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 School, Teen, Tween Reads

Tales from the Backlist: Graphic novels you may have missed

You know that TBR that just keeps growing? Well, I’ve got one of those on my computers, too: yes, plural. My work PC, my laptop, my backup laptop… I see exciting looking graphic novels, I download them, and they join the TBR club. When I get a chance to read them, I want to talk about them, because they’re seriously good books, and we all know, it doesn’t matter when the book is published, right? So here, I present some graphic novels you may have missed the first time around: add these to your own TBR.

 

Sarah’s Dream (The Grémillet Sisters, #1), by Giovanni Di Gregorio/Illustrated by Alessandro Barbucci, Translated by L. Benson, Edited by Lisa Morris, (July 2020, Europe Comics), $5.99, ASIN: B08CHH5L3F

Ages 10-14

Three quirky sisters, one big secret: the first volume in The Grémillet Sisters series introduces readers to Sarah, Cassiopeia, and Lucille, three sisters with very different personalities. Lucille, the youngest, is an animal lover who spends most of her with the family cat or caring for strays; Cassiopeia lives with her head in the clouds, with princes and castles, and Sarah, the eldest, has strange dreams of trees and jellyfish. When she asks their mother about her past – a past the girls know almost nothing about – their mother becomes snappish and preoccupied, leading the girls to investigate, and discover a mysterious photo where their mother appears pregnant. But which sister is she pregnant with, and why was the photo hidden away? Originally published in French in 2020, Sarah’s Dream is lushly illustrated, with deep colors and gorgeous lighting throughout. The sisters have defined personalities have a realistic relationship with relatable ups and downs: Sarah, as the eldest, bosses the other two around; they go from being a cohesive “Three Sisters Club” one minute to never wanting to speak to each other again, the next. A good supplemental choice for middle school graphic novel collections. Content warning for pregnancy loss. Currently available as an ebook, it’s a purchase to consider if you have strong electronical graphic novel collections.

 

Jane, by Aline Brosh McKenna/Illustrated by Ramón K. Perez, (Sept. 2017, Archaia), $24.99, ISBN: 9781608869817

Ages 12+

This modern-day update of Charlotte Brontë’s classic Jane Eyre, spins the story into a thriller about a nanny, her young charge, and the mysterious businessman, Rochester. Jane is an orphaned girl when she ends up on her aunt and uncle’s door; she scrimps and saves until she has enough money to leave the home that never had room her  in Massachusetts and heads to New York City, where she has secured a scholarship at an arts school. To earn some cash and keep the scholarship, she takes a job as a nanny to a young girl named Adele. Adele’s father, Rochester, is a seemingly unapproachable, uninterested father until Jane confronts him about Adele’s withdrawn behavior in school. As Rochester begins coming down from his ivory tower and taking on a more active role as Adele’s father, Jane also sees that he’s a man with secrets – secrets he’s not willing to bend on. But the two fall for one another, and Jane worries that Adele’s life – and Jane’s own life – may be on the line. Part thriller, part romance, award-winning screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna’s take on Jane Eyre uses the source material as a jumping-off point for a new reimagining, with great success. You’ll notice bits of the original Jane Eyre peeking out in the earlier part of the story, along with some moments that will make readers familiar with one of McKenna’s movies, The Devil Wears Prada, smile with recognition. The artwork is moody, enhancing the overall atmosphere of the story and never quite letting the reader – or Jane – relax; it moves from murky, as Jane recalls her childhood memories, to stark and shadowy, as the story moves into a modern noir. I’m really happy about this new take on a classic favorite; into my library shopping cart it goes.

Aline Brosh McKenna is the award-winning screenwriter of The Devil Wears Prada, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. This is her graphic novel debut. Illustrator Ramón K. Pérez is the with Eisner Award-winning illustrator of Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand. The book received the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards Nominee for Best Publication for Teens (ages 13-17) & Best Penciller/Inker or Penciller/Inker Team (for Ramón K. Perez) (2018).

