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).

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

V is for Voting… important ALL YEAR LONG

V is for Voting, by Kate Farrell/Illustrated by Caitlin Kuhwald, (July 2020, Henry Holt & Co), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250231253

Ages 3-6

You may be looking at this title and thinking I’m really late on this one, and I am. But I also see this as a book we need to talk about NOW, because it isn’t just about voting. This ABC-edary is an introduction (or a reminder, for some… giving the eyeglasses librarian look now) to civics and what it takes to be a good citizen. V is just one letter in the alphabet, just like voting is just one part of being a good citizen. Farrell has points to make that everyone should understand and take to heart: “A is for active participation. / B is for building a more equal nation.”; “E for engagement. We all need to care. / F for a free press to find facts and share”. Digital illustrations bring vibrant, diverse communities to the pages of the book, showing communities uniting to march for justice, contributing to local communities, and yes, voting. Back matter includes a voting rights timeline and more information about people featured in the book’s illustrations, like Shirley Chisholm, Malcolm X, Takemoto Mink, and Cesar Chavez.

Essential reading. Go to your library and get a copy now, because we all need to read and discuss this book, whether it’s with our kids or among ourselves.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Santa Baby: Ho, Ho, WHOA

Santa Baby, by Jonathan Stutzman/Illustrated by Heather Fox, (Sept. 2020, Henry Holt & Company), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250255617

Ages 4-8

Jonathan Stutzman and Heather Fox make magic together. The Llama books are some of my favorite picture books ever. Don’t Feed the Coos is hilarious. And now, Santa Baby, gives us a laugh-out loud look at a Christmas wish gone terribly, hilariously, wrong. Santa is tired, folks. He’s feeling every bit of his hundreds and hundreds of years old, and he just doesn’t have the Christmas spirit these days.

We can totally get on board with this, right, grownups? If we’re all feeling 2020, imagine what it’s like to be SANTA. No pressure.

So Santa decides, for once, to make a Christmas wish for himself: He wants to be young again. But, like most wishes, you have to really be specific, or the Powers That Be are going to mess with you. Sure enough, Santa progresses back through time, ending up as a baby. Elves freak out, but Santa, at first, is just fine. But when he tries to communicate this to the elves, all he can blabber is baby talk! He’s a baby, he’s eating the Naughty and Nice list, and the elves are stressed. Santa Baby pulls it together enough to brainstorm a grand plan with the elves to save Christmas, but when Santa falls stumbles down a chimney and falls on that diapered behind, he almost loses it: until Christmas magic shows up, in the most magical of moments, to save the night. A story about the true magic of the season – connection and empathy – makes this a readaloud you’ll want to return to again and again. Jonathan Stutzman’s prose is witty and silly, with a gentle final scene that makes the laughs and stumbles all worth it. Heather Fox’s artwork is a joy, from the stinky Santa diaper to Santa’s regression from old guy, to shirtless lumberjack, to disaffected youth. Illuminated letters add that whimsical holiday wink to the story. Last minute shopping? Put this in your basket, and visit the author and illustrator’s website to download free printable goodies.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Snow Friends are great friends!

Snow Friends, by Margery Cuyler/Illustrated by Will Hillenbrand, (Oct. 2020, Holt Books for Young Readers), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250171313

Ages 3-7

It’s snowing! The ground is covered in white, wonderful snow and Oscar the dog can’t wait to get outside and play! His boy, Matt, however, isn’t quite awake yet, and Oscar can’t find enough to keep busy in the backyard until Matt is ready, so he decides to go off exploring on his own, and makes a new friend while he’s outside. He and Daisy, another dog, play together, make snow dogs and snow angels together, and romp happily through the snow; once Matt and and Daisy’s girl come looking for them, they become snow friends, too! With brief, easy-to-read sentences to help newly independent readers along and hold the attention of lapsitters, Snow Friends is a great readaloud pick. Will Hillenbrand’s mixed media artwork adds warmth even to the bluish-white winter snow, giving a feel for the crisp cold, infused by the warmth of play. Snow Friends celebrates winter, the spirit of play, and the fun of making new friends.

Margery Cuyler is an award-winning author who’s collaborated with award-winning artist Will Hillenbrand. You can visit Margery Cuyler’s author webpage for more information about her books, honors, and photos. Will Hillenbrand’s website has information about his books, a gallery of artwork, and free downloadable, printable activities.

 

Posted in Middle School, Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Riveting nonfiction from two powerhouse authors

 

Strongman: The Rise of Five Dictators and the Fall of Democracy, by Kenneth C. Davis, (Oct. 2020, Henry Holt), $19.99, ISBN: 9781250205643

Ages 13+

Historian Kenneth C. Davis, best known for his Don’t Know Much About… series, takes a deep, disturbing look at authoritarianism and the fall of democracy by examining the reigns of five of history’s most brutal dictators: Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Benito Mussolini, Mao Zedong, and Saddam Hussein are each profiled in Strongman: a term used for leaders who use control by force of will and character or military methods. Profiles of each dictator, timelines of their lives, and a look at the roots of democracy place readers in history. A chapter on a “New Generation of Monsters” is what I can only hope is a wake-up call to the dangers of extreme nationalism, “othering”, and attacks on our everyday freedoms under the guise of “draining swamps” and “making great again”.

Black and white photographs throughout accompany solid research and Kenneth C. Davis’s powerful writing. Profiles on each dictator’s past helps uncover clues that may have led to the murderous tyrants each figure became, both in childhood and historical context.  Relevant and readable, with back matter that provides a base for further reading and research – bibliographies, notes, and an index – Strongman is essential reading for teens and adults.

 

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team, by Christina Soontornvat, (Oct. 2020, Candlewick Press), $24.99, ISBN: 9781536209457

Ages 10-14

In June 2018, a group of 12 young soccer players and their assistant coach entered a cave in northern Thailand, looking for an adventure to pass the time after practice. The heavy rains were still weeks away, and Coach Ekkapol Chantawong had been promising to take them out. But the rain has arrived early, and the cave begins to flood as the team and coach are still inside. What began as an after-practice adventure became a 17-day ordeal as the world waited and watched the rescue operation take place, hoping that the group would emerge all right despite having no food or clean water, and existing in total darkness. Award-winning author Christina Soontornvat tells the Wild Boars’ story in All Thirteen. Meticulously research and reading like a taut thriller, Ms. Soontornvat goes through a day-day-by, moment-by-moment retelling of the boys’ ordeal and rescue and includes interviews, color photos, maps, and detailed source notes. Callout sections on the country and on calming techniques like meditation and Buddhism, the faith followed by most of the boys, help readers understand how the boys drew on their inner strength to survive. Source notes, a bibliography, and full index make this a great addition to your nonfiction collections and fantastic reading for any of your readers who loved and possibly aged out of the I Survived books and wants more books about true-life survival.

All Thirteen has starred reviews from Booklist, School Library Journal, Kirkus, BookPage, The Horn Book, and Publishers Weekly. Publisher Candlewick offers a free, downloadable educator’s guide and sample chapter.