Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Meet Randy, the Badly-Drawn (BEAUTIFUL!) Horse!

Randy, the Badly-Drawn Horse, by T.L. McBeth, (Aug. 2020, Henry Holt), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250185907

Ages 3-7

Randy is a beautiful horse. He knows it, because his artist says so. He is a spectacular creature, with a mane that blows in the breeze, long elegant legs, a silky coat, and a smile that lights up the sky. Randy has never seen himself, but who cares? He just knows. After a quick snack, Randy sets out on an adventure that takes him through mountains and forests, but a surprise awaits him when he catches a glimpse of himself in a pool of water.

Randy is just an adorable book, with a look into a child’s imaginative play and a creation that takes on its own life. It’s a kid fantasy made real as Randy, illustrated to look like a child’s drawing, prances through construction paper mountains and popsicle stick and pom-pom forests. Randy’s juvenile creator and the artist’s mother speak in colorful word bubbles, with Randy’s hilariously adorable commentary in the text at the bottom of each page. Materials like paint and condiments have texture that will appeal to sensory readers and adds fun to the story, making it even more real. Endpapers feature an 8-step “How to Draw Horse” guide that readers will recognize from other stories, especially Dog Man.  The back endpapers have a little surprise that will leave readers giggling.

A fun, adorably written and drawn story of self-image and self-esteem, Randy the Badly Drawn Horse is perfect for storytime and anytime. Give your kiddos different media – construction paper, cardboard, popsicle sticks, yarn – and ask them to draw their own story with a character of their own design! Publisher Macmillan has a free, downloadable storytime kit with great activities, too!

 

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Halloween(ish) Books: Witchy Things!

Witchy Things, by Mariasole Brusa/Illustrated by Marta Sevilla, (Aug. 2020, NubeOcho), $16.95, ISBN: 9788417673604

Ages 4-8

Oh no! The witch is furious! A potion explosion turned her hair blue! BLUE! Not Blood Red, or Ash Gray, or Booger Green, but BLUE FAIRY BLUE! The Witch is furious, so she’s off to prove that blue hair doesn’t make her any goody-goody: she’s going to snatch a kid. She discovers a boy named Adam playing in the park with some dolls and immediately thinks he’s some rotten kid stealing his sister’s dolls, but she discovers that making assumptions about others is just as wrong as people making assumptions about her! Adam proceeds to drop some wisdom on the Witch, telling her to stop doing what she thinks she’s supposed to do, based on what people think, and do what makes her happy. And isn’t that the best advice you’ve heard today?

Originally published in Italy in 2019, Witchy Things is available in Spanish as Cosas de Bruja. The text won the Narrating Equality contest. It’s a story about looking past appearances and assumptions and celebrating just being oneself. The artwork is cartoony fun, with a furiously blue-haired witch, complete with hairy wart (kind of looks like a cute spider) on her nose and her very expressive familiars, a black cat and two rats. Fun, sweet, and with a good message, Witchy Things/Cosas de Bruja is a Halloween story about which witch you want to be. (See what I did there?)

There are some great self-esteem activities for kids available online. Teachers Pay Teachers has a free, downloadable set of self-esteem bookmarks for kids to color in and use; 5 Things I Love About Myself are printables that allow kids to write about what they value in themselves. Education.com has a free, downloadable Venn diagram of differences and similarities than be used in conjunction with this book; ask kids to think about what makes Adam and the Witch the same and different.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Spotlight on small press and self-published books!

Beautiful, Wonderful, Strong Little Me!, by Hannah Carmona Dias/Illustrated by Dolly Georgieva-Gode, (Nov. 2019, Eifrig Publishing), $9.99, ISBN: 978-1632331694

Ages 4-7

A rhyming story that celebrates multicultural diversity, Beautiful, Wonderful, Strong Little Me! stars Lilly, a young girl with dark skin, curly hair, freckles and full lips. She’s strong, she’s smart, she’s funny, and she’s friendly – but she doesn’t look like her friends, and she’s tired of being asked where she’s from. She’s no puzzle to be solved! She tells her friends she’s proud of who she is, but what she looks like is only a small part of that: she’s courageous, funny, resilient, and kind. And that is perfect! The joyful rhyming text is filled with a sense of play, self-respect, and self-love. The artwork is cartoony and cheery, with a diverse group of friends playing together on each spread. An author’s note encourages readers to come up with adjectives for themselves, and provides a framed space for a self-portrait.

