Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Make Way for the Thunder Girls!

Freya and the Magic Jewel (Thunder Girls, #1), by Joan Holub & Suzanne Williams, (May 2018, Aladdin), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-4814-964-07

Recommended for readers 8-12

I LOOOOVE Joan Holub’s books, from board books to middle grade novels; I read ’em as often as I can and I love every single one of them. When I saw that the Goddess Girls team of Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams were starting a new series on the ladies of Norse mythology, I needed a moment to collect myself. And when I received a review copy from the author herself, I needed a few more moments. Okay, I took another moment. Let’s begin.

Freya is the 11-year-old goddess of love and beauty, happily living on Vanaheim: one of the nine worlds in Norse myth. When she and her twin brother, Frey, are summoned, by Odin, to Asgard to attend Asgard Academy as part of a new initiative to open relations between the nine worlds, Freya is skeptical. Her people have been at war with Asgard, and besides, she has it made at Vanaheim Junior High! But Odin is the king of Asgard, and she’s got to go, so she and Frey head out. Things go wrong from the start when her beloved jewel, Brising, falls from the Bifrost bridge. That jewel is what helps her see the future, and that also happens to be what Odin wants her to help him with! She also runs afoul of Angerboda, a bullying frost giantess, right off the bat. Freya has her work cut out for her, but she’ll learn – with the help of some new friends – that magic can be found in the wildest places.

I love, love, LOVED this book. Not strong on Norse mythology? You don’t need to be; you learn exactly what you need to within the pages of this book. Readers will meet characters whose names are practically household at this point, like Thor, Loki, Odin, and Frigga (thanks, Marvel!). Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams know their mythology and make the Norse tales readable for middle graders (the story of how that wall around Asgard was built is refreshingly kid safe, for starters) and put the same sense of fun into Thunder Girls that they put into Goddess Girls. There’s adventure, friendship, and enough mischief to keep readers happily turning pages. Display and booktalk with (what else?) Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard books, KL Armstrong and MA Marr’s Blackwell Pages trilogy, and NatGeo’s Norse Mythology treasury. (Have some copies of Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology around for parents, too.)

Joan Holub has amazing printables on her author website, including Goddess Girls and its companion series, Heroes in Training, bookmarks. Suzanne Williams has a reader’s theatre script for one of the Goddess Girls stories, fun quizzes and downloadable stickers at her website. The next Thunder Girls book is out in October, featuring Sif, so I’ll be counting days until then.

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Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

A grand expedition awaits in your backyard

The Grand Expedition, by Emma Adbåge/Illustrated by Anne Prime, (Apr. 2018, Enchanted Lion), $16.95, ISBN: 9781592702459

Recommended for readers 3-7

Two siblings head to their backyard for an adventure! They take the time to prepare food (coffee and pickles) and provisions (blankets, tent, jump rope). They head out, set up camp, and… eat all the pickles. And sit. And then the mosquitoes come out. And then one sibling has to poop, which seals the deal: they’re heading back inside. They end the evening cozy, with their dad, indoors.

This is the stuff of childhood. Originally published in Sweden, this is the kind of story that appeals to kids of all kinds: the campout. I grew up in an apartment, and my kids spent their early years in one, so living room campouts were the answer (who doesn’t love a sturdy blanket and pillow fort?) The kids pack like kids – minus the snacks, because they’ve only got pickles, but you get the point – and head out to an adventure that is greater in the imagination than in actuality. Once they get out there, there’s not a whole lot to do, and the lack of indoor plumbing is a dilemma. The adventure continues into the home, where the boys end the evening still on an adventure, this time, in the comfort of home. This is a fun story for a pajama readaloud – can you build blanket forts in your library, classroom, or living room? Bring the stuffed animals, sit in your PJs, and enjoy a comfy campout. The illustrations lend to the imaginary feel, with muted watercolor and line drawings giving a hazy, dreamlike feel to the story.

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

Get Radical with Fierce Young Women from U.S. History!

