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

What does the first cat in space eat? Pizza, of course!

The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza, by Mac Barnett/Illustrated by Shawn Harris, (May 2022, Katherine Tegen Books), $15.99, ISBN: 9780063084087

Ages 7-12

Two award-winning kidlit powerhouses come together for a laugh-out-loud tale about a cat, a toenail-clipping robot, and a group of hungry rats posed to devour the moon. Rats from another galaxy are eating the moon! What is the Earth to do? Dispatch a cybernetically enhanced cat – First Cat – to take care of business. Accompanied by a stowaway robot who believes he’s destined for greater things than clipping toenails, and a ship’s computer who’s furious at being upstaged from a larger part in the story, First Cat lands on the moon, and the adventure begins: frozen wastelands, living forests, churning waters (Sea of Tranqulity? HA!) and dangers at every turn. There are repeating gags that get funnier with every utterance, and readers will giggle themselves silly as First Cat tries, time and again, to have a mouth-watering slice of pizza. Artwork is boldly outlined and colorful, hilariously communicating the madcap storytelling.

Did you know First Cat is Instagram famous? Kids can watch First Cat’s live adventures on Instagram or the First Cat webpage, where they can also sign up for the newsletter! The graphic novel includes sheet music and links to songs from the series. The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza is perfect for summer reading your readers will love.

The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza has a starred review from Publishers Weekly and is on the May/June 2022 Indie Next Kids List.

Posted in Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

We Can Be Heroes embraces young women’s power in the aftermath of a school shooting

We Can Be Heroes, by Kyrie McCauley, (Sept. 2021, Katherine Tegen Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9780062885050

Ages 12+

When Nico Bell pulled the trigger of that gun, so many lives were changed: but the problems were there long before that day. Told in third- and first-person narration, in prose and verse, We Can Be Heroes is the story of Cassie, killed in a school shooting by her ex-boyfriend; her two best friends, Beck and Vivian, and a town split down the middle. Bell is a town named for and financed by Bell Firearms; the Bell family has a sociopolitical grip on the town because they write the checks that keep it going. Nico Bell, heir to the Bell company and poster boy for toxic masculinity, kills his girlfriend, Cassie, in a murder-suicide when she tries to escape their abusive relationship. Beck and Vivian, Cassie’s best friends, never much liked one another, but bond over the chance to give Cassie the voice she didn’t have in life by painting murals featuring women from Greek myths: women whose voices were lost, taken by monsters and men. A podcaster focuses on the case as the murals achieve viral status on social media, and Cassie’s story unfolds, shedding light on ugly shadows in the town and the Bell family. Cassie appears as a ghost, bringing Beck and Vivian together and to guide them in their mission; her story is told in first person verse.

Changing narratives and playing with narrative structure – prose, transcript, and verse – keep this already arresting story moving. I loved the use of Greek myth to tell Cassie’s story; women’s stories through history. We Can Be Heroes explores grief and loss, trauma, and unchecked privilege. Small moments, like Cassie’s excitement over music released after her death are poignant, even when played for a chuckle. A subplot involving Beck and her grandfather adds further depth. A thoughtful look at real issues facing teens today that highlights the importance of listening to women’s stories.

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

Spooky Reads for Halloween: Ghost Girl b Ally Malinenko

Ghost Girl, by Ally Malinenko, (Aug. 2021, Katherine Tegen Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780063044609

Ages 8-12

Horror for tweens is on the rise, and I couldn’t be happier. My library kids are hungry for it, having gone past Goosebumps and cleared my Holly Black and Mary Downing Hahn books off the shelves. They’re ready for spookier, and I love reading and booktalking these to them. Ghost Girl is definitely on my must-talk list: a girl who discovers that she has a gift for seeing and communicating with ghosts, a new school principal that’s way too creepy, a missing Kindergarten teacher, and three friends that have to stand against an entire town that’s fallen under a spell? Tell me more!

