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

The Animal Whisperer: Rescue at Lake Wild

Rescue at Lake Wild, by Terry Lynn Johnson, (Apr. 2021, HMH Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 9780358334859

Ages 8-12

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

Twitter: @TerryLynnJ

Instagram: terry_lynn_johnson

Video extra! Terry Lynn Johnson talks about the inspiration behind Rescue at Lake Wild here

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

The Explorer’s Code is great for puzzle mystery readers

The Explorer’s Code, by Allison K. Hymas, (Sept. 2020, Imprint), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250258854

Ages 9-13

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.

Posted in Fantasy, Middle School, Science Fiction, Tween Reads

Middle Grade SF Mystery: The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel, by Sheela Chari, (Oct. 2020, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536209563

Ages 9-13

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.

Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Books from Quarantine: Pleasant Grove

Pleasant Grove, by Jason Price, (June 2020, Independently Published), $3.99, ASIN: B08C21Y281

Ages 12-16

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.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade

Blog Tour: Candy Mafia!

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
Ages 8-12

 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.

Peachtree always has your back, too: there’s an excerpt, an author Q&A, and a discussion guide, all free and downloadable on the publisher’s website.

(Photo by Kevin Nixon / SFX Magazine/TeamRock)

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

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Got a mystery? Julieta’s on the case!

Julieta and the Diamond Enigma, by Luisana Duarte Armendáriz, (June 2020, Lee & Low Books), $18.95, ISBN: 9781643790466

Ages 8-12

Winner of the 2018 Lee & Low/Tu Books New Visions Award, Julieta and the Diamond Enigma is a fun whodunit with a smart heroine who has a penchant for finding trouble. Julieta is the nine-year-old daughter whose parents both work at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts (BFA). Her mom is due to give birth to her baby brother soon, and her dad, an art handler, needs to fly to Paris to collect pieces for a new BFA exhibit. After some great Paris sightseeing, Julieta and her dad are ready to pack up and head home – until she and her dad walk in on a burglar stealing the prized Regent Diamond! The diamond was going to be a key piece in the BFA exhibit, and all eyes are on Julieta’s father. Julieta starts putting together some clues, desperate to save her father’s job and reputation, all the while hoping they can get home in time to be there when her baby brother is born. With nods to to Greek mythology (especially the goddess Athena) and smartly placed clues that will lead readers to the answers alongside Julieta, this is a fun cozy mystery for burgeoning whodunit fans. Museum fans will love seeing what goes on behind closed museum doors – a realistic Night at the Museum, so to speak. I loved reading about Julieta’s goofing around with her parents in the museum and Back matter has the true story of the Regent Diamond, the goddess Athena, the art mentioned in Julieta and the Diamond Enigma, and a handy glossary of terms. A note at the beginning of the book has a helpful glossary of Spanish and French words, as words and phrases come up during the course of the story. A great book to introduce to readers that are moving from intermediate chapter books to more detailed middle grade fiction.

 

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Big Graphic Novels Roundup!

I’ve been reading a LOT of graphic novels during this quarantine. They relax me, and I know my graphic novels sections (both kids and teens) see a l lot of action, so I always want to make sure I’ve got the best stuff on my shelves for them – and that I know what I’m talking about when I hand books to readers. Let’s see what’s up:

Go To Sleep (I Miss You): Cartoons from the Fog of New Parenthood, by Lucy Knisley, (Feb. 2020, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250211491

Ages 12+

These are adorable meditations on new parenthood by Lucy Knisley, whose graphic novel Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos let us peek into the world of her pregnancy with her baby, known as Pal. Go to Sleep is a book of sketches Lucy Knisley created during Pal’s first year, and they are moments that every parent and caregiver will recognize, from diaper “blowouts” (oh, so many diaper blowouts) and breastfeeding through teething to tummy time and those moments where we can’t wait to get some alone time… only to spend that time gazing at our sleepy little one, and waiting for them to wake up and do it all again. Black and white, filled with love and humor, Go to Sleep (I Miss You) is perfect for your parenting bookshelves (and for older siblings, as my eldest reminds me).

In this sci-fi alternate history, we visit 1943 Los Angeles, home of the Zoot Suit Riots. Siblings Flaca and Cuata meet a five-foot tall lizard when he saves them from some unsavory sailors one night, when they got out dancing. They hide him in their home and discover he’s part of a race of underground lizard people. He wants to get back to his family, but there are soldiers and mysterious government men wandering the sisters’ neighborhood, on the lookout. To sneak him back to his home, the Flaca and Cuata dress the lizard up in one of Flaca’s zoot suits and head off on an adventure. Yellow, black and white artwork give a stark, noir feel to the story, which is both sensitive and funny. Marco Finnegan provides smart commentary on racism, gender roles and the counterculture of the period. Teens will enjoy this sci-fi take on a moment in U.S. history that isn’t discussed enough.

