Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Tween Reads

Keira Gillett wraps up Aleks Mickelsen’s trilogy with the Eighth Fox Throne War

Aleks Mickelsen and the Eighth Fox Throne War, by Keira Gillett/Illustrated by Eoghan Kerrigan/maps by Kaitlin Statz, (May 2019, self-published), $14.99, ISBN: 9781942750123

Ages 10+

The second trilogy in Keira Gillett’s Zaria Fierce series is loaded with the epic battles, dragon fights, and complex relationships that have defined the series, but most important, the friendship between the core characters: Aleks, Zaria, Christoffer, Geirr, and Filip, the original group of friends from Zaria Fierce and the Secret of Gloomwood Forest, have been through a lot together: kidnapping by trolls; magical fantasy worlds and the discovery that Zaria and Aleks are royalty within this magical realm; fantastic beasts (who always seem to know where to find them), and epic battles, just to name a few. In this last Aleks Mickelsen adventure, Fritjof, the chaos dragon, is still causing trouble in Niffelheim, and Aleks and his friends – the original gang, plus stag lord Henrik, Airi the raven, Aleks’s fey sister, Nori – are ready to take him down. If they can get through the army of dwarf ravagers on their trail and past the warring fey courts, that is.

Aleks continues to grow as a character in the Eighth Fox Throne War. Ever conflicted over whether to embrace his fey gifts or abandon them to remain human, he makes decisions based on the good of a people who don’t want him: he’s a changeling, and is on the receiving end of a lot of prejudice and anger. The fact that he’s king isn’t helping. There’s intrigue and war on a previously untold level here, so upper middle graders and middle schoolers are more the target audience for this series. The characters have grown up, are experiencing first love (Filip and Zaria, now Aleks and Saskia, a Winter Court fey and love interest), and are in fights for their lives and the lives of both Niffleheim and the modern world.

Relationships are at the heart of every Keira Gillett fantasy, and that’s what makes these books so good. The high fantasy aspects – the dragons, the epic conflicts, the grandiose ceremonies – they’re brilliant, but the emotion, the investment in these characters and their ties to one another, is what makes it all come together. Eoghan Kerrigan’s artwork is as fantastic as ever, bringing Keira Gillett’s incredible creatures and characters to life ; Kaitlin Statz’s maps help readers place themselves in the story.

Aleks Mickelsen and the Eighth Fox Throne War is a strong conclusion to another character arc in the Zaria Fierce series. Give this series to your high fantasy fans and watch them ask for more. (Ahem… nudge your Magnus Chase readers to explore this one!)

Author Keira Gillett is having a virtual book launch party on May 23 from 10:30-midnight! Put on your pajamas and join for a book reading, trivia, bingo, and a Q&A session!

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Posted in Graphic Novels, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Sara Varon’s Hold Hands eases fears

Hold Hands, by Sara Varon, (June 2019, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781596435889

Ages 3-6

It’s a day in the life of a preschooler in this adorable graphic novel by award-winning graphic novelist Sara Varon. Her adorable animal characters all hold hands: camels hold hands with giraffes, the sun and the moon share a hand-to-hand clasp as they pass in the sky, cats and dogs walk hand-in-hand, even the title page of the book sports colorful letters with sweet, smiling faces, holding onto one another. The whole day is seen as a series of hand-holding moments: a little bear holds hands with his mother, father, and brother during morning routines and on the way to daycare; holds hands with teachers and friends during the school day; during playdates; on the way home, and during bedtime stories and nighttime routines. The rhyming text is short and sweet, assuring readers that every time is a good time to hold hands: “Hold hands when the day is new, when you need a pal, or when one needs you”; “Hold hands with your buddy when you’re on the go, especially if your teacher tells you so”. The illustrations are colorful, boldly outlined, and loaded with sweet details, like a father wearing bunny slippers, or a heart charm hanging off a mom’s rear view mirror. Sara Varon emphasizes the power of connection by creating little starbursts around each hand-holding relationship.

Hold Hands is perfect for kids in daycare and preschool, and it’s an adorable testament to the power of physical contact. A must-have.

