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

The Way of the Hive tells the story of Clan Apis

The Way of the Hive: A Honeybee’s Story, by Jay Hosler, (Apr. 2021, HarperAlley), $12.99, ISBN: 9780063007352

Ages 8-12

Nyuki is an inquisitive honeybee larva who has a lot of questions for Dvorah, an older bee who ends up being her mentor. Why does her cell have to be capped off? Why does she have to go through metamorphosis? Why are some of the bees getting ready to leave the hive? Can she go? Should she go? Is Dvorah going to go? Dvorah patiently answers Nyuki’s questions, and helps Nyuki develop into an independent member of her colony. The story follows the life journey of one honeybee and the members of her hive. Nyuki is childlike in her interactions, and never loses her sense of wonder and curiosity, making her a wonderful character. She struggles with anxiety about the unknown and adapts, always puzzling over the “inner voice” that spurs her on to adventure. The story is sweet, funny, and moved me to tears. Illustrations are realistic, but Jay Hosler manages to make these realistic depictions of bees simply adorable; readers will want to cherish them and care for them. The science is solid, but never, ever feels like a lecture or a textbook. It’s simply a great story. An absolute must for your graphic novel collections, and perfect for Science Comics readers. Back matter includes even more information about bees.

Did you know World Bee Day is May 20th this year? Visit the Bee Culture website for some resources on bees and celebrating them on their special day. The National Parks Service has a great middle school curriculum for Bee Week available. Author Jay Hosler’s website is a treasure trove of information on using comic books in the classroom (yes!!) and links to more science comics.

The Way of the Hive has a starred review from Kirkus. It was originally published under the title, Clan Apis, in 1998.

Posted in Non-Fiction, picture books, Uncategorized

A future President’s best friend: Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln

Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln, by Shari Swanson/Illustrated by Chuck Groenink, (Jan. 2020, Katherine Tegen Books), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0-06269900-8

Ages 5-8

Based on a story remembered by President Abraham Lincoln’s childhood friend, Honey, The Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln is a nonfiction picture book story of the 16th President and the dog he rescued and named Honey; and how Honey repaid the favor by rescuing Abe Lincoln. One day, while picking his family’s corn up from the mill, Lincoln discovered and cared for an injured dog, who followed him home. He convinces his parents to let him keep the dog – who he names Honey – and she joins him everywhere he goes. While exploring a cavern one day, Abe gets jammed between two boulders and Honey sets out to find help, finding Abe’s mother and Mr. John from the corn mill, and leading them to the cavern, where they are able to rescue young Mr. Lincoln.

A sweet story about our animal companions and the special relationship we have with our dogs, Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abraham Lincoln is an uplifting nonfiction story about an early chapter in the life of one of our most popular Presidents. There’s a timeline of Abraham Lincoln, who famously loved animals, and his “Animal Encounters”, chronicling key points in the former President’s life, including his many pets and moments of caring for animals. An author’s note goes into more detail about the origin of the story behind Honey, The Dog Who Saved Abraham Lincoln, and the many pets Lincolns populating the Lincoln White House. The digital artwork is kid-friendly, with gentle-faced, softly realistic characters and muted greens and browns. The endpapers display a map of the area of Hodgen’s Mill, where Abe Lincoln grew up, circa 1816, when Lincoln found Honey.

A nice addition to picture book nonfiction collections. Think about reading this one on April 11, National Pet Day!

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

Odd Gods – Mythic Middle School can be Heck!

Odd Gods: Misfit Myths from Mount Olympus Middle School, by David Slavin & Daniel Weitzman/Illustrated by Adam J.B. Lane, (May 2019, HarperCollins), $13.99, ISBN: 9780062839534

Ages 7-11

This mythological mashup is straight-up hilarious. Oddonis is the son of Zeus and Freya, the Nordic goddess of love. You’d think he was set, right? NOPE. He’s got a weird chin, messy hair, a third nipple, and he’s nothing like his twin brother… Adonis. Yup, THAT Adonis. Adonis, who had six-pack abs as a baby! How does that even happen? Narrated by Oddonis, Odd Gods is the story of the Odds – the not-quite godly gods – as they navigate the halls of Mount Olympus Middle School, and of Oddonis’ attempt to wrest respect from his brother and his father when he runs against Adonis for class president.

