Posted in Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Fun concept books: ABC French, Alphabet Boats and This is London!

This is such a great Spring for toddler and preschooler books! I’m super excited about new concept books for my collection; I never feel like I have quite enough. It’s always great to find a fun new take on the ABCs, too – take a look for yourself!

ABC French (Little Concepts), Illustrated by Daniel Roode,
(Feb. 2018, Quarto Group), $12.95, ISBN: 9781633224124
Perfect for readers 2-6

Fantastique! A picture book that introduces kids to a different language is always fun! ABC French illustrates the names of animals (and a few objects) , all dressed for a circus parade. The alphabet goes according to the French word – C is for chien (dog), D is for dauphin (dolphin) – and offers the English translation underneath. Each letter is highlighted in a brightly colored circle at the top of the page. The digital illustrations are bright and fun, with a strong sense of play that will appeal to kids and their caregivers – you may pick up a word or two, yourself! I really enjoy this Little Concepts series from Walter Foster Jr./Quarto Group; their ABC Baby Signs book, released back in October 2017, teaches kids and parents alike how to use sign language to communicate simple words and ideas.  You may recognize artist Daniel Roode’s illustrations from his Broadway Baby book, My Favorite Things.

 

Alphabet Boats, by Samantha R. Vamos/Illustrated by Ryan O’Rourke,
(Apr. 2018, Charlesbridge), $14.99, ISBN: 9781580897310
Perfect for readers 3-7

I’m most familiar with Samantha R. Vamos thanks to her book, The Cazuela That the Maiden Stirred (2011, illustrated by Rafael López), and was happy to discover that she and artist Ryan O’Rourke have several other alphabet vehicle books available: 2013’s Alphabet Trucks, and 2015’s Alphabet Trains! Alphabet Boats introduces readers to all sorts of new boats, from airboats (watch out for gators!) and barges to water taxis and zebecs. The text is in rhyme, giving read-alouds a nice cadence to flow with. There is a brief description at the end of the book for each type of boat named – who knew that Very Slender Vessel was really a type of boat? Ryan O’Rourke’s Adobe Photoshop illustrations have lively movement to them and include each letter smartly worked into the art: alligators munch on letter As; catamarans sport the letter C on their sails; a tugboat tugs a boat loaded with Ts. Kids who love vehicle and transportation books will enjoy this series, for sure. Find fun printables on Samantha R. Vamos’ author page.

 

L is for London, by Paul Thurlby, (Apr. 2018, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky),
$19.99, ISBN: 9781492660934
Perfect for ages 3-8

L is for London speaks to me as an Anglophile (although, why no Doctor Who references… no T is for TARDIS?). I love Paul Thurlby’s vintage-looking art – any of these illustrations could be tourism posters for London – and the book provides a little history on each spread, with an explanation of the illustration. From the iconic Abbey Road to the London Zoo (he needed something for Z), every spread provides something to love. There’s a sneaky little fox hiding in each spread, so challenge readers to find them all. The endpapers feature some well-known British figures: the marching Royal Guards, black taxis, red phone boxes, and red mailboxes. It’s a great way to introduce younger readers to other countries, and pairs so well with some of my favorite books by Miroslav Sasek: This is London, This is Paris, This is New York. Thurlby is an award-winning illustrator with a nice collection of concept books, including NY is for New York and Paul Thurlby’s Alphabet.

Posted in Science Fiction, Steampunk, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Time fractures can cripple cities in Timekeeper

timekeeperTimekeeper, by Tara Sim, (Nov. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781510706187

Recommended for ages 13+

My first entry in this year’s Diversity Reading Challenge is Tara Sim’s Timekeeper, a steampunk story taking place in an alternate Victorian London, where clock towers control time. A damaged clock affects the populace, and if a clock is badly damaged or loses a vital part of its machinery, the town “stops”: no one dies, but no one can leave; the citizens are stuck in a time loop. That’s what happened to 17 year-old clock mechanic Danny Hart’s father three years before, and Danny’s become a mechanic in the hopes that he can free his father one day. On an assignment to a clock in the London borough of Enfield, Danny meets Colton, who throws a figurative wrench in all of Danny’s plans. Colton is a clock spirit – the essence of time for the Colton Tower clock – and the two boys fall in love. Danny knows this can’t end well, but he risks everything to be with Colton, who will find a way to keep Danny coming back to Enfield.

