Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Socially smart storytelling: Sara Varon’s New Shoes

New Shoes, by Sara Varon, (March 2018, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781596439207

Recommended for readers 8-12

Francis the Donkey is the best shoemaker in his village, using the finest materials to handcraft beautiful shoes. One day, he gets the most exciting news: his favorite calypso singer, Miss Manatee, is coming to sing in his village, and she wants him to create a special pair of new shoes just for her! He’s so excited, but he’s out of the special tiger grass that’s integral to his shoe designs. He asks his friend and supplier, Nigel the Squirrel Monkey, to go into the jungle and get some more tiger grass, but when Monkey doesn’t come back as expected, Francis has to go find him… will he get back to his village AND be able to make Miss Manatee’s shoes on time?

I am a Sara Varon fan. I loved Sweater Weather, and my library kids adore Robot Dreams. I love her cartoony illustration, her bright colors, and in the case of New Shoes, the deeper messages found in her story. Francis is a genuinely kind character who is mortified when he discovers that his shoe materials have been acquired via shady means, and immediately sets to putting things right. When Francis realizes he has to make special accommodations for his newest client, he does the work, researching how to make the best footwear for Miss Manatee. Nigel is big enough to admit his mistakes, apologizes, and helps Francis grow his own materials responsibly.  There are strong messages about fair trade and honesty, good business practices, sustainability, and consideration of others’ differences to be found here, all told in a story that kids can understand without dumbing down the message. It’s smart storytelling with a social conscience that respects the reader. What more can you ask from your books?

I can’t wait to put New Shoes on my graphic novel shelves. It’s got a little nonfiction snuck in, as Francis travels, with his guide book, through the South American jungle and encounters such inhabitants as the capybara, jaguar, and three-toed sloth; it’s got a moral compass, a main character who loves calypso music, and it’s just fun reading.

 

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Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Ellie, Engineer: a little MacGyver, a little Rosie Revere, for intermediate/middle graders

Ellie, Engineer, by Jackson Pearce, (Jan. 2018, Bloomsbury USA), $15.99, ISBN: 9781681195193

Recommended for readers 7-10

Ellie is a 9 year-old engineer: she can take darn near anything apart and make it something even cooler. Most of the time. When she sets out to make an amazing birthday gift for her best friend, Kit, she finds herself in the middle of a friendship mess: the girls normally don’t like the “jerk boys”, but Ellie’s discovered that they’re not so bad after all. So she works with each group in secret, hoping to avoid drama. Oops. Ellie has to get both groups talking to her again, and to each other, to finish Kit’s birthday present on time!

This is such a fun story about a positive female character who wears what she wants and does what she wants: she rocks a tool belt over her skirts and matches outfits with her best friend. She draws up her own blueprints and can make anything, from a water balloon launcher to a security system that will keep annoying little brother’s out of her friend’s room. Her best friend, Kit, is a pageant girl and ballet dancer who works right alongside Ellie, and the boys in the neighborhood enjoy a good tea party as much as they do a soccer game. Get it? They’re kids. They like to play. This whole story is about bringing boys and girls together under common interests, and it does so nicely. Girls will see themselves in Ellie, especially those who find themselves confused about whether or not girls *can* be friends with boys, or wonder if it’s okay to still like pretty dresses if they can rock a screwdriver. There are some laughs: Ellie’s got a few backfires, and a few successes that will make kids laugh, and the heart of the story – cooperation and friendship – is a gratifying message. Black and white illustrations showcase Ellie’s sketches for different projects, and a section at the end provides illustrations and a guide to basic tools for burgeoning builders and engineers. Give this to the kids who have grown out of Andrea Beaty’s Rosie Revere, Engineer; Iggy Peck, Architect; and Ada Twist, Scientist. Display and booktalk with the Girls Who Code and the Lucy’s Lab chapter books. Put out paper and ask kids to come up with their own plans – what do they want to make? Leave straws, pipe cleaners, cardboard, toothpicks, glue, marshmallows – anything the kids can build with – out and let the room have at it.

Posted in Preschool Reads

Turtle’s First Winter is great for ALL seasons!

