Posted in picture books

Celebrate World Meditation Day with Already a Butterfly

It’s World Meditation Day, and to relax and ease yourself into a meaningful day, I’ve got a gorgeous book to share with you, by Julia Alvarez and Raúl Colón.

Already a Butterfly: A Meditation Story, by Julia Alvarez/Illustrated by Raúl Colón,
(June 2021, Henry Holt), $18.99, ISBN: 9781627799324

Ages 5-9

Mari Posa is a young butterfly who has way too much to do and not enough time to do it: she has to gulp down nectar, pollinate a whole field, do her wing exercises, and then she has her future to think about! There’s just no time to enjoy being a butterfly, or take in the beautiful flowers she meets through her day… Luckily, a flower bud named Bud is there to teach Mari the secret with feeling happy “being just who I am”. Raúl Colón’s watercolor, pencil, and crayon artwork is dreamlike, with gorgeous images of nature and person-butterfly hybrids cascading across the pages. Together, Julia Alvarex and Raúl Colón have created an story with purpose, where a child of color is not only the star of the book, but one who experiences joy simply by acknowledging her own existence. Her name, Mari Posa itself, is a lovely nod to Latinx culture; mariposa is a Spanish term for butterfly. Helpful meditation techniques help lead kids and caregivers through the process, from breathing, to visualization, to being aware of one’s surroundings. I love this beautiful story. Perfect for a yoga and/or mindfulness storytime, before bedtime, or celebrating the beautiful beginning to a new day.

An author’s note on author Julia Alvarez’s own experience with meditation and her granddaughters, while volunteering at the Marisposa DR Foundation, describes her inspiration for Already a Butterfly and includes photos of Ms. Alvarez with her Mariposas in training. Colorful endpapers sprout flowers that readers will want to stop and enjoy again and again.

Print out some copies of the author’s Tips for Meditation, and make them available to your families! If there was ever a time to encourage our kids to practice mindfulness and meditation, this is it.

 

Julia Alvarez (@writerjalvarez) is the author of numerous bestselling and award-winning novels including How the García Girls Lost Their Accents and In the Time of Butterflies, collections of poems, and works of nonfiction as well as picture books. She has won the Pura Belpré Award, the Américas Award, the Hispanic Heritage Award in Literature, the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Outstanding Achievement in American Literature, and the National Medal of Arts.

Raúl Colón (@raul.colon.7140) has illustrated several highly acclaimed picture books, including Draw!; the New York Times-bestselling Angela and the Baby Jesus by Frank McCourt; Susanna Reich’s José! Born to Dance; and Jill Biden’s Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops. Mr. Colón lived in Puerto Rico as a young boy and now resides in New City, New York, with his family.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Brace Yourselves. The Alpacalypse is Here.

Last year, there was a great disturbance in the Force (or something like that) when a Llama ate too much cake, which led to the destruction of the world. This year, Llama, in his quest to avoid housework, has unleashed something so great, so much bigger than all of us, that there may be repercussions for years to come.

Llama Unleashes the Alpacalypse, by Jonathan Stutzman/Illustrated by Heather Fox,
(May 2020, Henry Holt), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250222855

Ages 3-6

I am slightly obsessed with picture books, I’ll be the first to tell you. Llama is one of my latest obsessions. The first book, Llama Destroys the World, is HILARIOUS. Like, my Kiddo and I attempt to read it together where I’m the narrator and he’s the Llama, and we can’t get through it in one shot because we’re laughing so hard. So when I had the chance to receive a copy of Llama Unleashes the Alpacalypse from the publisher, you bet your bippy I said yes. And it is every bit as laugh-out loud funny as the first book.

