Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction, Preschool Reads, Tween Reads

More holiday shopping ideas!

The days are creeping closer – Hanukkah starts this evening! – but I’ve got your back with more book gift ideas! Read on, and get yourselves to a bookstore, stat.

Where’s Waldo? Destination: Everywhere!, Featuring 12 Classic Scenes by Martin Handford,
(November 2017, Candlewick), $19.99, ISBN: 9780763697266
Good for all ages!

This is a gift that’s perfect for kids who love mazes, puzzles, and those Seek and Find/I Spy books, or older teens and adults who grew up with old school Waldo. Destination: Everywhere! celebrates THIRTY YEARS of Where’s Waldo – pardon me while I go lay down after writing that – and showcases 12 of Waldo’s favorite adventures, plus a brand new challenge to keep us on our toes. This one’s going to my now 14-year old, who plagued me with I Spy books all hours of the day and night, as a toddler and preschooler. And I’m telling the 5 year-old that his big brother can’t wait to find ALL THE WALDOS with him. Muah hah hah.

 

Weird but True! Christmas, by National Geographic Kids
(Sept. 2017, National Geographic Kids), $8.99, ISBN: 9781426328893
Good for readers 6-12

One thing my kids, my library kids, and I have in common is a love of these NatGeo weird facts books. Weird but True! Christmas keeps it real for the holiday season, with full-color photos and crazy factoids like this one: “The town Gävle, Sweden, erects a giant straw goat at Christmas. The Yule Goat has its own social media account.” That social media account is @gavlebocken on Twitter, by the way. You’re welcome. There are 300 facts in here, including Christmas customs from around the world, weird and slightly gross animal facts, and Christmas decorating statistics. Perfect size for a stocking stuffer, and kids can’t get enough of these books.

 

Harry Potter: Magical Film Projects – Quidditch, by Insight Editions,
(Sept. 2017, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0-7636-9587-3
Good for readers 7-10

This is just so cool. Black line drawings from the Harry Potter universe on acetate pages let you create your own reader’s theatre. Shine a flashlight, light bulb, or cell phone light through the window, and project images onto a wall, screen, your little brother or sister, anywhere, to create your own shadow theatre! Short, Quidditch-related scenes from three books in the series (Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Half-Blood Prince) are broken out into script format, letting readers become Harry, Oliver Wood, Ron, or Cormac McLaggen. A final panel lets you draw and project your own Quidditch team. Give this book to a Potterhead, along with a dry-erase marker, and get ready for the love.

 

 

History’s Mysteries, by Kitson Jazynka, (Oct. 2017, National Geographic Kids),
$14.99, ISBN: 9781426328718
Good for readers 9-12

I loved this kind of stuff when I was a kid – okay, I still do.When I was a kid in the ’70s, Dynamite Magazine released these cool guides – digest-sized books – loaded with stories about Amelia Earhart, Anastasia, and other spooky, true stories. I watch Mysteries at the Museum on Travel Channel. I’m a sucker for a good, unsolved mystery; bonus points if it’s creepy. History’s Mysteries is the closest I’ve seen to my beloved Dynamite guides in a long time. Kids will love these quick, fully illustrated case files on a screaming mummy, a 50-foot snake slithering around Africa, missing Irish crown jewels, and more. An interview with archaeologist Chris Fisher gives kids some insight on the exciting – and sometimes, not so thrilling – parts of the job. Stick a calendar, plus a ticket for a local museum exhibit in here and you’re set.

 

Just Joking, by National Geographic Kids,
(Oct. 2017, National Geographic Kids), $14.99, ISBN: 9781426328794
Good for readers 6-10

Another home-run with my kids and my library kids. Yes, many of these jokes will make you groan: that’s the POINT. There are crazy facts (rats laugh when they’re tickled), puns that will make you wince, but giggle while you do it, full-color photos, and truly, terribly funny, jokes like this gem: Who did Darth Vader summon when craving ice cream? Storm Scoopers. See? You winced, but you laughed.

