Posted in Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

The Great TBR Read-Down: The Other Half of Happy by Rebecca Balcárcel

The Other Half of Happy, by Rebecca Balcárcel, (Sept. 2021, Chronicle Books), $7.99, ISBN: 9781797213910

Ages 10-12

Seventh-grader Quijana is half-Guatemalan and half-American, but has always identified more with her American half. She never learned Spanish; something she didn’t think about until her Guatemalan relatives move to her family’s Texas town, and when Latinx kids at her new middle school call her an imposter or “coconut” – white on the inside – for having a Latinx name but not embracing the heritage. Her father wants to take the family – Quijana, her parents, and her 3-year-old brother, Memito – to Guatemala over winter break but Quijana has no interest in going and plans to take a bus to Florida to spend time with her mother’s mother, who’s undergoing cancer treatment. She plans to raise the money for the bus ticket by selling a traditional Guatemalan garment, a huipil, gifted by her father’s mother. Narrated in the first person by Quijana, The Other Half of Happy examines identity, first crushes, friendship, and family relationships. Quijana’s biracial identity clearly comes through as the story develops, and the characters are all multidimensional, realized people. Rebecca Balcárcel makes Quijana incredibly believable: she’s taking on an incredible amount of stress on the home front, while working through school relationships and discovering herself. Introspective and always honest, The Other Half of Happy is a brilliant book about cultural identity and being a tween. Back matter includes quotes from Quijana’s grandmother, from Don Quixote, poems, a game, and notes from Quijana’s grandmother’s science notebook; there’s also a discussion guide. Consider this one for your Oceans of Possibilities book lists and discussion groups.

The Other Half of Happy has starred reviews from Booklist and School Library Journal. Visit Rebecca Balcárcel’s author webpage to sign up for a newsletter and to learn more about her books.

Posted in Uncategorized

Books for Pet Lovers

It’s another roundup! This time, I’ve got books for pet lovers: large, small, stinky, all here!

 

Not That Pet!, by Smriti Prasadam-Halls/Illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw, (Feb. 2022, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536217766

Ages 2-5

Mabel is so excited: her family is letting her choose the family pet! Her first choice is a bit unorthodox – it’s an elephant – but hey, the elephant keeps the plants watered and pulls weeds, right? When the elephant seems to be a bit too big, the family asks her to make another choice. And another. And another. Mabel’s penchant for choosing unusual pets is upending her family in the most hilarious of ways: ants crawl into her dad’s pants, a snake gets a little too huggy, and skunk… well, you can guess what the skunk does. Can Mabel find a pet that’s going to fit in with her whole family? The hijinks are hilarious and Rosalind Beardshaw’s colorful, cartoony illustrations bring this family to big, colorful life as they try to acclimate to each new pet. The multi-generational, biracial family – Mabel’s mom is South Asian, her dad is white, and mom’s parents live with the family, as shown in a house cross-section. The story bounces humorously along, words in caps for emphasis; this will make a spectacular read-aloud. Mabel and her little brother have a sweet relationship, as he follows her through the book, engaging with each new pet she brings home. A good add to storytime collections.

 

 

Hat Cat, by Troy Wilson/Illustrated by Eve Coy, (Feb. 2022, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536213669

Ages 4-8

An elderly man visits the park to feed squirrels every day, and one day discovers that a kitten has taken up residence in his hat! He takes the kitten home, naming it Hat, and lavishes Hat with love and affection. He won’t let Hat outside to roam, though; he is afraid Hat won’t come back, and he’s afraid for the squirrels. But one day, the man doesn’t come home. A few days later, a woman and child arrive to take care of Hat, and an open door gives Hat the chance he’s waited for: he heads outside, but he doesn’t chase the squirrels and he doesn’t run away. He finds the Man’s hat, left on the bench, and he curls up to sleep in it. And when the Man finally comes back home, he, his caregivers, and Hat all sit together, outside, enjoying the day. Hat Cat is a moving story of friendship and companionship. Pencil and watercolor illustrations give a soft, gentle feel to the story, with the Man and Hat in their cozy book- and plant-filled home. When Hat realizes the Man is gone, the loneliness communicated is just heartbreaking: tiny Hat, standing against a door, the sun shining in, feels so big and empty, and the reunion between Hat and Man bring a warmth and coziness back to the story. The old man presents as white; the caregiver and her daughter are brown-skinned. Details like family photos on the wall give the old man a life beyond the confines of the book. A gorgeous book that evokes emotion.

