Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Join the resistance: BAN THIS BOOK

Ban this Book, by Alan Gratz, Sept. 2017, Starscape), $15.99, ISBN: 9780765385567

Recommended for readers 8-12

Fourth grader Amy Anne Ollinger isn’t one to speak up. When her parents tell her to let her sisters get their own way, she listens. All she wants to do is read her books and stay off anyone’s radar, but that all changes when her favorite book, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, is pulled from the library shelves after a classmate’s mother finds it inappropriate. Amy Anne is shocked when the school board carries the motion, but it gets worse when her classmate’s mom returns to the library with a list of MORE books. And the administration refuses to call it banning! Amy Anne launches into action: she starts her own banned book library, run out of her locker. As the battle of the books escalates, Amy calls some friends in for backup. They’re going to challenge every book in the library. The dictionary? You can find bad words, like “stupid”, in there. Goodnight Moon? That cute little mouse is a health violation! Math textbooks? Imaginary numbers don’t exist!

Ban This Book is wonderful, first and foremost, because it gives kids a voice. Amy Anne finds hers as the novel progresses, and defending her beloved books gives her the power to assert herself in other areas of her life. Alan Gratz gives us a protagonist of color who goes on her own hero’s journey in the course of this novel; from mouse (as drawn by her classmate) to advocate – and assistant librarian! Mr. Gratz also shows a valuable part of librarianship that most people don’t always associate with our little profession: defenders of the right to read. Ms. Jones, Amy’s school librarian, is portrayed as a knowledgable, dedicated professional – and one who notably does not “shush” her library kids – who fights for her books and her readers, challenging the school board over their decision to take her – the professional – out of the review and reconsideration process.

Amy Anne and her friends learn how to assemble as a group and use their strengths to form their own library, to organize their own challenge to the status quo, and to make decisions for themselves. Every character is a winner here, and extra kudos to the author for not making the board and PTA mom classic mustache-twirling villains here: Amy recognizes that they are good people who want to believe they are doing what’s best for their kids.

Every single book that the PTA mom challenges in Ban This Book can be found on the American Library Association’s list of frequently banned and challenged books.

An absolute must-add to reading lists and collections. Make this one the center of your Banned Book Week Display!

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Puberty, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Things That Surprise You is touching, funny… giggles and tissues needed!

Things That Surprise You, by Jennifer Maschari, (Aug. 2017, Balzer + Bray), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062438928

Recommended for readers 10-13

Best friends Emily and Hazel are about to start middle school. They’ve done just about everything together, and Emily just wants things to stay the same. You can’t blame Emily; she’s had too much change over the last year, with her parents’ divorce and her sister , Mina, being treated for an eating disorder. But Hazel is changing. She’s already in with a new crowd at school – a crowd that isn’t into Emily at all – and she wants to be different. While Emily is still into their fandom, The Unicorn Chronicles, and crafting, Hazel is into lip gloss, clothes, and getting boys at school to notice her.

Things That Surprise You is a compulsively readable novel about growing up and moving on; negotiating change; making new friends, and most importantly, discovering oneself. Emily is so likable, you just want to defend her and comfort her. Older sister Mina is on her own painful journey; she could easily have become a bitter antagonist, but is written with care and compassion that will encourage readers to root for her, too. Their mother is doing the best she can with what she has, and their father just can’t cope, so he doesn’t. Each parent’s actions illustrate to kids that adults may not have all the answers, and that we make lousy decisions, too. I enjoyed reading about every character in this book, including the mean girls, who are vapid and awful and make us want to see Emily succeed even more.

This is a great book for discussion groups, because the subplots that support the main plot are all worthy discussion topics on their own: going with or against the crowd, eating disorders, self-acceptance, and navigating family relationships are just some of the things that come up. I’d love to see this on summer reading lists for next year. Nudge, nudge, teachers!

Jennifer Maschari is a classroom teacher and the author of The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price and Things That Surprise You. She is hard at work on her next middle grade novel with Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. Jennifer lives in Ohio with her husband and stinky (yet noble) English bulldogs, Oliver and Hank. To learn more, and to download a free guide, visit Jennifer’s author website.

GIVEAWAY!

One lucky winner will receive a copy of Things That Surprise You… PLUS, one grand prize winner will receive their very own Crafty Unicorn Kit! The prize includes a fun craft kit, a copy of Things That Surprise You, unicorn stickers, and puzzle cards! Enter here – don’t miss out!

Posted in Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Duck & Hippo get lost and found!

Duck and Hippo: Lost and Found, by Jonathan London/Illustrated by Andrew Joyner, (Aug. 2017, Two Lions/Amazon), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1542045629

Recommended for readers 3-7

Duck and Hippo: Lost and Found, the second book in Froggy author Jonathan London’s new buddy series is every bit as sweet as the first one, Duck and Hippo in the Rainstorm. In this latest tale, the friends go on a picnic with their friends Turtle, Elephant, and Pig. Everyone’s brought something to share… except for Hippo, who forgot! Determined to make things right, he sets off into the forest in search of wild berries. As night falls, Duck and friends worry that Hippo’s gotten lost, but what should they do?

There are great themes at work here: friendship, the main plot point that drives the Duck and Hippo adventures; sharing and caring for one another emerge as the story progresses. Kids will appreciate Duck’s decision to search for her friend, and the decision to stay in a group and loudly call for Hippo will provide relief to parents, who likely give the same advice to kids in the event of a separation (I know I do). Repeated phrases provide kids with the chance to jump in and be part of the Hippo search party. I love Andrew Joyner’s cheerful art, and the colorful, emphasized fonts that add to a reading. Andrew Joyner offers free, downloadable activity pages on his website, too – the kids at my library love the coloring sheets, which have been a staple of my summer coloring club.

