Posted in Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Graphic Novels for Tweens and Teens

I’m back with more graphic novels! It’s an all-consuming joy of mine; I love them all. I’ve got some newer and up-and-coming books, and some backlist that shouldn’t be missed. I’ve got books for middle grade/middle school, and I’ve got teen/YA, so let’s see what’s good!

Sylvie, by Sylvie Kantorovitz, (Jan. 2021, Walker Books US), $24.99, ISBN: 9781536207620

Ages 9-13

An autobiographical graphic novel that really hits the sweet spot for middle schoolers but will also appeal to upper elementary and high schoolers, Sylvie is the story of the author and illustrator’s life, quirks and all. She grows up in a school where her father was principal. She loves art from an early age, but her mother is focused on her pursuing a career in math or science. The book follows her family as they add more children to the family and Sylvie’s mother doggedly pushes her academically. As she grows in confidence, and seeks her father’s council, Sylvie takes control of her own future. Artwork is cartoony and friendly, and easy-to-read, first-person narration makes Sylvie readers feel like they’re talking with a friend. Discussions about racism and anti-Semitism in ’60s and ’70s France sets the stage for discussion.

Candlewick/Walker Books US has a sample chapter available for a preview.

 

Tell No Tales: Pirates of the Southern Seas, by Sam Maggs/Illustrated by Kendra Wells, (Feb. 2021, Amulet), $21.99, ISBN: 9781419739668

Ages 10-14

Another middle school-geared book, Tell No Tales is a fictionalized account of pirate Anne Bonny, pirate Mary Read, and their female and non-binary pirate crew. They have a growing reputation, but a privateer is on their heels: Woodes Rogers, a failed pirate turned pirate hunter for the Crown, has sworn to wipe the stain of piracy from the seas. There are strong positive female and non-binary characters, based on characters from history, but the overall story falters, leaving readers to look for the thread in between the individual stories of Bonny’s crew, all of which are fascinating. The artwork is colorful, manga-inspired, and will grab viewers. Back matter includes a word on the real-life exploits of Anne Bonny and Mary Read, notes, and a bibliography.

Publishers Weekly has an interview with Sam Magga and Kendra Wells. 

Fantastic Tales of Nothing, by Alejandra Green & Fanny Rodriguez, (Nov. 2020, Katherine Tegen Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780062839473

Ages 8-13

One of the most beautifully illustrated graphic novels I’ve ever seen, Fantastic Tales of Nothing is one of heck an epic fantasy for middle graders and tweens, and early teens. Nathan is a human living what he considers a pretty ordinary life until that fateful day when he wakes up in the middle of nowhere and meets a being named Haven and a race of shape shifters called the Volken. As the unlikely group find themselves on a quest, Nathan also learns that he isn’t that ordinary – he has mysterious power in side of him, and the fate of Nothing lies in his hands. Vivid color, breathtaking fantasy spreads, and solidly constructed worldbuilding lays the foundation for what could be a groundbreaking new fantasy series for middle graders, with nonbinary and Latinx representation to boot. Where are the starred reviews for this book?

Tales of Nothing received IndieNext Honors. The website has more information about the characters, authors, and upcoming projects.

 

Poems to See By: A Comic Artist Interprets Great Poetry, by Julian Peters, (March 2020, Plough Publishing House), $24, ISBN: 9780874863185

Ages 12+

Illustrator Julian Peters has taken 24 poems by some of the most recognizable names in the art form, and brought them to life using different art forms, from manga to watercolor to stark expressionist black and white.  Organized into six areas of introspection: Seeing Yourself; Seeing Others; Seeing Art; Seeing Nature; Seeing Time, and Seeing Death, Peters illustrates such master works as “Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou, “Annabel Lee”, by Edgar Allan Poe, and “Juke Box Love Song” by Langston Hughes. It’s a great way to invite middle school, high school, and college students to deep dive into some of the greatest works of poetry.

