I’m still reading graphic novels by the bunch: I’ve even applied to be a CYBILS Graphic Novel judge this year, because I had such a great time being one last year! There are such good books coming out for middle grade and YA, and with a new focus on early reader graphic novels picking up strength, I can honestly say we comic book fans have inherited the earth and it feels good. Here are a few more to add to your Fall order carts.
Now that I’m back in the library, I’m trying to think of ways to keep the kids engaged while we have no in-person programming. Enter Escape Room books! My Kiddo and I discovered some fun ones online, like this Dog Man one, but I want to be able to give the kids something to think over while they’re here. Luckily for me, Schiffer Books sent over some escape room books, and I’m thinking these may be my next project.
The Escape Game series by Mélanie Vives and Rémi Prieur, and illustrated by El Gunto, consists of four books right now. They don’t need to be read or played in order; each book has instructions and the story: you’re a member of a time traveling agency called Spatial-Temporal Agency Y. As a high-risk mission specialist, you and your robot companion, Dooz, are sent into different time periods to head off horrible disasters. Together with Dooz, you have to figure out the clues to advance through the adventure and save the day. You can get hints in a different section of the book, and check your answers against Dooz’s “validation grid” – and yes, you can look at the answers, if you really, really need to. Let’s take a look at the adventures!
We’re going further back in time in this adventure: heading to the 12th century, our mission is to save the last dragon egg, currently in the clutches of an evil king, who wants to make it into a dragon egg omelet! Recover the egg and get it to safety while escaping the castle before the king finds out you’re even there, all while learning about the Middle Ages, magic, and dragons. Perfect for fantasy fans that want to have their own fun adventure; kids will be able to save a wizard, put pieces together to create a coat of arms, and choose the right invisibility potion so you won’t be seen. Use Dooz’s clues – they’re your best way of figuring out what you need to advance! Have pictures of eggs for participants to decorate and take home – or wizard hat crafts available; all you need is a piece of construction paper to roll into a cone, and some stickers or gems and glue!
Have fun with these books, extend the activities into programs if you can, and handouts if you aren’t able to yet. There are so many fun ideas to have with this book as a jumping-off point: make your own coat of arms, have a magic wand workshop (I’m pulling from my old Harry Potter party ideas); decorate with Time Machine clip art.
You and Dooz are being sent to the year 3144 to rescue a crew of astronauts from the planet Vacumy, who have not responded to messages for 24 hours. They’re some of the most intelligent scientists in the universe, and in danger from the evil inhabitants of the star, Hyena, so you need to intervene and find out if the crew is safe, fast! Solving puzzles and logic riddles, you and Dooz will complete your mission and learn about space thanks to helpful callout boxes. The Validation Grid is a fun way of checking your answers without spoilers: follow the page number and your suggested puzzle answer; if you see a thumbs up, you’re good: proceed! If there’s a thumbs down, go back to the drawing board. The artwork is kid-friendly, with big-eyed, friendly robots and aliens, and fun, challenging puzzles that will get your readers thinking and playing with solutions to advance.
Jumping-off activities: we just had an entire Summer Reading program about space two years ago! You know there are oodles of space-related fun activities to be found! Let readers color in their own aliens, or have some craft supplies around so they can make their own.
All right, in this adventure, you and Dooz are going to the year 2394 to stop a mad hacker named Snarf from releasing a computer virus that will paralyze all the world’s computers! You need to localize and destroy the virus by hacking Snarf’s computers, and then escape from his compound before he finds out what you’re doing there. Solve problems, save the world, and learn about computers thanks to callout boxes. The story is not linear: solving problems will help you jump easily around the book, taking you further into Snarf’s compound and closer to destroying the virus! The answer key is illustrated and step-by-step, but you don’t want to do that, do you? You want to solve these along with your kiddos! Choose from a number of keys to break down the languages of different drones you encounter, take apart a riddle to find the right door to Snarf’s lair, and cut the right cable to unlock the doors and escape. Time yourself and see if you’ve improved your escape time!
Offer to let readers take the books and have – if you have the budget – small pads for them to work out the riddles, or just have extra paper on hand for them. Explain what a hackathon is – a collaborative event where computer programmers get together to work on a project – and tell them that The Mad Hacker Adventure is a kind of hackathon for them, collaborating to destroy the virus and save the world! You can always make cool certificates to hand out when they’ve completed the adventure.
