Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Uncategorized

Polly and Buster prove that witches and monsters should be friends

Kane Miller sent me a middle grade fantasy trilogy about Polly & Buster, a young witch and a young monster who are best friends despite monster and witch society not always seeing eye to eye.

Polly and Buster: The Wayward Witch and the Feelings Monster (Book 1), by Sally Rippin, (Sept. 2019, Kane Miller), $6.99, ISBN: 978-1-61067-926-8

Ages 7-11

The first book in the series introduces us to Polly, a 9-year-old witch who just can’t seem to get her witching schoolwork right. Her older sister, Winifred, is the star sibling, and her widowed mother is often frustrated by Polly’s inability to excel like Winifred, and by her friendship with Buster, the monster next door. Polly and her family are still reeling from her father’s death in the mines a few years ago, which seems to be the tipping point for witch-monster tensions. When Polly casts a powerful spell while trying to protect Buster from bullies, her actions are misinterpreted, and the relationship between witches and monsters grows dangerous. Polly and Buster have to work together to salvage their own relationship and keep one another safe as witches and monsters choose sides in what could be a brewing war.

I was pulled right into this easily readable adventure. Polly exhibits some ADHD, dyslexic, and OCD tendencies, which could be linked to her burgeoning witch power: think Percy Jackson and the similar issues exhibited by demi-gods in that series. Buster is a kind-hearted monster who tries to hide his sensitivity from other monsters; his feelings manipulate his size and color, leaving him open to bullying. Witch and monster society in this series is symbolic of our own society: racism, intolerance, and exclusion abounds in witch society, while monsters grow increasingly tired and angry of being considered second-class citizens. Throw in a mean girl bully, and her equally mean, manipulative mother, and Polly and Buster goes from being a sweet story about acceptance and friendship to a powerful look at inequality and revolt.

 

Polly and Buster: The Mystery of the Magic Stones (Book 2), by Sally Ripkin, (Sept. 2019, Kane Miller), $6.99, ISBN: 978-1-61067-927-5

Ages 7-11

The second book in the Polly and Buster series brings the action and the tension up several notches as readers witness the breakdown of relations in witch-monster society. Polly and Buster are on the run from witches who have determined that Buster is dangerous and needs to be taken prisoner (or worse); Polly turns to her favorite teacher, the sympathetic Miss Spinnaker, for help. Meanwhile, a handful of mysterious stones that Polly’s father left to her start to glow and feel warm to the touch; Polly feels them beckoning her… to the mines where her father died?

The Mystery of the Magic Stones brings the action on quickly – witch and monster society are breaking down, and the story has a very Harry Potter feel as a group of vigilante witches start taking policing matters into their own hands as monsters form gangs to protect one another and defend themselves against witches. There’s a feeling of urgency throughout the story, as Polly tries to unravel the mystery of the stones while she and Buster are running and hiding for their lives. No sophomore syndrome here; the second book in the Polly and Buster series will leave readers waiting to find out how this is all going to shake out: make sure you have that third book ready to give them.

 

Polly and Buster: The Seach for the Silver Witch (Book 3), by Sally Ripkin, (Sept. 2019, Kane Miller), $6.99, ISBN: 978-1-68464-095-9

Ages 7-11

The third book in the Polly and Buster series brings things to a big close. Polly and Buster have been on the run through all of the second book as relations between witches and monsters threaten to descend into violence. Polly has made discoveries about herself that will change how others see her – if she can stay safe long enough! Seeking out her aunt – an outcast from witch society – for answers, Polly hopes to unload the burden the stones have put on her. Meanwhile, there’s a dark power brewing in Polly and Buster’s neck of the woods, and it’s making everything worse!

In this third book, Polly learns that she’s far stronger than she ever dreamed – her inner strength will give her the power she and Buster need to make things right between their two communities, and will help her defend everyone she loves against the biggest danger that her village has ever faced. Polly has her hero’s journey across these three books, but Buster also comes into his own as a monster who accepts his feelings and can put aside his own fear to jump in and help when he’s needed.

