Posted in Non-Fiction, picture books

Excelsior! Stan Lee has a picture book biography!

With Great Power: The Marvelous Stan Lee (An Unauthorized Biography), by Annie Hunter Eriksen/Illustrated by Lee Gatlin, (Oct. 2021, Page Street Kids), $18.99, ISBN: 9781645672852

Ages 4-8

Gone but never forgotten (or, if you’re like me, maybe you prefer to think he’s hanging out with The Watcher somewhere), Stan Lee changed the faces of comic books forever: from The Hulk and the Fantastic Four, to the X-Men and the Avengers, he collaborated with industry giants like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, to give us heroes that were super AND human. With Great Power is a wonderful tribute to our “generalissimo”, beginning with Stanley Lieber’s spare childhood in New York City, his job at Timely Comics, which, along with his love of books and fantasy led to him becoming an editor while still in his teens, and ultimately, his work creating superheroes that have since become household names: Spider-Man, Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Black Panther, and so many more. The book even mentions “Stan’s Soapbox”, a column in Marvel comics where Stan would take on issues of the day like racism, sexism, and enjoying comics, no matter your age. (You can also buy the collected Soapboxes!) The comic book artwork is loaded with heroes that even casual fans will recognize; toned in sepia as we look back to Stan’s earlier years, things come to life when his career takes off. There’s a diverse crowd thronging as he walks a red carpet, a host of Marvel superheroes following him, and he’s surrounded by a diverse group of superhero fans, dressed as their favorites, at the story’s close. Back matter includes some more Stan facts and a bibliography, and endpapers are a collection of comic book exclamations, which you’ll also discover as you read the story. A fitting tribute for a man who gave his life to comic books. Make sure to check out the free activity guide. Display and booktalk with Boys of Steel by Marc Tyler Nobleman; the book profiles the lives of Superman creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel.

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

‘Tis the season for great graphic novel reading!

I know, that was awful, but trying to find new graphic novel headlines is tough! With that, let the games begin.

 

Barb the Last Berzerker, by Dan Abso & Jason Patterson, (Sept. 2021, Simon & Schuster), $13.99, ISBN: 9781534485716

Ages 8-12

A young Berzerker warrior is on a mission to save her fellow warriors after a villain named Witch Head takes them captive. With the help of a Yeti named Pork Chop, and wielding the Shadow Blade that she took from Witch Head, Barb goes on a journey that changes her thinking: where she once fought monsters, she’ll learn that monsters – including sausage-eating yetis – aren’t all bad, and not all humans are good. She meets snot goblins, vampire goats, and a giant who’s sensitive about his foot odor while calling on the power of the Shadow Blade to help her in battle. But the Shadow Blade’s power is not something to be used lightly, and Barb may find that relying on it too much could hurt more than it could help. The first in a new series, Barb is chaotic and hilarious, with gross-out jokes and positive messages about independence and unlearning endemic bias. Readers will cheer for Barb and Pork Chop, who are a buddy movie waiting to happen. Dan & Jason are the creators behind the younger readers’ series Blue, Barry, & Pancakes; visit their website to find out more about their graphic novels.

Barb the Last Berzerker has a starred review from Kirkus. It hasn’t been nominated for a CYBILS yet, hint hint!

 

Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero, by E. Lockhart/Illustrated by Manuel Preitano, (Sept. 2021, DC Comics), $16.99, ISBN: 9781401293222