Posted in Uncategorized

Two picture books about summer… and life

Waiting for Chicken Smith, by David Mackintosh, (May 2019, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536207712

Ages 4-8

A young boy waits for his friend to show up at the family’s summer rental in this story about summer, relationships, and change. The boy, a child of color, narrates the story as he waits for Chicken Smith to show up. The boy talks about Chicken Smith, his dog, Jelly, and the fun summers the two friends have had in the past as he waits, holding a “crazy shell from the gas-station shop” as a gift. Where the heck is his friend? Readers know; in the beautifully detailed pages, we see an empty cabin with a “Summer Rental” sign. The boy’s sister finally manages to get his attention, and the two glimpse a whale: something he and Chicken Smith have never been able to catch together, not even with binoculars. The boy and his sister head back to the cabin and enjoy their evening together, and he wonders if he’ll see Chicken Smith next year.

Originally published in the U.K., Chicken Smith is a story about change and summer friendships. Readers feel the boy’s longing as he waits for his friend; it’s in his voice as he recalls summers past, the cool shell he found for him, and the fact that he’s so focused on waiting for Chicken Smith that he ignores just about everything going on around him. His sister is finally able to get through to him through sheer persistence, and that’s when the Chicken Smith spell is broken: there’s a whale to watch. The story is almost achingly sad at points; when the boy askis, “What is taking Chicken Smith so long, anyway? We’re missing out on everything”, we just know he won’t be there this year – and sure enough, the next page shows an empty cabin, and the boy describes the windows being shut and seeing a cobweb with a fly in it. David Mackintosh pulls readers and the narrator back from the brink by giving us a new relationship to discover: the relationship between the boy and his sister, brought together by the whale. The two go back to their cabin and look at his whale book, then make plans to go on a shell hunt. The boy ends on an optimistic tone, hoping he’ll see Chicken Smith next year, but deciding to enjoy his sister’s company for this year. The pen, pencil, ink, watercolor, and kraft paper artwork come together to create a child’s scrapbook-like feel for summer memories.

Waiting for Chicken Smith has a starred review from Kirkus.

 

Sea Glass Summer, by Michelle Houts/Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, (May 2019, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763684433

Ages 5-8

A boy named Thomas explores the beach by his grandmother’s seaside cottage. Using his grandfather’s magnifying glass, he discovers the complex beauty in nature: grains of sand look as big as rocks, and clamshells have swirls of color. But the discovery of sea glass is what really fascinates Thomas. Learning how sea glass is made – a piece of glass, dropped into the sea, becomes worn smooth and cloudy over time – and that his grandfather said that “every piece of sea glass has a story all its own” fuels his imagination; he finds himself dreaming of ship christenings and ships caught in storms; stories that could give rise to the found glass on the beach. When he and his grandmother head back to the mainland, the magnifying glass shatters, and he tosses the glass into the sea. Years later, a girl named Annie discovers sea glass on the beach, and brings her discovery to her grandfather, an older man she calls Papaw Tom.

Sea Glass Summer is a moving inter-generational story that beautifully recreates the feel of summer: warm, lazy days on the beach; the smell of the sea air, the grains of sand, rough against your fingertips, the smooth sea glass in the palm of your hand. In between these cozy summer memories, there’s a story that reaches across decades, linking a grandfather and his granddaughter, in a story that stirs the imagination and tugs at the heartstrings. An author’s note notes that sea glass was more common in the days before recycling awareness.

I loved Sea Glass Summer. This one is a summer classic.

Sea Glass Summer has a starred review from Kirkus.

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

Set sail for big graphic novel storytelling in The Island

Island Book, by Evan Dahm, (May 2019, First Second), $22.99, ISBN: 9781626729506

Ages 8-12

Sola lives as an outcast within her small community on an island. She is cursed – that’s what everyone says – because a Monster came to the Island when Sola was a child; everyone around her ran, but Sola alone stood before it, and it reached out to her. The destruction left in the monster’s wake, coupled with its interest in Sola sealed it: the rest of the Island branded her. As Sola reaches adolescence, she’s curious: what drew the Monster to her? Tired of living with everyone’s fear, and wanting answers, Sola leaves the island, taking to the open water. As she travels, she discovers that the Island isn’t alone: there are new lands and people to meet.

Island Book is Sola’s story. A quietly strong female protagonist, she faces adversity at home and has a curious streak that contributes to her own community’s distrust and fear of her. The plot meanders on a bit in spots, but is mostly a solid story about courage and curiosity; about friendship and working together, and about opening oneself up to new ideas and experiences. The characters are humanoid but not human; the artwork is bright and the nature is beautifully depicted.

