Posted in picture books

Spring and Summer stories to make you smile

With Spring and Summer come a lighter type of picture book: open spaces, verdant greens, cheery yellows, happy colors and stories about enjoying the outdoors. I’ve got a few picture books here that are perfect for those longer, warmer days.

Free, by Sam Usher, (April 2021, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536217049

Ages 4-7

The boy and his grandfather from Sam Usher’s Seasons With Grandad series are back! In Free, the boy and Grandad care for a sick bird who returns to them every day. Grandad looks up new ways to get the bird to reunite with other birds, but it looks like their new feathered friend needs a bit of help, so they gather their equipment and strike out to find a tree for their new friend. Sam Usher brings his touch of magical realism to this story of a boy, his grandfather, and a little bird that needs their help, elevating it from sweet to simply extraordinary. Ink and watercolor illustrations are expressive and provide a soothing, intimate feel to the storytelling and the relationship between Grandad, Boy, and Bird. Riots of color in strategic moments make for a delightful surprise. I love Sam Usher’s books, so this one is a definite buy for me.

Free has a starred review from Kirkus.

(UK edition image taken from Amazon.com: the US edition notes that one of the birds “was sick”.)

 

Sweet Pea Summer, by Hazel Mitchell, (April 2021, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536210347

Ages 4-8

A girl’s her father brings her to spend the summer with her grandparents when her mother has to go into the hospital. To keep her occupied, her grandfather invites her to help in his garden, asking her to look after his snow peas. She learns to care for them and nurture them, taking great pride in the growing pods, and her grandfather suggests she may even get to enter them in the flower show when the season ends. So what happens that causes the flowers to start dying? Stumped, the girl tries multiple fixes until she discovers the reason. A gently told story of love, nurturing, perseverance and determination, this is a beautifully illustrated story, with colorful spreads of the English countryside and cheery gardens. There are so many details to discover in the sprawling townscape and countryside, from bustling businesses and commuters to the playful garden animals hopping and frolicking around the greenery. A book that encourages readers to endure hard times and embrace the support around them, Sweet Pea Summer is a good warm-weather read. Have some sweet pea coloring pages handy for an accompanying storytime activity. Pair with Zee Grows a Tree for a storytime about the love between nature and kids.

Visit Hazel Mitchell’s author webpage for more information about her books, her artwork, and a host of printable activities about her book, Toby.

 

William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, retold by Georghia Ellinas/Illustrated by Jane Ray, (April 2021, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536217735

Ages 4-8

The companion to last year’s William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a dreamlike, picture book interpretation of the famous Shakespeare comedy, great for new audiences. The Fairy Kingdom is up in arms as King Oberon is in a disagreement with his wife, Queen Titania; a group of young nobles arrive in the magical forest from Athens, all in love with the wrong person; and Puck, a mischievous servant of King Oberon’s decides to stir up some trouble just for the fun of it. Retold from Puck’s perspective, this is a very readable, enjoyable breakdown of the hilarious story of mistaken identity, love, and mischievous fairies. Shakespeare’s famous ending, “If we shadows have offended…” closes the story. The artwork is a tapestry of beautiful color, artwork that captures the playful spirit of the play and the otherworldly characters in the story. Moonlight figures heavily in the artwork, a glowing sheen adding illumination and bringing out the details in each character. A great read-aloud idea for older classes (1-3 grades, for instance), consider an Introduction to Shakespeare display for your Children’s Room with books like Anna Claybourne and Tilly’s Where’s Will?, The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review series by Ian Lendler and illustrated by Zack Giallongo, and Mabel and the Queen of Dreams, by Henry, Joshua, & Harrison Herz. Visit ilustrator Jane Ray’s website for free printable coloring pages.

 

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

Ahh, Paris… Kisses and Croissants

Kisses and Croissants, by Anne-Sophie Jouhanneau, (April 2021, Delacorte Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9780593173572

