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

Fiction plus food is a winning reader combo!

Who doesn’t love curling up in your favorite reading spot with a snack and a book? These middle grade reads feature yummy treats as part of their stories – perfect for reading groups and snack suggestions (minus the flying pig cookies: read on)!

Love Sugar Magic, by Anna Meriano/Illustrated by Mirelle Ortega, (Nov. 2017, Walden Pond Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062498465

Recommended for readers 8-12

Leonora Logroño’s is an almost 12-year-old whose family owns Love Sugar Magic, the local bakery that makes the most delicious cookies and cakes. She’s the youngest among her five sisters, and she just knows the family is keeping something secret from her. With a little snooping and gentle, sisterly nudging, Leo learns the truth: her family are brujas – witches – who infuse their baked goods with rich magic. Leo discovers she has some magic ability already – it usually manifests in early adolescence – and decides to put it to the test by helping Caroline, her best friend, with a crush on at school, but things go upside down pretty quickly… Leo may need to draw on her sisters to make things right!

I adore this story! It’s got humor, great characters with a rich Mexican heritage, and they’re strong, smart young women. Leo is headstrong, sure – what tween isn’t? – and reacts to feeling left in the dark about family business by taking matters in to her own hands. It’s one thing, after all, to enchant flying pig cookies, but it’s entirely something else to play with someone’s free will. But the magical mix-ups are largely hilarious and mostly harmless. Readers can relate to Leo’s frustrations about being considered “too young” for the secret stuff, and author Anna Meriano makes Love Sugar Magic into a nicely handled cautionary tale about rushing into things without taking the time to think. I’m thrilled that this is the first book of a new series – I want to spend more time with the Logroño family. Especially that feline snitch, Mr. Gato. There are some tasty-looking recipes at the end of the story – you’re on your own for the magic – and the book is sprinkled with Spanish and English phrases that really bring readers into its world.

Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble has starred reviews from School Library Journal, Kirkus, and Shelf Awareness.

 

The Doughnut Fix, by Jessie Janowitz, (Apr. 2018, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $16.99, ISBN: 9781492655411

Recommended 8-12

Eleven year-old Tristan is a New York City kid who’s pretty happy with life as it is until his parents announe that they’re moving upstate. Petersville, New York, to be exact. It ain’t Westchester, this is up in the mountains. There’s one road, no restaurants, and a general store that used to sell legendary doughnuts, as Tristan discovers one morning, as he rides around town trying to find something to do. But Millie, the general store proprieter, stopped making the donuts, and if Tristan – a baking enthusiast who’s sold on the legend of these doughnuts – wants the secret recipe, he has to provide Millie with proof that he’s going to use it wisely. He needs a business plan. Luckily for him, Petersville does have a public library (whoo hoo!), and with the help of his new friend, Josh, Tristan starts pulling it all together to bring the chocolate cream doughnuts back to Petersville.

The Doughnut Fix surprised me with its depth and its readability. It’s very readable, very engaging, and provides smart tips on starting one’s own business for kids – throughout the story, Tristan refers to his library copy of Starting Your Own Business for Dummies, and drills things down into kid-digestible bits. It’s empowering! Teachers can challenge kids to read this book and create their own summer job business plans, or librarians (and caregivers) can produce a similar challenge as a summer reading program. There are recipes and a recap of important information for starting a business at the end of the book. The story emphasizes themes of friendship, collaboration, planning, and budgeting, offering solid life lessons for middle graders.

Both books are great reading group selections that lend so much to deeper exploration, from Mexican culture and its celebration of ancestry, to life in a small town versus life in a city. Food is the easy in to discussing these books, but there are great ideas waiting to be touched on in each. These are great adds to your shelves or your gift list.

Posted in Preschool Reads

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2018: Down in the Subway #ReadYourWorld

Take a tropical vacation… in the New York Subway!

Down in the Subway, by Miriam Cohen/Illustrated by Melanie Hope Greenberg,
(2003, Star Bright Books), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-932065-08-4

Recommended for ages 4-8

Oscar and his mom are on a hot subway train, when a fellow passenger – a brightly outfitted Island Lady – reaches into her bag and pulls out a magical Island Party, complete with food, cool island breezes, a Calypso singer and steel band, even the green Caribbean sea! You can just hear the music and feel the energy coming from this story as you read it; it’s a wonderful New York story that embraces our multicultural surroundings and shows how a hot, sticky summer subway ride can turn into a great time with a little imagination.