Turtle’s First Winter, by Sara Beth Videtto, (Aug. 2017, Hill House Press, LLC), $18.95, ISBN: 978-0-692-87516-2

Recommended for readers 4-7

I’ve been holding onto this one for too long, and I need to tell more people about this book. I met Sara Beth Videtto at KidLitCon this past November, and snapped this book up ASAP. Just looking at the cover, it looks like it’s a perfect readalike for our Eric Carle fans, right? It is! It’s a sweet story about a turtle and his friend, Bear, who experience the four seasons and all they have to offer. But it’s Turtle’s first go-round, so Bear lets him know what to expect from each one. We learn the duo’s favorite parts of the seasons, like the soft, ticklish green grass in the summer and the crisp fall air; we learn how turtles hibernate, and we are happy when the friends reunite in the spring. It’s a sweet story about the seasons and friendship.

This is a great read for preschoolers to Grade 1; it would fit into a storytime on the seasons as easily as it would hibernation. I’d read this with Denise Fleming’s In the Small, Small Pond as easily as I’d read it with Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? for the pre-k to kindergarteners, and with Kate Messner’s Over and Under the Snow, and Nancy Elizabeth Wallace’s Pond Walk for kindergartners to first graders.

But the best part about this book is the art. Sara Beth Videtto creates layered artwork that gives the book such a unique look and feel. She prints up pictures from nature – dirt, grass, bark, leaves – cuts them into strips and shapes, and glues them together; then, she scans them into her computer to type the words onto the pictures (more on that in a second).

This is a Read and Find Storybook, so it’s loaded with things for kids to read and find! If you look at the bear and the turtle, you’ll notice each animal has its name, cleverly included within the artwork. Identifying words for the nature around them crop up here and there, too. The words for Bear, Turtle, and the parts of nature within the story text map to the textured artwork, too! I’ve taken some photos from my copy of the book to show off the artwork a little better.

See the text? Turtle maps to the textured artwork for Turtle; Bear, leaves, grass – it creates a relationship between the reader and the artwork!

Textured artwork, beautiful layers. Have a good nap, Turtle!

Do you see Bear’s name?

How about Turtle’s?

I know I’m gushing, but this is such a great book and my Kindergartner loves it. Which makes sense, since Ms. Videtto is a former K-3 teacher. She is the nicest person, taking the time to talk with me about her book and answer any questions I had, but even better? Once my kiddo read the book with me, HE had questions. A lot of them; all about the artwork. He never asks questions like that! So I took to The Twitter and asked Sara Beth all of his questions, and she got back to me ASAP, with a full explanation (with pictures!) of how she creates her artwork. My little guy was so excited to get a response from an author; she’s helped create a lifelong fan and a lifelong reader. And for that, I’m grateful.

Sara Beth Videtto has a website with extra information and activity sheets to accompany Turtle’s First Winter, along with links to her blog and info about school visits. Most importantly, you can buy a copy of her book straight from the website! She’s got some teasing info about her next two books, which I’m very excited about (there’s an octopus!), and links to Turtle’s fan club page on Facebook. I’m so happy to have met her, and thrilled to talk this book up.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Black Panther: The Young Prince: Middle Grade superhero fiction!

Black Panther: The Young Prince, by Ronald L. Smith, (Jan. 2018, Disney Book Group), $16.99, ISBN: 9781484787649

Recommended for readers 10-13

YES. A middle grade novel about an African superhero, written by a Coretta Scott King Award-winning author? ALL THE YES, PLEASE. Ronald L. Smith brings T’Challa to life with this first novel, where we meet the not-quite-yet Black Panther and his best friend, M’Baku, in their homeland, Wakanda. Ulysses Klaue (Marvel fans, heads up for continuity!) has shown up in Wakanda, and T’Chaka, current King of Wakanda and Black Panther, knows that’s never a good sign. He sends his son and M’Baku off to Chicago and safety while Wakanda braces for an invasion. T’Challa wants to keep his head down and blend in, but M’Baku couldn’t want anything less. The opportunity presents itself in the form of local middle school tough guy Gemini Jones and his gang, the Skulls. Kids whisper that Gemini’s a warlock, but that doesn’t stop M’Baku from falling in with Gemini and turning a cold shoulder to T’Challa. If middle school squabbling were the only problem, right? But nope, things are about to go south in a big wayl; luckily for T’Challa, his father packed a Black Panther suit for his son… just in case of emergencies.

This novel is SO GOOD. It’s unputdownable, whether you’re a superhero/Marvel fan or not. Ronald L. Smith brings his talent for creating interesting characters and conflict, plus his gift for writing about magic, and gives life to one of Marvel’s most exciting characters.