The Radical Element, edited by Jessica Spotswood, (March 2018, Candlewick), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0-7636-9425-8

Recommended for readers 13+

This anthology gives readers snapshots of young women at pivotal moments in their lives and U.S. history, from 1838 to 1984. Written by YA literary powerhouses including Anna-Marie McLemore (Wild Beauty), Marieke Nijkamp (This is How it Ends), Dhionelle Clayton (The Belles), these 12 stories are about young women who are the “radical element” in their time periods; their communities; their families. A young Jewish woman living in 19th century Savannah, pushing to learn more about her faith; a Cuban immigrant, living in Queens (whoo hoo!) and walking the line between her parents’ traditional world and the new, modern world; a 1950s debutante whose idea for her future doesn’t quite line up with her mother’s.  All of their stories are here, expertly told and starring a fabulous and diverse group of females: multicultural and LGBTQ characters all find a home here.

The authors alone make this a must-add to bookshelves and book collections; the stories contained within present strong characters and exciting adventures, with backstories that still hold relevance for readers today. Characters here deal with gender identity, racism and religious persecution, and sexism. These are perfect for quick reads or to binge read like the best Netflix series. Contributor bios at the end introduce readers to the authors.

The Radical Element, a companion to A Tyranny of Petticoats (2016), has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Sesame Street books! Counting and Kindness!

Is anyone else thrilled that Sesame Street is still going strong? It gives me something to share with my kids at home and my kids at the library. Until you’ve taught other parents to sing along to Ladybug Picnic and driven your own children crazy with Manamana, you just haven’t lived. One of my best friends and I have been known to Elmo-Bomb one another with “Number of the Day/Letter of the day (Clap-Clap)” gifs, just to keep us on our toes. We never really outgrow Sesame Street, so whenever I see the chance to talk up the show and its characters, I’m on it.

5 Little Rubber Duckies, by Matt Mitter/Illustrated by Tom Brannon, (Feb. 2018, Studio Fun), $11.99, ISBN: 9780794441197

Recommended for 2-5

Ernie still loves his rubber duckies, and this adorable book invites readers to join Ernie and his Sesame Street friends as they seek out five of them! The rhyming story is very similar to the nursery song, “5 Little Ducks”: Ernie plays hide and seek with five of his little rubber ducks, but one less duckie comes back each time Ernie calls them. Will Ernie get his duckies back in time for bathtime?

This book is loaded with interactive fun for toddlers and preschoolers alike. There are five little rubber duckies at the top of the book that little fingers can slide back and forth to count and play. Each spread has a highlighted box inviting readers to count the duckies, and trace the die-cut numbers from 5 to 1.

The pages are sturdy and will hold up to multiple readings and counting play, and all the Sesame Street royalty is here: Elmo; Abby Cadabby; Oscar the Grouch; Big Bird and his teddy bear, Radar; Cookie Monster; Prairie Dawn; Rosita, and even Bert, feeding his pigeons up on the roof. (I’m assuming Super Grover was off, patrolling the city.) Also available in Spanish (5 Patitos de Hule), this is absolute storytime, classtime, kidtime fun.

 

Kindness Makes the World Go ‘Round, by Sesame Workshop, (Apr. 2018, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $10.99, ISBN: 9781492660569

Recommended for readers 3-6

Elmo wakes up one morning to discover that his mommy has left him a gift! She’s given him a camera for World Kindness Day and asks him to take photos of Sesame Street neighbors being kind to one another! Elmo is so excited, and why wouldn’t he be? Everyone’s nice to each other on Sesame Street! Sure enough, he’s snapping pictures right and left, creating a scrapbook to share with Mommy at the end of the day!

Another great book from the Sesame Workshop group, teaching kids about empathy and kindness. From holding doors for the little twiddle bugs, to playing with Julia at the playground, Elmo sees his friends all being kind to one another. This is a great book – and so timely – to have now, and to read for World Kindness Day (November 3). Play Elmo’s Kindness Bingo with the kids – there’s a free printable on Sesame Workshop.