Miriam Cohen’s story invites readers in for a magical afternoon, and Melanie Hope Greenberg’s art is colorful and loaded with movement and expression, from the swirling island breeze that winds its way through the subway car, to the group of passengers jumping up to dance and eat together. I love the spread that illustrates three of the train cars moving and grooving along the track with palm trees sticking out of the windows and an island breeze carrying it along its path. Down in the Subway shows New York at its best: a gathering of cultures, enjoying a trip together.

I’ve enjoyed this book for a few years now, so I was thrilled to receive this for my MCBD review. I had a great Subway Storytime using this book, plus Karen Katz’s Subway, and I gave kids little laminated (play) Metrocards of their own to wave around as we sang songs. (That was a laptop or two ago, so I’ll have to dig into my portable hard drive for that storytime plan and put it up.)

Thanks so much to Star Bright Books and MCBD!

 

cropped-banner2018 multicultural book

Multicultural Children’s Book Day (1/27/18) is in its 5th year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.

Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2018 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board.

2018 MCBD Medallion Sponsors

HONORARY: Children’s Book Council, Junior Library Guild

PLATINUM: Scholastic Book Clubs

GOLD: Audrey Press,Candlewick Press, Loving Lion Books, Second Story Press, Star Bright Books, Worldwide Buddies

SILVER: Capstone Publishing, Author Charlotte Riggle, Child’s Play USA, KidLit TV, Pack-n-Go Girls, Plum Street Press

BRONZE: Barefoot Books, Carole P. Roman, Charlesbridge Publishing, Dr. Crystal BoweGokul! World, Green Kids Club, Gwen Jackson, Jacqueline Woodson, Juan J. Guerra, Language Lizard, Lee & Low Books, RhymeTime Storybooks, Sanya Whittaker Gragg, TimTimTom Books, WaterBrook & Multnomah, Wisdom Tales Press

2018 Author Sponsors

Honorary Author Sponsors: Author/Illustrator Aram Kim and Author/Illustrator Juana Medina

Author Janet Balletta, Author Susan Bernardo, Author Carmen Bernier-Grand, Author Tasheba Berry-McLaren and Space2Launch, Bollywood Groove Books, Author Anne Broyles, Author Kathleen Burkinshaw, Author Eugenia Chu, Author Lesa Cline-Ransome, Author Medeia Cohan and Shade 7 Publishing, Desi Babies, Author Dani Dixon and Tumble Creek Press, Author Judy Dodge Cummings, Author D.G. Driver, Author Nicole Fenner and Sister Girl Publishing, Debbi Michiko Florence, Author Josh Funk, Author Maria Gianferrari,Author Daphnie Glenn, Globe Smart Kids, Author Kimberly Gordon Biddle, Author Quentin Holmes, Author Esther Iverem, Jennifer Joseph: Alphabet Oddities, Author Kizzie Jones, Author Faith L Justice , Author P.J. LaRue and MysticPrincesses.com, Author Karen Leggett Abouraya, Author Sylvia Liu, Author Sherri Maret, Author Melissa Martin Ph.D., Author Lesli Mitchell, Pinky Mukhi and We Are One, Author Miranda Paul,Author Carlotta Penn, Real Dads Read, Greg Ransom, Author Sandra L. Richards, RealMVPKidsAuthor Andrea Scott, Alva Sachs and Three Wishes Publishing, Shelly Bean the Sports Queen, Author Sarah Stevenson, Author Gayle H. SwiftAuthor Elsa Takaoka,Author Christine Taylor-Butler, Nicholette Thomas and  MFL PublishingAuthor Andrea Y. Wang, Author Jane WhittinghamAuthor Natasha Yim

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.

TWITTER PARTY Sponsored by Scholastic Book Clubs: MCBD’s super-popular (and crazy-fun) annual Twitter Party will be held 1/27/18 at 9:00pm.

