Capstone is bringing Kean Soon’s Jellaby back to print, and I couldn’t be happier. I came across the book on NetGalley, and am so happy that Capstone gave me the chance to read it. Jellaby: The Lost Monster is the first volume in the Jellaby series. The all-ages story about friendship also tackles some big issues within a safe space for kids.
Read the rest of my review over at WhatchaReading!
Recommended for ages 9-12
Fifth graders Hazel and Jack are best friends until the day Jack decides he wants to be around boys more than a girl. Hazel is miserable at the loss of her friend, but when Jack disappears, she is the only one who ventures into the mysterious woods to find him, and get him back from the White Queen – whether or not he wants to come home.
Breadcrumbs is a trip through fairy tales and middle-grade stories that many readers will be familiar with, all surrounding a retelling of the classic tale of the Snow Queen. The characters are fifth graders who actually act their age; they are fully fleshed out with backgrounds that touch on issues that many readers will be familiar with – multiculturalism, adoption, divorce and remarriage, depression, and the pain of loss and how to move past it. There is a little bit of magic in every world, and Breadcrumbs brings that to life in the form of the main characters’ imaginations and in the more literal, magical forest sense. Erin McGuire’s black and white illustrations bring the chill of the cold forest, particularly the Snow Queen, to life and enhance the text. Compulsively readable, the book also provides numerous opportunities to enhance classroom discussions on topical issues or on a fairy tale unit.
Breadcrumbs is a 2011 Cybils award nominee for Middle Grade Science Fiction/Fantasy. Author Anne Ursu’s webpage offers information about Breadcrumbs and all of Ms. Ursu’s books, plus updated news and appearance information and links to social media.
Recommended for ages 11-13
A Monster Calls is one of those books that will tear your heart out while you’re reading it, but when you’re done, you’re glad that you went through the experience. It’s that good.
Conor is a 13-year old boy who lives in Britain with his single mother, has a strained relationship with his father, who has his own life and new family in the States, and is bullied at school. His mother is fighting a battle with cancer, and losing. Around this time, Conor starts receiving visits every night, just after midnight, from a monster in the guise of a yew tree in his backyard. The monster tells him stories – truths – whose outcomes really play with perspective, and he tells Conor that the fourth story will be Conor’s, telling the monster his own truth. It’s a truth that Conor doesn’t want to think about, but that gives him nightmares every night.
The story, originally an idea by author Siobhan Dowd, whose own life was cut short by cancer, is gorgeously written. Ness’ words bring the reader right into Conor’s fear, grief and anger at his mother’s battle, his grandmother’s fussiness, his father’s distance, and the numbness he feels as he endures the bullies at school. When the monster allows Conor’s rage an outlet, the reader feels it, viscerally. Jim Kay’s stark black and white illustations add to the moody feeling of Ness’ prose.
Book Review: Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie, by Julie Sternberg (illustrations by Matthew Cordell) (Amulet Books, 2011)
Recommended for ages 8-10
“I had a bad August. A very bad August. As bad as pickle juice on a cookie. I hope your August was better. I really do.”
Thus begins eight-year old Eleanor’s story. She learns that her beloved babysitter, Bibi, will be leaving her family’s employ and their Brooklyn home and moving to Florida in order to care for her sick father. To make things worse, her best friend, Pearl, is away on vacation with her family. Heartbroken, she doesn’t want to do anything that will remind her of Bibi and she certainly doesn’t want another babysitter. But her parents have to work, and a new babysitter shows up. Eleanor learns that it’s okay to miss Bibi and still make space in her heart for Natalie.
Pickle Juice teaches kids about loss and how to work through it. Told in free verse and accompanied by line drawings, it presents an easy transition for middle graders ready to move on from beginner chapter books. The story presents many areas for discussion for both parents and teachers having read-alouds with their children.
Julie Sternberg’s author website offers a curriculum guide for Pickle Juice, as well as an interesting author biography told through her favorite books. Readers can click through to her blog and contact her regarding author visits.