The Not-So Secret Society: Tale of the Gummy, by Matthew Daley & Arlene Yiadom-Daley/Illustrated by Wook Jin Clark, (Aug. 2017, KaBoom!), $9.99, ISBN: 9781608869978

Ages 8-12

Take five science and candy-loving friends, a dose of STEM/STEAM, and a group of uber-over-achievers to go up against for the all-city science fair, and you’ve got the NS3: the Not-So Secret Society. This group of middle schoolers needs a project that will wow the judges at the science fair, and they come up with one when they create a machine that can bring candy to life! Their test run brings an adorable gummy bear to life, but Gummy has a sweet tooth that won’t quit – and neither will the growth spurts that follow! The NS3 has to track down Gummy, who goes on a sugar-eating rampage, before it’s too late, and they still have to make it to the science fair on time! This is an hilarious story of friendship, science, and candy, starring a group of middle schoolers that readers will love: Madison, the bookish one; Aidan, the inventor; Emma, the licorice-obsessed artist; Dylan, the comedian, and Ava, the tiny wrestling fan with a big temper. Readers who loved Eleanor Davis’s Secret Science Alliance will enjoy this comic. I just want to know why three years have passed without a new adventure! Back matter includes a parent reading guide and learning activities, along with Common Core standards info. Unfortunately, the website for the NS3 doesn’t seem to be up at the moment, but in the meantime, try some safer candy experiments in the spirit of the NS3, with no risk of giant gummy bear attacks. This Pinterest board never disappoints – I’ve made the candy slime with my library kids, and I’ve made the Ziploc bag ice cream with my own kiddo. If you want to go old school, show them a few episodes of the early 2000s cartoon, Codename: Kids Next Door.

 

 

Mouse Guard Alphabet Book, by David Peterson & Serena Malyon, (Sept. 2017, Archaia), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1684150106

Ages 3-6

I can’t believe I’ve never written about Mouse Guard. One of the first graphic novels my now 21-year old son enjoyed, Mouse Guard is the award-winning, fantastic tale of a group of mice and the predators they must always be on guard against. It’s Dungeons & Dragons, Tolkien-esque fantasy for children and a perfect stepping stone to the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. Breathtaking high-fantasy, medieval artwork is the hallmark of the series, and this abcedary showcases beautiful illuminated manuscript artwork for each letter of the alphabet, incorporating elements from the Mouse Guard series, and rhyme in pentameter. If you’re like me and want to introduce your Kiddos to fantasy at an early age, concept books like this are gold. Psst.. there’s a coloring book and a roleplaying game available, too.

The Mouse Guard website also has free, downloadable craft ideas and MP3s of songs featured in the Mouse Guard books.

 

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

CYBILS graphic novels check-in

The CYBILS Round One reading goes on. I’ve read 60 of 107 nominees so far, and my shortlist… well, it’s pretty long. I’ll be going through my shortlist a few times and talking books with my other Round One judges before we can provide the next round with a shortlist to go to, but it won’t be easy. There’s been some good stuff written and illustrated this year. While I can’t go into too much detail, since these are more nominees, I didn’t want them to be missed. Enjoy.

Stepping Stones, by Lucy Knisley, (Sept. 2020, RH Graphic), $20.99, ISBN: 9780593125243

Ages 8-12

I am a Lucy Knisley fan, and I’m excited that she’s writing graphic novels, in her autobiographical style, for middle graders. This is her first middle grade book, a fictionalized story of her life when she and her mom moved to a farm with her mother’s boyfriend. In the story, Jen is not happy about leaving her life in the city to live on a farm with her mom, her mom’s bossy boyfriend, Walter, and Walter’s two daughters, Andy and Reese, who spend every weekend with their dad. Jen thinks Andy is bossy and a know-it-all, like her dad, and Reese is weepy and cries for her mom. Gradually, the three girls become friends – stepsisters, even – as they start talking and discover that they’re not worlds different, after all. An author’s note gives readers the real details about Lucy Knisley’s farm years, complete with photos. Her storytelling style makes readers feel like they’re reading her journal or diary; her artwork is cartoony realistic, perfect for Raina Telgemeier and Victoria Jameson fans. You’ll love the farmer’s market scenes, where Jen finally asserts herself and owns her talent, and the nature scenes make you realize why Jen’s mother packed up and left the city for greener pastures. Pick up Stepping Stones if you’ve never read a Lucy Knisley book before, then look up her other books for yourself.

Dungeon Critters, by Natalie Riess and Sara Goetter, (Sept. 2020, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250195470

Ages 9-13

If your Dungeons & Dragons campaign was made up of furry animal friends, you’d have Dungeon Critters. A group of animal adventurers are on the case to uncover a mysterious plant and a sinister plot, all surrounding Chirp – one of the adventurers, and a member of the royal family – and longtime rival, The Baron. Go on dungeon crawls, dance at fancy balls, and join the Dungeon Critters on their quests for adventure, as they figure out their complicated feelings for one another. It’s a fun adventure, cartoony, colorful artwork, frenetic energy, and tons of jokes. Gender and sexuality are fluid – Chirp, for instance, has she/her pronouns but is a prince; Rose and Juniper are two Dungeon Critters who have she/her pronouns and are crushing on each other. A positive, diverse, fun adventure for middle graders.