Marvin: Based on The Way I Was, by Marvin Hamlisch with Gerald Gardner/Adapted and Illustrated by Ian David Marsden, (Feb. 2020, Schiffer Kids), $12.99, ISBN: 9780764359040

Ages 9-13

This graphic adaptation of PEGOT (Pulitzer, Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) winner Marvin Hamlisch’s biography is one I did not see coming! The legendary musician, composer, and conductor discusses his family’s flight from Hitler’s Austria and settling in America, Hamlisch’s admittance to Julliard at the age of 6, and the intense anxiety that plagued him before every performance. He tells readers about attending high school with Christopher Walken and Liza Minelli, and playing the piano for Judy Garland as a teen; about composing pop radio hits and learning to compose music for a motion picture as he went along. By the time he was 30, he’d won his first major award. Hamlisch’s voice is funny, warm, and conversational throughot, and Marsden’s realistic art has touching moments, particularly between Hamlisch and his father. A great read for theatre and music fans – this one is going to be my not-so-secret weapon.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me…

Pirate Nell’s Tale to Tell: A Storybook Adventure, by Helen Docherty & Thomas Docherty, (Sept. 2020, Sourcebooks), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1492698678

Ages 4-7

This rhyming tale of literacy on the high seas stars an all-canine cast. Nell, a younger pup, is so excited to join a pirate crew, but Captain Gnash scoffs at her bookishness and saves the ickiest tasks for her to do. A treasure map in a bottle shows up one night, but Captain Gnash manages to get himself and his crew into big trouble until Nell, and her Pirate’s Almanac, save the day! They finally make it to the island and discover the best treasure of all. Smart and light, this upbeat tale of books and how handy a little extra knowledge can be is great for library visits. Helen Docherty and Thomas Docherty always manage to create the best stories about book lovers: they also wrote The Snatchabook and The Storybook Knight; both wonderfully woven rhyming tales of books and how they make things better. The colorful acrylic artwork will attract all readers; who doesn’t love a rollicking pirate story with sea monsters and treasure? Endpapers show off a cross-section of a pirate ship before and after the plunder. See if kids can spot the differences! Pair with Ronan the Librarian for the ultimate class visit storytime. Visit Helen Docherty’s website for downloadable goodies including masks and coloring sheets!

 

Daniela and the Pirate Girls, by Susana Isern/Illustrated by Gómez, Translated by Laura Victoria Fielden, (Aug. 2020, NubeOcho), $16.95, ISBN: 978-84-17673-27-7

Ages 5-8

The second book to star Daniela the Pirate, Daniela and her crew spend a good part of this new adventure aboard their pirate ship, the Black Croc, tracking down a group of pirates called The Fearless Piranhas. They keep showing up to rescue sea folk just before the Black Croc arrives, and the crew is starting to get worried: what if they beat the Croc to the best treasure, too? Just as the Black Croc happens upon the Fearless Piranhas ship, they both get caught up in a dangerous storm: luckily, Daniela knows a friend who can help everyone out! The two crews finally meet and decide that teamwork is the best way to work! Upbeat and positive, this pirate story is all about sharing and teamwork, with the acknowledgement that sometimes, jealousy and competition can get in the way of how we perceive others. Gómez always uses bright, cheerful colors in her artwork; here, vibrant landscapes and pirates stand out against the light blue sea and sky, really giving the characters center stage. Originally published in Spanish, this English translation will appeal to pirate fans while teaching a lesson in kindness.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Back to school stories to soothe everyone’s nerves

Two more back to school stories to make the days a little brighter. And we can all use that.

It’s Not a School Bus, It’s a Pirate Ship, by Mickey Rapkin/Illustrated by Teresa Martinez, (June 2020, imprint), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250229779

