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

Pacey Packer – a new spin on unicorns for middle graders

Somehow, I missed out on Pacey Packer when her first book arrived last year, but I’m remedying that right now. For any readers that think unicorns are froofy, rainbow-pooping, and sickly-sweet, I submit to you the Pacey Packer graphic novel series.

Pacey Packer: Unicorn Tracker Book 1, by J.C. Phillipps, (August 2020, RH Graphic), $12.99, ISBN: 9781984850546
Ages 7-10
Pacey is an older sister left in charge of her younger sister, Mina. Mina just wants to spend time with Pacey and have tea parties, but Pacey isn’t the greatest older sister, until she discovers Mina on the back of an actual unicorn, leaving her room! Pacey chases Mina across a rainbow and into a land called Rundalyn, where she learns that unicorns are real, and that Mina’s stuffed unicorn Slasher, is real, too. She also learns that Slasher used to be a real, full-sized unicorn, until his powerful brother, Arkane, turned him into a plush and left him in the world of humans. Arkane is a cruel leader who turns kids to stone for kicks, and Slasher has led Mina and Pacey right to him! As Slasher turns Mina into stone, Pacey decides to fight back, and Slasher, with a change of heart, joins her in the fight. Pacey learns what it means to be a good sister, and that “…you stick by family, even if they drive you up the wall sometimes”, and Slasher discovers that his home is no longer Rundalyn, trying to get back in his brother’s good graces. A fun adventure with a fantastically snarky unicorn, Pacey Packer: Unicorn Tracker is an adventure you’ll want on your Summer Reading list. Artwork is purple-black 2-color with plenty of expressive cartoon characters.
Summer Reading idea:  Travel theme! You’re in Rundalyn, do the unicorns have run of the whole place? What other kinds of fantastic animals and plants live there? Get a unicorn stamp for passports.
Pacey Packer Unicorn Tracker 2: Horn Slayer, by by J.C. Phillipps, (June 2021, RH Graphic), $12.99, ISBN: 9781984850577
Ages 7-10
Picking up where the first adventure left off, Mina and Pacey, now known as “The Horn Slayer”, are planning to free the statue children in Arkane’s palace, encountered in the first book, when Lucky, the dog the girls are watching for a neighbor, gets loose. The girls and Slasher run after Lucky, encountering Carlos – the first of the statue children and Slasher’s old friend – in a forest. The group returns to Rundalyn, where Pacey has a plan to save the statue children. She has to rely on Slasher to guide her in using the power of Arkane’s horn to free the kids, all the while trying to stay out of Arkane’s way, because he is REALLY mad at her. While not absolutely necessary to read the first book in order to know what’s going on – an illuminated manuscript-like retelling begins this volume – I found I enjoyed the second reading much more after I read the first book. There are parallels between Arkane and Pacey being neglectful and self-centered older siblings, helping us see Pacey’s character growth across the two novels. New characters add some extra friends, and the conflict between Pacey and Slasher helps readers understand that blundering into a situation without all the facts is not always the best way to success. The story ends with an open storyline, getting readers ready for the next book in the series, which hits shelves in 2022. Back matter includes a drawing lesson for Loomi, one of the new characters. Way too much fun and a good adventure tale; no sophomore slump here.
Some bundling/display ideas: Grumpy Unicorn Hits the Road by Joey Spiotto, where we learn that “inside every grump is a happy person that’s just having a bad day”. The adorably cranky unicorn story is loaded with sight gags and a story of friendship that assured me that, even when I’m feeling my most unlovable, someone out there is willing to see past that. There’s also Pip Bird’s Dave the Unicorn series. Dave is not like your usual unicorns. He farts, loves doughnuts, and doesn’t really pay attention as much as he should. Mix and match books, formats, and add some fun unicorn-type printables or crafts to your giveaways.
Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Itty-Bitty-Kitty-Corn will steal your heart