The first in a new series, Island Book is a good choice for middle grade book discussion groups, too. Ask kids if they’ve ever felt like Sola, unable to change someone’s mind or looked down on because of their age. Does Sola do the right thing by going off on her own? Would Sola’s community encourage relationships with other beings?

There’s a soundtrack for Island Book available, along with two books of development artwork, through author Evan Dahm’s website. There’s a great review by the AV Club here.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Two’s Company, Three’s a Crowd? We Are (NOT) Friends!

We Are (Not) Friends, by Anna Kang/Illustrated by Christopher Weyant, (May 2019, Two Lions), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-5420-4428-8

Ages 3-7

The duo from the We Are (Not) books are back; this time, they’re learning how to handle having a new friend in the picture. Brown bear and Purple bear are having a great time playing together, when a Blue bear shows up and asks to play. Brown exuberantly agrees, but Purple isn’t quite so sure. Sure enough, Purple and Brown hit it off immediately, and Purple finds himself left out, and proceeds to subtly enact measures that will get Blue away from his best buddy! Blue doesn’t get the hint, and when he returns, Brown suggests they all play together. But now Brown is on the outs, and he’s not happy about it at all. Can three friends find a way to play that makes everyone happy?

The thing I love about the We Are (Not) books is their genuine voice. If you’ve been around kids, this is how things play out; when there are three, someone’s going to end up mad, crying, breaking something, or all of the above. Kids are learning how to navigate relationships; so are Brown, Purple, and Blue. Kids and adults alike will recognize this situation; use that recognition to get them talking about what the three friends could have done differently from the start. Has t his ever happened to them at school? The playground? Home, with friends or family? (Adults can talk about it, too, because let’s be honest: we still haven’t figured it all the way out.) Anna Kang’s dialogue and the escalating frustration of trying to be included when you feel like you’re being left out is so honest, so adorably real, that your readers will giggle with recognition and empathy. And this is a great way to start discussions about inclusion and empathy.

Christopher Weyant’s art is just a joy to look at. It’s bold, bright, and uncomplicated. The bears are simply drawn, performing in their white space, with a chest full of hats and props to move the story forward. Facial expressions, paw gestures, and sound effects roll across the page and speak volumes. We Are (Not) Friends is essential picture book reading.

Anna Kang’s and Christopher Weyant’s You Are (Not) Small is a Theodor Seuss Geisel Award Winner (2015). Visit Anna Kang’s author website for free downloadable activity kits, coloring pages, and curriculum guides for You Are (Not) Small, which you can use to enhance a reading of We Are (Not) Friends.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Croquette & Empanada: An adorable graphic novel romance

Croquette & Empanada: A Love Story, by Ana Oncina, (June 2019, Andrews McMeel), $16.99, ISBN: 9781449497064

Ages 14+

This adorable graphic novel works as a YA crossover. Inspired by her relationship with her boyfriend, Croquette & Empanada: A Love Story is a series of slice-of-life glimpses into the relationship between an adorable potato croquette and an empanada. We see them at the beginning of their relationship and as they progress; we see them endure traveling together and putting up with annoying hostel-mates; figure out so-sleeping, and work being a couple at social events.

The artwork is mainly black and white, with peach accents. The characters move in a world inhabited by both human beings and other sentient food. There is sweet humor everywhere – During a romantic dinner, Empanada offers croquette a bite of her favorite food, which he declines. It’s a croquette. Later, she takes a bite out of Croquette’s backside. Empanada says of long-winded Croquette at a party, “He repeats more than garlic” – and who strolls in, but Garlic, who sits down to chat with Croquette, to Empanada’s amusement. Relatable moments abound, from the clean apartment visit at the beginning of a relationship to the more “lived-in” look of a partner in a comfortable, established one; Croquette plans on a productive day… as soon as he takes a quick nap.

A cute graphic novel for teens and adults alike. Light and fun, with sweet and relatable humor and adorable artwork.

Posted in Non-Fiction, picture books, Preschool Reads

Three great books about space!

The Summer Reading theme for this year is all about Space, and I am psyched. I love outer space, and I’ve got a growing list of books to add to my own readers advisory lists (I’ll put that together in the next week or two for a post). Meanwhile, Sourcebooks and Barefoot Books have three great books about space that are staggered throughout the year, and perfect for your space-faring STEM fans. Let’s check them out, shall we?

