Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Jim Benton is back with a twofer: new Franny K Stein and Attack of the Stuff!

I have a special place in my heart for Jim Benton, and not just because Happy Bunny made me chuckle back in the day. The Franny K. Stein books were my eldest’s first favorite book series, and my Kiddo is discovering his graphic novels now (he LOVED Clyde). My about-to-be-a-high-school-senior (sounds nicer than “the middle child”) always got a kick out of My Dumb Diary, a series my library kids also devour. Mr. Benton’s rep got in touch with me and offered me a copy of his newest graphic novel, Attack of the Stuff, which I’ve read with the Kiddo and am eternally grateful.

Attack of the Stuff, by Jim Benton, (May 2020, Papercutz), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1-5458-0499-5

Ages 7-11

Bill Waddler is a simple duck trying to live his life. He works in a hay store that doesn’t seem to get a lot of customers, and he’s harassed day and night by the stuff that surrounds him in his home: his toilet has aspirations to show biz; his blanket isn’t ready to go to bed when Bill is, and his alarm clock is annoyed at having to get up so early. One day, Bill decides he’s had enough, and heads out to the woods to live a quiet life, just as the rest of the world falls into chaos. The Internet has decided to stop working, and the world needs someone who can communicate with it, and who better than the duck who can talk to stuff? This is Bill’s moment to shine, if only everyone else will take him – and the Internet’s demands – seriously.

This is the kind of surreal comic book storytelling that the kids in my library would love. Jim Benton goes way out there for Attack of the Stuff, but it’s funny in its lunacy! His artwork is immediately recognizable, and so is the humor. It’s bright, fun, and with an enduring sense of snark that keeps kids coming back for more. My kiddo loved it.


Franny K. Stein: Recipe for Disaster, by Jim Benton, (July 2020, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), $15.99, ISBN: 9781534413405

Ages 7-10

Can you believe this is Franny’s ninth adventure? I, for one, am so happy that she’s back with new books: my library kids check the first 8 out all the time, and have asked me when more are coming. Now, I have something to tell them! Franny rescues an old furnace from the trash bin and creates a robot that just wants to make kids happy. To help out the art and music bake sale, she puts the robot to work baking, but the eager to please robot creates THE MOST DELICIOUS MUFFINS ON EARTH. Suddenly, all the kids want to do is eat muffins. Schoolwork, interests, everything is tossed aside. Nothing exists except for the muffins. It’s up to Franny to save the day… but those kids at school can be very persuasive.

There’s so much great humor in this series, and this story is rife with Invasion of the Body Snatchers vibes while poking fun at bake sale culture. Franny and Igor, her canine (ish) assistant, are a hilarious twosome. Black and white illustrations throughout the book give readers a birds-eye view into an innocent fundraiser spinning out of control. A welcome addition to the Franny K. Stein series, I’m happy to recommend Recipe for Disaster to my kiddos.

There are some Franny printables and lesson plans on Teachers Pay Teachers, all at varying prices. I also did a “mad science” search on TpT which yielded some fun freebies, like free mad science clip art and mad scientist crazy hair headbands. Print some, share them, and encourage your kiddos to unleash their inner mad scientist!

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Good for historical fiction readers: Great Escapes

Underground Railroad 1854: Perilous Journey: Inspiring Tales of Courage and Friendship (Great Escapes), by Gare Thompson, (Oct. 2017, Barron’s Educational Series), $7.99, ISBN: 9781438009735

Recommended for readers 8-12

George is a plantation slave who dreams of being free. He’s singled out for abuse by the cruel overseer and threatened with being put on the auction block, like his father was. He can’t bear the thought of being separated from his sister, Ruth, and his mother, so he formulates a plan for the family to escape and seek out Moses, a mysterious woman who helps slaves to freedom. Moses – Harriet Tubman puts them in case of a white teenager, Nathan, who will take them from the deep South to New York, where they hope to find passage to Canada, but it’s not going to be easy. George doesn’t trust Nathan – he doesn’t trust anyone – and the bounty hunters are everywhere, tracking down escaped slaves. The four will have to work together and rely on the kindness of Underground Railroad stations to succeed.

