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

More #Books from Quarantine: A Road Trip with Grandma in When I Hit the Road

When I Hit the Road, by Nancy J. Cavanaugh, (May 2020, Sourcebooks Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 9781492640257

Ages 9-12

Samantha is about to be a seventh grader, has a mother and older sisters who are over-achievers, and desperately wants to make her own mark on something. She ends up with a summer vacation she wasn’t quite expecting: accompanying her workaholic mother to her grandmother’s Florida condo, and journaling in her “Dear Me” journal to promote her mom’s company. What ends up happening is even less expected: Mom has to rush home, leaving Sam in Florida, where she ends up on a karaoke road trip with her grandmother, her grandmother’s best friend, and a really, really cute boy.

I love Nancy J. Cavanaugh’s books because they’re created to read in easily readable, fun, descriptive bursts: journal entries, lists, letters; she has a gift for a tween voice, and writes with a light, funny voice that puts readers at ease and invites introspection. She plays with her multigenerational characters; in this case, giving readers a karaoke-loving senior citizen and a tween who feels the pressure to be someone, constantly measuring herself up against those around her. The road trip is wacky and wonderful – thrift store bowling shirts, a car full of Bibles, a tour of terrifying road stop bathrooms – and will make readers laugh out loud, especially if they’ve had the dubious honor of being on the dreaded Family Road Trip. Sam’s voice comes through clearly, and I loved her referencing her future self looking back and reading the entries.

Ms. Cavanaugh navigates complex mother-daughter relationships here, too: we have the relationship between Sam’s mother and grandmother, Sam and her grandmother, and Sam and her own overachieving mother, all of which are loaded with moments for deep discussion. This would be a great choice for a mother-daughter book club.

Turn up some karaoke (YouTube has dozens of pages, including Sing King), bake some cookies, and enjoy an evening with Sam and her family. This is a great read for tweens who want a fun read with a summery vibe.

 

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, picture books, Preschool Reads

Where does your mind go during class?

Free Association: Where My Mind Goes During Science Class (Adventures of Everyday Geniuses), by Barbara Esham/Illustrated by Mike Gordon, (May 2018, Sourcebooks), $17.99, ISBN: 9781492669951

Recommended for readers 4-8

Emily is a  young student who loves doing science: the hands-on stuff, not the rote memorization that comes with the routine school day, which tends to set her mind off, wandering. Emily wants to be like Albert Einstein, setting her off into a daydream where Einstein climbs out of a classroom poster; he ends up sticking around as a quiet mentor throughout the book. After catching Emily daydreaming again, her teacher gives her a science journal – a way to be mindful of when she’s paying attention, versus when her mind is about to wander. Emily discovers that the journal is just what she needed, and the teacher, impressed with a theory Emily comes up with in her journal, encourages the whole class to keep science journals and use their imaginations.

The Adventures of Everyday Geniuses is a series of books for kids who may learn in nontraditional ways. Where My Mind Goes During Science Class addresses everyday boredom in class – come on, we all know it happens – as well as how to reach students with ADHD. The teacher embraces creativity and imagination, and understands that journaling can lead to some pretty exciting work – bravo, teacher! Emily speaks for most kids when she grouses, “It seems like the only thing we do in science is memorize information from a book”. Who hasn’t felt like that at some point? Emily is relatable to all kids (and a heck of a lot of grownups). Back matter talks to readers who are “everyday geniuses” and offers tips for focusing and centering themselves when their minds wander. The story font is set in OpenDyslexic, a font specifically designed for readability with dyslexia; an impressive commitment by the publishers to readers. Kids may recognize illustrator Mike Gordon’s artwork – he illustrates the super-popular Robin Hill School Easy Reader series.

Find out more about the Everyday Geniuses at the series website. This looks like a good series to have in classroom and library collections, to introduce kids to different ways of learning. I’m going to request other titles in the series from my libraries, to get to know this set better. The Adventures of Everyday Geniuses series is Reading Rockets Recommended, a Parents Choice Award Winner, and an ALA Booklist Pick.

