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

Long Distance: A summer camp like you’ve never experienced!

Long Distance, by Whitney Gardner, (June 2021, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), $14.99, ISBN: 9781534455658

Ages 10-14

Vega is a girl who’s not thrilled with summer vacation this year. Her parents have moved her from Portland, Oregon, to a new life in Seattle, and she’s miserable. She’s left behind her best friend, Halley, and to add insult to injury, her dads are sending her off to Camp Very Best Friend, hoping she’ll make some new friends. When the Camp VBF bus pulls up, Vega’s got a strange feeling about this camp… and it only gets weirder once she and the other campers arrive! Cell phones don’t work, and the counselors are just… different. Together with fellow campers Qwerty (like the keyboard), and twins Gemma and Isaac, Vega decides to get to the bottom of this odd camp in a hilarious story about making friends! Early in the story, Vega Googles how to make friends; each piece of advice she receives heads a different chapter, giving readers a humorous idea of what to expect. The characters are likable, and dialogue and story move at a good pace, and readers are going to love this summer camp story. Artwork is colorful with cartoon-realistic characters, similar to Raina Telgemeier and Shannon Hale’s characters. A good book to hand to introverts – Camp VBF is filled with kids who don’t find it that easy to make friends, until they’re put into the unusual situation that sets the stage for this story. Vega is interested in astronomy, Qwerty relates to computers “better than people”, and Gemma and Isaac are all about rocks and minerals, so there’s a nice little STEM/STEAM thread quietly running through the story. A fun summer story that satisfies wanderlust.

Visit Whitney Gardner’s webpage for coloring pages and more info about her books, including one of my favorites from last year, the 2020 Cybils-nominated Becoming RBG.

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

Kid-Friendly graphic novels for younger readers

I told you, this is a graphic novel summer! I’m so happy to see graphic novels coming out with younger and newer readers in mind: they helped develop a love of reading in my own kiddo, and I know the littles in my library love them as much as my middle graders do. Let’s take a look at what’s good.

Magic Tree House: Dinosaurs Before Dark Graphic Novel, by Mary Pope Osborne, Adapted by Jenny Laird, Illustrated by Kelly Matthews and Nicole Matthews, (June 2021, Random House Books for Young Readers), $9.99, ISBN: 9780593174715

Ages 6-9

Jack and Annie are headed to graphic novels! The Magic Tree House books have been a staple in libraries for decades; now they’re transitioning to more visual storytelling mediums with graphic novels, starting with the first Magic Tree House adventure, Dinosaurs Before Dark. Jack and Annie discover a treehouse loaded with stacks of books, make a wish to see dinosaurs, and discover that they’re been transported back in time to the prehistoric era! Annie befriends a couple of plant-eaters, they run from a T-Rex, and try to figure out how to get home again. The story translates wonderfully to a graphic novel medium, and the artwork has a manga influence, which makes for big facial expressions; the artwork is colorful and eye-catching. Less dense text relies on visual storytelling, making this even more appealing to emerging and struggling readers. This series is going to be a hit.

Be sure to check out the Magic Tree House Classroom Adventures website, where you can find lesson plans and more resources. The Magic Tree House website has resources for kids and parents, including a Mission Game and Kids Adventure Club.

Fitz and Cleo, by Jonathan Stutzman and Heather Fox, (May 2021, Henry Holt), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250239440

Ages 6-9

The dynamic duo behind the Llama Destroys the World series is doing graphic novels now!! Fitz and Cleo are sheet-wearing ghost siblings who find and adopt a cat they name Mr. Boo. There are 11 bite-sized stories in this first volume; perfect for newly confident readers to pick up and spend time with. Fitz sports a baseball cap and glasses and is more interested in science than cats; Cleo wears a head bow, is cheery and fun, and is always there to support her brother. The two are best friends, with Mr. Boo adding comic relief with his antics, usually aimed at Fitz. Adorable, fun, Fitz and Cleo is a great early graphic novel to add to your younger reader shelves. Download a Fitz and Cleo activity kit right here!