Zee Puckett is a middle schooler who loves ghost stories. She’s living with her 21-year-old sister, Abby, who’s dropped out of college and taken a job at a diner to keep their family going while her widowed father is out of state looking for work. Bullied at school, Zee’s only friend is Elijah, an African-American boy who’s got a bully of his own: his father, who is constantly at his brainy son who’d rather do science projects than hit the gym with his dad. After an altercation with Nellie, the middle school gets a new principal, Mr. Scratch, who comes off like a self-help guru on steroids. While everyone in town seems to be falling under Mr. Scratch’s spell, Zee starts seeing frightening things, including what feels like… looks like… a ghost. Zee knows that somehow, Mr. Scratch is at the center of everything; now, she has to get Elijah and Nellie – yes, her bully – to help her save the ghost, themselves, and their town. Filled with fantastically creepy moments, there are great themes of feminism and family in Ghost Girl. Zee embraces her Ghost Girl moniker, put on her by Nellie, to get to the bottom of all the mysteries plaguing her town, but the talent also connects her to her mother, who died giving birth to her. Guilt, grief, and anger power the subplots in Ghost Girl, and Ally Malinenko writes in a way that will thrill and chill readers as powerfully as it will let readers know that she sees them. There are some genuinely creepy, unsettling moments that will satisfy any spooky fiction fan, making this a story to booktalk to your burgeoning horror fans.

 

Posted in Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Graphic Novels for Tweens and Teens

I’m back with more graphic novels! It’s an all-consuming joy of mine; I love them all. I’ve got some newer and up-and-coming books, and some backlist that shouldn’t be missed. I’ve got books for middle grade/middle school, and I’ve got teen/YA, so let’s see what’s good!

Sylvie, by Sylvie Kantorovitz, (Jan. 2021, Walker Books US), $24.99, ISBN: 9781536207620

Ages 9-13

An autobiographical graphic novel that really hits the sweet spot for middle schoolers but will also appeal to upper elementary and high schoolers, Sylvie is the story of the author and illustrator’s life, quirks and all. She grows up in a school where her father was principal. She loves art from an early age, but her mother is focused on her pursuing a career in math or science. The book follows her family as they add more children to the family and Sylvie’s mother doggedly pushes her academically. As she grows in confidence, and seeks her father’s council, Sylvie takes control of her own future. Artwork is cartoony and friendly, and easy-to-read, first-person narration makes Sylvie readers feel like they’re talking with a friend. Discussions about racism and anti-Semitism in ’60s and ’70s France sets the stage for discussion.

Candlewick/Walker Books US has a sample chapter available for a preview.

 

Tell No Tales: Pirates of the Southern Seas, by Sam Maggs/Illustrated by Kendra Wells, (Feb. 2021, Amulet), $21.99, ISBN: 9781419739668

Ages 10-14

Another middle school-geared book, Tell No Tales is a fictionalized account of pirate Anne Bonny, pirate Mary Read, and their female and non-binary pirate crew. They have a growing reputation, but a privateer is on their heels: Woodes Rogers, a failed pirate turned pirate hunter for the Crown, has sworn to wipe the stain of piracy from the seas. There are strong positive female and non-binary characters, based on characters from history, but the overall story falters, leaving readers to look for the thread in between the individual stories of Bonny’s crew, all of which are fascinating. The artwork is colorful, manga-inspired, and will grab viewers. Back matter includes a word on the real-life exploits of Anne Bonny and Mary Read, notes, and a bibliography.

Publishers Weekly has an interview with Sam Magga and Kendra Wells. 

Fantastic Tales of Nothing, by Alejandra Green & Fanny Rodriguez, (Nov. 2020, Katherine Tegen Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780062839473

Ages 8-13

One of the most beautifully illustrated graphic novels I’ve ever seen, Fantastic Tales of Nothing is one of heck an epic fantasy for middle graders and tweens, and early teens. Nathan is a human living what he considers a pretty ordinary life until that fateful day when he wakes up in the middle of nowhere and meets a being named Haven and a race of shape shifters called the Volken. As the unlikely group find themselves on a quest, Nathan also learns that he isn’t that ordinary – he has mysterious power in side of him, and the fate of Nothing lies in his hands. Vivid color, breathtaking fantasy spreads, and solidly constructed worldbuilding lays the foundation for what could be a groundbreaking new fantasy series for middle graders, with nonbinary and Latinx representation to boot. Where are the starred reviews for this book?

