Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, picture books, Preschool Reads

Another Holiday Gift Guide!

Last minute shoppers, I feel you. I AM you. Last minute 2021 book budget shoppers, I got you, too. Spent your 2021 dollars? No problem; these books are set to keep your readers happy next year, too.

The Secret of the Magic Pearl, by Elisa Sabatinelli/Illustrated by Iacopo Bruno/Translated by Christopher Turner, (Oct. 2021, Red Comet Press), $21.99, ISBN: 9781636550060

Ages 7-11

New kid on the block Red Comet Press has been hitting home runs this year! The Secret of the Magic Pearl is a magical story for kids who love picture books, newly independent readers who are ready to take on denser material, and chapter book readers alike. Hector is a boy living with his family in an Italian coastal town. He wants to be a deep-sea diver like his father, and his family organizes underwater expeditions for tourists. But Amedeo Limonta, a man who “lost his sailor’s soul and betrayed the sea”, forces Hector’s family out of business so that he can continue on his obsession: to find a legendary Pearl and sell it. Hector, determined to save his family and his connection to the sea, has to figure out a way to throw a wrench into Amedeo’s plans.

Originally published in Italian in 2019, this book is gorgeous. The story is about love of family and a passion for the sea. First-person narrator Hector immediately warms readers with his voice, full of fun details and emotion. The artwork is simply beautiful, bringing a sense of movement and wonder. Together, the words and artwork make for a breathtaking fantasy that readers will return to time and again. Red Comet has been great about creating activity kits for their books, too; download one for The Secret of the Magic Pearl here.

The Secret of the Magic Pearl has starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly.

 

Guitars (Made by Hand series), by Patricia Lakin, (Nov. 2021, Aladdin), $17.99, ISBN: 9781481448352

Ages 8-12

The Made by Hand series by Patricia Lakin is a great nonfiction series to have available to your middle graders and middle schoolers. The newest, Guitars, is a great introduction to the art and science of guitar music, including a history of the instrument, the science behind how electric and acoustic guitars work, and a tour through luthier (a maker of string instruments!) Meredith Coloma’s custom guitar-making workshop. Color photos detail the step-by-step process of making both electric and acoustic guitars, and there’s a fun and easy STEM challenge for kids to learn how sound travels over string (we used to call it a tin can telephone). A timeline, list of guitar greats, a glossary and further resources make this a must-have for music collections and for kids with an interest in science or music.

Do I have a program in mind for this? Glad you asked! PBS Kids has a great DIY Guitar activity here, and all the materials are available in the home! The Michigan Children’s Hospital has a similar DIY here, using a tissue box instead of a cereal box. Get the band together and jam at Christmas!

 

My Christmas Wish for You, by Lisa Swerling & Ralph Lazar, (Oct. 2021, Chronicle Books), $14.99, ISBN: 9781452184364

Ages 3-7

A sweet poem about Christmas and good wishes to last the whole year long, My Christmas Wish for You is the latest book from Happiness Is… creators and spouses Lisa Swerling and Ralph Lazar. This poem works for children and adults alike, and is full of goodwill and cheer; reading it, you can’t help but feel warm inside, with couplets like “Friends joined together in goodwill and song, / a welcome to others… the sense you belong”, and “Mugs of hot chocolate for tummies’ delight, / breathing like dragons to warm up the night”. Whimsical illustrations show a variety of people and pets celebrating the Christmas season as hearts and stars abound. It’s a great little gift book, and a wonderful way to bring the chaos of Christmas Day to a close, as we all look hopefully toward a new year.

 

A Donkey Called Mistletoe (Jasmine Green Rescues), by Helen Peters/Illustrated by Ellie Snowdon, (Sept. 2021, Walker Books US), $6.99, ISBN: 9781536222463

Ages 7-10

This is one of my favorite more recent intermediate series. Jasmine Green is an aspiring vet who, with her best friend, Tom, rescue all sorts of animals they discover around Jasmine’s Oak Tree Farm. Luckily for the two friends, Jasmine’s mom is an actual veterinarian and her dad is a farmer, so they can learn from the pros! In this outing, Jasmine and Tom learn that their neighbor is moving to an assisted-care facility and is rehoming his animals, including his donkey, Mistletoe. Jasmine, stricken by the thought of Mistletoe moving far away, impulsively offers to adopt him and keep him at Oak Tree Farm, but her little brother, Manu, proves to be a challenge: Mom isn’t sure Manu will be safe around Mistletoe, and vice versa! But Jasmine is not giving up on Mistletoe, and when a Christmas play needs an extra donkey, she knows exactly what to do. These stories are such feel-good stories, balanced by realistic moments that remind kids that animals need special care by professionals. Previous books have touched on orphaned and abandoned animals and reckless pet ownership, and this story, centered on an elderly man going into assisted care and worrying about finding homes for his animals, reminds kids once again that pets of any kind are a commitment. Black and white illustrations throughout give deeper texture to the narrative, and a quiz on donkeys invites readers to test their knowledge. I will always love this series, and am happy to booktalk them to my animal-loving readers.

