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

Jamie Sumner’s Roll With It gives life with CP a face and a story

Roll With It, by Jamie Sumner, (Oct. 2019, Atheneum), $17.99, ISBN: 9781534442559

Ages 10-14

Twelve-year-old Ellie loves to bake. She writes letters to famous chefs and cookbook authors, asking questions to make her own art better. She’s frustrated by her overprotective mom, having to go to the bathroom at school with the help of an aide, and her father, who exists in theory, not so much in practice. Ellie also has cerebral palsy, or CP, which keeps her wheelchair-bound, but never out of the game. After her grandfather, who has dementia, drives his car into a local supermarket, Ellie’s mom packs up and heads to Eufala, Oklahoma, to live with and help out. Ellie’s grandmother is thrilled to have her family for a visit, but makes it clear that she’s not putting her husband into a home. Ellie starts school and a new life in Oklahoma, befriending Coralee and Bert; schoolmates who have their own eccentric flairs, and taking on a school that isn’t ready for Ellie.

Inspired by her son, Roll With It is author Jamie Sumner’s first novel, and with it, she has given us a main character who is upbeat, smart, funny, and darned independent. She’s a tween on the verge of teenhood, coping with adolescent feelings and frustrations on top of family worries, like her grandfather’s increasing dementia, concern about her grandmother, and a father that she’s disappointed in and hurt by. On top of that, she has the struggles that come with being in a school ill-equipped to work with her needs, and being the new kid in the middle of a school year. How does she cope? She lets you know what’s going on! Her voice is strong and clear, in her fantastic tweenage snark and honesty. Her friends Coralee and Bert have fully-realized backstories, giving them life beyond being Ellie’s friends in the background. Ellie’s grandparents and mother emerge as realistic, three-dimensional characters with big concerns of their own: family health, an absent spouse, bills, bills, bills.

A story about fitting in and standing out, following a dream and making your own way, Ellie is a character you want to cheer for and your kids will want to hang out with. Hand this to any of your realistic fiction readers, especially the kids that love Aven’s adventures in Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling or Sharon Draper’s Out of My Mind; for your baking aficionados, give to readers who loved Jessie Janowitz’s The Doughnut Fix/The Doughnut King, and Anna Meriano’s Love Sugar Magic books. Talk this up to your teacher visitors, and suggest they take a look at it (I’m always ready to push good Summer Reading list ideas).

Roll With It has starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly. Check out Jamie Sumner’s author webpage, where you can sign up to receive her newsletter and download a free discussion guide.

 

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

Blog Tour: The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner

I’m excited to be a stop on The Okay Witch blog tour! I picked up a copy of this graphic novel at BookExpo this year, and loved it. Now, without further ado…

Magic is harder than it looks.

Thirteen-year-old Moth Hush loves all things witchy. But she’s about to discover that witches aren’t just the stuff of movies, books, and spooky stories. When some eighth-grade bullies try to ruin her Halloween, something really strange happens. It turns out that Founder’s Bluff, Massachusetts, has a centuries-old history of witch drama. And, surprise: Moth’s family is at the center of it all!

When Moth’s new powers show up, things get totally out-of-control. She meets a talking cat, falls into an enchanted diary, and unlocks a hidden witch world. With that revelation, Moth’s adventure truly begins – an adventure that spans centuries, generations, and even worlds – as she unravels the legacy at the heart of her life. (from the publisher)

Where to start gushing about The Okay Witch?

The story stars a heroine of color, and the main storyline addresses it from the beginning: Founder’s Bluff’s leader wanted, as Moth’s mother, Calendula states, “a town of sober, obedient, lily-white Pilgrims”. Women – especially women of color – who had any kind of independent spirit? Women of color? That didn’t fit into Judge Kramer’s mold, and it didn’t fit into colonial America’s mold, so they were hunted until Moth’s grandmother and her coven tore the fabric between worlds to create a safe space of their own: Hecate. Moth is a child of color in a mostly white town, where she’s bullied by young white men, one of whom happen to be a descendant of one of the founding families, who even asks Moth where “she’s FROM from”. Moth is a teen coming into her own power and struggling with the decision to embrace it or suppress it to “be normal” as her mother, who eschews magic and witchcraft, begs her to. When Sarah, Moth’s grandmother, shows up to see her granddaughter, there’s a power struggle on either side of Moth that represents her internal struggle.

