I’ve gotten into a groove (of sorts) when it comes to my middle grade reading; I’ve been reading one upcoming book and one from my TBR, trying to keep both lists copasetic. I had to read Angela Dominguez’s latest two Stella Díaz books back to back because I enjoyed them so much! I wrote about the first Stella book, Stella Díaz Has Something to Say, when I read it in 2018 (and revisited in a book bundles post this past June), and finally read the next two. Stella is such a great young heroine for middle graders; read on and see for yourself.
I fell in love with This is Owl, by Libby Walden and Jacqui Lee, a year ago. It’s interactive fun for storytime and anytime, and it lets you be absolutely silly with your littles! Two more This is… books have hit shelves, thanks to Kane Miller; both authored by Harriet Evans, with Jacqui Lee staying on as illustrator, and they are every bit is adorable and fun as This is Owl. Pep up your storytime!
More interactive animal fun! The narrator invites us to gently shake the book to help Frog jump, and then we assist frog in moving flies toward him for some food, avoid being a toucan’s snack, find shelter from the rain, and find his way back to the water. The text invites readers to help out on every page, with flaps to lift and pages to shake. Frog is wide-eyed and looks vaguely concerned, which will give readers gleeful giggles as they jiggle, hug, and lead him around the book. I read this during a Facebook Live storytime and received several messages from parents telling me their littles loved it! The book is largely rendered in lush greens with bright backgrounds to pop against. Perfect for toddlers and preschoolers with exploring fingers.
More die-cut, interactive silly fun! Crab opens up a wealth of possibilities for finger-clacking, shuffling shenanigans. We start off by gently tempting Crab out of his cave, then accompanying him in a walk across the ocean floor. Readers need to be mindful – Crab has a bad habit of pinching others, and tries to take things that don’t belong to him! Readers steer him away from Octopus and negotiate how to play nicely with a decorator crab, and play a game of underwater hide and seek. When cracks show up in Crab’s shell, readers also have a chance to help Crab shed his old shell. Too much fun, with a colorful underwater playground to wander in. Let your readers clack their crab pincers and shuffle sideways to add to the fun!
The This is series is essential for storytime collections. They’re just too much fun to read and explore.
A young girl named Meera and her mother head to the beach to have a relaxing day, when a large, friendly, blue giant emerges from the water. He’s made up of water and sea life, and he tells them that he needs their help! Meera and her mom put on their scuba gear and head underwater, where the giant swirls around, showing them all the pollution underwater: bottles, plastic bags, fast food containers, it’s just a mess! Meera and Mom immediately start pitching in, but they realize this is too big a job for just two people: once back on land, Meera and Mom recruit others, who also recruit others, to clean up the beaches. Like the book says, “…when everybody helps out… even the biggest messes can be fixed!” A note at the end offers ways to reduce single-plastic usage, including easy ways for kids to help out, like taking a canvas bag to the store or carrying a reusable water bottle.
This is a companion to Katie Cottle’s 2019 book, The Green Giant, and examines a different area of pollution this time; where The Green Giant looks at deforestation and destruction of green spaces, The Blue Giant pleads the case for our waters, which are horrifically polluted, primarily by single-use plastics.
The illustrations are primarily rendered in shades of blue, with sweeping underwaterscapes that show incredible levels of junk floating around. A particularly moving panel shows the Blue Giant swirling around Meera and her mother, stirring up a whirlwind of garbage to surround them. Keep both this book and The Green Giant together for natural-world storytimes and Earth Day storytimes, activism and social justice storytimes.
Little Crab and Very Big Crab live in a very tiny tide pool, but head out to see the ocean one day. Little Crab is SO excited, tic-a-ticking and splish-splashing over the rocks, across the pools, and through the seaweed, but when they arrive at the ocean, it’s VERY BIG. Little Crab is nervous, but Very Big Crab is there, assuring that all is well. The waves WHOOSH! over the two, and Little Crab is very nervous, but together, the two brave the waves and discover a colorful, beautiful world under the water! One of my favorite picture book author-illustrators, Chris Haughton never fails to capture humor and tenderness in his books, and Don’t Worry, Little Crab beautifully explores the relationship between a caregiver and a child. We’re there, gently guiding, always protecting, and encouraging our little ones to be brave, because we’re standing with them.