Great Escapes is a fairly new historical fiction series by Barron’s Educational Series. Readers who enjoy the thrill of Lauren Tarshis’ I Survived books will dig into these readalikes, which are a little longer in page length (over 200 pages) and allow for more plot and character development. Stories emphasize working together for change while acknowledging that it’s not always an easy thing to do. Historical figures Harriet Tubman, William Still, and Frederick Douglass make appearances, and interesting facts about the Underground Railroad pop up within the narrative. My favorite? The coded messages communicated through song: songs like “Wade in the Water” told freedom seekers to get off the trail and into the water, so their scent wouldn’t be picked up by dogs. Sections on key terms, phrases used, songs sung, Underground Railroad profiles, and further resources make this a great next step for readers who are ready to take on longer books.

Underground Railroad is the second book in the Great Escapes series, the first being Mount St. Helens 1980: Fiery Eruption! I’ve been plumping up my library’s series fiction collection, and since the kids devoured my I Survived books the second they arrived, I think this will be a smart add to the collection. Like I Survived, readers can pick either Great Escapes book up never having read the other(s); they’re all separate moments in history starring different characters.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Humor, Intermediate

Ella and Owen: Dragon sibling adventures

Ella and Owen: The Cave of AAAAAH! DOOM! (Ella and Owen #1), by Jaden Kent, (March 2017, little bee books), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1499803938

Recommended for ages 6-9

The first book in a fun intermediate series, dragon siblings Ella and Owen have two very different personalities. In their first adventure, bookish Owen is perfectly happy to be home in bed with a book, nursing a cold. More adventurous Ella has different plans: cave exploring! She lures Owen by promising him that there’s a chance to get ogre toenails for his collection. They explore some caves, tangle with an ogre and an evil vegetable wizard, and quite possibly, find a cure for Owen’s cold.

Kids in my library are warming up to this series. If you have Dragonbreath fans, introduce them to Ella and Owen. It’s silly, boogery fun, with black and white illustrations throughout. the second book in the series, Attack of the Stinky Fish Monster, is already available; the third (Knights vs Dragons) is out in May, and the fourth (Evil Pumpkin Pie Fight) is out in July.

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

The Stone Heart takes a deeper look at The Nameless City’s turmoil

stone-heart_1The Stone Heart, by Faith Erin Hicks, (Apr. 2017, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781626721586

Recommended f0r ages 10+

Picking up shortly after the events in The Nameless City, The Stone Heart throws readers right back into the turmoil within the Dao as the General of All Blades seeks to form a Council of Nations that will bring peace to the City. The general’s son is furious at being denied his perceived birthright to rule. Kaidu, meanwhile, believes he’s discovered a text that describes how to create a devastating weapon used by the City’s founders. Kept in the archives by the Stone Heart monks – where his friend Rat lives – Kaidu is torn between betraying his friend and bringing the solution to his father’s attention, should war break out.

The Stone Heart is one of those sequels that shines just as brightly as the original story. We get more character development, deeper story progression, and an ending that left me with clenched fists, waiting for the next chapter in this series. Kaidu’s father and the General of All Blades are tired warriors who just want peace in their time, and both struggle with their relationships to their sons. Where Kaidu’s frustration lies with an absentee father, Erzi, the general’s son, has been raised in a foreign land, with entitled expectations, and finds his father stripping away everything he’s ever known. Rat and Mura are two street urchins, both cared for by the Stone Heart monks at some point in their lives, but have become two very different people. These character parallels add so much more to the overall story and really invest readers. Even seemingly peripheral characters, like Rat’s friends from the City, enrich the overall story and illustrate how different Kaidu’s life has been thus far.


The Stone Heart is one of the first must-read books of 2017. Add it to your graphic novel collections and booktalk this series hard. Get your copies of Amulet, Avatar, and Legend of Korra back out on display shelves for this one. An author note provides background on the author’s influences, and a lovely shout-out to libraries. There’s also a great sketchbook at the end.