Itty-Bitty Kitty-Corn, by Shannon Hale/Illustrated by LeUyen Pham, (March 2021, Abrams Books for Young Readers), $18.99, ISBN: 9781419750915

Ages 4-8

An adorable pink, fluffy kitten is positive she’s a unicorn. She feels like one on the inside, so she must be… a Kitty-Corn! Her friends, a parakeet and a gecko, insist that there’s no way she’s anything other than a cat -she meows in her sleep, after all! – , When a unicorn shows up to change all of that by saying that he, too, feels like a Kitty-Corn, these two new friends see one another for who they really are. Adorably illustrated, with just too-cute, huggable, expressive animals, Itty-Bitty Kitty-Corn is a story of identity and seeing others for who they really are. A spread where Kitty tells Unicorn, “I see you” is beautiful; a lovely statement on visibility and existence; of knowing yourself and seeing others – and most importantly, letting others know that you see them.  Cheerful, appealing characters and a lovely story flow make this a great storytime read-aloud. Publisher Abrams has a free activity kit with coloring pages. Consider this book, and Lulu is a Rhinoceros, for Visibility Days storytimes and displays.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

A magical unicorn with a unique horn: The Nuff

The Nuff, by Veronica Waldrop/Illustrated by Cat Elliott, (Jan. 2020, Tailwind Publishing), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-733-0997-0-7

Ages 3-7

This rhyming story about a unicorn with a break in her horn is an empowering story about being true to oneself, embracing our uniqueness in all its messy, pigtailed fun, valuing self-esteem and kindness over the myth of perfection, and the love we parents and caregivers have for our kids. Let your kiddo know that they are “A Nuff” for you, for themselves, for the world.

The rhyming passages are filled with sweet verses like, “She may not look like the doll in the box / or the girl in the magazine… / But she shines like the sun / with her hair undone, / like a grass-stained summer queen”. Full of love and the desire to imbue her children with self-empowerment, Veronica Waldrop created a love letter to her kids, and to ours, with The Nuff.

Cat Elliott’s illustrations are colorful and cartoony, with animal characters and friendly faces, and a little unicorn with a bent horn, patched knees in her jeans, and a messy ponytail. She’s relatable and adorable, and kids will enjoy reading about her.

Author Veronica Waldrop wrote The Nuff during a two-year battle with breast cancer. She passed away in 2017, but The Nuff remains to inspire her daughters, and children everywhere.

 

The Nuff‘s book website has free, downloadable activity sheets for the kiddos while we’re at home. Enjoy.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Unicorn Day: All are welcome!

Unicorn Day, by Diana Murray/Illustrated by Luke Flowers, (June 2019, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $17.99, ISBN: 9781492667223

Ages 3-7

It’s Unicorn Day! All the unicorns come out to play and show their unicorn pride; they shine up their horns, they fluff up their manes, and they sing the Unicorn Day song as they dance and celebrate. But what happens when a horse tries to fit in with a fake horn on Unicorn Day? Why, the unicorns embrace him and get back to celebrating! Unicorn Day is for everyone!

Sliding down rainbows? Raining cupcakes? A glitter fight? This is the best book ever! Unicorn Day is an adorable tale of fun, celebration, and inclusivity. No mean unicorns here! These unicorns know how to have fun and want everyone around them to feel as happy and loved as they do. The rhyming text has a festive feel, and Luke Flowers’ colorful, vibrant art will get your little readers up and marching. Alligators, octopus, even a yeti parade across the page, all sporting unicorn horns and megawatt smiles. I love the joyful feel of the story, and the positive message about making space for everyone. Author Diana Murray has a free, downloadable activity kit available that has everything you need for your own unicorn party, including tasty recipes, a pin-the-horn on the unicorn game, invitations, and name tags. This Craftiness is Not Optional post also has a cute step-by-step to make your own glittery unicorn horns using scrapbooking paper. Want to make unicorn balloons? Here’s a template from the Minidrops blog; the post is in German, but the pictures are there to guide you.

