Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

New children’s book publisher: Red Comet Press!

I am so excited whenever a new indie publisher debuts on the scene! I just received wonderful book mail from Red Comet Press, a brand new children’s book publisher who will be sharing their books with everyone in just a few weeks! Here’s a sneak peek at what we can expect.

Cat & Dog: A Tale of Opposites, by Tullio Corda, (Sept. 2021, Red Comet Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781636550022

Ages 3-6

Concepts never made me laugh this hard. An orange cat and blue dog illustrate opposites in the most hilarious of ways as they go through a day of waking up, chasing one another, getting into trouble, and… being friends? Originally published in French in 2020, Taylor Barrett Gaines’s translation is spot on. Drowsy (and bored) Cat eyes sleepy Dog for Awake/Asleep; you just know what’s coming next. But the choice of Brave/Afraid is amusing and unexpected as Cat jumps on the startled Dog, whose eyes go wide, pupils as tiny pinpricks. My favorite spread? Upset and Unconcerned, which hilariously describe the action as Dog sports an overturned plant on his head as Cat blithely grooms. Fonts are in orange for Cat’s words; blue for Dog’s. A perfect combination of words and illustration, and a concept book that tells a cohesive story.

Find a free, downloadable activity cat on the publisher’s book detail page. A great beginning!

 

Before We Sleep, by Giorgio Volpe & Paolo Proietti, (Sept. 2021, Red Comet Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781636550046

Ages 4-8

Originally published in Italian in 2019, this book is a touching, beautifully illustrated story about friendship and the pain of separation. A red fox and gray dormouse are the best of friends, but as the Fall closes in and the seasons move toward Winter, Fox is sad, knowing Dormouse will be hibernating soon: “For Red, the smell of winter meant one thing: loneliness”. Fox tries to think of ways to keep Winter away so Dormouse can stay awake and with Fox, but who can hold off Nature? Agreeing to share one more story, the friends curl up together… and sleep. The storytelling is gentle, full of love and yearning; the muted colors in the artwork let Fox’s bright coat stand out beautifully against the encroaching gray of Winter. Dormouse’s tilted head and soft words show a kindness and love for a friend; body language that immediately sends a comforting signal to readers. A lovely story of friendship and the fear of separation and loss; a warm feeling of knowing that your friends will be there when you open your eyes. Think about this one for possible grief and loss resources, too.

Red Comet has a great activity kit available for download, with coloring sheets and discussion questions.

Before We Sleep has a starred review from Kirkus.

 

Mister Fairy, by Morgane de Cadier/Illlustrated by Florian Page, (Sept. 2021, Red Comet Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781636550008

Ages 4-8

A forest full of animal-like fairies work their magic except for the taciturn Mister Fairy, whose spells never seem to match the other fairies. Depressed, Mister Fairy takes off to a dull, depressed city, where his seemingly backward spells are exactly what the citizens need: he adds much-needed splashes of color, tickling everyone with his wings and wand, and changing umbrellas into fluffy cotton candy. When he returns to the forest, he discovers that his friends have missed him there, too! A sweet story about embracing your talents, Mister Fairy was originally published in French in 2018 and is an empowering story about embracing your own gifts and uniqueness. Artwork reminds me a bit of Jon Klassen; the illustrations are colorful yet maintain a minimalist appeal. A fantastic back-to-school story about recognizing your own worth. Pair this one with Mister Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown.

Red Comet offers a free, downloadable activity kit for Mister Fairy. Enjoy!

 

That’s it for now – but I’ve got more to come! Welcome, Red Comet Press!

