Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, Teen, Tween Reads

Holiday Book Hurrah!

I know it’s been a few days, but I’m back! I had a big birthday (as in number, not celebration), and took a few days for introspection and thinking of where the next half century will take me. It was nice, there’s been hot cocoa and homemade cookies, and now I’m ready to embrace the full-on holiday season, snowstorm warnings (for NYC) and all. So let’s celebrate all things bookish!

DC Christmas Carols: We Wish You a Harley Christmas, by Daniel Kibblesmith, (Oct. 2020, Chronicle Books), $14.95, ISBN: 9781797207957

Ages 10+

Perfect for comics and pop culture fans, this little book of Christmas carols all have a DC comics spin, taking favorite characters and creating songs to the tunes of popular holiday classics. There are 31 songs in here, with household names and deeper cuts, sure to make everyone laugh. “Batman Baby”, to the tune of “Santa Baby”, is Catwoman’s plea to Bats let her get away with some mischief just once: “Batman baby, just let me get away this one time / It’s fine / I won’t do it again / Batman baby, you don’t have to be such a Dark Knight”. There’s “I Saw Lois Kissing Superman” – well, you can guess that one – and “We Wish You a Harley Christmas”. Illustrated with full-color contemporary and vintage artwork, you’ll see DC’s finest hanging out with snowmen, hoisting sleighs aloft, exchanging gifts, and racing Santa Claus. Artists featured include Alex Ross, George Pérez, Sergio Aragonès, Tim Sale, and John Byrne. C’mon, go beyond “Jingle Bells, Batman Smells” and embrace the joy of “The Twelve Days of Villains”.

A Kitten Called Holly (Jasmine Green Rescues), by Helen Peters/Illustrated by Ellie Snowdon, (Sept. 2020, Walker Books), $6.99, ISBN: 9781536215724

Ages 7-10

The newest in the Jasmine Green Rescues series is all about Holly, a kitten Jasmine and her best friend, Tom, rescue when they discover that the newborn kitten’s been abandoned when the mother cat was moving her litter! Jasmine and Tom help nurse the kitten to health as her mother explains the difference between feral and tame cats, and why feral cats don’t always make great pets, but when Jasmine asks to keep Holly, Dr. Singh puts her foot down: Jasmine already has a pet pig, a pet dog, and a pet duck; she intends to put Holly up for adoption as soon as she’s old enough! But what about Jasmine’s best friend, Tom, who loves Holly just as much as Jasmine does? Can he convince his mother to open her heart and home to a pet?

The Jasmine Green stories are gentle, with stories that will endear themselves to animal fiction fans. Jasmine and Tom’s genuine love for animals and the knowledge imparted by Jasmine’s veterinarian mother brings together fiction and straight talk for readers. Black and white illustrations throughout add to the story pacing and feel, and Helen Peters’ writing is so warm-hearted, every story ends up being a feel-good story about animals and fur-ever homes. A nice winter read, A Kitten Called Holly is best paired with a cat (real or plush) and a cup of hot chocolate.

Posted in Fantasy, Historical Fiction, History, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Tween and Teen Fiction that keeps readers on the edge of their seats

I’m at that odd moment when my TBR and my HBR (have been read) piles are toppling. Which is a good problem to have, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that I’m constantly catching up to something, be it reading or reviews. Let’s take a look at some YA, including a book that’s being touted for middle grade, but I feel would work much better for older tweens/teens.

 

They Threw Us Away, by Daniel Kraus/Illustrated by Rovina Kai, (Sept. 2020, Henry Holt BYR), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250224408

Ages 12+

I’m going to kick things off with the book I feel is better for older tweens. They Threw Us Away is being billed as “Lord of the Flies meets Toy Story”, and it’s a pretty accurate description. A blue teddy bear wakes up in a garbage dump and frees himself; he notes his name tag, which says his name is Buddy, and he sees other boxes of teddies on the pile and works to free the others before rats, seagulls, or a terrifying machine gets to them. Together, Buddy and the other teddies – Sunny, Sugar, Horace, and Reginald – put their memories together: they were in the Store, waiting for children to take them home and love them. Once they are loved by a child, teddies fall into the Forever Sleep. So what happened? The group sets out to get some answers, but they learn that the world is a scary place; even scarier than the Dump, and that the answers they seek may not be the answers they want to hear.