Check out Faith Erin Hicks’ author webpage for info, including interviews, webcomics, and art.




Posted in Toddler Reads

Toddler fun with Little Billy-Bob and friends

I’ve enjoyed Pauline Oud’s board books for little ones; she always has such adorable faces on her cartoony toddlers. Clavis Books has just released two more in her Little Billy-Bob series – numbers 3 and 4, I believe – and they’re great for toddlers and their favorite grownups to snuggle up and read together.

billybobeatsLittle Billy-Bob Eats It All Up (Nov. 2016, $12.95, 978-1605372969) stars Little Billy-Bob, in his ever-present footie pajama set and animal eared-hood, and his friend, Fifi, similarly dressed. The two friends are playing together when their tummies start rumbling: it’s time to eat! Together, the two eat a healthy lunch and notice their happy bellies fill up.

Little Billy-Bob goes through his bedtime ritual: brushing his teeth, climbing out of his bed to say goodnight to the moon, his pets, and his toys in Good Night, Little Billy-Bob (Nov. 2016, $12.95, 978-1605372952).

Toddlers will see themselves in Little Billy-Bob (and Fifi!) as they go through rituals that toddlers are beginning to master on their own: feeding themselves; drinking water from a cup; brushing teeth, and getting ready for bed. Each book begins with the same rhyme, opposite Little Billy-Bob reading his own book, and invites readers to curl up in a lap and enjoy reading and cuddle time. Both books also offer questions throughout the book, helping readers further engage their little ones: Can you brush your teeth just like little Billy-Bob? Do you see the moon, too? Do you see their empty tummies too Do you think they should eat something? These questions are fun springboards for questions of your own; I like to use questions that have kids incorporate their own experiences. For instance, “Remember when your belly growled this morning? Did you eat breakfast when your tummy grumbled?”

Each story ends with a counting summary of the story subject: “One slice of toast and you will grow; two slices of apple and pear. What else do you like?”

These aren’t quite board books, but the covers are board and the heavy stock pages will stand up to multiple readings. The art is cartoony and fun, and it’s nice to see some diversity with Fifi, who is a child of color. Illustrations are pastel and calming, boldly outlined for definition, against pastel backgrounds. These are my first experience with the Billy-Bob books, but I do love Pauline Oud’s artwork and highly recommend her other series, Ian, Lily and Milo, and Piggy. Check out her website for more about the books, and see more books from Clavis’ Fall lineup right here.  These are sweet little books about toddler daily routines that little ones will enjoy – and they invite you to cuddle up and read, which is my personal mission, so they’re a win for me.

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

Ghosts roam The Shadow House… but who are they?

shadow-house_coverThe Gathering (Shadow House #1), by Dan Poblocki, (Aug. 2016, Scholastic Press), $12.99, ISBN: 9780545925501

Recommended for ages 8-12

Poppy is pretty much an orphan, abandoned as a baby and raised in a group home, where she’s known as “Crazy Poppy” because of the ghostly friend that lives in her mirror and who leaves her little gifts. She receives a letter from a long lost relative, thrilled to have found her, and invites her to live with her at Larkspur Estate.

Marcus is a musical prodigy who always hears music in his head. He receives a full scholarship to the Larkspur Academy of Music and can’t wait to be around other musicians.

Azumi is lost without her sister, who disappeared into a Japanese forest on a family trip. She receives word that she’s been accepted to the prestigious Larkspur Academy, where she can start over in a place where no one knows her.

Dash and Dylan are twin brothers, child stars who have left their show to go on to bigger and better things. They’re offered the chance to star in a horror movie to be filmed at a school… Larkspur Academy.

When the tweens all arrive at Larkspur, they realize that something is wrong. No one is there to greet them or explain what’s going on. Children wearing ghostly masks show up and try to attack them. What is really going on in the Shadow House?

This first book in a new middle grade horror series is a lot of fun, with a lot of creepiness that kids will love. If they’re ready for a little more than Goosebumps, but not old enough yet for Madeline Roux’s Asylum books, this is the book to give them. It’s a fast-paced read, switching between the points of view of the main characters (one of whom is hiding a whopper of a secret) and revealing little bits of information at a time. The ending left me a little wanting, but I’m hoping that book two, due in December, will clear the confusion up.