We also get a sassy talking cat, Moth and Calendula’s friend reincarnated; who also happens to have the sweetest backstory (and gives the story an LGBTQ nudge, further establishing Moth and her family as awesome socially aware folks). Using witchcraft and witch hunts to address prejudice and racism, The Okay Witch makes history and current events equally relevant – and sadly, we see that not much has changed.

The Okay Witch is a fantastic coming-of-age story with characters you’ll love and return to long after you’ve finished the book. Give this to your Roller Girl readers, your BabyMouse readers that are ready to take on more challenging material, and your Raina Telgemeier readers.

The Okay Witch, by Emma Steinkellner, (Sept. 2019, Aladdin)
$12.99, ISBN: 978-1-5344-3146-1
Ages 8-12

 

About the Author

Emma Steinkellner is an illustrator, writer, and cartoonist living in Los Angeles, California. She is a graduate of Stanford University and the illustrator of the Eisner-nominated comic Quince. The Okay Witch is her debut graphic novel as an author. You can visit her webpage to see more of her illustration work.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade

At the Heels of History, where the goodest pups make history, too – and a giveaway!

Filigree’s Midnight Ride (At the Heels of History #1), by Pam Berkman & Dorothy Hearst/Illustrated by Claire Powell, (Aug. 2019. Simon & Schuster), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1534433335

Ages 8-11

The story of Paul Revere and his daughter’s Pomeranian, Filigree, kick off the first in the At the Heels of History series, where kids get to read about major moments in history as seen through the eyes of the dogs that were there.

Filigree wasn’t always Paul Revere’s dog, but his Loyalist human was shipped back to England and he was adopted by Paul Revere for his daughter, Frances. Poor Filigree is looked down on by the other colonists’ dogs: Sam Adams’s Newfoundland, Jove, bullies him, and even the Revere family cat, Anvil, has complete disdain for the little dog. But Frances loves him, and wants him to protect her father when he leaves home for a secret mission that could put him in danger with the British troops. Is Filigree just going to be in the way, or will he play a major part in a pivotal moment in American history?

This is such a cute book and an enjoyable new historical fiction/What If series! Kids will get a kick out of reading the “real story” behind historical moments like Paul Revere’s famed midnight ride and the American Gold Rush (coming in the next book), witnessed by the loyal canines who stood by their humans as history happened. There are black and white drawings throughout, making this extra fun and giving readers visual context of the time periods and the characters. Filigree’s Midnight Ride’s subplot involves the rough (ruff?) relationship between Jove, Sam Adams’s giant Newfoundland, and little Filigree, so the artwork demonstrating the vast difference in size just adds to the amusing read. Back matter points out some important information about the famed Midnight Ride, which didn’t really happen the way that Schoolhouse Rock taught me that it did (but I’m still going to sing along to the song). There’s a word about marginalized voices, particularly the enslaved, and their support of the patriots against the British.

There’s a website for the series where you can find free, downloadable curriculum guides, fun facts, and downloadable mazes, puzzles, and more for everyone to enjoy.

A cute add to your intermediate/middle grade fiction sections, and a nice additional way to generate interest in history units. At the Heels of History has a second book in the series, Bo-Bo’s Cave of Gold, coming in April 2020.

Hear ye! Hear ye! Enter this Rafflecopter giveaway for a chance to win your own copy of Filigree’s Midnight Ride! (U.S. addresses only, please!)

