Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen

Sports readers, check out the Blacktop series

Justin #1 (Blacktop), by LJ Alonge, (June 2016, Grosset & Dunlap), $15.99, ISBN: 9780399542756

Recommended for readers 12+

Justin’s a teen having a rough summer in his Oakland, CA neighborhood. His alcoholic father shows up everywhere, challenging him to a game of hoops. His stepfather and mother are boring, and have spent way too much money on a pair of sneakers that he didn’t really want, but kind of made them think he did. He took on a crazy dare and ended up destroying a local business – literally – and now he’s got to defend his neighborhood basketball court against Ghosttown, a take-no-prisoners team. He pulls together a group of players and faces the upcoming game.

This isn’t just a story about a basketball game: Justin’s got plans for himself, and this first Blacktop book is all about letting us walk through his coming of age with him. He’s got a list of goals for himself, and he’s trying really hard to achieve them. He knows he’s going to be someone, someday, and he knows he needs time to “figure it out”. The narrative is fast-paced, and the basketball descriptions will appeal to fans of the game. I’d suggest this for teen audiences; more reluctant readers. There are four books in the Blacktop series.

Posted in Adventure, Fantasy, Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

The Dark Crystal returns: Shadows of the Dark Crystal #1

dark crystalShadows of the Dark Crystal (#1), by J. M. Lee/Illustrated by Brian Froud & Cory Godbey, (June 2016, Grosset & Dunlap), $17.95, ISBN: 9780448482897

Recommended for ages 12+

Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal is back, in a big way. Comic and graphic novel publisher BOOM!’s Archaia imprint has had a Dark Crystal series since 2014, and now, we’re getting a series of YA novels, set in the years before the events of the original Dark Crystal movie, to appeal to new and established fans.

Set in the world of The Dark Crystal, Shadow of the Dark Crystal introduces us to Naia, a young Gelfling girl who leaves her home and travels to the Castle of the Crystal to find out what’s happened to her brother, Gurjin. He’s being sought after by the Skeksis Lords, who want to charge him with treason; Naia refuses to believe it. As she journeys to the Castle, she learns a great deal about the Skeksis and the crystal, setting things in motion for the rest of the series and leading into events taking place in The Dark Crystal.

The book cover is illustrated by Brian Froud, the conceptual designer on the original The Dark Crystal film, as well as  Labyrinth, which makes my ’80s heart sing. Froud is also considered the preeminent faerie artist in the world and an authority of faerie lore.  Cory Godbey’s beautiful black and white illustrations throughout the book bring the story to life.

I have a long-standing admiration for The Dark Crystal, but the book just didn’t set me on fire like I hoped it would. If you aren’t well-versed in the movie’s lore, you may find yourself lost. The narrative plodded at parts, and I never really connected to the characters. It did pick up toward the end, so I’m hopeful that the world-building and exposition taking place in Book One will lead to more interesting adventures in Book Two, especially since most readers will know where the Skeksis are heading at that point.
Fantasy fans, particularly Dark Crystal fans, will want to read this. It’s suggested as a young adult series, but I think it would appeal more to middle schoolers, so I’d encourage my 6th-8th graders to discover this; the cover and internal fantasy art will appeal more to tweens and early teens. I’d also suggest making the original DVD available, along with the BOOM! graphic novels; there is a lot of mythology to this universe and it’s a good thing to provide a well-rounded reading experience for fans. Here’s a peek at some of the artwork and interiors:
dark crystal_1
dark crystal_3
Posted in Middle Grade, Middle School, Non-fiction

What’s Up in the Amazon Rainforest?

rainforest_coverWhat’s Up in the Amazon Rainforest?, by Ginjer L. Clarke (Sept. 2015, Grosset & Dunlap), $8.99, ISBN: 9780448481036

Recommended for ages 8-12

I’ve been doing a lot of weeding in my new library spot, and the first section I hit was the Animals section. Naturally, I need some new books to fill in my shelves, and this beauty fits the bill. It’s a new geography series, loaded with color photos and a fold-out map, and it’s laid out like a dossier file, with photos sharing space with informative text, laid over maps in the background, and little touches like circled paragraphs and paper clips to give the feeling that kids are reading an environmentalist’s journal.


There’s a ton of information packed into this book: Ginjer Clarke looks at each layer of the rainforest, the flora and fauna that can be found there, and moves on to provide quick profiles on the people that live in the rainforest, products that come from the rainforest (yay, coffee and chocolate!), and most importantly, the importance of conservation and preservation. A bibliography and index round out the book. I’d love to see a glossary and some websites for kids included in future editions – admittedly, I’m working from a galley of the book, so if any of these resources are included in the finished copy, I apologize! In the meantime, her blog offers really cool updates and photos of different places she visits while researching her books. (Wait until you see the size of the oarfish.)

You’ll learn about pink dolphins – who knew there were dolphins in the rainforest? – and howler monkeys, Kapok and cacao trees. Fold-out maps will let kids place themselves in the locations they’re reading about.

Author Ginjer L. Clarke writes popular nonfiction books for kids. She’s got a section dedicated to her Baby Animals series on her website, and sections with more information about her other series, including more of her What’s Up, Out, and Wild Animals series.
Check out some more of What’s Up in the Amazon Rainforest below. The pictures are unbelievable!
rainforest_2 rainforest_3
rainforest_4 rainforest_5