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 Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

When Elephants Fly digs deeply into trauma and healing

When Elephants Fly, by Nancy Richardson Fischer, (Sept. 2018, Harlequin TEEN), $18.99, ISBN: 9781335012364

Ages 14+

Lily is a high school senior with a plan: she’s going to avoid stress, drugs, booze, and romantic entanglements; anything that can trigger a stressful episode. She’s in a race against time, because the odds are against her: her mother, and women in her family, have all developed schizophrenia. Schizophrenia most commonly manifests between the ages of 18 and 30, so for the next 12 years, Lily’s on guard. She even has her best friend, Sawyer, give her psych quizzes to catch any developing symptoms. Lily’s mother stopped taking her meds when Lily was a child, and during one episode, tried to kill Lily; she later committed suicide in prison, and Lily, who’s still dealing with the trauma, is getting no help from her father, who won’t discuss Lily’s mother or the incident.

Lily’s on a journalism internship when she witnesses the birth of a new elephant calf at the local zoo. When the calf’s mother tries to kill her calf, and a story goes out with Lily’s byline, she’s stuck with the story – and the fallout. A traveling circus enacts a claim on the calf, and the zoo director is furious with Lily’s betrayal. Swifty bonds with Lily, but the calf’s grief puts her health at risk. Lily’s determination to save Swifty is at odds with her resolve to stay away from stressful situations, but she’s committed to the calf.

Nancy Richardson Fischer brings together a fantastic amount of elements to create When Elephants Fly: trauma; mental illness; the animal captivity debate, and journalistic integrity, for starters. Lily is a fascinating and complex character; she may not always be sympathetic, but she is empathetic. She’s not always likable – she’ll admit it – but readers will always feel for her, because she’s facing down a very real monster and fighting it every step of the way. Swifty is as a strong supporting character in the book, too; she brings out the vulnerable, human side of Lily that she tries to push down. Before Swifty, Lily seems determined to barrel through the next 12 years as mildly and quietly as possible: Swifty makes her engage with her surroundings and with people other than Sawyer.

When Elephants Fly is a strong, moving story that allows for big discussions. A must-add to YA collections; a must-read for caregivers and educators that know tweens and teens dealing with trauma.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Take it Slow! Sloth at the Zoom shows you how

Sloth at the Zoom, by Helaine Becker/Illustrated by Orbie, (Aug. 2018, OwlKids), $17.95, ISBN: 9781771472494

Ages 3-7

Poor Sloth! She thought she was being dropped off at the Zzzzzoo, but something must have gone wrong with the paperwork: she’s been brought to the Zoom! It’s a very big difference, you see. At the Zzzzzoo, life moves along at a gentle pace; there’s time for naps in the sun, it’s relaxing, it’s all good. But at the Zoom? Whoosh! Zebras run by so fast, they leave their stripes in puddles! Parrots fly so fast, their tails draw rainbows across the sky! It’s VERY stressful, especially for poor Sloth, who wants to make friends, but no one has the time to give her. Finally, she meets Snail. Snail has time! Snail becomes Sloth’s friend, and the next thing you know, the Zoom is becoming a much nicer place to be. Sometimes, you just have to slow down and enjoy life, right?

It’s so nice to read a story that encourages life in the slow lane, isn’t it? I feel like we’re overscheduled and stressed out, our kids are overscheduled and stressed out, everyone’s got extracurricular activities, work, school, and deadlines seem to pop up everywhere, like neon signs. Kids are racing around like zebras, leaving their stripes behind, and so are we. Seeing two friends meet in the middle of this chaotic atmosphere, and bond over their shared moment of slowing down, gives hope to the rest of us, doesn’t it? Sloth at the Zoom shows readers that it’s in our hands to just stop, just slow down, and to discover the wonderful things that we often miss when we’re running by them. Slow living is contagious, too – if you slow down, someone else may, too. And that’s a good thing.

Sloth at the Zoom celebrates the Slow Living Movement, a lifestyle that puts the importance on mindfulness and embracing the slower aspects of life. There are blogs and websites dedicated to the movement, and there are books for adults and kids alike. One of my current favorites is The Slowest Book Ever, by April Pulley Sayre, which celebrates the science of slow in our world. But to start, all you really need to do is just take a deep breath and slow down.

Cuddle up with your little ones and enjoy a nice, slow read.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Happy Pride! And Tango Makes Three!

And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson & Peter Parnell/Illustrated by Henry Cole, (April 2005, Simon & Schuster), $17.99, ISBN: 9780689878459

Recommended for readers 4-8

And Tango Makes Three is a classic in children’s and LGBT literature. It’s based on the true story of two penguins at the Central Park Zoo, Roy and Silo, and the little penguin they hatched together. Roy and Silo were (are?) are pair of penguins that discovered each other in 1998; they walked together; bowed to each other, swam together, even built a nest together. But no egg was forthcoming until their keeper, a nice man named Mr. Gramzay, put a fertile egg in their nest. The two penguins cared for the egg until it hatched, and Mr. Gramzay named him Tango, because “it takes two to make a Tango”. Could you squeal from the adorableness? So Tango made three; a happy little penguin family.

This sweet story about family caused an uproar you wouldn’t believe, because – GASP – two male penguins were depicted in a loving relationship AND as parents! Could you even? (It’s like… adoption never existed, amirite?) Poor little Tango and his dads made a lot of people nervous, and as a result, And Tango Makes Three has topped the 10 Most Challenged Books List between 2006 and 2010, and still gets people riled up 13 years later. That said, And Tango Makes Three also received a lot of awards, including designation as an American Library Association Notable Children’s Book (2006); the ASPCA’s Henry Bergh Award (2005); The Gustavus Myer Outstanding Book Award (2006); Nick Jr. Family Magazine’s Best Book of the Year (2006); Bank Street College’s Best Book of the Year (2006); the Cooperative Children’s Book Council choice, and Notable Social Studies Trade Book (2006); and it was a Lambda Literary Award finalist (2006). Not too shabby!