Yes, I’m a Black Panther fan. Yes, I’m thrilled about the movie coming out. And yes, this book is fantastic and deserves its spot on every middle grade/middle schooler’s library shelf. Representation counts, and by giving an African superhero his own novel, written by an award-winning African American novelist, Disney has shown readers their commitment to diversity and #ownvoices. I’m thrilled with The Young Prince, and want to read more. Maybe next, we can get a story about the Dora Milaje? How about a Shuri mention? (She’s Black Panther’s sister, in the comics.) Indulge me!

Posted in programs

Who’s Doing Mock Caldecotts?

I just got back from my library system’s Mock Caldecott awards. What are you reading? What did you pick? Here are our nominees:

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors, by Drew Daywalt/Illustrated by Adam Rex,
(Apr. 2017, Simon & Schuster),. $17.99, ISBN: 9780062438898
Recommended for readers 4-8

The greatest fight in history happens here. I needed to take breaks the first time I read this book, because I was laughing too hard to keep reading it to my own 5-year-old. Rock may be the greatest champion since Russell Crowe picked up a sword in Gladiator. Adam Rex’s artwork is at once hilarious and stunning, with lots of motion and action. Rex can make a battle of rock, paper, scissors look like theatre. We had one interesting question come up in our discussion here: with all the different fonts, font sizes, and font directions, does this become part of the picture book art? We had some mixed emotions. All in all, an outright hilarious book that I can’t wait to bring out during storytime. The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors has five starred reviews and oodles of downloadable activities.

 

Little Fox in the Forest, by Stephanie Graegin,
(Feb. 2017, Schwartz & Wade), $17.99, ISBN: :978-0-553-53789-5
Recommended for readers 4-8

A wordless picture book that uses monochrome and color settings to tell its story, Little Fox in the Forest is the story of a young girl and her stuffed toy fox. The girl brings her toy to school, where it’s stolen by a real fox, who jumps out of the woods and grabs it. The girl follows the fox back to its home, where the spreads go from bluish-gray/white to a vibrant color palette. The girl and fox reach an understanding. The endpapers lead readers into the story and provide a nice epilogue at the end. I enjoyed the book, but this one wasn’t my favorite. My group had mixed feelings on this one, too; two of my group weren’t big fans of wordless picture books; I liked the use of panels and loved the endpapers and color work, but overall, there were books I enjoyed more. Little Fox in the Forest has four starred reviews.

 

The Book of Mistakes, by Corinna Luyken,
(Apr. 2017, Dial Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9780735227927
Recommended for readers 4-8

Thiiiis is the book my friends and I were pulling for! I love the evolution of the artwork; how a seeming mistake can unfold into a story. It’s quirky, fun, and unexpected, with a stark white page serving as the backdrop. I love these kind of books; books that just take the way you see things and very sweetly flip the book on its head. It’s an inspiring story for kids: don’t think of mistakes as something embarrassing or bad; they’re all – we’re all – just a work in progress. The Book of Mistakes has three starred reviews.

 

Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters, by Michael Mahin/Illustrated by Evan Turk,
(Sept. 2017, Athenum), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-4814-4349-4
Recommended for readers 6-10

Beautifully illustrated biography of legendary Jazz and Blues musician Muddy Waters. The artwork reminds me a bit of 2016’s Caldecott medalist, Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat; there’s some amazing urban-infused artwork here, not to mention brilliant colors and bold lines. You can feel the rhythm thrumming through the pages. I loved Evan Turk’s collage and mixed media work. This one got high praise from my group. Author Michael Mahin has some powerful words about his book, multiculturalism, and racism, which you can read here.

 

Blue Sky White Stars, by Sarvinder Naberhaus/Illustrated by Kadir Nelson,
(June 2017, Dial Books), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0-8037-3700-6
Recommended for readers 3-10

Let it be noted right now: I will gush about anything Kadir Nelson illustrates. I would brush with one particular brand of toothpaste if he did the box art. He has a way of bringing pictures to breathtaking life. Going into this panel, Blue Sky White Stars was more or less my go-to pick for the winner, because it’s Nelson. A tribute to the American spirit, Blue Sky introduces readers to the American landscape; touches of Americana from our history, including the Statue of Liberty, Betsy Ross, and our flag; and the people of America, with words to tie each spread together. A spread of African American and white freedom walkers march, holding the flag, with the words, “woven together” titling the spread. Each spread uses phrasing that ties the pictures together, and while I admit one or two are were a stretch, it’s a love letter to what exactly makes America great, no red caps necessary. Blue Sky White Stars has four starred reviews.

