Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

The Monsters of Rookhaven is all about Family

The Monsters of Rookhaven, by Pádraig Kenny/Illustrated by Edward Bettison, (Sept. 2021, Henry Holt), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250623942

Ages 10-14

Mirabelle loves her very unique family: there’s Uncle Bertram, who can transform into a grizzy bear, and Aunt Eliza, entirely made up of spiders. There are the twins, Dotty and Daisy, who can be a little cruel, and Odd, who travels through portals. There’s Gideon, the newest addition to the family, and the mysterious Piglet; and there’s Uncle Enoch, who presides over the group. They have an agreement with the English village that separates them by way of a magical border: they don’t cross the border and eat the townsfolk, and the village keeps them fed and safe from the outside world. But Jem and Tom, two orphaned siblings, discover a tear in the magic and find their way into Rookhaven, with consequences for everyone on both sides of the border.

This book is gorgeous; beautifully macabre and perfect for kids who loved Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. The narration moves swiftly along but is never rushed; it’s deliberate and takes its time creating the world of Rookhaven and the post-War English countryside; we meet a group of people devastated by war and the grief and loss it brings, making them susceptible to the worst type of manipulation. We meet another group of beings, specially gifted but assumed terrible, also suffering from grief and loss, with the added confusion of having two very human children stumble into their secure world and turn things upside down. Pádraig Kenny masterfully brings these elements together with dark humor and gentle moments, tension and terror mixed with wonder and pain. Edward Bettison’s blackwork illustrations add the perfect moodiness to the story. An excellent choice for book groups

The Monsters of Rookhaven is out in hardcover now and will be released in paperback this September, to coincide with the hardcover release of the next Rookhaven book, The Shadows of Rookhaven.

The Monsters of Rookhaven has a starred review from Booklist.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Blog Tour: Before the World Wakes, by Estelle Laure

Remember those mornings when you were a kid, when you were awake before everyone else woke up and it felt like you were the only person in the world? That spirit of magic and anticipation is the heart of Estelle Laure and Paola Zakimi’s Before the World Wakes.

Before the World Wakes, by Estelle Laure/Illustrated by Paola Zakimi,
(April 2022, Two Lions), $17.99, ISBN: 9781542028837

Ages 4-7

Two siblings awaken in the wee hours of the morning and explore the world around them, enjoying each other’s company. It’s the best time of day: it’s not too bright; there’s not a lot of noise; they aren’t rushing to be anywhere. Estelle Laure’s lyrical prose evokes the best childhood memories and makes them available to a new audience, brought to life by Paola Zakimi’s gentle watercolor, pencil, and gouache illustrations. Phrases like, “The stars say good morning at the same time / they say good night, / and we watch the moon pull them home, / as night and day hold hands” beautifully capture the gentle time before the hectic rush of the day begins; the spread brings the words together by illustrating a waking sky, moving from midnight blue to soft blue, stars and moon still twinkling in the sky, with a pink and yellow dawn moving in from the east and bringing secrets of the day with it: flowers perking up to greet the sun, and snails creeping out to snack on morning dew. Perspectives shift from close-up portraits of the children watching the world awaken around them, moving out to glimpse them dancing in their blanket capes, to their toes squishing into the “wet grass that is cold but not too cold”. Before the World Wakes is a joyful celebration of childhood, of exploration, and of the anticipation of a new day.

A great sensory storytime read aloud, inviting kids to talk about how they “feel” their days begin: the warmth of a blanket versus the shiver of cold air when they emerge from their blankets; the feel of a floor – grass or otherwise! – under their feet, the sounds of the morning, from the birds outside to the chatter in their homes as everyone starts their day.

