Posted in History, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads, Women's History

Celebrate Latinitas!

Latinitas: Celebrating 40 Big Dreamers, by Juliet Menéndez, (Feb. 2021, Henry Holt), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250234629

Ages 8-12

This collection of biographies shines a light on 40 Latinx women from Latin America and the U.S. who have made outstanding contributions across the board: activists and advocates, educators, musicians, scientists, artists, politicians, and so many more. Some names will be familiar: Pura Belpré, Frida Kahlo, and Sonia Sotomayor are all here, as are names that will be new to many readers, like Rosa Peña de González, who built schools for girls in Paraguay; playwright and congresswoman Gumercinda Páez, who helped draft Panama’s new constitution in 1941, with an eye to Afro-Latinx rights and women’s rights; and Wanda Díaz-Merced, a blind astrophysicist who turned data points into rhythm and sound in order to create a “symphony of sounds for the stars, planets, and asteroids”. The women are outstanding, and this collection of stories should be the tip of the iceberg for more research. Hand-painted illustrations have beautiful folk art feel. Endpapers feature additional artwork with flowers representing each of the countries represented in the book. An inspiring collection with comprehensive back matter that includes brief looks at an additional 10 Latin women and full sources.

Latinitas has a starred review from Kirkus. Get a free activity kit and read a Q&A with author-illustrator Juliet Menéndez. Visit Juliet Menéndez’s author website to see more of her gorgeous artwork and more information about her books.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

February Picture Books: little elephants, fabulous females, and being your own self!

The Smallest Elephant in the World, by Alvin Tresselt/Illustrated by Milton Glaser, (Feb. 2019, Enchanted Lion), $16.95, ISBN: 9781592702619

Ages 4-8

Originally published in 1959, The Smallest Elephant in the World is back in hardcover! A small elephant, no bigger than a housecat, leaves the jungle to get away from the bullies who make fun of him. He ends up in the care of a boy named Arnold, whose mother does NOT want an elephant for a house pet. Arnold tries some creative fudging to convince his mother otherwise, but Mom’s not fooled that easily. Where will the Smallest Elephant find a home?

This adorable story about friendship and finding one’s own place in the world is as relevant and sweet today as it was when it was released 60 years ago. Milton Glaser’s vintage illustration is bold, with bright oranges and greens standing out against the black and white page backgrounds. The elephant’s face is expressive; sweet and friendly, and he’s adorably tiny when shown in scale.

The Smallest Elephant in the World brings a nice touch of our childhoods back to our children’s collections. Gen X kids like me will fondly remember the art and silly-sweet storytelling, and pass that love onto a new generation. Let your kiddos draw their own tiny elephants, and give them things to measure against: a book, a shelf, a ruler, or your foot!

 

A is for Awesome! 23 Iconic Women Who Changed the World, by Eva Chen/Illustrated by Derek Desierto, (Feb. 2019, Feiwel & Friends), $9.99, ISBN: 9781250215994

Ages 2-5

An Instagram star and creator of Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes spotlights outstanding women in this abcedary. Juno Valentine is our guide, introducing readers to some of her favorite “sheroes”. There are standard favorites here: Amelia Earhart, Harriet Tubman, and Malala are all here, side by side with feminist figures like megastar Beyonce, Nobel Prize-winning scientist Dorothy Hodgkin, fashion icon Iris Apfel, and author Ursula K. LeGuin. There’s a mirror here for “X, Y, Z: the Extraordinary You, and the Zillions of brilliant, brave adventures you will have”, which makes for big fun during storytime. Collage artwork is bright and textured, with differing fabrics and hairstyles. The addition of Roman goddess Venus feels a little off, but every other featured female is flesh and blood real, and the grouping has a nice diversity. Each woman has a one-line description; some have quotes attributed to them.

I love a good board book, and this one makes my cut. Add this in time for National Women’s in March, and plan your storytimes now.

Over the Rooftops, Under the Moon, by JonArno Lawson/Illustrated by Nahid Kazemi, (Feb. 2019, Enchanted Lion), $17.95, ISBN: 9781592702626

Ages 4-8

A long-legged white bird doesn’t feel like he fits in with his flock, but feels a connection when making eye contact with a little girl. The bird ponders his existence and explores the human world, not noticing until the snow falls that his flock has migrated without him. He catches up with his flock and they sit together on a rooftop, “alone and together, over the rooftops, and under the moon”.