Ages 12+

Seventeen-year-old Mia has dancing in her blood: her great-great-great grandmother, according to a family legend, was one of the girls painted by the artist Degas when she danced at the Paris Opera. She lives and breathes ballet, with dreams of being accepted by the American Ballet Theatre. When she’s accepted for a summer program at Institut de l’Opéra de Paris, she’s thrilled – this could be her chance! – but she’s not expecting to have to share a room with her dance rival, Audrey. And she’s definitely not expecting Louis, a handsome young Frenchman with a Vespa, who offers to be her tour guide around Paris. As she and Louis start exploring Paris – and their feelings for each other – together, Mia has to consider what is truly most important in her life, and whether there’s room for both Louis and ballet. A YA romance with an intriguing mystery taking place in the heart of Paris, Kisses and Croissants is perfect for readers with a bit of wanderlust. There’s friendship, competition, a little splash of family strife, and the quest for perfection that drives Mia and her friends. Very readable, with very likable characters. Give this to your Anna and the French Kiss, Love & Gelato, and Isla and the Happily Ever After fans. With all the quarantining we’ve had to do lately, expect road trip romance to bring the readers this summer! Lists from author Ashlee CowlesBook Addicts Guide, and Brightly will help you pull together a great display.

Posted in picture books, Uncategorized

Tyrone O’Saurus dreams of dancing!

Tyrone O’Saurus Dreams, by James Howe/Illustrated by Randy Cecil, (March 2021, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536210873

Ages 4-8

The companion to James Howe and Randy Cecil’s 2013 Brontorina is here! Tyrone is a T-Rex with big dreams. Dreams of becoming a dancer. But everyone else in his family has dreams for Tyrone, too: a dentist? A lawyer? A professional football player in the Dinosaur Football League? None of these are even close to what Tyrone wants to do with his life, but he doesn’t want to let anyone down, so he tries his hand… er, his small, arms… at football. As much as his brother tries to encourage him, it’s just not working. Luckily for Tyrone,a chance encounter with a dancing dinosaur gives him the courage to admit that his heart (and those tiny arms) are just not in football. His brother is right there with support: a dancer he wants to be, so a dancer he will be! He brings Tyrone to Madame Lucille’s Outdoor Dance Academy for Girls and Boys and Dinosaurs and Cows, where he sees Brontorina – the dino he met earlier – and is welcomed into the dance academy with open arms. James Howe and Randy Cecil inspire readers to defy expectations and chase their dreams. A scene in the gym where Brontorina tells Tyrone that she’s working out to be a better dancer reminds readers that not everything is as easy as it may seem on the outside, and reinforces that hard work and a love of what you do help one succeed. The adorable contrast between the giant dinos and the tiny humans will tickle readers’ funny bones, and dappled artwork gives texture to the pages. It’s been a wonderful return to Madame Lucille’s… I wonder if she’ll be accepting any more students?

Downloadable Teacher Tips at publisher Candlewick’s website give teachers talking points and activity ideas. Author James Howe’s website has a wealth of information for parents, caregivers, and educators, as does illustrator Randy Cecil’s website.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Folx and children of all ages, I present… The Greatest Show Penguin!

The Greatest Show Penguin, by Lucy Freegard, (Feb. 2021, Pavilion), $22.95, ISBN: 978-1-84365-483-4

Ages 3-7

Poppy is a show penguin descending from a long line of show penguins. She’s been in show business from early on, and the audience loved her, but she wasn’t enjoying herself. She didn’t like the crowds, bright lights, and noises, and, despite worrying about disappointing her family, stops performing, only to discover a talent for the backstage business of putting on a show! The Greatest Showpenguin is an engaging story about finding your talents and discovering your strengths. Poppy’s parents are supportive and encourage her to pursue what makes her happy; Poppy is happy when she feels in control of her life and her environment, which will resonate with readers. The illustrations are cheery, colorful but not overwhelming. Endpapers feature Poppy, rolling in a hoop, across the spreads. A fun storytime that would pair nicely with Hannah E. Harrison’s Extraordinary Jane (2014).

 

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

Sing Like No One’s Listening brings the healing

Sing Like No One’s Listening, by Vanessa Jones, (Sept. 2020, Peachtree Publishing), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-68263-194-2

Ages 12-18

Nettie Delaney is grieving the loss of her mother, a superstar in the performing arts world, when she’s accepted to Duke’s , the prestigious London performing arts school that her mother also attended. The problem? Nettie can’t get in touch with her voice since her mother’s death; she hasn’t been able to sing at all since her mother died. She makes it into the school, but the looming figure of director Miss Duke makes things more stressful. Add to that the fact that a ballet teacher has it in for her, and she’s the target of two mean girls who want to sabotage her at every turn, and Nettie seems to have the odds stacked against her. She’ll need her new friends to lean on as she works to discover her voice and get through her first year at Duke’s.