 

Blue, Barry & Pancakes: Escape from Balloonia, by Dan & Jason, (June 2021, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250255563
Ages 4-8
The second Blue, Barry, and Pancakes adventure is just as wacky and fun as the first. Blue and Barry want a day just for themselves, but Pancakes has other plans: she’s made a rocket, and a planet made of balloons, and before Blue or Barry can say a word, they’re zooming off into space, where they’ll find themselves facing a giant Balloonian – a resident of Balloonia, naturally – named Balloon Kong. Will the trio ever get home? Will Blue and Barry ever get their quiet day? You have to read it to find out! This is such a fun series that you can easily start reading with preschoolers. The humor is light, laugh-out-loud funny, and the characters are endearing and adorable.
Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell, by Melanie Watt, (June 2021, Random House Books for Young Readers), $12.99, ISBN: 9780593307557
Ages 6-9
Popular picture book friend, Scaredy Squirrel, makes his graphic novel debut in Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell. Scaredy has successfully secured his tree from wooly mammoths, woodpeckers, lumberjacks, and aliens, but now he’s faced with a seemingly insurmountable foe: his new neighbor, a friendly bunny named Ivy. Scaredy has to weigh all the potential risks and plan for every scenario before deciding whether or not to invite Ivy to share his takeout pizza, and he discovers that having a friend can be pretty fun, after all. If you’re familiar with the Scaredy books, you’ll give a hearty chuckle at seeing Scaredy’s familiar lists for everything. If you’re new to Scaredy, you will be quickly enchanted by how funny and sweet he is. The artwork is adorable, expressive, bold, and eyecatching; there are three easy-to-navigate chapters that advance the story and give readers easy spots to put the book down for a break if they need to. Scaredy Squirrel is a great choice to bring to graphic novels!
Shark and Bot #2: Sleepaway Champs, by Brian Yanish, (June 2021, Random House Books for Young Readers, $9.99, ISBN: 9780593173381
Ages 5-8
The two besties are back in their new adventure, where they head off to sleepaway camp (much to Bot’s chagrin: he wanted to go to Space Camp). Camp Sweet Sunshine is not what the friends expect: Bot is put in a giant bubble because “everyone swims at Camp Sweet Sunshine”; they’re glitter-bombed by another camper, and the bathroom may be haunted. But they have a talent show to practice for, and it’s the one place that has enough privacy! Sleepaway Champs is a funny, cheerful story about summer, friends, and trying new things, sure to make readers smile. The book is organized into 8 chapters, making for easily paced reading with breaks. Author Brian Yanish’s website has loads of resources for caregivers and educators, including a video on how to draw Shark and Bot. Back matter includes instruction on how to draw Batty, Shark’s stuffed wombat, and amusing and interesting facts about wombats.
Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Middle Grade Quick Takes: The White Tower and Lions and Liars

Two more from the great TBR read-down! I’ve got some realistic fiction and some dark(ish) fantasy for you, right here!

The White Tower, by Cathryn Constable, (Sept. 2017, Chicken House/Scholastic), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-338-15746-8

Ages 8-12

Livy is a 12-year-old English girl who is still reeling from the recent death of her best friend is uprooted when her father accepts a prestigious job as the librarian at Temple College: a position that comes with a spot in the school for Livy and a new home for the family. Livy discovers the stone Sentinels – angels – on the roof of the school are tied into the school’s history, and that the school’s founder and her possible ancestor, Peter Burgess, was consumed with studies on gravity and flight. As Livy tries to fit in at school, she also finds herself drawn to the Sentinels and their secrets; a mystery between the school’s previous librarian, the current headmistress, and Peter Burgess moves the story forward.

Character development takes a back seat to the many subplots, leading to an at-times confusing story that has strong fantastic elements that I would have liked to explore more. Livy is a developing character who would have benefitted more from a stronger subplot on grief and loss, and the main plot – the Burgess mystery – being more defined, less stretched out between characters. If you have strong fantasy readers who liked Constable’s previous book, The Wolf Princess, this may work for them.