Slip this into your Pride storytimes, your unicorn storytimes, and your anytime storytimes. It’s feel-good storytelling, and a must-have for your collections!

Seriously, though, check out Diana Murray’s author website. I’ve been a fan for several years now; she’s got goodies attached to most of her book pages, and her books are consistently wonderful. Follow Luke Flowers on Instagram to see more of his adorable artwork, and because he’s a great guy who personalizes books at his signings. (My 7-year-old is still thrilled with his ‘Be T-Rexcellent’ message and drawing on his copy of One More Dino on the Floor.)

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Want to catch a unicorn? It’s not easy!

How to Catch a Unicorn, by Adam Wallace/Illustrated by Andy Elkerton, (March 2019, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $10.99, ISBN: 9781492669739

Ages 4-8

The latest How to Catch… book from Adam Wallace and Andy Elkerton is all about catching the mythical, magical unicorn. Narrated by the unicorn, this rhyming tale takes readers on a wild unicorn chase through a zoo, where a group of kids try their best to use traps, treats, and tricks to capture the unicorn. The unicorn deftly maneuvers around each attempt, keeping his magic safe and entertaining readers with fun storytelling in rhyme, bright and bold colors, and, naturally, glitter fart jokes.

This is a fun book with bright, rainbow colors and cheery artwork. The unicorn is constantly on the move throughout the book; have your kids point out where they find him as the book progresses – his hindquarters are in most spreads, giving movement to the story as he escapes yet another trap; he also shrinks down and shows up in shadow, switching things up to keep readers excited and engaged.

Read and/or display with Do You Believe in Unicorns? by Bethanie Deeney Murguia and Kenny Loggins’s picture book take on his song, Footloose. I’m going to keep adding books from this series to my collection, because they’re just fun reading.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Intermediate, Realistic Fiction

Series fiction gift ideas!

There are some nifty things about series fiction: there are usually a few published throughout a calendar year, and they’re usually reasonably inexpensive, so you can scoop up a few as a nice gift. Here are a few I’ve enjoyed lately.

Anna Hibiscus

Welcome Home, Anna Hibiscus!, by Atinuke/Illustrated by Lauren Tobia, (Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-61067-678-6
Go Well, Anna Hibiscus!, by Atinuke/Illustrated by Lauren Tobia, (Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-61067-679-3
Love From Anna Hibiscus!, by Atinuke/Illustrated by Lauren Tobia, (Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-61067-680-9
You’re Amazing, Anna Hibiscus!, by Atinuke/Illustrated by Lauren Tobia, (Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-61067-681-6
Good for readers 6-8

This series is wonderful. While it is a running series, you won’t be lost if you don’t read in numerical order. I came in on books 4-8 and have the first four on request from another library; I was captivated by this slice of life series about a young girl who lives with her paternal, extended family, in Africa. The book celebrates African culture and community, family, and empathy. In Welcome Home, Anna Hibiscus, Anna has returned to beautiful Africa after vacationing with her maternal grandmother in Canada. She’s thrilled to be home, gains a new pet, and eases back into daily life. Go Well, Anna Hibiscus! sees Anna and her family returning to her grandparents’ village, where life is slower; there’s no running water or electricity, and kids don’t go to school. Anna learns how to make new friends and learns from them even as she teaches. In Love from Anna Hibiscus!, Anna’s grandfather discovers that an old friend of his has passed away, leaving a young grandson, Sunny Belafonte, on his own. The boy is starving and steals in order to eat; Grandfather and Anna know they must intervene. You’re Amazing, Anna Hibiscus! is the strongest book in this very strong series: Grandfather is becoming more and more tired. Anna is left to work through the grief that that comes with a death in the family. The books paint a beautiful picture of everyday family life and the compassion Anna and her family have for others. Anna and her family are African but for her mother, who is Anglo-Canadian; something that is communicated through illustration. The black and white illustrations throughout show a loving family and scenes of African life: Anna teaching village children to write the alphabet using sticks and the ground; Grandmother weaves a basket; the kids ride an uncomfortably crowded bus to Grandfather’s village. Originally published between 2012-2016 by Walker Books, the series is now available from American publisher Kane Miller. Give this set to kids and broaden their horizons.