Ages 13+

Yet another great DC YA graphic novel, this time from award-winning author and National Book Award Finalist, E. Lockhart. Willow Zimmerman is a 16-year-old Jewish teen activist, living in the Down River section of Gotham. It’s a run-down neighborhood and she’s tired of it being overlooked; she takes to the streets in protest when she’s not at school or at home, caring for her mother, who’s going through treatment for cancer. She works part-time in an animal shelter and feeds her friend, a stray Great Dane she’s named Leibowitz, on the side. When E. Nigma – her mom’s estranged friend – gets in touch with Willow, she learns that he’s cleaned himself up and is a successful real estate entrepreneur who runs an underground gambling promotion on the side, and he wants to give her a job. Faced with mounting bills and the fear of eviction, Willow accepts and starts earning more money than she could have ever imagined. When she and Leibowitz are attacked by Killer Croc, who has a grudge to settle with Nigma, the two realize that they can understand one another – where other people hear assorted growls and barks, Willow hears Leibowitz talking! The two decide to become a superteam and do their part to clean up Gotham: even if it means playing double agents to Nigma, aka The Riddler, and Pamela Isley, who’s helping Nigma out as her alter ego, Poison Ivy. I love the origin stories DC’s YA authors have been putting out, and their new heroes are go good, I can’t help but hope they’ll eventually show up in the big titles. Willow is a smart, likable heroine faced with big, real-world issues: lack of healthcare, a single, ailing parent, and the aggravation of living in a neighborhood that’s ignored by all but real estate developers who will gentrify for cheap and push the incumbent citizens out. She combats this first by taking it to the streets; when that isn’t working fast enough, she learns to play both sides of the game. Leibowitz is her steadfast sidekick with a funny, sly sense of humor (once we can hear him talk), and it’s great to see some Gotham familiar faces (including a surprise cameo) and a new spin on The Riddler. All around, a solid hit from DC yet again.

Whistle has not yet been nominated for a CYBILS yet – you know what to do.

 

 

Friends Forever, by Shannon Hale/Illustrated by LeUyenPham, (Aug. 2021, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250317568

Ages 9-13

The third installment in Shannon Hale’s autobiographical “Friends” series sees Shannon in eighth grade and dealing with anxiety over her looks, her grades, and her popularity. She sees her friends dating, but worries that no one wants to date her. She wants eighth grade to be her perfect year, but she just can’t seem to be happy. She becomes increasingly anxious, with OCD behaviors starting to creep into her daily life. A solidly relatable, realistic picture of the big emotions and worries facing kids as they become teens, Shannon’s adolescence in the 1980s is still every bit as relevant to tweens and teens today; with mental health issues gaining more mainstream attention today, Friends Forever can spark important conversations about the pressures tweens and teens face and coping mechanisms that can help. Friends Forever is about change and finding the courage to accept and love yourself. Beautifully illustrated, and with back matter that includes an author’s note from Shannon Hale that addresses mental health, actual school photos, a peek at LeUyen Pham’s sketchbook, and notes from Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham to one another, just like real friends share. Download a free activity kit with discussion questions and a Readers Theater script, and find activities for all three Friends books at the Real Friends website.

Friends Forever is a first round Graphic Novels CYBILS nominee.

More to come!

Posted in Graphic Novels, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

It ain’t easy being a superhero’s kid: I Am Not Starfire

I Am Not Starfire, by Mariko Tamaki/Illustrated by Yoshi Yoshitani, (July 2021, DC Comics), $16.99, ISBN: 9781779501264

Ages 13-17
The latest original DC YA graphic novel, by YA rock star Mariko Tamaki, is all about the fraught relationship between (Teen) Titan’s Starfire and her teen daughter, Mandy. Mandy’s been raised by her mom – no word on her dad’s identity, although everyone around her sure has opinions they don’t mind sharing with her – and she is NOT like her mother at all. She isn’t sparkly. She isn’t a tall, alien superhero with superpowers. She’s a goth chick who dyes her hair black, wears combat boots, and looks at just about everyone her with total disdain, except for her best friend, Lincoln. When Mandy is paired with “in” girl Claire for a school project, the two hit it off – so well that Mandy, who’s just walked out of her SAT and decided to run away to France rather than go to college – may be interested in sticking around after all. But Starfire’s family unrest follows her from Tamaran to Earth, and Mandy finds herself facing a fight for her life – or her mother’s.
I Am Not Starfire is all about the up-and-down relationships between parents and kids. Are parents aliens to teens? Possibly. Are teens aliens to grownups? Heck yes (speaking for my two, exclusively). The relationship between Mandy and Starfire is recognizable, whether you have a parent that expects too much from you, or that you just can’t relate to for a moment in time, but that you still love and want to be loved by in return. It’s about family secrets, starting over, and discovering ourselves for who we are, sparkly powers notwithstanding, and it’s about relationships with our friends, nurturing a crush to see where it goes, and the (sometimes) explosive relationships we have with family. Yoshi Yoshitani’s artwork is amazing, and Mariko Tamaki is one of best writers in comics right now. Together, they create a great book for your teen graphic novel collections.
Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade

The Ocean Strikes Back in Super Sidekicks #2!