Llama wakes up one day and decides to make a big breakfast, but with big breakfasts, comes big messes (Llama, Llama, you clean as you go!). Not really on board with cleaning up, he instead creates the Replicator 3000 and invites his friend, Alpaca, who happens to love cleaning, over for lunch. You follow where I’m going? Oh yes. With a mighty ZOOP!, there are two Alpacas. But why stop there? Llama keeps pressing buttons, and Alpacas keep replicating, filled with scrubbing, sweeping, vigor. They take to the streets! They storm the town! No one is safe! The Alpacalypse is here! What will Llama do? And will he have learned his lesson by the end of the book? You have to read it for yourself, but trust me: this is comedy GOLD. Kiddo and I read this one out loud together, too; he cackles his way through both Llama and Alpaca’s voices, and I giggle through the narration. It’s never going to get old, mark me.

The artwork is just so much fun. Big-eyed Llama and Alpaca dance across the pages, their expressive faces really making the text come across even funnier, and the wild, cartoony, bold artwork just invites readers into the fun. Pizzas and cake decorate the endpapers. The only way this would be even more fun is to print out Llama coloring sheets and activities, courtesy of the author and illustrator.

I can’t wait to see what Llama has in store next. A must-add to your storytime collections and heck, your personal ones, even if you don’t have littles. Read it to yourself, you need a laugh today.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

The Great TBR Read-Down Continues: Squint and Pie in the Sky

My middle grade TBR read-down continues with two more great books, both realistic fiction: Squint, by Chad Morris and Shelly Brown, the duo that gave us Mustaches for Maddie; and Pie in the Sky, by Remy Lai. Let’s dive in!

 

Squint, by Chad Morris & Shelly Brown, (Oct. 2018, Shadow Mountain Publishers), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1629724850

Ages 9-13

Flint is a middle schooler who loves to draw and loves superheroes. He’s creating a comic starring his kinda sorta superhero alter ego, Squint, who fights the villains who used to be his buddies, with the help of his rock dog. Flint’s been nicknamed Squint by his former best friend, because he has keratoconus, an eye disease that could leave him blind. Raised by his grandparents, Squint copes with his frustration through his comic, but when he meets McKell – a Filipina with a terminally ill brother who puts up YouTube challenges, daring others to live the life that he can’t – he may just have made a real friend again, after all.

Squint is a beautifully written book of grief, loss, and coping. It’s as much McKell’s story as it is Flint’s, and Chad Morris and Shelly Brown have created another sensitive, compelling story about kids coping with illness, and about the adults who are there to shepherd these kids through the heavy stuff. Flint’s grandparents have had to raise their grandson because their daughter couldn’t; they’ve given Flint the best they could with what they’ve had, and they’ve been the ones to see him through the multiple doctor appointments, and, now, surgery. McKell’s parents are working through grief and loss, and sometimes, that takes a toll on their daughter. Flint and McKell find in each other someone who may not understand, but who gets it, if that makes sense. They push each other to be their best, and when they combine their talents – Flint, with his art, and McKell, with her rhyming and songwriting – they shine.

Squint is a great addition to your middle grade fiction collections. It’s got realistic characters with strong backstories, and deals with real world issues like abandonment, grief, loss, illness, and navigating the aggravations of middle school.

 

Pie in the Sky, by Remy Lai, (May 2019, Henry Holt & Co), $21.99, ISBN: 978-1-250-31410-9

Ages 8-12

Twelve-year-old Jingwen, his younger brother, Yanghao, and his mother leave China for Australia, but this wasn’t the original plan. They were supposed to move to Australia with Jingwen’s and Yanghao’s father, so he could open his dream bakery, Pie in the Sky. But Jingwen’s father died in a car accident almost two years ago, and Jingwen is wracked with guilt over events leading up to his father’s death. When they arrive in Australia, he feels like everyone around him is speaking Martian, but that he’s the alien – especially with little Yanghao seems to fit right in, quickly learning English and making friends. To deal with his grief and his frustration with his new life in Australia, Jingwen decides he’s going to make all the cakes he and his father talked about making for Pie in the Sky. Yanghao is only too happy to have cake every night, and Jingwen sets to work while his mother works. After all, cake makes everything better, right?