Ages 3-6

It’s the first day of school, and as the school bus rolls up to the bus stop, a young boy is nervous: who will he sit with? Who will talk to him? It looks really scary in there! But never fear! The school bus driver is there to let him in on a secret: it’s not a school bus… he’s boarded a PIRATE SHIP! The school bus transforms into a magical pirate ship, taking the kids on an adventure as they swashbuckle their way to school! This fun back to school story speaks to the fears some kids have, especially when boarding a school bus by themselves for the first time: as he walks in, the artwork shows a scary interior with childlike drawings of stick figure bullies, snakes, sharks, and ghosts! All it takes is an empathetic driver to put our main character at ease by encouraging him to think of the trip as a pirate adventure, and the artwork becomes a riot of imagination and color, with a school bus pirate ship sailing the high seas of the neighborhood, with street signs like “Yo Ho Ho” and cross streets called “Shiver” and “Me Timbers”. Dogs go past in rowboats; flying fish and dolphins play in the water, and the bus passengers all become fast friends, trading pirate jokes and singing pirate songs. By the time they drop anchor at school and head into their classroom, the kids are ready for their next adventure… announced on the last page. Childlike drawings of mermaids with backpacks, crabs waving hot dogs, and shark with sunglasses decorate the endpapers.

A companion to 2019’s It’s Not a Bed, It’s a Time Machine, this is a fun adventure that takes a little bit of the fear out of that school bus ride, and adds a spark of imagination to your day.

 

Mila Wants to Go to School, by Judith Koppens/Illustrated by Anoukh Nijs, (Sept. 2020, Clavis Publishing), $14.95, ISBN: 978-1605375694

Ages 3-6

Mila is a little girl who can’t wait to go to school! Why is Daddy taking SO LONG to get her there? This adorable story of a little girl who can’t wait to start school reaches out and touches the hearts of every parent who has the hardest time letting go, especially on that first day. While Mila is full of get-up-and-go, we see Daddy take a little extra time… he has to tie his shoe before he leaves; he makes sure to greet a neighbor on the way out; and look, there’s the playground! Maybe Mila wants to have some playtime on the swings before school? Mila wonders why Daddy is being so dilly-dally, but we parents know why: it’s right there, on Dad’s face, when they arrive at school and he goes from a small smile to an uncertain frown. He even asks Mila if she’s sure she doesn’t want to go back home with him. After Mila reassures her Daddy that she may make new friends, but he’ll always be her Daddy, she heads in to enjoy her first day at school and we know that Daddy will be waiting for that clock to let him know when to get her.

Mila and her dad are characters of color. The illustrations are warm and humorous; colors are bright but not overpowering, letting the story speak for itself and providing context with body language and facial expressions. For every parent who’s heart hurts letting go, Mila Wants to Go to School is for you. Mila Goes to School is the companion to Mila Has Two Beds, published earlier this year.

 

When We Stayed Home, by Tara Fass, LMFT & Judith A. Proffer/Illustrated by Yoko Matsuoka, (Sept. 2020, Huqua Press), $19.99, ISBN: 9781-7353844-0-5

Ages 5-8

This is a different kind of back to school book, but it’s a different kind of back to school year. When We Stayed Home is a look at one boy’s experience with being home. Pictured on the cover wearing a spotted mask, he’s posing with his dog who’s wearing a dog-snout mask. In straightforward, uncomplicated text, he tells us about when he and his family stayed home “to help the helpers… when a scary virus traveled all over the world”. It’s a story kids and adults will be able to relate to, as he details all the things he’s done in quarantine: washing his hands (“All. The. Time.”), building forts, doing crazy things with his hair, and having screen time with family and friends. He thinks about everyone he misses, and admits that “even super-helpers are sad every now and then”, letting readers know that it’s okay to have mixed emotions in the middle of this global malestrom. He enjoys being a super-helper superhero, but sometimes, the mask gets annoying to wear; he misses his friends, his school, and going to the playground. An uplifting and honest story to everyone, especially those children who are attending school remotely so far this year, When We Stayed Home is a gentle book that stands as a witness to these challenging times, and will be an interesting book to look back on when this is in our past.

 

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Back to School stories: Pirates Don’t Go to Kindergarten!

Hi all! I’m getting caught up on the avalanche of books in my home, so bear with me if I’m a little behind on my Back to School posting. NYC public school kids are back to school today – GOOD LUCK, EVERYONE! – and I’ve been getting my kiddos ready to start their school years off right. (So. Many. Supplies.) Anyway, with that, let’s talk starting Kindergarten with Lisa Robinson and Eda Kaban!