Super Sidekicks #2: Ocean’s Revenge, by Gavin Aung Than, (July 2021, RH Graphic), $12.99, ISBN: 9780593175125
Ages 8 to 12, Grades 3 to 7
The second book in the Super Sidekicks graphic novel series is all about the sidekicks standing on their own. The world’s leaders and the superhero grownups have been captured by The Mother of the Sea, who’s sick and tired of the damage us humans are wreaking on the planet, and it’s up to Junior Justice (JJ), Flygirl, Dinomite, Goo, and Ada, the most intelligent belt buckle in the universe, to save things and start the world on a better path. Mother of the Sea has put together a Trash Titan – a giant monster created out of all the trash from the Pacific Ocean – and wants to destroy all the land dwellers, so talking her down is going to take all of the skills the Sidekicks have at their disposal!
This is a perfect series for readers who are moving up from chapter books. It’s a fast-paced adventure story with fun superheroes who show the adults a thing or two about respecting kids and the planet. Illustrations are colorful, and the beginning of the story carries incredible weight: drifting trash in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch; seagulls feeding plastic bottle caps to their babies; a sea turtle swimming with a plastic soda ring around its neck. Watching the Trash Titan form from the tons of junk polluting the waters, you kind of want to root for the Mother of the Sea. Naturally, the adults are all clueless, but the kids know what’s up! Empowering kids to save the world one piece of junk at a time, Super Sidekicks: Ocean’s Revenge includes tips on reducing our trash footprint, and tips on how to draw Dinomite and Goo.
Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Dan Unmasked: Everyone has a story

Dan Unmasked, by Chris Negron, (June 2021, HarperCollins), $7.99, ISBN: 9780062943071

Ages 8-12

Nate and Dan are best friends. They share a love of baseball and a love of comic books, especially Captain Nexus by comics legend George Sanderson. They’re always talking, always together, until an accident at baseball practice leaves Nate in a coma. Dan feels crushing guilt that he caused the accident and desperately comes up with an idea that HAS to work: convinced that Nate is trapped, like Captain Nexus in his latest storyline, he’s going to create a comic that will show Nate the way out. He joins forces with Nate’s brother, Ollie, and Courtney, a friend from school to plot out a storyline that has to work. Right?

Dan Unmasked is as much a story of grief, loss, and recovery as it is about friendship, comics, and baseball. Chris Negron weaves all the parts of a middle schooler’s life together in his story, including parental relationships and relationships with school friends and teammates. He gives a reclusive comic book artist real life as a fully realized character with as rich a backstory as the main characters. Baseball fans will love the game narration; comics fans will love the comic book references he liberally sprinkles throughout. John David Anderson fans will easily jump into this story; it’s got that wonderful mix of the extraordinary and the everyday. Get this on your Summer Reading shelves.

The hardcover release (July 2020) of Dan Unmasked was an Independent Booksellers’ Debut Pick of the Season.  Author Chris Negron has a Dan Unmasked Curriculum Guide available for download at his author website.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Blog Tour: Super Rooster Saves the Day!

Get your cape on, put on the Chicken Dance, and turn up the volume, because here comes SUPER ROOSTER!

Super Rooster Saves the Day, by Maureen Wright/Illustrated by Rob McClurkan,
(Oct. 2020, Two Lions), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1542007788
Ages 4-7

Ralph the Rooster wants to be a superhero. He borrows the farmer’s kerchief to use as a cape. He reads superhero books. He crows flies, makes himself invisible… within reason, of course. The other farm animals are a bit dubious as to Super Rooster’s status as a superhero, but his best friend, Rosie the Pig, is always in his corner! Life on the farm really isn’t terribly exciting, but one day, when the farmer leaves the radio on in the barn, Ralph hears a song that changes his life… the Chicken Dance. With a cheep-cheep-cheep, a flap-flap-flap, a wiggle-wiggle-wiggle, and a clap-clap-clap, he is off and running! The only problem? Where Ralph sees opportunities to be a superhero, the other animals see the ordinary: until the chance to save the day appears. Will Ralph rise to the occasion and save the day?