 

Animal Planet Adventures

Dolphin Rescue, by Catherine Nichols, (Feb. 2017, Liberty Street), $14.95, ISBN: 978-1-61893-169-6
Farm Friends Escape!, by Catherine Nichols, (Feb. 2017, Liberty Street), $14.95, ISBN: 978-1-61893-416-1
Puppy Rescue Riddle, by Catherine Nichols, (Sept. 2017, Liberty Street), $14.95, ISBN: 978-1-68330-008-3
Zoo Camp Puzzle, by Gail Herman, (Sept. 2017, Liberty Street), $14.95, ISBN: 978-1-68330-009-0
Good for readers 6-10

Simultaneously available in hardcover or $5.99 paperback, this Animal Planet fiction series debuted earlier this year and blends fiction and nonfiction. I enjoyed the first two books, Dolphin Rescue and Farm Friends Escape!, earlier this year; I just read the next two, Puppy Rescue Riddle and Zoo Camp Puzzle, and can honestly say I get a kick out of this series. It’s a true series in that each book is its own separate adventure; there’s no crossover with other characters or locations, so every book stands alone and makes it easy to dive in and enjoy whatever appeals to readers. Don’t like farm animals much? No worries, just read another book. There’s a major plot running through each book and a mystery subplot that the characters must work together to solve: with Puppy Rescue Riddle, a group of friends volunteer at an animal shelter and have to find a puppy who’s gotten lost in a house; Zoo Camp Puzzle stars twin siblings, temporarily living with and being homeschooled by their father at a zoo while he works on a book. The twins notice that animals are going into hiding, and work to get to the bottom of the mystery. Zoo Camp Puzzle has fun word searches and puzzles throughout (which will necessitate a “Do Not Write in This Book” label on my library copy). Each book also has a cute flip book feature – flip the pages, and see dolphins swim, ducks waddle, puppies run, and zoo animals shuffle along.  The illustrations are in color, and full-color nonfiction sections throughout each book provide information on veterinarians, how animals react to changes in weather patterns, and more. The set is available in both hardcover and paperback. Great set for young animal fans.

 

Ella and Owen

Ella and Owen: The Cave of AAAAAH! Doom!, by Jaden Kent/Illustrated by Iryna Bodnaruk, (March 2017, little bee books), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-4998-0368-6
Ella and Owen: Attack of the Stinky Fish Monster!, by Jaden Kent/Illustrated by Iryna Bodnaruk, (March 2017, little bee books), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-4998-0369-3
Ella and Owen: Attack of the Knights vs. Dragons, by Jaden Kent/Illustrated by Iryna Bodnaruk, (May 2017, little bee books), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-4998-0372-3

Dragon siblings Ella and Owen are forever bickering. Owen is bookish and likes staying home, reading; Ella is adventurous and always ready to push the envelope. In The Cave of AAAAAH! Doom!, the two search for a cure for Owen’s cold, only to go up against an ogre and evil vegetable wizard. In Attack of the Stinky Fish Monster!, the siblings want to surprise their mom with a cake made of delicious stinky fish, so off they go. They end up turned into newts by a wizard named Ken, bargain with a pixie, and find a stinky fish monster: a very large, very grumpy, stinky fish monster. Knights vs. Dragons goes a little deeper as the dragons find a group of knights who hate dragons because they’ve followed a culture of hating dragons for years: fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers have always hated dragons; that’s just the way it is, right? When the knights encounter a group of trolls who hate knights for the same reason – and are a lot bigger, stronger, and scarier than the knights are – Ella and Owen have a chance to teach the knights a valuable lesson about acceptance. This is a fun series – there are four in print at the moment – that kids who love dragons and silly fantasy will enjoy. There are black and white illustrations throughout, but, sadly, no recipe for stinky fish cake.