 

Lions & Liars, by Kate Beasley/Illustrated by Dan Santat, (June 2018, Farrar Straus Giroux), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0-374-30263-4

Ages 8-12

This case of mistaken identity at a summer camp for unruly kids is at times, hilarious; at times, touching. Fifth grader Frederick Frederickson is not the big kid on campus. He’s not even really the small kid on campus. According to his friend Raj’s “food-chain theory about life”, there are lions, like Devin; the big kid on campus. There are gazelles, the kids who are bullied by the lions. There are meerkats, who watch the world go by, and then, there are fleas, who live on the butts of the meerkats. According to Raj, Frederick is a flea. This doesn’t sit well with Frederick; things only get worse when his long-awaited family vacation is canceled because of a Category 5 hurricane threat. After his friends pull a mean prank on Frederick at a birthday party, he’s had enough, and pushes back. The only problem is, pushing back ends up with him stuck on a boat that leaves him on the shores of Camp Omagoshee, a summer camp for troubled kids. It gets worse when he’s mistaken for camper Dashiell Blackwood, whose name tag is the only one left. Assuming Dash’s identity, he finds himself in the big leagues for a change: Dash is legendary for being bad, but Frederick? He tries to convince his cabin mates, Nosebleed, Specs, The Professor, and Ant Bite, that he is every bit as tough as they come, but even Frederick isn’t sure if he’s going to be able to back up Dash’s fame. When the camp is cleared out when the hurricane starts heading in their direction, Frederick and his new group learn that they have to work together to stay safe, and maybe they’ll even become friends.

At its heart, Lions & Liars is about cliques and labels. The mistaken identity plot makes for some laugh-out loud moments, especially as Frederick tries to live up to Dashiell Blackwood’s infamous camp legend, but there’s also the stress of living a lie and the risk of being discovered. What happens when real friendships are made on the foundation of lies? The characters are nicely developed, and go beyond their “bad kid” label to show readers what constitutes a “troublesome child” in others’ eyes. Dan Santat’s black and white illustrations will keep readers turning pages. Kate Beasley has a great post about the labels kids get stuck with on the book on Nerdy Book Club.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, picture books, Preschool Reads, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Upcoming books to get kids excited for summer

I know, I know, we’re not even heading into Spring yet, and here I am, talking about Summer-themed books. Honestly, though, can you think of a better time to imagine grains of sand running through your fingers, the warm sun on your back, or the smell of the woods after a summer rain? Here are a few upcoming books to whet your readers’ appetites for the longer, warmer days of summer.

Grains of Sand, by Sibylle Delacroix, (Apr. 2018, OwlKids Books), $16.95, ISBN: 9781771472050
Recommended for readers 4-7

A young girl and her brother come back home after a family vacation; her shoes are filled with sand. What to do with all of it? Should they plant a field of umbrellas to wave at the sun? How about a forest of windmills, or a castle fort? The possibilities are as endless as a child’s wish for the summer to stay. As the girl falls asleep in her father’s arms, she extracts a promise that they’ll return for more sand, next year. This sweet love letter to summer and family uses grainy gray and white artwork, with splashes of yellow and blue, and will enchant young readers and make us adults smile and remember our own summer vacations. You’ll feel the sand run through your fingers and smell the ocean as you turn each page. It’s the perfect way to greet a summer full of possibilities. Originally published in 2017 in French, this English translation of Grains of Sand has a starred review from Kirkus.

 

Be Prepared, by Vera Brosgol, (April 2018, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781626724457
Recommended for readers 10-14

A semi-autobiographical graphic novel about author/illustrator Vera Brosgol’s life, Be Prepared tells the story of Vera, a girl who desperately wants to fit in, but she doesn’t have the money that her fancier suburban friends have, and her Russian household doesn’t quite match her schoolmates’ WASP-y upbringing. When the girls start talking about the lavish summer camps they’re heading to for the summer, Vera does some research and finds an option even her single mom can afford: a Russian summer camp.  How can Mom say no? She’ll be able to make friends and learn more about her Russian heritage. Mom gives in, and Vera and her brother are off to camp – but it’s nothing like Vera expects. She’s got history lessons and tests?! Awful outhouses? And mean girls in Russian camp, too?! This hilarious look back at summer camp is great for tweens and young teens who know just what it feels like not to fit in. I really enjoy Vera Brosgol’s cartoon art, especially those giant, expressive eyes that communicate volumes. Vera Brosgol’s picture book, Leave Me Alone! is a Caledecott Honor book and her graphic novel Anya’s Ghost is a Cybils, Harvey, and Eisner Award winner. See more about her books and artwork at her website.