I LOVED Pie in the Sky. It’s a graphic novel within a novel, with 2-color illustrations on almost every page, that keep the action moving and keep readers invested in the story. When Jingwen tells readers he feels like an alien, we see that he’s an alien! He’s drawn as an alien for every time someone can’t understand him; on the occasions where he successfully speaks a word or two of English, a fourth eye will disappear, or something else will make him slightly more human. But all around him, people speaking English – including his brother and mother – may as well be an alien language, something we see as Remy Lai brilliantly illustrates a single word here and there, surrounded by alien glyphs in speech bubbles. Remy Lai creates a moving story about a family working through grief and loss, but each seem to be in isolation, when they need to come together to move on. Jingwen’s fear and frustration at being in a new country, speaking an unfamiliar language, comes across through prose and illustration, making him even more likable and empathetic. Jingwen and Yanghao have an realistic sibling relationship, with ups and downs, general silliness, and the love the always manages to shine through. Kids will love how they call each other – and anyone who annoys them, really – a “booger”.  Pie in the Sky works as a humorous and touching look at a family working their way through a tragedy. The tasty recipe at the end encourages families to bake together – because cake really does make everything better.

Pie in the Sky has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Tough Cookie: A Christmas Story puts a heck of a spin on The Gingerbread Man!

Tough Cookie: A Christmas Story, by Edward Hemingway, (Sept. 2018, Henry Holt), $17.99, ISBN: 9781627794411

Ages 4-8

A cookie bursts out of a bakery oven and races across town, a curious fox hot on his heels. But when Fox catches up with Cookie and chomps down – YUCK! – he tastes AWFUL! Offended, Sugar Cookie protests, then bursts into tears, prompting Fox to bring Cookie to a spa to be sweetened up. No dice. He still tastes terrible. After a trip to the local park, Cookie discovers the truth: he’s not a cookie at all, but rather, an ornament of a gingerbread cookie! He’s even got a little hole in his head, all ready for a ribbon to thread through. Now that Cookie knows “what he was made of”, he’s thrilled, and happily joins his new friends on the Christmas tree in the center of the park. And he’s still sassy.

Shades of Jon Scieszka’s The Stinky Cheese Man can be found at the beginning and end of this fun holiday story, as Sugar Cookie takes off from the bakery, Fox in pursuit, singing, “Run, run, as fast as you can! You can’t catch me – I’m the Sugar Cookie Man!” When he’s on the tree, he changes his tune and sings, “Look, look, look at me! You can’t reach me – I’m an ornament on a tree!” Tough Cookie is a light, fun, holiday story with a nice message about self-discovery and acceptance. Edward Hemingway’s artwork gives humorous support to his words, giving us an expressive, cartoony duo that can’t figure out whether to work together or turn on each other. Poor Fox isn’t all bad, though – he tries to help Sugar Cookie out with a spa day, after all; the sigh of the two sitting in a giant mug of egg nog, being sprinkled with powdered sugar, is a sight to behold. Endpapers get in on the fun, with big-eyed ice cream cones, candy canes, shakes, and ornaments, all seemingly hanging out; some, even flirting with one another (looking at you, spoon and ice cream).

There’s a recipe for kids (and their grownups) to make their own Tough Cookies – both edible and ornamental! – at the end. Psst… make copies to have on hand so your books don’t get mangled. For in-house programming, Edward Hemingway has us covered with free printable Tough Cookie gift tags and a printable ornament that requires no cooking or baking whatsoever.

Tough Cookie is a fun way to slip into the holiday spirit. Add this one to your storytime and holiday collections, and naturally, read with Jon Sciezka’s The Stinky Cheese Man. Want a copy to call your very own? Keep reading!

Edward Hemingway is the creator of Field Guide to the Grumpasaurus, Bad Apple: A Tale of Friendship, and Bump in the Night, as well as the illustrator of My Miserable Life by F.L. Block. He has written features in GQ magazine and comics for Nickelodeon Magazine, and his artwork has been published in The New York Times. The youngest grandson of Ernest Hemingway, he lives in Montana. To learn more, and for some fun downloadable activities, visit his website:edwardhemingway.com.

Want a copy of Tough Cookie to call your very own? Just head on over to this Rafflecopter giveaway!

