Posted in Intermediate, picture books, Preschool Reads

Monsters and Mermaids bring fantasy fun!

Two fun picture books are coming up in August and September! If you’re looking for books for your late Summer/early Fall shopping carts, give these a spin.

Alfred’s Book of Monsters, by Sam Streed, (Aug. 2019, Charlesbridge), $15.99, ISBN: 9781580898331

Ages 5-8

Alfred is a little boy who loves monsters, not boring old tea times. Aunty thinks monsters are dreadful, and constantly interrupts Alfred’s precious reading time by calling him to tea. Alfred decides to invite the monsters he reads about: the Nixie, the Black Shuck, and the Lantern Man, to tea time; when they take him up on the invitation, they have a fabulously terrible time! Poor Aunty never knew what hit her.

This is the picture book for the kids who enjoy a good, morbidly amusing story. Have Neil Gaiman or Lemony Snicket fans? Do you have storytime kids who giggle time and again at I Want My Hat Back? Do you just want a fun Halloween read in your back pocket? This is the book for you and your readers. Baby goths and kids who love monsters will get a kick out of this story, which has a lovely Victorian vibe going for it, with bold, black lines and brown and black artwork, occasionally punched up with washed out greens, pinks, yellows, and blues for effect. The story alternates between Alfred’s monster stories and tea time, letting you switch voices back and forth to get your readers squealing with monstrous delight. The artwork was created by scanning and combining old paper, ink splotches, and spooky sketches, and was influenced by antique books and Victoriana; the endpapers sport a dark brownish-red rose wallpaper with framed photos of Aunty, Alfred, and an assortment of pets, people, and tea sets.

Less spooky than humorous, this is a fun book for storytime. Make some puppets and bring your own monsters to tea!


Five Little Mermaids, by Sunny Scribens/Illustrated by Barbara Vagnozzi, (Sept. 2019, Barefoot Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9781782858317

Ages 3-7

This adorably rhyming story is an underwater take on the popular counting tale. A multicultural group of five little mermaids decide to go swimming to “see what they could see”, each of them leaving the group when they meet with various turtles, penguins, giant squid, and jellyfish. Together, the group travels through the world’s oceans, then comes together back home to talk about what they’ve seen. It’s a soothing, familiar rhyme scheme with cheery, bright art that uses vivid colors and brings readers through a lovely underwater world. Back matter includes spreads on the world’s oceans and their properties; notes about mermaid legends from different cultures (Greece, Japan, Central America, New Zealand, and West, Central and Southern Africa); marine life that appears in the book, and finally, sheet music for the song. There will be a CD and downloadable copy available, read by jazz vocalist Audra Mariel.

Barefoot Books always puts a great message out there in such a fun way. The mermaids play alongside their ocean friends and come from all around the world. The back matter provides interesting mermaid and ocean information using a one world, many cultures approach, taking myth examples from cultures including African, Asian, and Central American.

If you want to explore some videos from Barefoot Books, their YouTube channel is a good place to start. I find some of their mindful and diverse kidlit videos good professional development, and I’m sure Five Little Mermaids will have a book trailer up as the release date gets closer.

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Young Adult/New Adult

What makes a monster? Matthew J. Kirby explores in A Taste for Monsters

taste-for-monstersA Taste for Monsters, by Matthew J. Kirby, (Sept. 2016, Scholastic), $18.99, ISBN: 9780545817844

Recommended for ages 12+

Evelyn is a young woman left to fend for herself on the streets of Victorian London’s infamous East End. Orphaned and disfigured by her work in a matchstick factory, she seemingly has few prospects; she applies to London Hospital as a nurse, and is instead assigned to be the maid to the hospital’s most famous patient: Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man. As she attends to Merrick, she finds a gentle, beautiful soul with whom she shares a love of Jane Austen, easy conversation, and sadly, pain.

And then the ghosts come. They visit nightly, terrifying Merrick and Evelyn, who stays with him to support him through the nightly terrors. Evelyn discovers that the ghosts are the restless spirits of women murdered by Jack the Ripper, whose work makes gruesome headlines. Evelyn takes it upon herself to help these spirits find peace so that they’ll leave Joseph alone, but are they really haunting him? And is Evelyn putting herself in the Ripper’s sights by getting involved?