All Summer Long, by Hope Larson, (May 2018, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9780374310714
Recommended for readers 10-13

Thirteen-year-old Bina is not looking forward to this summer. Not only is her best friend, Austin, heading off to soccer camp this summer, but he doesn’t even seem interested in keeping up their Summer Fun Index anymore! Bina consoles herself by getting lost in music and finding an unlikely friendship with Austin’s sister, who has similar taste. When Austin comes home, he’s acting more distant and weirder than ever. Can Bina and Austin ever get their friendship back on an even keel? This great graphic novel will resonate with tweens who are navigating their own growing pains and the evolution so many friendships go through in that summer space between middle and high school. It’s funny and touching, loaded with understanding. An A+ summer read. Hope Larson is an Eisner Award-winning comic and graphic novel artist whose books include Chiggers (2008), Goldie Vance (ongoing), and Compass South (2016). Her 2012 adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time earned her a second Eisner.

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

The Dorks are back! Pack of Dorks goes to Camp!

camp dorkPack of Dorks: Camp Dork, by Beth Vrabel (May 2016, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781634501811

Recommended for ages 8-12

Lucy and her friends are back in the sequel to Pack of Dorks! The school year is done, and Lucy and her pack are headed to camp: Camp Paleo, where the group gets to live like cavemen for the next week. Because Sheldon thought it would be a cool idea. Sam backs out at the last minute to go to a gymnastics training camp, but Lucy’s grandma comes along for the summer, working as a lunch lady at the techy camp next door. Camp Paleo is decidedly not techy. The campers dig for fossils, learn archery, and have really, really cold, showers with bugs for company. Mr. Bosserman, the camp leader, is a grumpy old man, and Lucy feels her pack falling apart as the week progresses. Lucy’s got to look at some of her own choices and own up to things she’s said and done before she finds herself on the outs for good.

Camp Dork is a solid sequel to Pack of Dorks, which was brilliant in its depiction of a group of tweens coming together to embrace the things that made them unique. They owned their Dork label at school, but sometimes, you don’t want to be a label: you want to be a person, and you don’t want to be fettered by a word that supposedly describes all that you are. It’s something Lucy has to learn, and it’s something that readers are learning, right along with her. Camp Dork explores how people – especially tweens, but even adults – are perceived by different people, at different times, in different situations.

Camp Dork is a great summer read for tweens who are at the same point in their lives: discovering who they are, cultivating different interests and new friends, and maybe, fighting a little bit of change in their lives. If you loved Pack of Dorks, don’t miss Camp Dork. If you didn’t read Pack of Dorks, no worries – there’s enough exposition in Camp Dork to catch you up without you feeling lost.

I love the way Beth Vrabel writes. The dialogue just flows, and it’s at once loaded with inner frustration, wit and sarcasm, and honesty. I just saw on her website that another of her books that I really enjoyed, Blind Guide to Stinkville, has a sequel coming out this Fall, so I’ll be all over it.

There’s a really good librarian-created discussion guide to Pack of Dorks on Beth Vrabel’s website, which makes me feel like I need to start coming up with these things for all the books I read.

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

Spotlight On: Just Like Me, by Nancy Cavanaugh

I recently raved about how much I loved Just Like Me, by Nancy Cavanaugh. Now, enjoy this spotlight and excerpt from Just Like Me – and make sure to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway for a chance to win your own copy of the book!

9781492604273-PR

Just Like Me, By Nancy J. Cavanaugh (April 5, 2016; Hardcover, ISBN 9781492604273)

Book Info:

Title: Just Like Me

Author: Nancy J. Cavanaugh

Release Date: April 5, 2016

Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Praise for Just Like Me

“A tender and honest story about a girl trying to find her place in the world, and the thread that connects us all.” – Liesl Shurtliff, Author of Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin

“A heartwarming and tender story about the universal struggle of yearning to be an individual while longing to fit in.” -Karen Harrington, author of Sure Signs of Crazy

“[A] charming and refreshingly wholesome coming-of-age story….Filled with slapstick humor and fast-paced action, the novel will engage reluctant readers, while offering fuel for deep contemplation by those ready to tackle questions of identity and belonging.” –School Library Journal

“From pillow fights to pinkie promises, sock wars to s’mores, a red thread connects this energetic summer-camp story with Julia’s deeper journey to accept herself, her adoption, and her Chinese roots.” -Megan McDonald, award-winning and bestselling author of the Judy Moody series and Sisters Club trilogy

Summary:

Who eats Cheetos with chopsticks?! Avery and Becca, my “Chinese Sisters,” that’s who. We’re not really sisters—we were just adopted from the same orphanage. And we’re nothing alike. They like egg rolls, and I like pizza. They’re wave around Chinese fans, and I pretend like I don’t know them.