 

Knightology, by Dugald A. Steer/Illustrated by Ollie Cuthbertson, Fabio Leone, David Demaret,
(Nov. 2017, Candlewick), $24.99, ISBN: 9780763698485
Good for readers 7-12

The latest entry in Candlewick’s Ology series looks at the knights of old. Legend has it (actually, the publisher’s note says it, but I’m setting a mood here) that two children, while playing, discovered a book set into a mysterious stone. The book appears to be a secret book about knights from Elizabethan times, printed here for readers to read and discover more mysteries within. Beautifully illustrated, with margin notes, flaps and hidden notes throughout, this is a gorgeous gift book about the myths and legends surrounding the burial site of none other than King Arthur.  Put a plush dragon on the wrapped gift and put your feet up.

 

Don’t Wake the Yeti!, by Claire Freedman/Illustrated by Claudia Ranucci,
(Sept. 2017, Albert Whitman), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0-8075-1690-4
Good for readers 3-7

I didn’t forget about the little ones! What better way to greet the holidays than with the tale of a Yeti who’s just looking for a friend? This rhyming story stars a young girl who finds a Yeti under her bed – but he’s more afraid of her than she is of him! It’s a reader’s guide to the proper care and handling of one’s own Yeti, including details on how to get around that whole Mom finding out business. The illustrations are adorable: the Yeti is hardly a menacing figure; he’s covered in long, white fur, has a goofy, toothy smile, and big, blue eyes. Originally published in the UK, the story has a touch of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie to it – see if the little readers catch the rhythm!

 

Away We Grow!: Poems for Baby’s First Year, by Jeremy Eisler,
(March 2017, self-published), $12.99, ISBN: 9780989389075
Good for new parents

This is a sweet stocking stuffer for a mom-to-be or a new mom. There are 32 short poems, all celebrating milestones in a baby’s first year; that first grasp of your finger, that big gummy smile; that first, unimpressive meal: “In my mouth and out again / Down my cheeks and off my chin / I think I’ve had my fill of peas… / Now I would like my bottle please!” They’re simple and sweet, ready to welcome parents and babies on a new adventure together.

And that’s that for now!

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Posted in Non-Fiction, Tween Reads

New Year, New Nonfiction!

There’s some great nonfiction coming up in just a few short weeks. From fandoms to crafting, freaky animals to an unusual pen pal, there’s a little something here for everyone.