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, picture books

Dad’s Camera explains Alzheimer’s to children

Dad’s Camera, by Ross Watkins/Illustrated by Liz Anelli, (Oct. 2018, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536201383

Ages 5-10

A boy’s father comes home one day with “one of those old cameras, the kind that uses film”, and starts taking pictures of the world around him. The boy and his mother don’t think much of it at first – Dad is doing funny things, like putting tools in the fridge, and milk in the cupboard; it’s what the doctor says will continue happening. As Dad continues photographing everyday objects, the boy and his mother wonder why he’s not taking pictures of them: aren’t they worth remembering, too? Dad just looks puzzled, and makes collages of his developed photos, sticking them on a window. When Dad passes, a package arrives for the boy and his mother: it’s the camera, with one photo left to be developed. The boy and his mother discover a final photo from Dad: a family portrait.

Dad’s Camera is a heartbreaking conversation about a young family struggling with Alzheimer’s, inspired by the author’s father-in-law, who developed the disease when his daughter was a tween. An author’s note explains that Ross Watkins wrote Dad’s Camera to “create a way for children and adults to talk about the confusion often surrounding Alzheimer’s, but also to celebrate the tenderness and small surprises of such difficult times”. Mission accomplished: Dad’s Camera is a series of poignant, small moments that are tender and loving; a bright spot in a family’s dark time. It’s a moving, bittersweet story of loss, grief, and the joy of memory and is a smart addition to your collections. It begins a conversation that is normally reserved for grandparents and elder family members, and provides a comforting strength for families.

 

Liz Anelli’s incorporates collage, watercolor, mono print, acrylic, and digital color to create a sedate atmosphere for the story, always mindful of details that readers will discover through multiple reads. A bus runs a camera film ad on its side in one spread; in the next spread, the camera arrives in a box with the same photo on the side. The colors are warm, homey, and yet, infused with a sadness and a yearning.

Dad’s Camera was originally published in the UK as One Photo (2016).

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

The Funeral takes a sensitive look at a child’s perception of death

The Funeral, by Matt James, (Apr. 2018, Groundwood Books), $18.95, ISBN: 9781554989089

Recommended for readers 4-7

A young girl named Norma attends a funeral for her great-uncle Frank; she’s excited to see her favorite cousin, Ray, but she also has questions – Uncle Frank was old, right? Is Uncle Frank still a person? – and the whole funeral service is confusing, maybe even a little boring. At the end of the day, as Norma and Ray play together, they’re both pretty confident that Uncle Frank would have enjoyed his funeral.

This is a refreshing story about grief and loss, because it focuses on the kids’ perspective. It’s a social gathering – we adults see it that way, too, but kids still have the innocence to mix their confusion at the whole idea of death with the joy of seeing family and friends that they may not see as often. Norma knows what’s expected: she models a sad face in the mirror; she quietly sits through the service, patiently waiting to spend time with her cousin. Death brings conflicting feelings and questionss, sure, and we can’t always give them the best answers, but at the end of the day, love and understanding is the best way to go. And why wouldn’t Uncle Frank have enjoyed a big party in his honor? The Funeral celebrates the optimism and hope that comes from a child’s perspective. It’s wonderful, and the mixed media artwork gives color and texture to the story.

 

The Funeral has starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, and Booklist.

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

Love, Lucas is in paperback! Read an excerpt.

61608104718690LLove, Lucas, by Chantele Sedgwick (2015, Sky Pony Press), $9.99, ISBN: 9781510709928

Recommended for ages 13+

 

I reviewed Love, Lucas when it was originally published in hardcover last year. You can read my review here. To celebrate the book’s paperback release, I’m posting a 5-page excerpt, courtesy of Sky Pony Press. Read on and enjoy!

Love, Lucas, by Chantele Sedgwick (Excerpt)

CHAPTER 1

Everyone tells me funerals help with the grieving process, but I think those people are full of crap. If anything, they make you more depressed than you already are.

I stare at my brother’s casket as we gather around the gravesite. A few inches of snow covers the ground around us and I shiver at the cold breeze biting at my skin. Dad blows his nose and I glance over and see Mom crying into the shoulder of his coat. I’m not sure how she even has tears left.

I know I’m supposed to feel something. Anything. Relief that Lucas is out of pain. Anger that he was taken so early from us. Sadness that I’ll never hear his laugh or see his smiling face again.