Which is not easy since we’re all going to summer camp to “bond.” (Thanks, Mom.) To make everything worse, we have to journal about our time at camp so the adoption agency can do some kind of “where are they now” newsletter. I’ll tell you where I am: At Camp Little Big Lake in a cabin with five other girls who aren’t getting along, competing for a camp trophy and losing (badly), wondering how I got here…and where I belong.

Told through a mix of traditional narrative and journal entries, don’t miss this funny, surprisingly sweet summer read!

Find Just Like Me on Goodreads!

Buy Links:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

BooksAMillion

!ndigo

Indiebound

Jacket Flap Author PhotoAbout the Author:

NANCY J. CAVANAUGH is an award-winning author and former teacher and librarian at an elementary school. Nancy lives in Chicago, IL, with her husband and daughter but flies South to Florida for the winter. Visit nancyjcavanaugh.com for more.

Social Networking Links:

Website- http://www.nancyjcavanaugh.com/

Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/Nancy-J-Cavanaugh-281062665333065/

Twitter- https://twitter.com/NancyJCavanaugh

Excerpt from Just Like Me:

The camp bus sputtered and chugged up the interstate, sounding as if this might be its last trip. Avery sat across the aisle from me with her earbuds on, practicing a Chinese vocabulary lesson. Becca sat next to her, chewing on a straw and watching a soccer match on her cell phone.

“Ni hao ma,” Avery said, her chin-length hair with bangs making her look studious in her thick, black-framed glasses.

When she saw me looking at her, she pulled out one earbud and offered it to me.

Did she really think I wanted to learn Chinese with her?

“Technically the lesson I’m working on is review, but I could teach you the basics if you want.”

I looked around at all the kids on the bus staring at her and shook my head.

“GO! GO! GO!” Becca yelled, pumping her fist in the air as she cheered for Spain’s soccer team.

Her hair spilled out of her ponytail as if she were playing in the soccer game instead of just watching it. “Booyah! Score!”

As kids stood up on the bus to see what all the yelling was about, I slid down in my seat, and the driver gave us that “death look” in her rearview mirror. The one that said, “If I have to stop this bus, somebody’s gonna get it…”

“Hey, Julia!” Becca yelled, holding up her phone. “Wanna watch with me? The game just went into overtime!”

“No thanks.”

Crowding around a tiny phone screen and watching people kick a soccer ball around was not my idea of fun.

My idea of fun was craft camp at the park district with my best friend, Madison, but Mom said I had the rest of the summer to do that.

Instead I was heading north toward Wisconsin to Camp Little Big Woods, but at least that was better than heading south toward Indiana for Summer Palace Chinese Culture Camp.

As soon as we “graciously” agreed to be the subjects of Ms. Marcia’s adoption article, she suggested that the three of us spend a week together making paper lanterns and learning the pinyin alphabet at culture camp.

“It will be a great way for you girls to reconnect not only with each other, but also with your heritage,” Ms. Marcia had gushed.

She loved treating us as if we were two instead of almost twelve.

But I said there was no way I was going to eat Chinese food three times a day and do tai chi every morning, so we settled on the sleepaway camp Avery and Becca went to every year.

I reached into the pocket of my suitcase and pulled out the plastic lacing of the gimp friendship bracelet I had started a few days ago. I had planned to finish it before camp so that I could give it to Madison when I said good-bye to her, but I’d run out of time. I decided I’d try to finish it while I was at camp and mail it to her along with a nice, long letter saying how much I missed her.

“Hey, Julia!” Becca yelled. “What’s that?”

“Nothing,” I said. “Just a friendship bracelet for my friend Madison.”