Outrageous Animal Adaptations: From Big-Eared Bats to Frill-Necked Lizards, by Michael J. Rosen,
(Jan. 2018, Lerner Publishing), $37.32, ISBN: 9781512429992
Good for readers 10-15
Animals with unusual adaptation take center stage here, from the frill-necked lizard that runs across the desert on two legs to a vampire squid, who uses its bioluminescence to startle predators. Outrageous Animal Adaptations is loaded with full-color pictures and facts; each featured animal has callouts on its adaptation, curious facts, and a box with classification information. At only 96 pages, though, the price is steep for my wee budget, so if this isn’t a centrally purchased book for my collection, I have to be honest; I’ll probably see where I can find a more reasonably priced option.
Fandom: Fic Writers, Vidders, Gamers, Artists, and Cosplayers, by Francesca Davis DiPiazza/Illustrated by Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn,
(Jan. 2018, Lerner Publishing), $37.32, ISBN: 9781512450491
Good for readers 12-16
What a time to be a fan! Fandom has gone behemoth; New York Comic-Con is the new San Diego, and people are writing their academic theses on fanfic. I feel like my tweenage self has finally been vindicated; now, if only my Wookiees Need Love, Too t-shirt still fit. Fandom: Fic Writers, Vidders, Gamers, Artists, and Cosplayers is a great, in-depth look at some of the most-loved facets of fandom: fan fiction, cosplay, vidding, gaming, and fan art. There are color photos and input from fans; tips and advice, and a nice history of fandom for newcomers and old guard alike. There’s a strong emphasis on the communities we build as fans, and extra attention paid to the more recent Cosplay is Not Consent movement taking place at fan conventions and meetups. The book looks at the positive aspects of fandom – there’s been a lot of ink spent on the in-fighting and “fake geek girl” foolishness out there – and it’s nice to read an upbeat book about fan communities. The big sticking point here is the price. At over $37 for this book, I can buy two copies of Sam Maggs’ Fangirls Guide to the Galaxy – a great readalike and an awesome book, but I’d love to have both on my shelves, you know? It’s a hard call, because this really is a good book, well-written and well-presented, and readers will definitely be drawn to it. If you’ve got the budget, go for it.
The Craft-a-Day Book: 30 Projects to Make with Recycled Materials, by Kari Cornell/Photos by Jennifer S. Larson,
(Jan. 2018, Lerner Publishing), $39.98, ISBN: 9781512413137
Good for readers and crafters 12-16
Written with an eye toward high school and college students, crafter Kari Cornell talks about finding inspiration and repurposing everything from old tin cans to mismatched socks to create new crafts. She’s big on thrift store shopping and materials swaps with friends, and she’s all about reduce, reuse, and recycle. There are 30 projects, with varying degrees of difficulty and skill, for teens to take on and make their own. Step-by-step instructions help crafters navigate projects. The crafts are fun and I love Kari Cornell’s ideas for inspiration, but there wasn’t a lot of new craft ideas to be found. I’d rather stick with books like Generation T, Sophie Maletsky’s Sticky Fingers duct tape book, and Quirk Books’ craft line of books, all of which have similar projects and… yup, they’re more affordable.
Dear Komodo Dragon, by Nancy Kelly Allen/Illustrated by Laurie Allen Klein,
(Feb. 2018, Arbordale Publishing, $17.95, ISBN: 9781607184492
Good for readers 4-9
A story about a girl with an unlikely pen pal – an honest-to-goodness, real Komodo dragon, gives kids loads of facts and teaches environmental awareness.  A young girl named Les writes to a Komodo dragon who goes by the name Komo (fair enough). She and the dragon learn about one another through fun dialogue; Les wants to know if he breathes fire, Komo is amused and corrects her knowledge with facts. The dialogue is often humorous; very tongue-in-cheek, and we see Les go from a girl dressed like a knight and ready to fight a dragon to someone who understands the threats Komodo dragons live with, be it from other, bigger dragons or from man. The artwork is soft, yet realistic; the letters appear on each spread, over the artwork, almost scrapbook-like in format. Kids will enjoy learning through the dialogue between dragon and human. As with all Arbordale books, there is a For Creative Minds session with additional facts and information. There will be a Spanish translation available.
Maggie: Alaska’s Last Elephant, by Jennifer Keats Curtis/Illustrated by Phyllis Saroff,
(Feb. 2018, Arbordale Publishing), $17.95, ISBN: 9781607184508
Good for readers 5-10
Based on a true story, Maggie: Alaska’s Last Elephant is the story of Maggie, an elephant living at the Alaska Zoo with an older elephant named Annabelle. When Annabelle dies, Maggie is left alone and becomes despondent. Elephants are social animals; with no other elephant to befriend, and living outside of her own habitat, Maggie spends years holding onto a tire. Zookeepers ultimately make the decision to send Maggie to live at the PAWS Sanctuary, where she now lives with a herd of elephants. Maggie’s story is heartbreaking; the realistic artwork beautifully and achingly conveys emotion, from Maggie’s joy with Annabelle to her despondence, clinging to her tire, alone in her pen. This is a strong story about making good decisions and making the decisions that benefit others; putting others first, and living with empathy. The Creative Minds section includes a Q&A with elephant keeper Michelle Harvey, and touches on Maggie’s care at PAWS; the PAWS website has several videos available, including Maggie’s arrival from Alaska in 2000, and Maggie joining the herd of elephants. I’ve become an Arbordale fan since encountering their books at KidLitCon this year; they put out consistently good nonfiction for younger readers and have extra resources available online to extend learning.
Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Intermediate, Realistic Fiction

Series fiction gift ideas!

There are some nifty things about series fiction: there are usually a few published throughout a calendar year, and they’re usually reasonably inexpensive, so you can scoop up a few as a nice gift. Here are a few I’ve enjoyed lately.