The whole series, originally published in the UK, is great for emerging readers who are ready for a little more of a challenge in terms of book content and length. It’s an intermediate-level series with more heft and big social issues to unpack. There’s fantastic world-building, solid character development, and sympathetic heroes and villains alike. Black and white illustrations throughout will keep readers interested, and help with pacing and imagining. This series will be super-popular with your fantasy readers. U.S. publisher Kane Miller has a bunch of extras, including a free word search, discussion questions and activities, and some discussions points from the author herself.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Doesn’t matter what you think you see, Lulu is a Rhinoceros.

Lulu is a Rhinoceros, by Jason Flom & Allison Flom/Illustrated by Sophie Corrigan, (June 2018, Wicked Cow Studios), $16.99, ISBN: 9780692070987

Ages 4-7

Lulu may look like an bulldog to you and me, but when she looks in the mirror, she sees a rhinoceros. In her heart, her fluffy, soft fur is really thick skin, and her nubby little tail is actually whiplike. The only thing she needs is a horn: then everyone will know she’s really a rhino! But as she searches for her horn, others laugh at her and cruelly mock her; her Cinderella-like search for the perfect horn takes a few sweet, giggle-worthy turns, especially at the ice cream cart. When Lulu wanders into a rhino enclosure at a zoo, she meets a friend who uses common sense to see her for who she is, and they come together to form a mutually beneficial, wonderful, friendship.

This sweet story is perfect for everyone: in addition to addressing gender identity, Lulu speaks to readers who don’t feel like they quite fit in; readers who don’t want to go with the crowd. The message is strong: be true to yourself. It also extols the virtue of finding – or being – that one friend who can see through the exterior to who you are inside. The softly drawn artwork has muted colors, bringing a sense of calm to the story and allows readers to focus on Lulu’s internal dialogue. The story addresses social issues like introspection, friendship, social issues, tolerance, and yes, gender identity, and I love it. A portion of all the proceeds from sales of Lulu is a Rhinoceros are being donated to the African Wildlife Foundation to help protect Africa’s endangered wildlife and their habitat, so you’re doing two good deeds by buying the book! There’s an interview with authors Jason and Allison Flom (with real-life Lulu!) on the African Wildlife Foundation’s webpage. Pair this one with Bow-Wow Meow, by Blanca Lacasa.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Books for your Spring radar!

Spring always brings some good books to read. In April and May, there’s a little something for everyone – come and see!

April Books

Dr. Coo and the Pigeon Protest, by Sarah Hampson/Illustrated by Kass Reich,
(Apr. 2018, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771383615
Recommended for readers 4-8
Dr. Archibald Coo is a sophisticated pigeon who’s tired of the way he and his fellow pigeons are treated by humans. They’re shooed at, swatted, and treated like a general menace. Dr. Coo remembers when pigeons enjoyed a higher profile in history: in ancient Greece, they delivered news about the Olympic Games; during World War I, they carried messages across battlefields. Now? pfft. So Dr. Coo and his pigeon friends organize and decide to strike: they disappear from every public space, leaving a confused public wondering what happened. Dr. Coo heads over to the mayor’s office a history of the pigeon and a note, asking for tolerance, opening the door to a new era of pigeon-human relations. It’s a cute urban story with a wink to New York and other urban spaces, and has a nice thread about inclusivity and diversity running through the book. Gouache paint and colored pencil art makes for a soft illustration, with attention to the different types of pigeons – there are! – in the cityscape. This would be cute to booktalk with James Sage’s Stop Feedin’ Da Boids!

My Teacher’s Not Here!, by Lana Button/Illustrated by Christine Battuz,
(Apr. 2018, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771383561
Recommended for readers 4-6
Kitty gets to school and knows something’s up when her teacher, Miss Seabrooke, isn’t there to meet her. What’s going on? There’s another teacher there today! How does school even work when your teacher is absent? This sweet rhyming tale about a student’s first substitute teacher is great for younger kids who are just getting into the swing of school routines and provides some fun advice for coping with and adjusting to unexpected change. Kitty teaches readers some coping strategies, including helping out her friends and the teacher by contributing to class and modeling good behavior using cues she learned from her teacher, that the substitute may not be aware of. This is an animal story, so kids will enjoy seeing the “ginormously tall” teacher, a giraffe named Mr. Omar; pigs, elephants, bears, a whole menagerie of students. Hand-drawn artwork and digital collage come together to create colorful, textured, cartoony fun. This one’s a good addition to preschool and primary collections.