Instead I feel only a hollow emptiness inside my chest. He took part of me with him. I can already feel the hole he left behind, waiting for something to fill it. But I know no one can ever take the place of my best friend.

Mom grabs my arm and gives it a squeeze. She holds out a tissue but I don’t take it. I haven’t cried since the night at the hospital. The night he left us. I know so much emotion is built up inside of me, looking for a chance to escape, but for some reason I can’t, no, won’t let it out. Something’s wrong with me.

Dad wraps an arm around my waist. I don’t move. My arms are like weights at my side. Lifeless. Like Lucas.

Mom says something to me and presses a long stemmed rose into my hand. I stare at it and say nothing. I’ve always hated flowers at funerals. They’re supposed to make you feel happy. Not depressed.

People around me move one by one toward the casket and place their roses on top. As I watch them, my fist closes and I crush the delicate petals of my flower into my palm. The maimed rose slides from my fingers and drops to the ground.

I can’t handle this. Everyone is so sad. Red faces, puffy eyes. The world seems to move in slow motion as Dad places his rose on the casket. Mom does the same. My breath catches as I notice everyone staring at me, waiting for me to do something. Anything.

Dad urges me forward to take my turn, but my feet refuse to move. He keeps his hand on my back and I take a deep breath before I look up at him. His eyes are sad as they fall on the pieces of the rose at my feet. He doesn’t say anything about it, just grabs my hand and meets my gaze, but the look

he gives me while his eyes fill with tears is more than I can handle. I have to get out of here. I step away from him, take one last look at the casket, and turn around.

“Oakley? Where are you going?” Dad asks.

I don’t answer, just push past him and move through the crowd as my heart hammers in my chest.

Mom calls my name. Dad calls for me, too. I keep walking and don’t look back.

 

 

CHAPTER 2

My parents are arguing again. Mom quit her job at the bank. It didn’t go over very well with Dad, who has thrown himself into his job like a madman. I know they’re both grieving in their own ways but they should talk to each other about it, not fight. Fighting gets you nowhere.

I listen to their raised voices for a moment and put on my headphones when Mom starts crying. I can’t handle hearing her sob all night again, so I turn my iPod on and music blasts in my ears. Nothing like a bunch of guitars and screaming to drown out my parents and my own thoughts. If I can’t hear them, they’re not there.

I lie on my bed and stare at the glow-in-the-dark stars that light up the ceiling. Lucas bought them for me for my sixteenth birthday. He even made his own constellation out of them and called it Luca Major. Stupid, but funny. It makes me miss him even more.

The light flips on and I turn my head to see Mom standing in the doorway. I pause my music and sit up.

“Sorry,” she says. “I knocked, but you didn’t answer.”

I shrug. “It’s fine.” My voice is hoarse. It was so hard for me to say those two words. I haven’t spoken since the funeral three days ago, and no one’s really spoken to me either.

She hesitates in the doorway but finally comes to sit on the edge of my bed. “Oakley,” she starts. She takes a deep breath and reaches out to tuck my dark hair behind my ear. I pull away from her touch. After all the time and energy she’s spent on my brother the past few years, it’s foreign to me. “Your father and I have been talking. I’ve decided to go live with Aunt Jo for a while. Maybe just until summer. I need some time . . .” She swallows and blinks back the moisture in her eyes. “I need time away

from here for a while.”

“Okay . . .” I say. Great. She’s abandoning me. First Lucas, now her. I breathe in and out. I still don’t feel much. Just empty.

“I wanted to see if . . . well . . .” She smoothes my hair down, and though I consider protesting, I let her. “Honey, I want you to come with me.”

My heart races. “You’re not getting divorced, are you?” I pray she says no. I can’t handle anything else going wrong. Not now. Not when I need at least some normalcy in my life.