The first in a planned trilogy, They Threw Us Away is bleak and often brutal. There are graphic depictions of teddy bear death, which, when I say it, may sound like something to laugh off, but reading it is pretty horrific. Younger readers and more sensitive readers may be upset by the unrelenting danger and horror. Black and white illustrations throughout reinforce the story. There are some loose ends that we can expect future books to pick up on. Each Teddy has a distinct personality and struggles with their circumstances accordingly: Buddy is kind and gentle; the peacemaker and ersatz leader; Sugar, whose damaged box meant she suffered some bumps, too, is flighty and quirky; Sunny is a conflicted character with flashes of rage and a desire to keep the group together; Reginald is a serious, sagelike teddy, and Horace is fearful. Give this to your dedicated horror fans, and save it for your higher elementary readers and middle schoolers.

 

The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep: Voices from the Donner Party, by Allan Wolf, (Sept. 2020, Candlewick), $21.99, ISBN: 9780763663247

Ages 13+

This novel in verse is the latest retelling of the Donner Party and their fate in the Sierra Nevadas during the winter of 1846-1847. Poet Allan Wolf gives voice to members of the ill-fated party in his book: James Reed and George Donner, leaders of the doomed caravan; Baptiste Trudeau, a 16-year-old orphan taken under George and Tamzene Donner’s wing; Salvador and Luis, two Miwok Indian guides; Ludwig Keseberg, a haunted man; Patty and Virginia Reed, two of James Reed’s children, and more are all here, telling their stories in haunted verse. Hunger narrates the story, giving readers familiar with Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief a familiar touch. Hunger is dispassionate and yet evokes emotion in the narration. Beginning as the party begins experiencing misfortune, the voices grow more desperate and the verse, more haunting, as the snow falls; the party’s desperation is palpable. Moments dedicated to the snowfall include names of the fallen sprinkled in with the repeated word, “snow”. Comprehensive back matter includes an author’s note, biographies, statistics, a timeline of events, and resources for more reading and research. It’s an incredibly detailed work of historical fiction and nonfiction all at once.

The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep has starred reviews from Booklist and BookPage.

 

This is Not the Jess Show, by Anna Carey, (Nov. 2020, Quirk Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9781683691976

Ages 13+

I am DYING to talk about this book, but there’s so much I can’t say because I CAN’T SPOIL IT. So here are the main details: Jess Flynn is a 1990s high school junior wears babydoll dresses and watches Party of Five. She’s developing a crush on her childhood best friend, Tyler. Her sister, Sara, is suffering from a blood disease and has been getting worse. Things are in constant flux for Jess, and things have been getting weird in her home town of Swickley, too: half the population has been hit by a mysterious flu. Her dog goes from lavishing attention on her to growling and hiding from her. She hears strange chanting, and people either stop speaking when she enters a room, or she catches glances that people around her give one another. And what the heck is that black device with an apple on it that fell out of her friend’s backpack? Things are weird in Swickley, and Jess means to get to the bottom of it.

I LOVED this book! The ’90s vibe, the pacing, the overall story, everything is so well crafted and paced. Jess is a smart character who is sensitive enough to her surroundings to know something’s up: this is the constant in a plot that keeps trying to shift her world around. What I can say is that Jess gets a crash course in what people are willing to do for selfish reasons; what she does in response to that fact keeps the story in motion. ’90s pop culture references make this even more fun. Hand this to all your teens, and booktalk Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism, for it’s awesome ’80s references, too. Tell ’em to read them with their parents.

 

 

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads

More #BooksfromQuarantine, Graphic Novels edition

I’ve been tearing through my graphic novel stash now that I’m back at work two days a week. Here’s some from the new crop.