Anna Hibiscus

Welcome Home, Anna Hibiscus!, by Atinuke/Illustrated by Lauren Tobia, (Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-61067-678-6
Go Well, Anna Hibiscus!, by Atinuke/Illustrated by Lauren Tobia, (Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-61067-679-3
Love From Anna Hibiscus!, by Atinuke/Illustrated by Lauren Tobia, (Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-61067-680-9
You’re Amazing, Anna Hibiscus!, by Atinuke/Illustrated by Lauren Tobia, (Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-61067-681-6
Good for readers 6-8

This series is wonderful. While it is a running series, you won’t be lost if you don’t read in numerical order. I came in on books 4-8 and have the first four on request from another library; I was captivated by this slice of life series about a young girl who lives with her paternal, extended family, in Africa. The book celebrates African culture and community, family, and empathy. In Welcome Home, Anna Hibiscus, Anna has returned to beautiful Africa after vacationing with her maternal grandmother in Canada. She’s thrilled to be home, gains a new pet, and eases back into daily life. Go Well, Anna Hibiscus! sees Anna and her family returning to her grandparents’ village, where life is slower; there’s no running water or electricity, and kids don’t go to school. Anna learns how to make new friends and learns from them even as she teaches. In Love from Anna Hibiscus!, Anna’s grandfather discovers that an old friend of his has passed away, leaving a young grandson, Sunny Belafonte, on his own. The boy is starving and steals in order to eat; Grandfather and Anna know they must intervene. You’re Amazing, Anna Hibiscus! is the strongest book in this very strong series: Grandfather is becoming more and more tired. Anna is left to work through the grief that that comes with a death in the family. The books paint a beautiful picture of everyday family life and the compassion Anna and her family have for others. Anna and her family are African but for her mother, who is Anglo-Canadian; something that is communicated through illustration. The black and white illustrations throughout show a loving family and scenes of African life: Anna teaching village children to write the alphabet using sticks and the ground; Grandmother weaves a basket; the kids ride an uncomfortably crowded bus to Grandfather’s village. Originally published between 2012-2016 by Walker Books, the series is now available from American publisher Kane Miller. Give this set to kids and broaden their horizons.

 

Animal Planet Adventures

Dolphin Rescue, by Catherine Nichols, (Feb. 2017, Liberty Street), $14.95, ISBN: 978-1-61893-169-6
Farm Friends Escape!, by Catherine Nichols, (Feb. 2017, Liberty Street), $14.95, ISBN: 978-1-61893-416-1
Puppy Rescue Riddle, by Catherine Nichols, (Sept. 2017, Liberty Street), $14.95, ISBN: 978-1-68330-008-3
Zoo Camp Puzzle, by Gail Herman, (Sept. 2017, Liberty Street), $14.95, ISBN: 978-1-68330-009-0
Good for readers 6-10

Simultaneously available in hardcover or $5.99 paperback, this Animal Planet fiction series debuted earlier this year and blends fiction and nonfiction. I enjoyed the first two books, Dolphin Rescue and Farm Friends Escape!, earlier this year; I just read the next two, Puppy Rescue Riddle and Zoo Camp Puzzle, and can honestly say I get a kick out of this series. It’s a true series in that each book is its own separate adventure; there’s no crossover with other characters or locations, so every book stands alone and makes it easy to dive in and enjoy whatever appeals to readers. Don’t like farm animals much? No worries, just read another book. There’s a major plot running through each book and a mystery subplot that the characters must work together to solve: with Puppy Rescue Riddle, a group of friends volunteer at an animal shelter and have to find a puppy who’s gotten lost in a house; Zoo Camp Puzzle stars twin siblings, temporarily living with and being homeschooled by their father at a zoo while he works on a book. The twins notice that animals are going into hiding, and work to get to the bottom of the mystery. Zoo Camp Puzzle has fun word searches and puzzles throughout (which will necessitate a “Do Not Write in This Book” label on my library copy). Each book also has a cute flip book feature – flip the pages, and see dolphins swim, ducks waddle, puppies run, and zoo animals shuffle along.  The illustrations are in color, and full-color nonfiction sections throughout each book provide information on veterinarians, how animals react to changes in weather patterns, and more. The set is available in both hardcover and paperback. Great set for young animal fans.