School for Extraterrestrial Girls Girl on Fire (Volume 1), by Jeremy Whitley/Illustrated by Jamie Noguchi, (Aug. 2020, Papercutz), $12.99, ISBN: 9781545804933

Ages 10-14

Tara Smith is a girl who live with a lot of rules: her parents demand it. Two of their biggest rules? No friends her own age, and always keep her bracelet on. One day, though, Tara’s routine gets thrown into a tizzy, and she loses her bracelet; that’s when the trouble begins. Things get even crazier when she seemingly bursts into flame in the middle of school! Tara learns that she’s not human at all: she’s an alien, and captured by the government, sent off to a school where she can’t put her human classmates in danger, and that’s where she learns the truth about herself. She’s an alien, and her parents – also aliens – likely kidnapped her at a young age. Now, she’s surrounded by other alien students, not all of whom are exactly friendly toward her race. An exciting start to a new middle grade-middle school graphic novel series, School for Extraterrestrial Girls is written by Eisner award nominee Jeremy Whitley, who you may know from his Princeless series and Marvel’s The Unstoppable Wasp. Don’t miss this first volume, which has some nice social commentary set within a very cool sci-fi story.

 

A Map to the Sun, by Sloane Leong, (Aug. 2020, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250146687

Ages 12-18

A strong story about sports and teen relationships, A Map to the Sun starts with Ren and Luna, two girls who meet on the beach during their middle school summer break. Luna disappears without saying goodbye when she suddenly moves, but returns two years later, expecting to pick up where she and Ren left off. But Ren is hurt, angry, and full off mistrust, especially since her older sister’s issues have made life nearly unbearable for her. A new teacher decides to form a women’s basketball team at the high school, bringing Luna, Ren, and a group of other girls who are tagged as the misfits in school. As they practice and improve, we get glimpses into each of their lives and see how succeeding in one arena changes how they react and are perceived in other spaces in their lives. The color palette is bright and beachy; lots of oranges, yellows, and purples, but some of the coloring made it difficult for me to tell characters apart (I read an ARC; this will likely be tightened up in the finished book). The story is strong, and highly recommended for teens and a solid choice for realistic fiction readers. A Map to the Sun has a starred review from Shelf Awareness.

Lois Lane and the Friendship Challenge, by Grace Ellis/Illustrated by Brittney Williams, (Aug. 2020, DC Comics), $9.99, ISBN: 978-1401296377
Ages 7-11
DC’s latest middle grade original graphic novel stars our favorite journalist-in-training, Lois Lane. Here, Lumberjanes co-creator Grace Ellis and Goldie Vance artist Brittney Williams create a tween Lois Lane who’s all about creating a viral video for a #friendshipchallenge. The only thing is, she’s kind of driving her best friend, Kristen, crazy with the challenge. Kristen is going to be going to sleepaway camp after the big neighborhood barbecue and bike race, and Lois is desperate to get her video make before Kristen leaves. But words gets out that the new bike store in town may be planning something shady for the bike race, and the fireworks planned for the barbecue go missing. Sounds like a mystery that the two best friends will have to solve – if they don’t drive each other crazy first. Lois’s intensity comes off as almost abrasive at first, but she’s relatable as a kid who’s single-mindedly focused on her task and upset at having to share her best friend – a best friend who is going away for the summer – with a new girl in town. Lois Lane and the Friendship Challenge is a fun summer story.
Displacement, by Kiku Hughes, (Aug. 2020, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250193537Ages 12+

Teenager Kiku travels to San Francisco with her mother to look for the place her grandmother, Ernestina, lived before she and her parents were sent to an internment camp during World War II. Kiku’s mother wants to learn more about her mother’s life pre-camp; Ernestine wasn’t given to talking about it often. As Kiku traipses alongside her, she finds herself being transported back in time, living alongside her grandmother as she, too, becomes a displaced person living in two Japanese internment camps. Powerfully written and beautifully illustrated, Displacement tells the story of the Japanese-Americans who were forced out of their homes and their established lives and stripped of their civil liberties. Kiku – and we – learn things from observing the day-to-day life in camp like human rights abuses that are quickly hushed up and the acts of resistance some engaged in, like the “No-Nos”, who answered “No” to two controversial questions on a loyalty questionnaire the Army had all incarcerated citizens answer. A tribute to the power of memory and, sadly, the power of intergenerational trauma, Displacement belongs with George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy and Art Spiegelman’s Maus in the canon of great graphic novels that belong on every reading list and every shelf.

Ages 14+
This is a weird, wild noir story that I’d hold for my readers who are always looking for something different. It’s Barcelona, 1942, and Laia is a pregnant woman working as a scriptwriter for a radio advice program. Her husband goes missing, a serial killer is on the loose, and Laia retains the services of a private detective to track down her husband… but she’s got secrets of her own. Read this one a couple of times; the story reveals itself with more than one reading. The drastic black and white artwork places you in the middle of this macabre detective story with a wry sense of humor. Got hard-boiled detective novel readers? Give this one to them, too.
Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

#BooksfromQuarantine: The Egyptian Mirror

The Great Quarantine Read-Down continues! There are such middle grade books this year; I’m so glad our libraries are starting to open for grab and go service, so I can start encouraging my library kids to read these.