“COOL!” Becca yelled. “We should totally make those for each other in the arts-and-crafts room at camp.”

She went back to her straw-chewing and her tiny-phone-screen soccer game.

Friendship bracelets for the three of us? I guess “technically” as Avery would say, the three of us were friends. But even though “technically” I had known Avery and Becca longer than I had known my parents, I couldn’t imagine ever thinking of them as the friendship-bracelet kind of friends.

What are your thoughts on the Chinese proverb: “An invisible red thread connects those destined to meet regardless of time, place, or circumstances. The thread may stretch or tangle, but never break.”

Dear Ms. Marcia,

I’ve been hearing about this red thread for as long as I can remember, but I cannot imagine a thread, of any color—red, blue, purple, orange, or green—connecting Avery, Becca, and me. And if by some chance there really is a thread, I’m pretty sure this trip to camp might just be enough to snap that thing like an old rubber band, breaking it once and for all. Then that Chinese proverb would be history in a whole new way.

Julia

ALSO BY NANCY J. CAVANAUGH

always abigailAlways, Abigail

Summary:

Abigail and her two best friends are poised for a life of pom-poms and popularity. But not only does Abigail end up in a different homeroom, she doesn’t make the squad. Then everyone’s least favorite teacher pairs Abigail up with the school’s biggest outcast for a year-long Friendly Letter Assignment. Abigail can hardly believe her bad luck! As her so-called best friends and dreams of pom pom fame start to slip away, Abigail has to choose between the little bit of popularity she has left or letting it go to be a true friend.

Goodreads

Buy Links:

Amazon

Apple

Barnes & Noble

BooksAMillion

!ndigo

IndieBound

ratchetThis Journal Belongs to Ratchet

Summary:

It’s the first day of school for all the kids in the neighborhood. But not for me. I’m homeschooled. That means nothing new. No new book bag, no new clothes, and no new friends.

The best I’ve got is this notebook. I’m supposed to use it for my writing assignments, but my dad never checks. Here’s what I’m really going to use it for:

Ratchet’s Top Secret Plan

Turn my old, recycled, freakish, friendless life into something shiny and new.

This Florida State Book Award gold medal winner is a heartfelt story about an unconventional girl’s quest to make a friend, save a park, and find her own definition of normal.

Goodreads

Buy Links:

Amazon

Apple

Barnes & Noble

BooksAMillion

!ndigo

Indiebound

Don’t forget to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway for a chance to win one of 2 Copies of Just Like Me! Runs March 8th-April 30th (U.S. and Canada only)

https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js

 

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

Pack your bags for creepy Camp Midnight!

camp midnightCamp Midnight, by Steven S. Seagle/Illustrated by Jason Adam Katzenstein (April 2016, Image Comics), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-63215-555-9 (Diamond ID: AUG150485)

Recommended for ages 8-12

Poor Skye is shuttled between her divorced parents – and she is NOT a fan of her step-monster, Gayle. When her mother drops her off at her father’s for summer vacation, she finds out that they’ve made plans to send her off to camp – and then they end up sending her to the wrong camp! Camp Midnight is no ordinary camp: the head counselor is a witch, and the really cute boy she likes is a werewolf. Skye is under pressure to show her “real self” from the mean girls in her cabin, but she and her new friend Mia are keeping their secrets to themselves. Skye will learn a lot this summer, especially when Mia reveals her secret and it’s up to Skye to decide whether or not it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

Camp Midnight is an original graphic novel from Big Hero 6 creator Steven T. Seagle and New Yorker artist Jason Adam Katzenstein. This brilliant pairing brings a lot to the table: we have a sarcastic middle grade main character who readers will love. Skye’s in a position too many kids understand, being shuttled between two households; she has the indignity of a step-mother who makes no secret about not wanting her around, and a seemingly clueless father. Sent off to summer camp without even being asked, she finds herself the odd kid out in a big way, and reacts by rejecting everyone outright before they can reject her. Middle graders are going to love Skye’s sarcastic exterior and her vulnerable interior.

