Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

How many words will stay on The List?

The List, by Patricia Forde, (Aug. 2017, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $16.99, ISBN: 9781492647966

Recommended for readers 10-13

A post-cataclysmic society called Ark is led by a fanatic who believes words are at the heart of the problem. After all, words can stretch the truth, can bend, can lie, just like the politicians did before The Great Melting. Letta is apprenticed to Ark’s wordsmith, Benjamin; the community is allowed only 500 words, which Benjamin and Letta curate. Benjamin saves words for a time when man will be able to handle more – or so Letta believes. When Benjamin disappears on a word-finding mission, and Letta meets a boy from a neighboring community of free-thinkers and artists, she discovers that their leader, the leader she put her trust in, is working on a way to rob the people of Ark of language forever.

The List is similar on many levels to The Giver: an enclosed, guarded society, quiet removals of dissidents, and hidden truths waiting to be revealed. As an apprentice wordsmith, Letta sees more than the average Ark citizen; saving the life of a Desecrator – a member of a neighboring group of artists and musicians – opens her eyes to even more goings-on within Ark and its surroundings. It’s up to her to act on the information she receives, and she struggles with the burden of responsibility. There are strong themes for discussion here: the power of words, free thought and speech, and art as resistance. This is a great book to give readers who are ready for something beyond The Giver, but not yet ready for Fahrenheit 451. This novel can easily stand on its own, but readers may want to see what lies in Ark’s future.

Posted in Fiction, Humor, Middle Grade

A rogue 3-D printer and a young artist unleash monsters at school!

Monsters Unleashed, by Jon Kloepfer/Illustrated by  Mark Oliver, (July 2017, HarperCollins), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062290304

Recommended for ages 8-10

Freddie Liddle is anything but. He’s a big guy, bigger than the average fifth grader, and that makes him stand out: right where the bullies can see him. His best friend, Manny, always has his back. In fact, the two buddies were about to create a monster movie based on the bullies; Freddie drew monster versions of each bully, and they used the 3-D printer at school to make models for filming. Holy maker meltdown, though: this printer makes REAL MONSTERS. They’re alive, they’re mean, and they’re GROWING. It looks like Freddie and Manny may need to team up with the very bullies that inspired their monsters in order to take them down and save their town!

Jon Kloepfer’s already got a huge fan following with his Zombie Chasers series; this new series, Monsters Unleashed, is a fun romp that brings a little maker fun into the mix. Freddie’s monster sketches turn into real-life terrible monsters that grow when they get wet, and are even meaner than the bullies they’re modeled after. Bullies get a second chance at redemption when they join Freddie and Manny in the fight, proving that some bullies take a little nudging, but may not be all bad (monster invasion notwithstanding). There’s lots of humor and action here, with fun black and white illustrations to keep kids interested.

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, Realistic Fiction, Uncategorized

Chow Mein and Potstickers brings global friends together

Chow Mein and Potstickers, by Liselotte Schippers/Illustrated by Monique van den Hout, (June 2017, Clavis Publishing), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1605373287

Recommended for readers 5-10

Chan is new to the neighborhood and wants to make some friends. The best way to go about it? Go door by door, of course! Told in the first person, we follow Chan along and meet the neighbor kids, who are from Bosnia, Indonesia, Poland, Afghanistan, Turkey, the Netherlands, Suriname, the U.K., South Africa, and Italy. Each new friend introduces Chan, and the reader, to a fun activity, food, and greetings in each language. The kids all gather together at the end for a celebration, where they share food and friendship.

Originally published in Belgium and Holland in 2015, Chow Mein and Potstickers is an initiative by Inclusive Works, a Dutch organization that promotes diversity and inclusiveness – and what better way to accomplish that than by having children serve as our example? Chan is our guide, as the new kid who wants to make friends. By playing together, Chan – and readers – learn about the ways kids all over the world have fun; we learn how to greet one another in global languages, and finally, we share food together. All great ways of promoting peace and togetherness. My son’s pre-k class had an international day where we did something similar; they sang “It’s a Small World” in 15 different languages and ate food that parents contributed from their native countries. This is a great story to read for a similar occasion; it’s a great story to read to our preschoolers and beyond to promote the global village we call our world.

Each 2-page spread features a new child Chan encounters; backgrounds are light, washed out, to bring the realistic artwork of the children to the forefront, with bright faces and clothing, surrounded by colorful toys. The vocabulary is set off with smiling icons for hello and good-bye, and a colorful sketch of each food the kids eat together.