I love this book for storytime. It lets me use my We’re Going on a Bear Hunt sound effects and movement: the tic-a-tic of crab claws over rocks; the splish-splash as they move through tide pools, the squelch, squelch of stepping through ooey, gooey, seaweed, and – biggest of all – the WHOOSH! of the waves as they rise over the two crabs. Use your voice, use your body, really get the kids invested in the storytelling. It will be amazing. The digital illustrations are shades of blue and green, with a riot of vibrant color greeting the crabs as they arrive at the ocean floor. Absolutely wonderful for storytime, cuddle time, and any time. Candlewick has a free, downloadable activity kit with coloring sheets! Make art for your fridge!
Don’t Worry, Little Crab has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Booklist, and Kirkus.
The latest edition of #SummersCool is here! Get ready for a full day of fun!
Way too much fun, this box of 64 slotted cards let kids build castles with all the details: heraldry, arches, arrow-slit windows, flags, and more. Brightly colored in reds, blues, and yellows, with bold black outlines, kids can read up on different architectural features and get an idea of the basics from the included foldout sheet, and let their creative energy take them wherever they want to go. I worked on these with the Kiddo, and he ended up incorporating his Lego bricks and minifigs to come up with a fantastic spread that covered our dining room table. The box is just the beginning – print out some paper knights, draw some dragons, and have a great time!
From the earliest music to K-Pop, Turn It Up! is a comprehensive guide to the history of music and its influence on the world. Six sections organize music into time periods, beginning with the earliest instruments, including wind instruments played on crops, and string instruments handed down from the gods. Isn’t It Romantic? introduces readers to orchestras, operas, and Classical and Romantic music’s origins in the 18th ad 19th centuries. Thoroughly Modern Music explores the 20th century, and the changes to music brought by the emerging film and radio industries; All-American Sound is all about the American sound of Jazz and Blues, influenced by African culture. Play it Loud covers protest music, the British invasion that brought the Beatles to American shores, and the distinctive style of 1970s rock. Pop Goes the Music is about pop, punk, rap, and hip-hop. Spotlights on instruments, musical terms, superstars of the music world, and notes about essential pieces of music give readers a well-rounded backgrounder in music history. There’s a timeline, glossary, further resources list, and index to complete this volume. Let your kids create a Spotify playlist with music they like; create one for them.
I love NatGeo’s animal compendiums, and Kiddo does too – he usually runs off with mine as soon as they arrive! After retrieving Extreme Ocean from his bookcase, I was able to sit down and see what deep sea explorer Sylvia A. Earle had to say about some of her ocean explorations. Filled with colorful, vibrant photos, Extreme Ocean is all about the oceans that cover over 71% of our world: and the dangers they face. The information is organized into five chapters: Blue Heart of the Planet is about the ocean itself; Life Beneath the Waves is about ocean life; Going Deeper, Staying Longer covers exploration, and An Ocean in Trouble and How to Save an Ocean is a call to action for readers to educate themselves about dangers like pollution and overfishing, and what scientists and conservationists are doing – and what readers can do – to turn the tide in our favor. Extreme sections in each section look at major happenings, from tsunamis to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a polluted area of the Pacific Ocean that may measure as large as the state of Alaska. There are experiments for kids to try at home, and Who’s Who callout boxes bring readers’ attention to different ocean dwellers to discover. There’s a glossary, list of resources, and an index. A great companion to NatGeo’s Ultimate Oceanpedia and Captain Aquatica’s Awesome Ocean, and a book kids will love.
The fourth book in Acadia’s Science Notebook series is all about Spring! This season, Acadia investigates dinosaurs, meteors, and mass extinctions. She also looks at parasites, ticks, and the diseases they can spread, including Lyme disease and malaria. She also looks through her previous seasons’ notebooks and puts together her inquiries from all four of them, to give herself – and readers – a rounded, holistic understanding of the natural world. This is such a great intermediate STEM/STEAM series for kids; it’s part science, part chapter book, with a handwritten, journal feel throughout that should inspire some of your kiddos to start their own journaling. I fall back on this one quite often because it’s so easy. Kiddo and I used this as a guideline to make our own journal and had a great time wandering our neighborhood to fill it up. Enjoy a chapter read and activity in the video below.
