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

Last Pick: Born to Run continues the alien invasion story

Last Pick: Born to Run, by Jason Walz, (Oct. 2019, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626728936

Ages 10+

In last year’s first volume of Last Pick, we encountered an earth under occupation by aliens who dragged anyone deemed “useful” away to an unknown fate, leaving the very young, very old, and disabled to endure the aliens’ cruel rule on earth. Sam and Wyatt, twin siblings, were separated when Sam was taken; Wyatt, her special needs brother, was left behind, and has since gone to work embedding himself with a resistance group of survivors: the very young, the very old, the disabled, the angry, the fed-up. Operating under moniker “Bird One” they find ways to throw casual little wrenches into the aliens’ day-to-day operations, and have something bigger in the works. Meanwhile, Sam is laboring offworld with the other imprisoned humans, forced into terrorizing other alien races in their overlords’ quest to rule. The only bright spot in her days is Mia, a fellow prisoner, whom Sam finds herself developing feelings for.

Most of this installment’s story works with Sam and his resistance group, including his own crush, a deaf girl named Harper, and a burgeoning alliance with one of the aliens. The aliens here are cruel, yet amusing because they’re so influenced by American pop culture, particularly Westerns. (Interesting: Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler, and Osama bin Laden all loved American Westerns. Coincidence?) The resistance is ragtag, but never count anyone out: it’s the aliens’ overconfidence and belief that the survivors are “useless” that leaves them ripe for a butt-kicking by Bird One. Jason Walz is a solid storyteller, continuing to build on the world(s) he created in the Last Pick’s volume one. The storyline stays strong, developing characters introduced in the first book and bringing in new characters. There are unexpected alliances and underdog heroes, with something to appeal to everyone.

Both volumes in the Last Pick trilogy have starred reviews from Kirkus. Sci-fi fans, dystopian fans, and adventure fans will love this story.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Humor, Middle Grade, Middle School, Tween Reads

All hail Doug, King of the Mole People!

King of the Mole People, by Paul Gilligan, (Aug. 2019, Henry Holt & Co.), $13.99, ISBN:  978-1-250-17134-4

Ages 8-12

Doug Underbelly just wants to be a normal seventh grader, but the fates are stacked against him: he and his dad live in a house that looks straight out of a scary movie, and the only meals his dad makes are from the eels that are plentiful around the house grounds; the weird girl at school follows him around, too. And it doesn’t help that he’s covered in mud and worms most of the time… but that’s what happens when one is king of the mole people, as Doug is. He doesn’t really want to be their king, but it was thrust upon him, and even though the throne is awfully uncomfortable and his royal advisor most definitely is plotting against him, he’s doing his best. But there’s trouble rumbling down below: the Slug People are getting fidgety and fussy, and it looks like the Mushroom Folk and the Stone Goons are going to get involved, too. What happens when giant worms start rising up and wrecking everything above ground? Doug has to get things under control, and quick – and maybe that weird girl will be more of a help than he expects.

This laugh-out-loud middle grade book is the first in a new series that kids are going to devour. It’s got gross-out humor, there’s some touching moments, and Doug is the underdog character that we all love to cheer for (and laugh at). He’s got a fatalistic yet snarky outlook on life, and his attempts to be normal – from signing up for sports and drama, to deciding he’ll crush on a popular girl, because everyone else does – are sweetly hilarious and painfully relatable. Magda, the “weird girl”, is a goth girl with brains and depth, and she keeps Doug on his toes. Doug’s royal entourage/mole people buddies are sweetly literal and not terribly bright, but loyal.

Kirkus says it best: “The Wimpy Kid’s got nothing on the King of the Mole People—he’s got more laughs and more mud”. Betsy Bird has a fun interview with author Paul Gilligan on School Library Journal, and you can find an excerpt, trailer, and downloadables – including your own crown – at the publisher’s King of the Mole People website.

From Macmillan’s website