I’ll be honest, I had to read this one a few times to really get it. It’s very open to interpretation, and while the gist of the story is about a bird who isn’t sure about his relationship to himself and within his community, I’ve seen other picture books handle this in a more linear fashion. and I’m not sure that little ones will get it. Some of the text gets lost in the mixed media collage artwork, which could impede a readaloud. The collage artwork tells the story in surreal, dreamlike fashion, which may be the best way to get the message of this story across: the bird feels alone, connects with humans, explores, and ultimately, finds peace within himself and within his community. It’s a beautiful message to communicate to younger children who are starting to socialize in groups and may feel out of place; it’s also a strong message to older children, who can break down the introspective message here. I’d love to see this as a school-wide readalong in elementary schools that still have them, so kids from K-5 can each take a turn at deciphering its meaning to them as individuals.

It’s an interesting book that may take a few reads to unpack, but worth it for the discussions that can follow.

 

What If? What Makes You Different Makes You Amazing!, by Sandra Magsamen, (Feb. 2019, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $10.99, ISBN: 9781492637103

Ages 0-4

“What if your hair was big and orange and really bright? What if one eye was green and the other eye was blue as night?” The rhyming text takes readers through all sorts of ways we can stand out from the crowd, with adorable illustrations – a purple lamb, a swaying monkey – and extols the virtues of individuality. The text assures readers that being different is special, and good for you: it can give your spirit a lift; it would be dull if everyone were the same. Sandra Magsamen embraces uniqueness, and makes sure her readers do, too, pointing out how being different can help in certain situations. After all, someone quiet can be a big help when putting a bandage on an injured crocodile. Pair this with Todd Parr’s books, especially It’s Okay to Be Different and Be Who You Are, for a feel-good readaloud. The artwork is colorful, never overpowering, with upbeat, yet calming colors and bold outlines.  What If? is a cute picture book for collections where Todd Parr does well.

 

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

Last minute gift shopping? Books are easy to wrap!

Okay, the big days are coming, and you still need a gift or two – maybe your kid’s got a last-minute gift to get, or you don’t want to show up to a party empty-handed for any kids in the house. Check out some more of these gifts books for some guaranteed entertainment!

Where’s the Architect? From Pyramids to Skyscrapers: An Architecture Look and Find Book, by Susanne Rebscher/Illustrations by Annabelle von Sperber, (Oct. 2018, Prestel Publishing), $19.95, ISBN: 978-3-7913-7301-0

Ages 4-10

This one is like I Spy, but with architecture. Readers can join two kids – Ben and Mia – and two little monkey escorts on an adventure around the world! View 12 beautiful works of architecture, learn a little bit about each, and find some cool objects and people along the way. Count ravens at London’s The Tower of London; see an exhibition at the Moscow Metro, and take in a concert at Sydney’s Opera House. Artwork is full-color and there’s always something to see. Back matter offers more information on each of the structures, a timeline of construction, and a glossary of terms. Endpapers add to the fun with a world map sporting numbers for each structure’s location, and beautiful artwork featuring Ben and Mia riding a Chinese dragon. This one’s a fun gift for your seek and find fans and can pair with some Legos – let kids build their own structures!

Star Wars: Millennium Falcon Book and Mega Model, (Oct. 2018, Fun Studio International), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0794442071

Ages 8-12

Okay, this is just too much fun. Build your own Millennium Falcon model with this book-model combo! Punch out the laminated stock pieces, and assemble using the attached book, which includes instructions and some Falcon history: stats on previous Falcon pilots, ports of call, and key movie moments where the ship played a big part. Activities abound here: starship Sudoku, Hoth escape maze, and draw your own spaceship. The model assembly is a little fiddly, so younger fingers will need some help from older readers. The accompanying volume is slim, but loaded with facts and fun, making this a gift Star Wars fans will love.