Super Rooster Saves the Day is such fun! The digital artwork is expressive and cartoony, with picture book and comic book-type panels throughout; there are sound effects and repetition, making this a super read-aloud choice and a great book to give to your superhero fans. The colors are bright and the text is bold and black, popping right off the page. The sound effects and Chicken Dance movements just beg listeners to jump up and dance along.

Absolute fun for a farm or a superhero readaloud – heck, add some of John Himmelman’s “To the Rescue” books (Chickens, Cows, Pigs, Ducks) and have the best of both worlds. And whatever you do, play The Chicken Dance LOUD.

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

More #BooksfromQuarantine, Graphic Novels edition

I’ve been tearing through my graphic novel stash now that I’m back at work two days a week. Here’s some from the new crop.

Supergirl: Being Super, by Mariko Tamaki/Illustrated by Joëlle Jones, (July 2020, DC Comics), $16.99, ISBN: 9781779503190

Ages 12+

The latest DC YA graphic novel is a collection of the 4-issue Supergirl storyline, Being Super (2018). Caldecott winner and YA graphic novelist powerhouse Mariko Tamaki and Eisner winner Joëlle Jones, whose work I’ve really loved on Lady Killer and Helheim, join forces here to tell the story of Kara Danvers, a teen who’s got BFFs, irritating parents that she totally loves, and a ginormous zit. She can also lift a car with one hand, and runs slower than she really can on her track team, but who cares? She loves her life in Midvale… until catastrophe strikes, and leaves Kara with more questions than answers about her past.

What I’ve been enjoying about DC’s YA graphic novels is the relatability. The super powers take a back seat to the relationships and the frustrations of adolescence; here, it’s Kara’s struggle to discover who she is, and the decisions she makes as she seeks that answer. Coping with grief is a secondary theme running through the story. Joëlle Jones’s  artwork is expressive, bold, and eye-catching. Being Super is a Newsweek Best Graphic Novel of the Year.

 

Child Star, by Brian “Box” Brown, (June 2020, First Second), $19.99, ISBN: 9781250154071

Ages 13+

This documentary-style graphic novel gives a look into the life and times of fictional child star, Owen Eugene. From his overbearing stage parents and his sitcom catchphrase to his post-fame struggle to steady his life, this is a story we can see – have seen – unfolding on reality TV. It’s all in here: interviews with co-stars, hangers-on, and former loves; the parents who felt they had a right to Owen’s money; the D-list reality TV shows that feel like the last stop on the road to obscurity. Readers familiar with some of the bigger child star stories will recognize them in Owen Eugene’s story. A sad look at the collateral damage of 1980s pop culture, Child Star is great reading, written by graphic novelist and biographer Brian “Box” Brown, award-winning writer and illustrator of Andre the Giant: Life and Legend, and Is This Guy for Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman.

Child Star has a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

One Year at Ellsmere, by Faith Erin Hicks, (July 2020, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250219107

Ages 10+

Originally published in 2008 as The War at Ellsmere (thanks, ComicBeat!), Faith Erin Hicks’s boarding school story gets some updated art and some color. Juniper is a new student at the prestigious (read: snobbish) Ellsmere Academy, an exclusive boarding school where she – daughter of a single mother with thrift store clothes – is quickly labeled “the project” by the school’s Queen Bee, Emily. Juniper and her roommate, Cassie, quickly bond over being outcasts in a school full of Mean Girls; something that helps Juniper as she endures Emily’s brutal bullying. Running through this boarding school story is a touch of magical realism surrounding the forest next to the school. I loved the character development, the fantasy touch with the forest story, and how both elements come together to make yet another great story from Faith Erin Hicks.

Read Faith Erin Hicks’s webcomics at her author website.

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

DC debuts new superheroes for middle grade readers!

DC Ink and DC Zoom are putting out top-quality graphic novel content for young and tween/teen readers. I’ve been reading every copy I can get my hands on (when I can get the DC Zoom books out of my kid’s room), and I’m being blown away every time. This time around, we’ve got two new superheroes for the middle grade and tween setHere we go.