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

Middle School #MeToo: Maybe He Just Likes You

Maybe He Just Likes You, by7 Barbara Dee, (Oct. 2019, Aladdin), $17.99, ISBN: 9781534450158

Ages 9-13

It all starts with an unwanted hug that takes seventh-grader Mila by surprise, on the school playground, when the basketball boys decide to join in on a friend’s birthday celebration. It keeps going: unwanted hugs, comments, even touches; barely disguised chuckles and cheers among the basketball boys. Mila knows it’s wrong. She feels uncomfortable, she feels it in her skin, but her friends think she’s being dramatic. The teacher she tries to talk to brushes it off. And it keeps going, because she doesn’t want to mention it to her mom: she’s got enough problems, raising two kids on her own and having a lousy time at work. When Mila steps into a karate class, though, and makes an unexpected friend, she starts to recover her confidence and realizes that she owns her own power, and if no one will help her, she’s going to take matters into her own hands.

Maybe He Just Likes You. Who hasn’t heard this phrase, growing up? It’s been the excuse, as old as time, for behaviors from hair-pulling to unwanted brushes across parts of our bodies; smirks and hapless shrugs with half-chuckled, half-muttered, “Sorrrrrry” responses. It’s been the excuse, putting it on young girls and women to endure the snickers and comments as we walk down the halls of school, play outside, walk into the workplace. Barbara Dee’s book introduces us to Mila, a seventh grader who finds herself the object of a group’s attention; their power play. She asks for help, and gets brushed off. Her friend, Zara, seems almost jealous of the attention she’s getting, not understanding that attention like this is unwanted, unasked for. She’s gaslighted by her tormentors, who tell her to “lighten up”; that she blows things out of proportion; that she can’t take a joke. Just as Mila begins to withdraw into herself, she starts taking a free karate class, and discovers a classmate who notices that something’s been going on, and encourages Mila to stand up for herself. Karate practice, plus this new, unexpected friendship, gives Mila clarity and the ability to bring attention to the behavior, and discovers that she is not the only one the boys have targeted.

Mila is a strong, smart character in whom readers may see themselves. Barbara Dee creates a painfully real story with Maybe He Just Likes You; a story that has taken decades to come to light, but isn’t backing down anymore. Mila’s first person narration makes it much easier to envision ourselves in Mila’s shoes, and Barbara Dee’s strong, clear voice makes Mila’s creeping discomfort and anger palpable, causing us to curl our fingers and grit our teeth. I wanted to cheer for her, I wanted to scream for her, I wanted to yell and demand that her educators take notice of what was going on – and wanted to sink into my seat with relief when someone finally does.

Sexual harassment has spent too long feeding on our silence. With the #MeToo movement, and now, a #MeTooK12 movement, kids are learning about respect, consent, and boundaries. Let’s support them. I hope that Maybe He Just Likes You will come with an educator guide with sexual harassment resources and lesson plans for K-12 educators. I have found some on the Web: Institute for Humane Education; Equal Rights Advocates; Harvard University’s “Making Caring Common” Project; and Stop Sexual Assault in Schools.

This is a middle school/upper middle grade novel, and needs to be read by adults, teens, and tweens. Booktalk and display with books like Jennifer Mathieu’s Moxie, Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, and Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali. There are more and more books available for YA on this topic; I’m glad that middle grade/middle school is getting their moment, too. School Library Journal has a great article from 2018, “Beyond “No Means No”: Resources on Consent“, and a Teen Librarian Toolbox article from 2014 spotlights two works by Jacqueline Woodson that can fall into either middle grade/middle school or YA. Author Barbara Dee writes about her inspiration in this Nerdy Book Club post.

Maybe He Just Likes You has a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Barbara Dee’s author webpage contains information about her books, school visits, and an FAQ.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Bone Soup puts a Halloween spin on a classic!

Bone Soup: A Spooky Tasty Tale, by Alyssa Satin Capucilli/Illustrated by Tom Knight, (July 2018, Simon & Schuster), $17.99, ISBN: 9781481486088

Ages 4-8

Naggy, Craggy, and Scraggy are three hungry witches. Alas, their cupboards are bare, but for a single bone. A single bone, you say? Piff-Poof! Naggy Witch has a plan: Bone Soup, the perfect Halloween treat! The witches travel throughout the town, gathering delights from the local monsters: a bit of water here, an eye of a giant there, some old toenails and some slimy sludge, until the entire town has contributed to a bone-chillingly delicious meal for all! Based on the classic tale, Stone Soup, Alyssa Satin Capucilli puts a wonderfully fun spin on this perfect read for preschoolers and, Kindergartners (and more!).