Posted in Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Kids can discover their Superpowers with this fun activity book

Superpowers! A Great Big Collection of Awesome Activities, Quirky Questions, and Wonderful Ways to See Just How Super You Really Are, by M.H. Clark, (Feb. 2018, Compendium), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1-943200-75-7

Recommended for readers 7+

It’s no secret that I love my superhero programs. I’ve turned my libraries into Gotham City and put the kids on the hunt for Bat-signals, celebrated birthdays for the Bat and Captain America, and run the kids through a superhero camp over the summer. Compendium sent me a book that will make for some more introspective superhero programming, too.

Super Powers! is a workbook/journal where kids (and us grownups, too) get a chance to be our own superheroes. Led by thoughtful prompts, readers are invited to think about words that describe themselves, think about what they feel happy doing and what they  love, and what makes each reader fantastically, wonderfully, them. They’re invited to connect with the grownups that they can turn to – hey, every Batman has an Alfred, right? – and maybe even the famous people they would like to talk to (and that can totally include Iron Man, in my humble opinion). Finally, the proud moment arrives, and kids can fill out their own Official Announcement of Superpowers, choose their superhero name, fill up a superpower tool kit, and fill out their anti-superpowers – their Kryptonite, if you will – in the form of things they just don’t like. Finish up by creating your own origin story, and Superhero You #1 is ready!

This is a great way to get kids thinking – and creating! – about their strengths and what makes them special. Each spread is bright, with science fiction-like illustrations, and lots of journaling space for kids to create. It makes a great gift. It’s not a book I’d put into circulation – it’s just too tempting to write in, because it’s so cool! – but I plan to use this book in my summer reading programming (hello, Infinity War releases in May) to get the kids writing, drawing, and thinking about themselves as a little group of Avengers or Justice League of their own.

Posted in Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads

Take a peek inside Elise Gravel’s Journal…

If Found Please Return to Elise Gravel, by Elise Gravel, (June 2017, Drawn & Quarterly), $17.95, ISBN: 9781770462786

Recommended for ages 7+

Ever wonder what an artist’s journal looks like? What thoughts, doodles, and ideas wait within the pages? Wonder no longer: If Found Please Return to Elise Gravel lets you peek inside the Canadian artist and author’s (The Great Antonio) journal. There’s wonderful advice for budding authors and artists, combined with drawings and doodles, themed pages and spreads, and notes about little characters she creates.

Most authors advise aspiring writers to write – no matter what, just write  to get into the habit of writing. Similarly, Ms. Gravel notes that she draws every night; she draws for fun as often as she draws for work, letting readers know that joy is a really important part of being a working artist and author; and she never critiques the drawings in her black notebook. If they’re ugly, they’re ugly! She gives herself permission to mess things up; in fact, she shares her artwork with daughters, from whom she also draws inspiration.

Gravel’s drawings are bright – even the blacks are vibrant and fun. I loved the pages and pages of silly, fun, adorable monsters; grumps, and creatures. I love her sense of humor, and I love her sense of fun. How can you not enjoy the work of someone who loves what they do? She embraces the silly: something we all need to do a bit more in our own lives.

 

 

I love that I can put this book in my children’s room at the library as easily as I can hand it to my tweens and teens. It’s a fun commentary on the creative process, with helpful advice for older kids who may be interested in pursuing art as a career or more serious hobby. Ms. Gravel turns the tables on the reader at the end, providing readers with starting prompts for their own notebooks, and telling them that it’s their turn. But look at how much fun it is!

 

You know me – I love my programs in a book, and If Found, Please Return to Elise Gravel is another great program in a book. I’ve got a writer’s workshop this summer, where I’ll be working with my Queensboro Kids every week to tell their stories using a different style, from journaling to poetry to comics. I’m also working with my teens on a ‘zine workshop, and a book like If Found is a great addition to my collection, to show kids yet another fun way to express themselves. A must-add!

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

Scythe is a brilliant must-read!

scytheScythe, by Neal Shusterman, (Nov. 2016, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), $18.99, ISBN: 9781442472426

Recommended for ages 12+

Scythe is my first Neal Shusterman book AND one of the best books I’ve read this year. Society lives in a utopia. We’ve defeated death, poverty, hunger, you name it. Do people turn to a Star Trek-type society and explore space and do good things? Nope, they “turn the corner” when they get tired of looking old, having surgery to bring them back to a younger face and body. They stop doing, stop trying to achieve; it’s a stagnant society that doesn’t die. That’s where the Scythes come in.