A fun readalike to books like Karen Beaumont’s I Like Myself! and Grace Byers’s I Am Enough.

 

 

Goldilocks and the Six Simple Machines, by Lois Wickstrom/Illustrated by Nicole Hehn, (Jan. 2020), $12.99, ISBN: 978-0916176457

Ages 4-7

Everyone knows the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, but what would have happened if Goldilocks had come in and started fixing things up in the Bear home? If Goldilocks had poured the precise amount of milk into the porridge to cool things off; fixed a wobbly table leg and squeaky chair? Would the Bears still be angry? (I would; I mean, she broke into their house.) If the bears discovered a sleeping Goldilocks in their beds, how would they move her to wake her up and thank her for all the repairs? In this STEM take on the classic story, Lois Wickstrom’s Goldilocks uses six simple machines: wheel and axle, an inclined plane and wedge, a screw, lever, and pulley, to show how Goldilocks was able to make life a little easier for the bears. The Bear family is gracious and Goldilocks is sweetly helpful in this retelling. The font design is exaggerated to add a dimension of fun to the story, but they can distract. The artwork could use a little finesse, but overall, a fun book to read in STEM classes and for STEM storytimes.

There are some great fairytale STEM projects available online, and the Goldilocks story has given rise to several. There’s a lesson plan available from the Utah Education Network; Teach Beside Me has a fun STEM project, as does Momgineer. Teachers Pay Teachers has a cute STEM project, where kids can make a latch for the three bears’ door.

 

Daisy and Friends: Outside Our Window, by Barbara J. Meredith/Illustrations by Kalpart, (Oct. 2018, Strategic Book Publishing & Rights Agency), $11.50, ISBN: 9781949483574

Ages 3-6

The third in a series of books about a cat named Daisy and her three dog friends, Daisy and Friends: Outside Our Window is all about the changing seasons. Phrased like a rhyming game, Daisy and the dogs each start with the phrase, “Looking out our window, what do we see?” Answers reflect those flora, fauna, and weather that map to different seasons: Butterflies, hummingbirds, and bumblebees welcome the spring; squirrels and chipmunks gathering acorns and seeds give hints that fall is on the way. Short, rhyming sentences, consistent question and answer patterns, and plenty of sight words give burgeoning learners a lot to enjoy and see here! The digital artwork is playful, and the dialogue between Daisy and her dog friends makes for good readaloud material, especially if you have a volunteer who’s comfortable reading! There are four Daisy and Friends books available: Daisy and Friends: Waiting for the School Bus was published in August!

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Bo the Brave knows that monsters aren’t always that easy to spot

Bo the Brave, by Bethan Woollvin, (Apr. 2020, Peachtree Publishers), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-68263-182-9

Ages 3-7

Any day I get to talk about a new Bethan Woollvin book is a good day. She creates fairy-tale heroines that upend all existing conventions, whether it’s the witch getting the goods on bratty Hansel and Gretel, or Little Red Riding Hood saving the day on her own. Her new book, Bo the Brave. stars another young girl who teaches readers that monsters aren’t always fairy tale creatures – they’re much closer.

Bo is a young girl who wants to be a monster hunter like her brothers. When they tell her she’s too little, so she strikes out on her own. On her travels, she meets a griffin, a kraken, and a dragon, all of whom seem much nicer, and certainly more helpful, than she’s been led to believe. In fact, the dragon is a mother, grieving because her baby’s been kidnapped by monster hunters! Bo, pretty sure she knows exactly who the culprits are, leads her new friends to the rescue: while delivering a stern lecture to her brothers. Bo the Brave has learned that rumors and hearsay are deceiving and can lead to a lot of misunderstanding and heartache. In this story, it’s her brothers that “were certainly acting like monsters”, not the griffin, the kraken, or the dragons!

That’s the best part of Bethan Woollvin’s storytelling. She takes a look at who the real monsters are, like Hansel and Gretel; she has heroines who save themselves – they have no time to deal with that whole helpless girl foolishness – like Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel. Bethan Woollvin’s heroines have no time to waste, waiting for someone to rescue them and no patience to follow someone who doesn’t value them for who they are. They’re out there on their own, using their brains and their own common sense to save the day, and teach some valuable lessons.