There’s repetition here that invites readers to join in: “Piff-Poof!” Naggy Witches cries as each ingredient goes into the cauldron, and the witches chant, with each stop, “Trick-or-treat! Trick-or-treat! We’ve something unusually good to eat. It’s bone soup, soup from a bone. A savory morsel is all it needs!” Get the kids chanting, let them be little monsters or witches, and pull out a cauldron (it’s Halloween season, you can find a $1.99 trick or treat cauldron anywhere) to let them throw goodies in.The charcoal and pencil art is adorable, with green, crazy-haired witches, giant blue monsters, and googly-eyed mummies and skeletons. The fonts are big and readable, changing size and color for emphasis. There’s a recipe for Naggy Witch’s Bone Soup at the end of the book, with thoughtful substitution suggestions for those of us who may balk at juice of a toad or colored flies. Author Alyssa Satin Capucilli has a great storytime activity kit for free download on her site, complete with word games for older readers, and a printable recipe to hand out to parents. My kids and my library kids know and love Ms. Capucilli’s Biscuit books, so that could be a good intro when telling parents about the author.

This would be a great feltboard storytime activity, or you can get creative and make your own eyeballs (ping pong balls are good), toenails (cut up some index cards into slivers), and a bone or two (it’s Halloween, there are plush or plastic bones to be found everywhere). I love this story, and can’t wait to get it in front of a group of Kindergartners next week for a Halloween storytime!

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade

More Thunder Girls! This time, it’s Sif story… and Loki’s in trouble again.

Sif and the Dwarf’s Treasures (Thunder Girls #2), by Joan Holub & Suzanne Williams/Illustrated by Pernille Ørum, (Oct. 2018, Aladdin), $16.99, ISBN: 9781481496438

Ages 8-12

The Thunder Girls are back! I loved the first Norse take on Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams’ middle grade mythology series, Freya and the Magic Jewel, so I was psyched to see another book hitting shelves so soon – and so were my library kids, who continue to gobble up the Greek counterpart to this series, Goddess Girls. Freya and the Magic Jewel was a hit, and I fully expect to have Sif and the Dwarf’s Treasures clear the shelves shortly after it arrives.

Sif, Goddess of the Harvest, has been toying with going public with her prophetic abilities. She’s a bit of a seer, but she doesn’t like to talk about it, ever since she had a mishap in second grade that cost her a friend. But messages in her Runes class come true when Loki – that troublemaker! – cuts off her hair in a prank that has horrible consequences for Midgard (that’s us, folks)! Sif’s ability to affect the harvest on Midgard lies in her beautiful, flaxen hair; without it, the crops begin withering and dying, giving the giants a big advantage. Sif demands that Loki fix the mess he caused, sending him to the dwarfs – skilled blacksmiths – to craft new hair for her. But with Loki, it’s never that easy – he’s going to attempt to play one set of dwarfs against the other, and chances of it backfiring on him? About 100%.

This is a fun, kid-friendly retelling of some of Norse mythology’s Loki- and Sif-related tales: Loki cutting Sif’s hair and journeying to the dwarfs to craft golden gifts; Loki’s getting into trouble with the dwarfs, and the origin of Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir. Set in Asgard Academy, fantastic Norse myth references abound and are made fun for middle graders. “Head” Librarian Mimir is a bouncing head that loves to bob around in fountains and finds an amusing way to repurpose Sif’s shorn locks; Frigga continues knitting on a scale that would make Mrs. Weasley cringe; and the warring Norse friezes in the Asgard cafeteria have a nightly food fight that takes no prisoners.

Way too much fun for middle grade readers who love a fun take on their mythology. Talk this series up with Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams’ Grimmtastic Girls, Goddess Girls, and Heroes in Training. Joan Holub’s website has links to printable activities for Goddess Girls and Heroes in Training. Suzanne Williams’ website has Goddess Girls downloadable goodies and quizzes.