Someone has to help with population control, so Scythes are chosen to end life. There are rules: Scythes can’t glean too much from one particular race or gender; they really shouldn’t love what they do too much, and they can’t glean out of rage. Citra and Rowan are two teens chosen to be a Scythe’s apprentices, much to their consternation; things get worse when they are told that only one will become a Scythe, and the first order of business will be to glean the other.

Citra and Rowan learn that the world isn’t nearly as perfect as many want to believe, and they witness a group of Scythes who hold mass gleanings – mass murder – where they revel in what they do. They discover that this society is no stranger to corruption.

Shusterman creates a brutal world wearing the guise of a utopia in Scythe. The characters are brilliant and awful, getting inside the reader’s head and heart. He builds a society that’s stopped moving forward, where the only progress to be made is by a Scythe, dealing indiscriminate death. He gives the Scythes a comprehensive history, with journal articles by previous Scythes throughout the book, ceremonies, and rituals. It’s an intense, fantastic book that readers who want somewhere to go after reading The Giver series should read immediately.

I didn’t want to put the book down and I never wanted it to end. Thankfully, we’ll be getting another book in the series, because the ending left me breathless.

A must-read, must-add book for any bookshelf. Scythe has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and School Library Journal. Kirkus has also named Scythe one of the Best Books of 2016.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Preschool Reads

Disney Princess: Dream Big is a hit!

Back in July, I had a cover reveal for one of the latest books in the Put Me in the Story series, Disney Princess: Dream Big! I’m really excited, because I just received my copy in the mail, and it’s a beauty.

dream-big

Since I’d gotten softcover copies of the NatGeo books for my son back in June, I decided to check out the hardcover for my niece, who is just discovering Disney Princesses. I’m thrilled with the quality of the book! It’s a gorgeous, sturdy hardcover with quality pages that will stand up to repeated readings.

Dream Big puts readers on a mission: visit each Princess in the book; discover their dream; and check off the Princess’s name on the back of a passport that’s included in the book. You can cut out the passport – treat the book like a journal!

There are 11 Princesses in all to visit, from Ariel to Tiana. Each spread spotlights one Princess, gives a little bio on the Princess, and ends with a mention of the Princess’s dream, and an invitation to the reader to share her/his dream, too. For instance, Belle loves her books, and each one takes her on a new adventure. There’s a list of Belle’s favorite book genres, and a space for your reader to list her favorite books.

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The art is beautiful, colorful, and inviting. Kids are engaged by the direct invitation to connect through the text and activities in the book.

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A final spread sums up the Princesses’ strengths and dreams, and asks readers to connect the Princess with her big dream. Readers are also invited to write or draw their own special dreams and how to make them come true. It’s a fun way to capture a moment in time that kids will look back on and smile at one day. Think of it as bullet journaling for the preschool set.

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As with all Put Me in the Story books, you upload pictures of your little one and give the site the name you’d like to use; they will generate a story featuring your little one that becomes a keepsake. Dream Big is a great gift, and I can’t wait to give this to my little Princess. You can get your own copy of Dream Big at the Put Me in the Story site, and seriously, look around the site; they have some great books, both fiction and non-fiction, that kids will love.

Full disclosure, I received a copy of this book free in exchange for an honest review. But I plan on adding a few Put Me in the Story books to my Christmas shopping list, because I love them and think they’re beautifully done.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Just Like Me examines adoption’s internal narrative

just like meJust Like Me, by Nancy J. Cavanaugh (April 2016, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $16.99, ISBN: 9781492604273

Recommended for ages 9-14

Julia is on her way to summer camp with her friends, Avery and Becca. It’s a little more than a regular week away at camp with friends, though – Avery, Becca, and Julia are “Chinese sisters” – the three girls were adopted from the same Chinese orphanage as babies, and their parents have stayed in touch. While Avery and Becca eat Cheetos with chopsticks and don’t mind talking about their Chinese heritage, Julia has conficting feelings. Becca thinks that Julia hates being Chinese, but that’s not it at all – while the world sees Julia as Chinese, she sees herself as Irish and Italian, like the parents who are raising her and who love her. But she also wonders about the birth mother who gave her up.