Supergirl: Being Super, by Mariko Tamaki/Illustrated by Joëlle Jones, (July 2020, DC Comics), $16.99, ISBN: 9781779503190

Ages 12+

The latest DC YA graphic novel is a collection of the 4-issue Supergirl storyline, Being Super (2018). Caldecott winner and YA graphic novelist powerhouse Mariko Tamaki and Eisner winner Joëlle Jones, whose work I’ve really loved on Lady Killer and Helheim, join forces here to tell the story of Kara Danvers, a teen who’s got BFFs, irritating parents that she totally loves, and a ginormous zit. She can also lift a car with one hand, and runs slower than she really can on her track team, but who cares? She loves her life in Midvale… until catastrophe strikes, and leaves Kara with more questions than answers about her past.

What I’ve been enjoying about DC’s YA graphic novels is the relatability. The super powers take a back seat to the relationships and the frustrations of adolescence; here, it’s Kara’s struggle to discover who she is, and the decisions she makes as she seeks that answer. Coping with grief is a secondary theme running through the story. Joëlle Jones’s  artwork is expressive, bold, and eye-catching. Being Super is a Newsweek Best Graphic Novel of the Year.

 

Child Star, by Brian “Box” Brown, (June 2020, First Second), $19.99, ISBN: 9781250154071

Ages 13+

This documentary-style graphic novel gives a look into the life and times of fictional child star, Owen Eugene. From his overbearing stage parents and his sitcom catchphrase to his post-fame struggle to steady his life, this is a story we can see – have seen – unfolding on reality TV. It’s all in here: interviews with co-stars, hangers-on, and former loves; the parents who felt they had a right to Owen’s money; the D-list reality TV shows that feel like the last stop on the road to obscurity. Readers familiar with some of the bigger child star stories will recognize them in Owen Eugene’s story. A sad look at the collateral damage of 1980s pop culture, Child Star is great reading, written by graphic novelist and biographer Brian “Box” Brown, award-winning writer and illustrator of Andre the Giant: Life and Legend, and Is This Guy for Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman.

Child Star has a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

One Year at Ellsmere, by Faith Erin Hicks, (July 2020, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250219107

Ages 10+

Originally published in 2008 as The War at Ellsmere (thanks, ComicBeat!), Faith Erin Hicks’s boarding school story gets some updated art and some color. Juniper is a new student at the prestigious (read: snobbish) Ellsmere Academy, an exclusive boarding school where she – daughter of a single mother with thrift store clothes – is quickly labeled “the project” by the school’s Queen Bee, Emily. Juniper and her roommate, Cassie, quickly bond over being outcasts in a school full of Mean Girls; something that helps Juniper as she endures Emily’s brutal bullying. Running through this boarding school story is a touch of magical realism surrounding the forest next to the school. I loved the character development, the fantasy touch with the forest story, and how both elements come together to make yet another great story from Faith Erin Hicks.

Read Faith Erin Hicks’s webcomics at her author website.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

February Picture Books: little elephants, fabulous females, and being your own self!

The Smallest Elephant in the World, by Alvin Tresselt/Illustrated by Milton Glaser, (Feb. 2019, Enchanted Lion), $16.95, ISBN: 9781592702619

Ages 4-8

Originally published in 1959, The Smallest Elephant in the World is back in hardcover! A small elephant, no bigger than a housecat, leaves the jungle to get away from the bullies who make fun of him. He ends up in the care of a boy named Arnold, whose mother does NOT want an elephant for a house pet. Arnold tries some creative fudging to convince his mother otherwise, but Mom’s not fooled that easily. Where will the Smallest Elephant find a home?

This adorable story about friendship and finding one’s own place in the world is as relevant and sweet today as it was when it was released 60 years ago. Milton Glaser’s vintage illustration is bold, with bright oranges and greens standing out against the black and white page backgrounds. The elephant’s face is expressive; sweet and friendly, and he’s adorably tiny when shown in scale.

The Smallest Elephant in the World brings a nice touch of our childhoods back to our children’s collections. Gen X kids like me will fondly remember the art and silly-sweet storytelling, and pass that love onto a new generation. Let your kiddos draw their own tiny elephants, and give them things to measure against: a book, a shelf, a ruler, or your foot!