Tinkle, Tinkle Little Star, by Chris Tougas,
(Apr. 2018, Kids Can Press), $9.99, ISBN: 9781771388399
Recommended for readers 1-3
One of my favorite books coming out this season is this adorable board book! Set to the tune of everybody’s favorite classic song, this sweet and funny version is all about where not to go: not in a plane, not on Grandpa’s knee, not at a puppet show. Luckily, the poor Little Star gets relief by the story’s end, and sits on a potty to… “Tinkle, Tinkle, Little Star”. It’s adorable with the cutest digital art. Little Star is beyond cute, and gender neutral! Sing along at storytime – I know I’ll be throwing plenty of voice inflection (“Did you just pee on this page?”) and leg-crossing as I read this one. Absolutely adorable, must-add, must-give for collections and toddlers everywhere.

May Books

Polly Diamond and the Magic Book, by Alice Kuipers/Illustrated by Diana Toledano,
(May 2018, Chronicle), $16.99, ISBN: 9781452152325
Recommended for readers 7-9
Polly Diamond is an aspiring, biracial young writer who discovers a magic book on her doorstep one day. Not only does the book write back to her when she writes in it, Everything she writes in the book happens in real life! At first, Polly is psyched: who wouldn’t be, right? But you know how it goes… for every magic journal action, there’s a pretty wild reaction! Written in the first person, with excerpts from Polly’s book, including a pretty great intermediate-level book list for awesome display purposes (“Read Polly Diamond’s favorite books HERE!”). Chapter book readers who love books like Juana and Lucas (on Polly’s favorites list), Jasmine Toguchi, and Katie Woo will thoroughly enjoy Polly’s adventures. There are short, descriptive sentences and a nice amount of new words – Polly is an aspiring writer, after all! Lots of fun for chapter book readers; I’d have kids create their own aquariums as a related craft.

Old Misery, by James Sage/Illustrated by Russell Ayto,
(May 2018, Kids Can Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781771388238
Recommended for readers 5-10
Readers with a darker sense of humor (and parents who are Gorey fans) will get a chuckle out of Old Misery, the story of a cranky old woman named – you got it – Old Misery, and her old cat, Rutterkin. She’s broke, and the apples keep disappearing from her apple tree! Lucky for Old Misery, she’s not completely heartless and feeds a wandering visitor, who grants her one wish: she wants all the apple thieves to be caught in the tree until she lets them go! Old Misery decides to play a little risky game when Death himself shows up at her door – and she sends him to the apple tree. Be careful what you wish for! The black and white, pen and ink artwork has a creepy, quirky feel to it, which will appeal to kids who like Lemony Snicket’s work, but may go over some kids’ heads. Old Misery narrates the story, offering an opportunity for a fun read-aloud.

Binky fans, Gordon’s got his own adventure! For readers who love Ashley Spires’ Binky the Space Cat graphic novels will love Gordon, fellow member of PURST (Pets of the Universe Ready for Space Travel) and Binky’s house-mate, as he finds himself traveling through time to stop an alien invasion. But Gordon travels back too far – before PURST even exists! He’s got to get back to his normal time and set things right! This is fun reading for graphic novel fans, and a nice addition to a popular series. There’s time-travel, problem-solving, aliens, and humor, along with fun art.

See How We Move!: A First Book of Health and Well-Being, by Scot Ritchie,
(May 2018, Kids Can Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781771389679

Recommended for readers 5-8
Author Scot Ritchie’s multicultural group of friends are back together again. Last time we save them, they visited a farm to learn how to grow grains and vegetables in See How We Eat!; this time, Pedro, Yulee, Nick, Sally, and Martin are training as their swim team, The Flying Sharks, prepares to compete. They learn about using proper equipment for different activities, warming up before beginning your activity, teamwork and encouragement, goal-setting, nutrition, the mind-body connection, and more. There are suggestions for fun activities and words to know, all coming together to give kids a fun story about a group of friends staying strong and having fun together while encouraging kids to create lifelong habits of health, nutrition, and physical fitness. I like this See How! series; it offers a wealth of information on healthy living, made accessible to younger readers. I can easily read this in a storytime and get the kids talking about the different ways they play, how they eat, and good habits to get into.