“The poetic text and charming pictures celebrate a special time and universal feelings” – Booklist

Estelle Laure is the author of six young adult novels, including This Raging Light, Mayhem, Remember Me, and the City of Villains series, and the picture book The Perfect Pet for You, illustrated by Amy Hevron. She lives with her family in New Mexico, where you can often find her walking the dogs and watching the sun rise before the world wakes. For more about Estelle, visit www.estellelaure.com or on Instagram: @estellelaurewrites

Paola Zakimi is the illustrator of Secrets I Know by Kallie George, Teddy & Co. by Cynthia Voigt, The Christmas Tree Who Loved Trains by Annie Silvestro, and Ruby’s Sword by Jacqueline Viessid. She is also a doll maker and fine artist and lives in Argentina. Her favorite part of the early morning is listening to the buzz of the bees while the sun comes out all bright and beautiful. You can learn more about her at www.paolazakimi.com or Instagram: @paolazakimi
Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Brave Enough confronts monsters… and humans!

Brave Enough, by Rob Justus, (Feb. 2022, Page Street Kids), $17.99, ISBN: 9781645673491

Ages 4-8

Little Brother sees monsters everywhere, and would rather stay inside and read about them – hey, forewarned is forearmed! – but Big Sister thinks monsters are just “a bunch of phoney-baloney fantasy make-believe”! She’s determined to teach Little Brother how to be brave enough… until that moment when they discover an honest-to-goodness MONSTER! Luckily for Big Sister, Little Brother has done his reading and knows how to handle monsters (that are just as scared of humans). With some stomping and stamping, and some clapping and snapping, everything is going to be just fine. Lively and bright illustrations pair with upbeat, everyday conversational text to make this a fun readaloud. Illustrations bring the lighter side of the story to light as Big Sister tries to get a rise out of her brother, putting him in a bright yellow cape (to match her flashy yellow boots!) and infuse him with confidence; the book titles also clue readers in to the Monster’s own fear of humans, with titles like “Humans and Loud Noises”, “What’s with Pants?”, and “Bumps in the Day”; mirroring Little Brother’s monster-related reading. The characters have exaggerated facial expressions so there’s no question as to how to read this story: with as much fun as you can muster! The moral of the story: understanding crosses barriers: even between monsters and humans (but maybe not vampires). Pair this one with Ed and Rebecca Emberley’s If You’re a Monster and You Know It for musical fun.

Visit author Rob Justus’s webpage for more of his illustration work.

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

The Great TBR Read-Down: Carry Me Home, by Janet Fox

Carry Me Home, by Janet Fox, (Aug. 2021, Simon & Schuster), $17.99, ISBN: 9781534485082

Ages 8-12

Twelve year-old Lulu and her younger sister, third grader Serena, live in their car with their father. It’s not so bad; the Suburban has a big back seat, the showers in the RV park aren’t too far away, and the food pantry is near enough to get their food to keep in the car. It’ll be okay. Daddy tells the girls it will get better, and they hope it will, until the morning when the girls wake up and their father is gone. Lulu, afraid and distrustful of adults, keeps the girls’ father’s disappearance a secret – he’s done this before, right after their mother died – and tries to keep their RV park bill paid, get food from the pantry, and navigate both her and Serena’s school schedules, hoping upon hope that no one will discover their secret and separate the sisters. The weather in Montana is getting cold – much colder than their home in Texas – and the stress of keeping up appearances and being hungry and cold is starting to wear on Lulu. Told in the first person from Lulu’s point of view, and moving between past and present, Carry Me Home has characters that instantly feel real, with heartbreaking moments and the incredible strength exhibited by each character. It’s a story of friendship and finding home as much as it is a story of grief, loss, and poverty. A reminder that we never know what any given person is dealing with in a given moment, Carry Me Home is a book for readers who love realistic fiction. A side subplot links to Eleanor Coerr’s Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, and author Janet Fox’s author webpage includes downloadable instructions on folding paper cranes, a curriculum guide, and other resources.

Display and booktalk with readalikes like Katherine Applegate’s Crenshaw and Melissa Sarno’s Just Under the Clouds.

Posted in picture books

Blog Tour and Giveaway: Dancing With Daddy

Inspired by her daughter, Elsie, author Anitra Rowe Schulte created a lovely story about a girl’s night out with Daddy in her first picture book, Dancing With Daddy.