Primer, by Jennifer Muro & Thomas Krajewski/Illustrated by Gretel Lusky (June 2020, DC Comics), $9.99, ISBN: 9781401296575

Ages 8-11

A brand new superhero! Ashley Rayburn is a 13-year-old with a criminal father in jail. She’s bounced from foster home to foster home, but her upbeat spirits have been rewarded when she’s placed with Kitch and Yuka Nolan, who provide a warm, kind atmosphere for her to live. Yuka is a little weird, little secretive, but Kitch tells Ashley not to sweat it. Turns out, Yuka works for a lab, and brings home a super-secret experiment: body paints that grant different superpowers. Ashley can’t resist the chance to play with some paint – hey, Kitch is an artist and encourages her to use his studio, after all! – and makes some very big discoveries! With her new BFF Luke, Ashley starts dabbling in her newfound paints and powers and takes to the skies as Primer, a new superhero. Unfortunately for Ashley and her new folks, the shadowy government agency that commissioned those body paints want them back at any cost. Primer’s going to have to do a lot of color wheel work to keep herself and her new family and friends safe.

Loved this story. It’s so upbeat, loaded with laughs and adventure, and has an intriguing subplot involving Ashley’s bad guy dad. There are great DC touches throughout the book, so keep an eye on the artwork, which explodes with color and movement. The ending leaves an opening to a possible sequel, and I hope we get one; my library kids are going to devour this one and ask for more. Primer is great summer reading fun.

 

Anti/Hero, by Kate Karyus Quinn & Demitria Lunetta/Illustrated by Maca Gil (April 2020, DC Comics)$9.99, ISBN: 9781401293253

Next up, a book that came out in April and really needs to get a signal flare, because the world’s events stole some of this book’s thunder. Antihero also introduces two new superheroes for middle grade readers. Piper Pájaro and Sloane MacBrute are two 13-year-olds in the same school, share some of the same classes, but are two very different people. Piper is easygoing, athletic, not a big fan of classwork, and she’s scary strong. Sloane is super smart, not a big fan of athletics, and comes from a family with a bad history. At night, Piper puts on a tutu, a leotard, and a mask and patrols the city, on the lookout for evildoers, while Sloan dons all black (she’s always wearing black, tbh) and commits crimes at the behest of her gangster grandfather, The Bear. The two come together when Piper tries to protect a device that Sloan needs to steal, and a mishap results in the two switching bodies. They learn about each other’s lives as they fake it to make it.

The story is fun, with loads of humor and presents the Sloane and Piper as total opposites: Piper wants to be a superhero more than anything else; Sloane wants to work with scientists. While Piper lives with her loving, cuddly grandmother while her scientist parents are away on assignment, Sloane Sloane is at the mercy of her grandfather so that she can care of her ailing mother. Piper dresses in bold, bright colors that work with her cheery outlook; Sloane favors an all-black wardrobe that matches her serious, all-business attitude.

Both kids are relatable, the body-switching storyline is played for laughs, and we get the value of teamwork. And there’s a cameo that made me squeal like the fangirl I am. Grab Anti/Hero for your middle graders and tweens, and make sure we get a sequel.

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

JULIE MURPHY NEWS FROM VALIANT!

I just got this email, and literally dropped what I was doing (scheduling a dentist appointment, but still) to get this post out. See, I’m not at New York Comic Con this year (waving at my friend, Esti, my son, and his girlfriend who braved the morass of the Javits Center today), so I’m living for everyone’s e-mails, tweets and Facebook posts. THIS email from comics publisher Valiant made me SO HAPPY: Julie Murphy, author of one of my fave YA reads, Dumplin’, is writing a YA novel about Faith, a character from the Valiant Universe that I absolutely love. Check out this gorgeous cover!

From Valiant:

Valiant Entertainment and HarperCollins Publishers imprint Balzer + Bray announced today a new series of young adult novels featuring Valiant comics characters, kicking off in Spring 2020 with FAITH: Taking Flight by #1 New York Times bestselling author Julie Murphy.

“We are always looking for masterful storytellers to bring our stories and characters to life in new and exciting mediums,” said Russell Brown, Valiant President of Consumer Products, Promotions & Ad Sales. “Julie Murphy is one of the best. Having read several of her previous YA novels, we knew she was the perfect author to write about one of our most popular characters, Faith Herbert. Through this and more Valiant YA novels to be announced, we can’t wait to introduce a new generation of fans to the Valiant Universe.”