 

Big Dog, Little Dog, by Sally Rippin/Illustrated by Lucinda Gifford, (March 2022, Kane Miller), $12.99, ISBN: 9781684643837

Ages 3-6

A big dog learns about friendship in this adorable story, originally published in the UK in 2021. Big Dog has a good life with his male human, even if it feels a little lonely, from time to time. But things change when Big Dog’s human meets a lady, who has a Little Dog. The two humans move in together, and Big Dog is not thrilled about sharing his home with Little Dog, who interprets things like “Sit”, “Up”, and “Come” very differently. Big Dog has had the run of the house, and now Little Dog – who’s better behaved – seems to be stealing his thunder. Big Dog goes on a campaign of chaos to try framing Little Dog, but when he goes too far, he’s put out for the night; Little Dog refuses to go to sleep without Big Dog, and raises a ruckus indoors until the two are reunited, leading to a friendship between the former rivals. Little Dog calms some of Big Dog’s rebellious nature, and Big Dog teaches Little Dog that it’s okay to take a mud bath every now and then. Big Dog’s owner presents as white, Little Dog’s owner is brown-skinned. Endpapers show Big Dog running across a park in the opening spread, and being joined by Little Dog in the closing. The dogs are expressive from their faces to their active tails, and the illustrations show the amusing difference between Big Dog’s and Little Dog’s interpretations of commands like “UP!” (he lies on the couch; Little Dog jumps into his human’s arms) and “Walkies!” (he takes off, dragging his human being him; Little Dog walks alongside his human). Great for dog fans and kids with new siblings, Big Dog Little Dog shows kids that even the roughest of beginnings can lead to a sweet ending. Adorable for storytime reading.

 

 

We Love You, Magoo, by Briony Stewart, (March 2022, Kane Miller), $14.99, ISBN: 9781684643646

Ages 2-6

A lovable cartoon pup has his own ideas about what a dog should do in this giggle-worthy rhyming look at a dog’s life. Alternating spreads show Magoo contemplating what he thinks he should be doing – chowing down on bacon and eggs at the breakfast table, taking the car wheel, chewing a bunch of toys – and what he should be doing, like eating kibble from his bowl, sitting in his dog house, or playing with a tennis ball. Spreads fall into a question and answer format, making it easy for kids to chime in with the repetitive answer, “No, Magoo. This is for you”. Magoo’s facial expressions and body language are adorably played for laughs, and the sweet ending will melt hearts. The bold, bright artwork and big, black fonts make this an excellent readaloud choice that will get little ones gleefully taking part in your storytime. Originally published in Australia in 2020, We Love You, Magoo is new to U.S. shores and has a companion book, Where Are You, Magoo? that I hope makes its way here.

Author-illustrator Briony Stewart’s webpage has more information about her books, including the Magoo books.

 

 

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Uncategorized

Discover Israel with this rhyming tour

My Israel and Me, by Alice Blumenthal McGinty/Illustrated by Rotem Teplow, (Sept. 2021, Kalaniot Books), $19.99, ISBN: 978-1-7350875-3-5

Ages 3-8

Told in verse through the eyes of the diverse groups of people living in and visiting Israel, My Israel is a celebration of both the ancient and modern-day country.  Verse shares space with factual information about areas like The Dead Sea, the modern city and Israel’s status as a “Start-Up Nation”, kibbutzes, Biblical history, and more. Alice Blumenthal McGinty celebrates Jewish and Muslim culture and family life, and Rotem Teplow’s colorful artwork takes readers on a journey across the small country with a big history. Endpapers show a plethora of objects to take readers on a visual journey, like camels, kites, olive leaves, and cats, all of whom are waiting to be discovered in the pages.

