Posted in Adventure, Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Snazzy Cat Capers introduces a new super team-up!

Snazzy Cat Capers, by Deanna Kent/Illustrated by Neil Hooson, (Sept. 2018, Imprint Reads), $13.99, ISBN: 978-1-250-14343-3

Ages 7-10

Ophelia von Hairball V is the world’s greatest cat burglar; she’s a celebrity among her peers at the FFBI (Furry Feline Burglary Institute), the bane of the Central Canine Intelligence Agency (CCIA), and the envy of her cousin and FELLOW FFBI cat burglar, Pierre. Her next challenge: steal a rare Himalayan diamond from the Belle Mew-seum in Paris for the FFBI’s Annual Purr-fect Heist Competition! There’s only one hairball: Oscar Fishgerald Gold. He’s the newest in a series of inventors the FFBI wants Ophelia to work with, but Ophelia is a one-feline show. Oscar is persistent, though, and finagles his way onto the mission. Can this cat-and-fish combo snag the diamond and win the top spot again? Will the CCIA finally catch up to Ophelia? Or will Ophelia’s scheming cousin, Pierre, outsmart Ophelia and win the diamond and the top spot for himself?

Snazzy Cat Capers is the first in a fun new intermediate/middle grade series, and it is too much fun. Ophelia von Hairball V is a fabulous diva with an eye for the good life, and even though she’s a thief, she’s not all bad: the FFBI just encourages cat burglary to keep their skills sharp; the heisted goods are always returned. Eventually. There are black and white graphic novel panels and artwork throughout the story, breaking up the narrative by communicating a chunk of story visually and giving reluctant readers a nice bridge into linear reading. Oscar is a sweet, smart sidekick who won’t give up his chance to be taken seriously – he’s kind of like James Bond’s Q. Every chapter starts off with a life quote from Ophelia that provides some wink-nudge insight into her divahood: “You can’t possibly be your best if you haven’t had a manicure. Or if you’re a dog”; “They say humility is the key. Thankfully, I can pick any lock”; “When all hope seems lost, check the last handbag you used. It might still be there”. There are a lot of laughs, some fun action and adventure, and a whodunit showdown that kids will love. The next installment is out next year, so talk this one up and get your readers on board. And show them some Kim Possible – not an animal show (except for the naked mole rat, Rufus), but still fun to watch. Booktalk and display with Jonathan Bernstein’s Bridget Wilder trilogy or Stuart Gibbs’ Spy School series.

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Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

October graphic novels have something for everyone!

There are some solid graphic novels hitting shelves in October: LGBTQ+ positive stories and a dystopian adventure for tweens and teens, and for tweens and teens, Art Baltazar’s adorable artwork for kids are just a few of the books you can look forward to. Let’s dive in!

 

Gillbert, Vol. 1: The Little Merman, by Art Baltazar, (Oct. 2018, Papercutz), $14.99, ISBN: 9781545801451

Ages 6-10

If you have readers who get a kick out of Joey Weiser’s Mermin books, they’ll love Art Baltazar’s Gillbert: The Little Merman! He’s the son of King Nauticus and the prince of Atlanticus, and he’s surrounded by cool friends, like his turtle buddy, Sherbert, and his starfish buddy, Albert. One day, he meets playful mermaid named Anne Phibian, who takes him to a rocking party at WeWillRockTropolis. Meanwhile, aliens invade Earth, but quick action by Queen Niadora and her alien friend, Teeq, save the day.

Art Baltazar creates art that kids love: Tiny Titans; Grimmiss Island; DC Super Pets, and countless more comics have his signature bold, bright artwork and zest for zany adventure. He’s got kid-friendly artwork, storylines, and humor that kids eat up. When my library kids are too young for the DC comics on “the other side of the library” (the teen collection), but still want superheroes, I give them Art Baltazar’s books, and they’re thrilled.

Gillbert’s first outing looks like it’s the start to a fun new under-the-sea series. Papercutz won’t steer you wrong; add this one to your graphic novel shelves.

Lost Soul, Be at Peace, by Maggie Thrash, (Oct. 2018, Candlewick), $18.99, ISBN: 9780763694197

Ages 13+

Acclaimed Honor Girl author Maggie Thrash’s latest book is a continuing memoir with a touch of fiction. A year and a half after the events of Honor Girl, Maggie is spiraling into a deep depression. She’s failing 11th grade; her stuffy, image-consumed mother is baffled, and her workaholic father, a federal judge, pays no attention to her. The only thing Maggie cares about is her cat, Tommi, who seemingly disappears in her rambling home. While searching for Tommi, Maggie discovers a ghost named Tommy, who leads her to peel back layers of her father’s life and see him through new eyes.

Maggie Thrash beautifully captures the tedium and angst of adolescence and the hopelessness of depression. The feeling of shouting into the void is poignantly captured when she opens up about coming out… and being ignored, regardless. She maintains a bitter sense of humor through her journey, making her likeable and relatable, and her watercolor artwork intensifies the feeling of being not-quite-there.

Lost Soul, Be at Peace is a beautifully thoughtful graphic memoir and a must-add to upper middle school and YA collections. Download an author note (also included in the back matter) and Maggie Thrash’s Top 10 Songs for Lost Souls playlist here; view a sample chapter here. Lost Soul, Be at Peace has starred reviews from School Library Journal and Kirkus.

 

Last Pick, by Jason Walz, (Oct. 2018, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626728912

Ages 10+

Last Pick is the first in a new dystopian trilogy. Three years ago, aliens invaded earth, taking everyone between the ages of 16 and 65: everyone they deemed “useful”. The survivors left behind live under cruel rule. Too young, too old, too disabled, they’re seen as worthless, receiving slim food rations and living under constant threat. But Sam and Wyatt, a twin brother and sister, are about to change all that. Sam’s the rebel, distributing food and fomenting revolution; Wyatt, her special needs brother, is the brains of the operation: he’s cataloging the aliens, and knows how to work with their technology. They start disrupting the aliens’ plans and making themselves a general nuisance until the aliens decide they’re too much of a threat, right on the eve of their 16th birthday.

Last Pick is SO GOOD. I tore through this one during a lunch hour; it’s compulsive reading with a tight storyline and characters you want to root for. Aliens appear to be enthralled with earth culture and are played in part as comic relief, from the overlord who seems to be influenced by American Westerns, affecting a cowboy-type flavor of speech, to the gooey creature that shares a love of Ultraman with Wyatt. There’s some intrigue going on among the aliens, too; I’m looking forward to learning more in the next installment. Sam and Wyatt are a solid sister-brother unit; Wyatt’s special needs appear to place him on the autism spectrum, and Sam acts as his partner and protector. An underground radio broadcaster, a Latinx who refers to herself as La Sonida, offers moments of retrospection and I hope we get more of her, too.

Adventure, science fiction, and dystopian fans are going to love this. If you have readers who love Spill Zone and Mighty Jack, hand them this one. Last Pick has a starred review from Kirkus.

 

On a Sunbeam, by Tillie Walden, (Oct. 2018, First Second), $21.99, ISBN: 9781250178138

Ages 14+

Eisner Award winner Tillie Walden’s On a Sunbeam collects all the installments of her webcomic. It’s a science fiction adventure in a universe that embraces all relationships. Mia is a young woman on a reconstruction crew that travels through space, restoring buildings and structures. The narrative shifts between the present and Mia’s past, where she fell in love at boarding school with a girl named Grace; a girl who was taken away by her family before Mia could say goodbye. Mia learns more about her crewmates and their own stories as they travel through space, ultimately creating a family of their own.

The cast is incredibly, wonderfully, diverse. There’s Char, the co-captain; she’s an African American woman who shares captain duties with her Caucasian wife, Alma: “Char may have the degrees, but Alma knows how to yell”, according to one character, Jules. Jules should know: she’s Alma’s niece, taken in when her mother – Alma’s sister – died. Jules seems to be the youngest member of the crew; she’s most likely a teen, loves playing games, and is the happy optimist of the crew. Ell/Elliot is a Caucasian nonbinary person who prefers they/them/their pronouns – and the crew vociferously defends their right to those pronouns, as Ell is nonverbal. Grace, Mia’s lost love, is African American.