Odd Gods has a snarky bent to the narration – think Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid – with a strong undercurrent of frustration. These are the kids that have been discounted from the very beginning. We have Mathena, goddess of math and… poultry. She loves math; she breathes it, lives it, loves it, to her classmate’s ridicule. There’s also the duck and chicken following her around; that can’t help. There’s Germes, god of sniffling and snot, who can often be found hanging out in a dumpster. Don’t forget Puneous, the smallest god of them all, and Oddonis’s best friend… Gaseous. Gaseous, who can clear a room or send a group of gods flying. Together, this group of misfits will take on the established group of Mean Gods and prove, for once and for all, that there’s room on Olympus for everyone.

Absolute fun, with black and white drawings throughout that directly contribute to the story’s flow. Hand this to your Jedi Academy readers and see how they think the two schools would do in a match-up. Heroes in Training and Goddess Girls readers will love this one, too.

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

Saving Winslow is another hit for Sharon Creech

Saving Winslow, by Sharon Creech, (Sept. 2018, Harper Collins Children’s Books), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0-06-257073-4

Ages 7-12

Louie is a gentle 10-year-old boy with a horrible history of caring for animals: worms, lightning bugs, goldfish, and several bigger animals have all perished or escaped under his care, but when his father brings home a baby donkey, orphaned at birth, from Louie’s uncle’s farm – to care for it until, “you know – until it dies”, Louie accepts the mission. He’s going to save this donkey. You see, Louie was a preemie at birth, and his parents weren’t sure he’d make it, either. Love and determination kept Louie going, and he’s sure that it will keep Winslow – the name he gives the donkey – going. And it does. Winslow struggles, but thrives under Louie’s care, to everyone’s surprise. His new neighbor, Nora, a girl grieving the losses of both her premature baby brother and her dog, is amazed, but pessimistic, warning Louie that Winslow is going to die, and not to get too attached. Louie puts everything into saving Winslow, wishing he could speak to his older brother, Gus, who’s serving in the military, about Winslow, but letters from Gus come few and far between these days, and are always signed “remember me”. As Louie saves Winslow, Winslow may save everyone around him.

Full disclosure: this is my first Sharon Creech novel. Now I get it. I get why she’s a force in kidlit, a multiple award winner, and why her books are always on my library kids’ summer reading lists. She masters feeling and emotion through eloquent, brief prose. I was hers from the opening lines in the book, and I was with her until the last phrase closed the story. I told a friend of mine that Saving Winslow broke me apart and put me back together in the way that Charlotte’s Web did when I read it the first time as a child. Sharon Creech invests readers in every single character in this book, from the baby donkey, to the pessimistic neighbor kid, to the crabby next door neighbor, but we are always focused on Louie and his story. Saving Winslow is a story of hope and perseverance, and it’s a story about the need to believe in the positive. Every library needs a copy of this book – let’s get this one on the summer reading lists, please! – and kids with gentle hearts and sad souls alike will find comfort in it. An absolute must-have, must-read.

Saving Winslow has starred reviews from School Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, and Horn Book. Sharon Creech has a Newbery Medal for Walk Two Moons (1995), and received Newbery Honors for The Wanderer (2001). Her book, Ruby Holler (2002), is a Carnegie Medal winner. Her author website offers information and links to her social media, and downloadable reading guides for most of her books.

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

The Problim Children: Seven kids, seven days of the week, and an age-old mystery

The Problim Children, by Natalie Lloyd/Illustrated by Julia Sarda, (Jan. 2018, Katherine Tegen Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062428202

Recommended for readers 8-12

The Problim Children is the first in a new middle grade series about seven… different siblings, each born on a different day of the week, and their adventures. We have Mona, Monday’s child, who may be fair of face, but she’s a bit macabre… Toot, Tuesday’s toddler, who has a catalog of farts for all occasions; Wendell and Thea, twins born on Wednesday and Thursday, who spend all of their time together; Friday’s child, Frida, speaks in rhyme; Sal, Saturday’s child, loves to work in his garden; and Sundae is the eternal optimist. Their parents are away, and the Problims manage to blow up their bungalow in the Swampy Woods, necessitating a move to their Grandpa Problim’s abandoned mansion in Lost Cove. The only problem? The Problims have a history with Lost Cove, and neighborhood busybody Desdemona O’pinion is determined to keep them out at all costs.

