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

Summer Fun: Escape Room Books

Now that I’m back in the library, I’m trying to think of ways to keep the kids engaged while we have no in-person programming. Enter Escape Room books! My Kiddo and I discovered some fun ones online, like this Dog Man one, but I want to be able to give the kids something to think over while they’re here. Luckily for me, Schiffer Books sent over some escape room books, and I’m thinking these may be my next project.

The Escape Game series by Mélanie Vives and Rémi Prieur, and illustrated by El Gunto, consists of four books right now. They don’t need to be read or played in order; each book has instructions and the story: you’re a member of a time traveling agency called Spatial-Temporal Agency Y. As a high-risk mission specialist, you and your robot companion, Dooz, are sent into different time periods to head off horrible disasters. Together with Dooz, you have to figure out the clues to advance through the adventure and save the day. You can get hints in a different section of the book, and check your answers against Dooz’s “validation grid” – and yes, you can look at the answers, if you really, really need to. Let’s take a look at the adventures!

Escape Game Adventure: The Last Dragon, by Mélanie Vives and Rémi Prieur/Illustrated by El Gunto, (Jan. 2020, Schiffer Kids), $9.99, ISBN: 9780764358951

Ages 7-12

We’re going further back in time in this adventure: heading to the 12th century, our mission is to save the last dragon egg, currently in the clutches of an evil king, who wants to make it into a dragon egg omelet! Recover the egg and get it to safety while escaping the castle before the king finds out you’re even there, all while learning about the Middle Ages, magic, and dragons. Perfect for fantasy fans that want to have their own fun adventure; kids will be able to save a wizard, put pieces together to create a coat of arms, and choose the right invisibility potion so you won’t be seen. Use Dooz’s clues – they’re your best way of figuring out what you need to advance! Have pictures of eggs for participants to decorate and take home – or wizard hat crafts available; all you need is a piece of construction paper to roll into a cone, and some stickers or gems and glue!

Have fun with these books, extend the activities into programs if you can, and handouts if you aren’t able to yet. There are so many fun ideas to have with this book as a jumping-off point: make your own coat of arms, have a magic wand workshop (I’m pulling from my old Harry Potter party ideas); decorate with Time Machine clip art.

 

Escape Game Adventure: Trapped in Space, by Mélanie Vives and Rémi Prieur/Illustrated by El Gunto, (Oct. 2020, Schiffer Kids), $9.99, ISBN: 9780764360312

Ages 7-12

You and Dooz are being sent to the year 3144 to rescue a crew of astronauts from the planet Vacumy, who have not responded to messages for 24 hours. They’re some of the most intelligent scientists in the universe, and in danger from the evil inhabitants of the star, Hyena, so you need to intervene and find out if the crew is safe, fast! Solving puzzles and logic riddles, you and Dooz will complete your mission and learn about space thanks to helpful callout boxes. The Validation Grid is a fun way of checking your answers without spoilers: follow the page number and your suggested puzzle answer; if you see a thumbs up, you’re good: proceed! If there’s a thumbs down, go back to the drawing board. The artwork is kid-friendly, with big-eyed, friendly robots and aliens, and fun, challenging puzzles that will get your readers thinking and playing with solutions to advance.

Jumping-off activities: we just had an entire Summer Reading program about space two years ago! You know there are oodles of space-related fun activities to be found! Let readers color in their own aliens, or have some craft supplies around so they can make their own.

 

Escape Game Adventure: The Mad Hacker, by Mélanie Vives and Rémi Prieur/Illustrated by El Gunto, (Feb. 2020, Schiffer Kids), $9.99, ISBN: 9780764358968

Ages 7-12

All right, in this adventure, you and Dooz are going to the year 2394 to stop a mad hacker named Snarf from releasing a computer virus that will paralyze all the world’s computers! You need to localize and destroy the virus by hacking Snarf’s computers, and then escape from his compound before he finds out what you’re doing there. Solve problems, save the world, and learn about computers thanks to callout boxes. The story is not linear: solving problems will help you jump easily around the book, taking you further into Snarf’s compound and closer to destroying the virus! The answer key is illustrated and step-by-step, but you don’t want to do that, do you? You want to solve these along with your kiddos! Choose from a number of keys to break down the languages of different drones you encounter, take apart a riddle to find the right door to Snarf’s lair, and cut the right cable to unlock the doors and escape. Time yourself and see if you’ve improved your escape time!

Offer to let readers take the books and have – if you have the budget – small pads for them to work out the riddles, or just have extra paper on hand for them. Explain what a hackathon is – a collaborative event where computer programmers get together to work on a project – and tell them that The Mad Hacker Adventure is a kind of hackathon for them, collaborating to destroy the virus and save the world! You can always make cool certificates to hand out when they’ve completed the adventure.