 

The Antlered Ship, by Dashka Slater/Illustrated by The Fan Brothers,
(Sept. 2017, Simon & Schuster), $17.99, ISBN: 9781481451604
Recommended for readers 5-8

Last year, I went into the library’s Mock Caldecotts pushing HARD for The Fan Brothers book, The Night Gardener (They All Saw a Cat won, which I was mollified by). I love their artwork – it’s always an exploration, with new things to find, nuances to discover. The Antlered Ship is filled with moments both fantastic and fun as we follow a fox on his quest to find a friend. Map endpapers let readers know we’re going on a trip. The rogue’s gallery of animal pirates will get a rise out of readers – who doesn’t love a pirate’s tale? – and the spread illustrating the confrontation between ships is amazing. Everyone in my group enjoyed this one, too. Oddly, this one received a lot of votes from our groups, but not enough to make it their number one choice.

The votes were collected and tallied, and the winners were…

QUEENS LIBRARY MOCK CALDECOTT 2017 MEDAL

 

QUEENS LIBRARY MOCK CALDECOTT 2017 HONORS

Next question – has anyone done a Mock Caldecott with the kids in your library? I’m wondering if this would be good for my school-age kiddos. I’d love to hear about any experiences, please comment, post blog links, anything you want to share.

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, History, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Read some US History in verse with Siege

Siege: How General Washington Kicked the British Out of Boston and Launched a Revolution, by Roxanne Orgill, (March 2018, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9780763688516

Recommended for readers 10-13

The summer of 1775 was rough. The British occupied Boston, and kept a stranglehold on the city, cutting the residents off from food and medical supplies, which really didn’t help the smallpox situation, either. George Washington was chosen to lead the American armed forces, and expected to work miracles with almost no money and troops with no training. Author Roxanne Orgill uses verse to tell the story of how General George Washington turned the tables on the British. Beginning in the Summer of 1775 and going through to Spring 1776, she gives voice not only to Washington, but his generals, soldiers, and aides; his servant-slave, William Lee; and his wife, Martha. We also get to read The News from Boston, newspaper-like reports on the state of the city; and Orders, daily instructions from Washington to his officers. Source notes, a glossary, and a bibliography complete the book.

If you’ve got Hamilton fans in your readership, this is an easy booktalk. The fast-paced verse moves the book along and takes readers into the minds of historic figures that we don’t normally hear much from. Siege is a good additional read for tweens interested in US history, especially those kids interested in the American Revolution.

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Different Days looks at German internment during World War II

Different Days, by Vicki Berger Erwin, (Oct. 2017, Sky Pony Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781510724587

Recommended for readers 9-13

Eleven year-old Rosie lives with her mother, father, and younger brother, Freddie, in Honolulu, Hawaii. They love their home, their family, their lives, until December 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor is attacked and everything changes, seemingly overnight. Rosie’s parents are of German descent, but are American citizens who have lived in Hawaii for most of their lives. It doesn’t matter. They’re rounded up by the military, along with Rosie’s Aunt Etta; they’re detained as German spies, their possessions confiscated. Rosie and Freddie are left alone, and suddenly, their schoolmates and neighbors don’t seem as friendly as they used to be. They’re sent to live with their emotionally distant Aunt Yvonne, who tells her neighbors they are refugee children and never admits to her own German ancestry. Luckily, Aunt Etta is released and takes the children, but this is just the beginning of the struggle: her family’s home has been sold; their possessions and properties now “in storage” or gone, and the children at the new school they attend are quick to call them Nazis. Rosie longs for her family to reunite and for things to stabilize, but these are very different days.

Different Days is based on the true story of 11-year-old Doris Berg, who watched the attack on Pearl Harbor from her home in Honolulu. The next day, her parents and aunt were taken into custody and sent to internment camps. Like Rosie and Freddie, Doris and her sister were sent to an aunt that refused to acknowledge their familial link, and lost her home and possessions. Rosie is a strong, resilient character who wishes she were like her heroine, teen sleuth Nancy Drew, so she could solve the mysteries facing her: who was responsible for informing on her parents and having them detained, and who is this shady Mr. Smith who allegedly “manages” her family’s disappearing property and possessions? She endures the prejudice of those around her, and focuses on small victories, whether it’s having something to eat that day or knowing she’ll visit her mother soon. The novel takes readers into the story of one family affected by the internment of German “persons of interest”; a moment in history not often discussed. The book includes information about Doris Berg and her family’s ordeal, and further information. Different Days is a good addition to historical fiction collections and is as relevant today, when we seek to label others and blame an entire nationality/ethnicity/religion for the actions of a few.

Vicki Berger Erwin writes for both children and adults. You can find out more by visiting her website.