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

Children of Jubilee concludes Margaret Peterson Haddix’s latest series

Children of Jubilee, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, (Nov. 2018, Simon & Schuster), $17.99, ISBN: 9781442450097
Ages 9-13

The third book in Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Children of Exile series is told through Kiandra’s point of view as the alien Enforcers raid Refuge City, capturing Edwy, Kiandra, Enu, and Rosi and transporting them to an alien planet, where they are forced to labor in mines as slaves with no bodily autonomy. Somehow, the Enforcers control their every movement, pushing them to mine and harvest strange bluish pearls from the planet, long past the point of exhaustion and only giving them their bodies back for the briefest amount of rest. Kiandra plots to find a way out, but she can’t do it alone – luckily, little Cana has found her way to the group; working under the Enforcers’ radar, she’s able to explore the planet and just maybe, find some help.

Margaret Peterson Haddix writes fantastic science fiction and dystopian fantasy. I discovered her Shadow Children series when my eldest read the first book, Among the Hidden, in elementary school. The two of us hit our local bookstore and bought every book in the series that weekend, and I can’t wait until my youngest is ready to read them in a few more years. She creates fascinating characters and morally ambiguous situations that leave a wealth of room for discussion. Children of Exile has been a voraciously readable series from the first installment; Children of Jubilee includes some final plot twists, subplots, and a reveal that left me picking my jaw up from the floor. It’s that good.

For my home and my library, Margaret Peterson Haddix books are a must-have. If you have sci fi/fantasy readers, they should be for you, too. There’s a free downloadable discussion guide for the first book, Children of Exile, on Ms. Haddix’s author website; they provide excellent jumping-off points for deeper discussion into the series.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Book Birthday: Who Eats Orange?

Who Eats Orange?, by Dianne White/Illustrated by Robin Page, (Aug. 2018, Simon & Schuster Kids), $17.99, ISBN: 9781534404083

Ages 3-6

Need a fun, new concept book on your shelves? Who Eats Orange looks at the eating habits of animals from bunnies to bears. Four animals eat one color, and the fifth doesn’t – but eats a different color, which brings us into the next group of animals. There’s quite a bit of information, broken down into simple, easily understandable bites, to be found here: colors, animals and what they eat, and their habitats: “Who eats orange? Bunnies in their hutches do. / Chickens in the henhouse too. / Who else eats orange? Goats. / Pigs. Gorillas too. Gorillas? NO! The repetitive text pattern gets kids ready; they’ll learn quickly who doesn’t eat a chosen color, and join in with a hearty “NO!” when the time comes. The text brings things right back to kids, encouraging them to eat the rainbow, with a colorful spread of fruits and vegetables. The back matter organizes the animals, and their foods, by habitat (farm, Africa, ocean, forest, rainforest, tundra) and provides more information on animals and their culinary tastes.

The digital art is wonderful; reminiscent of one of my favorite realistic animal artists, Steve Jenkins. (Robin Page also dedicates the book to Steve Jenkins, which was pretty great to see.) The vivid artwork stand out against stark white backgrounds, inviting readers to imagine the roughness of a hippo or the bushy fur of a fox and marmot. The faces are gentle, with expressive eyes that will draw storytime fans right in. It’s such an interactive book, with opportunities to get the kids talking about animals, food, and color. There’s an activity kit available for download that comes with animals masks to cut out, a rainbow recipe, and writing activities.

I read Who Eats Orange, along with one of my old favorites, Who Hops?, to my 6-year-old. Who Hops? works in a similar manner, introducing different animals who hop, swim, crawl… and then one animal that obviously cannot! Anyway, we had big laughs, he pronounced Who Eats Orange “so much fun”, and laughed at me when I suggested he start eating the rainbow with me. Hey, I tried.

Who Eats Orange is way too much fun for toddlers and preschoolers! A fun add to concepts and animal collections, and a good gift book for rising preschoolers and kindergarteners.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Happy Pride! And Tango Makes Three!

