take matters into his own hands: he’s going to get expelled.

Turning to his best friend, Claudia, the two come up with a series of pranks that should do the trick. Jeremy has rules: no one gets embarrassed or hurt, and no permanent damage gets done. But the mysterious prankster’s first gag gets huge laughs, and Jeremy finds himself caught in the snowballing effect of pranking; he’s got to up the ante, but things start getting out of control. How far will Jeremy go to get thrown out?

I LOVED this book. Jeremy has a distinct voice that comes through loud and clear, and he’s got some valid arguments: he’s the butt of other school’s jokes; his own school’s teachers refer to the student body as “ladies”, so he feels humiliated in his own environment; his mother, however valid her reasons are for keeping him at St. Edith’s, is too stressed out to really listen and understand Jeremy; and his flaky tree-hugging dad is not there for him at all. He still manages to keep a sense of humor about him, and he’s a likable kid. He’s a good kid from a good family who just wants one thing to go his way, and he’s got a conscience – whether he always listens to it remains to be seen.

There are plenty of social and family issues addressed in this seemingly light read: family relationships; divorce; social classes; gender roles; friendship, and consequences. The Last Boy at St. Edith’s deserves a spot on summer reading lists, for sure. I’ll be putting together some discussion questions and a booktalk to generate interest in this great debut.

The Last Boy at St. Edith’s has received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews. You can visit Ms. Malone’s author website for more information about her, including links to social media and information on school and library visits.