She shakes her head. “No. Your father and I are fine. We just . . . grieve differently.” The way she says it confirms that they’re not fine. She takes a shaky breath. “Anyway, just think about coming with me, okay? You don’t have to be in school since you graduated early, and you don’t have a job or anything. I think it could be good for you to get away from everything.”

I think about her offer. Even though I’ll miss Dad, I’d love to get away. I could leave my depressing life behind for the spring and maybe heal a little before I have to decide what to do with my life. College and all that crap. I’ll leave my house and put all the memories of Lucas and my old friends and their whispers behind my back. It would be nice to get away from it all. Away from the uncomfortable silence whenever I see anyone who knows me. I know they aren’t sure what to say; I mean, what do you say to someone who just lost her brother? Even if they have something to say, I’m not sure I’d want to hear it anyway.

“Remember, Jo lives in California now, if that makes a difference. Huntington Beach. She has a really nice house with room to spare.”

I crack a smile. It feels strange on my lips but it’s a start. If I go with Mom, I could use my camera again. The thought of taking pictures comforts me. Just a little. I turn toward her and meet her eyes. “Okay,” I whisper.

She puts her arms around me in an awkward hug. I’m not sure what to do with my own arms, so I lift one and softly pat her back. Physical contact has been nonexistent with her for a while now. She’s not the touchy-feely type. We get along well enough, but for her to hug me . . . I’m sure it takes a lot.

“We’re going to be okay,” she says. It sounds like she’s trying to reassure herself more than me. She pulls away, pats my leg, and stands. “We’re leaving tomorrow morning, so you’d better start packing. I’ve already booked the flights.”

I frown. That doesn’t surprise me at all. “So . . . you were going to drag me there whether I wanted to go or not?”

She shrugs. “I think it will be good for you. For us.”

I want to say something else but don’t have the energy as thoughts of Lucas pop into my head again. Instead, I swallow the lump in my throat, give her a quick nod, and she leaves me alone.

Spending the next few months with Aunt Jo might be a good thing. She’s a marine biologist or veterinarian or something, so maybe she’ll distract me with some of her work. And I’ve never been to a real beach before since our family doesn’t really leave the state of Utah. The only beachy place I’ve been is Antelope Island. This tiny island in the middle of the Great Salt Lake that’s covered with mosquitoes, flies, and brine shrimp. As for animals, I’m sure there are a few antelope here and there, but I’ve never seen any. Just a whole lot of buffalo. Antelope Island . . . covered in buffalo. Go figure.

A real beach. The thought sounds amazing. I’ve only seen pictures of Aunt Jo in the ocean. I’d love to have some photos of my own to hang on my wall. I climb off my bed and go look for a suitcase. Tomorrow can’t come soon enough.

My ears pop as we land in California. Mom grabs her

carry-on from the overhead compartment and passes me my guitar. I already have my backpack on my lap. We both keep our jumbled thoughts to ourselves. When the line starts to move, I stand, and we follow the crowd and exit the stuffy plane.

Aunt Jo is waiting for us at baggage claim. She runs to Mom and they hug forever, even though they saw each other at the funeral four days ago. Everyone around us is staring, so I move away from them and wait for our suitcases to come down the chute and onto the turnstile. I don’t want to talk about Lucas, so I let them have a moment to themselves.

“How are you doing, Oakley? You hangin’ in there?”

I flinch at Jo’s hand on my shoulder. “I’m good.” I grab my suitcase and she lets go. I don’t miss the look she gives Mom.

They’re worried about me. They can see through the fake smile I put on for everyone who asks how I’m doing. I don’t know why I pretend everything’s okay when clearly it’s not. Lucas is gone. How can anything be okay when he’s not here? He was the only person in my life I could count on.

“Oakley, honey, you ready?” Mom looks over at me with a sad but hopeful smile.

“Yes.” I throw my backpack over my shoulder and my guitar over the other and follow them to the car, dragging my suitcase behind me.