Unicorn Princesses

Unicorn Princesses: Sunbeam’s Shine, by Emily Bliss/Illustrated by Sydney Hanson, (Aug. 2017, Bloomsbury USA), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1681193267
Unicorn Princesses: Flash’s Dash, by Emily Bliss/Illustrated by Sydney Hanson, (Aug. 2017, Bloomsbury USA), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1681193304
Unicorn Princesses: Bloom’s Ball, by Emily Bliss/Illustrated by Sydney Hanson, (Dec. 2017, Bloomsbury USA), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1681193342
Unicorn Princesses: Prism’s Paint, by Emily Bliss/Illustrated by Sydney Hanson, (Dec. 2017, Bloomsbury USA), $5.99, ISBN: 978-168119338

This series is a no-brainer for fantasy fans who love their unicorns and My Little Pony books. A human girl named Cressida is convinced that unicorns are real, happens upon the Rainbow Realm where unicorns live, and befriends them, receiving a magical key to re-enter their realm whenever she wants to visit. She helps the unicorns out with each visit. In Sunbeam’s Shine, a wizard’s mistake costs Princess Sunbeam her magic yellow sapphire, which causes her to lose her powers. The key to regaining them is to enlist the help of a human who believes in unicorns! In Flash’s Dash, the big Thunder Dash race is coming up, and Princess Flash lets non-unicorns compete for the first time. Cressida’s invited to take part, but the bumbling wizard (who’s also a lizard) casts a spell that covers the track in sticky goo. Bloom’s Ball has Princess Bloom trusting the wizard-lizard with a spell to deliver her special birthday ball invitation by mail, but an errant word brings on an army of quails who wreck the party, leaving Cressida to help salvage the day. In Prism’s Paint, that wizard – seriously, why is he even allowed to practice magic at this point? – changes Princess Prism’s power from turning objects different colors to removing color altogether. Cressida’s got to help find the rainbow to restore Prism’s power. The series is adorable, wacky, and full of good-hearted dilemmas, with black and white illustrations throughout. Bloom’s Ball and Prism’s Paint are due out on 12/26, making them good Kwanzaa gifts, or hold onto them for Little Christmas in January. There are two more books forthcoming in 2018. Trust me, someone you know loves unicorns. I have one little girl at my library waiting desperately for these next two books to come out. Want to mix it up a little? Consider some My Little Pony books, or anything in the Rainbow Fairies series by Daisy Meadows.

Happy reading and happy holiday shopping!

 

 

 

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

Things That Surprise You is touching, funny… giggles and tissues needed!

Things That Surprise You, by Jennifer Maschari, (Aug. 2017, Balzer + Bray), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062438928

Recommended for readers 10-13

Best friends Emily and Hazel are about to start middle school. They’ve done just about everything together, and Emily just wants things to stay the same. You can’t blame Emily; she’s had too much change over the last year, with her parents’ divorce and her sister , Mina, being treated for an eating disorder. But Hazel is changing. She’s already in with a new crowd at school – a crowd that isn’t into Emily at all – and she wants to be different. While Emily is still into their fandom, The Unicorn Chronicles, and crafting, Hazel is into lip gloss, clothes, and getting boys at school to notice her.

Things That Surprise You is a compulsively readable novel about growing up and moving on; negotiating change; making new friends, and most importantly, discovering oneself. Emily is so likable, you just want to defend her and comfort her. Older sister Mina is on her own painful journey; she could easily have become a bitter antagonist, but is written with care and compassion that will encourage readers to root for her, too. Their mother is doing the best she can with what she has, and their father just can’t cope, so he doesn’t. Each parent’s actions illustrate to kids that adults may not have all the answers, and that we make lousy decisions, too. I enjoyed reading about every character in this book, including the mean girls, who are vapid and awful and make us want to see Emily succeed even more.