To extend a lesson on Israel, visit TeachersPayTeachers, where you can find a map of ancient Israel from Taylor Beck; an Israel Activities Pack from Marshal Jewish Learning Center, and more! Download a free educator kit from Kalaniot’s website.

Author Alice Blumenthal McGinty is an award-winning author. You can find educator guides on her website, along with more information on her books, and information about school visits. Visit illustrator Rotem Teplow’s website for more of her artwork.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Setting the tone for a new year: A Hundred Thousand Welcomes

A Hundred Thousand Welcomes, by Mary Lee Donovan/Illustrated by Lian Cho (Oct. 2021, Greenwillow Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9780062877727

Ages 4-8

Welcome! Readers travel to homes all over the world to share food and friendship in A Hundred Thousand Welcomes, being greeted in with a hearty “Welcome!” in 14 different languages. Each welcome includes a phonetic pronunciation to allow for readers to learn and share greetings with one another and spread a message of empathy, unity, and hope for a better world. Families greet one another and invite them to sit at tables together; a note from the artist explains her inspiration: “Food is something that joins us across cultures”. Warm colors and rhythmic verse send a wonderful message to all as people come together to share food, their cultures, and their homes. Reading this book today gives me hope for the holiday season and for a new year. Back matter includes a pronunciation guide, notes form the author and artist, and information about the languages featured in the story. Publisher HarperCollins includes A Hundred Thousand Welcomes discussion prompts and extension activities in a home and community teaching guide.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Don’t miss Tracey Baptiste’s Looking for a Jumbie!

I have been a fan of Tracey Baptiste’s Jumbies series since the first one hit shelves in 2015. They’re such a rich, spooky mix of Caribbean folklore and horror, with smart characters and fantastic pacing: every kid in my library knows that if they ask me for something scary, they’re going to get a Jumbies book handed to them. Fast forward six years, and Tracey Baptiste has a Jumbies picture book, so that I can start getting my itty bitties into all things Jumbie. Start them early, right?

Looking for a Jumbie, by Tracey Baptiste/Illustrated by Amber Ren,
(Sept. 2021, Balzer + Bray), $17.99, ISBN: 9780062970817
Ages 4-8

Naya is a little girl who just knows jumbies are real, even if her Mama says they only exist in stories. Naya heads off, Going on a Bear Hunt-style, to find some, and makes some… interesting friends along the way. Repeated, familiar phrasing that may remind readers of the classic We’re Going on a Bear Hunt runs throughout the book as Naya meets a new friend to join her quest: “We’re looking for a jumbie. We’re going to find a scary one”. She meets several interesting characters in the woods, all who seem to meet the characteristics of well-known jumbies (especially for older siblings and parents who’ve read the novels!), but they don’t seem terribly mean at all. They all manage to convince Naya that they’re not the monsters she’s looking for, and join her quest. Vibrant digital illustrations are colorful and eye-catching, and Naya, a young girl of color, is a brave heroine who forges through each spread. Jumbies are a friendly a group of monsters, and while Naya provides informational descriptions of these spooky monsters, the colorful group are very friendly and cartoon-like in appearance. Looking for a Jumbie could be a wonderful story to read at bedtime to kids who may be worried about things that go bump in the night, as jumbies offer practical reasons for their appearances that have nothing to do with being a monster. No nightmares here! I love, love, love this book.

Tracey Baptiste offers a field guide to jumbies on her website, along with further resources on her Jumbies novels for anyone interested in learning more.

Posted in History, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Honest History gives middle graders new perspectives

Publisher Gibbs Smith hit shelves in August with two history titles that are great gift ideas and lots of fun for your nonfiction collections: History is Delicious, and History is Inventive.

History Is Delicious, by Joshua Lurie/Illustrated by Laura Foy, (Aug. 2021, Gibbs Smith/Honest History), $19.99, ISBN: 9781736191903

Ages 8-12

History is Delicious is a colorful, tasty trip across world history through cuisine. Food plays a part in the cultural fabric; influenced by native cultures and colonialism, the book illustrates how food brings us all together. Organized into sections highlighting the Americas, Europe, Ethiopia (and their coffee breaks!), and Asia, sections include histories of each cuisine, etiquette tips for dining across cultures, popular and “must try” dishes, and a recipe for each region. Colorful illustrations make this attractive and accessible to kids everywhere.

