Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

The Monsters of Rookhaven is all about Family

The Monsters of Rookhaven, by Pádraig Kenny/Illustrated by Edward Bettison, (Sept. 2021, Henry Holt), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250623942

Ages 10-14

Mirabelle loves her very unique family: there’s Uncle Bertram, who can transform into a grizzy bear, and Aunt Eliza, entirely made up of spiders. There are the twins, Dotty and Daisy, who can be a little cruel, and Odd, who travels through portals. There’s Gideon, the newest addition to the family, and the mysterious Piglet; and there’s Uncle Enoch, who presides over the group. They have an agreement with the English village that separates them by way of a magical border: they don’t cross the border and eat the townsfolk, and the village keeps them fed and safe from the outside world. But Jem and Tom, two orphaned siblings, discover a tear in the magic and find their way into Rookhaven, with consequences for everyone on both sides of the border.

This book is gorgeous; beautifully macabre and perfect for kids who loved Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. The narration moves swiftly along but is never rushed; it’s deliberate and takes its time creating the world of Rookhaven and the post-War English countryside; we meet a group of people devastated by war and the grief and loss it brings, making them susceptible to the worst type of manipulation. We meet another group of beings, specially gifted but assumed terrible, also suffering from grief and loss, with the added confusion of having two very human children stumble into their secure world and turn things upside down. Pádraig Kenny masterfully brings these elements together with dark humor and gentle moments, tension and terror mixed with wonder and pain. Edward Bettison’s blackwork illustrations add the perfect moodiness to the story. An excellent choice for book groups

The Monsters of Rookhaven is out in hardcover now and will be released in paperback this September, to coincide with the hardcover release of the next Rookhaven book, The Shadows of Rookhaven.

The Monsters of Rookhaven has a starred review from Booklist.

Posted in Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

The Great TBR Read-Down continues: Rhinos in Nebrasks, by Alison Pearce Stevens

Rhinos in Nebraska, by Alison Pearce Stevens/Illustrated by Matt Huynh, (July 2021, Henry Holt & Company), $19.99, ISBN: 9781250266576

Ages 8-12

Twelve million years ago, a supervolcano exploded in what we now call the state of Nebraska; animals who used a nearby watering hole were buried under a blanket of ash, and lay quietly undiscovered for milennia, until 1953, when a 17-year-old farm worker and his father discovered a complete jawbone sticking up out of cliff at a spot called Bone Hill. Rhinos in Nebraska is the story of these animals, the supervolcano that killed them, and the discovery and construction of Ashfall Fossil Beds, where more than 200 perfectly preserved fossils have been uncovered. Author Alison Pearce Stevens worked with Ashfall researchers at the University of Nebraska State Museum as she wrote this story, which reads like adventure fiction, moving back and forth through different time periods to tell the story of this incredible archaeological discovery. Black and white illustrations and photos bring the story to life; the black artwork bringing to mind woodcut artwork that beautifully lends an ancient feel to these prehistoric animals. Alison Pearce Stevens generates emotion as she describes the agonizing deaths caused by the volcanic ash as deftly as she explains how a horse’s hoof evolved from three toes to one for easier movements like pivoting to evade predators. Back matter includes a glossary of terms – bolded in the book’s text – that come up throughout the narrative. There is also an author’s note and additional resources. Essential for ancient history readers.

Author Alison Pearce Steven’s website includes links to fun science videos and to activities related to Rhinos in Nebraska via TeachersPayTeachers.com. You can find more of Matt Huynh’s illustration work at his website. The American Museum of Natural History has a great, printable sedimentary layers puzzle available for free download.

Posted in Non-Fiction, picture books

Simone Biles’ lyrical picture book biography: Flying High

Flying High: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles, by Michelle Meadows/Illustrated by Ebony Glenn, (Dec. 2020, Henry Holt & Co), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250205667

Ages 4-7

A lot of ink has been spilled and a lot of newstime has been spent on Simone Biles, whose withdrawal from several Olympic events this summer has reopened important conversations about mental health. Simone Biles has started a worldwide conversation on performance pressure and anxiety, and, more importantly, the ability to speak up and own that anxiety.