The endpapers illustrated Bo the Brave’s evolution, too: the front endpapers are a map, pre-journey, where Bo notes where the “horrid forest monsters”, “scary cave beasts”, and “slimy sea monsters” are, along with her “stinky brothers’. The back endpapers are edited to show that her “stinky brothers” are actually her “monster brothers”, and each of the new friends she’s made have their rightful names noted on the map.

Bo the Brave has a starred review from School Library Journal, and is essential reading.

Posted in picture books

Blog Tour: I Am Awesome! and Guest Post from Author Ryan K. Maule

Ryan Maule, motivational speaker and host of the popular Expect Awesome Podcast, wants to make sure that all children get the positive self-esteem they need early so they can be the type of adults that live up to their God-given potential.

I Am Awesome!, by Ryan K. Maule/Illustrated by L.M. Phang,
(Jan . 2020, WestBow Press), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1-9736-8105-2
Ages 5-8

Enter I Am Awesome!, a story about two robots, Grace and Zeal, who meet a new invention who claims to be Awesome and not just Good. Author Ryan K. Maule was kind enough to share a guest post for today, so read on and enjoy.

3 Secrets to Teaching Your Kids to Choose Confidence Over Fear
By Ryan Maule, author of the children’s book I Am Awesome!

Being a parent of a child in grade school means constantly sitting on the edge of your seat. Changes are happening all the time that affect the way your child reacts and responds to everyday life situations. This makes parenting overwhelming, feeling like you’re just sitting around waiting to come up with answers to issues you didn’t realize would come up in the first place.

One of those changes seen regularly is a loss in self-esteem or confidence. Many parents face the dilemma of seeing confidence deplete with little to no understanding of what’s going on or how it happened. Most of the time we don’t even notice until the confidence has dropped so far that we wonder how it will ever recover!

So, what happened? If you’re like me, it’s easy to remember the moments where your child looked like they were absolutely unstoppable. I’ve seen my daughter take on roller coasters that made me nauseous, introduce herself to a group of strangers where I hoped to just blend in and get ignored, and perform, sing, and dance in front of crowds that make even the most confident of parents wonder “where did this kid come from?!” For a while it seemed like the only thing that scared her was Santa Claus.

But then, without notice or warning, she doesn’t have that confidence anymore. She doesn’t want to perform, she’s withdrawn, she doesn’t want to go on even simple child rides, or stand out at school or in small groups.

Where did the confidence go?

The reality is that these depletions in confidence are normal and common throughout not only the growing up process, but throughout your child’s entire life. These life tests never go away. The trick is to be able to recognize and label the problem that is always getting in the way. It can be called many things and summed up into one word: fear.

Fear is the main reason your children lose some or most of their self-confidence. It can be discovering the fear of death, the fear of judgement, the fear of disapproval, the fear of disappointment, the fear of embarrassment, or even the fear of simply failing. They could even just be scared in general. Fear is always present and will never fully go away. Fear is the amplifier of all the negative outcomes in every situation that we hold in the back of our mind.

The secret is to teach our children how to react to fear in order to maintain and build their confidence. To do this, I have three easy secrets to help your kids choose confidence over fear.

  1. Teach Your Children to Recognize and Admit Their Fears

Most situations where confidence is attacked are never recognized because we allow ourselves to get away with lying to each other. Instead of properly saying “I’m afraid of” or “I’m scared to,” we allow bad excuses and “I just don’t want to’s” to be acceptable answers. Teaching your kids to identify the thoughts and feelings that are fear-related helps them to create the potential for a stronger, more confident response.

  1. Make A Rule of No Hypotheticals

 This secret is one that all families should use and applies to both adults and children. Hypotheticals are imaginary negative outcomes and more commonly, fantasy worst-case scenarios. It’s so easy to think up disasters and failures and play them out like a movie in your mind. The answer is to not allow them. No hypotheticals means basing your decision on only the things that are facts and that you already know. By not allowing your worst-case scenario to impact your decision, you create opportunities where positive outcomes are truly possible.

  1. Discuss Past Successes!

When you’re in the moment, it’s hard to remember past experience. Sometimes all you need is a little reminder of great moments of past confidence to inspire more instances of future confidence!

“Do you remember that time you did this same thing and it went perfectly?!”

“Mom and I were so proud of you the last time you handled a situation like this!”

“You are awesome at this!”

“This is nothing for you!”

“You could do this in your sleep!”

By drawing on past successes, your children will start to see beyond the fear and see themselves conquering the world!