Pirates Don’t Go to Kindergarten, by Lisa Robinson/Illustrated by Eda Kaban,
(Aug. 2019, Two Lions), $17.99, ISBN: 9781542092753
Ages 4-6

Yeeeargh! It’s the first day of Kindergarten, but Pirate Emma has decided that she’s not leaving her preschool Captain, Cap’n Chu, and her crew! Cap’n Chu brings her over to the Kindergarten classroom – a spaceship! – but Pirate Emma isn’t having it. She runs back to Cap’n Chu’s room and refuses to leave, even going so far as to start a mutiny, and threatening Cap’n Chu with walking the plank! Thankfully, the Cap’n is a good and understanding Cap’n, who’s likely been through this before. She consoles Emma and convinces her that, while it’s time to join her new crew, she can always visit the pirate waters of preschool. From there, Emma’s ready: she joins the Kindergarten class as Space Pirate Emma.

This is a story that gets it. The transition from Pre-K to Kindergarten can be tough for kids, and Emma embodies those feelings of fear and defiance. She bellows things like, “Pirates don’t go to Kindergarten!”; “Pirates don’t take naps!”, and “Pirates don’t follow rules!” as she pushes back against having to join her new class, and it takes the combination of the very patient Ms. Hayes, the Kindergarten teacher, and the very understanding Ms. Chu, to help Emma work through her worries and resistance, leading her to make the decision to join her new Kindergarten crew.

Having been one of those moms, reading Pirates Don’t Go to Kindergarten was a relief: authors and illustrators who get it! They’re speaking to my now-second grader, who used to wake up morning after morning with one ailment or other that would render him unable to go to Kindergarten (and he, too, had a VERY understanding teacher, thank goodness). They’re speaking to me, letting me know that this is okay. I’m not the first parent, nor will I be the last, who will have a pirate that defies Kindergarten, or first grade, or maybe things on a smaller level, like going to the bathroom in school, or eating school lunch. This is all part of growing up, and growing up can be scary and hard. Having books like this can make it easier on all of us: kids, parents, caregivers, and educators alike.

The digital illustrations are colorful and lend themselves to exciting classrooms, where teachers create atmospheres for their students: Cap’n Chu created a pirate setting for her Pre-K class; Ms. Hayes has a spaceship-themed classroom for her Kindergarteners. (Psst… these teachers exist, I know a bunch of them!) The illustrations are enticing, giving kids (and worried caregivers) a glimpse into how fun a classroom can be. There are also tons of craft project ideas here: pirate hats and paper swords, anyone? Space helmets and stars?

Pirates Don’t Go to Kindergarten is aces for me. I’ll be reading this to my son’s former Kindergarten teacher’s class, to let those kids know that pirates certainly DO go to Kindergarten, and it’s pretty darned cool.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate

The Bossy Pirate is facing a mutiny!

The Bossy Pirate, by John Steven Gurney, (Oct. 2018, Schiffer Publishing), $16.99, ISBN: 9780764356254

Ages 6-8

A little boy who goes by the pirate moniker “Salty Jack” plays pirate in his room, and invites – well, commands, really – his friends to come on board as his crew. As the title suggests, Salty Jack is not the greatest captain or playmate, continually reminding his friends that “I’m Captain! I give the orders!” and not letting anyone else have a say in their pirate game. When he tries to boss his sister, Millie the Mermaid, around, thought, she merely says, “Mermaids don’t take orders”, and leaves. Shortly after that, Jack’s other two friends have had it with his bossiness and leave, too. Jack broods, and blames his friends for ruining his fun; when Millie returns to ask him if his friends were having fun, too, he doesn’t answer. Jack discovers that being a solo pirate is no fun, and has a change of heart that brings all his mates back on board, where they hunt for lost treasure together.

A smart easy reader story about sharing and playing well together, The Bossy Pirate is a good read-aloud and a good independent book for newly confident readers. The sentences are slightly longer than beginning easy readers, and include imaginative words like scuttlebutt, barnacle, and nautical. Back matter includes a list of nautical terms that come up in the book, and a list of “nonsense words” that the pirate friends use. The artwork combines realistic and imaginative, with action going from Jack’s room to the high seas, where whales and dolphins glide and leap around a pirate ship. The group of friends is multicultural.