Told in alternating journal entries and narratives, this is Julia’s story. It’s told in the first person from her point of view and her journal articles provoke her to think more deeply as the novel progresses. Through Julia’s eyes, we see the other girls develop as she gets to know them.

Just Like Me is a great summer camp story about a bunch of girls who have to learn to get along: Julia, Avery, and Becca end up in a cabin with three other girls who bring some tension of their own, and the group has to learn to get along or do a lot of clean-up duty! But digging deeper, Just Like Me is a story that peels away the faces we show to everyone, only to discover that no matter how different people may think they are, they’re more alike than anyone can imagine. Every family has rough spots – it’s how we as individuals cope with them that makes us different. The story is ultimately about a group of girls who learn to embrace who they are, individually, and embrace one another for their similarities and celebrate their differences.

It’s also a touching story about figuring out who you are when you feel like you have a giant blind spot in the middle of your life. Nancy Cavanaugh wrote this story, inspired by her own daughter’s adoption story; as an adoptee myself, I found myself particularly drawn into Julia’s journal articles. Julia’s thoughts could have come from me, had I kept a journal at that age:

“Most of the time, I don’t even think about being adopted. …even though my mom doesn’t always want to admit it, people do sometimes treat me differently. Like the time in third grade when my mom dropped me off at a classmate’s birthday party, and when my classmate’s cousin saw my mom, she asked me if I knew who my ‘real’ mom was. And then there was another time when I heard a lady at the grocery store ask Mom if she had any children of her ‘own.'”

Wow. Like Julia, I’m Italian and Irish, just like my parents. “On the inside”, I’m French-Canadian. I look pretty similar to my parents, but those scenarios are real, and they hit hard. I’m 45 and still get asked if I know who my “real” mom is. It took a long time for me to be able to respond, “Yeah, I do; she’s at work, probably wondering why I haven’t called to let her know I’m home from school yet.” And it still irritates me if someone deigns to ask me that.

“Did my birth mom love me?”

It’s the question you probably won’t get an answer to. I think about it on my birthday now, not as often as I used to. But I’d like to think that she did in her own way, because she took care of herself well enough to make sure I was born healthy, and made sure I was adopted by a family that would love me and take care of me.

What I’m trying to say here is, Just Like Me is required reading, because Nancy Cavanaugh – already a constant on my library shelves, thanks to books like Always, Abigail and This Journal Belongs to Ratchet

Visit Nancy J. Cavanaugh’s author website and learn more about her books, download educator guides, and find out about author visits.

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

It’s Sweater Weather! (the graphic novel, not the forecast)

sweater weatherSweaterweather, by Sara Varon (Feb. 2016, First Second), $19.99, ISBN: 9781626721180

Recommended for ages 10+

You may have seen Sara Varon’s work before – she’s given us fun, all-ages graphic novels like Bake Sale, Chicken & Cat, and Odd Duck, and we’ll also be getting President Squid this year (review coming). She draws friendly, fun animals (and squids) in a cartoon style that makes you just want to curl up with these characters, have a cup of tea, and chat.

Sweaterweather is a re-issue of the original 2003 version, with extra stories and content. It’s done in two-color, and is part graphic novel story collection, part peek into Sara Varon’s creative brain. We have stories, essays, and journal entries existing together, an invite for kids and teens to take a load off and enjoy socially awkward animals wandering around Brooklyn and hey, while you’re here, see what goes on in the mind of a creative person!

Kids who love graphic novels and animal fiction will enjoy Sweaterweather for the stories. Creative kids will appreciate the big picture Sara Varon displays for them, and maybe, get them journaling and doodling on their own.

Sara Varon’s author website is great for burgeoning artists and fans. There are sections devoted to her books and illustrations, updates, and links to pages for her favorite illustrators and designers. She’s also an award-winning author/illustrator: Odd Duck was selected by Kirkus Reviews as one of the Best Children’s Books of 2013, Bake Sale was named a YALSA Great Graphic Novel for 2012, and Robot Dreams was on Oprah’s Kids’ Reading List in 2008. In 2013, Sara Varon was a Maurice Sendak Fellowship recipient.