This is a solid addition to diversity collections. It’s similar to How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea, in that it stars a character who travels the world (well, in this case, the world in a diverse neighborhood), meeting different people from different cultures, and sharing food together. Get some recipe cards together and hand them out with coloring sheets for a multicultural storytime!

Posted in Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Silver Dolphin loves hands-on learning

Silver Dolphin Books has some great novelty books for kids. I’ve loved their First Stories board books and their adorable Noisy Books. They were kind enough to send me two more sets of their developing novelty lines, the Busy Builders and Woodworks Nursery Rhyme series, and after a lot of playtime with  my 5 year old, I can safely say these are way too much fun!

The Woodworks Nursery Rhymes series has got to be my favorite. The cute little box has a magnetic flap, allowing kids to easily get to the small board book, play mat, and little wooden vehicle inside. The nursery rhymes: The Wheels on the Bus and Old MacDonald Had a Farm – are adorably illustrated, and caregivers and kids can sing along while they drive their little tractors or school buses around the vinyl playmat.

This is what happens when you let a 5 year-old fold the playmat.

 

Talk about the path the school bus is taking, lead into a conversation about your child’s school bus, or, for pedestrians, the walk to school, as you play, introducing your little ones to the neighborhood around them. Farm play is great for the Old MacDonald playset! Point to the animals on the mat, make animal sounds, and add any animals to your playset as you go along. We introduced dinosaurs to our Old MacDonald playset, which may have upset the chickens a bit.

I want to pick up a few of these sets to add to my Story Hour reference. It will make for a great toddler storytime! The sets are sturdy, the wooden vehicles are well made, and the board books are small enough for little hands.

Next up are the Busy Builders series. I received the Construction Site, Airport, and Fire Station sets. Each box folds out into a playset and includes a 32-page book and model pieces to build roads, vehicles, equipment, and people to add to your playset.

The model pieces come together like puzzle pieces, allowing you to create 3-dimensional fire trucks, construction equipment, ground crew at the airport, and a radio tower, most with moving pieces. The dump truck will tip, for instance, and the fire truck ladder will lift. The book includes instructions in addition to facts about fire stations, construction sites, and the airport. The illustrations are very cute and there’s a lot of information available, in a readable and easily digestible format.

Some of the vehicles are a little fiddly to put together, and the stands for the people take a little time to get just right, but it’s worth it. My kiddo goes berserk for these playsets, and goes right to the book box where I stash them on a regular basis. He can’t put these together solo, so it makes for a nice playtime for us. Breakdown is easy, and I put all the pieces in gallon-size Ziploc bags before putting them back in the boxes, so we can avoid losing pieces and tears for the next time.

These aren’t for toddler hands – they’ll break these apart in no time – but are perfect fun for preschoolers to 2nd graders; they have more manual dexterity and, once they start reading, will enjoy reading the books over and over again. If you have a small library, you may consider these for a playtime collection, but they’d be eaten alive in my library; these are a good gift idea for me!

Old McDonald Had a Farm, Illustratrated by Elliot Kreloff, (Silver Dolphin), $13.99
ISBN 13: 978-1-62686-955-4
Format: Kit
Pages: 16 pp.
Trim: 6.25 x 8.25
Art: Full Color
Category: Nursery Rhymes
Age Range: 0 to 3

The Wheels on the Bus, Illustrated by Elliot Kreloff, (Silver Dolphin), $13.99
ISBN 13: 978-1-62686-956-1
Format: Kit
Pages: 16 pp.
Trim: 6.25 x 8.25
Art: Full Color
Category: Nursery Rhymes
Age Range: 0 to 3

Busy Builders: Construction Site, by Katherine Sully/Illustrated by: Carles Ballesteros (Silver Dolphin), $19.99
ISBN 13: 978-1-62686-564-8
Format: Kit
Pages: 32 pp.
Trim: 7.10 x 9.84
Art: Full Color
Category: Machines & Vehicles – Activity & Sticker Books
Age Range: 5 and up

Busy Builders: Airport, by Timothy Knapman/Illustrated by Carles Ballesteros, (Silver Dolphin), $19.99
ISBN 13: 978-1-62686-563-1
Format: Kit
Pages: 32 pp.
Trim: 7.10 x 9.84
Art: Full Color
Category: Machines & Vehicles – Activity & Sticker Books
Age Range: 5 and up

Busy Builders: Fire Station, by Chris Oxlade/Illustrated by Carles Ballesteros, (Silver Dolphin), $19.99
ISBN 13: 978-1-62686-565-5
Format: Kit
Pages: 32 pp.
Trim: 7.10 x 9.84
Art: Full Color
Category: Machines & Vehicles – Activity & Sticker Books
Age Range: 5 and up

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, Realistic Fiction

Jasmine Toguchi is determined to make mochi!