Scholastic is going all out with this series. There’s a Shadow House website with links to a healthy print excerpt, an audio excerpt, and an app that lets users explore the Shadow House. I haven’t downloaded it, but I may snag my son’s iPad (my phone is almost out of memory) and try it out. If you use it, comment here and let me know!

If you have horror fans, add this one to your list. I’ll booktalk this with the Haunted Mansion and Haunted Museum series.


Posted in Adventure, Animal Fiction, Fiction, Humor, Intermediate

Geronimo Stilton introduces… Micekings!

stiltonAttack of the Dragons (Geronimo Stilton: Micekings #1), by Geronimo Stilton, (Mar. 2016, Scholastic), $7.99, ISBN: 9780545872386

Recommended for ages 7-10

Our favorite mouse reporter is back with another new series! Micekings takes place in the frozen north village of Mouseborg, where Geronimo Stiltonord, advisor to the Miceking chief; his sister, Thea, a horse trainer; and cousin, Trap, an inventor of wacky things, join leader Sven the Shouter and his team as they go in search of mint to cure the village’s best cook. The only problem is, the cure lies in dragon territory!

Geronimo Stilton is one of those can’t-miss series. The kids love them. I’ve got Geronimo’s and Thea’s graphic novels; I’ve got the Cavemice, I’ve got Creepella von Cacklefur, and now, I’ll have Micekings. They’re fun adventure stories that introduce new vocabulary and emphasize words to keep readers interested and thinking. The colorful illustrations get readers’ attention and break up the books into manageable portions for readers who are just graduating to longer chapter books. If you haven’t introduced the kids in your life to Geronimo Stilton, it’s time.

There’s a companion Geronimo Stilton website where kids can “mousify” their photos, write an article for The Rodent’s Gazette (Geronimo’s employer), sing along with Geronimo, and play some online games.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Realistic Fiction

Meet Shelter Pet Squad’s newest addition, Paloma!

The Shelter Pet Squad are a group of kids who volunteer at the local pet shelter, taking care of the animals and helping Ms. Kim and Ms. Flores, who run the shelter, with adoptions. In the latest book in the series, the gang meet a group of new puppies referred to as “satos” – mutts or mixed breed dogs – found in Puerto Rico. Suzannah, one of the squad kids, falls in love with Paloma, one of the new satos who was found, with her siblings, in an old tire. Suzannah doesn’t have any pets, because her building won’t allow it – but she really loves Paloma, and is torn between wanting her to go to a good home, and staying at the shelter just a little longer so she can have more time with her.

shelter pet squad

Shelter Pet Squad #3: Paloma, by Cynthia Lord (Jan. 2016, Scholastic), $5.99, ISBN: 9780545636049

Recommended for ages 7-10

This is my first foray into the Shelter Pet Squad series, and I really enjoyed it. There are diverse characters, both male and female, to attract both boys and girls who love animals – and what kid doesn’t love a book about animals? The kids are ordinary kids who help at their local pet shelter – kids can identify with them, and be inspired to do something to help at home. The characters are friendly, polite, and enthusiastic about what they do, and they react like real kids to situations; witness, Suzannah’s desire to adopt Paloma. She knows she can’t bring her home because her building doesn’t allow pets, so she doesn’t want her adopted right away – she wants to spend more time with her! And when Paloma isn’t adopted right away, Suzannah feels guilty. It’s an honest, human reaction that kids will recognize and appreciate.

There’s some great, subtle instruction in here about taking care of pets, too. The kids learn how to approach a dog, for instance (let it smell your upturned palm, don’t go to pet it right away); they learn to make toys for mice (fill a wiffle ball with paper and seeds that they can discover on their own), and even make no-sew pillows for the new puppies to sleep on. Instructions for the pillow craft are included at the end of the book, and that makes for a fun craft time at school, the library, or home. Kids will also love the Erin McGuire’s black and white illustrations of the kids and the pets.