The Bossy Pirate is good fun with a smart message: it’s always better to play well together. Let the kids make their own newspaper pirate hats and have a pirate storytime.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Fantasy, mythology, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

The story of Midas, continued: A Touch of Gold

A Touch of Gold, by Annie Sullivan, (Aug. 2018, Blink YA), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0-310-76635-3

Recommended for readers 12+

I mentioned A Touch of Gold in my Argos review last week, as part of my Go Greek! summer reading post. I was still reading it at the time, but I’m all done and dying to talk this one up. Let’s dive in!

We all know the story of King Midas, right? Has the ability to turn anything he touched to gold, which sounds pretty great at first, but try to eat a candy bar, or have a swig of water: see where I’m going? Literally everything he touched turned to gold, which was stressful enough, but when his daughter went to him and transformed into a golden statue, that was it. He begged the god Dionysus to take away the Golden Touch, but gods have a sense of humor – which is where A Touch of Gold begins.

You see, Midas needed to bathe everything he turned to gold in a nearby river. Being a loving dad, he grabbed Kora, his daughter, first. Once he saw she was okay, nothing else mattered. Except to Dionysus, who tends to be a stickler for playing by his rules. Midas didn’t bathe the other objects in the river, so Kora’s skin became gold. Not a statue again; more of a gold sheen, and Midas was condemned to keep the other gold objects nearby, or he’d be weakened to the point of death. Kora, now a teen, has been sheltered within the palace walls for most of her life; her father’s brother, Phaeus, taking on most of the day-to-day crown duties, while Midas grows weaker, needing more time close to his gold, to retain any energy. When someone sneaks in, kills a guard, and steals the gold, Kora must undertake the quest of a lifetime: find the gold and restore her father’s health. Along with her would-be suitor, Aris, and her cousin, Hettie, Kora sets out aboard a ship captained by Aris’ sometime friend, Royce. Kora quickly finds herself up against a superstitious and fearful crew, a bloodthirsty pirate who collects skulls, and someone working from within to bring harm to Kora and her family.

A Touch of Gold moves along at a good pace, building on an established story and adding new adventure, romance, and intrigue. Narrated by Kora, readers meet a heroine who is strong but vulnerable, smart but unsure, who undertakes her own heroine’s quest to grow into herself. She feels like an outcast; she’s treated like an outcast, until she believes in herself: a relatable character with a nice growth path. Readers may or may not see the villains coming, but A Touch of Gold is a good summer read that your Percy Jackson fans who are ready to take on something more will enjoy.

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

The Unbinding of Mary Reade

The Unbinding of Mary Reade, by Miriam McNamara, (June 2018, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781510727052

Recommended for readers 14+

Raised as a boy to take the place of her dead brother, Mary Reade spent her formative years as Mark, mainly to get her drunken mother money from her wealthy grandmother, who would never name a female heir. Eventually, Mary took to the high seas, where her life depended on passing as male. She joined pirate Calico Jack Rackham and Anne Bonny after they raided a merchant ship she sailed with, finding herself fascinated with the fiery redheaded Bonny, who wore dresses and wielded weapons with pride and bravado.

This could have been so much more. I found the nonbinary, bisexual Mary Reade storyline brilliant, capturing the sheer terror of living in a male-dominated, homophobic society. Mary is constantly afraid for her life because of who she is, and the men around her shove their hands down her trousers and pull up her shirt, seemingly at will, to confirm rumors. She’s powerless to say or do anything, because in this society, different equals death, and it’s always over her head. She finds relief in living as a male, yet feels uncomfortable being gendered at all – despite the fact that the novel always refers to Reade as “she”. Anne is a study in frustration, appearing as a tragic, yet scheming, woman who attaches herself to any male – or male figure – that will help her navigate 18th Century society. Is she bisexual, or is she just using her sex to gain favor? There’s a lot of slow burn relationship work here between Mary and her childhood love, Nat, and some tumultuous relationship beginnings with Anne Bonny that never quite gain footing. I wish the book concentrated more on the two pirates’ adventures together, and that Anne emerged as a stronger female character. Mary’s gender confusion and self-doubt may resonate with nonbinary and trans readers, and engender empathy in all readers. It’s an add to consider for historical fiction and LGBTQ collections.