Here’s a sneak peek at some of the artwork from Sweaterweather.

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Posted in Fantasy, geek, geek culture, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction

Star Wars Jedi Academy: Attack of the Journal!

jediacdemyAttack of the Journal (Star Wars Jedi Academy), by Jeffrey Brown (Aug. 2015, Scholastic), $9.99, ISBN: 9780545852784

Recommended for ages 7-12

For all the kids who love Jeffrey Brown’s Jedi Academy series, there’s now a journal where you can DIY your own comics, write your own stories, and read commentary from Roan and his fellow Jedi Academy classmates and instructors!

Want to make your own Jedi Academy class schedule? Make your own lightsaber? Write for the school newsletter, the Padawan Observer? This is the place for you! Loaded with creative and introspective ideas for kids, the Jedi Academy Journal offers kids fill-in-the-blank story outlines, lots of creative spaces for their own drawings and original writing, and prompts throughout the book. Some prompts encourage kids to look inward and write about what they feel they could do better, who inspires them and who they think they inspire. Comic strips with the characters from the Jedi Academy series pop up throughout the book, making this a great purchase for Star Wars fans. When they finish the book, they can even fill out their own Jedi Academy Diploma!

This is a journal, so it’s mean to be written in – so libraries may not want to invest money in this one. It’s a great gift idea, though, in the vein of the Wimpy Kid Do-It-Yourself book and a fun way to extend and put a personal spin on a favorite series.

Attack of the Journal is already in stores, so put this one on your shopping lists. The holidays are coming! If you’re bringing the joy of Star Wars to a lucky kid for the first time, consider the 3-book set, which includes the first and second Jedi Academy graphic novels and the journal.

 

Posted in Preschool Reads

Book Review: Diary of a Worm, by Doreen Cronin/illus. by Harry Bliss (Joanna Cotler Books, 2003)

diary of a worm

Recommended for ages 2-6

A young worm journals his daily life, writing about his friends, his family, and the pluses and minuses of being a worm.  His observations are often very funny, as when he talks about spending the day above ground with his family after a rainstorm, and then notes, “Hopscotch is a very dangerous game”, with illustrations from a worm’s point of view. The story includes facts about earthworm behavior that gives young audiences a fun lesson in science: earthworms dig tunnels that help the earth breathe; worms cannot walk upside down, and worms have no teeth being just a few fun factoids to take away.

The artwork adds to the appeal of the book. Mr. Bliss uses watercolor and ink illustrations to bring Worm, his family and friends to life; while not overly anthropomorphizing them, he does infuse them with personality. The worm’s-eye view of the world provides a different point of view that young audiences will appreciate, and could lead to a good post-storytime discussion of how things look different from a worm’s point view as opposed to a human’s. The text looks almost like a printed font, and the entries are dated, like a real diary would be. The endpapers are set up like a scrapbook or diary, with photos of Worm’s friends, family, and accomplishments – report cards, a web made for him by his friend, Spider, a comic strip – “taped” to the pages.

The “Ðiary Of” series includes Diary of a Fly; Diary of a Spider; and Diary of a Worm.

A Wiggling Worms/Garden read-aloud would be a fun idea for the Spring. Diary of a Worm may be a tricky read-aloud if done conventionally, as there is a lot of activity within each page. Bringing in puppets may be a fun way to accomplish a fun read-aloud, with assistants or another librarian acting out with puppets of worms, spiders, and flies, while the librarian narrates the journal entries. Amazon offers a Diary of a Worm & Friends Finger Puppet Playset that would connect the puppet show to the book even further. An after-story discussion about worms would involve children, inviting them to share what they have learned about worms after reading the book. A fun craft would let children make worms out of modeling clay, which they could take home. Scholastic has a Diary of a Worm DVD that may be fun viewing for younger audiences.

Diary of a Worm has received numerous awards and accolades since its publication, including designation as a School Library Journal Best Book for Children (2003).