This is my third Kirby book, and it’s safe to say I am hooked on his writing. His historical fiction places you right in the middle of the action, and his fantastic elements are so believable – especially in an age where spiritualists ran wild – that I had no problem believing that ghosts existed and sought out the kindness of a gentle man like Joseph Merrick. The character development is brilliant and complex; the characters had a depth to them that made we want to sit with them and share tea and conversation. There’s a thread of tension running through the book that will keep readers turning pages, whether it’s the tension between Evelyn and several key supporting characters in the novel, the tension of waiting for the spirits to arrive, and the gripping conclusion. Historical fiction fans that appreciate a touch of the supernatural will love this book; readers interested in the Jack the Ripper story or the Elephant Man will love this book. Conservative readers may shy away from some of the gory descriptions of the Ripper’s victims as read from the newspapers and sideshow attractions. There’s some excellent YA Ripper-related fiction available, including Maureen Johnson’s The Name of the Star; the graphic novel From Hell is another great booktalking and display choice. There is a children’s picture book about The Elephant Man by Mariangela Di Fiore that would be a good display choice. Get this book on your shelves and into hands.

Matthew J. Kirby is an Edgar Award-winning novelist.


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

Ivy Pocket’s back in Somebody Stop Ivy Pocket

ivy pocketSomebody Stop Ivy Pocket, by Caleb Krisp, (May 2016, Greenwillow Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9780062364371

Recommended for ages 9-12

Ivy Pocket, the resourceful, sarcastic 12 year-old from Anyone But Ivy Pocket, is back for her second adventure. This time, she’s the adopted daughter of two economical coffin makers, and she’s still searching for the evil Miss Always, who’s still on the loose. She’s got the Clock Diamond, a gem with mysterious powers, and she’s trying to figure out how to use it to bring her dear friend Rebecca back from… wherever it is Rebecca’s gone. Plus, she’s found herself in the middle of a mystery, as an heiress wants Ivy to investigate her brother’s disappearance, which seems to be tied into her new family. Somehow. Ivy’s going to happily blunder into and out of the craziest circumstances… after all, she has all the instincts of a secret agent, a sedated cow, a writer of penny dreadfuls…

This was my first Ivy Pocket adventure, and while readers familiar with the first book will be more savvy when it comes to characters and previous events, new readers can enter the story here, with exposition providing important details throughout the book. Ivy is insanely funny, self-assured to the point of hilarity, and delightfully sarcastic to everyone around her. The Victorian London setting adds to the playfully macabre atmosphere, and Barbara Cantini’s black and white art throughout the book adds even more fun to the story.

This is the second in an Ivy Pocket trilogy. The publisher’s Ivy Pocket website sports a book trailer, interview with none other than Ivy Pocket herself, and web samplers of both Anyone But Ivy Pocket and Somebody Stop Ivy Pocket. Give these to your Lemony Snicket fans!

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place – A Hilarious Whodunit!

scandalous sisterhoodThe Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, by Julie Berry (Roaring Brook Press, Sept 2013) $15.99, ISBN: 9781596439566

Recommended for ages 10+

In Victorian England, seven girls are students at St. Etheldreda’s School for Girls when their headmistress, Mrs. Plackett, and her brother, Mr. Godding, drop dead at the dinner table, poisoned. Once the girls are sure that the poisoner isn’t among them, they figure out their next steps – namely, how to get Mrs. Plackett and her brother out of sight, and creating a cover story that will allow them to continue on at St. Etheldreda’s, unchaperoned, mistresses of their own destiny! The only problem – the poisoner REALLY wants the targets out of the picture. And if everyone thinks the headmistress and her brother are still alive, then the girls may still be in danger.

The seven girls are often identified with an adjective that gives readers a background on their personality: Disgraceful Mary Jane, who’s more concerned with the attention of the opposite sex than she is about keeping to their cover story; Stout Alice, who’s stout of heart as well as body; Dour Elinor, who could be the mother of the goth movement; Dull Martha, who’s… well… not that bright; Dear Robert, a kind soul with nothing bad to say about anyone; Pocked Louise, the burgeoning scientist with a bit of a blemish condition, and Smooth Kitty, daughter of a businessman, who seems to have inherited his smooth talking business acumen. Their personalities clash and meld according to the situation as they work together to keep up their façade and solve the mysteries that continue to pop up around them.

The book is darkly funny – think the Gashlycrumb Tinies in finishing school. It’s a comedy of manners meets a Victorian crime drama, and Julie Berry – a noted middle grade and YA novelist – embraces the genres. I enjoyed every second I read this book. If I were to find out that somehow, some way, we’d get to go on more adventures with the Sisterhood, I’d be thrilled!

