I pulled Coop Knows the Scoop off my TBR yesterday morning, and I finished it this morning. That’s how good this middle grade mystery is. Cooper Goodman – call him Coop, please! – lives with his mom and grandfather in Georgia, where he helps out in his mom’s bookstore/coffee shop when he’s not in school. His dad, a Marine, died in action, and his Gramps is the retired town doctor. It’s small town life, where everyone knows one another, and it’s pretty idyllic, until the morning a skeleton is discovered buried at the playground. After some DNA testing, the skeleton is revealed to be Coop’s grandmother, Tabby, whom everyone thought left Gramps years ago, when Coop’s dad was little more than a baby. When Gramps falls under suspicion – they always suspect the spouse, right? – Coop enlists his best friends, twin siblings Liberty and Justice, to help him search for clues and exonerate Gramps.
Written in the first person from Coop’s point of view, I could not put this book down. It’s got all the elements of a good whodunnit: a scandal, a quirky cast of local characters, smart dialogue, fleshed out characters with good backstories that make just about everyone a suspect, and an impending sense of danger that you just know is going to explode when you get these elements mixed together. You and your readers are going to want to know what the real scoop is, and that’s going to keep all of you reading this book until you get to the end, and its very satisfying conclusion. Put this on your mystery lists, for sure.
Read more about Taryn Souders and her books at her author website. Coop Knows the Scoop is a 2021 Edgar Award nominee for Best Juvenile mystery novel. Download a great activity kit, including a recipe for sweet tea, through publisher Sourcebooks, Download a discussion guide from Sourcebooks here, too!
This rhyming tale of literacy on the high seas stars an all-canine cast. Nell, a younger pup, is so excited to join a pirate crew, but Captain Gnash scoffs at her bookishness and saves the ickiest tasks for her to do. A treasure map in a bottle shows up one night, but Captain Gnash manages to get himself and his crew into big trouble until Nell, and her Pirate’s Almanac, save the day! They finally make it to the island and discover the best treasure of all. Smart and light, this upbeat tale of books and how handy a little extra knowledge can be is great for library visits. Helen Docherty and Thomas Docherty always manage to create the best stories about book lovers: they also wrote The Snatchabook and The Storybook Knight; both wonderfully woven rhyming tales of books and how they make things better. The colorful acrylic artwork will attract all readers; who doesn’t love a rollicking pirate story with sea monsters and treasure? Endpapers show off a cross-section of a pirate ship before and after the plunder. See if kids can spot the differences! Pair with Ronan the Librarian for the ultimate class visit storytime. Visit Helen Docherty’s website for downloadable goodies including masks and coloring sheets!
The second book to star Daniela the Pirate, Daniela and her crew spend a good part of this new adventure aboard their pirate ship, the Black Croc, tracking down a group of pirates called The Fearless Piranhas. They keep showing up to rescue sea folk just before the Black Croc arrives, and the crew is starting to get worried: what if they beat the Croc to the best treasure, too? Just as the Black Croc happens upon the Fearless Piranhas ship, they both get caught up in a dangerous storm: luckily, Daniela knows a friend who can help everyone out! The two crews finally meet and decide that teamwork is the best way to work! Upbeat and positive, this pirate story is all about sharing and teamwork, with the acknowledgement that sometimes, jealousy and competition can get in the way of how we perceive others. Gómez always uses bright, cheerful colors in her artwork; here, vibrant landscapes and pirates stand out against the light blue sea and sky, really giving the characters center stage. Originally published in Spanish, this English translation will appeal to pirate fans while teaching a lesson in kindness.
Samantha is about to be a seventh grader, has a mother and older sisters who are over-achievers, and desperately wants to make her own mark on something. She ends up with a summer vacation she wasn’t quite expecting: accompanying her workaholic mother to her grandmother’s Florida condo, and journaling in her “Dear Me” journal to promote her mom’s company. What ends up happening is even less expected: Mom has to rush home, leaving Sam in Florida, where she ends up on a karaoke road trip with her grandmother, her grandmother’s best friend, and a really, really cute boy.
I love Nancy J. Cavanaugh’s books because they’re created to read in easily readable, fun, descriptive bursts: journal entries, lists, letters; she has a gift for a tween voice, and writes with a light, funny voice that puts readers at ease and invites introspection. She plays with her multigenerational characters; in this case, giving readers a karaoke-loving senior citizen and a tween who feels the pressure to be someone, constantly measuring herself up against those around her. The road trip is wacky and wonderful – thrift store bowling shirts, a car full of Bibles, a tour of terrifying road stop bathrooms – and will make readers laugh out loud, especially if they’ve had the dubious honor of being on the dreaded Family Road Trip. Sam’s voice comes through clearly, and I loved her referencing her future self looking back and reading the entries.
Ms. Cavanaugh navigates complex mother-daughter relationships here, too: we have the relationship between Sam’s mother and grandmother, Sam and her grandmother, and Sam and her own overachieving mother, all of which are loaded with moments for deep discussion. This would be a great choice for a mother-daughter book club.