The Pout-Pout Fish is off to school! This time, he’s a substitute teacher, subbing for his favorite teacher, Miss Hewitt, who’s down with a cold. On the way to school, he meets a nervous new student and helps him feel comfortable with his new school and new classmates. When Pout-Pout – Mr. Fish here – feels a little overwhelmed in front of his first class, the little fish is there to return the favor, giving Mr. Fish the confidence to carry the class. TAt the end of the day, Pout-Pout gets a sweet drawing from his new student and a warm reception from his new students. What a way to start a school year!
Pout-Pout Fish: Back to School is a Pout-Pout Fish story by Wes Adams and illustrator Isidre Monés. I admit I miss the rhyme scheme and repetition that Deborah Diesen traditionally uses, but the emphasis on kindness present in Pout-Pout Fish stories is here. Isidre Monés uses calming blues for Pout-Pout and bright primary colors for the classroom, all of which will appeal to readers. And there are stickers at the end of the book, making this a great back-to-school gift for kids (and if you’re putting this on your library shelves, hold onto those stickers, or your books won’t last the day – hand them out to your kiddos as welcome back gifts).
Pout-Pout and friends are cleaning up the ocean! Mr. Fish and his friends love the ocean’s beauty, but when he looks around and sees a giant mess, he and his friends investigate and find out that THEY are the cause of the mess! That simply won’t do, so the group team up to clean up in this rhyming story by original writer and illustrator Deborah Diesen and Dan Hanna.
Kids (and grownups) familiar with Pout-Pout stories will fall right into the rhyme and repetition of the story. There’s always a phrase or two that sets the plot moving; here, it’s “There’s a problem that needs solving/And we don’t know what to do/But we’re going to find some answers/Would you like to join us, too?” Old boxes of junk, food waste, plastic bags, all of it has to go, because it’s “a big… BIG.. MESS!” The friends come together to pitch in and clean up; even sorting their recyclables from their garbage. Once they’ve cleaned the ocean floor, they feel good about themselves, and extend the invitation to the reader to join them! An author and illustrator note encourages readers to clean up and protect the ocean, encouraging everyone to take action and learn more. It’s a great way to introduce conservation to kids.
The Pout-Pout website has lots of printable activities, and the website is way too much fun! (There are floating bubbles and fish!)
There are some solid graphic novels hitting shelves in October: LGBTQ+ positive stories and a dystopian adventure for tweens and teens, and for tweens and teens, Art Baltazar’s adorable artwork for kids are just a few of the books you can look forward to. Let’s dive in!
If you have readers who get a kick out of Joey Weiser’s Mermin books, they’ll love Art Baltazar’s Gillbert: The Little Merman! He’s the son of King Nauticus and the prince of Atlanticus, and he’s surrounded by cool friends, like his turtle buddy, Sherbert, and his starfish buddy, Albert. One day, he meets playful mermaid named Anne Phibian, who takes him to a rocking party at WeWillRockTropolis. Meanwhile, aliens invade Earth, but quick action by Queen Niadora and her alien friend, Teeq, save the day.
Art Baltazar creates art that kids love: Tiny Titans; Grimmiss Island; DC Super Pets, and countless more comics have his signature bold, bright artwork and zest for zany adventure. He’s got kid-friendly artwork, storylines, and humor that kids eat up. When my library kids are too young for the DC comics on “the other side of the library” (the teen collection), but still want superheroes, I give them Art Baltazar’s books, and they’re thrilled.
Gillbert’s first outing looks like it’s the start to a fun new under-the-sea series. Papercutz won’t steer you wrong; add this one to your graphic novel shelves.
Acclaimed Honor Girl author Maggie Thrash’s latest book is a continuing memoir with a touch of fiction. A year and a half after the events of Honor Girl, Maggie is spiraling into a deep depression. She’s failing 11th grade; her stuffy, image-consumed mother is baffled, and her workaholic father, a federal judge, pays no attention to her. The only thing Maggie cares about is her cat, Tommi, who seemingly disappears in her rambling home. While searching for Tommi, Maggie discovers a ghost named Tommy, who leads her to peel back layers of her father’s life and see him through new eyes.