 

Ella and Owen

Ella and Owen: The Cave of AAAAAH! Doom!, by Jaden Kent/Illustrated by Iryna Bodnaruk, (March 2017, little bee books), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-4998-0368-6
Ella and Owen: Attack of the Stinky Fish Monster!, by Jaden Kent/Illustrated by Iryna Bodnaruk, (March 2017, little bee books), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-4998-0369-3
Ella and Owen: Attack of the Knights vs. Dragons, by Jaden Kent/Illustrated by Iryna Bodnaruk, (May 2017, little bee books), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-4998-0372-3

Dragon siblings Ella and Owen are forever bickering. Owen is bookish and likes staying home, reading; Ella is adventurous and always ready to push the envelope. In The Cave of AAAAAH! Doom!, the two search for a cure for Owen’s cold, only to go up against an ogre and evil vegetable wizard. In Attack of the Stinky Fish Monster!, the siblings want to surprise their mom with a cake made of delicious stinky fish, so off they go. They end up turned into newts by a wizard named Ken, bargain with a pixie, and find a stinky fish monster: a very large, very grumpy, stinky fish monster. Knights vs. Dragons goes a little deeper as the dragons find a group of knights who hate dragons because they’ve followed a culture of hating dragons for years: fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers have always hated dragons; that’s just the way it is, right? When the knights encounter a group of trolls who hate knights for the same reason – and are a lot bigger, stronger, and scarier than the knights are – Ella and Owen have a chance to teach the knights a valuable lesson about acceptance. This is a fun series – there are four in print at the moment – that kids who love dragons and silly fantasy will enjoy. There are black and white illustrations throughout, but, sadly, no recipe for stinky fish cake.

Unicorn Princesses

Unicorn Princesses: Sunbeam’s Shine, by Emily Bliss/Illustrated by Sydney Hanson, (Aug. 2017, Bloomsbury USA), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1681193267
Unicorn Princesses: Flash’s Dash, by Emily Bliss/Illustrated by Sydney Hanson, (Aug. 2017, Bloomsbury USA), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1681193304
Unicorn Princesses: Bloom’s Ball, by Emily Bliss/Illustrated by Sydney Hanson, (Dec. 2017, Bloomsbury USA), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1681193342
Unicorn Princesses: Prism’s Paint, by Emily Bliss/Illustrated by Sydney Hanson, (Dec. 2017, Bloomsbury USA), $5.99, ISBN: 978-168119338

This series is a no-brainer for fantasy fans who love their unicorns and My Little Pony books. A human girl named Cressida is convinced that unicorns are real, happens upon the Rainbow Realm where unicorns live, and befriends them, receiving a magical key to re-enter their realm whenever she wants to visit. She helps the unicorns out with each visit. In Sunbeam’s Shine, a wizard’s mistake costs Princess Sunbeam her magic yellow sapphire, which causes her to lose her powers. The key to regaining them is to enlist the help of a human who believes in unicorns! In Flash’s Dash, the big Thunder Dash race is coming up, and Princess Flash lets non-unicorns compete for the first time. Cressida’s invited to take part, but the bumbling wizard (who’s also a lizard) casts a spell that covers the track in sticky goo. Bloom’s Ball has Princess Bloom trusting the wizard-lizard with a spell to deliver her special birthday ball invitation by mail, but an errant word brings on an army of quails who wreck the party, leaving Cressida to help salvage the day. In Prism’s Paint, that wizard – seriously, why is he even allowed to practice magic at this point? – changes Princess Prism’s power from turning objects different colors to removing color altogether. Cressida’s got to help find the rainbow to restore Prism’s power. The series is adorable, wacky, and full of good-hearted dilemmas, with black and white illustrations throughout. Bloom’s Ball and Prism’s Paint are due out on 12/26, making them good Kwanzaa gifts, or hold onto them for Little Christmas in January. There are two more books forthcoming in 2018. Trust me, someone you know loves unicorns. I have one little girl at my library waiting desperately for these next two books to come out. Want to mix it up a little? Consider some My Little Pony books, or anything in the Rainbow Fairies series by Daisy Meadows.

Happy reading and happy holiday shopping!

 

 

 

Posted in Preschool Reads

Kwanzaa books for the holidays!

Continuing along with my multicultural holiday reading, I checked a few Kwanzaa books out this week. Any suggestions for more books I should read? Let me know!