Michelle Meadows and Ebony Glenn’s late 2020 picture book biography, Flying High: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles, touches on some of those moments within the greater story of the champion’s life so far. Told in rhyming verse, the story begins with Ms. Biles and her siblings being adopted by family members, and the moment a rainy day decided her future as a gymnast. It details the rise to her fame, but it also looks at moments like a disappointing defeat when she tried out for the national team: “Crushed by defeat, / she loses her spark. / What will it take / to rise from the dark?” The story doesn’t shy away from her sacrifices, like choosing homeschool over conventional, in-person learning, to make more time for gymnastics, and it returns, time and again, to her incredible drive to succeed. Written before Simone Biles’s Olympics withdrawal, Michelle Meadows had the understanding and the foresight to see and include moments like this in Biles’s story. Ebony Glenn’s digital artwork gives us expressive, photorealistic illustrations of Simone Biles, her family, and her teammates. She beautifully recreates the gymnast’s incredible skill, with Biles twisting, flipping, and landing with grace and style. Her facial expressions communicate volumes, whether it’s her focus, disappointment, worry, or sheer joy. Back matter elaborates on Simone Biles’s early childhood, includes fast facts about the gymnast, and sources for more reading.

Flying High: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles has starred reviews from School Library Journal and Shelf Awareness. Visit Simone Biles’s webpage for more information about the champion, and links to her social media. Her page on the US Gymnastics website lists career highlights, and her page on the Team USA website offers more about her Olympics experience.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Horror, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads

Spooooktastic middle grade: SCARY STORIES FOR YOUNG FOXES

I can’t believe Halloween is THIS WEEKEND. I’ve been booktalking all the spooky books I’ve been reading year-round, in anticipation of this moment!

Scary Stories for Young Foxes, by Christian McKay Heidicker/Illustated by Junyi Wu, (July 2019, Henry Holt & Co.), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250181428

Ages 9-14

A Newbery Honor-winning collection of interconnected stories, Scary Stories for Young Foxes stole the show when it hit shelves in 2019, and it’s still going strong today. Framed by the setting of a storyteller spinning tales for a group of young foxes, the heart of each story involves two kits, Mia and Uly, separated from their litters, and fighting scary creatures to get back. It’s a great concept, because the stories are told for young foxes, putting readers into the mindset of a fox, not a person, and thinking about things that would terrify a young animal, rather than a person, and realizing that we share similar fears. These are stories for older kids – there are some moments that may be tough to read about, including domestic abuse, a witch who wants to wear the kits’ skins, and a very hungry zombie – not fare for kids who are still loving Goosebumps. Think of your Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark fans, maybe a year or two older. Junyi Wi’s illustrations add additional chills. As Kirkus writes, “Dark and skillfully distressing, this is a tale for the bold”.

Scary Stories for Young Foxes has starred reviews from Booklist and the Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Books. You can visit author Christian McKay Heidicker’s author webpage and learn more about his books and school visits, and read his blog.

 

 

Scary Stories for Young Foxes: The City, by Christian McKay Heidicker/Illustated by Junyi Wu, (Aug. 2021, Henry Holt & Co.), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250181442

Ages 9-14

The stories continue in the companion to Scary Stories for Young Foxes! Scary Stories for Young Foxes: The City is back with eight new stories, more gloriously horrifying illustration, and two new foxes. Fox kit 0-730 loves the “old stories” about Mia and Uly, and is desperate for an exciting, adventurous life away from the Farm and what he thinks are the safe, wire dens the foxes inhabit. He escapes his cage to discover the truth behind what’s going on at the Farm, and runs for his life. Cozy is a fox who lives in the suburbs with her skulk, forced to escape her den when a terrifying creature that hunts foxes arrives. Both foxes arrive in The City, a scary new world with scary new dangers awaiting them.

The book can be read on its own as a stand-alone, or as a companion to the first book. Either way, the stories are scary: the kind of scary that creeps like dread as you read, and the heart-pounding panic you experience when you have information that the characters just don’t know (yet). Fans who love Katherine Arden, Mary Downing Hahn and Holly Black will love Scary Stories for Young Foxes and Scary Stories for Young Foxes: The City.

Visit illustrator Junyi Wu’s website to see more amazing artwork.