Heading back to Naples, Italy in 1889, your mission this time is to preserve pizza history. A chef is due to present his new creation – a margherita pizza – to the royal family, but he’s about to be murdered by his cold-blooded rival, unless you and Dooz can save the day. Enter the bad guy’s restaurant, find the poisoned food, and replace it with an identical dish you prepare, and escape before they can find out you’ve been there. Is there a more important mission than to preserve the sanctity of pizza? Learn all about pizza thanks to fact boxes throughout. Use menus to help you navigate the ingredients you need to make an identical dessert that won’t kill our pizza inventor; locate the poisoned dessert so you can dispose of it, and figure out how to get out of a locked bathroom before you can get caught!
I’ve done a bunch of pizza programs in the past, and they’re always popular. Make your own pizza crafts couldn’t be easier, and you can make them grab and go: put a small paper plate, and cut-up construction paper shapes for toppings, like sausage, peppers, cheese, sauce, and mushrooms, into a plastic or paper bag, and you’ve got a craft kids will love.
If you’re going to invest in these for your library, be forewarned: they’re going to get marked up. Consider for your games reference collection if you don’t have the budget to replace them. I’m thinking of introducing the adventure to my library kids, a few puzzles at a time, by leaving the book at reference and collecting answers each day (I have a LOT of prizes in my prize drawer, for incentive). Give the Escape Game series a shot!
Okay, last one up, and it’s a good one: a pirate escape game! You’re a sailor who wakes up and discovers you’re the only one left on a ship that’s been adrift in the high seas. No captain. No crew. No memory of anything that’s happened. You have to explore the ship and find clues to discover what happened, solving logic puzzles, breaking codes, and figuring out word puzzles and riddles. Unlock a padlocked pantry; find a mysterious note in the surgeon’s cabin; decipher recipes, with the help of a separate clue book and your own wits. The book is not linear – you’ll be jumping back and forth as solving different puzzles takes you to different pages – and includes brain busters for every type of skill. Pirate fans are going to love it, and you know you can enhance a pirate day! Make eyepatches, mustaches, and pirate hats as either grab-and-go or in-house crafts!
Escape Room Games don’t have to be relegated to online or in a room – see how these work out for you with your kids and teens. We’ve all had to get more creative in the last year and a half; let’s keep adapting.
I pulled Coop Knows the Scoop off my TBR yesterday morning, and I finished it this morning. That’s how good this middle grade mystery is. Cooper Goodman – call him Coop, please! – lives with his mom and grandfather in Georgia, where he helps out in his mom’s bookstore/coffee shop when he’s not in school. His dad, a Marine, died in action, and his Gramps is the retired town doctor. It’s small town life, where everyone knows one another, and it’s pretty idyllic, until the morning a skeleton is discovered buried at the playground. After some DNA testing, the skeleton is revealed to be Coop’s grandmother, Tabby, whom everyone thought left Gramps years ago, when Coop’s dad was little more than a baby. When Gramps falls under suspicion – they always suspect the spouse, right? – Coop enlists his best friends, twin siblings Liberty and Justice, to help him search for clues and exonerate Gramps.
Written in the first person from Coop’s point of view, I could not put this book down. It’s got all the elements of a good whodunnit: a scandal, a quirky cast of local characters, smart dialogue, fleshed out characters with good backstories that make just about everyone a suspect, and an impending sense of danger that you just know is going to explode when you get these elements mixed together. You and your readers are going to want to know what the real scoop is, and that’s going to keep all of you reading this book until you get to the end, and its very satisfying conclusion. Put this on your mystery lists, for sure.
Read more about Taryn Souders and her books at her author website. Coop Knows the Scoop is a 2021 Edgar Award nominee for Best Juvenile mystery novel. Download a great activity kit, including a recipe for sweet tea, through publisher Sourcebooks, Download a discussion guide from Sourcebooks here, too!
Originally published in hardcover last year, the paperback release of this fun Summer mystery is perfect for beach reading while ruminating on how water ices can save the world. Half-sisters Josie and Stella spend every summer together: Josie lives in Australia with her mom, while Stella lives in New York with her mom and stepdad. They share their summers – and their dad – together at the Jersey Shore, where they have their rituals. This year, Stella is pushing back against those rituals, because she’s on the verge of high school and wants to act more adult; Josie revels in their childhood memories. What starts out as a story where two sisters are growing up yet afraid of growing apart gets infinitely more interesting when you realize that chapters alternate between the sisters’ story and a debriefing at a police station. Something big has happened, as the story unfolds through each chapter, and it has to do, somehow, with the new smoothie store that took the place of Josie’s beloved water ice shop; a pop star coming to perform a concert at the pier, and the jellyfish population, currently undergoing a marine life crisis. This family story becomes a co-plot to an environmental mystery that brings the sisters back together to solve as they work out their growing pains, and it is guaranteed to keep readers glued to the pages. There’s a fun cast of supporting characters, great pacing and dialogue, and an eloquent statement about the environment and how we affect it, for better or for worse. Put this on your shelves with other summer books like Kayla Miller’s graphic novel, Camp, Mae Respicio’s Any Day With You, Melissa Savage’s Lemons, and – naturally! – Rita Williams-Garcia’s One Crazy Summer.