Series like these always do well at my libraries. There are so many of them, it’s hard for me to keep up with them all! I think I’ll be ordering Shelter Pet Squad – it’s kids helping animals, helping each other, and having fun. What more can you ask out of a series?

Cynthia Lord is the Newbery Honor award-winning author of Rules. I love her picture book, Hot Rod Hamster, and so do the kids I read it with during storytime. Her author website has materials and resources for many of her books, and brief excerpts for the previous two Shelter Pet Squad books. The first book in the series, Jelly Bean, was named one of the 2014 ABC Best Books for Children list by American Booksellers Association.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Middle School

Spotlight on: Pippa Morgan’s Diary!

cover64902-mediumPippa Morgan’s Diary, by Annie Kelsey (December 1, 2015; Sourcebooks Jabberwocky)

Hardcover ISBN 9781492623281

Price: $12.99

Pippa is beside herself when her BFF moves to Scotland. TO SCOTLAND! In a move of self-preservation, she tries to make a new friend when Catie Brown, one of the most popular girls in school, sits next to her in class. Catie Brown has a rotating list of people who get to sit next to her at lunch every day! Pippa discovers that she and Catie both love the talent reality show, The Voice Factor, and in a desperate bid for something to get Catie’s attention, Pippa tells her she auditioned for the show. AND blew the judges away. She and Catie become BFFs, but Catie’s dying to hear Pippa sing – so much that she signed her up for the school talent show. And Pippa couldn’t catch a tune if she was carrying a barrel.

Pippa Morgan’s Diary is perfect for readers who love Jim Benton’s My Dumb Diary, Rachael Renee Russell’s Dork Diaries, and Marissa Moss’ Amelia’s Notebook series. Pippa gets herself into hilarious trouble with her overactive imagination, but you have to appreciate her creativity – and her honesty. This is a fun start to a new series, and the kids in my library LOVE this diary/journal fiction trend.

Praise for Pippa Morgan’s Dairy

“With its approachable style and friendly language, this is sure to please both older fans of Rebecca Elliott’s “Owl Diaries” (Scholastic) and reluctant readers alike.” –School Library Journal

“Likable characters in humorous situations make for a promising series opener.” –Kirkus

“A charming story about the lengths you can go to win someone over, this is a great addition to the perennially popular illustrated-journal trend in middle-grade fiction. Although the character-created sketches can draw Wimpy Kid comparisons, the tone more closely matches Marissa Moss’ Amelia’s Notebook (1995)… the perfect quick read for any student with starry-eyed aspirations and a big imagination.”- Booklist


Sometimes a little white lie can land you in a whole lot of trouble…

Pippa’s new BFF Catie Brown is perfect. So perfect, that Pippa tells her a teeny tiny lie—that she once auditioned for Voice Factor—to impress her. And it works. It works so well, in fact, that Catie enters Pippa into the school talent show.

The only problem? Pippa can’t sing. Not at all. In fact, her singing is so bad it scares the neighbors. But if she doesn’t participate in the talent show, Catie will know she lied. But if she does participate, the whole school will find out what a horrible singer she is…including Catie!

It’s up to Pippa to put an end to this pesky problem!

Goodreads Link:

Buy Links:



Books A Million-



About the Author:

Annie Kelsey is a pseudonym for a well-known children’s book author.

Excerpt from Pippa Morgan’s Diary





I can still smell the stink of the moving van. Rachel and I just hugged and cried as they loaded her stuff on. Then I watched like a big-eyed kid who’d just lost her puppy while Rachel waved out of the window of her parents’ car.


Scotland is, like, a gazillion miles away.

Rachel said Nothing Would Change Really. *rolls eyes* She said, We’ll still be best friends even though I’m so far away. I love Rachel but sometimes she can be one fry short of a Happy Meal.

Of course we’ll be best friends. But it’s not the same. I can only talk to her on the phone. I don’t get to see her every day.