 

I Am a Wonder Woman: Inspiring Activities to Try, Incredible Women to Discover, by Ellen Bailey, (Sept. 2018, Portable Press), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1684125487

Ages 8-12

Activity books are a great go-to gift, and I Am a Wonder Woman is right up there, mixing a bit of nonfiction with thought-provoking, fun activities. There are profiles of 60 women who’ve made their mark on history, all with accompanying activities. Make a diary entry like Anne Frank; work on your suffragist buttons and newspaper articles with Emmaline Pankhurst and Kate Sheppard; plant a tree like Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai. There are familiar names here: Anne Frank, Jane Goodall, and Helen Keller; and new names, including artist Artemisia Gentileschi, whose story was recently told in the award-winning YA novel, Blood Water Paint. Two-color illustrations throughout make this a fun, smart bet for a gift book.

 

Another Monster at the End of This Book: An Interactive Adventure, by Jon Stone, (Sept. 2018, Fun Studio International), $14.99, ISBN: 978-0794441746

Ages 3-5

My favorite book of all time has been, and always will be, The Monster at the End of This Book, Starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover. I have the best memories of my mom reading this to my 4- and 5-year old self, and of the two of us giggling together as Grover’s nervous breakdown increased with each turn of the (barricaded) page, bringing us closer to the Monster at the End of the Book – which was, as you may have guessed, Grover himself. I’ve read this book to my own  kids, and added another monster to the mix, when Elmo joined Grover in 1999 for Another Monster at the End of This Book. Now, we’ve got an interactive update to Another Monster, complete with magnetic book locks, flaps to explore, and pop-ups to surprise. It’s an adorable update to a classic kids’ book, and a perfect gift for the holidays.

 

Happy Shopping, and Happy Holidays!

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Toil and Trouble… Tales of witchcraft for YA and beyond

Toil and Trouble, edited by Tess Sharpe and Jessica Spotswood, (Aug. 2018, Harlequin TEEN), $18.99, ISBN: 9781335016270

Ages 13+

Did you love Radical Element, with its historical fiction tales of young women breaking conventions and being amazing? Then you’ll love Toil & Trouble, an anthology loaded with tales of women and witchcraft. And not the Hocus Pocus, “I Put a Spell on You” type of witchcraft, either: these witches are in touch with nature and themselves; they’re multicultural, they’re queer, they’re angry, and they’re very, very human. Wild Beauty‘s Anna-Marie McLemore weaves a story about faith in “Love Spells”; Brooklyn Brujahs author Zoraida Cordova writes about the wisdom of age and the passing of generations in “Divine Are the Stars”. Robin Talley’s “The Legend of Stone Mary” goes the historic route, with the legend of a dead witch haunting a local community. Elizabeth May’s “Why They Watch Us Burn” is a chilling companion story to readers of The Handmaid’s Tale, simmering with rage and rebellion. The women in these stories are never victims, even while others may try to victimize them: they own their power, no matter what the circumstances may hold.

Jessica Spotswood and Tess Sharpe have curated a strong collection of short stories written by strong authors here. There’s something for everyone in this volume, with strong, solitary characters who defend their homes to women who form a collective to survive. There are non-binary, LGBT, and cis characters, and there are characters from world cultures throughout. Characters confront big issues including sexual assault and emotional abuse. As Kirkus writes in its starred review, “No damsels in distress to be found here”. Toil and Trouble has starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist.

Find more books about witches in this great BookRiot feature.

(Note: I watch Hocus Pocus every Halloween; nothing but love for my Sanderson Sisters!)

Posted in Middle Grade, Non-fiction

Get Ready for STEM Summer!

Sure, many libraries are doing the “Libraries Rock!” theme for Summer Reading, but that’s no reason to leave science out of the fun! I’ve got a bunch of STEM books that you’ll want to get in front of (or create programs using) your readers to have fun with this summer. Careers, facts, bios, and, most fun of all, experiments, await!

Architecture: Cool Women Who Design Structures (Girls in Science series), by Elizabeth Schmermund/Illustrated by Lena Chandhok, (Aug. 2017, Nomad Press), $9.95, ISBN: 9781619305465

Recommended for readers 9-13

I’m always looking for good career books, because I weeded my current section when I first got to my library. I really liked this book, and I’m looking forward to reading and putting more of the Girls in Science series in my book cart for future purchases. Architecture is divided into four color-coded sections: the first, a general overview of architecture; the history, styles, what the profession is like today and how to prepare for study in architecture, and women in the profession. The next three sections are devoted to profiles of a diverse group of women architects: Patricia Galván, a Project Manager; Farida Abu-Bakare, an intern architect who’s in the process of writing her exams and works with science and technology; and Maia Small, who owns and operates her own small architecture firm. In addition to the profiled female architects, there are brief bios on other women in the field. Ask & Answer sections provide thought-provoking questions, many beyond the basic material, for readers to consider. QR codes in callout sections provide links to more information. The overall narrative, and each profiled professional, addresses the gender gap and even larger diversity gap in the industry. Back matter includes a timeline of the profession, all the Ask & Answer questions in one place, a glossary, further resources, including written-out links to the QR code sections, and an index.

Try This! Extreme: 50 Fun & Safe Experiments for the Mad Scientist in You, by Karen Romano Young/Photographs by Matthew Rakola, (Sept. 2017, National Geographic Kids), $16.99, ISBN: 9781426328633

Recommended for readers 8+

The best part about science, I tell the kids in my programs and class visits, is making a mess, yet, no one gets mad at you (mostly). What better time to be a mad scientist than in the summer, when it’s beautiful out and you can open those windows to offset any stinky experiements? The book starts off with safety instructions and photos of the kid (and dog) scientists who tested out the 50 experiments waiting to be discovered in Try This! Extreme. Each experiment has a safety rating, a who you need rating (i.e., an adult, just you, or maybe grab a friend), and supervision rating; each experiment also lays out concepts explored, approximately how long it will take, what you need, and a step-by-step guide through the process, accompanied by full-color photos. There are callout facts, questions to ask yourself, and key terms defined throughout. Conduct a bioblitz (exploration) in your yard or a park, learn physics using marshmallow Peeps, or check the weather forecast and aim for a game of masking tape hopscotch when there’s rain predicted. There are bonus mini-experiements, Science Fair experiment prompts and guidance, K-12 science standards and how each experiment corresponds to them, an index, and metric conversion tables. Enjoy!

The STEM Quest Series from Barron’s Educational is a brand new series broken out into four books, loaded with facts and experiments:

STEM Quest Science: Astonishing Atoms and Matter Mayhem, by Colin Stuart/Illustrated by Annika Brandow, (May 2018, Barron’s Educational), $10.99, ISBN: 9781438011363

Recommended for readers 8+

This volume looks at the organic side of things: biology, chemistry, physics, earth and space sciences, biochemistry, biomedicine, and biotechnology. Each section guides readers through full-color illustrated discussions on each area and includes experiments to ramp up the fun. Kids will LOVE the Marshmallow Molecules – you need a bag of marshmallows, a box of toothpicks or wooden skewers (me? I’d go with the toothpicks, but I’m in a public library), and some compound formulas. Let kids make their own formulas up and watch the fun begin! I’ll save you the search: this is where you can find the chemical compounds for farts. It’s the American Council on Science and Health’s website, so they did this for science. You’re welcome. Littler ones can make their own sundial, or spot a constellation. There are scientist profiles and fantastic facts throughout, plus a glossary and an index.

 

STEM Quest Technology: Tools, Robotics, and Gadgets Galore, by Nick Arnold/Illustrated by Kristyna Baczynski, (May 2018, Barron’s Educational), $10.99, ISBN: 9781438011370

Recommended for readers 8+

This volume looks at the techy side of life: construction, power and energy, agriculture and biotechnology, manufacturing, information and communication, medical and biomedical, and transportation. Learn about the evolution of tools, from the earliest hand tools to robots and space suits. Learn how a blast furnace works, and make your own plastic (adult helpers necessary), and learn how it works. Get your Project Runway on, with a section on textiles: you’ll learn to weave, tie dye, and ink print. For your more tech-inspired readers, there’s an easy Try This at Home experiment that teaches (with adult help) how to build a circuit, or how to magnetize a nail. There are great programming ideas in here: I think I’m going to look into building a planet and designing a space station, all of which can be done on a shoestring and with adult help. And since I’m the closest thing resembling an adult in the room… well, I guess that falls to me. The same format applies here (and to all of the STEM Quest books): bios on prominent scientists, loads of facts and illustrations, a glossary, and an index.

 

STEM Quest Engineering: Fantastic Forces and Incredible Machines, by Nick Arnold/Illustrated by Kristyna Baczynski, (May 2018, Barron’s Educational), $10.99, ISBN: 9781438011349

Recommended for readers 8+

Next up, engineering: systems and mechanics; materials and processes; biology, medical, agriculture and chemistry; structures; and sustainability engineering. Get the kids learning about forces and energy with experiments like Superhero Paper Clips, where they’ll make a paper clip float; a material scavenger hunt, inviting them to look around for everyday items made out of different materials; get out the old reliable straws and pipe cleaners and let them create 3-D shapes to see how they hold up under pressure, or that summer staple, the pinwheel. (The book suggests dowels; I’m here to tell you that chopsticks are a lot cheaper and just as easy to use.) There’s a great section on environmental engineering that will have you and your readers figuring out how to clean up our environment and a nuclear power lesson that has the simplest of experiments: use the sun’s nuclear energy to test your sunscreen on a piece of construction paper.

 

STEM Quest Math: Fabulous Figures and Cool Calcuations, by Colin Stuart/Illustrated by Annika Brandow, (May 2018, Barron’s Educational), $10.99, ISBN: 9781438011356

Recommended for readers 8+

I’m trying to get more math-related fun in front of my library kids, because it scares the bejesus out of me and I don’t want to pass that on. The parents love a good math program, too, so I know I’ll get buy-in from the community on this one. Here, we’ve got numbers and operations; measurement; problem-solving, logic and reasoning; geometry; algebra; advanced math; data, analysis and probability; and communication. I will admit that just looking at that section scared the life out of me, but once I started reading, I quickly warmed up. There are great explanations of each concept in here, addressing the quick and easy stuff like place value and column addition and subtraction, and heading all the way into bigger ideas like proofs and binary. Fun experiments and activities include a pirate treasure challenge, where, as a pirate captain, you need to use math to calculate the best place to bury your treasure; creating 3-D art and making pyramids, and averaging Olympic judge scores.

That’s a start for some STEM summer fun, but make sure to get your STEM sections and displays up and running to give readers readalikes and ways to expand on what they’re learning. The Secret Coders graphic novel series by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes is great for Math and Tech fans, who want to play with coding. Science Comics has books about rockets and robots that will fit nicely with STEM displays, and I’m a big fan of the Junk Drawer Science series by Bobby Mercer. There are tons of fun STEM-related books out there!

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Science Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Women's History

Stories of Fearless Females – First Second’s got you covered!

First Second consistently puts out great graphic novels for readers, no matter what age. Fiction or non-fiction, kids, teen, or adult, if it’s coming from First Second, I read it, love it, and get it on my shelves. This spring, there’s something for everyone, with some amazing ladies taking the reins and heading up their own books – plus, a nonfiction collection profiling women who broke the rules and beat the daylights out of the mold-maker, while they were at it.

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World, by Pénélope Bagieu,
(March 2018, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626728691
Recommended for readers 12+

First up is Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World; profiles of 29 outstanding women from across time, across the world. We know many of their names, but did you know their accomplishments? Did you know that Margaret Hamilton, who defined Wicked Witch with her portrayal of the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, embraced her terrifying alter ego  – and used her as a bargaining chip for higher pay in Hollywood? How about Temple Grandin, whose research on farm animals led to major changes in the factory farming industry and a push toward animal well-being? Not bad, for someone whose father wanted her institutionalized when she was diagnosed with autism as a child.

I could gush on and on about Brazen. It’s a must-add to your collections; display and booktalk right next to Sam Maggs’ Wonder Women, Jason Porath’s Rejected Princesses, and National Geographic’s Book of Heroines. Bagieu creates perfect, bite-sized biographies of these phenomenal women, making readers want to know more. A list of 30 more rebel ladies who rocked the world whets appetites at the end of the book, and we even get a little bio on our author/artist, Pénélope Bagieu. I’ve enjoyed her previous graphic novels, Exquisite Corpse (for grown-ups) and California Dreamin’, the story of musician Mama Cass. Don’t pass up putting Brazen in your teen space.

 

Star Scouts: The League of Lasers, by Mike Lawrence,
(March 2018, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781626722811
Recommended for readers 8-12

The much-anticipated sequel to 2017’s Star Scouts is here! Avani Patel is rocking the Star Scouts, so much that she’s been invited to join a secret society of elite scouts: The League of Lasers. Sounds awesome, right? But there’s a catch: she has to survive her initiation challenge. While on her way to the planet where she’s supposed to undergo her challenge, her ship throws her off course and crash lands onto a strange planet. With a methane atmosphere. And she’s stranded with Pam, her nemesis. Together, the two Scouts have to figure out how to survive – and to do that, they need to put their differences past them.

I love this series for so many reasons: there’s a child of color leading the pack; there are messages about resilience and teamwork; and most importantly, it’s just so much fun! Mike Lawrence’s dialogue between characters is never slow and never dull, and always believable. He tackles middle grade situations like disagreements and jealousy between friends, but always makes sure to bring things to a resolution through talking and mutual understanding. The humor is smart and the artwork is engaging. Give this to all your Zita the Spacegirl fans and tell them to make space in their hearts for the Star Scouts.

 

Scarlett Hart, Monster Hunter, by Marcus Sedgwick/Illustrated by Thomas Taylor,
(April 2018, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781626720268
Recommended for readers 10-13

YA author Marcus Sedgwick (Saint Death, Ghosts of Heaven) writes for middle grade with the start of a new series about a teenage monster hunter following in her parents’ footsteps. Scarlett Hart is the orphaned daughter of legendary monster hunters, determined to carry on the family business. The only thing is, she according to the Royal Academy for the Pursuit and Eradication of Zoological Eccentricities (just call it The Academy), Scarlett’s underage, and hunting monsters is against the law. Luckily, Scarlett’s manservant, Napoleon, is there to help, driving Scarlett around London and acting as the face for her kills so they can get paid on hang onto their family estate. The sticky wicket is Count Stankovic, her parents’ – and now Scarlett’s – archrival, who always manages to show up and take credit for her work while threatening to rat her out to the Academy. Naturally, the monster situation gets out of control, and Scarlett roars into action, danger and the law be darned!

Scarlett Hart is a fun monster-catching adventure romp, with a dieselpunk feel and a spunky young heroine. Thomas Taylor is the original illustrator of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and knows fantasy art. There’s humor, adventure, and fun to be had; a nice start to a new graphic novel series. Give these to your Delilah Dirk readers, and consider re-introducing readers to Shannon, Dean, and Nathan Hale’s Rapunzel’s Revenge and Calamity Jack.

 

The City on the Other Side, by Mairghread Scott/Illustrated by Robin Robinson,
(April 2018, First Second), $16.99, ISBN: 9781626724570
Recommended for readers 9-13

It’s early 20th-century San Francisco, and Isabel is bored. Her high-society mother expects her to be quiet, well-behaved, and flawless – clean, pressed, clothes in perfect repair. She’s shuttled off to her artist father for the summer, but he’s too wrapped up in his work to pay much attention to her, either. Taking matters into her own hands, Isabel explores the woods by her father’s home and stumbles into a fairy world: a world where two kingdoms are at war! She receives a magical necklace to keep safe, and, with the help of some new companions, sets off to end the war before it destroys the fairy world and our own world.

 

The City on the Other Side is high fantasy mixed with historical fiction, making for an exciting adventure for middle grade fantasy fans. The heroine is a girl of color, of Spanish origin; she’s smart, determined, and sick and tired of being treated like she’s an object for someone’s mantelpiece. She’s a good role model for readers who enjoy Zita, Avani from Star Scouts, and Maddy from Jewell Parker Rhodes’ Bayou Magic.

 

Crafty Cat and the Great Butterfly Battle, by Charise Mericle Harper,
(April 2018, First Second), $13.99, ISBN: 9781626724877
Recommended for readers 8-10

The third Crafty Cat comic book has Birdie – whose alter ego is crafty superheroine Crafty Cat – ready to take the lead role in her school play about bugs. The problem is, everyone wants the role: it’s a butterfly! Anya is back, and she wants to be the butterfly, too – and Anya always seems to get her way. Looks like a job for Crafty Cat!

I really enjoy the Crafty Cat series, and so do my library kids. Birdie is a likable character who always manages to find a way to make the best of a lousy situation; she uses crafts – and by extension, her superhero identity as Crafty Cat – to help her focus and see different possibilities. Crafty Cat is an optimistic book with an upbeat character, and it’s great fun for kids to have as a go-to on the shelves. This volume comes with five butterfly-related crafts, including a butterfly with moving wings, a hair clip, and a bookmark.

Posted in History, Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Women's History

Women in the Old West: Frontier Grit

frontier-gritFrontier Grit, by Marianne Monson, (Sept. 2016, Shadow Mountain), $19.99, ISBN: 9781629722276

Recommended for ages 12+

Monson profiles 12 pioneer women who lived life on the frontier as America expanded into the West. From a freed slave who watched her husband and children sold in front of her to a woman who rescued Chinese girls from human trafficking, every woman profiled in this book withstood hardships, overcame obstacles, and thumbed their noses at nay-sayers to change the world. There are entrepreneurs, doctors, politicans, and activists, all here to inform and inspire a new generation.

Frontier Grit gives us a new batch of women in history that many of us would otherwise never have heard of; while the research is well done and comprehensive, the writing is simplified, more for a middle school audience than the 18+ age group suggested by the publisher. An author summary at end of each profile relates what each woman personally means to the author, detracting from the scholarship of the overall book and relegating it to the territory of history report. Each woman’s impact could more effectively be communicated by making it less personal, more definitive; the lasting impact of each woman on all women.

Each profile includes photos (or drawings, where applicable), notes and sources. A reasonable purchase if you need additional women’s biographies, particularly as they relate to the American frontier or women’s suffrage.

Posted in Fiction, Horror, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Skin crawling YA horror: The Women in the Walls, by Amy Lukavics

women-in-the-wallsThe Women in the Walls, by Amy Lukavics (Sept. 2016, Harlequin Teen), $18.99, ISBN: 9780373211944

Recommended for ages 13+

Lucy Acosta lives with her cousin, Margaret, her aunt, Penelope, and her father, Felix, in a Victorian mansion in the middle of the woods. Her mother died when she was three, leaving her to be raised by her loving aunt and distant father. When Lucy is 17, Penelope takes a walk into the woods and disappears, throwing the household into chaos. Margaret, Penelope’s daughter, is becoming unhinged, telling Lucy that she hears her dead mother talking to her through the walls, telling her to join her. Her father, obsessed with throwing dinner parties for the exclusive club he belongs to, ignores Lucy’s pleas for help; he won’t accept any sign of weakness. As Lucy tries to get to the bottom of the voices in the walls, she starts hearing them too; and when she begins digging into her family’s legacy, the things she find may doom her.

This was a gloriously creepy novel with just enough gore to move it from haunted house novel to horror. Think Wicker Man meets The Legacy (wow, did I just date myself with that reference), with wonderful madness tossed in, to make things interesting. Be warned, delicate sensibilities and stomachs may find some of the language and violence too much. This is not a book for your conservative readers.

Lucy and Margaret are fairy skin-deep characters with the potential for deeper storytelling, but it’s not really their story, as you’ll discover. The real development is going on around them. Think of Lucy as the narrator – which she is – and the host of the story. She’s the central character, but she’s in the dark almost as much as we readers are. The supporting characters are where the story lies, and when the elements all come together, this is a page-turning read. Horror and suspense fans will enjoy this one.

Posted in Early Reader, Fantasy, Fiction, Preschool Reads

The Seven Princesses: A fairy tale about sisters and your own space

seven princessesThe Seven Princesses, by Smiljana Coh (May 2017, Running Press), $16.95, ISBN: 9780762458318

Recommended for ages 4-8

Once upon a time, there were seven princesses, all with diverse interests, who did everything together. But one day, they had the biggest fight in the entire history of princess fighting, and they all decided to build their own towers and be on their own. But that wasn’t the answer, either; the princesses really missed one another. What’s a princess to do?