 

A is for Awesome! 23 Iconic Women Who Changed the World, by Eva Chen/Illustrated by Derek Desierto, (Feb. 2019, Feiwel & Friends), $9.99, ISBN: 9781250215994

Ages 2-5

An Instagram star and creator of Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes spotlights outstanding women in this abcedary. Juno Valentine is our guide, introducing readers to some of her favorite “sheroes”. There are standard favorites here: Amelia Earhart, Harriet Tubman, and Malala are all here, side by side with feminist figures like megastar Beyonce, Nobel Prize-winning scientist Dorothy Hodgkin, fashion icon Iris Apfel, and author Ursula K. LeGuin. There’s a mirror here for “X, Y, Z: the Extraordinary You, and the Zillions of brilliant, brave adventures you will have”, which makes for big fun during storytime. Collage artwork is bright and textured, with differing fabrics and hairstyles. The addition of Roman goddess Venus feels a little off, but every other featured female is flesh and blood real, and the grouping has a nice diversity. Each woman has a one-line description; some have quotes attributed to them.

I love a good board book, and this one makes my cut. Add this in time for National Women’s in March, and plan your storytimes now.

Over the Rooftops, Under the Moon, by JonArno Lawson/Illustrated by Nahid Kazemi, (Feb. 2019, Enchanted Lion), $17.95, ISBN: 9781592702626

Ages 4-8

A long-legged white bird doesn’t feel like he fits in with his flock, but feels a connection when making eye contact with a little girl. The bird ponders his existence and explores the human world, not noticing until the snow falls that his flock has migrated without him. He catches up with his flock and they sit together on a rooftop, “alone and together, over the rooftops, and under the moon”.

I’ll be honest, I had to read this one a few times to really get it. It’s very open to interpretation, and while the gist of the story is about a bird who isn’t sure about his relationship to himself and within his community, I’ve seen other picture books handle this in a more linear fashion. and I’m not sure that little ones will get it. Some of the text gets lost in the mixed media collage artwork, which could impede a readaloud. The collage artwork tells the story in surreal, dreamlike fashion, which may be the best way to get the message of this story across: the bird feels alone, connects with humans, explores, and ultimately, finds peace within himself and within his community. It’s a beautiful message to communicate to younger children who are starting to socialize in groups and may feel out of place; it’s also a strong message to older children, who can break down the introspective message here. I’d love to see this as a school-wide readalong in elementary schools that still have them, so kids from K-5 can each take a turn at deciphering its meaning to them as individuals.

It’s an interesting book that may take a few reads to unpack, but worth it for the discussions that can follow.

 

What If? What Makes You Different Makes You Amazing!, by Sandra Magsamen, (Feb. 2019, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $10.99, ISBN: 9781492637103

Ages 0-4

“What if your hair was big and orange and really bright? What if one eye was green and the other eye was blue as night?” The rhyming text takes readers through all sorts of ways we can stand out from the crowd, with adorable illustrations – a purple lamb, a swaying monkey – and extols the virtues of individuality. The text assures readers that being different is special, and good for you: it can give your spirit a lift; it would be dull if everyone were the same. Sandra Magsamen embraces uniqueness, and makes sure her readers do, too, pointing out how being different can help in certain situations. After all, someone quiet can be a big help when putting a bandage on an injured crocodile. Pair this with Todd Parr’s books, especially It’s Okay to Be Different and Be Who You Are, for a feel-good readaloud. The artwork is colorful, never overpowering, with upbeat, yet calming colors and bold outlines.  What If? is a cute picture book for collections where Todd Parr does well.

 

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

Cinnamon Girl: A Superheroine teens can get behind!

cinnamon girlThe Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl, by Melissa Keil (April 2016, Peachtree Publishers), $17.95, ISBN: 9781561459056

Recommended for ages 13+

Alba is a teen who loves her life just the way it is. She and her mom live behind the bakery her mother runs in Eden Valley, a small, South Australian town. She loves Wonder Woman, comics and pop culture, and her close-knit group of friends, especially her best friend, Grady. Everything is pretty perfect – until it’s not.

First, a YouTube video from some wacko doomsday preacher goes viral. The problem? He claims that Eden Valley will be the one safe spot on the planet, which brings doomsday fanatics flooding into the Valley, setting up campsites on any available patch of land. Then, Daniel Gordon arrives on the scene: Alba and Grady’s childhood friend who went on to become a B-list heartthrob on a nighttime TV soap opera. He’s giving off signals that cause some confusing feelings for Alba, especially when Grady starts acting even weirder. Even Cinnamon Girl, Alba’s superheroine creation, is stumping her lately; she just can’t seem to find inspiration for Cinnamon’s continuing adventures. Can she get all of this worked out before the world ends?