Posted in Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Books from Quarantine: White Fox by Sara Faring

White Fox, by Sara Faring, (Sept. 2020, Imprint), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250304520

Ages 14+

Ten years ago, Mireille Fox-Hammick, world-famous actress and mother to daughters Manon and Thaïs, disappeared. Their pharma-tech genius father sent them away from their Mediterranean island home to be raised by an aunt in the States. Although the sisters grew apart, complete opposites, they remain united in their grief and desire to know what happened to their mother. When an gala in celebration of their mother’s career brings them back to the island of Viloxin, they find clues to a script their mother had written, White Fox; an autobiographical script that would explain everything. As the girls get closer to the truth, they also uncover hidden secrets that some would prefer remain buried.

White Fox started out strong, but didn’t maintain its momentum for me. I admit I went into the book thinking I was going to read something similar to the podcast, The Last Movie, where the focus is on the lost film and the story is captured through interviews with people connected to the movie. White Fox is more of a family story; a reconstructing of long-buried secrets and lies, intrigue and corruption. The two sisters have the usual YA diverging personalities: Manon is the bookish, unfussy sister, determined to find out what happened to her mother and reconcile her conflicted emotions surrounding her disappearance. Thaïs is the Instagram influencer, the party girl, who just wants to have a good time. The two reunite over their shared interest in the White Fox script and through unraveling the mysteries their mother and deceased father left behind, and script excerpts from the White Fox script drop hints that lead them through their next steps. Although the book gets off to a strong start, it just floundered as mysteries began getting tangled up in one another, leaving me wanting something more than what I came away with. It’s worth a read for mystery and thriller fans, because it has its moments, but it’s more of an additional purchase rather than a must-have.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Celebrate your siblings!

A Celebration of Sisters, by Harriet Evans/Illustrated by Andrés Landazábal, (June 2020, Kane Miller Publishing), $11.99, ISBN: 978-1-68464-052-2

A Celebration of Brothers, by by Harriet Evans/Illustrated by Andrés Landazábal, (June 2020, Kane Miller Publishing), $11.99, ISBN: 978-1-68464-051-5

Ages 2-6

These are the sweetest books that celebrate the sisters and brothers in our lives: half-sibling, step-siblings, adopted siblings, the siblings we choose for ourselves. Endpapers show siblings running across the pages of each book, smiling, arms thrown out wide. The rhyming text rejoices in the relationships between siblings, old, new, and expected: a girl hugs her mom’s pregnant belly; groups of siblings wander across puddles, comfort each other at bedtime, ride amusement park rides, and sing to babies together. It’s a joyous celebration in words and pictures, a multicultural families celebrate their relationships together. Only children aren’t left out, either, as the author recognizes the importance of the families we create: “You might find your brothers in the friends you make”; and “Friends can become sisters as you grow up together, facing dark storms and enjoying fair weather”.  Jubilant illustrations and happy rhyming verses make these great readalouds.

Posted in Uncategorized

Fill your basket with Easter Books!

The Easter Storybook: 40 Bible Stories Showing Who Jesus Is, by Laura Richie/Illustrated by Ian Dale, (Jan. 2020, David C Cook), $18.99, 978-0-8307-7860-7

Ages 4-8

Beginning with Jesus’ time as a boy in the temple and ending with His resurrection and promise, “I am with you always”, The Easter Storybook contains 40 illustrated Bible stories about the life of Jesus. Each story begins with a Bible passage and includes a discussion question for families to explore together. Each story presents a different facet of Jesus – Teacher, Good Shepherd, Savior – and will help children relate their own insights and stories to events in the Bible. The illustrations are colorful and softly realistic with famous Biblical scenes, like Palm Sunday and the Sermon on the Mount. There’s one story for every day of Lent, making this a good choice for families who celebrate together and for kids in parochial or Sunday school.