 

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

Kid-Friendly graphic novels for younger readers

I told you, this is a graphic novel summer! I’m so happy to see graphic novels coming out with younger and newer readers in mind: they helped develop a love of reading in my own kiddo, and I know the littles in my library love them as much as my middle graders do. Let’s take a look at what’s good.

Magic Tree House: Dinosaurs Before Dark Graphic Novel, by Mary Pope Osborne, Adapted by Jenny Laird, Illustrated by Kelly Matthews and Nicole Matthews, (June 2021, Random House Books for Young Readers), $9.99, ISBN: 9780593174715

Ages 6-9

Jack and Annie are headed to graphic novels! The Magic Tree House books have been a staple in libraries for decades; now they’re transitioning to more visual storytelling mediums with graphic novels, starting with the first Magic Tree House adventure, Dinosaurs Before Dark. Jack and Annie discover a treehouse loaded with stacks of books, make a wish to see dinosaurs, and discover that they’re been transported back in time to the prehistoric era! Annie befriends a couple of plant-eaters, they run from a T-Rex, and try to figure out how to get home again. The story translates wonderfully to a graphic novel medium, and the artwork has a manga influence, which makes for big facial expressions; the artwork is colorful and eye-catching. Less dense text relies on visual storytelling, making this even more appealing to emerging and struggling readers. This series is going to be a hit.

Be sure to check out the Magic Tree House Classroom Adventures website, where you can find lesson plans and more resources. The Magic Tree House website has resources for kids and parents, including a Mission Game and Kids Adventure Club.

Fitz and Cleo, by Jonathan Stutzman and Heather Fox, (May 2021, Henry Holt), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250239440

Ages 6-9

The dynamic duo behind the Llama Destroys the World series is doing graphic novels now!! Fitz and Cleo are sheet-wearing ghost siblings who find and adopt a cat they name Mr. Boo. There are 11 bite-sized stories in this first volume; perfect for newly confident readers to pick up and spend time with. Fitz sports a baseball cap and glasses and is more interested in science than cats; Cleo wears a head bow, is cheery and fun, and is always there to support her brother. The two are best friends, with Mr. Boo adding comic relief with his antics, usually aimed at Fitz. Adorable, fun, Fitz and Cleo is a great early graphic novel to add to your younger reader shelves. Download a Fitz and Cleo activity kit right here!

 

Blue, Barry & Pancakes: Escape from Balloonia, by Dan & Jason, (June 2021, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250255563
Ages 4-8
The second Blue, Barry, and Pancakes adventure is just as wacky and fun as the first. Blue and Barry want a day just for themselves, but Pancakes has other plans: she’s made a rocket, and a planet made of balloons, and before Blue or Barry can say a word, they’re zooming off into space, where they’ll find themselves facing a giant Balloonian – a resident of Balloonia, naturally – named Balloon Kong. Will the trio ever get home? Will Blue and Barry ever get their quiet day? You have to read it to find out! This is such a fun series that you can easily start reading with preschoolers. The humor is light, laugh-out-loud funny, and the characters are endearing and adorable.
Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell, by Melanie Watt, (June 2021, Random House Books for Young Readers), $12.99, ISBN: 9780593307557
Ages 6-9
Popular picture book friend, Scaredy Squirrel, makes his graphic novel debut in Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell. Scaredy has successfully secured his tree from wooly mammoths, woodpeckers, lumberjacks, and aliens, but now he’s faced with a seemingly insurmountable foe: his new neighbor, a friendly bunny named Ivy. Scaredy has to weigh all the potential risks and plan for every scenario before deciding whether or not to invite Ivy to share his takeout pizza, and he discovers that having a friend can be pretty fun, after all. If you’re familiar with the Scaredy books, you’ll give a hearty chuckle at seeing Scaredy’s familiar lists for everything. If you’re new to Scaredy, you will be quickly enchanted by how funny and sweet he is. The artwork is adorable, expressive, bold, and eyecatching; there are three easy-to-navigate chapters that advance the story and give readers easy spots to put the book down for a break if they need to. Scaredy Squirrel is a great choice to bring to graphic novels!
Shark and Bot #2: Sleepaway Champs, by Brian Yanish, (June 2021, Random House Books for Young Readers, $9.99, ISBN: 9780593173381
Ages 5-8
The two besties are back in their new adventure, where they head off to sleepaway camp (much to Bot’s chagrin: he wanted to go to Space Camp). Camp Sweet Sunshine is not what the friends expect: Bot is put in a giant bubble because “everyone swims at Camp Sweet Sunshine”; they’re glitter-bombed by another camper, and the bathroom may be haunted. But they have a talent show to practice for, and it’s the one place that has enough privacy! Sleepaway Champs is a funny, cheerful story about summer, friends, and trying new things, sure to make readers smile. The book is organized into 8 chapters, making for easily paced reading with breaks. Author Brian Yanish’s website has loads of resources for caregivers and educators, including a video on how to draw Shark and Bot. Back matter includes instruction on how to draw Batty, Shark’s stuffed wombat, and amusing and interesting facts about wombats.
Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Blog Tour: PAWCASSO by Remy Lai!