Are the Problims magic? Maybe. Are they a family with secrets? Definitely! There’s a history between the O’pinions and the Problims, and the kids get caught up in the shenanigans – while planning plenty of their own. The Problim Children is funny enough – Toot’s ability to communicate solely by fart will make this a home-run with some readers – and readers will love the idea of being left to their own devices as their parents travel the world for work. There are circus spiders, a pet pig, an intriguing mystery, and a villainess who’s right up there with the best of the mustache-twirlers. It’s a little over the top at times, but it’s fun and silly and readers who like a lighter Lemony Snicket will like this one. The Problim Children received a starred review from Booklist.

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

Rainforest, magic, and mystery: The Lost Rainforest – Mez’s Magic

The Lost Rainforest: Mez’s Magic, by Eliot Schrefer/Illustrated by Emilia Dziubak, (Feb. 2018, HarperCollins), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062491077

Recommended for readers 8-13

Mez is an orphaned young panther living with her sister, under the care of their aunt in the rainforest of Caldera. Panthers are nightwalkers – primarily nocturnal, they prowl in the evenings and sleep during the day. Except for Mez. Born during the eclipse, she can cross the Veil – the sleep that overcomes the animals during the day hours – and explore the daytime world. She meets a snake who tells her that she and he are gifted, eclipse-born, and they must discover other animals like them in order to save the world. Banished by her aunt after discovering Mez’s secret, she joins the search for other shadowwalkers in their quest to defeat the Ant Queen. But the Queen isn’t the only one they have to defend themselves against. They’ll encounter animals that mistrust the shadowwalkers, and cope with betrayal and mistrust even among one another.

 

Mez’s Magic is the first book in what looks like an exciting new animal adventure. There’s plenty for readers to love here: intrigue, adventure, and ancient magic are just a few of the ingredients. It’s a satisfying standalone, yet leaves readers waiting for more answers. There’s an animal friend for everyone here; Mez, the star of the show, is burdened with responsibility and largely naïve to the rainforest at large; Rumi is a lovable, nerdy tree frog and Lima is a talkative, sweet bat; Gogi is a capuchin monkey with an inferiority complex; Auriel is a wily snake who seems to have all the answers. The book weaves a story that addresses racism, intolerance and ignorance through the individual animal species and the concept of the shadowwalker. Black and white chapter illustrations give the reader an idea of what’s coming up, and an author’s note at the end discusses the beauty and importance of the rainforest.

Mez’s Magic received a starred review from Kirkus.

 

Posted in Fiction, Horror, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

A spooky Book Birthday to Spirit Hunters!

Spirit Hunters, by Ellen Oh, (July 2017, HarperCollins), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062430083

Recommended for readers 9-13

Harper Raine is not happy about her parents’ decision to move them from New York to Washington, D.C. She can’t stand the creepy house they’ve moved into, especially when she hears the rumors about it being haunted. When her younger brother, Michael, starts talking about an imaginary friend and undergoes a radical personality change, Harper knows she has to act, even if no one else believes her. The thing is, some of Michael’s behaviors ring familiar bells for Harper, but she can’t put her finger on why. She’s missing chunks of memory from a previous accident – can things be connected?

Ellen Oh’s the founder of the We Need Diverse Books movement, and Spirit Hunters gives readers a wonderfully spooky story, rich in diversity. Harper and her siblings are half Korean; as the story progresses, subplots reveal themselves and provide a fascinating look at Korean culture, and the conflicts that can arise between generations. Harper’s new friend, Dayo, and a helpful spirit named Mrs. Devereux are African-American; Mrs. Devereux in particular provides a chance for discussion on race relations, and how racism doesn’t necessarily end with one’s life. Told in the third person, we also hear Harper’s voice through her “stupid DC journals”; journal entries suggested by her therapist, to help bridge her memory gaps, that show up between chapters. The characters are brilliant, with strong backstories, and two mystery subplots emerge that come together, with the main story, to give readers an unputdownable story that will dare them to turn the lights off at night.

I can’t say enough good things about Spirit Hunters, and neither can other reviewers: the book has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist.

 

Posted in Fiction, Humor, Middle Grade

A rogue 3-D printer and a young artist unleash monsters at school!