Tales of Nothing received IndieNext Honors. The website has more information about the characters, authors, and upcoming projects.

 

Poems to See By: A Comic Artist Interprets Great Poetry, by Julian Peters, (March 2020, Plough Publishing House), $24, ISBN: 9780874863185

Ages 12+

Illustrator Julian Peters has taken 24 poems by some of the most recognizable names in the art form, and brought them to life using different art forms, from manga to watercolor to stark expressionist black and white.  Organized into six areas of introspection: Seeing Yourself; Seeing Others; Seeing Art; Seeing Nature; Seeing Time, and Seeing Death, Peters illustrates such master works as “Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou, “Annabel Lee”, by Edgar Allan Poe, and “Juke Box Love Song” by Langston Hughes. It’s a great way to invite middle school, high school, and college students to deep dive into some of the greatest works of poetry.

Marvin: Based on The Way I Was, by Marvin Hamlisch with Gerald Gardner/Adapted and Illustrated by Ian David Marsden, (Feb. 2020, Schiffer Kids), $12.99, ISBN: 9780764359040

Ages 9-13

This graphic adaptation of PEGOT (Pulitzer, Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) winner Marvin Hamlisch’s biography is one I did not see coming! The legendary musician, composer, and conductor discusses his family’s flight from Hitler’s Austria and settling in America, Hamlisch’s admittance to Julliard at the age of 6, and the intense anxiety that plagued him before every performance. He tells readers about attending high school with Christopher Walken and Liza Minelli, and playing the piano for Judy Garland as a teen; about composing pop radio hits and learning to compose music for a motion picture as he went along. By the time he was 30, he’d won his first major award. Hamlisch’s voice is funny, warm, and conversational throughot, and Marsden’s realistic art has touching moments, particularly between Hamlisch and his father. A great read for theatre and music fans – this one is going to be my not-so-secret weapon.

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

Heels, Faces, Works and Life: Bump by Matt Wallace

Bump, by Matt Wallace, (Jan. 2021, Katherine Tegen Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780063007987

Ages 8-12

MJ is a twelve-year-old wrestling fan who is dealing with loss in her home life and racism in her school life. She feels isolated, alone, with only her wrestling show for company until she notices a covered wrestling ring in her neighbor’s yard. Turns out, her neighbor is the owner of a wrestling school, and after some intense discussion with her mother and some successful nudging on MJ’s part, Mr. Arellano – Papí, to his wrestling students – agrees to take her on as a student. At the Victory Wrestling School, MJ finally feels like she’s part of something, but an investigator from the state Athletic Commission is doing his best to shut Mr. Arellano down. MJ is determined to get to the bottom of some shady business and save the school and her wrestling family.

I loved Bump, because it’s such a good mix of family stories – the family we have and the families we create – plus the fun and work of the wrestling business. MJ knows that the bruises are real; she loves the rich history of the luchadores, and she loves being part of this history. Wrestling fans will enjoy all the nuances and peek into the ground floor of the industry, and sports fans will enjoy the heart and guts that comes with dedication. Matt Wallace addresses the casual racism that exists in our schools, and all too briefly looks at the issues with racism within MJ’s friend group. The action is fast-paced, and there’s a wild moment that belongs in a wrestling storyline that brings the story to its conclusion. A good read that I’d hand off to my library kids. Add some luchador coloring masks to your book discussion activity and invite the kids to explain why they chose the designs they did; make the masks an extension of their personalities. There’s a good explanation of lucha libre and its place in Mexican culture at SpanishPlayground.net.  Not an #OwnVoices book, but a good read that kids will like.