 

History is Inventive, by Brooke Knight/Illustrated by Sophy Smith (Aug. 2021, Honest History/Gibbs Smith), $19.99, ISBN: 9781736191927

Ages 8-12

Next up, we’ve got History is Inventive, a look at inventions and their inventors that changed the world. Straightforward sections organize inventions into timeframes like “Inventions from Long Ago”, “Inventions from Not As Long Ago”, and “Inventions from Not Long Ago” to group inventions going from ancient ideas like gunpowder (9th century AD), to the piano (17th century), to wi-fi (1940s). There’s a section on famous inventors like Charles Drew, the first African American doctor to earn a Doctor of Science from Columbia University, and creator of blood banks. A “Fun Stuff” section gives readers the background and lists of materials needed to make a version of Galileo’s telescope. “Thinking it Over” sections after every profile offer thought-provoking questions. Colorful illustrations, great pacing and layout, and hands-on activities make this another great book to have in your history and STEM collections. I am looking forward to seeing what more Honest History books are coming down the pike!

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Blog Tour: A Christmas Too Big!

Thanksgiving arrives this week, and you know what that brings… the Christmas Blitz! Are you ready? Yes? No? Well, there’s a book for that:

A Christmas Too Big, by Colleen Madden, (Nov. 2021, Two Lions), $17.99, ISBN: 9781542028004

Ages 4-8

A Christmas Too Big arrives with perfect timing. Our narrator, Kerry, is a young girl happily making a fall leaf craft when she realizes it: “The day after Thanksgiving, my family goes TOTALLY BERSERK with CHRISTMAS”. Comics panels reveal the frenetic excitement with which her family embraces Christmas: the holiday songs that start even before Thanksgiving, given full reign the day after; the TV shows on every single channel; the decorations, the commercials, it’s all too much – Christmas is just too big! Going out to clear her head, Kerry lends a helping hand to her Spanish-speaking neighbor, Mrs. Flores, who invites her in for some hot cocoa. The two spend the afternoon quietly making colorful paper flores de Navidad, and enjoying a quiet, handmade holiday afternoon. Kerry helps Mrs. Flores use her Christmas gift from her family, living in Mexico, and decides to introduce some of her happy holiday traditions at home, too.

The story is so perfect for this time of year, which can be stressful and overwhelming for everyone, especially kids who don’t feel like they get a chance to transition from one season or holiday to the next. The story also provides a welcome answer to the mass commercialization of the holiday, offering a quieter, more meaningful alternative to Kerry – and to families who may seek something less slick and shiny. The use of Spanish and English to tell Mrs. Flores’s story adds real meaning to our multicultural world and how kindness stretches across languages. Bilingual endpapers showing different objects we associate with Christmas, like fancy presents (regalos elegantes) and manoplas (mittens) introduce new vocabulary. A flores de Navidad craft at the end is perfect for a post-storytime craft (that I will absolutely be introducing in my library).

Colleen Madden grew up in a crazy Christmas house and, like Kerry, she found a break by spending time with her neighbor who was from another country. She has illustrated many children’s books, including the bestselling What If Everybody? series, written by Ellen Javernick, and the picture-book adaptation of All I Want for Christmas Is You, by Mariah Carey. She recently published Monkey Walk, her debut as both author and illustrator, and is currently working on her first graphic novel. She lives in the Philadelphia area with her husband and two sons.