The Bagel King, by Andrew Larsen/Illustrated by Sandy Nichols,
(May 2018, Kids Can Press), $16.99, ISBN; 978-1-77138-574-9
Recommended for readers 4-8

Zaida, Eli’s grandfather, gets bagels from Merv’s Bakery every Sunday morning. One morning, when no bagels show up, Eli gets a phone call: Zaida’s fallen on his tuchus and can’t get the bagels! Eli and his family aren’t the only ones waiting on bagels, either – Eli visits Zaida, only to discover that Zaida’s friends are verklempt, too. No bagels! What a shanda, as my stepdad would say! Eli helps care for his zaida and keep him company, but he knows the best way to cheer Zaida up, and heads to the bagel store on his own the very next Sunday. This story is the most charming book about grandparents and grandchildren, loaded with compassion, a wink and nudge type of humor, and loads of fun, new Yiddish terminology. If you’re an urban dweller, like me, these words are kind of a second language: Zaida is grandfather, and tuchus is your bottom; there’s a little glossary of other Yiddish words that show up in the story, too. (Verklempt is overwhelmed with emotion, and shanda is a shame – you won’t find them in the story, but all I could hear was my stepdad when I read this, so there you go.) I loved the sweet storytelling, the compassion and the decision to act on Eli’s part, and Zaida and his group of friends were wonderful. It’s got an urban flavor that everyone will enjoy, and is good storytelling. Use this story as an opportunity to get your kids talking about relationships with their grandparents: what do you call your grandparents? Do they cook, bake, or shop for food? Do you go with them? (I’d love to get some bagels to hand out with my group… hmmm…) The acrylic artwork has a soft, almost retro feel, but really emphasizes the relationship story with colors, gentle expressions, and soft lines.

The Golden Glow, by Benjamin Flouw,
(May 2018, Tundra/Penguin Random House), $17.99, ISBN: 9780735264120

Recommended for readers 4-8
A fox who loves nature and botany goes on a quest for a rare plant to add to his collection. The Golden Glow is a plant from the Wellhidden family, and only grows high in the mountains. There’s not even a picture of it; it’s never been described. Fox packs his supplies and heads off to the mountains, meeting different animals and noting different plants and trees along the way. When Fox finally reaches the mountaintop, he waits… and discovers the Golden Glow! It’s stunning! It’s breathtaking! And Fox realizes that “the golden glow is more beautiful here on the mountaintop than it ever would be in a vase in his living room”. Part story and part nature journal, The Golden Glow is just gorgeous and teaches a respect for nature. The angular art draws the eye in; there’s so much to see on every page, every spread. Flouw creates detailed lists of Fox’s hiking pack, plus trees and flowers that he encounters on his way, and a map of different zones on the way up to the mountain, from the foothill to snow zones, all in beautiful detail for younger readers to enjoy. Fox’s decision to leave the flower where it is presents a love of and respect for nature that can lead to a great discussion on conservation. Bright red endpapers with angular design could be a topographic map of the area – talk about how different areas look from above! I know it’s way early, but I’ll quietly whisper this one now: Caldecott contender.
Posted in Preschool Reads, Realistic Fiction

No Water No Bread delivers a powerful message

No Water No Bread, by Luis Amavisca/Illustrated by Guridi, (Oct. 2017, nubeOCHO), $15.95, ISBN: 978-84-945971-3-8

Recommended for readers 4+

Two groups of people live on either side of a barbed wire fence. One side has water. One side has bread. Neither will share their resources, flatly stating: “This is our water.” “This is our bread.” The children gather at the fence and trade bread and water, wondering, “Why are our parents like this?” They play ball over the fence, knowing that life would be much better “without the fence”. When a new group shows up, the barbed wire fence is sectioned off into yet a third area. Again, the adults hoard their resources while the children all approach the fence, ready to share, and wonder why their parents are like this.

In a day and age where some talk about building walls, No Water No Bread asks a simple, powerful question: Why are we like this? Seen through the eyes of a child, we live in a ridiculous society. We tell our children to share, yet decide that others don’t deserve basic needs if we find them lacking: if they’re from the wrong area of the world, if they’re the wrong faith, if they’re the wrong color.

Simple art and simple words deliver a powerful message that children will understand. Let’s hope that the adults do, too.

This book is a project created in Europe by NubeOcho with the support of Amnesty International Spain and Amnesty International Italy. It is also available in Spanish (ISBN: 978-84-946333-7-9).