The drive to Jo’s house is quiet. I study her and my mom for a while. It’s weird that they’re even sisters. They look nothing alike. Mom’s short dark hair is neat and straight, while Jo’s is long with light wild curls. Mom is pale with soft skin, and Jo is tan and rough-looking from being outside all the time. I look like Mom. Dark hair and pale skin. Sort of like death.

They’re so different. Their lives especially. Mom married Dad when she was only nineteen. They were high school sweethearts. Obviously it isn’t working out too well. I wonder why Jo never married, but I don’t ask. I’m not in the mood for conversation.

Jo’s house is beautiful. It’s right across the street from the beach. There are windows everywhere. Huge rectangular windows that face the ocean. I’ve always dreamed of living in a house like this. It seems so peaceful. Safe from whispers and gossip. Just what I need.

“You like it?” Jo asks.

I meet her eyes in the rearview mirror and smile. “It’s perfect.”

She puts the car in park and glances at Mom for a second before looking at me again. “I fixed one of the guest rooms up for you so you’ll have some privacy while you’re here. I remember what it was like being a teenager. And your mom told me you like your space. Hopefully you can call it your home away from home for a while.” She gives me a wink before she gets out.

I open the door and step outside as well, breathing in the salty air. It’s strange and different from what I’m used to back home, but right and wonderful at the same time. This is where I’m supposed to be right now and I’m so happy I came.

Palm trees peak around the edge of the house and I have the sudden desire to climb one. I breathe in the ocean air again and grin. For some reason I feel lighter than before. Like all my troubles will magically melt away the moment I step into that beautiful house. But as memories of the past few weeks slam into me again, I realize the depressing fact that fantasy never wins over reality. Even when it should.

We unload our bags and I follow Jo and Mom up the front steps. Jo opens the door and Mom steps back so I can go in first. My jaw drops as I look around.

The inside is gorgeous. Sunlight spills in through the windows, making it almost as bright as outside. The rooms are open. Not stuffy or crowded, but roomy. I’m surprised by Jo’s color choice. The furniture is white, with yellow flowers and throw pillows to accent the living room. A perfect choice for a house like this.

I drop my bags near the door for a moment and take my time walking around the front room, admiring the little seashells accenting the tables. Of course they’re not plastic. They’re very real, and that makes me happy.

Mom’s heels click on the white tile floor and echo through the house. She turns around and smiles. “Jo, I love it,” she says. “It’s amazing.”

“Thanks. It was a bunch of work fixing it up, but I think it turned out nicely.” Jo smiles and turns to me. “Your room is the last one on the left if you want to check it out.”

I grab my bags as I make my way down the hall and open my bedroom door. My eyes widen as I see how big it is. A bed dominates most of the room, with a dresser and mirror across from it. The same sort of decorations are in here as well. Seashells on the glass nightstand near the bed and a few pictures of the ocean hung up on the walls. I throw my backpack on the ground and set my guitar on the bed. My fingers skim the pretty white bedspread. It’s not quite my style, since my room back home is decorated with orange, pink, and lime green, but it works.

I glance around and notice a walk-in closet. Nice. Not that I have a ton of clothes, but still. My favorite part of the room is the French doors that lead outside to a small covered patio. I peek out the window and grin. There’s a hammock and lounge chair and a huge swimming pool. It’s nice and blue. Clean. I wonder if Jo has a pool man, since she obviously makes a ton of money to live in a place like this.

I walk around for a while and go through the fence to the front yard. It’s surreal to be so close to the ocean. My feet start walking on their own and I cross the street and head toward the sand and waves. My first time ever at a beach, and I’ve heard Huntington is really nice.

My flip-flops are covered in sand so I slip them off. I smile at the feel of the sand between my toes. Again, I feel safe. Free. Ready for a new beginning.

The beach is different than I imagined. In all the pictures I’ve seen, there are always a ton of people lying on the sand, tanning. I look around. There aren’t a lot of people out at all. At least not today. An older couple sits a few yards away under big umbrellas. The lady is reading a book and the man I assume is her husband is taking a nap. A few people are playing volleyball further down the beach and there are some surfers bobbing in the water.