Dancing With Daddy, by Anitra Rowe Schulte/Illustrated by Ziyue Chen,
(Dec. 2021, Two Lions), $17.99, ISBN: 9781542007191

Ages 4-7

Elsie is a little girl who can’t wait for her first father-daughter dance, and really hopes the weather holds out so she doesn’t miss it! She’s got the perfect dress and matching headband, and she and her sisters have practiced dance moves. Elsie sways in her wheelchair, and her sisters twirl her around, until she’s ready! The snow may come, but that won’t stop Elsie, her sisters, and their daddy from dancing the night away!

Inspired by her daughter, who has Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome (WHS), Dancing With Daddy combines external narration with internal dialogue, giving us a glimpse into Elsie’s world as she waits for the big dance to arrive. Elsie’s thoughts are italicized and colorful fonts to set them apart from narration. Her sisters are supportive and excited, including her in all their dance-planning activities; they coo and squeal over her dress, and help her with dance moves by twirling her around in her chair. Soft colors and gentle illustration create a comfortable, warm family setting; when Elsie and her Daddy dance together, the world disappears around them, and the spread becomes the two, Elsie in her Daddy’s arms, as he sways and swings with her against a black background with glittering lights around them. Endpapers celebrate this moment, showcasing Dad and Elsie dancing together against a glittering background of navy blue. The story also illustrates how Elsie communicates with her family using a special communication book, with pictures and words she points to in order to give voice to her thoughts. A good book to add to your inclusive lists.

Visit Anitra Rowe Schulte’s author page for more information about her book, her journalism, and her school visits.

★“Refreshingly, Elsie’s disability is seamlessly presented as simply another aspect of family life…As she swings and sways in her father’s arms, her forehead against his, their love is palpable; Chen’s illustrations fairly glow with affection…A heartwarming portrayal of a family embracing disability.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“[Anitra] Rowe Schulte uses accessible, rhythmic language…conveying Elsie’s thoughts in pink- and red-colored text. Light-filled digital illustrations by [Ziyue] Chen make use of differing angles and dynamic shots, emphasizing the love the family has for one another.” Publishers Weekly

“This sweet story is a great addition to any diverse and inclusive library.” ―TODAY

Anitra Rowe Schulte has worked as a journalist for The Kansas City Star and the Sun-Times News Group, as a staff writer for Chicago Public Schools, and as a publicist. She is the mother of three beautiful girls, one of whom has Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome and is the inspiration for Elsie in this book. She lives in the Chicago area, and this is her first picture book. Learn more about her at www.anitraroweschulte.com and follow her at @anitraschulte on Twitter.

Ziyue Chen is the Deaf illustrator of a number of children’s books, including Mela and the Elephant by Dow Phumiruk, How Women Won the Vote by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, and Rocket-Bye Baby: A Spaceflight Lullaby by Danna Smith. She lives with her loved ones in Singapore. Find out more at www.ziyuechen.com or follow her @ziyuechen on Instagram.

 

One lucky winner will receive a copy of Dancing With Daddy. Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway! If you’ve won in the last six months, please give other folx a chance and don’t enter this one. U.S. addresses and no P.O. Boxes, please!

 

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

Anne Ursu’s The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy is brilliant!

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy, by Anne Ursu, (Oct. 2021, Walden Pond Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9780062275127

Ages 9-13

Anne Ursu is an undisputed champion of kidlit fantasy. I’ve devoured The Real Boy and Breadcrumbs and am in awe of how she creates these incredible worlds with characters that are so realistic, so well-written, that looking up and realizing I’m still in my living room, dog across my legs, with a book in my lap, can be a little jarring. Her latest story, The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy, is kidlist feminist fantasy at its best. Taking place in a fantasy world and time, Marya Lupu is a girl living in a kingdom under attack from an army called The Dread. Her parents are straight-up awful; they dote on her brother, Luka, because in this world, the young men are sent into service as sorcerers to fight the dread while, if they’re lucky, the girls and families get to live off the sorcerer’s reputation. This sets the siblings up against each other, which never ends well: sure enough, on the day Luka is to be evaluated by the sorcerers for his skill, chaos ensues and it leads right back to Marya. The next day, a letter from a school called the Dragmoir Academy shows up for Marya: it’s a school for wayward girls, and her parents can’t pack her off quickly enough.  What she discovers at the Academy, though, are a group of young women who are far more than just a bunch of “troubled” young women, and the Dragomir Academy has a darker history than they’re owning up to.