 

Escape Game Adventure: Operation Pizza, by Mélanie Vives and Rémi Prieur/Illustrated by El Gunto, (Feb. 2020, Schiffer Kids), $9.99, ISBN: 9780764360305

Ages 7-12

Heading back to Naples, Italy in 1889, your mission this time is to preserve pizza history. A chef is due to present his new creation – a margherita pizza – to the royal family, but he’s about to be murdered by his cold-blooded rival, unless you and Dooz can save the day. Enter the bad guy’s restaurant, find the poisoned food, and replace it with an identical dish you prepare, and escape before they can find out you’ve been there. Is there a more important mission than to preserve the sanctity of pizza? Learn all about pizza thanks to fact boxes throughout. Use menus to help you navigate the ingredients you need to make an identical dessert that won’t kill our pizza inventor; locate the poisoned dessert so you can dispose of it, and figure out how to get out of a locked bathroom before you can get caught!

I’ve done a bunch of pizza programs in the past, and they’re always popular. Make your own pizza crafts couldn’t be easier, and you can make them grab and go: put a small paper plate, and cut-up construction paper shapes for toppings, like sausage, peppers, cheese, sauce, and mushrooms, into a plastic or paper bag, and you’ve got a craft kids will love.

If you’re going to invest in these for your library, be forewarned: they’re going to get marked up. Consider for your games reference collection if you don’t have the budget to replace them. I’m thinking of introducing the adventure to my library kids, a few puzzles at a time, by leaving the book at reference and collecting answers each day (I have a LOT of prizes in my prize drawer, for incentive). Give the Escape Game series a shot!

 

Pirates Escape Game : A High Seas Mystery, by Eric Nieudan/Illustrated by Margot Briquet, (Aug. 2020, Schiffer Kids), $16.99, ISBN: 9780764360084
Ages 8-12

Okay, last one up, and it’s a good one: a pirate escape game! You’re a sailor who wakes up and discovers you’re the only one left on a ship that’s been adrift in the high seas. No captain. No crew. No memory of anything that’s happened. You have to explore the ship and find clues to discover what happened, solving logic puzzles, breaking codes, and figuring out word puzzles and riddles. Unlock a padlocked pantry; find a mysterious note in the surgeon’s cabin; decipher recipes, with the help of a separate clue book and your own wits. The book is not linear – you’ll be jumping back and forth as solving different puzzles takes you to different pages – and includes brain busters for every type of skill. Pirate fans are going to love it, and you know you can enhance a pirate day! Make eyepatches, mustaches, and pirate hats as either grab-and-go or in-house crafts!

Escape Room Games don’t have to be relegated to online or in a room – see how these work out for you with your kids and teens. We’ve all had to get more creative in the last year and a half; let’s keep adapting.

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

Mr. Penguin and friends are all aboard for a catastrophic cruise!

Mr. Penguin and the Catastrophic Cruise, by Alex T. Smith, (Sept. 2021, Peachtree Publishing), $9.99, ISBN: 9781682633304

Ages 8-12

The third Mr. Penguin adventure is coming to paperback this Fall, and it’s a doozy! Mr. Penguin and his Adventurers – his friend, Edith her pet pigeon, Gordon, and his partner, the unibrowed, karate-kicking spider, Colin, are off on a posh cruise aboard the Saucy Sandra where Colin’s been invited to sing with the Seven Sisters Choir, and Mr. Penguin and Edith are excited to mix with movie stars and millionaire Herbert Chuckle, accompanied by his girlfriend, Honey Chrystelle. But just as Mr. Penguin is about to relax and enjoy a cruise filled with fish finger sandwiches, he discovers that there’s a pirate plot afoot! A young stowaway named Marina is on board to save her grandfather, who’s been kidnapped. There’s trouble brewing above and below the water and it’s up to Mr. Penguin to get to the bottom of things before they get too out of hand! The bumbling Mr. Penguin is charming and relies heavily on his friends to get himself out of trouble, and the adventure and plot twists are fun and will keep readers guessing. You don’t need to be familiar with the characters to enjoy this book, so make sure readers know they can join Mr. Penguin on any of his adventures. The orange, black and white artwork is visually interesting, with pages being splashed in orange or gray with drawings of underwater and seaboard spreads framing the story’s prose. There’s humor, adventure, fun dialogue, and a good story to keep readers entertained. Perfect for Tails and Tales AND Reading Takes You Everywhere Summer Reading themes.

The hardcover Mr. Penguin and the Catastrophic Cruise is already available, so make sure you’ve got it handy for your displays!

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.