 

Moon’s First Friends: One Giant Leap for Friendship, by Susanna Leonard Hill/Illustrated by Elisa Paganelli, (June 2019, Sourcebooks Wonderland), $17.99, ISBN: 9781492656807

Ages 4-8

The Moon was so lonely, up in the night sky by herself. When she sees life developing on Earth, she patiently waits for someone to notice and visit her. It takes a while: the dinosaurs don’t notice; early people build pyramids and structures that just aren’t high enough. Eventually, though, she gets some visitors, and she is thrilled! She gives them presents of rocks and dust to take back to Earth, and they give her a beautiful flag and a plaque. Now, Moon is in the sky, happy and waiting for more visitors. Will you be her next guest?

This is the sweetest story I’ve read yet on the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon. The Moon is illustrated as a softly shining, opalescent sphere with kind eyes, rosy cheeks, and a sweet smile; readers are treated to a quick history of Earth’s development as the Moon quietly observes, waiting for a friend to reach out – or up – and say hello. She even dances around the planet, showing off her phases! The actual Apollo mission takes up a brief part of the story, making this sweet book about a lonely satellite who just wants a friend an adorable storytime read for younger kids, and a fun book with solid facts for school-age kids. There’s a brief bibliography on the verso page, and back matter includes several pages dedicated to Mission Moon, the Apollo 11 voyage; moon facts, and moon phases, along with a running timeline of Earth’s formation and development. Endpapers are starry nights, where kids can imagine sailing through the stars to visit their favorite moon. Readers can also scan a QR code to hear Neil Armstrong’s historic first words from the 1969 moon landing. Gentle storytelling and adorable illustration make this a great Summer Reading addition! Display and booktalk with Stacey McAnulty’s Moon, Earth, and Sun trilogy.

 

There Was a Black Hole That Swallowed the Universe, by Chris Ferrie/Illustrated by Susan Batori, (Sept. 2019, Sourcebooks Explore), $17.99, ISBN: 9781492680772

Ages 3-8

You know if Chris Ferrie is writing a book, I’m reading it. This STEM-errific take on There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly is about a giant black hole that swallows… well, everything. He starts with a universe… it couldn’t get worse! But oh, it does: the black hole swallows planets, stars, galaxies, and atoms, molecules, and quarks along with it. Yikes!

I read this to my first grader this morning and he immediately smiled and said, “This is like The Old Lady story!”, so kids familiar with the classic tale (and all of its spin-offs) will immediately jump in and know what’s coming; how the story will progress. With each chomping, the black hole gets bigger, and the planets and heavenly bodies look hilariously terrified as they try to get away from its maw. The storytelling is fun and loaded with humor; it’s cumulative and rhyming storytelling at its scientific funniest. The illustrations are goofy, with exaggerated facial expressions that make the storytelling more dramatic and humorous as you go. Bone up on your keyword knowledge for kids who will ask during the story (neutrons, atoms, quarks, oh my!). Scientific terms are highlighted in bold yellow, and capitalized to stand out and give your readers a nice working STEM vocabulary. Shine a blacklight on the pages from back to front, and you’ll reveal a super-cool, hidden history of the universe’s creation!

Absolute fun and a must-get for your storytime collections. Be a rock star at Science Storytime! Pair this with The Universe Ate My Homework by David Zelster for more black hole-related fun.

 

Barefoot Books Solar System, by Anne Jankéliowitch/Illustrated by Annabelle Buxton, Translated by Lisa Rosinsky, $19.99, ISBN: 9781782858232

Ages 8-12

Riding high on the post-Summer Reading wave, middle grade kids can go back school and check out Barefoot Books Solar System, a glow-in-the-dark, interactive guide to our Milky Way, complete with lift the flap booklets, a pull-out map, and beautiful artwork. Originally published in French, the book has been reviewed, edited, and updated by Dr. Carie Cardamone, professor of STEM education and Boston Museum of Science teacher and educator. The text is written with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor while delivering solid nonfiction goods to middle graders. The book covers each planet, with nicknames like :Saturn: The Space Diva”, and “Uranus and Neptune: The Icy Sisters”; the asteroid belt; differences between solid and gas planets; measuring the universe, and famous outer space voyages. The artwork is bright and bold, seeming to explode off the black pages to grab the reader’s attention.

In keeping with Barefoot’s mission of diversity and inclusivity, there is information about space exploration from around the world, making this a truly global effort. Back matter includes a comprehensive glossary of scientific terms and a note on the units of measurement used in the book. Don’t pass this one up; your 520s will shine a little brighter with Barefoot Books Solar System on your shelf.