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy is about women, power, and fear. It’s a school story, with different personalities and the conflict that comes with putting that many personalities together under stressful circumstances; it’s also a story of hidden women, hidden messages, and who really controls the dialogue, whether it comes to today’s news or a high-fantasy novel about a land under threat from a horrific enemy that devastates everything in its path. Brilliantly written, with characters that readers will love; Marya is a smart young woman who’s been beaten down for a long time; unlike many of the other girls in the novel, though, she refuses to second-guess or question herself when it’s time to take action, and she motivates her schoolmates to own their own power, too.

Anne Ursu is an award-winning, National Book Award-nominated fantasy author. Visit her website for more information about her books and teacher guides, and upcoming events.

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy has a starred review from Kirkus and is an Indie Next pick.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate

Bridge Easy Readers and Intermediate chapter books with Barkus and Charlie & Mouse

Transitioning from Easy Readers to chapter books is even more fun with these colorful chapter book series!

Barkus: The Most Fun, by Patricia MacLachlan/Illustrated by Marc Boutavant, (Sept. 2021, Chronicle Books), $14.99, ISBN: 9781452173344

Ages 6-9

Newbery Medalist Patricia Machlachlan’s Barkus series is adorable and perfect for easy readers who are ready to take on some more complex reading. The third book, Barkus: The Most Fun, has Barkus, the family dog, and his family going on a series of outdoor adventures. Composed of four stories, Barkus, Baby the Kitten, and his human family go camping, visit grandmother and grandfather’s farm, visit a parade, and head to their winter cabin. Narrated by the young girl who happens to be Barkus’s favorite human, the stories are brief enough to read one at a time or all at once; sentences are simple and informative, and the colorful illustrations show a happy family doing things together. There are warm and funny moments in each story: Barkus and Baby end up making news in “The Most Fun!” and witness the birth of a calf in “The Crazy Cows of Spring”. The images are warm, comforting, and familiar: a family traveling in their car, a dog and cat curled up together in the back; a grandparent hugging his granddaughter and patting Barkus’s head as he leans into the loving touch; even a mildly put-upon dad, frowning as his daughter, her dog, and cat peek out from a pile of leaves that he was raking. Patricia MacLachlan and Marc Boutavant make magic and memories here.

Visit Scribd and download Barkus activity sheets!

 

Charlie & Mouse: Lost and Found, by Laurel Snyder/Illustrated by Emily Hughes, (Aug. 2021, Chronicle Books), $14.99, ISBN: 9781452183404

Ages 6-9

Siblings Charlie and Mouse have new adventures in their fifth outing. Lost & Found has four short stories, taking the sibs on slightly smaller – but no less exciting – adventures, all taking place in the course of one day. In “Somewhere”, the two search high and low for Mouse’s blanket; in “Errands”, they join Mom on the dreaded series of errands – the bank, the post office – but make a BIG discovery! In “Silly”, Charlie and Mouse have a sad goodbye, but in “Boop”, another discovery warms their hearts. Chapters are short, with simple sentences; stories are kid-friendly and oh-so relatable (the very mention of the words “bank”, “grocery store”, or “post office” strikes fear into my 9-year-old’s heart), Illustrations are softly illustrated, with friendly, expressive characters. The body language between the siblings is comforting and playful. The siblings slump on each other in the car during the dreaded errands; Charlie comforts a distraught Mouse, who cannot locate Blanket. Parents show up for a few moments in the stories, but the focal point is the relationship between Charlie and Mouse, as it should be. The first book in the series, Charlie and Mouse, is a 2018 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award winner.

Get a free Teacher’s Guide to the series, and two activity sheets here.