Maggie Thrash beautifully captures the tedium and angst of adolescence and the hopelessness of depression. The feeling of shouting into the void is poignantly captured when she opens up about coming out… and being ignored, regardless. She maintains a bitter sense of humor through her journey, making her likeable and relatable, and her watercolor artwork intensifies the feeling of being not-quite-there.
Lost Soul, Be at Peace is a beautifully thoughtful graphic memoir and a must-add to upper middle school and YA collections. Download an author note (also included in the back matter) and Maggie Thrash’s Top 10 Songs for Lost Souls playlist here; view a sample chapter here. Lost Soul, Be at Peace has starred reviews from School Library Journal and Kirkus.
Last Pick is the first in a new dystopian trilogy. Three years ago, aliens invaded earth, taking everyone between the ages of 16 and 65: everyone they deemed “useful”. The survivors left behind live under cruel rule. Too young, too old, too disabled, they’re seen as worthless, receiving slim food rations and living under constant threat. But Sam and Wyatt, a twin brother and sister, are about to change all that. Sam’s the rebel, distributing food and fomenting revolution; Wyatt, her special needs brother, is the brains of the operation: he’s cataloging the aliens, and knows how to work with their technology. They start disrupting the aliens’ plans and making themselves a general nuisance until the aliens decide they’re too much of a threat, right on the eve of their 16th birthday.
Last Pick is SO GOOD. I tore through this one during a lunch hour; it’s compulsive reading with a tight storyline and characters you want to root for. Aliens appear to be enthralled with earth culture and are played in part as comic relief, from the overlord who seems to be influenced by American Westerns, affecting a cowboy-type flavor of speech, to the gooey creature that shares a love of Ultraman with Wyatt. There’s some intrigue going on among the aliens, too; I’m looking forward to learning more in the next installment. Sam and Wyatt are a solid sister-brother unit; Wyatt’s special needs appear to place him on the autism spectrum, and Sam acts as his partner and protector. An underground radio broadcaster, a Latinx who refers to herself as La Sonida, offers moments of retrospection and I hope we get more of her, too.
Eisner Award winner Tillie Walden’s On a Sunbeam collects all the installments of her webcomic. It’s a science fiction adventure in a universe that embraces all relationships. Mia is a young woman on a reconstruction crew that travels through space, restoring buildings and structures. The narrative shifts between the present and Mia’s past, where she fell in love at boarding school with a girl named Grace; a girl who was taken away by her family before Mia could say goodbye. Mia learns more about her crewmates and their own stories as they travel through space, ultimately creating a family of their own.
The cast is incredibly, wonderfully, diverse. There’s Char, the co-captain; she’s an African American woman who shares captain duties with her Caucasian wife, Alma: “Char may have the degrees, but Alma knows how to yell”, according to one character, Jules. Jules should know: she’s Alma’s niece, taken in when her mother – Alma’s sister – died. Jules seems to be the youngest member of the crew; she’s most likely a teen, loves playing games, and is the happy optimist of the crew. Ell/Elliot is a Caucasian nonbinary person who prefers they/them/their pronouns – and the crew vociferously defends their right to those pronouns, as Ell is nonverbal. Grace, Mia’s lost love, is African American.
As the narrative shifts between Mia’s past and present, we see Mia and Grace’s relationship develop, right up until Grace’s departure from the school. The color palette shifts with the narrative: cooler colors like blues and purples dominate the flashbacks, while warmer colors creep during the present day. Mia is the central character, but every character in this novel has a story to tell. This is a book I had to move back and forth with during the first few chapters; not having read the webcomic, I wasn’t altogether sure I was reading a connected story until I got the hang of the shifts, and of Mia’s place in them. Stick with the story: it’s an wonderful work of queer speculative fiction that deserves a spot on your shelves. On a Sunbeam is good for young adult/new adult readers.
I fell in love with author Henry Herz’s book, Mabel and the Queen of Dreams, back in 2016. It was a wonderful way to introduce some magic to bedtime, and a nod to The Bard himself. Mr. Herz has two more books coming out this September; one is a fun fable about a selfish squid, and the other, another nod to magic, this time, courtesy of a little girl named Alice.