And Tango Makes Three is a story about love, family, and community. No one at the zoo gives a second thought to Roy and Silo’s relationship, and seriously, do you think kids who come to see the animals do? It’s a story of family and how, for one couple, a baby made them complete. Henry Cole captures the spirit of New York’s Central Park with his soft watercolors, and make Roy and Silo come to life with expressive facial and body expressions. If this isn’t on your shelves or in your storytimes – Father’s Day is coming! – please add it. And hug your dad(s).

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 Middle Grade, Middle School, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Bridge to the Wild: Zoos connect people and animals

bridge-to-the-wildBridge to the Wild, by Dr. Caitlin O’Connell/Photographs by Timothy Rodwell, (Aug. 2016, HMH Books for Young Readers), $18,99, ISBN: 9780544277397

Recommended for ages 10 and up

I’m about to gush here. If you read my reviews often enough, you probably have guessed that I love any nonfiction book about animals, conservation and preservation, and even better when the ideas are combined. In Bridge to the Wild, Dr. Caitlin O’Connell begins by recalling a childhood visit to the zoo – back when animals were still largely kept in cages (I remember it well), and saw a gorilla, seemingly in deep despair over living in a cage not much bigger than he was.

Thankfully, those days are (mostly) over. Zoos are more like natural preserves now, offering many animals larger spaces to roam; conservation and preservation is the order of the day, with zoo staff rescuing and caring for animals all over the world. As more animals face extinction at the hands of poachers, habitat devastation, and pollutants that contaminate their environment, zoos are playing a bigger part in keeping our wildlife alive, and conducting valuable research on improving their conditions and our world. Bridge to the Wild is Dr. O’Connell’s manifesto, where she lays out the valuable ways zoos are a bridge for humans, to the wild outside our doors.

Dr. O’Connell spent a week working with the staff at Zoo Atlanta –  a private, nonprofit wildlife park and zoo – to observe the relationships between animals and caretakers, to help strengthen this bridge. After all, what we see as observers is only the tip of the iceberg; many, many loving and brilliant people are behind the scenes, learning about and learning from the animals, caring for them, loving them. From the Dawn Chorus – the morning symphony conducted by the tenants as the day begins, to the Dusk Chorus, when they start winding down for the night, Dr. O’Connell and Tim Rodwell introduce us to the inhabitants of Zoo Atlanta, from the pandas, to the hornbills, meerkats, gorillas, tigers and more.

There are anecdotes and beautiful photographs, a “Keeper Feature” that profiles the different keepers at Zoo Atlanta, and a fantastic note on ignorance and extinction, which is a real call to action to end senseless poaching of animal parts for talismans and “remedies” that simply don’t work. A full bibliography and sources are available and provide more research opportunities, and data sheets encourage budding zoologists to do some research on their own, guided by Dr. O’Connell, who lays out simple experiments to observe and record behaviors.

Animal books are hugely popular with my Corona Kids, and I’ve been stacking my collection with plenty of rescue, preservation, and conservation titles for them, to drive home the point that this planet doesn’t only belong to us. Bridge to the Wild is going to be one of those books I talk endlessly about, especially since my library is about a stone’s throw away from the Queens Zoo. I may even slip copies of this book into teachers’ hands during class visits, with a “hint, hint” nudge for a class trip activity (sorry, kids!). That’s how important this book is to me.

Bridge to the Wild has received a starred review from School Library Journal. Learn more about Dr. O’Connell’s work and books at her author website.

Take a peek at a chapter excerpt on meerkats, then go order this book for your animal lovers!
meerkat_1

 

 

Posted in Animal Fiction, Early Reader, Fiction, Humor, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

The Zoo’s about to cut FOOTLOOSE!

footloose_1Footloose, by Kenny Loggins/Illustrated by Tim Bowers, (Oct. 2016, MoonDance Press), $17.95, ISBN: 9781633221185

Recommended for ages 2-6

Where are my fellow ’80s children at? Kenny Loggins, who basically soundtracked the ’80s, has given new life to Footloose – a song that I will still unabashedly jump off and dance to whenever I hear it (usually to my eldest teen’s mortal terror) – for the little ones! He was inspired to rewrite the song into a fun story for his grandchildren; what we get is a fun rhyming story about what goes down after a zoo closes to the public for the evening.

First things first: Yes, I absolutely did find a karoake version of Footloose on YouTube and played it while I sang this book. In the privacy of my bedroom, sure, but I did it and it was fabulous! The song and story line up nicely, and if that’s your kind of thing, and you have an audience that may be receptive to it, print out a set of the lyrics for the parents and go for it.

This is a fun story for kids about party animals getting down after dark, with Zookeeper Big Jack witness to the whole business. There’s rhyming, there are great illustrations of animals swinging from trees, dancing a tango, and turning it loose – Footloose!

footloose_2

footloose_3

footloose_4For me, this is a no-brainer add to my shelves – my storytimes include a lot of movement, my little ones love animal books, and I can easily read this, Eric Carle’s From Head to Toe, Lindsay Craig’s Dancing Feet, and Sandra Boynton’s Barnyard Dance to get the kids up, moving, and laughing. If you have animal picture book fans, it’s a great addition to your collections. If you like to sing and dance with your little ones, be it in your own living room or the storytime area in  your library, add this one. And if you want that karaoke link, here’s the backing track (just the music), and here’s one with the lyrics, in case you want to track how your reading goes compared to the pace of the song.