A story of loss and renewal, Sing Like No One’s Listening is also a romance. Nettie and second year student, Fletch, have a chemistry neither can deny, but it’s a slow burn all the way through the book as the two deal with miscommunication and outside interference. There’s a little mystery in here, too, as Nettie rediscovers her voice only when she’s alone, and a mysterious piano player in the next room provides a low-stress outlet for her voice.

Sing Like No One’s Listening, originally published in the UK, is perfect for fans of the performing arts and musical theater. Readers will feel like they’ve got a chance to peek in on a group of talented college students as they dance, shmooze, and romance their way through a year at school. Give this to your romance readers, and consider some of these titles, courtesy of Simon Teen, that are perfect for music lovers, too.

Find an excerpt, author Q&A, and discussion guide at Peachtree Publisher’s website.

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Groundhog Day meets the ’80s in Pretty in Punxsutawney

Pretty in Punxsutawney, by Laurie Boyle Crompton, (Jan. 2019, Blink YA), $17.99, ISBN: 9780310762164

Ages 12+

This fun mash-up of ’80s teen classic movies (Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club) and 1993’s Groundhog Day stars a high schooler who’s stuck in a time loop: her first day of school in a new town. Andie, daughter of a Gen X John Hughes fanatic, wakes up every morning with the Pretty in Pink DVD from the night before stuck in her DVD player. She goes through the first day of school again and again, trying to figure out how to break the loop; she tries everything from joining different cliques to trying on new personas, to no avail. But as she tries to get through each day and stave off the frustration and depression that tries to set in, she also sees past the social groups to the personalities of her classmates, and realizes that she can bring everyone together.

Pretty in Punxsutawney is a fun, light-hearted love letter to ’80s movies (the novel is loaded with great references), friendship, and finding your own space in your community. Andie gains depth as a character as the novel progresses; the other characters are there to support her, so we only get a taste of them. This one’s a fun beach read that Gen X parents can enjoy with their teens.

 

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade

Lulu the Broadway Mouse is ready for the Great White Way!

lulu the broadway mouseLulu the Broadway Mouse, by Jenna Gavigan,
(Oct. 2018, Running Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0-7624-6461-6
Ages 8-12

Lulu is a little girl who loves, loves, LOVES the theatre. She lives in New York’s famed Schubert Theatre, where she and her family work side by side with the actors, actresses, and crew to help every production stay on track. Lulu dreams of being of making her Broadway debut, but there’s just one sticking point… Lulu is a mouse. When a young understudy named Jayne joins the cast of the Theatre’s current show, she and Lulu bond immediately over their love of the craft and their frustration with Amanda, the child star and resident mean girl. Will Lulu – and Jayne – ever get that big break?

Written by actress Jenna Gavigan, who made her Broadway debut at the age of 16, Lulu is a fun story that takes a look at dreaming big and navigating the mean girls we all meet in life. The novel also gives a wonderfully detailed peek behind the curtain at the inner workings of a stage show; your drama fans will love it and your animal fiction fans will cheer for Lulu, a lovable heroine who can stand up for herself and her friends.

Booktalk this one with Being Juliet by Joanne Stewart Wetzel for your drama fans who want a good story with a dash of theatre life.

Author Jenna Gavigan’s webpage has a page dedicated to Lulu, links to social media, and background information.

Posted in Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads, Women's History

Life in Motion: Misty Copeland’s inspiring autobiography, edited for young readers

misty-copelandLife in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina (Young Reader Edition), by Misty Copeland, (Dec. 2016, Aladdin), $17.99, ISBN: 978148147979

Recommended for ages 8-12

Misty Copeland is amazing. The first African-American principal dancer for American Ballet Theatre didn’t start ballet until her early teens and has faced poverty, racism, criticism, and injury to do what she loves. In this young readers edition of her autobiography, she tells readers about the trials and triumphs she’s lived, the hard work she’s put in, and the sacrifices she’s made to get where she is in the dance world. We read about the custody battle between her mother and ballet teacher when she was 15; the rampant racism she’s endured, and she holds up to the light the eating issues that run rampant in the ballet community. We also read about amazing achievements, like her dancing on tour with Prince and her joy at meeting the dancers that inspired her the way she inspires a new generation of children.