Posted in Adventure, Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade

The Nocturnals Return in The Fallen Star

The Nocturnals (Book 3): The Fallen Star, by Tracey Hecht/Illustrated by Kate Liebman, (May 2017, Fabled Films Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781944020057

Recommended for readers 8-12

The lovable group of Nocturnal sleuths is back in their third adventure, this time with high stakes: the forest’s pomelos have been poisoned, and the flowers that cure the sickness are disappearing! As the group watches a star fall one evening, they meet a mysterious aye-aye, Iris, who declares that the forest is being invaded and monsters from space have poisoned the pomelos! Dawn, ever the thoughtful and skeptical fox, is suspicious, and seeks a more down-to-earth reason, but things become more tense when they discover that animals in the forest are getting sick, including poor Tobin, who’ve all eaten pomelos. The blue flowers that help cure the sickness are disappearing, and a strange blue glow shows up right before the flowers start disappearing. This sounds like a job for the Nocturnals!

This third book in the animal friends series takes no prisoners: things are tense, with the friends racing against time to help their sick friends and find out the truth behind the poisoned fruit and disappearing cure. Bismark is in full narcissist with a heart of gold mode, proclaiming he speaks alien (and then slipping and admitting it was gibberish) and wooing Dawn every chance he gets. Dawn is still the most focused and perceptive member of the group, and sweet, gentle Tobin is the source of possibly the greatest fart joke in the history of children’s literature, giving readers much-needed comic relief throughout the white knuckle moments The Fallen Star is filled with.

We also meet some more animals in this book; most notably, an Aye-aye named Iris, and the woylies, a group of small marsupials who pitch in to help the Nocturnals. You can find more information about Aye-ayes at Zooborns.com, and Whiteman Park, a conservation center in Australia, has a downloadable fact sheet available on the endangered woylie.

This Aye-aye has its eyes on you! (source: Zooborns.com)
Woylie: Now say it with an Australian accent! (Source: whitemanpart.com.au)

Teamwork, friendship, and determination sees the friends through this latest adventure, and there’s a lovely message about tolerance that is especially important reading.

Things have started taking off for Nocturnals since the first book published last year!  The Nocturnals World website offers Boredom Busters, face painting tips, and a wealth of educational resources for classrooms and libraries, and the New York Public Library, in conjunction with Fabled Films, launched a read-aloud writing program in New York City public schools.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

Spork shows readers that there’s a place for everyone

sporkSpork, by Kyo Maclear/Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, (Apr. 2017, Kids Can Press), $8.95, ISBN: 978-1-77138-805-4

Recommended for ages 4-8

One of the most maligned utensils in history has its moment in the sun with Kyo Maclear’s Spork. His mom’s a spoon. Dad’s a fork. And poor Spork doesn’t fit in with either group, no matter how hard he tries. He tries to cover up his tiny tines, to fit in with the spoons; he wears a pointy hat to emphasize those tines to hang with the forks – neither attempt works. Just as he’s resigned to languishing in the utensil drawer, someone comes along that shows Spork that everyone has a place and a purpose.

Spork is adorable. It’s a story about standing out and finding your own value, just as you are. It’s a sweet story with a strong message about distinctiveness and the beauty of diversity. Isabelle Arsenault’s illustrations are soft, sweet, adorable; loaded with personality and feeling, love, and ultimately, joy.

Put this one in your collections, for sure. Read it, have a spork workshop where kids can personalize their own Spork. File down the edges – some of those plastic sporks can be a little sharp; for younger readers, print out a paper spork template, like this fun one from the Kingdom Hearts Wiki, or this really cute stock photo. Put out crayons, yarn, pom poms, stickers, whatever you have to let the kids personalize their Spork. Enjoy!

spork_6_1600x800px

Image source: KyoMaclearKids.com

Author Kyo Maclear has an author webpage with a book trailer for Spork and some fun Spork facts. Kids Can Press has great educator resources, including a One-of-a-Kind certificate you can hand out after your Spork workshop and discussion points for before, during, and after the storytime.

Previously published in hardcover, Spork received a starred review from Kirkus and multiple awards, including the 2011 Bank Street Children’s Committee Best Children’s Book of the Year and the 2010 Outstanding Book for Young People with Disabilities.