Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Itty-Bitty-Kitty-Corn will steal your heart

Itty-Bitty Kitty-Corn, by Shannon Hale/Illustrated by LeUyen Pham, (March 2021, Abrams Books for Young Readers), $18.99, ISBN: 9781419750915

Ages 4-8

An adorable pink, fluffy kitten is positive she’s a unicorn. She feels like one on the inside, so she must be… a Kitty-Corn! Her friends, a parakeet and a gecko, insist that there’s no way she’s anything other than a cat -she meows in her sleep, after all! – , When a unicorn shows up to change all of that by saying that he, too, feels like a Kitty-Corn, these two new friends see one another for who they really are. Adorably illustrated, with just too-cute, huggable, expressive animals, Itty-Bitty Kitty-Corn is a story of identity and seeing others for who they really are. A spread where Kitty tells Unicorn, “I see you” is beautiful; a lovely statement on visibility and existence; of knowing yourself and seeing others – and most importantly, letting others know that you see them.  Cheerful, appealing characters and a lovely story flow make this a great storytime read-aloud. Publisher Abrams has a free activity kit with coloring pages. Consider this book, and Lulu is a Rhinoceros, for Visibility Days storytimes and displays.

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

I start #MGMarch with Fly Back Agnes

Fly Back Agnes, by Elizabeth Atkinson, (March 2020, Carolrhoda), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-5415-7820-3

Ages 10-13

It’s Middle Grade March (#MGMarch on social media), and I’m working my way through some incredible Middle Grade in my pile. Let’s start with Elizabeth Atkinson’s Fly Back, Agnes; a book I did not want to put down.

Agnes is a 12-year-old living in Vermont with her mother, who Agnes sees as a “bulldozer” that just rolls over everything in her path. Agnes is frustrated by her mother’s pushiness and opinions about Agnes’s clothes and imminent “becoming a woman”; she really isn’t crazy about her mother’s mumbling artist boyfriend, Richard, and Richard’s weird and obnoxious kid, George. She misses her father, who lives in a nearby town, where he’s a cellist and teaches at a university. She misses her sister, Viva, who’s pulled away from their family entirely. She feels betrayed by her best friend, Megan, who’s become enchanted with the new mean girl, Lux. So when her mother announces that they’re moving to Kansas for the summer, for a project Richard’s been hired to do – despite Agnes having made plans to work at an animals shelter – she has had it. It all starts with a white lie, so she can spend the summer with her dad, who’s housesitting for a friend. She’s thrilled to have the summer with her father, but he’s finishing up his dissertation, so he doesn’t have a lot of time to spend with her, leaving Agnes to wander the town and decide to take on a persona that isn’t Agnes at all. She becomes Chloe, an actress-dancer 14-year-old who has the life Agnes desperately wants. Even as she makes friends in town – a young woman named Stella, Stella’s grandmother, Birdie, and a cute 15-year-old named Fin – the lies get bigger and deeper. Agnes wants to tell them the truth, especially as each reveals their own secrets to her, but she just can’t seem to find a way out.

Two major themes in Fly Back, Agnes are secrets and identities. Agnes is struggling with her identity because she’s on the cusp of “womanhood” – getting her period – something that, for her, is a sign that her childhood is over. She sees her visit to her father as a chance to escape the life she’s in, and tries a new identity on for size while she’s away. Being the main character, she’s the most fleshed out: biracial, with a part-Korean father and American mother, she has her mother’s freckles and curly red hair and her father’s skin tone. Her friends are ready to take on the tween/teen mantle, consumed with their smartphones and appearances, and it feels like a betrayal to Agnes, especially when she overhears mean girl Lux talking with them behind Agnes’s back at a sleepover. Stella and Fin have their own secrets, but they haven’t created a new persona: their identities are wrapped up in their secrets, and their trust in Agnes makes her feel guilty. Agnes’s parents are less fleshed out but have enough background to give us a pretty good picture of them. I wanted to learn more about Viva, but she and Megan were both there to give Agnes more depth, and ultimately, that was fine with me.