Join the conversation and win one of 12-5 book bundles and one Grand Prize Book Bundle (12 books) that will be given away at the party! http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/twitter-party-great-conversations-fun-prizes-chance-readyourworld-1-27-18/

Free Multicultural Books for Teachers: http://bit.ly/1kGZrta

Free Empathy Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/teacher-classroom-empathy-kit/

Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with MCBD on social media and be sure and look for/use the official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

Posted in Preschool Reads

Stocking stuffers, snuggle time stories: Christmas picture books!

Happy Black Friday! While you’re deep into your holiday shopping, here are a few picture book suggestions for stocking stuffers or Christmastime snuggling. I’ll have Hanukkah and Kwanzaa book rundowns shortly; I just need to read a few and get a better idea of the good stuff out there.

And away we go!

Captain Bling’s Christmas Plunder, by Rebecca Colby/Illustrated by Rob McClurkan,
(Nov. 2017, Albert Whitman & Company), $16.95, ISBN: 978-0-8075-1063-6
Recommended for readers 4-8

Captain Bling and his crew are planning a big plundering trip, but their ship gets blown off course, landing them by the North Pole! Well, when they get a look at Santa’s elves loading all those toys and goodies up, they decide to steal everything for themselves – until Santa shows those buccaneers a little Christmas spirit! Rhyming text, cartoony art, and a sweet message about giving, plus a heck of a trip on Santa’s sleigh, make this a cute Christmas tale for pirate fans and Santa fans alike.

 

A Christmas for Bear, Bonny Becker/Illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton,
(Sept. 2017, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763649234
Recommended for readers 5-10

Bear doesn’t have much interest in Christmas – pickles are far better. But Mouse does, and when he shows up at Bear’s house for a Christmas party, he discovers that his surly friend Bear may have a little Christmas spirit after all. I love Bonny Becker’s Bear series; he and Mouse are wonderful foils for one another, and Bear always comes around to embrace the fun side of life (and pickles. Always pickles). Bear deliciously keeps Mouse in suspense, feigning total disinterest in the very idea of the holiday; when he thinks Mouse has had enough, he starts “a long and difficult poem” – The Night Before Christmas – and drops hints for Mouse that the ruse is up and it’s time for presents. The watercolor, ink, and gouache art creates a soft, cuddly feel for a winter’s evening storytime. It’s a great add to holiday picture book collections. A Christmas for Bear received a starred review from Kirkus.

 

The Christmas Fairy, by Anne Booth/Illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw,
(Sept. 2017, Nosy Crow/Candlewick), $15.99, ISBN: 978-0-7636-9629-0
Recommended for ages 3-7

Clara is a lively little fairy with dreams of being a “proper Christmas fairy on a sparkly Christmas tree”, but her teacher seems to think she isn’t Christmas fairylike at all: she’s always singing, dancing, or laughing! Luckily, Santa sees things differently when the Christmas Show is in trouble; he tells Clara that he needs a “special fairy who is full of life and fun”; who cheers people up, and is contagiously happy. Clara steps in to save the day, and her teacher – and the reader – learn that not every fairy has to be perfect to be wonderful. The Christmas fairy is all about embracing who you are and not accepting someone else’s idea of perfect. The mixed media illustrations are absolutely adorable; there are towering flowers, little bugs, and a diverse little group of fairy friends. The rhyming text provides a nice rhythm to a sweet Christmas story. Add this one to collections where you have fairy fans (I’ve got a bunch here), and maybe toss in a showing of the Rankin-Bass Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer animated show, with a a similar “Santa asks for help” moment.

 

Elf in the House, by Ammi-Joan Paquette/Illustrated by Adam Record,
(Sept. 2017, Candlewick), $15.99, ISBN: 9780-7636-8132-6
Recommended for readers 3-7

Jingle Jingle! A young girl hears a noise in her house on a snowy Christmas Eve, and creeps down to investigate. The cumulative, rhyming story leaves readers in suspense as she discovers who else is in her home with each turn of the page. Each reveal leads to another noise, another search, another reveal; the lyrical storytelling and the use of suspense ratchets up the excitement for readers, and the digital artwork is cute, with big-eyed characters and goofy expressions that will make younger readers giggle. A fun addition to Christmas storytimes, for sure.