 

Hoppy Floppy’s Carrot Hunt, by Educational Insights/Illustrated by Lucia Gaggiotti, (March 2020, Candlewick Entertainment), $9.99, ISBN: 9781536212310

Ages 0-3

You have to have a fun board book for the Littlest Easter Bunny fans! This lift-the-flap, egg-shaped board book is a slam dunk for little ones. Hoppy Floppy the Rabbit is on the search for colorful carrots to fill her Easter basket. Some animal friends pitch in along the way, but she needs some extra help from your littles! Sturdy flaps on each spread let kids search for colorful carrots. Inspired by the Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel board game from Educational Insights (and with an appearance from Squirrel), this is a book that babies and toddlers will love. Illustrations are colorful and cartoony; perfectly kid-friendly. Great for learning colors, animals, and nature (point out trees, flowers, bushes).

 

Hazel and Twig: The Lost Egg, by Brenna Burns Yu, (March 2020, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536204926

Ages 3-7

In this second Hazel and Twig installment, Korean-American bunny sisters Hazel and Twig are playing in a meadow when they discover a pale blue egg. First, they decide to hatch it themselves, but when it begins raining, they head home to keep it warm; but after considering how worried the egg’s family may be, they call on their Umma and Appa (mother and father) to help them seek out the egg’s family. Adorably narrated and with delicate, lovely pastel ink and watercolor illustrations, this sweet story about sisterhood, exploration, and family is a sweet way to greet Easter egg hunters.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Mama’s Belly has a sister growing in it!

Mama’s Belly, by Kate Hosford/Illustrated by Abigail Halpin, (Apr. 2018, Abrams), $16.99, ISBN: 9781419728419

Recommended for readers 3-7

A young girl feels excitement and trepidation at the upcoming arrival of her new baby sister. The text’s language is just beautiful, beginning with the sentence, “Mama has a belly rising up, like a wave. Inside is my sister, waiting to meet me.” The girl talks to Mama’s belly, sings to it, hugs it; she dreams of holding and caring for her baby sister, but she’s also nervous: does she have to share her blanket? Will Mommy ever have a lap again, and will she still have space for her? Will Mama have enough love for both siblings? With gentle text and soft, illustrations, Mama’s Belly is an empathetic, loving story that assuages children’s concerns and warmly welcomes a new family addition.

I love that Mama gets some storytime here, too: as her pregnancy progresses, we learn that it’s not easy carrying a baby! “Mama’s belly is making her grumpy. I haven’t seen my toes in weeks!” Mama’s also tired and achy, laying down on the couch with a tender back while the girl draws for her. It helps explain why pregnant moms and caregivers may not always be able to play as baby gets closer to being born, and it models wonderful behavior: when Mama can’t see her toes, the girl counts them for her, letting her know that she still has 10. When tired Mama asks for a picture, the girl draws a multi-page “magic energy machine” to invigorate her. Papa and Mama love their little girl, and let her know that she’s an important part of their family, and that’s the most important part of getting a new sibling-to-be ready for baby. This is a nice addition to new baby collections, and a great baby shower/big sibling gift idea.

 

Want to see a little more? Enjoy the book trailer.


Kate Hosford is the author of several picture books, including Infinity and Me, which was a New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book award winner and named an ALA Notable Children’s Book. Her books have been translated into Chinese, Korean, French, and Romanian. Kate lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York. You can visit her author website and follow her on Instagram @katelhosford.

Abigail Halpin is the illustrator of many children’s books, including Finding Wild. She lives in Southern Maine. Visit her on the web or on Instagram @abigailhalpin.

 

Want a chance to win your own copy of Mama’s Belly? Enter this Rafflecopter giveaway! (U.S. addresses only, please!)

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Holly Black’s newest fantasy series begins with The Cruel Prince

The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black, (Jan. 2018, Little, Brown), $18.99, ISBN: 9780316310277

Recommended for readers 12+

I have been insanely excited about this book since I saw Holly Black talk about it during her panel with Ryan Graudin at BookExpo last year, so when the ARC showed up on NetGalley, I jumped on it. It was worth the wait, because The Cruel Prince is Holly Black at her high fantasy, intrigue and betrayal finest.

Jude is a mortal girl, raised with her twin sister, Taryn, and half-sister sister, Vivi, in the Court of Fairie. By the main that killed her parents, who also happens to be Vivi’s father. The two human sisters want desperately to belong, but are looked down upon for their mortality; the Folk use every opportunity to sneer at and humiliate them, and fiery Jude takes most of the abuse. Cruelest of them all is Prince Cardan, the youngest son of the High King. When Jude is given the chance to become part of a shadowy group of spies, she grabs at the chance, and discovers her own capacities for bloodshed and double-dealing. And that will serve her well as the Court of Faerie moves toward a big change: one that will see Jude making and breaking alliances to save those closest to her.