Posted in Non-Fiction, picture books, Uncategorized

A future President’s best friend: Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln

Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln, by Shari Swanson/Illustrated by Chuck Groenink, (Jan. 2020, Katherine Tegen Books), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0-06269900-8

Ages 5-8

Based on a story remembered by President Abraham Lincoln’s childhood friend, Honey, The Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln is a nonfiction picture book story of the 16th President and the dog he rescued and named Honey; and how Honey repaid the favor by rescuing Abe Lincoln. One day, while picking his family’s corn up from the mill, Lincoln discovered and cared for an injured dog, who followed him home. He convinces his parents to let him keep the dog – who he names Honey – and she joins him everywhere he goes. While exploring a cavern one day, Abe gets jammed between two boulders and Honey sets out to find help, finding Abe’s mother and Mr. John from the corn mill, and leading them to the cavern, where they are able to rescue young Mr. Lincoln.

A sweet story about our animal companions and the special relationship we have with our dogs, Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abraham Lincoln is an uplifting nonfiction story about an early chapter in the life of one of our most popular Presidents. There’s a timeline of Abraham Lincoln, who famously loved animals, and his “Animal Encounters”, chronicling key points in the former President’s life, including his many pets and moments of caring for animals. An author’s note goes into more detail about the origin of the story behind Honey, The Dog Who Saved Abraham Lincoln, and the many pets Lincolns populating the Lincoln White House. The digital artwork is kid-friendly, with gentle-faced, softly realistic characters and muted greens and browns. The endpapers display a map of the area of Hodgen’s Mill, where Abe Lincoln grew up, circa 1816, when Lincoln found Honey.

A nice addition to picture book nonfiction collections. Think about reading this one on April 11, National Pet Day!

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

The Problim Children: Seven kids, seven days of the week, and an age-old mystery

The Problim Children, by Natalie Lloyd/Illustrated by Julia Sarda, (Jan. 2018, Katherine Tegen Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062428202

Recommended for readers 8-12

The Problim Children is the first in a new middle grade series about seven… different siblings, each born on a different day of the week, and their adventures. We have Mona, Monday’s child, who may be fair of face, but she’s a bit macabre… Toot, Tuesday’s toddler, who has a catalog of farts for all occasions; Wendell and Thea, twins born on Wednesday and Thursday, who spend all of their time together; Friday’s child, Frida, speaks in rhyme; Sal, Saturday’s child, loves to work in his garden; and Sundae is the eternal optimist. Their parents are away, and the Problims manage to blow up their bungalow in the Swampy Woods, necessitating a move to their Grandpa Problim’s abandoned mansion in Lost Cove. The only problem? The Problims have a history with Lost Cove, and neighborhood busybody Desdemona O’pinion is determined to keep them out at all costs.

Are the Problims magic? Maybe. Are they a family with secrets? Definitely! There’s a history between the O’pinions and the Problims, and the kids get caught up in the shenanigans – while planning plenty of their own. The Problim Children is funny enough – Toot’s ability to communicate solely by fart will make this a home-run with some readers – and readers will love the idea of being left to their own devices as their parents travel the world for work. There are circus spiders, a pet pig, an intriguing mystery, and a villainess who’s right up there with the best of the mustache-twirlers. It’s a little over the top at times, but it’s fun and silly and readers who like a lighter Lemony Snicket will like this one. The Problim Children received a starred review from Booklist.

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

Rainforest, magic, and mystery: The Lost Rainforest – Mez’s Magic

The Lost Rainforest: Mez’s Magic, by Eliot Schrefer/Illustrated by Emilia Dziubak, (Feb. 2018, HarperCollins), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062491077

Recommended for readers 8-13

Mez is an orphaned young panther living with her sister, under the care of their aunt in the rainforest of Caldera. Panthers are nightwalkers – primarily nocturnal, they prowl in the evenings and sleep during the day. Except for Mez. Born during the eclipse, she can cross the Veil – the sleep that overcomes the animals during the day hours – and explore the daytime world. She meets a snake who tells her that she and he are gifted, eclipse-born, and they must discover other animals like them in order to save the world. Banished by her aunt after discovering Mez’s secret, she joins the search for other shadowwalkers in their quest to defeat the Ant Queen. But the Queen isn’t the only one they have to defend themselves against. They’ll encounter animals that mistrust the shadowwalkers, and cope with betrayal and mistrust even among one another.