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

A fun Summer mystery! Saltwater Secrets

Saltwater Secrets, by Cindy Callaghan, (Apr. 2021, Aladdin), $7.99, ISBN: 9781534417434

Ages 9-13

Originally published in hardcover last year, the paperback release of this fun Summer mystery is perfect for beach reading while ruminating on how water ices can save the world. Half-sisters Josie and Stella spend every summer together: Josie lives in Australia with her mom, while Stella lives in New York with her mom and stepdad. They share their summers – and their dad – together at the Jersey Shore, where they have their rituals. This year, Stella is pushing back against those rituals, because she’s on the verge of high school and wants to act more adult; Josie revels in their childhood memories. What starts out as a story where two sisters are growing up yet afraid of growing apart gets infinitely more interesting when you realize that chapters alternate between the sisters’ story and a debriefing at a police station. Something big has happened, as the story unfolds through each chapter, and it has to do, somehow, with the new smoothie store that took the place of Josie’s beloved water ice shop; a pop star coming to perform a concert at the pier, and the jellyfish population, currently undergoing a marine life crisis. This family story becomes a co-plot to an environmental mystery that brings the sisters back together to solve as they work out their growing pains, and it is guaranteed to keep readers glued to the pages. There’s a fun cast of supporting characters, great pacing and dialogue, and an eloquent statement about the environment and how we affect it, for better or for worse. Put this on your shelves with other summer books like Kayla Miller’s graphic novel, Camp, Mae Respicio’s Any Day With You, Melissa Savage’s Lemons, and – naturally! – Rita Williams-Garcia’s One Crazy Summer.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Bad Sister touches on sibling relationships

Bad Sister, by Charise Mericle Harper/Illustrated Rory Lucey, (Aug. 2021, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250219053

Ages 8-12

Award-winning author/artist Charise Mericle Harper writes a middle-grade memoir about her relationship with her younger brother in Bad Sister, and it will resonate with so many siblings who may feel conflicted about their own siblings. Charise is older, and therefore, better… right? Her younger brother, Daniel, is just such an attention-suck. He gets attention from her parents from the very beginning, he wants to play with her toys, he even monopolizes the family cat’s affection. Daniel gets hurt time and again, causing Charise to wonder: is she a bad sister? Try as she might, it’s hard being the eldest, and sometimes, she gets exasperated. But slowly, surely, as the two get a little older and a little more mature, they find themselves able to enjoy one another’s company more. Charise’s frustration is palpable, and the changing color palette alerts readers, with changes in her facial expressions and body language, plus cooler colors, particularly blues, calling the reader’s attention. Readers will see both sides of the equation – Daniel isn’t always guilt-free – and empathize with the injustices on either side. A good book for navigating sibling relationships, even close friend and classmate relationships, Charise Mericle Harper gets to the heart of family dynamics and doesn’t hide the highs and lows of these complicated relationships, going from antagonism, to guilt, to love and understanding with honesty and respect to the reader. Charise’s frustration is palpable, and the changing color palette alerts readers, with changes in her facial expressions and body language, plus cooler colors, particularly blues, calling the reader’s attention. Colors warm up as the two become closer.

Bad Sister has starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly, and is a Junior Library Guild selection. Visit Charise Mericle Harper’s website for printables, crafts, and comics!

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

She’s Grace, not “Kyle’s Little Sister”!

Kyle’s Little Sister, by BonHyung Jeong, (June 2021, Yen Press), $13.00, ISBN: 9781975316549

Ages 8-12

Grace is excited to start middle school with her best friends, Amy and Jay, but there’s one thing she’s not thrilled about… her older brother, Kyle, is an 8th grader in the same school. Her extroverted, handsome, older brother who loves to tease her whenever he gets the chance. She’s in Kyle’s shadow whether she’s at school or at home, forever being referred to as “Kyle’s little sister”, but she’s so much more than that! Grace and her best friends have a falling out, but she falls in with a school mean girl, Cam, who decides to “help” Grace out by bullying Amy. Grace looks the other way, not realizing that Cam has her own reasons for wanting to be friendly with Grace – and Amy and Jay can see that a mile away, but have to figure out how to help Grace from a distance. Maybe Kyle isn’t the awful big brother that Grace thinks he is after all? Kyle’s Little Sister is, at its heart, a story of friendship and those inevitable middle school conflicts, and it’s a relatable story about defining oneself. Manga illustrations make for expressive characters and playful storytelling. A good realistic fiction story to add to your graphic novel shelves, and a good way to introduce younger readers to manga outside of Pokemon.