Monsters Unleashed, by Jon Kloepfer/Illustrated by  Mark Oliver, (July 2017, HarperCollins), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062290304

Recommended for ages 8-10

Freddie Liddle is anything but. He’s a big guy, bigger than the average fifth grader, and that makes him stand out: right where the bullies can see him. His best friend, Manny, always has his back. In fact, the two buddies were about to create a monster movie based on the bullies; Freddie drew monster versions of each bully, and they used the 3-D printer at school to make models for filming. Holy maker meltdown, though: this printer makes REAL MONSTERS. They’re alive, they’re mean, and they’re GROWING. It looks like Freddie and Manny may need to team up with the very bullies that inspired their monsters in order to take them down and save their town!

Jon Kloepfer’s already got a huge fan following with his Zombie Chasers series; this new series, Monsters Unleashed, is a fun romp that brings a little maker fun into the mix. Freddie’s monster sketches turn into real-life terrible monsters that grow when they get wet, and are even meaner than the bullies they’re modeled after. Bullies get a second chance at redemption when they join Freddie and Manny in the fight, proving that some bullies take a little nudging, but may not be all bad (monster invasion notwithstanding). There’s lots of humor and action here, with fun black and white illustrations to keep kids interested.

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

Kick Foot Academy is back in session: Joey and Johnny, the Ninjas: Epic Fail

epic failJoey and Johnny, The Ninjas: Epic Fail, by Kevin Serwacki/Illustrated by Chris Pallace, (Apr. 2016, Balzer+Bray), $12.99, ISBN: 9780062299352

Recommended for ages 8-12

Things are finally getting back to what passes for normal at the Kick Foot ninja academy: Joey and Johnny’s shoddy reconstruction of the school is saved by a dragon attack (of sorts), leading to a proper rebuilding, and classes are back underway. Joey and Johnny learn, however, that their friend and fellow student, Peoni, is planning a secret tea ceremony – one of the most dangerous things a ninja can attend, let alone plan – to appease the spirits of ninjas who didn’t survive previous tea ceremonies. Joey and Johnny have found their new mission: help Peoni assemble a flawless ceremony while keeping it a secret from the headmaster – the only survivor of a tea party in recent memory – who has forbidden so much as a mention of the event.

This is the second book in The Ninjas series; the first, Joey & Johnny, The Ninjas: Get Mooned, hit stores last year. The series is great for readers who love a frenetically-paced, humorous story. There’s a lot of storytelling thrown in here: pirates vs. ninjas; sentient forests; a fellow student on his own quest, and the determined messenger bird who keeps following him; and a tea ceremony. There are a lot of subplots to keep in the air, but younger readers who like action-packed stories with lots of laughs will gravitate to this series.  Black and white drawings throughout will keep them interested.

The best part of the book for me was the actual tea ceremony: who doesn’t love a tea ceremony, with ghosts, that’s begging to break out in chaos?

A good additional purchase for summer reading, especially; display this with your Big Nate, Bad Kitty, and Timmy Failure books.

 

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

It’s About Love – A new teen romance that hits on strong topics

itsabout loveIt’s About Love, by Steven Camden (Aug. 2015, HarperCollins Children’s Books), $8.99, ISBN: 9780007511242

Recommended for ages 12+

He’s Luke. She’s Leia. They meet in a film class, and the Star Wars connection pops up right away. That’s where the similarities end. They’re from different ends of town, and different social classes. He’s from the wrong side of the tracks, a kid trying to get out of the poor British town and lifestyle he feels trapped in. His brother is just home from prison after spending two years behind bars on an assault charge, and he’s trying to make sense of his life, too. Home life is rough on Luke, but he doesn’t know where to go with his feelings for Leia.

Leia pursues Luke, but their relationship is anything but smooth. She’s got her own baggage, and there’s bound to be conflict with Luke’s past.

The story deals with a lot of topics affecting teens these days. Luke wants out of the circumstances he’s been dealt, and he has the presence of mind to know that more education presents a way out – but at the same time he’s plagued with the fear that he’s got anger management issues – like his brother – that could be tragic if they spin out of control. He’s not sure how to act around Leia, not sure of himself at home, and not at all sure how to feel about or act around his brother. Luke’s parents throw wrenches into the works of his psyche with their relationship, and he discovers that his teacher is an uncomfortable mirror for him, creating a rich and complicated connection.

The story is a solid read, with likable and relatable characters from working-class backgrounds. It’s a smart romance, with the characters working through their feelings in typically teen fashion – lots of angst and analyzing. The Star Wars references are a bonus.

Teens looking for a different kind of read will enjoy It’s About Love for its casual, first-person narration; its introspective storytelling, and its solid character development.