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place hits stores on September 23rd. I’ve already got my order in for my library – this will make for fun Fall reading! Treat yourself and your middle graders/tweens to this hilarious whodunit.

Julie Berry’s author page provides links to social media and information about author visits, plus book info.

Take a look at The Scandalous Sisterhood’s book trailer – then get your order in!

Posted in Adventure, Espionage, Fantasy, Fiction, Science Fiction, Steampunk

Book Review: Etiquette & Espionage, by Gail Carriger (Little, Brown, 2013)

etiquette and espionageRecommended for ages 13+

Gail Carriger, author of the Parasol Protectorate series, kicks off her YA Finishing School series, set in the same universe as the Parasol Protectorate series, with Etiquette & Espionage.

Fourteen year-old Sophronia is driving her society lady mother crazy. She climbs trees. She takes apart things to figure out how they work. She lines her books with rubber from a dumbwaiter in the house. Fed up with Sophronia’s antics, she sends her to finishing school – Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality, to be precise.

What neither Sophronia nor her mother bet on, though, was that this is no ordinary finishing school – when they say “finish”, they mean “finish” – the students learn how to curtsey and flutter their eyelashes, but they also learn about poisoning, espionage, and weapons placement. Sophronia is learning to be a spy and an assassin in addition to being a lady. But she also stumbles into a mystery involving one of the students as soon as she boards the coach to school – what is really going on at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s, and what does her newfound nemesis have to do with it?

While I am a big fan of the Parasol Protectorate series and went into this series with high hopes, I was a little let down here. I understand that this is the first book in a new series, with much to be established, but I felt there was an overall lack of plot to drive the story forward. It seemed more a collection of “look what Sophronia’s got herself into now” moments, with some vague subplot surfacing to give her an archenemy in future books.

The dry humor is there, though, and that kept me reading. I love the way Ms. Carriger writes, and I enjoy her stubborn heroines who can lock horns with a werewolf and then stress about their state of dress and look for a cup of tea. I enjoy the Parasol Protectorate universe, and there’s paranormal and steampunk aplenty here, with werewolves, dirigibles, and automatons for all. There are a few pleasant surprises for Parasol Protectorate fans, too.

If you’re a fan of Carriger’s, you’ll at least enjoy the universe and references. I look forward to the next book in the series.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Humor, Tween Reads

The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale, by Carmen Agra Deedy & Randall Wright (Barry Moser, ill.) (Peachtree Publishers, 2011)

Recommended for ages 9-12

Skilley is a street cat who finds himself hired by Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a pub in Victorian London where writers like Charles Dickens find themselves inspired to write. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese makes some of the best cheese in the kingdom, and they’ve got a bit of a mouse problem. It should be a dream job for Skilley, but he has a secret – he doesn’t like to eat mice. He prefers cheese, truth be told. Skilley and the mice of Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, led by young Pip, work out an arrangement that should keep the staff at the Cheese fooled and Skilley’s belly fed until Pinch – a nasty street cat who’s had run-ins with Skilley before – shows up. Afraid that Pinch will discover his secret, Skilley finds his friendship with Pip at risk and Maldwyn, another guest of the Cheshire, in danger.

The Cheshire Cheese Cat is one of those stories that is just a fun, great read. The authors managed to create a morality tale and a story of friendship that has appeal to a huge age range. It would be a great read-aloud to younger grades, with anthropomorphic characters to keep them interested, and older readers will appreciate the dilemmas Skilley finds himself confronted with: unlikely friendships and looking “cool” in front of one’s peers among them. The characters, human and animal alike, are fleshed out and their interactions have depth. Inserting historical characters like Charles Dickens, who finds himself interested in the goings-on at the Cheese – goings-on that human patrons seem to miss – make the tale more fun, as does the visit from the “surprise guest” teased at the beginning of the book. Black and white illustations by Barry Moser add to the enjoyment and give the readers a little more grease for the imagination’s wheels.

The Cheshire Cheese Cat website offers information about Victorian London, Charles Dickens, The Cheshire Cheese, and more historical references found in the book. A fun page on Cheshire Cheese, thought to be the oldest cheese in England,  provides the history of the cheese and recipes and would be a fun addition to any classes reading the book. Author Carmen Agra Deedy maintains a blog where she also maintains a list of events and appearances, awards and nominations, and her other books.