RYAN MAULE is the author of the children’s book I Am Awesome! He is also a nationally recognized and highly sought-after motivational speaker, host of the popular Expect Awesome Podcast, and the president of Integrity Doctors, the world’s largest chiropractic business organization. Over the last 15 years Ryan has traveled the world spreading the message of expecting awesome and building a stronger self-image in order to gain a God-powered confidence. Ryan is happily married to his awesome wife Amber and they live in Florida with their two awesome kids, Summer Grace and Nolan Zeal.

 

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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, Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Reckless Club “remixes The Breakfast Club for the Instagram generation”

The Reckless Club, by Beth Vrabel, (Oct. 2018, Running Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780762490400

Ages 9-13

I had to use Kirkus’ line in that opening, because how more perfect can one describe a book? Beth Vrabel, one of my favorite middle grade authors, reaches back into one of the movies that defined my generation and brought it back, with a few nips and tucks, to inspire a new generation. We take one group: a Nobody (Jason), a Drama Queen (Lilith), a Flirt (Wes), an Athlete (Ally, also known as “Sports Barbie”), and a rebel (Rex) all come together at a retirement home one day in the late summer. Each has done something so wrong in their last year of middle school that they’ve got to spend the last Saturday before high school here, helping elderly patients and their principal’s sister, who oversees the home. Each teen is paired with an elder, and their personalities quickly emerge, as does a mystery: is one of the nurse’s stealing from the patients?

The book has wonderful callouts to The Breakfast Club, meaning I’ll get to booktalk this to some of my parents, too. We Gen Xers never get tired of ’80s nostalgia! But the story is so much more than that. Beth Vrabel has the dual gifts of dialogue and character development, giving readers a voraciously readable story that delves into LGBTQ+, self-esteem and acceptance, and race matters.

I love Beth Vrabel’s books. I feel good at the end of a Beth Vrabel story, and I feel like people can and still want to make a difference when I read a Beth Vrabel story. She tells realistic stories about kids we could see in our classrooms, our libraries, and at our dinner tables every day, and provides insights that we may not even realize we’re overlooking. That handsome class president with the dimples may not have it as easy as you think. The drama queen that throws a hissy fit may have hit her last straw with an awful teacher. That star athlete may have something really unhealthy pushing her to excel. It reminds us, as adults, as well as middle graders and tweens, that everyone has something going on under the surface. A final note, a la the Breakfast Club, sums up the group’s experiences of the day, and we can only hope that The Reckless Club has another adventure in store for us soon.

Visit Beth Vrabel’s website for study guides, news about her other books, and info about school visits.

Posted in Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Size matters not… Small, by Gina Perry

Small, by Gina Perry, (Aug. 2017, Little Bee Books), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-4998-0401-0

Recommended for readers 3-7

Sometimes it’s a drag being small. It can be intimidating. In Small, a little girl goes through a day in the crowded city feeling small and overwhelmed. When ducks snatch her hot dog, she feels helpless… until a trip to a playground helps her turn it around by allowing her to embraces the positives in her life and how they make her feel big. The love of her family; her drawing ability; her fierce game – all of these and more make her big, brave, and loved.

Small is loaded with positivity. It’s a good book for preschoolers and kindergarteners on self-esteem, filled with moments kids recognize all too well: feeling like second banana to a younger sibling; fears about being lost in a crowd; of not being heard; of just feeling plain helpless. It also taps into positive moments that kids feel: the invincibility of being on a slide or the monkey bars; the power of sidewalk chalk, the power that comes from doing something for someone else. I read this to my toddler/preschooler storytime group, and they loved it! Two of my QH kiddos were captivated by the sidewalk chalk art, so we spent a couple of minutes letting everyone look at the spread and point to the different drawings. The story and the pictures resonated with them.

Author/Illustrator Gina Perry’s webpage has a free, downloadable butterfly craft and activity kit that I’ll definitely use – especially since I just saw a sidewalk art page! This is a great book for letting little ones know what a big space they take up in your life.

Posted in Preschool Reads

Hispanic Heritage Month: nubeOcho picture books

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I love nubeOCHO picture books. I discovered the publisher when I was at the PLA conference last year; I was a children’s librarian in a largely monolingual Spanish-speaking community, with outdated books on the shelves in their language. I was buying books in Spanish that I knew how to search for: Goosebumps, Harry Potter, Percy  Jackson – but I needed to find new books that spoke to the kids and their cultures. I found that publisher in nubeOCHO, who simultaneously publishes Spanish and English language copies of their books that are perfect for my kiddos. I could read a storytime book in English, interjecting some Spanish words where I knew how, and the parents could borrow the Spanish copy to take home and read with their kids. I am forever grateful.