 

Mez’s Magic is the first book in what looks like an exciting new animal adventure. There’s plenty for readers to love here: intrigue, adventure, and ancient magic are just a few of the ingredients. It’s a satisfying standalone, yet leaves readers waiting for more answers. There’s an animal friend for everyone here; Mez, the star of the show, is burdened with responsibility and largely naïve to the rainforest at large; Rumi is a lovable, nerdy tree frog and Lima is a talkative, sweet bat; Gogi is a capuchin monkey with an inferiority complex; Auriel is a wily snake who seems to have all the answers. The book weaves a story that addresses racism, intolerance and ignorance through the individual animal species and the concept of the shadowwalker. Black and white chapter illustrations give the reader an idea of what’s coming up, and an author’s note at the end discusses the beauty and importance of the rainforest.

Mez’s Magic received a starred review from Kirkus.

 

Posted in Preschool Reads

Kwanzaa books for the holidays!

Continuing along with my multicultural holiday reading, I checked a few Kwanzaa books out this week. Any suggestions for more books I should read? Let me know!

 

Kevin’s Kwanzaa, by Lisa Bullard/Illustrated by Constanza Basaluzzo,
(Oct. 2012, Millbrook Press), $25.32, ISBN: 9780761350750
Good for readers 4-8

A young boy named Kevin and his family are getting ready to celebrate Kwanzaa! The family gathers around the candeholder – a kinara – and lights a candle each night, explaining the special principle for that night. Through the family’s celebration, readers learn the history of Kwanzaa, the meanings of each of the seven principles of the holiday, and kid-friendly examples of taking those principles to heart: solving problems can be helping keep a room clean; making decorations and gifts for one another, creativity. You can read the story to younger readers, and tweak it for older readers by pointing out the callouts on each spread that provide more information: the history of the celebration and meaning of the word Kwanzaa, the lighting of the candles, ways for families to celebrate together. Instructions on making a Kwanzaa drum provide a fun way to put reading into practice, and a glossary provides definitions for some words that come up in the text. The illustrations are cartoony and colorful; bright reds and pinks, deep blues and greens, communicating the festive mood of the holiday. The family is always shown working and celebrating together. This is a great introduction to Kwanzaa for younger readers.

 

Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story, by Angela Shelf Medearis/Illustrated by Daniel Minter,
(2000, Albert Whitman & Company),  $15.95, ISBN: 9780807573150
Good for readers 6-10

Seven brothers bicker over everything, day and night. When their father dies, they are charged with a task in order to receive their inheritance: each brother receives a different colored spool of yarn and are told to turn the thread into gold. The brothers work together to find a way to accomplish this, finding ways to brainstorm and complement one another as they form and execute their plan, which creates the woven Kente cloth. It’s a holiday legend that embodies each of the seven Kwanzaa principles and blends the history of the African Kente tribe in with the holiday. The illustrations are beautiful: rich colors, deep ebonies, and stunning woodcut art. This book appears to be out of print, which is a shame; I think this should be considered a holiday classic. It delves into myth and legend and embodies the spirit of the holiday just as much as Clement Moore’s The Night Before Christmas. If you can score a copy of this from your local library, do it; it’s worth the read. If you need a copy for your library, consider buying a gently used copy through a third-party seller. There’s a note about the origin of Kente cloth, and a weaving activity at the end of the book. This is an essential holiday book for your collections.