 

Kevin’s Kwanzaa, by Lisa Bullard/Illustrated by Constanza Basaluzzo,
(Oct. 2012, Millbrook Press), $25.32, ISBN: 9780761350750
Good for readers 4-8

A young boy named Kevin and his family are getting ready to celebrate Kwanzaa! The family gathers around the candeholder – a kinara – and lights a candle each night, explaining the special principle for that night. Through the family’s celebration, readers learn the history of Kwanzaa, the meanings of each of the seven principles of the holiday, and kid-friendly examples of taking those principles to heart: solving problems can be helping keep a room clean; making decorations and gifts for one another, creativity. You can read the story to younger readers, and tweak it for older readers by pointing out the callouts on each spread that provide more information: the history of the celebration and meaning of the word Kwanzaa, the lighting of the candles, ways for families to celebrate together. Instructions on making a Kwanzaa drum provide a fun way to put reading into practice, and a glossary provides definitions for some words that come up in the text. The illustrations are cartoony and colorful; bright reds and pinks, deep blues and greens, communicating the festive mood of the holiday. The family is always shown working and celebrating together. This is a great introduction to Kwanzaa for younger readers.

 

Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story, by Angela Shelf Medearis/Illustrated by Daniel Minter,
(2000, Albert Whitman & Company),  $15.95, ISBN: 9780807573150
Good for readers 6-10

Seven brothers bicker over everything, day and night. When their father dies, they are charged with a task in order to receive their inheritance: each brother receives a different colored spool of yarn and are told to turn the thread into gold. The brothers work together to find a way to accomplish this, finding ways to brainstorm and complement one another as they form and execute their plan, which creates the woven Kente cloth. It’s a holiday legend that embodies each of the seven Kwanzaa principles and blends the history of the African Kente tribe in with the holiday. The illustrations are beautiful: rich colors, deep ebonies, and stunning woodcut art. This book appears to be out of print, which is a shame; I think this should be considered a holiday classic. It delves into myth and legend and embodies the spirit of the holiday just as much as Clement Moore’s The Night Before Christmas. If you can score a copy of this from your local library, do it; it’s worth the read. If you need a copy for your library, consider buying a gently used copy through a third-party seller. There’s a note about the origin of Kente cloth, and a weaving activity at the end of the book. This is an essential holiday book for your collections.

 

Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa, by Donna L. Washington/Illustrated by Shane W. Evans,
(Sept. 2010, Katherine Tegen Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780060728168
Good for readers 6-8

Li’l Rabbit isn’t having a great Kwanzaa: his grandma, Granna Rabbit, is sick, so no one is able to ready the big Kwanzaa feast, Karamu. Li’l Rabbit knows that Granna says Kwanzaa is a special time when everyone helps one another, so he decides he’s going to get her a special Karamu treat, and goes about asking his animal neighbords – orioles, rabbits, groundhogs, frogs, field mice, and squirrels – for different things to make Granna’s Kwanzaa better. The animals don’t know much about what Li’l Rabbit is asking for, but they do know Granna, so they come together to surprise Granna and Li’l Rabbit in the nicest way. It’s a story inspired by Brer Rabbit, a trickster from African folklore, and beautifully communicates the meaning of the season. The story offers great opportunities to discuss the seven principles and note where they see those principles in action throughout the course of the story; kids can also talk about the ways they can bring the principles to life during the holiday season (and beyond). The seven principles, plus illustrative examples from the text, are also noted at the end of the book, along with a prompt for kids to find other examples in the story. The story is fun, with an emphasis on empathy and community. This is a great storytime book for the holidays, with opportunities to talk with children about intentions that all of the winter holidays – family, community, faith – share.

If you’re looking for my posts on Christmas and Hanukkah books, here’s the place!

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

An unexpected mystery and a group of Ghastlies: Death and Douglas

Death and Douglas, by J.W. Ocker, (Sept. 2017, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-5107-2457-0

Good for readers 8-12

Twelve year-old Douglas Mortimer gets Death. His family runs the local funeral home in a small New England town named Cowlmouth; he learned how to tie a tie by putting them on the corpses before viewing. There’s a morgue downstairs in his home. Dressed in his suits and impeccable ties, he’s ready to take over the family business one day. For Douglas, death is just part of life: he’s more comfortable with it than most adults are, let alone kids. Until the murders begin. Someone is killing people in Douglas’s sleepy little town, and carving letters into the victims’ faces. Douglas understands death, but murder is just unnatural. It’s wrong. And it scares him. He and his best friend, Lowell – the police chief’s son – and his new friend, Amber – an ambulance driver’s daughter, decide they need to get to the bottom of this mystery. Calling themselves the Ghastlies, they start their own investigation, which could put them right in the killer’s sights.