This season, nubeOCHO has a couple of adorable books out – available in English and Spanish – for beginning readers and cuddlers. Enjoy.

The Perfect Animal (El animal perfecto), by Raquel Diaz Reguera, (Sept. 2017, nubeOCHO), $15.95, ISBN: 978-8494633393
Recommended for readers 4-8

The kids at school have to dress up as an animal; Valentina wants to be “the perfect animal”. But what does that mean? Valentina considers several animals: elephants, bears, bats, birds, and more. She notes their strengths and their “curiosities” – noted throughout the book as fun facts, paper-clipped to the pages, written on note paper. So which one is the perfect animal? Why pick just one? There’s vibrant art throughout the book, plus fun facts kids will love (elephant are the only mammals that can’t jump, which makes really good sense). The Perfect Animal is part of nube’s Egalite imprint; publishing stories that emphasize equality and that illustrate the richness of diversity.

A Surprise for Mrs. Tortoise (Una sopresa para tortuga), by Paula Merlan/Illustrated by Sonja Wimmer, (Oct. 2017, nubeOCHO), $16.95, ISBN: 978-84-946333-4-8
Recommended for readers 4-8

Mrs. Tortoise sees her reflection one morning, and it really brings her down. Her shell looks old and worn out, and it’s really making her feel old and sad. Luckily for her, Birdie, her best friend, is there to cheer her up! He bops around to the sky, the flowers, the wind, and clouds to help decorate her  shell and cheer her up, but it seems like everything just makes Mrs. Tortoise feel worse; she loses her temper and snaps at Birdie, but even that doesn’t stop him. When Mrs. Tortoise goes to apologize to Birdie, she discovers that forgiveness and friendship are all that matter (and a little help from the rainbow doesn’t hurt). Washed-out watercolor art splashed across each page spread creates beautiful artwork that readers will gravitate to – especially when Mrs. Tortoise’s shell is covered in flowers! (I see art project at storytime here!) This is a sweet story about friendship and going the extra mile for a friend. A Surprise for Mrs. Tortoise is part of nube’s Somos8 imprint, exploring first sensations and challenges kids meet.

Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Teen

Gork the Teenage Dragon serves up scaly green goodness

Gork the Teenage Dragon, by Gabe Hudson, (July 2017, Knopf), $24.95, ISBN: 9780375413964

Recommended for readers 14+

Gork’s a dragon, but don’t even think about mentioning Smaug to him. He’s not happy at all with the way dragons are portrayed in Earth fiction, and he’s here to set the record straight. So begins the story of Gork: teenage dragon, student at WarWings Academy, orphaned on Earth during his parents’ mating mission and raised by his scientist grandfather, Dr. Terrible.

Starting off on Crown Day – the day dragon and dragonette cadets at the Academy agree to be mating partners – Gork has one goal in mind: to get the luscious Runcita Floop to wear his crown and agree to be his queen. The problem? His nickname is Weak Sauce, his Will to Power ranking is Snacklicious (if you’re a gamer, think of Will to Power as a CON/DEX/overall attractiveness level) and he’s got a bad habit of fainting when he’s scared. If Runcita says yes, she and Gork will go off in his spaceship and find a planet to conquer together. If Gork can’t sea the deal, he’s doomed to be a slave.

Gork has a heck of a day ahead of him: Dean Floop – his intended’s father – hates him; his sadistic grandfather is on the run from the Dean, he’s being hunted down by a group of WarWings cadets that have murder on their minds, and the Trenx, a fellow cadet who had similarly low ratings, has seemingly blossomed overnight. Before the day is out, Gork will have to survive and learn some hard truths about his family. He’d better keep his best friend – a robot dragon named Fribby – by his side.

Gork is an out-there novel. It’s a page-turner, and Gork is an endearing first-person narrator, if a bit single-minded in focus. He’s obsessed with mating, but he is a teenager, after all. He refers a lot to his “scaly green ass” a lot, which gets tedious. Gork’s story uses fantasy to tackle some very real points: bullying, friendship, self-esteem, and falling in love. It’s a much deeper novel than the title “teenage dragon”encompasses; it’s a fantasy, a YA romance, and a coming of age story.