If you haven’t yet read and enjoyed Remy Lai’s books, you really must. She has a wonderful way of looking at life, whether it’s finding a way through grief by making cakes (Pie in the Sky), or striking out on one’s own to prove their independence (Fly on the Wall). Her newest book, Pawcasso, is about a lonely girl and a neighborhood dog with a shopping basket who quickly garners a fan club.

Pawcasso, by Remy Lai, (May 2021, Henry Holt BFYR),
$21.99, ISBN: 9781250774484
Ages 8-12

Jo is an 11-year-old girl who has trouble connecting with new friends. As she stares out her window, she’s drawn to a neighborhood dog who trots around, shopping basket in his mouth, stopping at stores and picking up groceries. Everyone seems to know the pup, and, intrigued, Jo follows him, to try and figure out where he lives. People from the neighborhood see Jo following “Pawcasso”, as he’s become known, and assume she’s his owner: chaos ensues as Jo just kind of allows everyone to believe Pawcasso is her dog, including the neighborhood dog catcher, who’s on Pawcasso’s trail after receiving complaints about an unleashed dog in the neighborhood. Jo finds herself in an uncomfortable middle as she’s caught in her own lie, and may have to come clean and risk the new friendships she’s formed, in order to keep Pawcasso from going to the pound.

Remy Lai’s artwork is here in full color, and she brings Pawcasso, Jo, and their little neighborhood to life with friendly, colorful panels. The story will appeal to a wide range of readers, from dog- and pet-lovers, to graphic novel and realistic fiction fans, to readers looking for a good story about friendship, family, and fun.

Pawcasso has starred reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, and Shelf Awareness. Visit Remy Lai’s author webpage for more about her books and to sign up for her newsletter!

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Earth Day Reading: Trillions of Trees!

Trillions of Trees: A Counting and Planting Book, by Kurt Cyrus, (March 2021, Henry Holt), $19.99, ISBN: 9781250229076

Ages 3-6

A young girl makes a call to the local plant pavilion to order a trillium flower, but a hilarious game of telephone leads to the family being put down for an order of a trillion trees! When the first thousand show up, the family bands together to figure out where to put all of them: the yard, the town, the park, everywhere one can imagine, the family’s planting trees of all kinds. When the day is done, the weary family heads home to discover a truck in the driveway… with their next shipment of trees. An environmentally sound counting story with a fun twist, this rhyming tale will have readers giggling and trying to figure out where to put tree upon tree upon tree! It’s a great readalong with books like Kadir Nelson’s If You Plant a Seed. Colorful illustrations show trees of all types, including a giant Sequoia and an apple orchard. Fun family moments show them being overwhelmed by the trees tumbling off the truck, and digging multiple holes across their town. A back page provides fun facts about trees. This list from Brightly includes more books about planting trees, to add to a Hug a Tree display for Earth Day.

Trillions of Trees is a companion to Kurt Cyrus’s 2016 book, Billions of Bricks and has a starred review from School Library Journal.

 

 

Posted in History, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads, Women's History

Celebrate Latinitas!