Want to show them some Elmo? Here’s the Elmo’s World segment on kindness.

 

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Mama’s Belly has a sister growing in it!

Mama’s Belly, by Kate Hosford/Illustrated by Abigail Halpin, (Apr. 2018, Abrams), $16.99, ISBN: 9781419728419

Recommended for readers 3-7

A young girl feels excitement and trepidation at the upcoming arrival of her new baby sister. The text’s language is just beautiful, beginning with the sentence, “Mama has a belly rising up, like a wave. Inside is my sister, waiting to meet me.” The girl talks to Mama’s belly, sings to it, hugs it; she dreams of holding and caring for her baby sister, but she’s also nervous: does she have to share her blanket? Will Mommy ever have a lap again, and will she still have space for her? Will Mama have enough love for both siblings? With gentle text and soft, illustrations, Mama’s Belly is an empathetic, loving story that assuages children’s concerns and warmly welcomes a new family addition.

I love that Mama gets some storytime here, too: as her pregnancy progresses, we learn that it’s not easy carrying a baby! “Mama’s belly is making her grumpy. I haven’t seen my toes in weeks!” Mama’s also tired and achy, laying down on the couch with a tender back while the girl draws for her. It helps explain why pregnant moms and caregivers may not always be able to play as baby gets closer to being born, and it models wonderful behavior: when Mama can’t see her toes, the girl counts them for her, letting her know that she still has 10. When tired Mama asks for a picture, the girl draws a multi-page “magic energy machine” to invigorate her. Papa and Mama love their little girl, and let her know that she’s an important part of their family, and that’s the most important part of getting a new sibling-to-be ready for baby. This is a nice addition to new baby collections, and a great baby shower/big sibling gift idea.

 

Want to see a little more? Enjoy the book trailer.


Kate Hosford is the author of several picture books, including Infinity and Me, which was a New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book award winner and named an ALA Notable Children’s Book. Her books have been translated into Chinese, Korean, French, and Romanian. Kate lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York. You can visit her author website and follow her on Instagram @katelhosford.

Abigail Halpin is the illustrator of many children’s books, including Finding Wild. She lives in Southern Maine. Visit her on the web or on Instagram @abigailhalpin.

 

Want a chance to win your own copy of Mama’s Belly? Enter this Rafflecopter giveaway! (U.S. addresses only, please!)

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

YA Fairy Tale creepiness: The Hazel Wood

The Hazel Wood, by Melissa Albert, (Jan. 2018, Flatiron Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250147905

Recommended for readers 13+

In this wonderfully dark fantasy, 17-year-old Alice and her mother have lived on the run from the bad luck that always seems to follow them. Her grandmother, Althea Proserpine, author of Tales from the Hinterland, a book of dark fairy tales that achieved cult status, has passed away, allowing Alice’s mother, Ella, to believe they’re finally free. Not likely. Ella is kidnapped and Alice turns to her friend, Finch, a Proserpine fan, to help her find her way into the very real Hinterland, to save her. But the Hinterland has plans for Alice, too; she’s yearned to know her grandmother for her whole life, but what she may find out will change her life and the lives of everyone around her forever.

This is an unputdownable book from the get-go. Alice lives in the shadow of her mythic grandmother, who she’s never had a relationship with; her mother, Ella, is her only attachment in life, as they run from the misfortune that dogs them. Ella will never talk about her mother, and information about Althea is scarce; her book is even more difficult to track down. Alice is a conflicted protagonist, with anger issues and a general disdain for the wealthy, vapid people around her at war with the desire for a stable family life and a relationship with her famous grandmother. As Alice starts unraveling secrets kept by her mother, shadowy figures start making their way into her world: our world. Melissa Albert brings two worlds together and has readers keeping a white-knuckled grip on her book as we try to hold them apart. Rich with world building and main character development, The Hazel Wood left me thoroughly unsettled and wishing that we’d get some more Stories wandering out of the Hinterland. Fantastic for anyone bulking up their summer reading collections, and perfect for anyone looking for a good, creeptastic read.