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Lost Boys chronicles the Iran-Iraq War through a boy soldier’s eyes

Lost Boys, by Darcey Rosenblatt, (Aug. 2017, Henry Holt & Co), $16.99, ISBN: 9781627797580

Recommended for readers 9-14

Twelve year-old Reza is a musical prodigy living in 1982 Iran. He lives with his widowed, fundamentalist mother, and craves visits from his Uncle Habib; a member of the resistance, he also encourages Reza’s love of music by slipping him cassettes of artists from Stevie Wonder to Thelonious Monk. His mother pushes him to join the war effort, telling him she would be proud to have her son die in service of Allah. Reza wants nothing to do with the conflict, but when his uncle is killed and his best friend, Ebi, signs up to serve, Reza feels he has nothing left without his best friend, and signs on. He and Ebi receive their “keys to heaven” – plastic keys that serve as symbols that they will achieve paradise when they die in service to Iran and the Ayatollah – and are sent into battle. War is not the glorious battle that Ebi dreamed about; it’s not full of exciting moments like he and Reza have seen in the movies. The boys are fodder for the minefields – tied together and sent into battle to clear the way for older troops. Reza is injured and sent to a prisoner of war camp, where he meets other boys his age and desperately tries to learn Ebi’s fate as he endures abuse at the hands of a sadistic prison guard.

I couldn’t put Lost Boys down, choosing instead to disregard my normal sleep schedule until I finished the last page. Reza is a heart-achingly real character based on far too many child soldiers. He and his classmates are promised glory and fed lies; in the end, all he lives for is the hope that he’ll be reunited with his best friend and live to enjoy music again. Set in 1982, the story is more relevant now than ever, as children are still pressed into service all over the world. Booktalk Lost Boys with Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis for tween and teen readers; booktalk with Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War, by Jessica Dee Humphreys and Michel Chikwanine to illustrate the worldwide epidemic of using children as combatants. This article from Global Citizen shines a light on seven countries that still use child soldiers, and what we can do to help stand against the practice.

Lost Boys is an important book that sparks outrage and empathy, and is a must-add for collections. I’d love to see this on next summer’s reading lists.

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

I’m a CYBILS Judge!

cybils

I can finally talk about it! I’m thrilled to be a CYBILS judge again, returning to the Middle Grade Speculative Fiction category. There have been SO many great books published, and I’ll be diving into the finalists this time around, as a second round judge. Wanna see who’s up for the award? Take a look, and adjust your TBRs accordingly.

grace-lin

When the Sea Turned to Silver, by Grace Lin, (Oct. 2016, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), $18.99, ISBN: 978-0316125925

Inspired by Chinese folklore, this companion to the Newbery Honor Winner, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, is the story of a girl on a mission to save her kidnapped grandmother.

voyage-to-magical-north

The Voyage to Magical North, by Claire Fayers, (July 2016, Henry Holt & Co.), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1627794206

An orphan keeps house for an irritable magician and his equally obnoxious apprentice, and ends up accidentally becoming a pirate.

smallbone

The Evil Wizard Smallbone, by Delia Sherman, (Sept. 2016, Candlewick), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0763688059

A boy runs away from his uncle’s home, discovers a bookstore run by a self-proclaimed Evil Wizard who won’t let him leave, but calls him his apprentice.

shadow-magic

Shadow Magic, by Joshua Khan, (April 2016, Disney-Hyperion), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1484732724

An outlaw’s son is sold into slavery. A girl is the last surviving member of her family, a line of dark sorcerers. Together, they’ll break the rules.

memory-thief

The Memory Thief, by Bryce Moore, (Sept. 2016, Adaptive Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9781945293030

This was published as a Barnes & Noble exclusive in 2016, but is being published in wide release this March.

Twins wander off at a county fair; Benji, the brother, wanders into a tent where he meets an old man who collects memories. He asks to train as a Memory Thief and ends up on an adventure.

goblin-puzzle

The Goblin’s Puzzle: Being the Adventures of a Boy with No Name and Two Girls Called Alice, by Andrew Chilton, (Jan. 2016, Knopf Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0553520705

A fantasy adventure filled with dragons, goblins, and puzzles.

firefly-code

The Firefly Code, by Megan Frazer Blakemore, (May 2016, Bloomsbury USA), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1619636361

When a new girl moves to Firefly Lane, a girl and her friends start questioning everything they’ve known.