It’s like heaven. I walk until I feel the icy ocean water touch my feet. It sends a little shock through my body, but I don’t care. It’s awesome. After a few minutes of watching the tiny waves roll up around my ankles while my feet sink into the mud, I walk back up the beach and sit down in the sand. It’s warm, but a cool breeze caresses my skin. Fascinated, I watch the waves crash into the beach and the surfers riding them so effortlessly.

I sink my toes deeper into the sand and smile. I think I’m going to like it here.

Posted in Preschool Reads, Uncategorized

Bug in a Vacuum takes an interesting look at the five stages of grief

bugBug in a Vacuum, by Mélanie Watt (Aug. 2015, Tundra), $21.99, ISBN: 9781770496453

Recommended for ages 4-8

A bug flies through a window and through a house. He settles on a globe, only to be sucked into a vacuum cleaner! He moves through the five stages of grief, as postulated by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross: denial, bargaining, anger, despair, and eventually, acceptance. In a parallel story, we follow the family dog, whose stuffed toy has also become trapped in the vacuum cleaner; the dog moves through its own stages of grief.

I have to admit, at first, I was a little confused by the book’s message – it’s adorable, and the material is presented in fun manner – but the content is about moving through grief, so how would I position this to kids? After a second reading, I realized that it’s not necessarily about death – it’s about loss, and what better than a lost toy, or a bug’s exaggerated reactions, to explain that to children? My toddler goes through the five stages of grief every night when it’s bedtime, so I really need to open up my thinking when I approach new material.

This is an interesting way of explaining the blues, the grief process, however you term it, to young children. The mixed media artwork gives the art texture and depth, really drawing the reader into the story. Retro advertisements for household products introduce each new stage. The bug’s word balloons and gestures equal the intensity of each stage – anger is big and bold; acceptance is smaller, thinner.

This would provide an interesting read-aloud. Let the kids tell you what’s going on and how they think the bug and the dog are feeling. Ask the kids, when did you feel sad? What made you feel that way? What makes you angry? Phrase each stage as a chance for exploring feelings. This would pair really well with a book on feelings or emotions.

Melanie Watt is the author of the award-winning children’s book series, Scaredy Squirrel, which is also a television show on Cartoon Network.

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

Dead Boy by Laurel Gale – An Unconventional Kid, An Unconventional Friendship

DEADBOYDead Boy, by Laurel Gale (Sept. 2015, Random House Children’s), $16.99, ISBN: 9780553510089

Recommended for ages 9-13

Crow is a boy who should be in 6th grade by now. He’s lonely and wants a friend, but he’s stuck indoors by his overprotective mom, who worries that the outside world will take Crow away from her once they discover her secret: Crow died two years ago.

Crow doesn’t remember much about how he died; he just sort of died. But he remembers waking up to his mother’s tears. Since then, he’s been a bit stinky, has a bit of a maggot problem, and tends to lose body parts. All Crow wants is a friend, and maybe not to stink so much. When an eccentric girl named Melody moves in next door, she’s fascinated by Crow. She’s undeterred by his mother’s efforts to keep her away – keep everyone and everything away – from Crow, and at last, Crow finally has a friend. When they go wandering one night, they discover a creature, the Meera, that has deep ties to Crow and his family – and another family in the neighborhood. Can Crow learn the Meera’s secrets, save one of his former classmates, and maybe – just maybe – be a real boy again?

This was a great read for middle graders who like a touch of the macabre in their fiction. If your kids have read and enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and Graveyard Book, or Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, consider introducing them to this one. I’d like to pair this book with A.F. Harrold’s The Imaginary for a heck of a book discussion. (Hmm… I see a really interesting book display forming in my brain.) Laurel Gale gives us such an empathy toward poor Crow, at the same time letting us cringe and chuckle at his… well, deadness. I felt his yearning for a friend and his loneliness, his frustration with his mother, who keeps too many secrets “for his own good”, and the desperation to know what happened to him. Melody is a great sidekick, a friend with some wild theories that aren’t too off the mark. We get some great comeuppance for mean girls and bullies, too.