 

Pick a Pine Tree, by Patricia Toht/Illustrated by Jarvis,
(Sept. 2017, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0-7636-9571-2
Recommended for readers 3-7

The perfect way to kick off the Christmas holiday season: pick a tree! Pick a Pine Tree chronicles a tree’s journey from lot to dazzling. The rhyming tale shows a family choosing a tree, bringing it home, and decorating it to get it ready for Christmas. The pencil, chalk, paint, digitally colored illustrations have a vintage feel to them and have fun visual references that we associate with the holiday: a cat in the tree, boxes of decorations coming out of storage, a tree-trimming party, with kids wearing garland boas. It’s all about the ritual of the season, and the greatest moment: when the tree isn’t a pine tree anymore, but a Christmas Tree, dazzling and bright, with awestruck observers peeking out from the page margins. Pick a Pine Tree may very well be a new Christmas classic. The book has a starred review from Kirkus.

 

Red and Lulu, by Matt Tavares, (Sept. 2017, Candlewick),
$17.99, ISBN: 978-0-7636-7733-6
Recommended for readers 5-10

Red and Lulu are a mated pair of cardinals living in a beautiful evergreen tree; one day, Red returns to the tree to discover it’s being taken away – with Lulu still inside! Red follows the truck carrying the tree as far as he can, but the truck is New York bound, and the city is too big for Red. Overwhelmed, he sweeps through the city, tired and hungry, desperate to find Lulu. One day, he hears the song he and Lulu shared so many times: “O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, thy leaves are so unchanging…” and follows the singing to Times Square, where, as he soars over the Rockefeller Center tree and toward their favorite branch. This book is absolutely going to tug at your heartstrings. The watercolor and gouache art is just beautiful, and Red’s bright red feathers stand out on every spread. Matt Tavares beautifully captures New York City at Christmastime: the wreaths around the New York Public Library lions; the bright lights and nonstop action of Times Square, the resplendence of the Rockefeller Center Tree. The spread where Red circles the Empire State Building spire is just breathtaking. The story of unconditional love will resonate with older readers, and younger readers will enjoy the story of a bird who refuses to give up on a lost friend. Another Christmas classic for shelves. Red & Lulu has a starred review from Publishers Weekly. You can visit the Red & Lulu page on Matt Tavares’ website and view the book trailer and more art.

That’s it for now – more holiday books and shopping lists on the way!

Posted in Animal Fiction, Humor, Preschool Reads

Welcome to New York. Now, STOP FEEDIN’ DA BOIDS!

Stop Feedin’ the Boids!, by James Sage/Illustrated by Pierre Pratt, (Apr. 2017, Kids Can Press), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1-77138-613-5

Recommended for readers 4-8

A young girl named Swanda moves to Brooklyn. Missing all the local wildlife she used to enjoy, she spots a pigeon on a rooftop and decides to set up a feeder on her fire escape. Since Swanda appears to be new to New York living, she has no idea what can of worms she’s opened, and before she can say, “bagel”, pigeons swarm the fire escape. New Yorkers know all too well what a horde of pigeons brings, and sure enough, Swanda’s neighbors find themselves under siege as the pigeons leave their mark as literally as they do figuratively.

Stop Feedin’ Da Boids is a love letter to New York. Sage and Pratt capture the city’s diversity by giving us a heroine of color, and in the bustling community. The pages are loaded with representatives of different cultures and colors; Hasidim and Rastafarian, women with rollers in their hair, kids running through the street, men chatting with one another. Pratt even captures the New York pigeon to perfection, with the bright yellow eyes that target lock on any scrap of food in the birds’ vicinity, and the grey/black bodies with a hint of color, usually green. Sage nails the New Yawk accent so well when Swanda’s beleaguered neighbors gather together to tell Swanda, “YOU GOTTA STOP FEEDIN’ DA BOIDS!” that any reader, anywhere, will hear it, as clear as a clanging bell.

This makes a great read-aloud – you can go to town with the voice! – and invite the kids to give their best New York accents a whirl. Let them feel like part of the city! There are oodles of New York-centric books to add to a New York/New Yawk storytime: Mo Willems’ Knuffle Bunny books spotlight Mo’s art over black and white photos of Brooklyn, home of Swanda and the pigeons; Mommy Poppins has a nice list of New York-related books to choose from, and I also love Christoph Niemann’s Subway and Bryan Collier’s Uptown. You could also have a pigeon read-aloud, which gives you an excuse to read Mo Willems’ Pigeon books. (Not that anyone needs an excuse to read Mo.) A fun storytime craft that may or may not get you in trouble: a bird feeder. Or you can do the sticker/coloring sheet thing, too.