Esme Silver is a 15-year-old mourning her mother, Ariane, who disappeared when Esme was 8. Her father has just remarried, despite Esme’s objection (at the wedding!). Her father takes his new bride away on their honeymoon, leaving Esme under the eye of her stepmother’s sister; not thrilled with that situation, Esme, determined to use the time to learn more about her mother’s disappearance, finds her way to a magical underwater world, where she learns more about her mother and the secret part of her life she hadn’t shared with Esme. Esme’s Wish is geared toward teens, but is more accessible to upper middle grade-middle school students. There is a lot of fantasy world-building, including dragons and mysterious pasts, a mythical history, and new friends from other lands, but sometimes gets mired in itself rather than moving forward. Overall, though, it’s a solid fantasy book, with interesting characters who aren’t merely plot devices. The world-building will appeal to fantasy readers – there are dragons! – and Esme is a likable character that kids can relate to at her heart: a girl who’s lost a parent, and coping with her remaining parent remarrying. The girl who’s considered an outsider by her town, merely because of who her mother was. A girl trying to find out why. A good additional purchase for collections where you have big fantasy readers.
The second book in the trilogy, Esme’s Gift, was published in in 2019. Visit author Elizabeth Foster’s webpage to learn more about the books and view trailers for each.
Twelve-year-old Madi wants to be an “animal whisperer” like her wildlife rehabber grandmother was; her town doesn’t have a wildlife rehabber since her grandmother died, and her mother has forbidden her to bring home any more animals. If she does, her upcoming trip to meet Jane Goodall will be canceled. But what is Madi supposed to do when she and her best friends, Aaron and Jack, discover two orphaned beaver kits? She saves the kits and cares for them in secret when the friends discover another murdered beaver in the process. There’s a secret to be uncovered here, and Madi, Jack, and Aaron mean to be the ones to do it: as long as Madi can stay out of trouble with her mom, that is. A fast-paced adventure story about friendship, found families, and wildlife rehab, Rescue at Lake Wild has elements adventure readers will love: action, a mystery to solve, and a determined, smart protagonist with a love for animals and nature. Author Terry Lynn Johnson writes action-adventure nature stories, including 2019’s Dog Driven and The Survivor Diaries, and readers who love the I Survived series will dive right in. She has knowledge to share, and she does it in a way that respects and nudges the reader into wanting more: more storytelling and more learning. Have readers who loved Carl Hiaasen’s Hoot and Celia C. Pérez’s Strange Birds? This is the next book for them.
Terry Lynn Johnson writes about the wild with the wisdom and passion of someone who has spent her life working to preserve and protect it – both as a backcountry canoe ranger in Quetico Provincial Park and in her current job as a conservation officer with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. She lives at the edge of a lake in northern Ontario, Canada, where she loves watching all wildlife, including beavers. Visit her online at terrylynnjohnson.com
Video extra! Terry Lynn Johnson talks about the inspiration behind Rescue at Lake Wild here.
Idlewood Manor was a home with a storied history, but has been empty for decades, until recently. The current owner has opened the doors, and a group of guests is coming to stay for a weekend; among them, Charlie, a math whiz who won the trip for his family, and his sister, Anna, who is far less scholastic in her pursuits, but that’s because she’s got the entire world to explore, just like her idol, explorer Virginia Maines. Also visiting with her family is Emily, whose historian parents have their own reasons for wanting to visit Idlewood. The three kids separately discover mysterious clues to Idlewood’s history, and the history of those who lived there; they also notice that other guests seem to have a major interest in unlocking the Manor’s secrets. It’s a race to solve Idlewood’s mysteries, but can the three kids work together to solve them in time? Loaded with actual puzzles, ciphers, and riddles, The Explorer’s Code is full of mystery and scandal,with very likable, realistic characters at its core. A note about ciphers at the end invites readers to test their own coding mettle. The relationships are spot-on, with the ups and downs experienced by Anna and Charlie, who were close when they were younger, but have drifted apart in recent years, and Emily, desperate to make her parents proud of her. Anna and Emily rush into things for different reasons: Anna, because she’s caught up in the spirit of curiosity and adventure; Emily, because she feels like she’s racing against the clock. Charlie is slow and deliberate, thinking things through, which clashes with his sister’s impulsive wandering. Together, these qualities make them stronger – something they have to work on over the course of the story. Perfect for readers who enjoyed Ben Guterson’s Winterhouse, Jennifer Chambliss Bertman’s Book Scavenger series, and of course, Chris Grabenstein’s Mr. Lemoncello’s Library series.