Smiljana Coh’s book about sibling rivalry is a great story for preschoolers to early school-age kids, because it gets to the heart of sibling arguments: sibings are largely together day and all night, and space eventually gets tight, no matter what the living situation. Arguments are bound to happen; kids are all too quick to say things like, “I never want to see you AGAIN!”, but eventually, love wins out, and things get smoothed over. She also captures the feeling everyone around kids feel when there’s sibling unrest: the palette goes from soothing, happy pastels to washed out, sad, sepia-toned art, and she addresses how painful the sound of silence can be. When the princesses reunite, there’s joy in the kingdom again!

I also love that the princesses are such great girl-power figures for younger readers: the multi-ethnic princesses are interested in math, building, music, fashion design, gardening, animals, swimming, and the arts; one princess creates the blueprint for a grand castle layout. The royal parents show up in the beginning and end of the book; other than looking lovingly at one another and their kids, there’s not much of a role here, except to show a beautifully diverse family.

I can’t wait to put this into storytime rotation, especially since princess books are aces with my crowd. I’d spotlight this with both Kate Beaton’s Princess and the Pony and Andrea Beaty’s Rosie Revere, Engineer; let girls see how amazing they are with these fun and fabulous role models.

Smiljana Coh is a Croatian author and illustrator. You can follow her on Facebook or check out her author website for more information.

Follow the Seven Princesses blog tour!

5/18 Anastasia Suen

5/20 Kid Lit Frenzy  

5/21 Mom Read It

5/23 Reading Through Life

5/24 Unpacking the POWER of Picture Books

Posted in Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Uncategorized, Women's History

Radioactive! The story of two women scientists and how they changed the world.

radioactiveRadioactive!: How Irène Curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World, by Winifred Conkling (Jan. 2016, Algonquin Young Readers), $17.95, ISBN: 9781616204150

Recommended for ages 12+

Most of us know who Marie Curie was: the scientist who pioneered the study of radioactivity. But how many know that her daughter, Irène, was an accomplished scientist in her own right, whose studies on radioactivity, physics, and the transmutation of elements earned her a Nobel prize, shared with her husband? Have you heard of Lise Meitner, the physicist whose work in physics – often published in conjunction with her friend and research partner, Otto Hahn – led to the discovery of nuclear fission? She was passed over for a Nobel for several reasons, not the least of which involved her being straight-up robbed by a partner who took credit for much of her work during the World War II years, when she was exiled in Sweden.

Radioactive! tells the stories of these two very important women and their historical research. We learn Irène’s story from the beginning, as the daughter of celebrated scientist, Marie Curie. She worked by her mother’s side, operating an x-ray machine on World War I battlefields, eventually going on to further her mother’s work in radioactivity along with her chemist husband, Pierre Joliot. We learn about Lise Meitner, whose work put her in competition with Curie many times, but experienced more sexism and prejudice than Curie ever did. When Hitler rose to power in the 1930s, her Jewish heritage created problems at her research position, where former colleagues turned against her and demanded she resign; she was eventually forced her to flee Austria for Sweden or end up in a concentration camp. Although she continued to consult with Hahn on their nuclear fission research, he took credit for her work and took home the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1944.

I’ve been looking for biographies on women in science for my tweens and teens, and this certainly fits the bill. There are photographs throughout the book, and Ms. Conkling provides strong backgrounds on both Curie and Mietner, making them live again, making the reader care about them, and explaining physics, fission, and radioactive science in terms that we can all wrap our heads around. A valuable addition to libraries and classrooms, and a great book for anyone who wants to inspire the next generation of scientists – female OR male.

Winifred Conkling is an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction for young readers, including Passenger on the Pearl: The True Story of Emily Edmonson’s Flight from Slavery and the middle-grade novel Sylvia and Aki, winner of the Jane Addams Children’s Literature Award and the Tomás Rivera Award. Her author website provides teacher guides for her books. There is no guide up for Radioactive yet, but I’m sure there will be one closer to the book’s publication date.