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Middle Grade I read in January

I spent most of January with my nose in a book. I’m still catching up with books that pubbed in January, but here’s a quick take on a few good ones.

Potion Masters: The Eternity Elixir (Potion Masters, Book 1), by Frank L. Cole,
(Jan. 2018, Shadow Mountain), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-62973-559-7
Recommended for readers 8-12

A brand new adventure/fantasy series for middle graders! Potion Masters introduces us to 12-year-old Gordy Stitser, a budding Elixirist. Elixirists are potion masters; think of them as modern-day alchemists with more than a little touch of magic, who use their gifts to contribute to society by pushing for advancements in medicine, technology, and, yeah, even weapons tech. Gordy inherits his gift from his mom, who’s on the Board of Ruling Elixirists Worldwide (B.R.E.W.), while his Muggle dad (no, they don’t call them Muggles; it’s my usage) is content to hold down things at home with Gordy and his twin younger siblings. But Gordy intercepts a package meant for his mother while she’s away on a “business trip”, and finds himself – and his family and friends – in the sights of an evil Elixirist who’s bent on destroying B.R.E.W. and destroying the world. It’s a fun fantasy read, with positive adult role models and friends who work together to save the world. This book disappeared from the shelf the day I put it on display, and hasn’t been back yet, so I’m calling this a win right now. Fantasy fans who love a good series can start with this one and claim they read it before it was cool.

 

Abigail Adams: Pirate of the Caribbean (Mixed-Up History #2), by Steve Sheinkin/Illustrated by Neil Swaab,
(Jan 2018, Roaring Brook), $6.99, ISBN: (978-1-250-15247-3)
Recommended for readers 7-9

From Steve Sheinkin, the man who brought you the Newbery Award-winning book, Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, and National Book Award finalist Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War, comes… Abigail Adams: Pirate of the Caribbean. C’mon, I made you laugh. Steve Sheinkin shows his sillier side with his Mixed-Up History series; his first book in the series gave us Abraham Lincoln leaving history to become a professional wrestler. In this volume, Abigail Adams, sick and tired of hanging laundry in the White House, uses time traveling technology to take to the high seas as one of Calico Jack Rackham’s crew. It’s up to modern-day siblings Doc and Abby to fix history again and get Abigail back to her own time. It’s not necessary to have read the first book in the series to jump in with Mixed-Up History; there’s enough exposition to get readers caught up. Black and white illustrations and a quick-paced narrative make for some laugh-out-loud moments, usually at our second President’s expense. Siblings Abby and Doc represent a blended family and Doc is a child of color. It’s a fun read for intermediate readers that will get them acquainted with some big names in history, but really, this is just for kicks. A historical note from the author assures readers that no, this isn’t something you can cite in a report. A good add to humor collections.

 

Stella Diaz Has Something to Say, by Angela Dominguez,
(Jan. 2018, Roaring Brook Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-62672-858-5
Recommended for readers 8-12

Stella Diaz loves fish and underwater life, loves spending time with her mom and brother, and loves spending time with her best friend Jenny. She’s also incredibly shy and can’t find the words she wants to use, so she tends to stay quiet, afraid she’ll speak Spanish instead of English, or pronounce her words wrong. Either way, she’s made fun of by the class Mean Girl. When her teacher assigns presentations that means Stella will have to speak in front of the class – including the new boy that she wants to be friends with, but is too afraid to speak to – she knows she has to work to get past her fears, and FAST. I love this kind story about a girl who has so much to offer, but is afraid to look silly or wrong. It’s a wonderful story about friendship, making new friends, and being brave enough to face challenges one little step at a time. It’s infused with Mexican culture and Spanish language, inspired by the author’s own story of growing up Mexican-American, and features black and white illustrations throughout. I’m thrilled that Stella’s mom has an interesting job at a radio station and that Stella sees her mom as a positive force in her life, and I’m relieved to see that the middle grade “best friend meets a new friend” plotline is resolved in an upbeat manner, rather than devolving into two camps of kids being angry and upset with one another. Stella Diaz Has Something to Say is just a great book to read and share with your readers.