 

“An intergenerational friendship and a busy holiday made meaningful set this title apart.” Kirkus Reviews

“Madden’s bilingual tale strikes both humorous and poignant notes; the visual blend of comic-style panels, playful fonts, speech bubbles in both English and Spanish, and traditional spreads offers readers plenty to celebrate.” Publishers Weekly

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

Himawari House: A glimpse of adjusting to life as an expat

Himawari House, by Harmony Becker, (Nov. 2021, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250235572

Ages 14+

A glimpse into the lives of three exchange students living in Japan, Himawari House is about the friendships, frustrations, and adjustments that come with living in a new country: in this case, Japan. Nao, Hyejung, and Tina all move into Himawari House and attend the same Japanese school, but have different reasons for being there. Nao wants to reconnect to her Japanese heritage and worries about fitting in with Japanese culture. “Too Japanese” for her American life and “Too American” to Japanese classmates, she struggles with cultural identity. Hyejung, is Korean and moved to Japan to escape her overbearing parents and their unrelenting focus on her academic success. Tina is from Singapore and struggles with connection, preferring to lose herself in fandom. Although Nao’s story is the main driver, Hyejung and Tina have fully realized, moving backstories, all explored here, along with their roommates, two Japanese brothers with widely differing personalities. The group all come together and live here at Himawari House, and the story is a slice of life look into a year in their lives, as they all live and work side-by-side, eat, fall in and out of love, go to school, and talk late into the night. The language barriers are expertly illustrated here – largely bilingual, Japanese characters appear in many word bubbles; the dialogue has a blend of English, Japanese, Korean, and Singlish (the English Creole spoken in Singapore), with a brilliant explanation of the use of accents in the story at the end. Black and white artwork is largely realistic, with Chibi renderings to communicate extreme emotion. It’s a well-done character study and will be popular with teens and young adults.

Himawari House has starred reviews from Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, and School Library Journal.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Uncategorized

Intermediate Book Bundles!

I’ve been bundling again, and Macmillan was kind enough to give me some book bundling ideas from their imprints. This bundle is a mix of intermediate chapter books and graphic novels, and I think this will be a super popular mix.

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen, by Debbi Michiko Florence/Illustrated by Elizabet Vukovic, (July 2017, Farrar, Straus and Giroux), $15.99, ISBN: 9780374304102

Ages 6-9

I read the first Jasmine Toguchi book back in 2017 and loved this fresh new face on my chapter book shelves! Since then, there have been three more Jasmine Toguchi books, and I know my library kids enjoy Jasmine as much as I did. In her first book, 8-year-old Jasmine really wants to be part of the mochi-making process when her grandmother flies in from Japan, but she’s not 10 yet, so her family says, “no way”. But Jasmine is set on building up her arm strength to be able to heft that mochi hammer. An author’s note and microwave mochi recipe at the end introduce readers to Japanese culture, and Jasmine is a spunky, smart young heroine that readers can immediately feel close to; she could be a friend at school or from the neighborhood. Black and white illustrations throughout are playful and let us into Jasmine’s world.

Author Debbi Michiko Florence’s website is amazing, from the adorable and colorful mochi at the top of the page, to the printable activities tied to each of her books, to her colorful and blog, always loaded with photos and updates.

 

Doggo and Pupper, by Katherine Applegate/Illustrated Charlie Alder, (March 2021, Feiwel & Friends), $9.99, ISBN: 9781250620972

Ages 6-9

Newbery Medalist Katherine Applegate and illustrator Charlie Alder join together to create an adorable story of two dogs. Doggo is a family dog who has his routines, like taking naps, walking the family’s daughter, and snuggling little family members. He has calming pursuits, like watching TV, even skateboarding, but it’s a pretty routine life, even if he does wistfully remember his younger, wilder days. When the family decides to get a new puppy, Doggo’s world is turned upside down! Pupper wants to talk ALL NIGHT. He is silly and lazy and… he’s a puppy! When Pupper gets sent to charm school, he returns home a different, more sedate Pupper, which gets Doggo thinking… he misses that wacky little Pupper. He quietly takes the pup out for a night of fun, where the two can let their wild sides out with no damage: or charm school. A sweet story of friendship and enjoying childhood, Doggo and Pupper is a story early graphic novel readers will love. Cat, the family cat, is there to add wisdom to the story, and Doggo has sage advice about puppies at the end of the story; good advice for anyone considering a Pupper of their own. Colorful collage and digital artwork are adorable, and the story is organized into easily readable chapters that give kids a place to pause.

Doggo and Pupper has a starred review from Booklist.