Stop Feedin’ Da Boids! received a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in Middle School, Non-Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Trying to Float: A New York Childhood

trying to floatTrying to Float: Coming of Age in the Chelsea Hotel, by Nicolaia Rips, (July 2016, Scribner), $25, ISBN: 978-1501132988

Recommended for ages 14+

New York City’s Chelsea Hotel is part muse, part myth. Home to countless artists, luminaries, and eccentric personalities over since it opened its doors in the late 19th century, the Chelsea  seemingly received as much inspiration as it gave. Art decorated the walls of the hotel, often put there by artists moved to add their voice to the hotel’s presence. Among the more recent Chelsea residents were the Rips family: lawyer, Michael, model-turned-artist, Sheila, and their daughter, Nicolaia. It’s Nicolaia’s story we get in Trying to Float: Coming of Age in the Chelsea Hotel.

Nicolaia wrote the memoir of her formative years at the Chelsea before she graduated high school. The project was inspired by her parents, who told her to journal her stories from school and life in general – so kids, take those journaling assignments seriously! Nicolaia’s story, told in a series of anecdotes and memories, alternates between laugh-out loud funny and painfully spot on. She was the lonely kid in the crowd, her parents often wrapped up in their own eccentricities, and she seemed to figure out a lot on her own, or with the help of some of the Chelsea residents.

Her self-deprecation and her wise-beyond-her-years insights make this book an unputdownable read. Teens will love this because they’ll identify with so many moments: mortification at a birthday party, mean girls spreading rumors about you right in front of you, a parent making you want to move away and start life over under the teenager’s version of a witness/parent protection program. New Yorkers and people who love New York will love it because it’s a slice of life in New York City.

Trying to Float received a starred review from Kirkus. Do not miss this one. Get a copy for yourself, get a copy for a teen in your life, and booktalk it with some more New York stories. There are tons out there, including the photo essay book, Living in the Chelsea Hotel by Linda Troeller.

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

In The Gallery, art speaks volumes – who’s listening?

galleryThe Gallery, by Laura Marx Fitzgerald, (June 2016, Dial Books), $16.00, ISBN: 9780525428657

Recommended for ages 10+

It’s 1929, and 12 year-old Martha has gotten herself thrown out of school for the rest of the school year. Her Ma certainly isn’t going to let her sit home and do nothing, so Martha ends up going to work as a maidservant for Mr. Sewell, the wealthy owner of a major New York newspaper, and his reclusive wife, Rose. Martha’s mother is in charge of the household and oversees all the staff, and Rose isn’t getting any favors by being Ma’s daughter: she’s put straight to work in the kitchen, scrubbing, sweeping, and mopping. She also hears a lot of talk from the servants in the house, who say that Rose is crazy, but Martha isn’t buying it: there’s more there than meets the eye, especially because Mr. Sewell gives her the creeps. When she discovers the Sewell gallery, a conversation with Alphonse – a servant who also seems to know more than he’s letting on – confirms Martha’s suspicions. By learning more about the art that Mrs. Sewell sends down from her locked room to be displayed in the gallery, Martha puts together the real story about what’s going on at the Sewell house.

The only thing better than the story taking place in The Gallery is the fact that it’s based on a true event. Ms. Fitzgerald’s captivating author’s note at the end of the story fills in some crucial details about the story, the true story that inspired it, and more information about events taking place at the time the story unfolds. The Jazz Age, on the brink of the stock market crash and ensuing Great Depression, had anarchists, performers both glitzy and outrageous, defined separation of classes, and a lot of backstabbing, both professionally and personally. It was a fascinating time, and The Gallery is a fascinating look into some of that era.

The Gallery is a metaphor for there being more than just face value to things. Martha sees past Mr. Sewell’s exterior, to be sure, but there’s also a touching subplot about a girl coming of age in the middle of this madness, and realizing that her father isn’t the person she thought he was, either.