Once upon a time, a squid had a splendid silvery scarf knitted for him by his mother, but he was still cold. Rather than go home and bundle up, our little cephalopod decides to steal an octopus’ sweater and a fiddler crab’s mitten; when he tries to snatch an eel’s hat, though, he discovers that taking things without asking can only end one way: trouble! The eel grabbed one of the squid’s 10 arms, and the octopus and crab catch up to get hold of his other arm and get their clothes back! When all is said and done, the squid is still cold, and now he has two really long arms: and a sneaky fish sneaking up to steal his scarf! The straightforward story is a gentle way to reinforce that taking things that aren’t yours is wrong; a nice morality tale set in the friendly ocean. The artwork brings a dose of fun to the story, with wide-eyed marine life and exaggerated expressions (and an eel in a hunter’s cap is pretty fantastic). An author’s note provides a photo and a little bit of background on squid.
My little guy thoroughly enjoyed this story; he had a big-eyed laugh when the squid got his comeuppance, and pointed out all the animals we’d seen at the aquarium a couple of weeks before. It’s a nice add to your shelves, and a fun add to fables, stories about empathy, and books with marine life. And here are some squid coloring sheets, to enhance the storytime!
Alice in Wonderland fans, get ready: the subtitle here, “Before the rabbit hole”, lets you know what’s going on. Once upon a time, there was a young girl named Alice, who went to the dreariest school in all of England. While escaping her awful headmistress and cruel classmates, Alice happens upon a small, walled garden, and begins tending it, caring for a few of the inhabitants: a caterpillar and a lory bird; she even chases a smiling cat away from a rabbit. Her kindness is paid back at school, when her benefactors leave her tasty treats and take care of those bullies, telling Alice that they are friends “now and forever”. There are wonderful references to the classic tale throughout the story, and readers will fall in love with the magical realism of the garden. The artwork is colorful and calming, delightful for fairy tale fans, and the story itself is all about the power of paying it forward. This one is great storytime reading, and may nudge Mabel aside as my favorite Henry Herz book. Print out some Alice in Wonderland coloring sheets, have a mad tea party, and read this one to your littles.
The weather’s warming up, so why not start thinking of ocean-y fun? I’ve got a couple of fun, new books that are perfect for fans of sea life!
Recommended for readers 4-7
Nate LOVES sharks. He’s got shark posters and books, spouts shark facts all day, and pretends to be a shark, chomping his way through the schoolyard and the dinner table. But Nate has a secret that’s keeping him from fully realizing his full shark potential: he can’t swim. And his school swim team is named The Sharks! Luckily, Nate has the tenacity of a great white, and takes lessons, determined to get on the team and show his brother – who’s also on the swim team – who the real shark is.
This is a fun story about overcoming fear. Nate loves sharks, but he’s got to learn how to swim; his first lesson doesn’t go so well – he feels like a “great white wimp” – but he doesn’t give up, and works harder, until he’s good enough to make it on the team and compete at the swim meet. The art is kid-friendly, with a great cover: Nate casts a shark-y shadow as he stands at the tiled floor of a pool area; the endpapers show wavy, bluish-green water with a single shark fin navigating the spreads. There’s a spread on different kinds of sharks, with fun facts (the blue shark eats until he throws up – and then goes back to eating). Kids, parents, and caregivers alike will enjoy reading this one.
Recommended for readers 4-8
Based on a real-life story, Inky the Octopus is a rhyming tale about an octopus who escapes his New Zealand aquarium tank and heads out for the open sea. When we first meet Inky, he’s bored, maybe even a little sad, with his fish friend, Blotchy, for company. But he spies an open drain and that’s it: “Out of this tank, I must be free/I must explore the open sea!” Inky gets ready to make his escape, asking Blotchy to come with him – an invitation that his friend politely declines. The next morning, the discovery is made: Inky is gone, free to experience life in the ocean.
The real-life Inky escaped from his National Aquarium of New Zealand tank in 2016, when aquarium keepers came into work and noticed that the octopus wasn’t in his tank. It appears that he slipped through a small opening in his tank, maneuvered across the floor, and slid down a 164-foot-long drainpipe that led out to Hawke’s Bay. There’s even a real-life Blotchy, but he’s another octopus, not a fish. While there are other children’s books about Inky, including 2017’s Inky’s Great Escape by Casey Lyell and Sebastià Serra, Inky the Octopus is officially endorsed by the National Aquarium of New Zealand.