 

Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa, by Donna L. Washington/Illustrated by Shane W. Evans,
(Sept. 2010, Katherine Tegen Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780060728168
Good for readers 6-8

Li’l Rabbit isn’t having a great Kwanzaa: his grandma, Granna Rabbit, is sick, so no one is able to ready the big Kwanzaa feast, Karamu. Li’l Rabbit knows that Granna says Kwanzaa is a special time when everyone helps one another, so he decides he’s going to get her a special Karamu treat, and goes about asking his animal neighbords – orioles, rabbits, groundhogs, frogs, field mice, and squirrels – for different things to make Granna’s Kwanzaa better. The animals don’t know much about what Li’l Rabbit is asking for, but they do know Granna, so they come together to surprise Granna and Li’l Rabbit in the nicest way. It’s a story inspired by Brer Rabbit, a trickster from African folklore, and beautifully communicates the meaning of the season. The story offers great opportunities to discuss the seven principles and note where they see those principles in action throughout the course of the story; kids can also talk about the ways they can bring the principles to life during the holiday season (and beyond). The seven principles, plus illustrative examples from the text, are also noted at the end of the book, along with a prompt for kids to find other examples in the story. The story is fun, with an emphasis on empathy and community. This is a great storytime book for the holidays, with opportunities to talk with children about intentions that all of the winter holidays – family, community, faith – share.

If you’re looking for my posts on Christmas and Hanukkah books, here’s the place!

Posted in Adventure, Espionage, Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Bridget returns in Spy to the Rescue!

bridgetwilderBridget Wilder: Spy to the Rescue, by Jonathan Bernstein, (May 2016, Katherine Tegen Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062382696

Recommended for ages 9-13

Middle school spy-in-the-making Bridget Wilder is not having a great re-entry to “normal” society after being recruited by her former super-spy biological father in Bridget Wilder: Spy-in-Training. The agency that recruited her? Fake. Her super spy dad? Retired, and wants a “normal” relationship with his daughter (read: BORING). Her obnoxious brother is dating someone even more annoying, her best friend has moved across the country, and she’s being framed by someone for stealing cheerleading secrets AND ruining the birthday party of the season! Bridget senses something amiss, though; her spy instincts kick in and she decides to investigate.

Just when you think you’re about to read a fun, fluff middle school drama about mean girls, though, Jonathan Bernstein hits you with the real story: Bridget’s dad goes missing, and she’s pulled back into the spy game. Mean girls have nothing on an international crime syndicate, and Bridget’s going to need all of her skills, plus some new ones, to save her dad, her family, and herself.

I LOVED this book. Written in the first person from Bridget’s point of view, we get a narrator who’s 100% tween/teen girl: smart, funny, sarcastic, and a good kid who cares about her often wacky, extended family. I also love that we get an adopted heroine – yay for adoptees! – who refers to her parents and her siblings as her parents and her siblings, not her “adoptive family” like we see ad nauseum (I’m looking at you, Olympic coverage of Simone Biles and her family). Bridget has her family, and when her long-last dad reappears, he wants a relationship with her, but it’s her choice, and it involves her whole family; it’s not this long last dad appears, daughter runs off with him like the family who raised her never existed scenario, and I am grateful to Jonathan Bernstein for giving us a great, positive portrayal of an adoptee’s relationship to her family. Her entire family. It’s a bit of a touchy spot, being an adoptee myself, so when I find good writing, I applaud it.

But back to the story. Spy to the Rescue is fast-paced and fun. There’s some intrigue, there’s a lot of action, great dialogue, and continued strong character development. I booktalked Bridget Wilder: Spy-in-Training to my Corona Kids during my Spy Week program at the library, and they loved it, especially coming off the Spy Kids movie day, when they were empowered to be spies and save the grownups for a change. Wait until I put this one on the shelves, and let them know that a third book will be coming next year.

If you have action fiction fans, spy fans, or kids who enjoy a good book with a nice dose of girl power, add Bridget Wilder to your collection. Check out Jonathan Bernstein’s author webpage for more about Bridget and her author, Jonathan Bernstein.

Check out the book trailer for Spy in Training right here: