Posted in Fiction, Intermediate

She’s here! She’s here! MEET YASMIN is finally here!

Meet Yasmin!, by Saadia Faruqi/Illustrated by Hatem Aly, (Aug. 2018, Capstone), $5.95, ISBN: 978-1-68436-022-2

Ages 6-8

I am insanely excited to talk about Meet Yasmin! I first saw the book when author Saadia Faruqi tweeted the cover reveal, and I went berserk for it! Since I’m not known for my restraint when I’m excited about something, Ms. Faruqi was kind enough to message me and offer to send me a copy, and I was thrilled to receive one! Let’s dive in!

Yasmin is a smart, curious, creative second grader with an imagination that’s twice as big! She lives with and her Pakistani-American family and has a close, upbeat relationship with them. Meet Yasmin! is a chapter book with four short stories that introduce readers to this young dynamo: in Yasmin the Explorer, Yasmin learns how to make a map and use it when she misplaces her mother at a farmer’s market; Yasmin the Painter enters an art competition; Yasmin the Builder contributes to a class construction project, and Yasmin the Fashionista and her Nani (grandmother) have a fashion show straight from Nani’s closet! Every story presents a challenge that Yasmin meets and overcomes with determination and creativity.

The back matter is just as good as the stories are. A Think About It, Talk About It section offers discussion questions, and there’s a nice Urdu-to-English glossary to introduce new words to readers. We get some facts about Pakistan, a recipe for the yogurt drink, lassi (which is SO good – I tried it immediately), and a fun flower motif bookmark craft.

I adore Meet Yasmin! Saadia Faruqui gives young readers a fun, positive new protagonist with a rich cultural heritage that I hope we learn more about with subsequent books. She’s got a good relationship with her multigenerational family, and has a diverse group of friends. She’s the kids we parents and caregivers want our kids to be, and to be with. Hatem Aly’s artwork is a joy to look at, with his big, bright-eyed characters with beautiful, bright, richly patterned clothing. The facial expressions are big and bold, ready to catch a reader’s eye, and the positive stories will encourage multiple reads. You must absolutely, positively, add this book to your collections, read it with your kids, and read it on your own. Meet Yasmin! has starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal and BookRiot has a great interview with author Saadia Faruqi.

 

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Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, Realistic Fiction

Sarai: From viral video to chapter books!

Sarai and the Meaning of Awesome, by Sarai Gonzalez and Monica Brown/Illustrated by Christine Almeda, (Sept. 2018, Scholastic), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-338-29131-5

Ages 7-9

Fourth grader Sarai Gonzalez is awesome. She can bake, dance, and runs her own cupcake catering business, so when her grandparents learn that they have to move, because the home they’re renting is being sold, she takes action. She’s going to raise the money herself! Okay, with the help of her siblings, too, but they’re going to raise the money together and buy back her grandparents’ house! Sarai didn’t realize a few things, though: houses can be expensive, and younger siblings can test your patience! Sarai’s determined to make it all work, though, and she’s got a lot of support behind her.

Sarai Gonzalez is a real-life viral video star and social activist. This new chapter book series, starring Sarai and co-written with kidlit superstar Monica Brown (Lola Levine series, Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/no combina), is a fun new series starring a child of color and filled with positive messages about family and social activism. Sarai wants to make positive change and finds ways she can take action to affect change. There are black and white illustrations throughout that show fun family life: dancing with grandparents, pictures of crazy cousins having fun together, a neighborhood coming together for a good cause. I liked the sprinkles of Central and Latin American (Sarai’s family hails from Peru and Costa Rica – pura vida!) life and food; I would have really liked Sarai’s limonada and chicha morada recipes at the end of the book, and a little glossary of Spanish words. That said, my ARC is nowhere near a final copy, so that could be something in the works. Fingers crossed.

Sarai and the Meaning of Awesome is a fun new chapter book that’s adding much-needed diversity to kids’ books. Don’t pass this one up.

Want to see Sarai in action, and dance to an infectious tune? Enjoy her appearance in Bomba Estéreo’s Soy Yo!

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, picture books, Preschool Reads

August Picture Book Rundown

Loretta’s Gift, by Pat Zietlow Miller/Illustrated by Alea Marley, (Aug. 2018, little bee books), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1499806816

Recommended for readers 4-8

Loretta is a little girl who’s so excited when she learns that her aunt and uncle are having a baby! Everyone is busy getting ready for the baby; making things, buying things, preparing a room, but try as she might, Loretta can’t seem to make the perfect gift. When Baby Gabe is born, Loretta feeds with him and plays with him; she adores him and he has the biggest smiles for her. At Gabe’s first birthday party, Loretta is sad that she doesn’t have a gift for him yet, but when he falls and hurts himself, Loretta knows just what to do. Turns out, love is the best gift of all.

This gentle story is a sweet way to show kids that the best gifts aren’t bought; they’re already with us. Loretta’s capacity to love Gabe, to make him smile and laugh, and to comfort him, is a gift that means more to him than any toy that will break or be forgotten. The story delivers this message in the most loving of ways, while showing readers about the exciting preparations made for a new baby: the room decorating, the knitting, the collection of family photos, even wrestling with putting together the crib. Getting ready to welcome Gabe involves the whole family. Loretta’s parents makes the wonderful statement that “Babies are a celebration… of love. Of Life. Of hope”, and Loretta’s first response is to look at her aunt’s belly and wonder if all of that and a baby could fit in one belly? It’s an adorable and perfectly childlike reaction.

The artwork is warm, with earthy shades of green, orange, and muted, darker colors; there are some great textured patterns that make me think there may be some collage here. The illustrations give a comfortable, close feel to the story.

Loretta’s Gift is a nice addition to New Baby collections, and a good big brother/sister/relative gift idea.

 

How to Cook a Princess, by Ana Martinez Castillo/Illustrated by Laura Liz, Translated by Ben Dawlatly (Aug. 2018, nubeOCHO), $16.96, ISBN: 9788494692642

Recommended for ages 7-10

Dark fantasy fans with a morbid sense of humor, this one’s for you. No handsome princes are saving the day here: he’s likely to end up in a stew or as a side dish (with frog legs, to be precise). Gingrich the witch is famous for her recipes, and she dishes all here, where she cooks up the best of fairytale royalty. You’ll learn what kitchen utensils are best (a cage should have 12 padlocks and 2 chains, to prevent sneaky princesses from escaping) and how to trap a princess; there are recipes, like the Snow White Stew, which also gives a shout-out to the dwarves for their skill in rearing organic, free-range princess; and there are tasty treats, like little pigs, fairy godmothers, Puss in Boots, and, yes, Prince Charmings. It goes without saying that this hilarious book is best served with a side of tongue in cheek. The pencil artwork is loaded with gasps from horrified – or, really, more very annoyed – princesses and dark shades. This is a book of fairy tales for kids who don’t think they like fairy tales. Booktalk this one with The Lunch Witch graphic novels. How to Cook a Princess was originally released in Spanish in 2017.

 

A Place for Pluto, by Stef Wade/Illustrated by Melanie Demmer, (Aug. 2018, Capstone), $15.95, ISBN: 978-1-68446-004-5

Ages 5-8

Pluto is a happy little planet; he’s one of the famous Nine and life’s all good until the day the news breaks: he’s not a planet anymore. He’s confused and sad, and wanders around the universe trying to figure out where he fits in: can he be a comet, like his buddy, Haley? How about a meteoroid or an asteroid? Just when Pluto doesn’t think he fits in anywhere, he meets a whole new group of friends who are just like him: the dwarf planets! This book is just adorable, and it’s my son’s favorite of the BookExpo 2018 haul. It’s a smart approach to explaining Pluto’s history to readers, with a timeline (1930 – Pluto’s a planet! 2006 – Nope, it’s not!) and information on what makes Pluto, Ceres, Eris, Makemake, and Haumea dwarf planets, as opposed to part of the Big Nine. With an upbeat messages about identity, acceptance, and friendship, and adorable artwork, this is a must-add to your planet books. (We sing They Might Be Giants’ “How Many Planets?” planet song – modified to include all the dwarf planets, Haley’s comet, and a few galaxies – at home, after reading this one.)

 

 

The Truth About Dinosaurs, by Guido van Genechten, (Aug. 2018, Clavis Publishing), $18.95, ISBN: 978-1-60537-423-9

Ages 5-10

A chicken walks readers through its family history to prove that they are descended from dinosaurs. Family resemblances include has similar feet and feathers, in addition to that whole egg-hatching business. Presented as a family album, The Truth About Dinosaurs is a fun introduction to dino science for readers, with an accessible illustration of evolution from dinosaur to modern-day birds, and ends with the chicken hatching a rather large dino egg. Guido van Genecthen uses earth tones and his cartoony look to make non-threatening dinosaurs, and the green chicken is an amusing host to the book. The scrapbook features BC dates when showing off the “family photos” throughout history, and each dinosaur’s weight appears on tags that look like amusement part tickets. It’s a cute, additional add for your dino collections.

 

Maximillian Villainous, by Margaret Chiu Greanias/Illustrated by Lesley Breen Withrow, (Aug. 2018, Running Press Kids), $16.99, ISBN: 9780762462971

Ages 5-8

Poor Maximillian Villainous! He’s from a long line of villainous monsters, but he doesn’t have it in him to be mean. He always finds a way to make up for things his family does, like giving Santa Claus the keys to the family car when his father stole Santa’s sleigh, or sending Mother Nature to a spa when his mother stole her powers. But when his family threatens to get rid of his pet bunny – it’s not a suitably villainous sidekick – he promises to succeed at three evil tasks to make things right. He’s got to steal something; make someone cry, and gain fame by being devious. What his family doesn’t realize is how open to interpretation that is! Maximillian Villainous is a sweet story about being true to oneself, accepting who you are – even if that’s different from how those around you think you should be – and the wonderful power of kind acts. The storytelling is light and plays with interpretation, and the artwork reminds me of Richard Scarry’s bold colors and big facial expressions. Pair this one with Mo Willems’ Leonardo the Terrible Monster for some monsters that aren’t really very monstrous.

 

That’s a taste of what August has in store. What books are you excited for?

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

Graphic Novels coming your way in July

Yeah, you’ve got the summer reading lists (which, thank you teachers, have been getting better!), but you have to make time for pleasure reading, too! Check out some of the cool graphic novels coming out in July – perfect for sitting in the shade (or the sun, just wear your SPF) and enjoying the day.

Cottons: The Secret of the Wind, by Jim Pascoe/Illustrated by Heidi Arnhold, (July 2018, First Second), $19.99, ISBN: 9781250157447

Recommended for readers 10-14

Watership Down was one of those novels that changed my life when I was a kid. I first read it at about 9, after seeing the animated movie a year before, and it just blew my mind with its beautiful, yet brutal, story. I’ve returned to the book and movie several times throughout the years, and it remains one of my favorite books. Reading this first story in Jim Pascoe and Heidi Arnhold’s new graphic novel series, Cottons: The Secret of the Wind, reminds me of Watership Down, taking place in a more magical world.

We meet Bridgebelle, a rabbit working in the carrot factory by day, caring for her sick aunt by night. She’s always on the watch for the cruel foxes who prey on the rabbits

To her neighbors in the Vale of Industry, Bridgebelle is an ordinary rabbit. All day long, she toils at the carrot factory. After a hard day, she returns home to care for her ailing auntie. Bridgebelle also has a secret talent: she uses cha, the fuel that powers the rabbits’ world, to create magical artwork called thokchas. Bridgebelle must keep her magic secret, lest other rabbits in power try to use her and her power to create weapons; she also has to beware of the cruel foxes who hunt her kind.

There is a lot of storytelling here that makes the story hard to follow at times, but stick with it: it’s worth the journey. Heidi Arnhold’s beautiful artwork blends realistic animal art with fantasy and magic. Jim Pascoe sets a firm foundation to his universe here, and introduces several plots that will power readers through this new series. There is some violence – the foxes aren’t known for their mercy – so I’d recommend this one for middle grade and up. This is a nice companion to the Longburrow novels by Kieran Larwood and David Wyatt (the second book is due out in August!), for fans of animal fantasy, particularly starring rabbits.

Pop!, by Jason Carter Eaton/Illustrated by Matt Rockefeller, (July 2018, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626725034

Recommended for readers 4-8

A young boy sits, relaxed, blowing bubbles on a sunny day. His favorite part about blowing bubbles is popping them – naturally! – but one bubble has other plans! The bubble takes Dewey – yes, that’s his name – on a quest that will take him to new (literal) heights via trampoline, jungle gym, even a moon shuttle. Because, like the cover says, “Every last bubble must… POP!”

This is perfect fun for a summer read. If you’re outside, break out the bubbles and let the kiddos pop them! If you’re inside, maybe just hand some out (I worry about slippery floors, but if it’s not an issue for you, go for it). The semi-realistic art gives way to shiny flights of fancy; the bubble’s sheen seems to shine right off the page. The text is simple, easy to read, and great for newly confident readers. Kids and grownups alike will enjoy the simple joy of a little boy and his quest to pop the bubble.

Geeky F@b 5: It’s Not Rocket Science! (Geeky F@b 5 #1), by Lucy & Liz Lareau/Illustrated by Ryan Jampole, (July 2018, Papercutz), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1545801222

Recommended for readers 7-11

Papercutz has another fun, original graphic novel for intermediate readers; this time, they’re going STEM with the Geeky F@b 5: 5 girls who love science and are using their skills to make Amelia Earhart Elementary School better. Lucy, a fourth grader, and her older sister, Marina, a sixth grader, have just moved to the area and are ready to start school. Lucy, who loves the environment and animals, gels with her classmates right away: AJ, who wants to be an engineer like her dad; Sofia, a glitter girl who loves coding and making apps; and Zara, forever on her headphones, and a math whiz. Lucy gets hurt in the school’s outdated playground that first day, and the principal and nurse shut the playground down: but the girls have plans! Together with their teacher, they come up with a great idea: put together a series of fundraisers to get the money to rebuild the playground! Every one of the girls has a job to do; now, if they could just get the bullying older kids on their side, things would be perfect.

Geeky F@b is the first in a new STEM-focused graphic novel series form Papercutz; Volume 2 is due in December. The book is easy and fun to read, with a reasonable plot and goal that can empower readers to be forces for positive change in their own communities. The characters are diverse and relatable; I enjoyed spending some time with them and am pretty sure they’ll be popular reading at my library. This would pair nicely with Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith‘s Nick and Tesla series (novels, not graphic) from Quirk, the Girls Who Code chapter book series, and the Howtoons graphic novels. Fun for summer!

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Intermediate, picture books

Blacksmith’s Song: An entry into African-American folklore

Blacksmith’s Song, by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk/Illustrated by Anna Rich, (Feb. 2018, Peachtree Publishers), $17.95, ISBN: 978-1-56145-580-5

Recommended for readers 6-10

An enslaved boy realizes that the rhythm of his blacksmith father’s “song” – the hammer striking the anvil as he works – changes when he sends word to other slaves that it’s time to escape. He waits for it to be his family’s turn, but when his father falls ill, he takes matters into his own hands: for himself, his family, and the slaves who rely on his father’s message.

Inspired by stories from the Underground Railroad, Blacksmith’s Song gives readers a new entry into African-American folklore: some may have heard of the quilts and the messages they provided; some may know that dances and songs like “Wade in the Water” provided coded messages; now, we have the rhythm of the smith’s hammer. Anna Rich paints stunning portraits in oils: the forge’s flame and sparks; the grim slave catchers riding out in search of escaped slaves; the watchful eyes of the boy and his family, and the warm glow of the firelight as the boy takes up his father’s hammer for the first time. A good addition to historical fiction picture book collections and to readers interested in American folktales, particularly surrounding the Civil War-era South.

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, picture books, Realistic Fiction

Baseball is the great uniter in The Hometown All Stars series

A New Kid in School: Amira Can Catch! (The Hometown All Stars #4), by Kevin Christofora/Illustrated by Dale Tangeman, (March 2018, Clarens), $12.99, ISBN: 9780986349331

Recommended for readers 5-8

Amira is a new student in a Woodstock, New York classroom. She and her family are Syrian refugees, looking to start a new life in the States, and she’s a little shy and nervous. Luckily, Nick, the narrator of the story and the student Amira’s seated next to, is on it. He asks her if she needs help, and the two become fast friends. As the school day progresses, Nick learns about Amira’s life in the refugee camp; she tells him that three kids at the camp would have to share what amounts to one student’s lunch serving in the States, and that a refugee camp is where “families who have lost their homes and have nowhere else to go” live. At the end of the school day, Nick invites Amira to baseball practice and draws her a map, showing her how to get to the field, and Amira arrives to find even more friendly faces waiting for her. From here, the narrative shifts into a teamwork and baseball-focused story, with the Coach a positive, encouraging figure who keeps the kids motivated and learning. A floating baseball with game tips and thought-provoking questions appears throughout the book, and realistic but cartoony provide helpful illustrations for kids looking to improve their ballgame. A note at the end about what it means to be American emphasizes the diversity of American culture and there’s a list of new words learned in the book; mostly baseball-related. With detailed, yet easy-to-read text and appealing illustrations, this is a positive look at friendship, diversity, and teamwork, all connected by the love of baseball.

This is the fourth book in the Hometown All Stars series, and I think I’ll look into the others for my collection here at the library. It’s nice to see an upbeat, positive book where kids are open to meeting new people and learning about different cultures. The Hometown All Stars books are available in 13 languages, and you can check out other books in the series at the Hometown All Stars webpage.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Fables from the Stables: Murray the Race Horse

Murray the Race Horse, by Gavin Puckett/Illustrated by Tor Freeman, (May 2018, Faber & Faber), $8.95, ISBN: 9780571334681

Recommended for readers 6-10

Murray is a sweet horse with big dreams: he wants to race, he wants a trophy, he wants the adulation of the fans, but there’s a big problem: Murray just can’t run that fast. He’s used as a service horse, and the other sleek, fast racing horses poke fun at him, but Murray gets his chance at greatness when Ned, one of the racing horses, is injured at the big Speed Saddle Cup race and Murray is pulled out of the crowd to compete in his place! Murray’s handed off to a stable boy for shoeing – but the stable boy puts the shoes on the wrong way, leaving Murray to run the race backwards! Is seeing things differently the key to Murray’s success?

Originally released in the UK in 2017, Murray is the first in author Gavin Puckett’s Fables from the Stables series, and is a short story, written in verse, and illustrated in full color. Murray is a sweet horse that kids will root for, and the storyline about seeing things differently, or trying a different strategy to change your luck, will appeal to parents, educators, and caregivers that may need some help explaining the concept. This can easily be a read-aloud or independent reading book. Give this to your horse story fans (get those Horse Diaries books on display) and your humor readers.