There is SO much to unpack here, and it’s all brilliant. The characters are as loathsome as they are amazing – and that’s said with the highest compliment. The faerie folk are beautiful, cruel, entitled, and immortal; we love them as much as we hate them. Jude emerges as a strong heroine; conflicted by loving the man who raised her as his own, yet murdered her parents in cold blood; conflicted by her desire to live among the Folk as one of them, yet disgusted by their capacity for cruelty. There are plot twists that you won’t see coming, and betrayals that will make you yelp. If you’re a high fantasy fan – or have readers who are – this is a must have for your shelves. Now, to tensely wait for the next installment. (In the meantime, pick up Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows.)

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

Little Women gets a middle grade update!

Littler Women: A Modern Retelling, by Laura Schaefer, (Sept. 2017, Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9781481487610

Recommended for readers 8-12

The March sisters are back in this updated version of Louisa May Alcott’s classic, Little Women. Now, they’re coping with a dad who’s deployed overseas, and the girls are contending with school dances, sleepovers, and crushes. The characters are a little younger: Meg is 13 and a freshman in high school; Jo is 12; Beth is 10, and Amy is 9, and their overall personalities are wonderfully close to their original personas. Jo loves hockey, while Beth prefers to stay at home or visit their neighbors, the Lawrences, to play piano. Laurie and Demi are back in this update, too, with age-appropriate crushes on the March girls. Author Laura Schaefer sticks pretty close to the original story, with a happier resolution to Beth’s story. Each chapter contains a fun activity from one of the March sisters, including crafts and recipes. The sisters also create a family ‘zine, which I love – and tips on creating one – and I’m thrilled to see that ‘zines are becoming a thing again, popping up in books like Littler Women and Moxie.

 

Littler Women is such a good introduction to the classic for middle graders. It encourages creativity and emphasizes the bond between sisters, between family, and between friends; there are disagreements between characters, but they are able to work things out every time. Talk up the similarities and differences between Little Women and Littler Women (don’t forget to mention Little Men), and maybe even have a viewing of one of the several movie adaptations of the original. Definitely fun reading, worth adding to your shelves or giving to a classic-minded reader who loves a good story.

Author Laura Schaefer is also the author of The Tea Shop Girls series. Her website offers links to her blog and information about school visits.

Posted in Historical Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen

Radium Girls meets YA fiction with Glow

Glow, by Megan E. Bryant, (Sept. 2017, Albert Whitman), $16.99, ISBN: 9780807529638

Recommended for readers 12+

Julie should be starting college in the fall, but she used up all her savings to bail her mother out of debt. Frustrated and embarrassed, especially when her friend drops money on crazy shopping trips while Julie counts every cent. They wander into a thrift store where Julie discovers an antique painting that reveals a hidden, glowing image in the dark. Locating the rest of the paintings becomes Julie’s obsession; as she tracks down the paintings and the painter’s identity, she discovers that the paintings were made by and tell the story of the Radium Girls – young women who worked in factories, using radium paint to make glow-in-the-dark watches for the soldiers in the trenches of World War I.

The dual narrative keeps the novel moving at a fast pace, but it is Liza and Lydia’s story – the Radium Girls – that gripped me even more than Julie’s. If you haven’t yet read Kate Moore’s Radium Girls, I highly recommend it; the story of the women who were slowly poisoned over time is heartbreaking and infuriating, but so important to read and know. Glow is a great introduction to the subject on a middle school/YA level; the letters from Lydia to her betrothed, Walter, a World War I soldier, give readers the full horror of radium poisoning. These girls – some as young as 13 – were led to believe that the radium paint was safe, even beneficial – one floor manager brags about mixing some into his pudding for health reasons; girls paint their nails, their faces, even paint jewelry on their bodies before they go out on dates. Hindsight, for the reader, is 20/20; I wanted to shriek at them as Lydia described each detail.

That said, there are some moments I felt could have been stronger. I didn’t love the romance that felt pushed into the narrative to make it more attractive to teen readers, and the subplot tension between Julie and her mother feels like it’s there just to make readers understand why Julie would be shopping in thrift stores. The driving story here is Lydia and Liza’s story, though; that’s what will stay with you long after the story has ended and you’ve closed the book. An author’s note at the end talks about the Radium Girls and the indignities they suffered when they became ill and tried to come forward.

This one is going on the shelves at my library, and I’ve already told my son’s girlfriend that she has to read it the second it hits shelves. Glow has a powerful, heartbreaking story at its core that you should not miss.