 

Posted in Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Graphic Novels for Tweens and Teens

I’m back with more graphic novels! It’s an all-consuming joy of mine; I love them all. I’ve got some newer and up-and-coming books, and some backlist that shouldn’t be missed. I’ve got books for middle grade/middle school, and I’ve got teen/YA, so let’s see what’s good!

Sylvie, by Sylvie Kantorovitz, (Jan. 2021, Walker Books US), $24.99, ISBN: 9781536207620

Ages 9-13

An autobiographical graphic novel that really hits the sweet spot for middle schoolers but will also appeal to upper elementary and high schoolers, Sylvie is the story of the author and illustrator’s life, quirks and all. She grows up in a school where her father was principal. She loves art from an early age, but her mother is focused on her pursuing a career in math or science. The book follows her family as they add more children to the family and Sylvie’s mother doggedly pushes her academically. As she grows in confidence, and seeks her father’s council, Sylvie takes control of her own future. Artwork is cartoony and friendly, and easy-to-read, first-person narration makes Sylvie readers feel like they’re talking with a friend. Discussions about racism and anti-Semitism in ’60s and ’70s France sets the stage for discussion.

Candlewick/Walker Books US has a sample chapter available for a preview.

 

Tell No Tales: Pirates of the Southern Seas, by Sam Maggs/Illustrated by Kendra Wells, (Feb. 2021, Amulet), $21.99, ISBN: 9781419739668

Ages 10-14

Another middle school-geared book, Tell No Tales is a fictionalized account of pirate Anne Bonny, pirate Mary Read, and their female and non-binary pirate crew. They have a growing reputation, but a privateer is on their heels: Woodes Rogers, a failed pirate turned pirate hunter for the Crown, has sworn to wipe the stain of piracy from the seas. There are strong positive female and non-binary characters, based on characters from history, but the overall story falters, leaving readers to look for the thread in between the individual stories of Bonny’s crew, all of which are fascinating. The artwork is colorful, manga-inspired, and will grab viewers. Back matter includes a word on the real-life exploits of Anne Bonny and Mary Read, notes, and a bibliography.

Publishers Weekly has an interview with Sam Magga and Kendra Wells. 

Fantastic Tales of Nothing, by Alejandra Green & Fanny Rodriguez, (Nov. 2020, Katherine Tegen Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780062839473

Ages 8-13

One of the most beautifully illustrated graphic novels I’ve ever seen, Fantastic Tales of Nothing is one of heck an epic fantasy for middle graders and tweens, and early teens. Nathan is a human living what he considers a pretty ordinary life until that fateful day when he wakes up in the middle of nowhere and meets a being named Haven and a race of shape shifters called the Volken. As the unlikely group find themselves on a quest, Nathan also learns that he isn’t that ordinary – he has mysterious power in side of him, and the fate of Nothing lies in his hands. Vivid color, breathtaking fantasy spreads, and solidly constructed worldbuilding lays the foundation for what could be a groundbreaking new fantasy series for middle graders, with nonbinary and Latinx representation to boot. Where are the starred reviews for this book?

Tales of Nothing received IndieNext Honors. The website has more information about the characters, authors, and upcoming projects.

 

Poems to See By: A Comic Artist Interprets Great Poetry, by Julian Peters, (March 2020, Plough Publishing House), $24, ISBN: 9780874863185

Ages 12+

Illustrator Julian Peters has taken 24 poems by some of the most recognizable names in the art form, and brought them to life using different art forms, from manga to watercolor to stark expressionist black and white.  Organized into six areas of introspection: Seeing Yourself; Seeing Others; Seeing Art; Seeing Nature; Seeing Time, and Seeing Death, Peters illustrates such master works as “Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou, “Annabel Lee”, by Edgar Allan Poe, and “Juke Box Love Song” by Langston Hughes. It’s a great way to invite middle school, high school, and college students to deep dive into some of the greatest works of poetry.

Marvin: Based on The Way I Was, by Marvin Hamlisch with Gerald Gardner/Adapted and Illustrated by Ian David Marsden, (Feb. 2020, Schiffer Kids), $12.99, ISBN: 9780764359040

Ages 9-13

This graphic adaptation of PEGOT (Pulitzer, Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) winner Marvin Hamlisch’s biography is one I did not see coming! The legendary musician, composer, and conductor discusses his family’s flight from Hitler’s Austria and settling in America, Hamlisch’s admittance to Julliard at the age of 6, and the intense anxiety that plagued him before every performance. He tells readers about attending high school with Christopher Walken and Liza Minelli, and playing the piano for Judy Garland as a teen; about composing pop radio hits and learning to compose music for a motion picture as he went along. By the time he was 30, he’d won his first major award. Hamlisch’s voice is funny, warm, and conversational throughot, and Marsden’s realistic art has touching moments, particularly between Hamlisch and his father. A great read for theatre and music fans – this one is going to be my not-so-secret weapon.

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

Creepy, good fun: Embassy of the Dead

Embassy of the Dead, by Will Mabbit/Illustrated by Taryn Knight, (Sept. 2020, Walker Books US), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536210477

Ages 8-12

Jake Green is a pretty ordinary kid who becomes pretty extraordinary when he accepts a box from a mysterious stranger. The box contains a severed finger, and if that’s not freaky enough on its own, the act of opening the box – hey, it didn’t come with instructions – has put Jake on a very dangerous radar: a grim reaper is after him, intent on sending him into the Eternal Void. But it’s not entirely Jake’s fault: Stiffkey, a ghostly undertaker, gave Jake the box! But he can’t be entirely at fault, right? Jake used the secret phrase: “Good morning”. But Stiffkey’s in danger of getting thrown into the Void, too, so he appears to help Jake get the Reaper off his trail – which is how Jake discovers he has a talent for ghosts, and may be of some help to the mysterious Embassy, who has enough problems of their own. Jake has a habit of collecting ghosts, and his retinue expands to include a ghostly girl trapped by her trophy and a sweet pet fox, all of whom stand ready to help save the day.

Embassy of the Dead is the first in a new series, and it’s got adventure, laugh-out-loud moments, and some thoughtful, moving moments that readers will love. There are some creepy moments, but they’re fun, with chills and giggles, rather than outright fear or terror. The characters are each extraordinary in their remarkably ordinary-ness, which is the appeal of a good adventure. Graveyard Book fans will love this one. Black and white illustrations throughout add to the gothic, quirky mood of the story. I can’t wait to see what Jake gets himself into next. This is just the type of spooky story my library kids love. I can’t wait to get it to them when we open back up… but in the meantime, I’ll crow about it here, and to the kids in the community I’m subbing at for now.

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, Teen, Tween Reads

Holiday Book Hurrah!

I know it’s been a few days, but I’m back! I had a big birthday (as in number, not celebration), and took a few days for introspection and thinking of where the next half century will take me. It was nice, there’s been hot cocoa and homemade cookies, and now I’m ready to embrace the full-on holiday season, snowstorm warnings (for NYC) and all. So let’s celebrate all things bookish!

DC Christmas Carols: We Wish You a Harley Christmas, by Daniel Kibblesmith, (Oct. 2020, Chronicle Books), $14.95, ISBN: 9781797207957

Ages 10+

Perfect for comics and pop culture fans, this little book of Christmas carols all have a DC comics spin, taking favorite characters and creating songs to the tunes of popular holiday classics. There are 31 songs in here, with household names and deeper cuts, sure to make everyone laugh. “Batman Baby”, to the tune of “Santa Baby”, is Catwoman’s plea to Bats let her get away with some mischief just once: “Batman baby, just let me get away this one time / It’s fine / I won’t do it again / Batman baby, you don’t have to be such a Dark Knight”. There’s “I Saw Lois Kissing Superman” – well, you can guess that one – and “We Wish You a Harley Christmas”. Illustrated with full-color contemporary and vintage artwork, you’ll see DC’s finest hanging out with snowmen, hoisting sleighs aloft, exchanging gifts, and racing Santa Claus. Artists featured include Alex Ross, George Pérez, Sergio Aragonès, Tim Sale, and John Byrne. C’mon, go beyond “Jingle Bells, Batman Smells” and embrace the joy of “The Twelve Days of Villains”.

A Kitten Called Holly (Jasmine Green Rescues), by Helen Peters/Illustrated by Ellie Snowdon, (Sept. 2020, Walker Books), $6.99, ISBN: 9781536215724

Ages 7-10

The newest in the Jasmine Green Rescues series is all about Holly, a kitten Jasmine and her best friend, Tom, rescue when they discover that the newborn kitten’s been abandoned when the mother cat was moving her litter! Jasmine and Tom help nurse the kitten to health as her mother explains the difference between feral and tame cats, and why feral cats don’t always make great pets, but when Jasmine asks to keep Holly, Dr. Singh puts her foot down: Jasmine already has a pet pig, a pet dog, and a pet duck; she intends to put Holly up for adoption as soon as she’s old enough! But what about Jasmine’s best friend, Tom, who loves Holly just as much as Jasmine does? Can he convince his mother to open her heart and home to a pet?

The Jasmine Green stories are gentle, with stories that will endear themselves to animal fiction fans. Jasmine and Tom’s genuine love for animals and the knowledge imparted by Jasmine’s veterinarian mother brings together fiction and straight talk for readers. Black and white illustrations throughout add to the story pacing and feel, and Helen Peters’ writing is so warm-hearted, every story ends up being a feel-good story about animals and fur-ever homes. A nice winter read, A Kitten Called Holly is best paired with a cat (real or plush) and a cup of hot chocolate.

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, picture books

The Fabulous, the Mysterious, Madame Badobedah!

Madame Badobedah, by Sophie Dahl/Illustrated by Lauren O’Hara, (April 2020, Walker Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9781536210224

Ages 5-8

Mabel is a young girl living in the Mermaid Hotel, where her parents work. There’s always something to see and do at the Mermaid, but when a mysterious, somewhat eccentric old lady moves in, Mabel puts on her detective hat. Madame Badobedah, as Mabel calls her, has simply got to be a supervillain. When Mabel begins investigating Madame Badobedah, she discovers a much softer, kinder, friendlier woman, and the two unlikely friends explore the hotel – and beyond – together.

This is a sweet story of intergenerational friendships, with a Dahl-esque fantastic twist (Sophie Dahl is author Roald Dahl’s granddaughter). Mabel is a smart, curious girl a la Harriet the Spy; Madame Badobedah is a fabulously exotic, mysterious figure that readers can’t help but be drawn to: “She was old, old, old. With red lips. She was not alone. She had two dogs, two cats, a tortoise, and twenty-three bags, all clustered around her like a choir. I thought she might be a little awful”, as Mabel describes her. She calls people “Darlink”, and has “red, crunchy hair”. Dahl’s descriptions are vivid and wonderfully brought to life by Lauren O’Hara, whose watercolor illustrations add a surreal touch to this incredible story. Blue and white beachy endpapers really put the reader into a spring/summer mindset.

Originally published in the UK in 2019, I’m very happy to be welcoming Sophie Dahl to US readers. Great for a read-aloud to school-age readers, Madame Badobedah also allows for an art/English exercise where kids can draw their own versions of Madame Badobedah, a room in the Mermaid Hotel, or where their own hidden corridor would lead to.

Madame Badobedah has starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

The Malamander welcomes you to Eerie-on-Sea with a HUGE GIVEAWAY!

Malamander, by Thomas Taylor/Illustrated by Tom Booth, (Sept. 2019, Walker Books US), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536207224

Ages 9-13

Winter comes to the sleepy town of Eerie-on-Sea, and Herbert Lemon – the 12-year-old Lost and Founder for the Grand Nautilus Hotel – discovers a girl about his age hiding, in his Lost and Found room, from a very angry man with a hook for a hand. Violet Parma was found abandoned as an infant in the Grand Nautilus Hotel, and she’s come back, determined to learn what would have taken her parents away from her. Is the Eerie legend of the Malamander – a part-fish, part-human creature – tied into the mystery? Everyone in town seems to know more about Herbert and Violet – and the Malamander – than they’re letting on.

I could not get enough of this first Legends of Eerie-on-the-Sea adventure! It’s got a very period feel – very British (the book was originally published in the UK), almost steampunk, but takes place in the modern day. There’s delightfully creepy, creaky worldbuilding; the Malamander itself shows up, wreathed in fog, but is far from mild-mannered, attacking if it feels threatened. There’s a fantastically oddball Book Dispensary, where selections are chosen by a mechanical mermonkey, and a cast of quirky, instantly memorable characters like the mysterious hotel proprietress, Lady Kraken; Mrs. Fossil, the eccentric beachcomber, and Jenny Hanniver, who works in the Book Dispensary. Everyone’s got a backstory, and the world-building is weird and wonderful. Kirkus calls it “H.P. Lovecraft crossed with John Bellairs”, and really, that’s the most spot-on quick take I’ve read. My advanced reader copy only had some of the illustrations in place, but from what I’ve seen, Tom Booth’s black and white artwork lends great shadow and mist to a shadowy, misty, seaside mystery; the characters have exaggerated, bold facial expressions and angular shapes, and every chapter is heralded with a load of tentacles to draw readers in. In other words, it all comes together perfectly.

I loved visiting Eerie-on-Sea, and can’t wait to take my kids (both library and the ones in my family) there for a stay. Malamander is the first in a planned trilogy, so pardon me, while I sit and wait.

Malamander is out in September, but you can read an interview with author Thomas Taylor here. You can read an excerpt and check out some postcards Herbie’s received at the Lost and Found, at the Eerie on Sea website. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that GeekDad gives five reasons to read Malamander, and they’re all very good reasons.

Malamander has a starred review from Booklist.

 

Candlewick has offered a great giveaway for MomReadIt and Malamander. THREE readers will win a Malamander gift set, containing an advanced reader copy of the book and a Malamander tote bag! U.S. addresses only, please, and no P.O. boxes. Check out the Rafflecopter giveaway and enter!