Jonathan London has written more than one hundred children’s books, including the bestselling Froggy series, illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz. He is the author of the popular Duck and Hippo series, illustrated by Andrew Joyner. Many of his books explore nature, among them Flamingo Sunset, illustrated by Kristina Rodanas, and Little Penguin: The Emperor of Antarctica, illustrated by Julie Olson. He is also author of the Aaron’s Wilderness middle-grade series, illustrated by his son Sean London. Jonathan lives in Graton, California. Learn more online at www.jonathan-london.net.

Andrew Joyner is an illustrator, author, and cartoonist based in South Australia. He has illustrated a number of picture books, and he wrote and illustrated a chapter book series about a warthog named Boris. He is the illustrator of the popular Duck and Hippo series, written by Jonathan London. He has also illustrated for newspapers and magazines, including the Wall Street Journal, Reader’s Digest, and Rolling Stone magazine, among others. Learn more online at www.andrewjoyner.com.au.

Giveaway!

Two Lions is offering a set of the Duck and Hippo books–DUCK AND HIPPO IN THE RAINSTORM and DUCK AND HIPPO LOST AND FOUND–to one lucky winner (U.S. addresses only, please). Just enter this https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.jsecopter.com/rafl/display/bbc165de19/" rel="nofollow" data-raflid="bbc165de19" data-theme="classic" data-template="" id="rcwidget_scf2jfhw">a Rafflecopter giveaway</a> https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js“>Rafflecopter giveaway!

Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction

Andrew Carnegie, The Man Who Loved Libraries

The Man Who Loved Libraries: The Story of Andrew Carnegie, by Andrew Larsen/Illustrated by Katty Maurey, (Aug. 2017, OwlKids Books), $16.95, ISBN: 9781771472678

Recommended for readers 8-10

Andrew Carnegie started out in life in Scotland, the son of a weaver. He and his family came to the United States, where he went to work; first, in a cotton mill, then as a messenger boy. He knew the key to success was in learning, and took advantage of the opportunities afforded by a local businessman, who made his private library collection available. As he became wealthier, he considered it his duty to help others help themselves: he built libraries. He built a library in the Scottish village where he was born, and went on to build over 2500 public libraries worldwide.

Andrew Larsen gives readers a concise biography of a premier industrialist and philanthropist, with a strong emphasis on the power of education and philanthropy. Award-winning illustrator Katty Maurey creates beautiful artwork to accompany Larsen’s text, framing her subjects with buildings and storefronts, and creating depth with her full-page art to show us a young Carnegie, standing on a library ladder as he explores Colonel Anderson’s private collection, and an older Carnegie in front of a map of the Americas (and Greenland), basket of yellow flags on one arm, surrounded by books and his dog as he maps out his library plans.

Andrew Larsen is an award-winning children’s author. Find more about his books and link to his blog by visiting his author website.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate

Crafty Cat heads to Crafty Camp!

Crafty Cat and the Crafty Camp Crisis, by Charise Mericle Harper, (Aug. 2017, 01FirstSecond), $13.99, ISBN: 9781626724853

Recommended for readers 6-9

Birdie is headed to Monster Craft Camp! It’s a day of crafting at school, headed up by the custodian, but it’s a day of crafting, and Birdie – who’s alter ago is Crafty Cat – is prepared! Now, if only her best friend, Evan would show up on time… and oh, Anya, the meanest girl in school, is here today, too. Looks like this may be a job for Crafty Cat!

This latest installment of Crafty Cat tackles handling a difficult member of a group project how to make the best out of a situation when things don’t go as planned. Monster Craft Camp isn’t exactly what Birdie thought it would be, and Anya is being her rude, mean self, but just when Birdie finds herself getting frustrated and sad, Crafty Cat takes over and saves the day! It’s a fun way to communicate resiliency, optimism, and working with difficult partners.

As with the previous Crafty Cat adventure, there are crafts and at the end of the book.  A handy supply list tells readers what they need, and step-by-step directions walk little crafters through their own monster crafts. There are templates available for photocopying.

This is such a fun little series for younger readers! A definite add to the graphic novel shelf.

Posted in Preschool Reads

Kisses for Kindergarten starts them off right

Kisses for Kindergarten, by Livingstone Crouse/Illustrated by  Macky Pamintuan, (June 2017, Silver Dolphin Books), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-62686-703-1

Recommended for readers 4-6

Stella Isabella Harden declares that she doesn’t have to go to kindergarten: her puppy told her so! A girl and her pup spend the days together, reimagining kindergarten by chasing squirrels, having fun on the swings, having tea parties, making pillow forts, and having pillow fights. Things change at storytime, though, when Stella realizes that she can’t read a storybook to her dog. Looks like it’s time for kindergarten after all!

With protagonists inspired by the artist’s daughter and golden retriever, Kisses for Kindergarten is a fun way to ease kids into a new school year. Kids will love Stella Isabella Harden’s assertion that she can learn far more from her puppy than she can from school, and the dynamic duo’s exciting day at the park. Caregivers can explain that she can learn so much from her dog, sure, but when it comes to reading, even her wise pup understands that she’s got to go to school. It’s a gentle easing of fears, and having her dog begin and end the day with her gives her something to look forward to. Ask kids what they want to come home to: a favorite toy? Storytime with family? Stella’s day ends with a family storytime and kisses: it’s a pretty good rule of thumb. Endpapers illustrate Stella and pup’s day together.