The artwork is adorable and the rhyming text gives a nice cadence to storytelling that allows for dramatic embellishment (at least, when I read it: he’s an octopus, he’s got eight arms, give him some grand gestures!) Inky has big, sweet eyes that will appeal to readers and have them falling in love with the sweet cephalopod, rooting for him to make a run for it. Information about the real-life Inky at the book’s conclusion adds a nice learning opportunity for readers.
Recommended for readers 4-8
A shark’s tale of being kidnapped by aliens! Kind of. A shark speaks directly to the reader in rhyme, confiding in us a true story that happened to him: he was kidnapped by aliens from the sky. Now, remember: when a shark looks up, that’s the sky. We know it as the surface. As the shark notes: “There is something else/and that’s no lie. It stole me from the ocean, and took me to the sky.” The poor shark sees a yummy fish, goes for a snack, and discovers – whoops! – the fish has a hook. And those aliens were terrifying: “In ships they steered? Faces with beards? Heads with two ears? It was all just too weird.” To add insult to injury, no one believes him. What’s a poor shark to do?
I loved everything about this story. The art is just beautiful, from the endpapers that could be a starry night sky or the surface of the water at night; the combination of realistic and almost dreamlike renderings of sea life, from the hazy, colorful jellyfish to the crisp spread of rays making their way through the story, to the black-eyed protagonist whose tale will make you chuckle and yet, feel for his plight (gender pronoun is mine; the character has no determined gender in the story). It’s a look at preservation and oceanography from a different point of view, and makes a realistic-looking shark less threatening, even likable. Kids will appreciate the misunderstood predator; how many times have kids been called out for exaggerating a recollection that is absolutely true from their point of view? Sea Creatures From the Sky provides a good jumping-off point to discuss point-of-view storytelling and what exactly the humans were doing with the shark when they “measured, probed, and spoke in strange code”. This one is a must-add to storytimes and books where sharks and undersea life are popular. Which, really, has to be, like every collection. Kids LOVE sharks.
Ricardo Cortés illustrated one of my baby shower gifts, Go The F**k to Sleep (no, I’ve never read it to the kiddo, but it did comfort me on many a sleepless night), and its child-friendly companion, Seriously, Just Go to Sleep.
I started this post in Hershey, PA while I attended KidLitCon17 – which was amazing, but kicked my butt! – so I’m finishing up now that I’m back home and getting ready to great a new week. More to come on the conference, but for now, let’s talk board books! I’ve been on a board book kick at work, having weeded a bit of the collection, so let’s take a look at a few that have just hit shelves. I’m on the lookout for fun, new, and different board books to get in front of the littles, and to keep up the momentum for my Mother Goose lapsit storytime. The Rodgers & Hammerstein board books are a must, and these look like big fun, too.
(Oct. 2017, Quarto Group), $16.95, ISBN: 9781633223660
Recommended for parents for kiddos 0-2
(Sept. 2017, Quarto Group), $12.95, ISBN: 9781633222373
(Oct. 201, Steerforth Press), $18.00, ISBN: 9780914671855
This beautiful book by celebrated Chinese children’s author and 2016 Hans Christian Andersen Award-winner Cao Wenxuan tells the tale of a feather trying to find its origin. The feather blows along with the wind, encountering different birds and asking, “Am I yours?”; the feather is usually ignored or brushed off. Just when Feather is about to give up hope, she spies a bird missing a feather… could it be? This beautifully illustrated and narrated story of searching for one’s origin, one’s place in the world, works on different levels for different age groups. For little readers, I’d pair this with Are You My Mother? and talk about families, who we are. For school-age children, this pairs with Jon Muth’s books, Zen Shorts and Zen Ties, offering a deeper look into daily life. The storytelling is meditative and the artwork is dynamic and beautiful. Both Wenxuan and illustrator Roger Mello are Hans Christian Anderson Award winners, and this pairing is wonderful. I’m hoping to see this one on my Mock Caldecott shortlist this year. Feather has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus.
(May 2017, Quarto Group), $17.95, ISBN: 9781633221253