 

I’ll recap after we select a winner!

 

 

 

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

Are you a Book Scavenger? Read, Play, and Find Out!

bookscavengerBook Scavenger, by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman (June 2015, Henry Holt), $16.99, ISBN: 9781627791151

Twelve year-old Emily is on the move again. Her unconventional parents are on a quest to live in all 50 states, so she and her brother don’t get a chance to put roots down anywhere. This move takes them to San Francisco, where Emily’s idol-Garrison Griswold, book publisher and creator of the game Book Scavenger-lives. Shortly after arriving, she and her new friend James discover a strangely new copy of the classic Edgar Allan Poe story, The Gold Bug; they learn that Griswold has been viciously attacked and is in the hospital, and people start showing an unusual interest in her copy of The Gold Bug. Could there be a connection?

This is a new spin on the middle grade mystery, with a real-life tie in that’s interesting and brings kids into the world of The Book Scavenger. Influenced by the online site Book Crossing, where you leave books for people and record where you’ve left and discovered books, Book Scavenger creates a game where you can attain levels of detective-dom by finding books and hiding books using clues to lead your fellow players to them. Chambliss and publisher Henry Holt have brought Book Scavenger to life, hiding advance review copies of Book Scavenger all over the country and inviting readers to locate them – go to http://bookscavenger.com/ to get on board and join the fun!

There is some great discussion on cryptography and hidden codes used in the book – James and Emily are fans that bring the practice into their school after being caught passing notes – and the book becomes a true whodunit, with readers trying to figure out who could have been behind the attack on Garrison Griswold, and more importantly, what is the secret of The Gold Bug? The characters are likable, even if Emily does become frustrating in her single-mindedness over solving the mystery at points, and Book Scavenger makes for exciting summer reading.

Check out Jennifer Chambliss Bertman’s author page for updates on what she’s working on.

 

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Dear Hank Williams: A young girl copes with life through letters.

cover55692-mediumDear Hank Williams, by Kimberly Willis Holt (April 2015, Henry Holt & Co.) $16.99, ISBN: 9780805080223

Recommended for ages 9-13

Tate Ellerbee is a sweet kid living in rural Louisiana in 1948. She’s a big fan of Hank Williams, a country-western singer she’s started hearing on the radio show, Louisiana Hayride, so she writes him a fan letter, telling him that she’s chosen him to be her pen pal in a class project introduced by her teacher. She lives with her aunt and uncle – her mother’s siblings – and tells Hank Williams all about her life as she waits for him to respond.

The thing is, things aren’t as wonderful for Tate as she initially lets on. Writing these letters to Hank becomes a kind of journal, helping Tate cope with events in her life. Through these letters, we see a vulnerable but determined young lady emerge, someone who’s dealt with more than most children should have heaped on them, but who’s determined to push back and smile at life.

This book started out, for me, as a cute piece about a young fan developing a one-sided crush on a celebrity – totally relatable! – and became much deeper than that. We get a view of a celebrity on the rise from the fan’s point of view, and we see the impact of history on a younger community that didn’t fight the war, but were affected by it – the kids. One of Tate’s classmates is excited to have a pen pal from Japan, which doesn’t sit well with another classmate or, initially, with Tate. There’s solid character development and storytelling here, with three big elements: Tate’s story, Hank Williams’ rise to fame, and the pen pal project – all blending together to tell a good story that will satisfy fiction readers.

Hank Williams is experiencing a resurgence in popularity, with the biopic I Saw the Light hitting theatres later this year. It’s a great time to start talking up this book and playing some of Williams’ music – Tate mentions a few in Dear Hank Williams that could serve as a nice link back to the book.

Kimberly Willis Holt is an award-winning author of children’s literature, including a National Book Award for When Zachary Beaver Came to Town.  Her author website offers teacher resources for many of her books, writing tips, and school visit information.