The art is a brilliant accompaniment to the story. I love Katzenstein’s rendering of the “step-monster”, with her glaring dark color and overbearing stature. Mia is drawn to be as soft and sweet as her character, with huge eyes, evoking sympathy from the get-go. The art is often exaggerated, larger than life, giving a bigness to the story that a tale with monsters deserves. Color is for overall mood, with panels in shades of orange, brown, or red, often with one color – like a blue or fuschia – to set apart a mood or action.

Camp Midnight is a fun addition to graphic novel libraries, and I already noticed the kids in my comic book group at the library circling while I was reading it (during what was supposed to be their comic book creating time). Call your distributors and pre-order it!

 

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

Tristan Hunt and the Sea Guardians: Middle Grade marine adventure!

shark whispererTristan Hunt and the Sea Guardians, Book 1: The Shark Whisperer, by Ellen Prager, (May 2014, Mighty Media), $9.95, ISBN: 978-1938063442

Recommended for ages 9-13

Twelve year-old Tristan Hunt is kind of a klutz. He trips and falls a lot, which garners him a lot of teasing at school and disappointed glances from his father at home. The luckiest thing happens to him, though, when he falls into a shark tank while vacationing with his parents in the Florida Keys – not only does he emerge unharmed, but shortly after the incident, he receives an invite to a very special summer camp – a summer camp where all the campers learn that they have special talents when it comes to the ocean and the creatures that live there. Tristan can communicate with sharks – that’s a pretty handy talent to have! – and once he’s in the water, he’s not a klutz at all.

That’s not all, though. The camp staff not only teach the kids to hone their abilities, but use them to protect and rescue sea life. They’re supposed to wait until they’re older and receive more training before they qualify for missions, but when critical mission pops up and the team is short-staffed, Tristan and his friends may have to save the day.

This is the first book in a middle grade series that Mighty Media was kind enough to send me, and I am thrilled that they did. With hat tips to both Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, this summer camp for gifted kids is packed with adventure and wonder – the kids are thrilled, yet nervous, about discovering and embracing their new abilities. There’s some great information about various forms of sea life in here, making this a must-read for kids with an interest in sharks, dolphins, octopuses, or any other sea creature. Once it’s established that the kids can communicate with the animals, they each exhibit their own personalities, which adds some fun to the mix (and the sharks with Jamaican accents are hilarious).

Author Ellen Prager is a marine scientist and children’s author, so she brings a great deal of expertise and knowledge to the book. Budding conservationists are going to want to have this book in their collections, too. Ellen Prager’s author webpage offers more information about her background, beautiful photos, fun facts, and printable puzzles to share.

The series is also perfect for your more conservative students and readers. It’s clean, the kids are respectful to adults and one another (mostly), and the adults are fun to be around while exhibiting concern for the kids’ welfare. We’ve got a villain who cares nothing for life outside of his own interests, and has the resources to make enough trouble for the Sea Guardians that we know he’ll be around for at least another book.

This is a fun series for both boys and girls that may have been missed when it hit shelves last year – make sure to give it a look and consider adding it to your shelves this year. I’m always a fan of finding a little magic in my tween realism when I can find it.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Boys Camp: Zee’s Story is a good summer read for middle-graders

boyscamp Boys Camp: Zee’s Story, by Kitson Jazynka and Valerie Tripp/illus. by Craig Orback, (2015, Sky Pony Press), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1629147543

Recommended for ages 8-12

It’s summertime, and Zee is excited to return to Camp Wolf Trail and hang out with all of his friends, especially his best friend and partner in pranks, Will. But things are a little different this year when Will gets angry at Zee for including other friends in their camp fun. Zee is worried about the infamous Will and Zee dynamic duo coming to an end, but heads out on an kayaking trip with his camp group, where he finds himself in some serious danger – can he navigate his way out of the rapids before it’s too late, and reconcile with his best buddy? It’s going to be a heck of a summer at Boys Camp!

This is a great book for my more conservative readers, who’ve been on my mind since reading the article about serving more conservative teen patrons in School Library Journal. I’ve got quite a few groups of kids who want something without a lot of negative connotations or perceived bad behaviors. These are the kids that are still my ardent Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys readers, My American Girl readers, and now, I imagine my Boys Camp series readers.