Fly Back, Agnes, has great pacing, good characters, and is a story I can’t wait to booktalk to my middle graders. It’s relatable, with (mostly) likable characters, and an interesting mini-plot with rehabilitating wild birds. It’s a good add to your realistic fiction collections.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

March graphic novels look at the power of relationships

The Breakaways, by Cathy G. Johnson, (March 2018, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781626723573

Ages 8-12

This Bad News Bears of Soccer story stars Faith, a child of color who joins her school team at the urging of Amanda, one of the school’s popular girls. Thinking it’s a great way to make new friends, Faith signs up, only to discover that there are different soccer teams, and she’s been put on the Bloodhounds, which is made of up the lousiest players in the school. They may be horrible at soccer, but the group gradually comes together to form a tight friendship unit, and that’s the heart of the story.

There’s a fantastic diversity among the group. There are queer characters, including one who’s transitioning, and characters of color. The storyline is moved forward by each character’s quest for identity and acceptance within their families and the group, making for some deeply heartfelt moments. It’s a book about friendship, self-awareness, and acceptance, set in a middle school – often a battleground for kids who want to stand out without being “different”.

This one’s a must-add to your shelves. Talk this one up to your Lumberjanes fans.

The Mary Sue has a great write-up and preview of The Breakaways, and you can visit author/illustrator Cathy G. Johnson’s website for more info.

Kiss Number 8, by Colleen AF Venable/Illustrated by Ellen T. Crenshaw, (March 2018, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781596437098

Ages 12+

Mads is a Catholic school teen who whose dad is her best friend. They go to minor league baseball games together, watch TV shows together, and generally just hang out together. It rocks her world when she discovers that her dad is hiding a secret, and it couldn’t have come at a harder time: Mads is also discovering that she may be attracted to her friend, Cat.

Kiss Number 8 looks at a sexual awakening within a close Catholic family. Mads tries out different kisses with different guys, trying to feel something, because her wilder friend, Cat – the archetypal Catholic school bad girl – encourages it, and it’s because what Mads feels like she’s supposed to do. While she torments herself over what she thinks her father’s hiding, she and Cat fall out, and the rumor mill goes wild, leading Mads to admit to her feelings and attractions to herself, and to Cat. Once Mads accepts herself, she has to deal with her father’s secret, his reaction to her emerging identity, and his overall mindset; luckily, she has support from a place she never dreamed of.

I really enjoyed Kiss Number 8. The characters are real, and Mads’ struggle with her own identity and sexuality works seamlessly with the family secret, revealed in all of its emotional pain. Mads has to come to realizations about herself, her relationships, and her own father, in order to move forward, but she’s a smart heroine that navigates these challenges to come out on top. Kiss Number is an exploration of teen sexuality, families, and relationships. A necessary book for your collections.

Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw‘s websites both offer some sneak peeks at Kiss Number 8 and their additional work.

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

Reckless Club “remixes The Breakfast Club for the Instagram generation”

The Reckless Club, by Beth Vrabel, (Oct. 2018, Running Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780762490400

Ages 9-13

I had to use Kirkus’ line in that opening, because how more perfect can one describe a book? Beth Vrabel, one of my favorite middle grade authors, reaches back into one of the movies that defined my generation and brought it back, with a few nips and tucks, to inspire a new generation. We take one group: a Nobody (Jason), a Drama Queen (Lilith), a Flirt (Wes), an Athlete (Ally, also known as “Sports Barbie”), and a rebel (Rex) all come together at a retirement home one day in the late summer. Each has done something so wrong in their last year of middle school that they’ve got to spend the last Saturday before high school here, helping elderly patients and their principal’s sister, who oversees the home. Each teen is paired with an elder, and their personalities quickly emerge, as does a mystery: is one of the nurse’s stealing from the patients?

The book has wonderful callouts to The Breakfast Club, meaning I’ll get to booktalk this to some of my parents, too. We Gen Xers never get tired of ’80s nostalgia! But the story is so much more than that. Beth Vrabel has the dual gifts of dialogue and character development, giving readers a voraciously readable story that delves into LGBTQ+, self-esteem and acceptance, and race matters.

I love Beth Vrabel’s books. I feel good at the end of a Beth Vrabel story, and I feel like people can and still want to make a difference when I read a Beth Vrabel story. She tells realistic stories about kids we could see in our classrooms, our libraries, and at our dinner tables every day, and provides insights that we may not even realize we’re overlooking. That handsome class president with the dimples may not have it as easy as you think. The drama queen that throws a hissy fit may have hit her last straw with an awful teacher. That star athlete may have something really unhealthy pushing her to excel. It reminds us, as adults, as well as middle graders and tweens, that everyone has something going on under the surface. A final note, a la the Breakfast Club, sums up the group’s experiences of the day, and we can only hope that The Reckless Club has another adventure in store for us soon.