Latinitas: Celebrating 40 Big Dreamers, by Juliet Menéndez, (Feb. 2021, Henry Holt), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250234629

Ages 8-12

This collection of biographies shines a light on 40 Latinx women from Latin America and the U.S. who have made outstanding contributions across the board: activists and advocates, educators, musicians, scientists, artists, politicians, and so many more. Some names will be familiar: Pura Belpré, Frida Kahlo, and Sonia Sotomayor are all here, as are names that will be new to many readers, like Rosa Peña de González, who built schools for girls in Paraguay; playwright and congresswoman Gumercinda Páez, who helped draft Panama’s new constitution in 1941, with an eye to Afro-Latinx rights and women’s rights; and Wanda Díaz-Merced, a blind astrophysicist who turned data points into rhythm and sound in order to create a “symphony of sounds for the stars, planets, and asteroids”. The women are outstanding, and this collection of stories should be the tip of the iceberg for more research. Hand-painted illustrations have beautiful folk art feel. Endpapers feature additional artwork with flowers representing each of the countries represented in the book. An inspiring collection with comprehensive back matter that includes brief looks at an additional 10 Latin women and full sources.

Latinitas has a starred review from Kirkus. Get a free activity kit and read a Q&A with author-illustrator Juliet Menéndez. Visit Juliet Menéndez’s author website to see more of her gorgeous artwork and more information about her books.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Rabbit! Rabbit! Rabbit! is all about the siblings

Rabbit! Rabbit! Rabbit!, by Loran Scobie, (Feb. 2021, Henry Holt & Co. Books for Young Readers), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250760746

Ages 3-6

Rabbit loves being an only child. There’s so much space, so many carrots, it’s all about Rabbit and for Rabbit… until Rabbit’s parents have some news. A new baby joins the family, and baby wants to be everywhere Rabbit is! As more.. and more… and MORE siblings join the family, Rabbit seeks the advice of Fox, who happily agrees to watch the siblings for while and give Rabbit some space. But wait! FOX has the baby siblings? This sweet, funny story about siblings has an adorable twist ending that readers will love, and moments that everyone with younger siblings will recognize: lack of space, broken possessions, and being followed everywhere, to name a few. Even the title calls to mind the many, many times a sibling can expect a younger sibling to call their name. Inks, watercolor, and pencils come together to create bright, fun illustrations with expressive characters and gentle, colorful nature backdrops. One- and two-sentence spreads make this a great choice for emerging readers, and bold, black text on bright white backgrounds make for easy reading and storytime use. Too much fun for young readers, and a good opportunity to get readers to talk about what makes little brothers and sisters fun.

Posted in picture books

Women to Know: Sarah Gerhardt, Surfer

Sarah and the Big Wave, by Bonnie Tsui/Illustrated by Sophie Diao, (May 2021, Henry Holt & Co), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250239488

Ages 4-8

Sarah Gerhardt, one of the first female big-wave surfers and the first female to surf Mavericks, an infamous big-wave surf break in California, has her moment in this picture book biography. Sarah’s story begins in Hawaii, where she began surfing small waves as a young girl, working her way up to larger waves and finessing her technique. The story touches on the sexism she encountered, and the joy of finding a group of friends to surf with. Working her way from Hawaii to California, Sarah is ready for the next challenge: The Mavericks, also called “Mount Everest meets Niagara Falls”. An inspiring story for young women about meeting challenges, readers will enjoy meeting Sarah Gerhardt. Talk about mindful practices she uses, like breathing and counting, to help readers understand the need to put oneself in a calm frame of mind when up against hurdles in life. Back matter includes a timeline in the history of women and surfing, going back to the 17th century and famed Hawaiian princess Kaneamuna! Illustrations are simply beautiful, with deep blues and greens inviting readers to embrace the ocean, and action shots of Sarah Gerhardt are dynamic.

There are some good resources on Sarah Gerhardt for more discussion. Keep some of these articles handy for anyone interested in learning more: “Sarah Gerhardt on Big-Wave Surfing in a Man’s World” (Outside magazine, 2018);  “Women in the Wild: Sarah Gerhardt” (The Outdoor Project, 2019); “Titans of Mavericks: Sarah Gerhardt” (Titans of Mavericks), and “Sarah Gerhardt: Girl Meets Mavericks (Visit California, 2021).