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen, by Debbi Michiko Florence/Illustrated by Elizabet Vukovic, (July 2017, Farrar, Straus and Giroux), $15.99, ISBN: 9780374304102

Recommended for readers 6-9

Jasmine Toguchi is an 8 year-old dynamo. She’s funny, smart, and loves her family, especially during the holidays, when Obaachan, her grandmother,  flies in from Japan and the family begins their mochi-tsuki ritual: mochi making!  – a Japanese rice cake, made from pounded rice. The whole family gets involved in the process – except, that is, for Jasmine, who’s still too young to help out. Her older sister, Sophie, helps the women by hand-rolling the mocha balls. Her mean, older cousin, Eddie, helps the men pound the mochi with the super cool mochi hammer. But Jasmine is not yet 10, so she has to wait. In the meantime, Sophie and her mother order her around, and Eddie mercilessly teases her. So Jasmine comes up with a plan: it’s time to break tradition! She’s going to convince her family to let her pound the mochi this year! But first, she’s got to build up her arm strength — that mochi hammer is heavy!

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen is a fun early chapter book for readers who are moving up from Easy Readers. We meet Jasmine, a spunky, Japanese-American girl who loves her family tradition of making mochi, but feels like it’s time for a change. She’s tired of her older sister getting to be the first to do everything, and she’s tired of her obnoxious cousin. She wants to make her own statement, her own mark in the family, and when she sets her mind to it, there’s no stopping her. Kids will enjoy learning about Japanese traditions and relate to the frustration that comes with being told “you’re too young”, when they feel perfectly ready and able to pitch in. An author’s note explains mochi-tsuki, and provides a microwave mochi recipe for kids and their adults to try together. Black and white illustrations bring Jasmine and her world closer to readers. There’s a second book coming in July, with  more activities at the end of the story.

Jasmine Toguchi is a good, new series to add to your intermediate collections – there’s some lovely diversity available for readalikes, including the Ruby Lu and Alvin Ho series, by Lenore Look; the Clara Lee series by Jenny Han; the Katie Woo and Pedro books by Fran Manushkin, and Ellray Jakes, by Sally Warner.

Get an early peek at the next Jasmine Toguchi titles (and covers) by navigating over to author Debbi Michiko Florence’s site, where you can also find info about author visits, with programs she conducts for each grade.

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

One for Sorrow mixes ghost stories with historical fiction

One for Sorrow, by Mary Downing Hahn, (July 2017, Clarion Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780544818095

Recommended for ages 10-14

Annie is the new girl at her school. Desperate to make new friends, she’s thwarted when the school pariah, Ellie, latches onto her on the first day. Annie quickly discovers that there’s a reason the other girls don’t like Ellie: she’s a liar, a tattletale, and a thief who bullies her way into Annie’s life. When Ellie is out sick for a few days, Annie manages to befriend the other girls at school and becomes one of Ellie’s tormentors. When the 1918 flu epidemic reaches Annie’s town, it claims Ellie as one of its victims, but Ellie’s spirit won’t rest. She returns as a vengeful ghost, punishing all the girls who bullied her through Annie, thus ensuring that Annie will be as hated as Ellie was in her lifetime.

Mary Downing Hahn is one of the reigning queens of middle grade horror. I still can’t look at a doll in the same way after reading Took (2015), and she’s the first author I go to when my library kids ask me for a good, scary story. One for Sorrow, inspired by the 19th century nursery rhyme, seamlessly blends elements of an intense ghost story with historical fiction. Hahn addresses World War I and anti-German sentiment and the 1918 flu epidemic in a small American town while drawing on her own mother’s childhood for inspiration, having her characters visit various homes with funereal wreaths on the door in order to eat their fill of sweets and pastries put out for the wakes. Ellie’s vicious haunting will keep readers turning pages late into the night, feeling Annie’s helpless frustration as Ellie systematically destroys her reputation and her life.

 

Mary Downing Hahn has won many awards for her writing. You can find out more about her (like the fact that she’s a former children’s librarian!), her books, and her awards, through her publisher’s website.