Some of the people of London are against the clock towers. They want time freed, uncontrolled, and stage protests that get heated. Clock towers are attacked, and Danny is blamed. He has to find a way to clear his name, keep Colton safe, and keep his father’s town safe so he can bring him home alive.

Timekeeper is the first in a planned trilogy by debut author Tara Sim. The story is very detailed – budding clock aficionados, and readers interested in the science of time (horologists – thanks, Google!) will fall in love with the lyrical way Sim discusses the delicate parts of the clocks and the idea of a spirit manifestation of each clock tower. The romance between Danny and Colton is sweet and gentle, and Danny’s feelings for men is more or less accepted, with some minor snark from the novel’s bully.

Shadowhunters fans will love this one. Get your steampunk on and put this with your Gail Carriger books, your Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld, and your old school Jules Verne and HG Wells collections.

Posted in Adventure, Fiction, Science Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Gifted versus Ashkind: Helena Coggan’s The Catalyst

catalystThe Catalyst, by Helena Coggan, (Oct. 2016, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9780763689728

Recommended for ages 12+

A dimensional cataclysm on our world turned the human race against one another: some are green-eyed Gifted, who wield magical powers; others are dark-eyed, non-magical Ashkind. A fragile peace is in place after a great war between Gifted and Ashkind, but there seems to be signs that something’s brewing again. Rose is a 15 year-old girl whose father, David, is in charge of the Department, a brutal law enforcement agency. David and Rose are gifted, and something… more. Something they must keep others from finding out. A mysterious murder suspect knows their secrets, though, and he’s blackmailing Rose into helping him – putting her loyalty to her father, and the Department, to test.

Helena Coggan was 15 years old when she wrote The Catalyst, and that alone makes it pretty darned impressive. She’s got some solid world-building in this first book (the second, The Reaction, has already been released in the UK), and I liked a lot of her character development. The action is well-paced, and the dystopian elements of the individual leading a group against the shadowy government is tweaked to include magic elements, a nice update to the genre. There was quite a bit to keep sorted for me at first, especially with the introduction of other groups like the Host; it took me a few re-reads of some pages to set them within the frame of the book. All in all, a good addition to dystopian/sci fi collections for those with strong readerships.

Helena Coggan’s got a WordPress site that has a nice photo and description of The Reaction, for anyone who wants to know more about the Angel Wars series.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

Catch Ralfy Rabbit, the Book Burglar!

ralfyWanted! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar, by Emily MacKenzie, (May 2016, Bloomsbury), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1681192208

Recommended for ages 4-7

Ralfy Rabbit LOVES books: he dreams about them; he makes lists of them; he wants to be surrounded by books ALL THE TIME. He loved books so much that he started sneaking into people’s bedrooms and reading their books while they were sleeping, but even that wasn’t good enough; he upgraded to taking the books home! One little boy named Arthur noticed that his books were starting to go missing, and to add insult to injury, soggy lettuce and half-eaten carrots were left behind. He makes a plan to catch the book burglar, but can Ralfy be rehabilitated?

A fun story with a good subplot about borrowing (and a great shout-out to libraries!), Wanted! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar is a great storytime book and a great independent read. Kids can appreciate Ralfy’s single-minded love for books and understand Arthur’s dual frustration at having his books go missing and have no one believe him. Arthur’s confrontation and solution makes for good conflict resolution and problem-solving that works for everyone.

Emily MacKenzie’s artwork is adorable. Ralfy is wide-eyed and innocent, even when he’s up to no good; when he’s caught red-handed, his eyes fill up with tears and readers can’t help but feel bad for the poor book bandit. Arthur is drawn with a kindness that will invite readers to put themselves in his place right away. The pictures are sketched with defined outlines, and the font changes for emphasis: bolds, enlarged fonts, angled text to keep readers’ attention.