Julie Murphy is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the books Side Effects May VaryDumplin’Ramona Blue, and Puddin’Dumplin’ was recently adapted into a Netflix original movie starring Danielle MacDonald and Jennifer Aniston.

“Collaborating with Valiant on FAITH: Taking Flight has been such a thrill! I’ve been able to write what I love—body positive stories about young people on the brink of self-discovery—while getting to stretch my legs and play in the world of comics and superheroes,” said Murphy. “Faith has come to mean quite a great deal to me as a plus-size icon and I’m so excited for longtime Faith fans to meet teenage Faith and for a whole new crop of readers to discover Faith and her world for the first time.”

FAITH: Taking Flight is the story of Faith Herbert, a regular teen, who, when she’s not hanging out with her two best friends, Matt and Ches, is volunteering at the local animal shelter or obsessing over the long-running teen drama The Grove. So far, her senior year has been spent trying to sort out her feelings for her maybe-crush Johnny and making plans to stay close to her Grandma Lou after graduation. Of course, there’s also that small matter of recently discovering that she can fly… and a super cool (to say the least!) new girl in town, one who Faith never in her wildest dreams ever thought she would get to meet.

“Julie Murphy’s books have helped change the conversation around body positivity in the YA industry,” stated Alessandra Balzer, VP, Co-Publisher, Balzer + Bray. “We are excited to partner with Julie and Valiant to bring this groundbreaking superhero’s story into the world.”

Faith, first created by Jim Shooter and David Lapham in 1992 for Valiant, received her first solo comic book series in January 2016 from writer Jody Houser and artists Francis Portela and Marguerite Sauvage and became an instant success, earning an Eisner Award nomination and praise from The Atlantic, Vox, NPR, Cosmopolitan, and many more. Today, she is one of Valiant’s most recognizable characters, and her adventures are published worldwide, available in 47 countries in 27 languages. Faith is also a key character in the Harbinger comics, a series about a group of enhanced individuals who band together to avoid being persecuted by government officials and exploited by large corporations. A Harbinger feature film is currently in development at Paramount Pictures under producers Neal H. Moritz and Toby Jaffe of Original Film and Dan Mintz, CEO of DMG Entertainment, the parent company of Valiant.

Valiant’s slate of forthcoming YA novels intend to feature younger versions of classic Valiant heroes as they learn to control their superpowers, battle evil elements, and deal with the trials of growing up. More announcements of the next books in the series will be made soon!
About Valiant Entertainment
Valiant Entertainment, a subsidiary of DMG Entertainment, founded by Dan Mintz, is a leading character-based entertainment company that owns and controls the third most extensive library of superheroes behind Marvel and DC. With more than 80 million issues sold and a library of over 2,000 characters, including X-O Manowar, Bloodshot, Harbinger, Shadowman, Archer & Armstrong, and many more, Valiant is one of the most successful publishers in the history of the comic book medium. For more information, visit Valiant on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and ValiantEntertainment.com. For Valiant merchandise and more, visit ValiantStore.com.

HarperCollins Children’s Books is one of the leading publishers of children’s and teen books. Respected worldwide for its tradition of publishing quality, award-winning books for young readers, HarperCollins is home to many timeless treasures and bestsellers such as Charlotte’s Web, Goodnight Moon, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Where the Wild Things Are, and The Hate U Give; series including The Chronicles of Narnia, Ramona, Warriors, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Pete the Cat, Fancy Nancy, Divergent, and Red Queen; and graphic and illustrated novels such as Nimona, Invisible Emmie, and New Kid.  Consistently at the forefront of digital innovation, HarperCollins Children’s Books delights readers through engaging storytelling across a variety of formats and platforms, including the largest young adult (YA) book community, Epic Reads.  HarperCollins Children’s Books is a division of HarperCollins Publishers, which is the second largest consumer book publisher in the world, has operations in 17 countries, and is a subsidiary of News Corp. You can visit HarperCollins Children’s Books at www.harpercollinschildrens.com and www.epicreads.com and HarperCollins Publishers at corporate.HC.com.