Turn up some karaoke (YouTube has dozens of pages, including Sing King), bake some cookies, and enjoy an evening with Sam and her family. This is a great read for tweens who want a fun read with a summery vibe.
Picking up immediately after the events in Shadow Weaver (2018) and Comet Rising (2019), Hollow Dolls, set in the Shadow Weaver universe, follows Simone and Sebastian, two of Lady Aisling’s captives, as they try and rebuild their lives. Simone is a mind reader, determined to find her lost family – but she has no idea how old she is, having been Lady Aisling’s prisoner, suspended in time, for so long. Sebastian, a memory thief, invites her to stay with him and his sister, Jemma, as she begins her search, and the three decide to head to the Archives to seek information about Simone’s village. After visiting Lady Aisling in prison, Simone and Sebastian discover that a body walker – someone with a talent to control another person – has taken over Jemma, and the two head off on their journey alone. When they meet a woman named Maeve, also headed to the Archives to learn what happened to her family, they’re so relieved to have found someone they can trust, but strange things start happening when the group arrives at the Archives, too.
Hollow Dolls is an expansion of the Shadow Weaver universe, but there’s enough background in the book that new readers should be able to follow along (and most likely, head for the Shadow Weaver books when they’re finished). Simone and Sebastian’s friendship is a strong part of the story, and the Archives staff and other guests have mixed emotions over their presence there, but there’s not enough meat to the characters to invest readers. The world-building is solid and interesting, and I wanted to know more about the Archives. The unraveling revelations are well-played, and readers will like the overall smooth pace of the novel. In short, Hollow Dolls is good; I just wanted more – which is a pretty good thing, overall. Shadow Weaver readers will likely get much more from this.
Author MarcyKate Connolly’s website has more about her books, a link to her blog, and information about her appearances.
Thirteen-year-old Hannah Steele lives in the Pelling Island community of Elliott Bay, right off the coast of Seattle. On the day she sets out on her first big babysitting assignment – the first one was just while her neighbor, Andrea, ran local errands – a major earthquake hits the Pacific Northwest. Hannah is stranded with her two younger charges, siblings Zoe and Oscar Matlock. And their pet guinea pig, Jupiter. Both kids are injured in the aftermath, and Hannah, who’s asthmatic, left her rescue inhaler at home. With the power out, cell phones down, and rescue uncertain, Hannah has to use all of her mental and physical resources to keep the kids, Jupiter, and herself alive and safe, especially when the Matlock’s house becomes an unsafe shelter.
Narrated by Hannah, The Disaster Days is a tense, consuming page-turner. By taking everything away from Hannah at the outset – adults, internet, cell phones, TV – Rebecca Behrens creates a survival story fraught with peril. The Zoe and Oscar’s home is not safe; food and medical supplies are almost nil; there’s a gas leak in the Matlock home, so Hannah moves the kids to a tent outside, where they narrowly miss an encounter with a bear. Aftershocks can hit at any moment. Hannah doesn’t know the fates of her parents; Zoe and Oscar’s mother, Andrea; or her best friend, Neha, with whom she had an argument minutes before the earthquake. Within the scope of the big disaster, Hannah copes with her world being upended, and the stress of keeping Zoe and Oscar as comfortable – which includes keeping a lot of their situation from them – as possible. She relies on a crank radio and the voice of a newscaster, Beth Kajawa, to get periodic updates that will help guide her decisions. An author’s note at the end touches on earthquakes, post-quake threats like sand volcanoes and liquefaction, and emergency preparedness. Rebecca Behrens’ author website includes free, downloadable resources for parents and educators and links to websites and online resources about earthquake science, and emergency preparedness.
The Disaster Days is reading you, and your readers, will not want to put down. Have readers who like Hatchet or Rodman Philbrick’s The Big Dark? Give them The Disaster Days. This one is a definite must-read, must-have.
It’s Unicorn Day! All the unicorns come out to play and show their unicorn pride; they shine up their horns, they fluff up their manes, and they sing the Unicorn Day song as they dance and celebrate. But what happens when a horse tries to fit in with a fake horn on Unicorn Day? Why, the unicorns embrace him and get back to celebrating! Unicorn Day is for everyone!
Sliding down rainbows? Raining cupcakes? A glitter fight? This is the best book ever! Unicorn Day is an adorable tale of fun, celebration, and inclusivity. No mean unicorns here! These unicorns know how to have fun and want everyone around them to feel as happy and loved as they do. The rhyming text has a festive feel, and Luke Flowers’ colorful, vibrant art will get your little readers up and marching. Alligators, octopus, even a yeti parade across the page, all sporting unicorn horns and megawatt smiles. I love the joyful feel of the story, and the positive message about making space for everyone. Author Diana Murray has a free, downloadable activity kit available that has everything you need for your own unicorn party, including tasty recipes, a pin-the-horn on the unicorn game, invitations, and name tags. This Craftiness is Not Optional post also has a cute step-by-step to make your own glittery unicorn horns using scrapbooking paper. Want to make unicorn balloons? Here’s a template from the Minidrops blog; the post is in German, but the pictures are there to guide you.