Visit Beth Vrabel’s website for study guides, news about her other books, and info about school visits.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Doesn’t matter what you think you see, Lulu is a Rhinoceros.

Lulu is a Rhinoceros, by Jason Flom & Allison Flom/Illustrated by Sophie Corrigan, (June 2018, Wicked Cow Studios), $16.99, ISBN: 9780692070987

Ages 4-7

Lulu may look like an bulldog to you and me, but when she looks in the mirror, she sees a rhinoceros. In her heart, her fluffy, soft fur is really thick skin, and her nubby little tail is actually whiplike. The only thing she needs is a horn: then everyone will know she’s really a rhino! But as she searches for her horn, others laugh at her and cruelly mock her; her Cinderella-like search for the perfect horn takes a few sweet, giggle-worthy turns, especially at the ice cream cart. When Lulu wanders into a rhino enclosure at a zoo, she meets a friend who uses common sense to see her for who she is, and they come together to form a mutually beneficial, wonderful, friendship.

This sweet story is perfect for everyone: in addition to addressing gender identity, Lulu speaks to readers who don’t feel like they quite fit in; readers who don’t want to go with the crowd. The message is strong: be true to yourself. It also extols the virtue of finding – or being – that one friend who can see through the exterior to who you are inside. The softly drawn artwork has muted colors, bringing a sense of calm to the story and allows readers to focus on Lulu’s internal dialogue. The story addresses social issues like introspection, friendship, social issues, tolerance, and yes, gender identity, and I love it. A portion of all the proceeds from sales of Lulu is a Rhinoceros are being donated to the African Wildlife Foundation to help protect Africa’s endangered wildlife and their habitat, so you’re doing two good deeds by buying the book! There’s an interview with authors Jason and Allison Flom (with real-life Lulu!) on the African Wildlife Foundation’s webpage. Pair this one with Bow-Wow Meow, by Blanca Lacasa.

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

What if Mulan traveled to the Underworld? Reflection tells the story!

Reflection (A Twisted Tale), by Elizabeth Lim, (March 2018, Disney Book Group), $17.99, ISBN: 9781484781296

Recommended for readers 10+

What if Mulan had gone very differently? What if Captain Shang was mortally wounded in his battle with Shan Yu, and was dying? In this latest Disney Twisted Tale, Mulan travels to the Diyu, the underworld, to bargain with ruler King Yama for Shang’s life. ShiShi, the Li family guardian lion, accompanies Mulan, but finding Shang is only part of the quest: they have to make their way through Diyu before dawn, and demons, ghosts, and ancestors are at every turn. Mulan is still disguised as Ping, which causes more stress as Mulan wrestles with her own identity and Shang’s trust.

This is my first Twisted Tale, but it is not going to be my last! I loved this different takes on one of my favorite beloved Disney movies. Author Elizabeth Lim keeps the essence of what makes Mulan such a strong, favorite character: her inner strength is tempered by her introspection and moments of self-doubt, making her at once relatable and inspirational; her daring and confidence and her incredible heart, make her one of the most memorable Disney women in print and on the screen. Shang is along for the ride here, but goes through his own moments of self-awareness. ShiShi is Shang’s guardian and counselor and brings some well-timed humor to the story (Mushu doesn’t play as big a part in Reflection, but he is there!). Reflection has the spectacle of a big-screen release, with the space to bring internal conflict to the fore. I loved it, and so will your Disney readers. Grab the set, if you don’t have them yet, and put them in the hands of your fantasy readers. Let them know that Ursula’s up next, with September’s Part of Your World.