The Hazel Wood has SEVEN starred reviews: Kirkus; School Library Journal; Shelf Awareness; Publisher’s Weekly; Booklist; VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates), and the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

Posted in Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Board Books for everyone!

I’ve been on a board book kick the last couple of months. I’ve mentioned before that I’m always on the lookout for fun, new board books that tell a story or teach concepts in a fun way. These are a few I’ve come across on my recent wanderings.

10, 9, 8… Owls Up Late!, by Georgiana Deutsch & Ekaterina Trukhan, (Feb. 2018, Silver Dolphin), $9.99, ISBN: 9781684121847

Recommended for 3-6

This rhyming, counting book is just too  much fun. Ten little owls are playing in a tree, when Mama Owl calls, “It’s time for you to rest!” One by one, each of the birds listen to Mama and flies down to the nest, but it’s a lot of fun while they take their time! Each spread is die-cut, as is the cover, to highlight different owls, hanging out in the tree. Each number appears in a star on the upper left hand side of the spread, easily letting readers know which number they’re on; owls and other inhabitants of the tree are cartoony and colorful, with little individual touches like a pair of earmuffs here, a nightcap there. The repetitive text assures that you’ll have company reciting this fun bedtime countdown in no time, and a spread numbering 1-10, counting up with the owls, finishes off this adorable board book. This book invites readers to really explore and have fun with the book, turning pages and wiggling fingers through die cuts.

 

You’re My Little Cuddle Bug, by Nicola Edwards/Illustrated by Natalie Marshall, (Feb. 2018, Silver Dolphin), $8.99, ISBN: 9781684122585

Recommended for readers 0-5

Books like this are my weakness. I love, love, LOVE books about snuggling and cuddling, and I’ve been known to refer to my little one as my “snuggle buggy” and “cuddle buggy”. I love reading these books in storytime, because it gives my caregivers kissy-huggy-snuggly time with their little ones. Rhyming text and die-cut/raised bug caregivers and little ones lead readers through a story that’s just about loving and being loved: “You’re my little ladybug, You brighten up my day/With rosy cheeks you smile at me, And chase my blues away”. Bumblebees, caterpillars, butterflies, and beetles are all here, with cartoony, sweet, expressively large eyes and bright colors. You have to have this book on your shelves and in your gift cart. Add some Joyce Wan books (You Are My Cupcake, You Are My Pumpkin, We Belong Together) and you are set!

 

Black Bird, Yellow Sun, by Steve Light, (March 2018, Candlewick Press), $7.99, ISBN: 9780763690670

Recommended for 0-3

I love Steve Light’s books! This is a departure from his “Have You Seen My…” series, and I’m excited to see him introduce concepts. In Black Bird, Yellow Sun, we meet a black bird as he goes through his day, set off against the colors he interacts with: yellow sun, orange leaves, purple grapes, green grass, red snake, gray rocks, pink flowers, and finally, a blue moon. The repetition of the black bird on each spread makes for nice continuity for the kids, who will pick up that the bird is there each time; explain that the bird goes through its day in terms of colors, and ask kids what colors they meet throughout their days. A perfect concept board book for storytimes, gifts, and collections. Black Bird Yellow Sun has a starred review from School Library Journal.

 

In the Rain, by Elizabeth Spurr/Illustrated by Manelle Oliphant, (March 2018, Peachtree Publishers), $6.95, ISBN: 978-1-56145-853-0

Recommended for 0-4

Some kids may be disappointed when the rain begins, but not this little girl! She puts on her slicker and heads outdoors to sail a boat, stomp in puddles, and make mud pies! This fun exploration of weather and play stars a child of color, illustrated joyfully and realistically by Manelle Oliphant. I was excited to find out that author Elizabeth Spurr and Manelle Oliphant have a whole series of “In the…” and “At the…” board books that explore weather, nature, and play! I’ll be adding these to my next purchase cart for sure; the rhyming text, short sentences, and beautiful illustrations make these a great storytime read!