Mars Patel is a middle schooler with a penchant for getting in trouble. He and his friend, Aurora, love pranks and practical jokes that land them in detention, but when Aurora disappears – followed by his friend, Jonas – Mars is determined to find out what happened. All signs are pointing toward Oliver Pruitt, a tech genius (think Elon Musk) and Mars’s hero. Pruitt runs an elite school for the best and brightest; a school that Mars’s own school tests for every year, and he has a podcast that seems to be dropping hints tailor-made for Mars. Mars and his group of friends – Toothpick, JP, and Caddie – start digging and investigating, which puts them on Pruitt’s radar, and that’s when the kids learn that Oliver Pruitt may not be the benevolent mentor everyone thinks he is. Based on an award-winning podcast, this is the first in a series that mixes mystery, sci-fi, and a little touch of the paranormal.
There is so much going on in this book that I didn’t want it to end! Mars and his friends are a great group of kids; well-written and fully realized on the page. There’s a lot happening that we don’t know about in this first volume: what does Mars’s mom do for a living, for starters? All roads in this book lead to Oliver Pruitt. There’s science, conspiracy theories, and, at its heart, an engrossing character-driven story told in narrative, e-mails, and text messages. The end will leave you impatiently waiting for the next volume, and I’ve just subscribed to the podcast to learn more. A definite win for bookshelves and readers.
The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel has a starred review from School Library Journal. You can read a sample and get a free, downloadable discussion guide at Candlewick’s website.
Agnes Goodwin is a 12-year-old girl living in Pleasant Grove, a small town where families live in peace… and under a glass dome. The adults are all keeping a secret from the kids of Pleasant Grove, and Agnes is determined to find out what that secret is, especially after spotting a strange boy in a field one day. There are no new families in Pleasant Grove, you see; and when word of the boy gets out, the adults are determined to find him. Agnes, her brother, Charlie, and her group of friends set out to find the boy, see the alleged “wasteland” beyond the dome, and learn the secrets of Pleasant Grove for once and for all, but are they prepared for the truth?
Keeping readers guessing from the beginning, Pleasant Grove is a little bit Stephen King’s Under the Dome, a little bit Stranger Things, and a splash of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village. I thought the narrative was going in one direction, but I was wrong: the plot twists were unexpected and clever, keeping me wondering until the very end. Agnes is a smart, capable character who is determined to get to the bottom of the Pleasant Grove mystery; her brother and her friends have strong personalities that readers will take to and identify with, whether it’s the timid friend, the smart-aleck friend, or the protective older brother who still isn’t sure about the whole business. Good for tweens and early teen readers who enjoy being kept off balance with their sci-fi/fantasy/horror thrillers and dystopian fiction.
In a city where candy and sweets are outlawed, kids will do just about anything to keep that supply going. But a black market candy ring and a missing kid leads into a dirty – okay, maybe not dirty, just… smudgy – underworld that 12-year-old detective Nelle Faulkner is determined to delve into.
The Candy Mafia, by Lavie Tidhar/Illustrated by Daniel Duncan,
(Sept. 2020, Peachtree Publishing), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-68263-197-3
A little bit noir, a lotta bit comedy, Peachtree hit the nail on the head when they called it “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets Bugsy Malone”. Black and white illustrations throughout will bring readers to the table, especially more visual readers that miss the more illustrated chapter books and chapter book readers who are looking for longer books. Way too much fun, The Candy Mafia is a good mystery to have on hand for your readers.
LAVIE TIDHAR is the author of many award-winning novels for adults, including Osama (2011), which won the 2012 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, besting novels by Stephen King and George R. R. Martin. His works cross many genres, combining detective and thriller modes with poetry, science fiction, historical and autobiographical material. He is also a books columnist for The Washington Post. He lives in England.
DANIEL DUNCAN is a freelance illustrator inspired by stories, films, old, photos, and sports. Highly commended by Macmillan UK for the Macmillan Prize for Illustration in 2013, he was also shortlisted for the 2014 AOI Awards for the Children’s Books New Talent Category. He lives in England.
Visit other stops on The Candy Mafia Blog Tour!
Monday (9/21): The Library Voice
Tuesday (9/22): Teachers Who Read
Wednesday (9/23): Mom Read It
Thursday (9/24): Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers
Friday (9/25): Librarian in Cute Shoes
Saturday (9/26): Beagles and Books