Posted in Preschool Reads

Meet Petra, a rock with Zen

Petra, by Marianna Coppo, (Feb. 2018, Tundra Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9780735262676

Recommended for readers 4-8

Meet Petra. She’s an eternal, unmoving mountain. But, wait – a dog picks Petra up and brings her to its owner, who tosses her into a bird’s nest. No worries. She’s an egg, loaded with potential, once she hatches. Oops, nope… Mama Bird has returned, and tosses Petra into a lake. No problem. She’s an amazing island! Oh… now, she’s in a young girl’s room, where she’s transformed… into something new and exciting. You see, Petra isn’t stressed about it: she’s all about the present; experiences; potential and becoming. And that’s what makes this book, and this rock, such a wonderful read. Petra is along for the journey, not the destination. She is laid back, and lives in the moment. She’s happy with herself and in whatever situation she finds herself, because she’s able to find the excitement and joy – thanks, in part, to her vivid imagination – in everything. Can you think of a better outlook?

This is a great book to read to kids, especially preschoolers, who are still learning to transition from one task to another. It allows for a lot of interactivity: ask questions like, do you think Petra is a mountain? Is that a really, really big dog? What do you think will happen next? Where do you think Petra will go next? Let them draw their own Petras, and see where their imaginations take them. Talk to them about emotions and feelings: is Petra angry when she gets picked up and moved? What does she do? Talk about being positive and seeing new experiences as an exciting adventure.

The artwork is just adorable. It reminds me a bit of Jon Klassen’s artwork, which drew me to the cover in the first place. It’s rendered in digital collage, pastels, and tempera, giving a soft, textured feel to Petra and her surroundings. The endpapers look like close-ups of rock, inviting readers to guess what they’re looking at before we start the story. Think of this as Zen Shorts for the preschool set.

I’m going to read this one during my yoga storytime, for sure. Petra has starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus. You can see more of Marianna Coppo’s illustration at her Tumblr. Originally published in Italian, Petra is available in English in February.

 

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Realistic Fiction

Meet The Kelly Twins!

Second graders Arlene and Ilene are The Kelly Twins: twins with two different birthdays! (One was born at 11:55 pm on July 17th, the other at 12:03 am on July 18th.) They look alike and they dress alike; they even share a bedroom. They’re in two separate classes at school, but otherwise, they’re always together.

In Arlene and Ilene’s first book, The Two and Only Kelly Twins, the twins get matching identical pet ferrets, which they dress alike (naturally), get a little jealous when a set of triplets arrives at their school, and learn that being an identical twin, wearing an identical Halloween costume, isn’t the greatest thing for trick-or-treating. They also learn what it’s like to be separated, when Arlene has to be hospitalized with appendicitis – and that makes them not exactly alike anymore!

Double or Nothing With the Two and Only Kelly Twins is the newest Kelly Twins story. In Double or Nothing, the twins continue exploring what makes them different, from getting a haircut to learning that friends with siblings look forward to time on their own, away from their sisters and brothers.

Fans of Johanna Hurwitz’s Monty series will be happy to see that he shows up in the Kelly Twins books. The Kelly Twins books are perfect for fans of Ivy and Bean, Judy Moody, Anna Branford’s Violet Mackerel books, and Cherise Mericle Harper’s Just Grace. I’d include some diverse chapter books, like Hilary McKay’s Lulu series, the Katie Woo and Ruby Lu books, Monica Brown’s Lola Levine series, and Karen English’s Nikki and Deja books. There are so many great chapter books that boys and girls love that you can feature here, this is just a smattering! (I may have to do a longer book list on this…) Parents and educators can download a curriculum guide here!

 

Tuesday Mourning’s black and white illustration are adorable and really give each twin her own personality, highlighting subtle differences between the two. She also puts ferrets in sweaters and skirts: who wouldn’t love that?

The Two and Only Kelly Twins, by Johanna Hurwitz, (Sept. 2013, Candlewick Press), $14.99, ISBN: 978-0763656027

Double or Nothing with the Two and Only Kelly Twins, (Apr. 2017, Candlewick Press), $14.99, ISBN: 978-0763688080

Recommended for readers 6-9

Double Fun Giveaway!
One lucky winner has a chance to receive both books featuring the Kelly twins–The Two and Only Kelly Twins AND Double or Nothing With the Two and Only Kelly Twins! (U.S. addresses only, please). Check out this Rafflecopter giveaway to enter!

Johanna Hurwitz is a former children’s librarian and the award-winning author of more than seventy books for children, including The Two and Only Kelly Twins and four books about Arlene and Ilene’s friend Monty, who lives on their street. Ms. Hurwitz divides her time between Great Neck, New York, and Wilmington, Vermont. To learn more, visit her website: johannahurwitz.com.

