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 Animal Fiction, picture books, Preschool Reads

Ready… Set… Go! The Big Race is on!

The Big Race, by David Barrow, (Sept. 2019, Kane Miller), $12.99, ISBN: 9781610678803

Ages 4-7

The Big Race is a very tough race in which only the fastest, biggest, and strongest animals participate. So when little Aardvark decides she’s going to sign up to compete, she gets laughed at. Her competitors – a lion, cheetah, buffalo, and crocodile – all laugh at her, and tell her she’ll never finish, but she will defy them all. She’s not competing to win; she’s competing to have fun. The story shows each of the bigger, stronger animals pushing themselves to get to the next level in this triathalon-type race, but Aardvark? She’s pushing herself, and giggling, laughing, and enjoying the journey. Aardvark may not be the biggest, strongest, or fastest, but she has enough heart to power her through the finish line.

Originally published in the UK in 2018, The Big Race is all about embracing the journey rather than the destination, listening to the inner voice that tells you “I can!”, and doing the thing that may be a little overwhelming. It’s about self-empowerment and self-reliance. The other animals jeer at Aardvark, but they’re the ones arguing over the grand prize while Aardvark stands, surrounded by her friends, and receives her medal for finishing. It’s a sweet story about challenging oneself, and testing one’s limits.

The mottled artwork is bright, and the contrast between tiny Aardvark and her hulking co-competitors makes for a big visual. Remind kids to be present, and to adjust expectations once in a while.

 

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

The Blue Songbird discovers her song

The Blue Songbird, by Vern Kousky, (Apr. 2017, Running Press Kids), $22.49, ISBN: 9780762460663

Recommended for readers 4-8

A young blue songbird wishes that she could sing like her sisters. She wants to sing along with them, but she can’t seem to sing like they do. Her mother encourages her to go and find a special song that only she can sing, and the little bird sets off in search of her special song. She meets other birds and experiences the world, only to discover that, upon reaching home again, her song was inside of her all along.

The sweet story of self-awareness also shows readers that your experiences help make you who you are. The songbird’s song is influenced by her travels and who she met; the music was inside of her all along, but venturing out – and returning home – helped shape the music into a song.

The watercolor artwork is beautiful to look at. The colors are soft and the depiction of the music, as a spray of notes and color, is lovely and stirring. The text encourages kids to explore their world, even if, at a young age, that world is their backyards, their playgrounds, their friends’ homes. At the same time, it reassures kids that they can always return home.

There are so many ways to enjoy and extend the lessons put forth in this story. The little birds can be recreated with thumbprint art. Have little readers make their own songbird families by using watercolor paint, dipping their thumbs into a color, and giving their own songbirds adventures in finding their songs. Encourage kids to go on scavenger hunts – I love this idea for scavenger hunt bags and plan to go on an adventure with my little guy once this crazy NYC weather lets up – to explore the world around them.

Good readalikes for this book include A Song for Papa Crow, by Marit Menzin, and the classic Over in the Meadow. Over the Meadow also makes a good singalong and flannel play.

Vern Kousky is an adjunct professor of English for Touro College and the author of the award-winning book, Otto the Owl Who Loved Poetry. You can see more of his artwork, including some interior art from The Blue Songbird, at his website.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads, Realistic Fiction

What is it that Lou can’t do?

louThe Thing Lou Couldn’t Do, by Ashley Spires, (May 2017, Kids Can Press), $17.95, ISBN: 9781771387279

Recommended for ages 3-7

Lou and her friends are adventurers! They run faster than airplanes, build mighty fortresses, and rescue wild animals. One day, though, Lou’s friends decide to make a nearby tree the location of their pirate ship, and Lou balks. She’s never climbed a tree before. She likes her adventures to be down, on the ground. Her friends scurry up the tree, but Lou’s not going. What will it take for Lou to get up that tree?

Kids will recognize themselves in Lou, whose got a vibrant imagination, a great group of friends, and a healthy fear of a climbing a tree, which – let’s be honest – can be a pretty scary thing. Like most kids, Lou tries to divert her friends’ attention by suggesting “not-up-a-tree games” and stalling (changing her shoes, claiming an injury, spotting an asteroid heading right for them). With her friends’ encouragement, Lou does attempt that climb – and when she doesn’t make it, her friends are right there for her, heading for a playground to continue their game. Is Lou defeated? Nope. She’s going to try again, maybe even tomorrow. Showing a child overcome her fear and her self-reliance when she doesn’t succeed the first time sends a positive message to kids who may struggle with anxiety over new situations; surrounding her main character with supportive friends sends a message to all kids, to support one another and to compromise.