 

FOLKS, I AM BEYOND EXCITED. I love Julie Murphy’s writing style and her body confident characters. This is going to be a novel I keep an eye out for!

 

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

The Great TBR Read-Down Continues: Squint and Pie in the Sky

My middle grade TBR read-down continues with two more great books, both realistic fiction: Squint, by Chad Morris and Shelly Brown, the duo that gave us Mustaches for Maddie; and Pie in the Sky, by Remy Lai. Let’s dive in!

 

Squint, by Chad Morris & Shelly Brown, (Oct. 2018, Shadow Mountain Publishers), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1629724850

Ages 9-13

Flint is a middle schooler who loves to draw and loves superheroes. He’s creating a comic starring his kinda sorta superhero alter ego, Squint, who fights the villains who used to be his buddies, with the help of his rock dog. Flint’s been nicknamed Squint by his former best friend, because he has keratoconus, an eye disease that could leave him blind. Raised by his grandparents, Squint copes with his frustration through his comic, but when he meets McKell – a Filipina with a terminally ill brother who puts up YouTube challenges, daring others to live the life that he can’t – he may just have made a real friend again, after all.

Squint is a beautifully written book of grief, loss, and coping. It’s as much McKell’s story as it is Flint’s, and Chad Morris and Shelly Brown have created another sensitive, compelling story about kids coping with illness, and about the adults who are there to shepherd these kids through the heavy stuff. Flint’s grandparents have had to raise their grandson because their daughter couldn’t; they’ve given Flint the best they could with what they’ve had, and they’ve been the ones to see him through the multiple doctor appointments, and, now, surgery. McKell’s parents are working through grief and loss, and sometimes, that takes a toll on their daughter. Flint and McKell find in each other someone who may not understand, but who gets it, if that makes sense. They push each other to be their best, and when they combine their talents – Flint, with his art, and McKell, with her rhyming and songwriting – they shine.

Squint is a great addition to your middle grade fiction collections. It’s got realistic characters with strong backstories, and deals with real world issues like abandonment, grief, loss, illness, and navigating the aggravations of middle school.

 

Pie in the Sky, by Remy Lai, (May 2019, Henry Holt & Co), $21.99, ISBN: 978-1-250-31410-9

Ages 8-12

Twelve-year-old Jingwen, his younger brother, Yanghao, and his mother leave China for Australia, but this wasn’t the original plan. They were supposed to move to Australia with Jingwen’s and Yanghao’s father, so he could open his dream bakery, Pie in the Sky. But Jingwen’s father died in a car accident almost two years ago, and Jingwen is wracked with guilt over events leading up to his father’s death. When they arrive in Australia, he feels like everyone around him is speaking Martian, but that he’s the alien – especially with little Yanghao seems to fit right in, quickly learning English and making friends. To deal with his grief and his frustration with his new life in Australia, Jingwen decides he’s going to make all the cakes he and his father talked about making for Pie in the Sky. Yanghao is only too happy to have cake every night, and Jingwen sets to work while his mother works. After all, cake makes everything better, right?

I LOVED Pie in the Sky. It’s a graphic novel within a novel, with 2-color illustrations on almost every page, that keep the action moving and keep readers invested in the story. When Jingwen tells readers he feels like an alien, we see that he’s an alien! He’s drawn as an alien for every time someone can’t understand him; on the occasions where he successfully speaks a word or two of English, a fourth eye will disappear, or something else will make him slightly more human. But all around him, people speaking English – including his brother and mother – may as well be an alien language, something we see as Remy Lai brilliantly illustrates a single word here and there, surrounded by alien glyphs in speech bubbles. Remy Lai creates a moving story about a family working through grief and loss, but each seem to be in isolation, when they need to come together to move on. Jingwen’s fear and frustration at being in a new country, speaking an unfamiliar language, comes across through prose and illustration, making him even more likable and empathetic. Jingwen and Yanghao have an realistic sibling relationship, with ups and downs, general silliness, and the love the always manages to shine through. Kids will love how they call each other – and anyone who annoys them, really – a “booger”.  Pie in the Sky works as a humorous and touching look at a family working their way through a tragedy. The tasty recipe at the end encourages families to bake together – because cake really does make everything better.

Pie in the Sky has a starred review from Kirkus.