 

 

Posted in Animal Fiction, Preschool Reads

Bow-Wow-Meow takes a sensitive look at identity

Bow-Wow-Meow, by Blanca Lacasa/Illustrated by Gómez, (May 2017, nubeOCHO), $16.95, ISBN: 978-84-94515-7-5

Recommended for readers 4-8

Fabio’s a dog that really isn’t into doggish things. He doesn’t play fetch, he doesn’t roll over to have his belly tickled, he doesn’t wag his tail, and he doesn’t bark. His family tries to teach him how to act like a dog: they throw sticks, they roll around on the floor, and they bark at him. Fabio is uninterested. One night, Max, a little boy in the family, discovers that Fabio is going out at night, and follows him: right into a group of cats engaging in very catlike behavior, from coughing up hairballs to playing cards (hey, are you with your cat 24/7?). Max can’t believe how happy Fabio is as he sharpens his claws, climbs drainpipes, chases mice, and bow-wow-meows along with his feline friends. The next morning, when Max’s parents try to get Fabio to act like a dog, Max quietly acknowledges Fabio, making him the happiest member of his family.

Recognition and visibility are important. When Max acknowledges Fabio, when he sees Fabio for who he really is, Fabio’s whole world changes; Max’s world widens that much more. Bow-Wow-Meow sensitively handles identity and diversity for young readers. By telling Fabio’s story using dogs and cats, kids are entertained and enlightened in a sweet, fun way that leaves the pathways open for discussion again and again. Gómez’s bold artwork is fun and expressive and will appeal to storytime audiences. Younger readers may struggle with some pages, where the black text is superimposed over a dark background.

I’d love to read this with Jules Feiffer’s Bark, George, for a good storytime on diversity and animals. You can also display and pair this with books like Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress, by Christine Baldacchino, or Jacob’s New Dress, by Sarah and Ian Hoffman. Mothering.com has a good article with recommendations for kids’ books that defy gender.

Posted in Early Reader, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Blog Tour: Beautiful, by Stacy McAnulty

beautiful_1Beautiful, by Stacy McAnulty, (Sept. 2016, Running Press), $16.95, ISBN: 978-0-7624-5781-6

“Every girl is unique, talented, and lovable… Every girl is BEAUTIFUL.”

Sure, sugar and spice and everything nice, is fine for some, but snips, snails and puppy dog tails are pretty great, too. Stacy McAnulty’s Beautiful sends an empowering message: You can be beautiful when you’re dressed like a pirate, when you’re digging in the garden, or you’re creating your own robot army. Loving yourself is beautiful, and Stacy McAnulty’s empowering message is conveyed by Joanne Lew Vriethoff’s gorgeous artwork, which shows beautiful little girls in all shapes, sizes, colors, and abilities, laughing, having fun, being brilliant, and being beautiful.

This is the best kind of diverse book, because it encourages, it empowers, all kids to embrace life and joy. The message is clear, with pictures that interpret the text in the best way:

BEAUTIFUL_int.indd

BEAUTIFUL_int.indd

The endpapers carry this celebration of beauty by featuring a field of pink, with crayon-drawn butterflies and flowers, and overlaid with brightly colored frogs, bugs, and snails.

This book is for everyone: for the little girl who knows she wants to be the president-ballerina-astronaut when she grows up; for her mom, who wanted (and maybe achieved) the same. For the dad whose little princesses sing “Let it Go” while playing with their Transformers, and the brothers whose sisters are right next to them, scaling a tree on a lazy day. Boys and girls, men and women alike, all need Beautiful in their lives, to remind them to embrace all forms of beauty where they discover them.

You can pre-order Beautiful from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or IndieBound. You can also add it to your GoodReads.

Make sure you check out the rest of the stops on the BEAUTIFUL blog tour!

8/29 Flowering Minds
8/30 Kids’ Book Review
8/31 My Word Playground
9/1 Stacking Books
9/2 Unpacking the POWER of Picture Books
9/3 MomReadIt
9/5 Enjoy Embrace Learning
9/6 Geo Librarian
9/7 A Foodie Bibliophile
9/8 MamaBelly
9/10 Diapers and Daydreams
9/11 The Late Bloomer’s Book Blog
9/12 Unconventional Librarian