Every single character in this book is interesting; the story’s pace is perfect, with just enough exposition, then a slow but consuming buildup to the big finale. The bookend story that frames the entire narrative is just so good, and brings readers full circle. This is a great book to introduce to middle schoolers who want something… more. You know the readers: they want something, but not what everyone else is reading. They aren’t really sure what they’re in the mood for, but they want a good book. This is that book. Suggested books I’ve seen are Chasing Vermeer and The Westing Game, neither of which I’ve read, but have heard great things about. As they’re art-related mysteries, display them together. I’d also suggest The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, an excellent Jazz Age re-imagining of the beloved fairy tale, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, and also includes an autocratic, wealthy male figure that wants to keep the girls in his life locked away so he doesn’t have to deal with them.

Definitely worth the add to your collections. I’m thinking of gifting this to the eldest’s girlfriend; she loves a good story. It’s lovely when there are readers all around you!

 

 

Posted in Historical Fiction, Horror, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

The Divah takes New York!

divahDivah, by Susannah Appelbaum (March 2016, Sky Pony Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781634506748

Recommended for ages 12+

Itzy Nash is not looking forward to this summer vacation. Her dad is sending her off to her stuffy aunt, who doesn’t even like kids, while he goes off to Paris to do some research. But when Itzy arrives at New York’s elite Carlyle Hotel, she gets the strange feeling that something’s not right – for starters, Aunt Maude isn’t around, either; she’s left word that she’s hired a governess to keep an eye on Itzy. Plus, there’s a weird sound coming from one of the closets, and there are tons of flies. And that’s just the beginning.

Itzy learns that the Queen of the Damned – the Divah – is at the Carlyle, and she’s trying to open the gates of Hell itself. With the help of a fallen angel that she may or may not be able to trust, an aging star, and a host of colorful New Yorkers, Itzy also discovers that it’s up to her to save New York – and the world – from the Divah and her minions. Better hope she’s up to the task.

I loved this book. There’s a bit of historical fiction with a twist, some horror, and through it all, a fantastically witty thread of the darkest humor. It’s a sendup of high New York society and celebrity, a thrill ride in a book, with an End of Days bent. There are well-developed characters and a backstory that comes to fruition over the centuries. Ms. Appelbaum takes pop culture and weaves it into her story’s history to establish the ubiquity of demon and demon hunter culture in our world, from Evian water to Hermès scarves.

Add this to collections where YA thrillers/paranormal fiction is popular. Booktalk New York touchstones like the Carlyle Hotel in New York, particularly the Bemelmans Bar within the hotel; show art from the Madeline books to link the readers to Bemelmans’ work. For teens, booktalk Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, for similar New York-based horror.

Posted in Adventure, Fiction, Middle Grade

Introduce middle graders to a young Harry Houdini with Magician’s Fire

magiciansfireThe Magician’s Fire, by Simon Nicholson, (October 2014, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky). $15.99, ISBN: 9781492603320

Recommended for ages 8-12

Young Harry Houdini was a shoeshine kid on the streets of New York long before he captivated audiences with his illusions – but he was always interested in magic. The Magician’s Fire introduces readers to Harry and his friends – fellow street urchin Billie, and Arthur, a wealthy boy from an unhappy home.

We also meet Herbie, a magician who serves as Harry’s mentor – he’s a tired older man who performs in a local theatre. One night, Herbie disappears, the only evidence being a puff of purple smoke. Harry and his friends turn investigators, using their skills and their wits to get to the bottom of Herbie’s disappearance. But are they also attracting some unwanted attention?

I love the idea of introducing kids to Harry Houdini. It worries me that icons of previous generations may fade away to the general public, so seeing Harry brought back to life in a mystery-type series – think Alfred Hitchcock’s investigators, but with magic! – that also gives him a chance to show off his developing illusionist skills, really makes me happy.

Harry is obnoxious in this first book. He wants the attention, he wants to do everything by himself, and his idea of teamwork really relates to how his friends can get him noticed or pave his way to save the day. He realizes this, thankfully, when Billie and Arthur call him on it, and while I think this will be a struggle we see in future plotlines, it presents a great growth opportunity for the characters and gives middle graders an entry point to the character. Readers will recognize themselves in Harry, sympathize with Arthur, and cheer for Billie. There’s some good character development at work here, and interesting insights into the world of illusion that will appeal to everyone.

The book leaves off with an obvious cliffhanger, so I hope this new series has a long, successful life. I read the first chapter to a storytime group of middle graders, and they were captivated by the opening scene. One boy asked me to make sure I included that book in my next library order – duly noted!