At the same time, we see the toll that the loss of a child takes on a marriage, and the lengths that parents will go to in order to keep their children safe and happy. It’s a bit disturbing at times, but it’s an honest look into a parent’s psyche that will make for some great family book group discussions. Read this book with your kids, with your classes, and let the dialogue flow.

Laurel Gale ‘s author page features Dead Boy and some basic contact info for the moment; hopefully, as the book gets closer to publishing date, we’ll get some more resources.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Woundabout debates the pros and cons of change

woundaboutWoundabout, by Lev Rosen/Illus. by Ellis Rosen (June 2015, Little, Brown), $17, ISBN: 978-0-316-37078-3

Recommended for ages 9-13
When their dads are killed during a bomb explosion at their capybara training camp, siblings Connor and Cordelia are sent to live with their Aunt Marigold and her driver, Gray, in the odd town of Woundabout. There are no kids in Woundabout – they all go to boarding school. They’re told that asking questions is frowned upon, there’s no Internet service, and they’re told to develop and stick to a daily routine. They meet a boy from a neighboring town and together, they start unraveling – or unwinding – some of the secrets kept by the Mayor of Woundabout.
This is a good read for so many reasons. It addresses grief and loss sensitively and with a touch of humor. Every one of the main characters is dealing with a loss of some sort, which propels not only the narrative, but the town of Woundabout itself. Sickness, injury, death, relationships: all of these areas are explored in terms of loss and moving on, and the book can lead to a great discussion about the pros and cons of change in our lives. There are no absolutes, and that’s the message here: there shouldn’t be. For good or bad, change happens and we have to move along with it.
I love that Connor and Cordelia’s parentage is so sweetly addressed. They’re the kids’ parents. That’s it. The illustrations and text show readers that there is “Dad” and “Pop”, and that they adored their children as much as they adored each other. Its very ubiquity makes it stand out as an important facet of the story.
Ellis Rosen’s black and white illustrations add a fun, quirky feel to this unconventional adventure, giving a slightly moody, unbalanced feel to the town of Woundabout.
Woundabout is fun fantasy with some very realistic fiction issues. It’s a great Summer Reading pick. It’s on sale on June 23, so make sure to get your orders in now!
Posted in Preschool

Faraway Friends: A far-out adventure that takes place on Earth!

faraway friendsFaraway Friends, by Russ Cox (2015, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781632204080

Recommended for ages 3-7

Sheldon’s friend is moving – possibly, to Jupiter! What’s a kid to do? Why, build a rocketship and blast off to visit!

Faraway Friends is a great blending of realistic and fantasy for young kids. You’ve got the story of loss, when Sheldon’s friend moves away, as the frame. Within that frame, you have Sheldon and his first-mate, Jet the Dog, building a rocketship to head out to the stars, explore, and go for a visit. Finally, you have the beginning of a new friendship – with an alien?!

This book is adorable. Russ Cox’s artwork is exciting and fun, with action and movement. Jet the Dog’s facial expressions and thought bubbles make him the best part of this story for me. Sheldon’s decision to take action as part of his dealing with his friend moving away is a great way to illustrate the concept of moving on and forming new friendships. The basic text is unintrusive and perfect for a read-aloud, and the countdowns to blastoff provide fun opportunities to get little listeners involved in the book.

I read this story to my three preschool classes, who loved the book and wanted me to read it again and again. What a home run! This one’s going on the shelves for Summer Reading, no question about it.

Enjoy the book trailer for Faraway Friends, and then go get your own copy – it’s on shelves now!