Misty does not shy away from diversity here: she embraces it, giving us the names of the African-American dancers that went before her. She also doesn’t hide the fact that she’s taken some heat for being “too mainstream”; that bringing ballet to the masses is looked down upon – thankfully, that’s something she disagrees with. Ballet and dance, the arts, are for all – if she can inspire another kid to put on a pair of toe shoes, or sign up for hip hop classes because it’s something they love, she’s done right. Copeland is all about embracing your passion. Her confidence and gratitude come through in equal measure, and she dispenses advice for living and building one’s self-esteem throughout the book. Embrace your strengths and never give up – these are the lessons that kids will come away with after spending some time with Misty Copeland.

There are photos in the finished book (I’ve got an egalley), and more on her home page. You can also find her on the American Ballet Theatre page, which also has a section on education and training for readers interested in learning more. Display and booktalk this with Copeland’s picture book (illustrated by Christopher Myers), Firebird.

This book is a must-add to biography collections. Booktalk and display this if, like me, you’ve got kids that need to see someone smashing stereotypes and making it to the top of her (or his) game. If you have dancers in your home or your life, give this book to them and let them watch this ABC Sunday Spotlight from 2014.

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

Playing Juliet is perfect for middle grade drama fans!

61608100684480LPlaying Juliet, by JoAnne Stewart Wetzel (Nov. 2015, Sky Pony Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781634501835

Recommended for ages 9-14

Twelve year-old Beth wants nothing more than to be an actress. She participates in her local children’s theatre productions and gets great reactions, but her parents think this is just “kid stuff” and push her toward being a lawyer, just like her dad. When the announcement that the children’s theatre is going to close, though, Beth and her best friend, Zandy, are crushed. The theatre director announces that the last play the company will put on will be the first play that opened the theatre 50 years ago – Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet – and Beth is beside herself. She’s desperately wanted to play Juliet, but she’s grounded and can’t even audition. How is she going to be part of this production? Even more important, how can she make her parents understand that acting, not law, is her true passion?

Playing Juliet is loaded with theatre fan terms and inside secrets. Every chapter begins with a quote from Shakespeare, and the text itself is full of superstition (did you know that wearing real jewels or the color blue can be considered bad luck?) and behind-the-scenes action. Beth is a likable heroine with a likable best friend and strong support group around her. She’s also got the relatable frustration of having her parents choose her career path for her (my dad always told me I was going to be a doctor), and the dual dread of disappointing them or having them trivialize her desire to be an actress. Her parents aren’t the bad guys here, either – they just want what’s best for their daughter, and are supportive of her in every other way, including fair discipline, as you’ll see in the story.

Tweens – particularly girls – are going to enjoy this book for the strong female characters and the bravery they display in fighting for what they believe in. It’s a solid story about friendship, family, taking chances, and pursuing your goals. Author’s notes about the theatre and quotes from Shakespeare round out this novel. Pair this with Raina Telgemeier’s Drama for middle schoolers!

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads, Uncategorized

My Life in Dioramas: A touching middle grade book about family, change, and holding on

MyLifeDioramasMy Life in Dioramas, by Tara Altebrando (Apr 2015, Running Press) $14.95, ISBN: 9780762456826

Recommended for ages 9-14

Kate Marino has spent her life in Big Red, her wonderfully large, rambling house. But her parents are having financial trouble, and have to put Big Red up for sale and move in with her grandparents – just as Kate’s dancing class is about to compete for the very first time! Kate’s world coming feels like it’s coming to an end, and begins crafting dioramas of her life at Big Red as she and her friends try to think of ways to turn potential buyers off of a sale.

I loved this story. Ms. Altebrando takes a sobering look at life for many families today and finds the spark of hope, the humor, and ultimately, the ability to move on. Kate is a wonderful main character that middle graders will love. The ideas she and her friends come up with to discourage potential buyers are hilarious and innocent rather than mean-spirited.  We see the stress of the family’s financial situation affecting Kate, but also, her family, particularly through her mother’s fight with depression. Using a popular school project – the diorama – as a vehicle to advance the plot and take readers through Big Red’s story – as much a character in this book as anyone else – immediately invests the reader.

Tara Altebrando’s author page offers more information about her other books, including Roomies, a YALSA 2015 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers selection,co-authored with Sara Zarr. My Life in Dioramas hit shelves this week, so please check with your local bookseller and pick up a copy. You’ll be glad you did, and so will your kids/students/and so on.

Check out this great book trailer for My Life in Dioramas, made by Teeny Tiny Filmworks, a group of young filmmakers.

My Life in Dioramas from Teeny Tiny Filmworks on Vimeo.