I loved this book! There are fantastic comic book and pop culture references (Wonder Woman fans will be especially thrilled), and Alba is a great protagonist and teen role model. She’s body-positive, with an early conversation about her body and breasts that made me laugh out loud; she thinks she’s aware of who she is and her place in the world, until the outside world intrudes on the little bubble she’s created for herself and she finds herself faced with some big decisions.

This is an end of times story, but not necessarily the end of times you think it is. It’s a crossroads story, an end of childhood story, and for many people, entering adulthood and leaving high school behind can feel like it’s all coming to an end. I loved Alba’s narration and found it real; believable. Alba’s snarky narration is wonderful and refreshing, particularly when the world seems to be showing up on her doorstep and appear to have left their manners at home. The black and white comic art throughout the book made me really want to see a Cinnamon Girl comic book. Maybe we’ll get some further adventures of Alba, with prose and a graphic novel woven together to create a narrative a la I Am Princess X? Probably not, but that’s okay – The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl is a standout, standalone novel that Rainbow Rowell fans will devour. This book will also make a great graduation gift for the teens in your life; let them know that you know adulting is hard, but this book will help ease the transition.

Melissa Keil is an Australian author whose debut novel, Life in Outer Space, won the 2013 Ampersand Project (and which is now on my TBR). Cinnamon Girl has been shortlisted for the 2015 Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year. Check out her author website for more info on her books!

 

Posted in Fiction, Teen

Material Girls: Pop Culture Gone Wild!

material girlsMaterial Girls, by Elaine Dimopoulos (May 2015, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Group), $17.99, ISBN: 9780544388505

Recommended for ages 12-18

Imagine a world where teenagers’ tastes drive commerce. Fashion trends? Voted on my teen judges. Tween programming and music stars rule the day, setting trends and acting out carefully crafted roles and personas. But guess what? A handful of adults are still running the show, sitting behind the scenes, letting this new version of child labor run society.

Material Girls takes place in a not too-distant future, where popularity drives everything. Young tweens are picked, after crafting online portfolios, to be called to creative careers in fashion or entertainment; “adequates” are left to do the boring stuff that holds society up – doctors, accountants, that sort of thing. Fashion is paramount, and trends are fast, furious, and make tons of money. People have trendcheckers that scan clothing labels and let you know whether or not you’re still on trend; teenage judges decide what clothes get made. There are no more superstar fashion designers; designers and drafters are relegated to the less glamorous, lower levels of the operation. “Stay Young!” has replaced “See ya!” as a well-wish greeting.

Two narratives make up Material Girls. Marla is a teen judge who finds herself demoted to drafter after disagreeing with her fellow judges’ outrageous tastes one too many times. Told in the first person, we see Marla slowly gaining awareness of society around her, and work with her fellow drafters and adequates to bring about change, through revolution, if necessary.

Ivy is a teen queen pop star who begins questioning her place in society and society in general. Through a third person narrative, we see her growing discomfort with people spending money they can’t afford on outrageous and uncomfortable trends that she, and other teen pop stars like her, seemingly dictate. Her brother’s “tapping” – the process by which kids are called to special careers – doesn’t go as well as planned. She’s tired of living a scheduled, scripted life and just wants to be free, but does she have the courage to see it through?

Material Girls is a brilliant indictment of today’s pop-culture and youth-obsessed society. Blending shades of Brave New World with reality television, this is as much a cautionary tale as it is a parody of today’s society. I loved this story; it provides great topics to discuss in a tween or teen book club setting, and can be read as a sociological text to generate discussion on youth culture, pop culture, and how it affects society as a whole.

This is author Elaine Dimopoulos‘ first book. She’ll be having a book release party at Boston Public Library on May 5, which sounds great for anyone in the area. There’s going to be a slide show with fashion trends that influenced the book and eco-chic swag to win. Weigh in if you get to go!

Material Girls Release Party!
Tuesday, May 5, 7 p.m.
Abbey Room, Boston Public Library