As the narrative shifts between Mia’s past and present, we see Mia and Grace’s relationship develop, right up until Grace’s departure from the school. The color palette shifts with the narrative: cooler colors like blues and purples dominate the flashbacks, while warmer colors creep during the present day. Mia is the central character, but every character in this novel has a story to tell. This is a book I had to move back and forth with during the first few chapters; not having read the webcomic, I wasn’t altogether sure I was reading a connected story until I got the hang of the shifts, and of Mia’s place in them. Stick with the story: it’s an wonderful work of queer speculative fiction that deserves a spot on your shelves. On a Sunbeam is good for young adult/new adult readers.

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

Humans can be such a pain: The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo returns!

The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo: The Monster Mall, by Drew Weing, (Sept. 2018, First Second), $15.99, ISBN: 9781626724921

Ages 8+

The intrepid duo of Margo Maloo and Charles Thompson is back in their second adventure! Margo Maloo is on a new case, and she needs Charles and his journalistic talents to help. The situation in Echo City is getting tougher on monsters. Humans are encroaching on their environment, and the Monster Code states that NO monster can let themself be seen by a human. Thank goodness, kids don’t count, but teenagers do, and there’s a group of teens hanging out at an abandoned mall. Some monsters are sick of hiding, and want to fight. Other monsters just want to be left alone. Tensions are running high, and it’s up to Margo and Charles to help keep the monster community in status quo!

The Monster Mall is a great follow-up to 2016’s The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo. The dynamic between Margo and Charles is fun and light, with smart dialogue and loads of humor. Margo has some wise insights, like one of my favorite lines, “…the older people get, the less they can be trusted”; Charles believes that kids and monsters can learn to trust one another. After all, Marcus and Kevin, Charles’ monster buddy in the basement and his friend, play Battlebeenz together, right? An epilogue teases the future of human-monster relations, and I can’t wait for the next installment. Cartoony monster art, witty dialogue and a diverse cast of characters that bring up some smart questions about diversity make this a book you want in your graphic novel collections.

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, picture books, Preschool Reads

Good Rosie!: New Kate DiCamillo and Harry Bliss!

Good Rosie!, by Kate DiCamillo/Illustrated by Harry Bliss, (Sept. 2018, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763689797

Ages 4-7

Rosie is a sweet-faced Jack Russell terrier who lives with her human friend, George. She and George have a quiet life together, and Rosie feels lonely as the two go through their daily routine. George decides to shake things up a bit, and brings Rosie to a dog park, but Rosie’s a bit nervous, overwhelmed by all the new, strange dogs there. When a big St. Bernard named Maurice lumbers over to her with his stuffed bunny, Rosie is immediately on guard. How can Rosie make some new friends?

Kate DiCamillo has the gift of words, and Harry Bliss creates hilarious and poignant moments in this comic panel-styled story about making new friends. Rosie looks into her water bowl and sees her reflection, which she thinks is another dog; when she barks at the dog, she feels lonely, because “the other dog never answers”. Later, on her walk, she barks at a dog-shaped cloud; its lack of response makes Rosie “feel lonely in an empty-silver-bowl sort of way”. It’s just wonderful writing that speaks directly to the reader, eliciting that same disappointed, lonely feeling that Rosie experiences. And then, there are moments when the art and words come together to produce moments of sheer delight, as when Maurice introduces himself to Rosie: “‘My name is, uh, Maurice,’ says a very big dog. ‘And I have a bunny.'” The words are adorable, and the size difference between Maurice and Rosie make the full-page panel come to life.

The story addresses social skills when new friends come together: Rosie is lonely, but overwhelmed when thrust into a new social setting; Maurice needs a little bit of help with his social skills (and understanding his size in relation to other dogs), and Fifi, another small dog with a sparkly collar, is excitable and jumpy, which confuses Rosie and Maurice, who don’t immediately know how to react to her. With a little help from the grownups, and some get-to-know-you time between the pups, the day at the park ends with a group of new friends who look forward to playing together again.

This is a great back to school story for kids, especially for new Pre-K or Kindergarteners, who are starting school for the first time. I love this sweet story, and so will your readers (and you). Know a kid who’s starting school, or starting a new school, soon? Cuddle up with them and let them know that if Rosie can do it, so can they. Good Rosie! has starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, and Kirkus.

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.

 

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?