Death and Douglas is fascinating – not many middle grade novels are going to be this frank about death and its place in the natural order of things. It’s a relief; it addresses the routines and rituals involved in passing, as part of Douglas’s parents’ work, with no overwrought emotion. In fact, when a group of  self-nominated “guardian angels” try to suggest that Douglas’s upbringing is unwholesome, his father fires back, stating that his understanding allows him the strength to help others who have lost loved ones. His family may shelter him from some of the grimmer parts of the business – he is only 12 – but Douglas’s parents are very forward about death as a part of life. The characters are well-crafted; believable, and equal parts hilarious and conflicted – kind of like real kids. I’d love to see what the Ghastlies have in store for the future. Until then, I’ll just have to settle for foisting this book on the kids in my library. Give this one to your mystery fans for sure.

Author JW Ocker’s site, Odd Things I’ve Seen, is truly worth a look.

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

Choose Empathy. Choose Compassion. Read Mustaches for Maddie.

Mustaches for Maddie, by Chad Morris & Shelly Brown, (Oct. 2017, Shadow Mountain), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1629723303

Good for readers 9-12

Maddie’s a 12-year-old kid who loves to laugh and make people laugh, and there’s nothing better for that – at least according to Maddie – than a fake mustache. She carries them around with her, always ready to hand out and pop one on to make an uncomfortable situation better, to add some bravery when a situation calls for it, or just to make someone laugh. She’s also trying to secure her spot within the school queen bee’s clique; Cassie dictates who gets to hang out with her, and demands favors of her “friends” in order to stay in her favor. When she tells Maddie not to hang out with a perfectly nice classmate for no other reason than she said so, Maddie struggles with it, but ultimately – at first – sticks with Cassie. The thing is, Maddie’s noticing her body acting weird lately. Her arm isn’t acting right; it’s curling against her chest. She’s tripping over her own two feet quite often. But she tells her mom it’s just growing pains. It can’t be anything weird, right?

Wrong. When she finally goes to the doctor, she and her family learn that she has a brain tumor that will require surgery. And Maddie just landed the part of Juliet in the school production of Romeo and Juliet! Maddie learns to face her fears – including her fear of not being in Cassie’s orbit – and embraces real friendship with those around her. When Cassie turns into a bully, Maddie focuses on the bigger picture: surgery and recovery. Her friends and family rally around her, and there are plenty of mustache moments to look forward to.

This book is brilliant. Based on the true story of the authors’ daughter – who is okay now, thank goodness! – this story, told in the first person from Maddie’s POV, is engaging and heart-felt. Maddie has a great sense of humor and a big heart, and strives to see the good in everyone: even a bully. Despite wanting to be in Cassie’s orbit, she enjoys embracing her quirky sense of humor, making her a lovable heroine – even moreso, when you realize she’s an actual person. SLJ calls Mustaches for Maddie a good readalike for RJ Palacio’s Wonder and I have to agree. I’ve booktalked it exactly once, and that’s because the second I put it on the shelf and talked about the plot, it was gone and hasn’t stopped circulating yet. The book’s website offers a free, downloadable reading guide with Common Core Connections, activities for the classroom and beyond, and CIA (Compassion in Action) activities. There are also fantastic extras, including downloadable mustache posters and greeting cards. I’m considering a CIA program myself, where I provide the kids with mustache templates that they can decorate and we’ll display in the library, along with a list of CIA intentions. If I can get the kids to join in, I’ll make sure to blog it.

In the meantime, this is a great book for discussion, for gift-giving, for just about everything. It addresses the need for compassion that our society needs some help with these days, and take on a special importance during the holiday season and as we prepare for a new year.

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

Out-There Nonfiction

There is such great nonfiction being published these days. Nonfiction used to conjure pictures of boring textbooks with walls of words, with a handful of old black and white photos. Today? Nonfiction includes video game guides, crazy stories about our bodies, animals, planets, and the freaky ways famous people died. And that’s just scratching the surface. Kids’ nonfiction sports full-color illustration or photographs, text that understands how kids read and learn, and takes all interests into consideration. Series nonfiction, like the Who Was/What Was series from Penguin makes history compulsive readable, and No Starch Press has full-color STEM and tech books that teach kids everything from coding in Scratch to explaining the sciences using manga comics. I love building a good nonfiction section; these are a few of the books on my current shopping list.