The Sourcebooks website offers a free, downloadable Educator’s Guide to The Magicians’ Fire, along with an excerpt.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Teen, Uncategorized, Young Adult/New Adult

Dangerous Creatures gives us more Ridley and Link!

dangerous creaturesDangerous Creatures, by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl, Little Brown Books for Young Readers (2014). $19, ISBN: 9780316370318

Recommended for ages 13+

I recently became a convert to the Beautiful Creatures series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, having read and immensely enjoyed the first one. While a bit unorthodox, I skipped over the other books in the series to read this latest one thanks to NetGalley, so any blanks in the series that you may find in this review are my fault – which I’ll remedy, by requesting the other books in the series from the library, posthaste.

Dangerous Creatures follows Ridley and Link, who is – if you’ve been keeping up with the series, you know this – a quarter incubus now. So I really need to catch up. The gang we (I) know, including Lena and Ethan, are all together right after graduation and the events of the last book in the series,  Beautiful Redemption. They’re going their separate ways, but vow to stay together and not drift apart, as so many groups of friends do.

From there, Ridley and Link head up to New York, where Link intends to find success in a band. What he doesn’t know is that Ridley is in trouble – when isn’t she, really? – and Link’s future is part of her settling her debts.  Link, while ignorant of Ridley’s troubles, knows that something’s up between he and Ridley, more than the usual at-each-other’s-throats business. Ridley knows she’s no good for Link, but they just can’t seem to stay apart – or will something drive them apart for good this time?

Beautiful Creatures introduced a lot of characters and set several storylines into motion. The story of Ridley and Link has been developing since the very first book, so by now, readers know who they are. They’re a hugely popular couple and have nicely fleshed-out backgrounds and storylines. Having only read the first book in this series, I was able to follow the story easily enough, with exposition drawing in any details I missed in the meantime. Newcomers to the series will be able to jump in, and established fans will be very happy.

The book is a page-turner. There are some new characters and there’s magic; new troubles for Ridley to get herself (and Link) into, and repercussions from previous events. What I loved so much about the first book – the weaving of the Caster storyline with the history of the old South – is missing here, but the authors introduce readers to New York nightlife, which is exciting in terms of a new locale. I missed the history of it all, to be honest, and the constant “he/she loves me, he/she loves me not” interplay between Ridley and Link became a little tedious for me, but I’m sure it will continue to be hugely popular with teen readers.

I enjoyed the book. It’s got an established audience who will snap this book up. It’s going on the shelves at my library, and I know it will fly off those shelves. Now, to fill in the gaps in my Caster knowledge…

Posted in Fantasy, Preschool Reads, Uncategorized

When You Wish Upon the Moon… Randy DuBurke’s Moon Ring Takes You on a Trip

Book Review: The Moon Ring, by Randy DuBurke, Chronicle Books 2002
Recommended for ages- 4-8

the moon ring

Maxine, a young girl, sits on the porch, with her grandmother, seeking relief from the summer heat, when a magic ring seemingly falls from the blue moon. Maxine is swept away on a magic ride around the world – to the South Pole, a wild savannah, and New York City, accompanied by some new friends. But what happens when she runs out of wishes?

The book is a fun fantasy tale about magic and the moon. We always hear about wishing on a star, but the moon is the star of the show here (no pun intended). Randy DuBurke gives readers a classic fairy tale elements – granting wishes, being transported to exciting adventures and locales, and the temporary scare – the wishes have run out!

Young readers will enjoy the close relationship Maxine and her wise grandma who knows that magic is out there. Maxine is drawn with a wonderfully expressive face – it makes for fun reading, with prompts to children learning about facial expressions and emotions. The exciting, changing landscapes are beautifully rendered in pen, ink, and acrylics on cold waterpress paper. The story uses its space well, alternating between full-bleed spreads and framed panels. I read the digital version of this book, so I can’t speak to the fonts, but I’m sure a read-aloud with the actual book will work better with a young group.

The Moon Ring is a playful, fun book that makes for a good read-aloud session. This would be a great addition to a read-aloud about magic, imagination, or the moon. There are many rhymes and fingerplays about the moon that would be good companions to this book – Hey Diddle Diddle would be a fun start!