I’ve paired this with Helen Docherty’s Snatchabook and Ian Schoenherr’s Read It, Don’t Eat It! for library visit read-alouds; the kids love Ralfy and Arthur, but know that Ralfy’s “not being nice” when he takes books. One Kindergartner even called out, “He should just go to the library!” (Love that kid!) You can have a great discussion about borrowing versus taking things with kids as young as preschool; for younger audiences, use Ralfy’s adventure as a good starting point for talking about sharing and forgiveness.

Originally published in 2015 in the UK, Ralfy’s just arrived on US shores. Give him a welcome space on your shelves! There’s an activity kit available from Bloomsbury UK, and you can see more of Emily MacKenzie’s art and books at her author site.

Posted in Uncategorized

dotwav – Are You Listening?

dotwavdotwav, by Mike A. Lancaster, (Sept. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781510704046

Recommended for ages 12+

Ani Lee is a 15 year-old hacker who’s been given a file to keep safe. It’s no ordinary file, and people are after it – after Ani.

Joe is a 17 year-old American living in London, working for a top secret arm of British intelligence. He’s got a chip in his head that helps him control his violent temper, and it gives him some pretty incredible abilities. He’s checking out a new music craze among nerds – X-Core – and a possible link between this underground music scene and the disappearance of an old school friend.

Joe and Ani meet as their investigations converge, and they realize that the .wav file is no ordinary sound file. There’s something in that file that’s causing some pretty crazy reactions, and it’s directly linked to the X-Core movement. Conspiracy theorists, put on your tin foil hats, because the plot goes all the way up and involves some very important people. People who will kill to get what they want.

I do miss a good cyberpunk novel, and dove into dotwav, looking forward to a good technothriller. And dotwav is a good read, it just didn’t knock my socks off like I hoped it would. Something in the execution just fell a little flat for me. There were quite a few instances of over-explanation and soapboxing that dialed my interest down, for starters. I didn’t feel like I was invested enough in the characters to root for or against them. I did like where they went with the .wav file’s origin, but the conspiracy faltered a little. The ending left the possibility of a sequel open.

Add this to your shelves if you have techno-thriller, cyberpunk readers. I’d display it with some Cory Doctorow books, particularly Little Brother; for readers bridging the middle grade-YA gap, I’d also put out a copy of Dragons vs Drones. I know I’m dating myself, but I’d talk up Mr. Robot and the James Bond movies – and all the cool gadgets! – to flesh out Ani and Joe’s backgrounds and make them a little more tangible to my readers.

Posted in Uncategorized

Meet Claude in the Country!

claudeClaude in the Country, by Alex T. Smith (Apr. 2016, Peachtree Publishers), $12.95, ISBN: 9781561459186

Recommended for ages 7-10

Claude is a beret-wearing housedog, living with his human family, Mr. and Mrs. Shinyshoes, and his best friend, a red striped sock named Mr. Bobblysock. One day, they decide to go on a walk in the country and find themselves at Woollybottom Farm. Spending the day helping Mrs. Cowpat, the farmer, turns into quite an education for Claude as he washes pigs (giving them quite the pampering), checks out competitive vegetable competitions, and his chased by a bull! Will Claude and Mr. Bobblysock go country, or will they go back home when the day is done?

The Claude books by Alex T. Smith were originally published in the UK; the first, Claude in the City, was shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize in 2012. I’m always happy to see a good intermediate series hit bookshelves, so I’m thrilled that this series is coming to US audiences. I received my ARC from the Peachtree Publishers booth at PLA, where the rep talked the book up so much, I couldn’t help but fall in love with it. Claude’s adorable, and seems to have a habit of meandering into situations where he happily dives into new experiences. Mr. Bobblysock is there as a companion, but tends to be pretty sleepy, so Claude takes the lead.

Animal fiction always does well for me, as does humor, so the combination of the two, with the adorably cartoony two-color art from Alex Smith, seals the deal. I just found out that Disney Junior UK has picked up Claude for an animated series, so let’s see how he fares on our shores, and maybe we’ll get some more Claude in our future. This is a fun beginner chapter book series for kids who are ready to start testing the waters beyond Easy Readers. Booktalk them and display them with your Mercy Watson and Leroy Ninker books; pit Claude against Bad Kitty to see whose adventures are more hilarious!

Check out more of Alex T. Smith’s art on his author webpage, including an adorable 90th birthday wish for the Queen of England.