Co-authored by National Geographic books for kids author Kitson Jazynka and American Girl author Valerie Tripp, Boys Camp: Zee’s Story is good, lighthearted storytelling. These are good kids that like to have fun, enjoy working together, and yes, experience conflict. What you’re not getting are mean-spirited kids, ghost stories, or wisecracking kids that outwit adults on a regular basis. Conservative teens start out as conservative middle-grade readers, and finding books for this group isn’t always the easiest. Books like Zee’s Story are great for me to give to my younger readers and readers from conservative families, because the characters are multi-ethnic, work together, and form respectful relationships with the adults in the camp. The story itself is light and fun, and set within a larger Boys Camp series from Sky Pony, allowing return readers to make new literary friends and return to a favorite place. Illustrations by Craig Orback flesh out the readers’ imaginations and add some tension to scenes like the kayak ride by the rapids.

I’m glad this book is going on my shelves, and can’t wait to order the other Boys Camp series. I know I’m going to have a very happy group of boys in particular that will be enjoying this book over the summer.

Posted in Fiction, Humor, Tween Reads

Book Review: Fred & Anthony Escape from the Netherworld and Fred & Anthony Meet the Heine Goblins from the Black Lagoon, by Elise Primavera (Hyperion, 2007 & 2008)

Recommended for ages 9-12

I am writing one review for both of these books as they are by the same author and from the same series.

Fred and Anthony are two kids with one big wish: find someone to do their homework for them so they can relax, eat Chex Mix and Pez, and watch horror movies. In their first adventure, Escape from the Netherworld, they decide to make money so that they can afford to pay someone; because they already have a reputation for botched and unfinished jobs im their own neighborhood, they strike out for a new neighborhood and end up discovering The Netherworld when Anthony falls through a bathroom portal. Luckily, Fred has the foresight to grab a Guide to the Netherworld to help them navigate their way past evil dentists, deceptively dressed werewolves, and Count Dracula himself. They make their way back home only to discover that a ghost has followed them – so they hire him as a ghost writer (get it?) to write about their adventures. Their get rich quick plan is under way!
 
Their third adventure, Fred & Anthony Meet the Heinie Goblins from the Black Lagoon, catches readers up on the first two books, so readers can come in on any book in the series and not feel lost. Fred and Anthony are sent off to Camp Plenty Wampum summer camp in Heinie Goblins; naturally, the camp brochure is a ruse and the camp, run by two Wise Guys named Carmine and Vinnie, is a dump serving cold Hot Pockets with warm water, forcing recreation time in leaky canoes on the questionable Lake Gitchie Lagoonie, and haunting them by dressing up as The Burnt Marshmallow Mummy and The Lone Short-Sheeting Stranger. While out on Lake Gitchie Lagoonie, the boys’ canoe capsizes and they end up back in The Netherworld for a brief time, until their escape from the Creature from the Black Lagoon leads them back up to the Camp.
 
Deciding that they can make money by charging kids for trips to The Netherworld, the boys launch their next career venture. In The Netherworld, they meet the Heinie Goblins – cute, purple-feathered little batlike creatures with bare backsides. Despite the Guide to the Netherworld’s warning about the goblins being “a pain in the butt”, the boys allow a goblin to accompany them back to the camp, but the goblin brings friends along, who menace the other campers. When Carmine and Vinnie show up dressed as the Lone Short-Sheeting Stranger and the Burnt Marshmallow Mummy, the goblins become jealous of losing the audience’s attention – the book is, after all, named for them – and attack, leaving the boys to figure out a way to make things right.
 
The books are written with the lower end of the age range or the reluctant reader in mind, with black and white illustrations on every page and a mixture of graphic novel and chapter book format. Gross humor will appeal to boys (or girls!) who giggle at a good bathroom joke. The books are slightly more than 100 pages in length, making them easy and quick reads for younger children.
 
The author and illustrator, Elise Primavera, “ghost wrote” these books under the name Esile Arevamirp. There are four Fred & Anthony titles, but was surprised that the author’s website had no mention of them; I even attempted to find a website for her alter ego but found nothing. Turning to YouTube, discovered Rat Chat Reviews, an animated video review site for children’s books; the rats posted an interview with Fred and Anthony on the cancellation of their series. Regardless of whether or not there are any more Fred & Anthony books in the future, the series is still a fun set of books for a younger or reluctant reader.