Behind the Legend series, by Erin Peabody/Illustrated by Victor Rivas and Jomike Tejido, little bee books
Good for readers 9-12

 

This series is so good. I’ve read Werewolves and Zombies, and love the way Erin Peabody weaves history with pop culture to present a paranormal guide that kids will love reading and learn from. There are black and white illustrations throughout; cartoony, bordering on downright freaky. Zombies delves deeply into the history of slavery and its ties to the rise of the zombie legend and the practice of voudou; Peabody also talks about the walking dead being very old news; they were showing up in Mesopotamia long before Robert Kirkman ever thought up Rick Grimes and his band of survivors. Werewolves talks about the history of animal lore and famous “were-beasts” in history, like the Gandillon siblings – a French brother and sister who were convinced they were wolves and acted accordingly. Harry Potter, Scooby-Doo, and Twilight all get a shout-out in this fun look at werewolves. There are further sources for kids who want to read further. Other Behind the Legend books include Dragons, the Loch Ness Monster, and Bigfoot. This is an absolute must-add set for kids who love themselves some pop culture paranormal reading (and half the price of most series nonfiction, library-bound books).

 

Don’t Read This Book Before Bed, by Anna Claybourne, (Aug. 2017, National Geographic Kids),
$14.99, ISBN: 978-1-4263-2841-1
Good for readers 9-12

The kids in my library love creepy. Most kids do, right? It’s that safe scare, the adrenaline rush, the squeal of the “eeeeeewwwwwww!” that you can make while safely in your seat, surrounded by family, friends, or your stuffed animals or action figures. It’s being able to turn to your friend and say, “Look at this!” and watching your friend freak out, too. NatGeo knows this, and Don’t Read This Book Before Bed (which is exactly what kids will do) is chock full of freaky stories that will keep them reading and saying, “NO WAY!” Think of it as the Lore podcast, for kids. Haunted castles? Check. Freaky dolls? (Robert the Doll, profiled in here, actually has both a podcast and episode of Lore dedicated to him.) Check. Aliens and fish people? Right this way. Each story has a “fright-o-meter” to let readers know how scary this is going to get, and quizzes help readers figure out their phobias (I love a good flow chart), test whether or he or should would be a good ghostbuster, or take apart the mysteries of science. My library’s copy is rarely on the shelf.

 

50 Wacky Things Humans Do: Weird & Amazing Facts About the Human Body, by the Walter Foster Jr. Creative Team/Illustrated by Lisa Perrett,
(Dec. 2017, Walter Foster Jr.), $14.95, ISBN: 9781633223967
Good for readers 7-10

Our bodies do some wild stuff. A sneeze moves at about 100 miles per hour. (Think about that, next time someone doesn’t cover their nose and mouth when they sneeze near you.) If someone tickles you and you put your hand on theirs, it’ll send a message to the brain that stops the tickling sensation. Wrinkly bathtub fingers help us grip things better. Readers will learn all of this and more in 50 Wacky Things Humans Do, written in a similar vein to the chunky, digest-sized NatGeo Kids fun fact books. Wacky Things features one fact per spread and one colorful, fun illustrations; good for intermediate-level readers.

 

Evolution: How Life Adapts to a Changing Environment, by Carla Mooney/Illustrated by Alexis Cornell,
(Nov. 2017, Nomad Press), $17.95, ISBN: 978-1-61930-601-1
Good for readers 9-12

Nomad Press has enjoyed shelf space in my library for a while. They have great science project books and consistently win awards because they blend hands-on projects with text readability. Evolution is a great update to Nomad’s collection and my science projects shelf. First of all, the book is in color; my Nomad books have normally been black and white, and this is as eye-catching on the inside as it is on the cover. The book progresses from a basic overview of evolution and how it works, through natural selection, species and speciation, through to classification and human evolution. Twenty-five projects allow kids to map early human migration; find sidewalk fossils (awesome for my urban library kiddos), and research an endangered species and create a plan to save it. There’s a glossary, lists of resources, and an index. I love this new direction Nomad seems to be taking and want to see more! Great for library shelves.