Posted in Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen

Love, Lucas – A story of grief, letting go, and moving on

61608104718690LLove, Lucas, by Chantele Sedgwick (2015, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-63220-417-2

Recommended for ages 13+

Oakley Nelson’s reeling from the loss of her brother, Lucas, to bone cancer. She’s spent the last few months at his bedside, pulling away from friends, activities, and life. With her parents’ marriage in a tailspin, Oakley and her mom head to California to spend some time with her Aunt Jo, hoping the change of scenery will give them the space they need to recover.

Once in California, Oakley’s mom gives her a notebook, filled with letters written to her by Lucas. He leaves her with life lessons, small observations, and wry humor to help her move on, and she clings to the notebook like a life raft as she navigates getting to know the local teens in her aunt’s neighborhood, including Carson, a good-looking surfer who’s unlike any guy she’s ever met. She’s caught between her feelings for Carson and feeling guilty about moving on too quickly, but as she turns to Lucas’ own words for guidance and comfort, she realizes that going on with her life is exactly what Lucas wants her to do.

This is a moving YA novel dealing with grief, loss, and the fallout that happens when a terminally ill family member dies. Oakley’s anchor is gone when Lucas, her best friend and brother, dies; she’s devoted the last few months to him, abandoning friends and extracurricular activities. Her parents’ relationship is in turmoil, and with all the attention focused on Lucas, she doesn’t feel she can rely on either of them. She feels out of touch with other teens when she meets Carson and his friends, and her internal narrative is focused on how awkward she feels, and she often looks at herself with a self-deprecating sense of humor that’s funny and at the same time, teens will recognize and appreciate.

Love, Lucas will appeal to John Green, Gayle Forman, and Sarah Dessen fans. There’s romance, finding inner strength in the face of tragedy/adversity, and introspective dialogue that teens today gravitate to.

Chantele Sedgwick is the author of Not Your Average Fairy Tale and Not Your Average Happy Ending (Sarah Dessen fans, recognize!). Her author site offers more information about her books and

 

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade

Cybils Middle Grade Fiction – A Few Reviews

Hey there!

I’m working hard, getting through my Cybils Middle Grade nominees – there’s so much good fiction out there! – so I thought I’d give a quick update on a few I’ve read so far.

red pencilThe Red Pencil, by Andrea Davis Pinkney, (Sept. 2014, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), $17, ISBN: 978-0316247801

Recommended for ages 8-14

Amira is a 12 year-old girl living in Darfur. She dreams of going to school, something her mother will not hear. She will marry a husband who can read for her, her mother tells her. That all changes when the Janjaweed come.

When her village is attacked by the Sudanese militia, her life is changed forever. She, and the survivors of her village, make their way to a refugee camp, where she grieves and learns how to start life anew.

Written in verse, The Red Pencil is one of the most powerful books I have ever read. It’s about time we see fiction about this time and place in history hitting our bookshelves. Children need to read this book, and teachers need to discuss it with them. If you don’t have access to this book yet, PLEASE – find it, read it, and share it.

 

crossoverThe Crossover, by Kwame Alexander, (March 2014, HMH Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0544107717

Recommended for ages 8-14

Josh and his twin brother, Jordan, are lightning on the basketball court. The sons of a basketball player whose pro career was derailed by an injury and the assistant principal of their school, they have a strong family background that emphasizes teamwork and schoolwork.

Josh loves to rhyme, cranking out beats in his head as he plays. Jordan has other things in mind these days, though – namely, a girlfriend. Josh has a hard time with accepting this third party in his and Jordan’s relationship. Throw in their father’s health problems that he refuses to seek help for, and you’ve got a compelling read that will appeal to all readers, male and female, sports fans or not. There’s a flow and pacing to this novel, also written in verse, that just moves the pages on its own. Josh is a likable kid, and readers will see themselves in his shoes as he talks about his fears and frustrations.

The Crossover has been designated as a Kirkus Best Children’s Book of 2014, one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Children’s Books of 2014, and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year.