This is a great book for discussion groups, because the subplots that support the main plot are all worthy discussion topics on their own: going with or against the crowd, eating disorders, self-acceptance, and navigating family relationships are just some of the things that come up. I’d love to see this on summer reading lists for next year. Nudge, nudge, teachers!

Jennifer Maschari is a classroom teacher and the author of The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price and Things That Surprise You. She is hard at work on her next middle grade novel with Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. Jennifer lives in Ohio with her husband and stinky (yet noble) English bulldogs, Oliver and Hank. To learn more, and to download a free guide, visit Jennifer’s author website.

GIVEAWAY!

One lucky winner will receive a copy of Things That Surprise You… PLUS, one grand prize winner will receive their very own Crafty Unicorn Kit! The prize includes a fun craft kit, a copy of Things That Surprise You, unicorn stickers, and puzzle cards! Enter here – don’t miss out!

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

Magical Realism meets middle grade: The Unicorn in the Barn

The Unicorn in the Barn, by Jacqueline Ogburn/Illustrated by Rebecca Green, (July 2017, HMH Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 9780544761124

Recommended for ages 10-12

Eric Harper lives with his dad and his brother on a farm near Chinaberry Creek. His grandmother lived in the house near theirs, too, but she’s gone into a rest home and now, a veterinarian and her brusque daughter, Allegra, live there. When Eric spots a unicorn in the woods one night, he and Allegra become partners in caring for Moonpearl – the name they give the unicorn – and the twins she’s carrying. Dr. B is no ordinary vet – she takes care of everyone’s pets, sure, but she also has a gift for magical creatures, and they seem to know how to find her. Eric adores Moonpearl and tries to spend every moment he can with her, but he is also too aware of the magical healing properties that unicorns possess; the temptation to use Moonpearl’s magic to make things better for his friends and family is strong.

The Unicorn in the Barn is magical. It’s a beautifully told story of love and loss; of friendship and new life, of beginnings and endings. The black and white illustrations throughout are soft and add an extra dimension to the story. Eric is so earnest, so passionate about making life better for everyone and so in love with Moonpearl, that he often finds himself at odds with the somewhat bossy and bullish Allegra, who would rather keep her mother and Moonpearl to herself. The story is as much about the evolution of their friendship as it is about Eric’s journey through a critical point in his life. A beautiful middle grade work of magical realism. Booktalk with Me and Marvin Gardens to add some magic into your audience’s reading.

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

Give The Magical Animal Adoption Agency a home on your shelves!

cover53711-mediumThe Magical Animal Adoption Agency: Clover’s Luck, by Kallie George (Feb. 2015, Disney Book Group), $14.99, ISBN: 9781423183822

Recommended for ages 8-12

Clover feels decidedly unlucky, despite her name. One day, walking through the woods, she comes across a cottage in the woods – it’s an animal adoption agency! It’s not just any adoption agency, either – it’s a magical animal adoption agency, and Clover manages to convince the owner to let her work there as an assistant this summer. When the owner has to leave unexpectedly, Clover’s in charge – and finds herself faced with a very strange customer. Can Clover make sure the animals are safe, and manage to find some of them good homes?

This book is perfect for kids just stepping into chapter books. Aside from being one of the sweetest books I’ve read lately, The Magical Animal Adoption Agency is fun. Where else can you find out about the care and feeding of unicorns and baby dragons? The story is well-paced, sets up what promises to be a fun series, and has enough drama to get readers’ attention, without dipping into bleaker territory.  Add Alexandra Bolger’s adorable artwork, and you have a fully engaging story.

I’m looking forward to seeing what other magical animals come through the doors of the Magical Animal Adoption Agency. In the meantime, this one will be a fun addition on my Intermediate shelf.

There’s a great Magical Animal Adoption Agency website, where you can submit a wish for a magical pet of your own, draw pictures of your magical pet – or print out Lost! posters, if you should misplace yours, and even adopt a magical pet of your own. Send your stories and artwork in – the site publishes contributions!