The Egyptian Mirror, by Michael Bedard, (May 2020, Pajama Press), $18.95, ISBN: 9781772781106

Ages 9-13

Simon and his family have moved into his grandfather’s old house after he passes away, leaving it to his mom. When Mr. Hawkins, a neighbor who grew up with Simon’s grandfather, has a bad fall, Simon delivers meals to him, cooked by his mother, and gradually becomes friendly with the former archaeologist, whose home is decorated with mirrors. After looking into an antique Egyptian mirror from Mr. Hawkins, Simon begins having strange dreams and swears a huge dog is following him. Shortly after a mysterious woman calling herself Mr. Hawkins’s niece moves into the Hawkins home, Simon falls ill, watching listlessly as the woman and her husband empty out boxes of family memories. No family member would discard boxes of photos! Enlisting the help of his friend, Abbey, Simon has to find out where Mr. Hawkins hid the antique Egyptian mirror and work with the archaeologist’s museum curator friend to figure out what the strange couple are really after.

The Egyptian Mirror is a good mystery with a touch of the fantastic. The friendship between Simon and Mr. Hawkins develops easily, and the curiosity about the mirror allows Simon to learn more about history, which helps him later on in the story. Simon and Abbey are likable, smart characters who take action while still being protective older siblings who pitch in to help out their families. The novel’s pacing is good; a little slow at points, but always building toward a strong conclusion. Give this to your burgeoning mystery readers.

The small print: I picked this up at the Pajama Press table at ALA Midwinter this past January, after a lovely conversation with the folks staffing the booth. I’m reviewing this for love, not money. 
Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, picture books

The Fabulous, the Mysterious, Madame Badobedah!

Madame Badobedah, by Sophie Dahl/Illustrated by Lauren O’Hara, (April 2020, Walker Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9781536210224

Ages 5-8

Mabel is a young girl living in the Mermaid Hotel, where her parents work. There’s always something to see and do at the Mermaid, but when a mysterious, somewhat eccentric old lady moves in, Mabel puts on her detective hat. Madame Badobedah, as Mabel calls her, has simply got to be a supervillain. When Mabel begins investigating Madame Badobedah, she discovers a much softer, kinder, friendlier woman, and the two unlikely friends explore the hotel – and beyond – together.

This is a sweet story of intergenerational friendships, with a Dahl-esque fantastic twist (Sophie Dahl is author Roald Dahl’s granddaughter). Mabel is a smart, curious girl a la Harriet the Spy; Madame Badobedah is a fabulously exotic, mysterious figure that readers can’t help but be drawn to: “She was old, old, old. With red lips. She was not alone. She had two dogs, two cats, a tortoise, and twenty-three bags, all clustered around her like a choir. I thought she might be a little awful”, as Mabel describes her. She calls people “Darlink”, and has “red, crunchy hair”. Dahl’s descriptions are vivid and wonderfully brought to life by Lauren O’Hara, whose watercolor illustrations add a surreal touch to this incredible story. Blue and white beachy endpapers really put the reader into a spring/summer mindset.

Originally published in the UK in 2019, I’m very happy to be welcoming Sophie Dahl to US readers. Great for a read-aloud to school-age readers, Madame Badobedah also allows for an art/English exercise where kids can draw their own versions of Madame Badobedah, a room in the Mermaid Hotel, or where their own hidden corridor would lead to.

Madame Badobedah has starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade

The Great TBR Readdown Continues: Real Hamsters Don’t Bite

Real Hamsters Don’t Bite, by Alexis Cleoford, (May 2017, Amazon Digital Services), $7.99, ISBN: 978-1548365233

Ages 8-11

My TBR read-down continues with this short novella from author Alexis Cleoford, who generously emailed me a PDF of her book, Real Hamsters Don’t Bite. It’s the first book in an humorous animal series, Mighty & Brennon. Mighty and Brennon are two housecats who are not thrilled about being sent to a “pet hotel” while their humans are on vacation. When they arrive home, Mighty – the leader – decides it’s time to strike out on and find Cat Land, a sort of paradise for cats, where they’re treated as they should be (remember, people used to worship cats: they have never forgotten this). They also stumble onto a mystery: hamsters are attacking cats! But… real hamsters don’t bite, do they?

Real Hamsters Don’t Bite is a novella – only about 50 pages – and is available via ebook or paperback through Amazon. Narrated in the first person by Mighty, the bolder cat of the two, there’s some humor and a sense of adventure. Brennon is the more cautious of the two, giving readers a nice little dramatic – and fun – foil to play off of. Black and line drawings throughout add some interest. Give Real Hamsters Don’t Bite a shot if you have animal fiction fans.