We can NEVER AGAIN dress up in my dad’s extra-high-visibility cycling gear and go and stand under the fluorescent lights in the supermarket and see how many shoppers we can dazzle. The frozen-food section was best because the freezers had this cold blue glow that turned us practically luminous. We’d offer to help shoppers reach for fish sticks or ice cream and try not to giggle when they’d half-close their eyes like they were staring into the sun.

We loved dressing up. Last summer, we pretended we were characters from The Lady of Morpeth Abbey—which was our favorite TV show EVER. It was soooo romantic and all the characters wore beautiful old-fashioned clothes. Rachel and I raided every thrift store in town until we’d made the BEST costumes. Rachel dressed as Mr. Hunderbentleman (buckle-y shoes and a frilly shirt and a big hat and everything) and I wore ten big skirts on top of each other and put my hair in a bun so I looked like Lady Monteith, and we spent the whole day talking like our characters.

RACHEL: Lady Monteith, may I bring you something from my morning stroll as a token of my admiration?

ME: I would be eternally grateful if you brought me a dozen roses, Mr. Hunderbentleman, for my pretty nose needs something delicate to smell.

RACHEL: (giggling) My dear lady! Why don’t you stroll with me and we may smell the roses together?

ME: Oh, Mr. Hunderbentleman! I am so lucky to know such a kind gentleman as you.

And we did it ALL day. Mom and Dad thought it was really funny (Mom and Dad were still married then) and it was the best day ever. Then Mom told us to go and get changed because my big skirts kept sweeping things off her knickknack shelf and Rachel had to go home for dinner.

I wonder what Rachel’s having for dinner tonight? I could have the same thing and it’d be like we were having dinner together like we used to when Rachel’s mom went to yoga.

But I can’t even text her to ask because she’s living on the side of a mountain in the middle of NOWHERE.









Enter a Rafflecopter giveaway to win a copy of Pippa Morgan’s Diary (U.S. & Canada only)!



Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Are you prepared to be Fablehaven’s newest Caretaker?

caretakersguideThe Caretaker’s Guide to Fablehaven, by Brandon Mull (Oct. 2015, Shadow Mountain Publishing), $24.99, ISBN: 9781629720913

Recommended for ages 8-12

Brandon Mull’s Fablehaven series is one of those series I can’t keep on the shelves. My middle graders love these books; they’re constantly checked out. When I mentioned to a few of my regulars that there’s going to be a new Fablehaven series coming out next year, there was chaos, especially when I had to explain that no, I couldn’t put the books on reserve for them now.

But I can get them this newest book that links the new Fablehaven series with the existing: The Caretaker’s Guide to Fablehaven is an exhaustive, beautiful book that offers pictures and descriptions of every artifact, creature, demon, dragon, location, and wizard in Fablehaven, as well as details on other magical preserves. Quotes from Fablehaven characters, particularly Grandpa Sorensen, and a comprehensive index rounds out this must-have for series fans.

If the kiddos in your life or library haven’t discovered Fablehaven yet, no worries: this book is a perfect companion for newcomers to the series, who could use a guide to flip through and refer to places and creatures he or she discovers along the way. The guide is comprehensive and includes clues to artifacts and creatures they’ll discover in the new Fablehaven series, Dragonwatch – and since the book isn’t due out until Fall 2016, it serves as a sweet tease to get readers excited about the book. (Reader’s Advisory tip: steer them toward Brandon Mull’s Spirit Animals series in the meantime.)

I enjoyed the Caretaker’s Guide – I’m a fan of these resources, because it makes introducing the series easier on newbies, who may be a little cowed by starting an established series like Fablehaven. The bite-sized descriptions and illustrations are perfect for quick look-ups, or getting someone acquainted with the world they’re about to enter.

There’s a great Fablehaven Preserve online, offering games and downloads for visitors. Brandon Mull’s author page also has a great Educators/Parents section with videos, educator guides, and book recommendations from Mr. Mull.

Introduce your fantasy lovers to this series! Shadow Mountain prides themselves on exciting, positive content that will appeal to your fantasy fans and keep your more conservative parents happy. I’ve been really happy with the books I’ve read coming out of Shadow Mountain thus far.