And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson & Peter Parnell/Illustrated by Henry Cole, (April 2005, Simon & Schuster), $17.99, ISBN: 9780689878459

Recommended for readers 4-8

And Tango Makes Three is a classic in children’s and LGBT literature. It’s based on the true story of two penguins at the Central Park Zoo, Roy and Silo, and the little penguin they hatched together. Roy and Silo were (are?) are pair of penguins that discovered each other in 1998; they walked together; bowed to each other, swam together, even built a nest together. But no egg was forthcoming until their keeper, a nice man named Mr. Gramzay, put a fertile egg in their nest. The two penguins cared for the egg until it hatched, and Mr. Gramzay named him Tango, because “it takes two to make a Tango”. Could you squeal from the adorableness? So Tango made three; a happy little penguin family.

This sweet story about family caused an uproar you wouldn’t believe, because – GASP – two male penguins were depicted in a loving relationship AND as parents! Could you even? (It’s like… adoption never existed, amirite?) Poor little Tango and his dads made a lot of people nervous, and as a result, And Tango Makes Three has topped the 10 Most Challenged Books List between 2006 and 2010, and still gets people riled up 13 years later. That said, And Tango Makes Three also received a lot of awards, including designation as an American Library Association Notable Children’s Book (2006); the ASPCA’s Henry Bergh Award (2005); The Gustavus Myer Outstanding Book Award (2006); Nick Jr. Family Magazine’s Best Book of the Year (2006); Bank Street College’s Best Book of the Year (2006); the Cooperative Children’s Book Council choice, and Notable Social Studies Trade Book (2006); and it was a Lambda Literary Award finalist (2006). Not too shabby!

And Tango Makes Three is a story about love, family, and community. No one at the zoo gives a second thought to Roy and Silo’s relationship, and seriously, do you think kids who come to see the animals do? It’s a story of family and how, for one couple, a baby made them complete. Henry Cole captures the spirit of New York’s Central Park with his soft watercolors, and make Roy and Silo come to life with expressive facial and body expressions. If this isn’t on your shelves or in your storytimes – Father’s Day is coming! – please add it. And hug your dad(s).

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Dork Diaries’ co-author Erin Danielle Russell tries to trick the Tooth Fairy!

How to Trick the Tooth Fairy, by Erin Danielle Russell/Illustrated by Jennifer Hansen Rolli, (May 2018, Simon & Schuster Aladdin), $17.99, ISBN: 9781481467322

Recommended for readers 3-7

Erin Danielle Russell, co-author of the Dork Diaries, brings us a prank war on an epic level in her new picture book, How to Trick the Tooth Fairy. Kaylee is an adorable little girl with wild brown hair and a twinkle of mischief in her eye, and she’s all about a good prank. But see, so is the Tooth Fairy. In fact, the Tooth Fairy is THE ruling prank princes, and she’s got “more tricks in her bag than teeth”. The prank battle begins when Kaylee leaves a fake frog for the Fairy, rather than a tooth; the Fairy retaliates with a bunch of real frogs; pranks escalate until the unthinkable happens: TOPSY-TURVY TOOTH FAIRY TROUBLE! The two foxhole friends hide under a table and survey the damage in the aftermath, help each other clean up, and decide to join prank forces for future fun.

This is such a fun story, and not overly gooey or sweet. This is a prank war between two bright young ladies, one of whom happens to be the Tooth Fairy. As kids know, pranks can escalate and feelings can get hurt, and that’s what happens here: once that happens, the girls see the humor in what happened – sprinkles in the Fairy’s hair, a banana peel and water dripping off Kaylee’s – and work it out in a way that makes everyone happy. Well, except for future prank victims.

The oil paint illustrations are done on brown craft paper, giving a great feel to the spreads, and the characters are expressive, with winks, shouts, and smirks aplenty. This is a fun book about childhood mischief that kids everywhere will get a kick out of. I hope we get some more adventures with Kaylee… maybe we’ll see how she celebrates a birthday? Visit the How to Trick the Tooth Fairy webpage to learn more about our tricksters, view a trailer, and get updates.