The digital art is fun and will appeal to all kids; the group of friends is diverse and no one is relegated to “girl” or “boy” roles here – they’re all pirates, race car drivers, or deep sea divers. They’re kids, playing together, like kids do.

I loved Ashley Spires’ award-winning book, The Most Magnificent Thing, and her Binky the Space Cat series has been a winner at any library I’ve worked at. I love her positive messages of self-reliance and the power of imagination, and I can’t wait to get this book on the shelves next to my other Spires books. A great book for elementary collections and kids who are learning that it’s okay to be scared sometimes.

Check out Ashley Spires’ website for more of her artwork and information about her books.

Posted in Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Not just the flu: Pandemic

pandemicPandemic, by Yvonne Ventresca, (July 2016, Sky Pony Press), $9.99, ISBN: 9781510703902

Recommended for ages 12+

This is the paperback release of the 2015 SCBWI Crystal Kite Winner for the Atlantic region.

Liliana used to be an outgoing, top student. Until the whole thing with Mr. B happened; now, she’s withdrawn, her grades have plummeted, and her outlook has changed from a glass half full to the glass being smashed on the floor. Only a few people know what happened, and she’s lost some friends over it, but Lil has bigger problems right now: there’s a fast-spreading flu going through her New Jersey town, and friends and neighbors are getting really sick. Her medical journalist father is in Delaware covering the disease’s early stages, and her mother, on business in Hong Kong, is unable to get a flight back home when everything hits. Lil is on her own, and she’s terrified. As the disease marches through her world, she’s got to reach deep down inside herself and become the person she once was to survive.

Pandemic is a good read. It moves fast, has good characters, and puts them in a scary situation that’s all too real for a lot of us watching the news these days. Lil is on a journey without realizing it. Readers don’t know her before the incident with a teacher, but we see her go from a withdrawn, depressed teen to a strong young woman who can think, organize, and act to keep herself and the people around her as safe as she can, all while facing terrifying odds. I love a good, strong heroine, and was really appreciative that Yvonne Ventresca gives readers a take-charge main character who’s flawed but recognizes the need to push forward.

If you know readers who love a good plague story (minus zombies here), add this one to your shelves. For readers who want the gripping lead-up to dystopia, but minus the government-run aftermath.

Pair this with your cataclysm books: Chris Weitz’s The Young World series, Em Garner’s Contaminated books, and Lex Thomas’ Quarantine series are some good starts (and make Pandemic look like everyone’s getting off easy).

Edited to add: Holy cow, I sent this to publish too soon. Yvonne Ventresca’s author page has links to a Pandemic Pinterest board and an educator’s guide. Make sure to check it out!

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

Blog Tour: Jeannie Waudby’s One of Us

In the midst of political and ideological conflict, things are rarely as black and white as they appear to be. This is especially true now, in our post 9/11-society – a society that Jeannie Waudby’s One of Us taps into for her story.

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“…how can you face a danger you can’t see? A person who looks like any other person, but who secretly wants to kill you and everyone like you?”

After a terrorist attack during uprising called The Strife orphaned her at the age of two, K has been alone. She was raised by her grandmother until she, too, died when K was 10, and now, at 15, is a ward of the state, living in a halfway house and flunking out of school. She survives a bomb blast – another terrorist attack, like the one that killed her parents – and is saved by Oskar, whom she thinks is a cop. She learns that The Brotherhood, an insurgent group that lives and moves among her society, is behind the blast. Oskar recruits K as an informant. Her mission is to infiltrate The Brotherhood and report back to Oskar and his people. It should be that easy.

It’s never that easy. As K lives among a group of Brotherhood students, she begins to question everything she’s been brought up to believe and discovers that every side has its own secrets. What is she willing to do to keep her new friends safe?

One of Us isn’t afraid to show readers that things aren’t always what they seem. The good guys aren’t always good, the bad guys aren’t always bad, and people will use other people as pawns in a game to get what they want, no matter who gets hurt in the process. In a day and age where we tend to make snap judgements about groups of people based on ideology, religion, or appearance, One of Us is essential reading that reminds us – demands, in fact – that we think before we act.

The characters are solidly constructed and likable, the situations they’re put in tense and real. It’s a gripping read from start to finish, and the plot twists left me with clenched fists and jaw until I finished the book. This one’s going on the shelves at my library, and I’m giving my copy to my teenage son tonight. Don’t miss this book – it’s an opportunity to open up some incredible conversations with the teens and young adults in your life.

Don’t miss your chance to win your own copy of One of Us! Enter a Rafflecopter giveaway from Running Press now!

Book Info: One of Us, by Jeannie Waudby (Oct. 2015, Running Press Teens), $16.95, ISBN: 978-0-7624-5799-1

Recommended for ages 13+