Slip this into your Pride storytimes, your unicorn storytimes, and your anytime storytimes. It’s feel-good storytelling, and a must-have for your collections!
Seriously, though, check out Diana Murray’s author website. I’ve been a fan for several years now; she’s got goodies attached to most of her book pages, and her books are consistently wonderful. Follow Luke Flowers on Instagram to see more of his adorable artwork, and because he’s a great guy who personalizes books at his signings. (My 7-year-old is still thrilled with his ‘Be T-Rexcellent’ message and drawing on his copy of One More Dino on the Floor.)
The Summer Reading theme for this year is all about Space, and I am psyched. I love outer space, and I’ve got a growing list of books to add to my own readers advisory lists (I’ll put that together in the next week or two for a post). Meanwhile, Sourcebooks and Barefoot Books have three great books about space that are staggered throughout the year, and perfect for your space-faring STEM fans. Let’s check them out, shall we?
The Moon was so lonely, up in the night sky by herself. When she sees life developing on Earth, she patiently waits for someone to notice and visit her. It takes a while: the dinosaurs don’t notice; early people build pyramids and structures that just aren’t high enough. Eventually, though, she gets some visitors, and she is thrilled! She gives them presents of rocks and dust to take back to Earth, and they give her a beautiful flag and a plaque. Now, Moon is in the sky, happy and waiting for more visitors. Will you be her next guest?
This is the sweetest story I’ve read yet on the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon. The Moon is illustrated as a softly shining, opalescent sphere with kind eyes, rosy cheeks, and a sweet smile; readers are treated to a quick history of Earth’s development as the Moon quietly observes, waiting for a friend to reach out – or up – and say hello. She even dances around the planet, showing off her phases! The actual Apollo mission takes up a brief part of the story, making this sweet book about a lonely satellite who just wants a friend an adorable storytime read for younger kids, and a fun book with solid facts for school-age kids. There’s a brief bibliography on the verso page, and back matter includes several pages dedicated to Mission Moon, the Apollo 11 voyage; moon facts, and moon phases, along with a running timeline of Earth’s formation and development. Endpapers are starry nights, where kids can imagine sailing through the stars to visit their favorite moon. Readers can also scan a QR code to hear Neil Armstrong’s historic first words from the 1969 moon landing. Gentle storytelling and adorable illustration make this a great Summer Reading addition! Display and booktalk with Stacey McAnulty’s Moon, Earth, and Sun trilogy.
You know if Chris Ferrie is writing a book, I’m reading it. This STEM-errific take on There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly is about a giant black hole that swallows… well, everything. He starts with a universe… it couldn’t get worse! But oh, it does: the black hole swallows planets, stars, galaxies, and atoms, molecules, and quarks along with it. Yikes!
I read this to my first grader this morning and he immediately smiled and said, “This is like The Old Lady story!”, so kids familiar with the classic tale (and all of its spin-offs) will immediately jump in and know what’s coming; how the story will progress. With each chomping, the black hole gets bigger, and the planets and heavenly bodies look hilariously terrified as they try to get away from its maw. The storytelling is fun and loaded with humor; it’s cumulative and rhyming storytelling at its scientific funniest. The illustrations are goofy, with exaggerated facial expressions that make the storytelling more dramatic and humorous as you go. Bone up on your keyword knowledge for kids who will ask during the story (neutrons, atoms, quarks, oh my!). Scientific terms are highlighted in bold yellow, and capitalized to stand out and give your readers a nice working STEM vocabulary. Shine a blacklight on the pages from back to front, and you’ll reveal a super-cool, hidden history of the universe’s creation!
Absolute fun and a must-get for your storytime collections. Be a rock star at Science Storytime! Pair this with The Universe Ate My Homework by David Zelster for more black hole-related fun.
Riding high on the post-Summer Reading wave, middle grade kids can go back school and check out Barefoot Books Solar System, a glow-in-the-dark, interactive guide to our Milky Way, complete with lift the flap booklets, a pull-out map, and beautiful artwork. Originally published in French, the book has been reviewed, edited, and updated by Dr. Carie Cardamone, professor of STEM education and Boston Museum of Science teacher and educator. The text is written with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor while delivering solid nonfiction goods to middle graders. The book covers each planet, with nicknames like :Saturn: The Space Diva”, and “Uranus and Neptune: The Icy Sisters”; the asteroid belt; differences between solid and gas planets; measuring the universe, and famous outer space voyages. The artwork is bright and bold, seeming to explode off the black pages to grab the reader’s attention.
In keeping with Barefoot’s mission of diversity and inclusivity, there is information about space exploration from around the world, making this a truly global effort. Back matter includes a comprehensive glossary of scientific terms and a note on the units of measurement used in the book. Don’t pass this one up; your 520s will shine a little brighter with Barefoot Books Solar System on your shelf.