 

Blue, Barry & Pancakes, by Dan & Jason, (March 2021, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250255556

Ages 4-8

Childhood best friends Dan and Jason give kids a new graphic novel series about the hilarity of friendship. Blue is a worm, Barry is a frog, and Pancakes is a giant bunny, who live in the same house and get into the wackiest of situations. In this first graphic novel, Barry is just about to finish his tower of waffles when Pancakes insists they hit the beach. When Barry and Pancakes start playing with Blue’s collector beach ball, a giant whale eats it and sends the trio off into a silly adventure that will have every reader giggling uncontrollably (at least, my 8 year old did). The facial expressions, the frenetic pace of the action, and the “what next?” moments all make this the graphic novel kids will be asking for this summer. Reading takes you everywhere? It sure does here, as the trio goes from home, to the beach, to the inside of a whale, a rowboat, a UFO, the inside of a volcano, and more! If you asked one of your library kids to make up an adventure right on the spot, I guarantee you they’d come up with something very close to Blue, Barry and Pancakes. Endpapers show off other items in Blue’s collection, which makes me wonder what we’ll see in future adventures…

This is the first in a planned trilogy – the second one is due out in a matter of DAYS (stay tuned). Visit Dan and Jason’s website to see more about their projects, including Blue, Barry and Pancakes.

 

Stella Diaz Has Something to Say!, by Angela Dominguez, (Jan. 2018, Roaring Brook Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-62672-858-5

Ages 7-9

I read the first Stella Diaz book in 2018 and thoroughly enjoyed spending time with this shy second grader who had to find her voice. Stella Diaz loves fish and learning about the oceans and ocean life; she loves spending time with her mom and brother, and loves spending time with her best friend Jenny. She’s also incredibly shy and can’t find the words she wants to use, so she tends to stay quiet, afraid she’ll speak Spanish instead of English, or pronounce her words wrong. Either way, she’s made fun of by the class Mean Girl, but when her teacher assigns presentations that means Stella will have to speak in front of the class, she works to defeat her fears and find her voice. It’s a wonderful story about friendship, making new friends, and facing challenges. It’s infused with Mexican culture and Spanish language, inspired by the author’s own story of growing up Mexican-American, and features black and white illustrations throughout. There are two additional Stella Diaz books now, with a third coming next year – I’ve got books 2 and 3 on my desk right now, so keep an eye on this space for more.

Visit author Angela Dominguez’s website for more about her books!

 

How are you feeling about the book bundles talking? Too much? Not enough? Less description, more visual? I’d love to hear what you think!

Posted in picture books

My Day with the Panye: a love letter to Haitian women’s strength

My Day with the Panye, by Tami Charles/Illustrated by Sara Palacios, (March 2021, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9780763697495

Ages 5-9

In the hills above the Haitian city of Port-au-Prince, a young girl and her mother head to the market together. Fallon, the girl, wants more than anything to wear the large woven basket, called the panye, balanced on her head like her mother does. She watches her mother twist the mouchwa wrap around her head and balance the panye on top, and, walking next to her, begs to try it. Finally, when Maman allows Fallon to try, she realizes that it’s harder than it looks, but it’s worth the feeling of accomplishment! A gorgeous, lyrical story about the poise and tremendous strength of Haitian women, My Day with the Panye is simply wonderful reading. Gouache and digital artwork bring textures and color alive on the pages, with beautiful landscapes and lively street and market scenes. While not in verse, the story reads like a beautiful ode to Haiti and its people, and wearing the panye comes across as a rite of passage: Fallon says that her mother is “tall like an arrow pointing to the clouds” as she walks with her panye, and that other women “…walk like they have gold in their shoes”. To wear the panye is to move gracefully and to be strong, even under its weight: Maman compares this strength to the strength of the Haitian walls, still standing after the 2010 earthquake. An author’s note gives a brief history of the panye and its place in Haitian culture.

Tami Charles is the bestselling author of 2018’s Freedom Soup and All Because You Matter. Sara Palacios is the illustrator of Between Us and Abuela: A Family Story from the Border, by Mitali Perkins. My Day with the Panye has a starred review from School Library Journal.