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 Preschool Reads

Ned the Knitting Pirate helped me get my knitting mojo back!

I used to be an obsessive knitter. Day and night, commuting, sitting at home, I’d have something on the needles, until… my mojo ran dry. I just couldn’t finish a project. I could start a project. If you love doing something and suddenly, one day, hit a rough patch, you know how much this stinks. It’s really been getting under my skin, really letting it get to me… and then, I saw a Tweet for a book giveaway.

Ned the Knitting Pirate, by Diana Murray/Illustrated by Leslie Lammle,
(Aug. 2016, Roaring Brook Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1596438903
Recommended for readers 4-10

 

You know how sometimes, it’s the craziest thing that gets you back on track? Well, that was seeing this cover. First off, pirates. I love pirates. And Ned is a knitting pirate! I retweeted the cover to my knitting friends (all in various stages of mojo and lack thereof), and the response was just as enthusiastic as mine was! When author Diana Murray contacted me to offer me a review copy, I jumped at the opportunity, and I’m so glad I did.

First of all, look at this art. It’s simply adorable. The endpapers start the fun, introducing us to a sea monster and a mermaid. The rhyming tale kicks right in, as we meet the crew of the Rusty Heap. They’re a scurvy bunch of pirates, “tougher than gristle and barnacle grit”… they brag about their pirate-y roughness time and again, only to have Ned cheerfully chime in that he knits every single time. The captain is not thrilled with this. Pirates don’t knit! Oh, really? He sure changes his tune when a sea monster attacks them, and the only thing that stands between the crew and Davy Jones’ Locker is Ned and his knitting prowess: he fires a blanket at the monster, which curls sweetly around him and sends him off to sleep. Like the best knits do!

I read this to my kiddo in full pirate voice (my throat felt like it died the death of a thousand cheese graters, but it was all worth it), roaring and singing seafaring songs and pointing to my guy to chime in, “KNIT!” when Ned piped up. We had a blast with this book! The only thing I can’t believe is that it’s been out for a year and I wasn’t aware of it until now.

The cartoony art is adorable, and the rhyming pirate tale is complete with seafaring terms that every buccaneer-in-training will take to heart and love. And let’s take a moment to adore the fact that Ned is a GUY WHO KNITS. And he’s proud of it! More power to you, Ned! Bust gender roles – knitting is not just for girls! – and use your smarts to save your crew, thus getting everyone (literally) on board with the sticks! There is nothing like the soft feel of a homemade blanket to immediately put you to sleep, unless you’re one of my kids in infancy; nothing worked then. (But at least they were warm and wrapped in love.)

Bottom line: Ned the Knitting Pirate is SO GOOD. The words are fun and catchy; you want to speak like a pirate when you read this book. It’s perfect for a read-aloud, whether you read about pirates (may I suggest How I Became a Pirate and Pirates Don’t Change Diapers, by Melinda Long) or about knitting (I love Woolbur by Leslie Helakoski and Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett), and it’s perfect for a feel-good read; you cannot be in a bad mood after sitting with this adorable book.

So, my knitting mojo? Well, after reading this book for the third or fourth time, Kiddo turned to me and said, “When are you going to knit me something?” And I felt awful, because I haven’t knit this kid anything. One single thing. And it’s time to remedy that. So I pulled together all my yarn, tracked down as many of my needles as I could, and together, he and I picked a dinosaur hat and a Grumpasaurus stuffy that I’m going to make for him. For the hat, I’m going to use the Antler Toque pattern from Tin Can Knits, because it’s cool and the cable pattern looks kind of like dinosaur plates; from there, I’ll knit up spikes to sew onto the hat, so he can be a Stegosaurus.

If you’re not a knitter, Ned the Knitting Pirate may just make you one. Enjoy. Check out Diana Murray’s author website for more info on her books (including the super-adorable Doris the Bookasaurus), news, and fun facts.