Posted in Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Maker Comics: DIY your life!

First Second has a new line of nonfiction graphic novels debuting in February: Maker Comics is a perfect DIY companion to their Science Comics series, adding a more hands-on component to the science behind everyday things. The first two titles to hit shelves are Bake Like a Pro! and Fix a Car! With the tag line, “Who Can? You Can!”, these books are ready to take readers step-by-step into the world of making and hands-on STEAM.

Maker Comics: Bake Like a Pro!, by Falynn Koch, (Feb. 2019, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250150066

Ages 10-14

Written and illustrated by Science Comics alum Falynn Koch, Bake Like a Pro! follows a young wizard in training, Sage, as she’s apprenticed to baking master mage Korian. Sage is not thrilled with this turn of events, because she thinks baking is boring. Where’s the pyromancy? Where’s the transfiguration? But what Sage doesn’t realize yet is that baking is a magic and science all its own: it’s a delicious form of alchemy! Korian and a group of enchanted ingredients teach Sage all about the science behind baking: how to combine different proteins, fats, and liquids to craft incredible pies, cookies, breads, cookies, dough, and more.

At once a science lesson, a fantasy tale, and a recipe book for new bakers, Bake Like a Pro! is perfect for middle schoolers and upper elementary readers who are ready to take on some next-level making. There are step-by-step explanations of how ingredients come together – and what happens when ingredients go wrong (always sift the flour!), plus an illustrated walk-through for 8 different recipes, including chocolate chip cookies, cheesy biscuits, pizza dough, and sponge cake with buttercream frosting. At the end of the story, Sage proudly serves up her delicious treats to her fellow novice mages, proudly proclaiming, “Every step in baking is magic!”

Like Science Comics, there’s a quick reference at the end that puts all the major info in one place. Here, we get some helpful reminders on the six baking methods, effects of ingredients and conversion tables, bread techniques, and continued reading (including one of my favorites, I’m Just Here for the Food, by Alton Brown).

Maker Comics: Fix a Car!, by Chris Schweizer, (Feb. 2019, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250150042

Ages 10-14

Next up is Fix a Car! by Crogan’s Adventures and The Creeps author and illustrator Chris Schweizer. A group of tweens and teens meet up when they join Car Club, overseen by auto whiz Ms. Gritt. Lena, Mason, and Abner are teens with their own wheels, and twin siblings Rocky and Esther are seventh graders who  love cards and want to learn all they need to know so they can be ready when they are old enough to drive. They’re different kids with different lives and circumstances, but the one thing they have in common is a love for automobiles, and Ms. Gritt is happy to show them all they need to know.

The story smoothly moves between each character’s life outside of car club, building a relationship between characters and readers and giving kids background that they can relate to, from a stressed out teen determined to excel in all the things, to the kids working through grief over a parent. Car Club gives them all a landing place, a place to belong, and place to come together and get their hands dirty.

Fix a Car! is incredible in its detail: Ms. Gritt teaches her group how to check the oil and how often to check it; how to check the pressure in their tires, and how to change a tire; how to investigate a squeaky noise. Full-color diagrams introduce readers to the complex systems and inner workings of autos, and safety is paramount, with Ms. Gritt providing smart advice on how to be safe while changing a tire including how to locate a spare tire in your car and the difference between spare tires and donuts (not of the Dunkin’ variety). There are instructions on 10 different parts of auto care, including creating a portable tool kit, changing the oil, replacing a drive belt or pulley, and washing and detailing a car (bonus: adding a racing stripe). There’s a wealth of resources at the end of the book, including an author’s note on how Chris Schweizer learned to take care of his car and some further reading.

Because of the hands-on subject matter, I’d definitely include Maker Comics in my middle school collections, but the reading level works for middle grade as well. With adult supervision, I’m all for teaching younger kids to bake and learn their way around a car, so I’d consider it for either collection in a public library – many of the middle schoolers in my library go between Juvenile and YA collections – and a solid choice for middle school libraries. Create a solid graphic novel nonfiction section, and the kids will love you for it.

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

Malala Yousafzai: Warrior with Words

Malala Yousafzai: Warrior with Words, by Karen Leggett Abouraya/Illustrated by Susan L. Roth, (Jan. 2019, Lee and Low), $19.95, ISBN: 9781620148389

Ages 6-10

This latest biography of activist and Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai speaks to younger, intermediate readers on their level: she grew up in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, lovingly referred to by Malala as “my Swat”. Her father was the principal of a school for girls, and she grew up loving books and learning. In 2007, when the Taliban came to power and tried to ban education for girls and women, Malala began blogging, under a pen name; her blog was picked up by the BBC’s website in 2009. Her family fled the Swat Valley when Pakistan’s army fought the Taliban, but they returned when the fighting was over, finding much of their home destroyed. In 2012, Malala and two friends   were shot by Taliban soldiers who boarded their school bus. She was taken to a hospital in England, and her activism became a worldwide phenomenon, speaking at the United Nations and receiving a Nobel Prize for her work.

The text is straightforward, describing the Taliban’s policies and even Malala’s shooting in plain language. The Taliban doesn’t get to take Malala’s story away from her: she shines here, with her accomplishments and her dedication to education for all being the main focus of the book. Her awards and her studies are lauded, as is her love of the color pink and her love for her family and her home. Back matter includes information on Pakistan, the Taliban, The Malala Fund, and a spotlight on youth activism and organizations.

The collage art is outstanding. Most of the artwork is soft, using felts and fabrics with warm and soft colors to create Malala, her family, her world, and the diversity of the United Nations and our world; even when women must don black clothing to avoid notice by the Taliban, the crisp blacks and whites of the characters clothing are felt: soft, warm. That all changes for the two pages introducing the Taliban, which depicts them using photo art with crudely drawn, mask-like faces. It made me sit up the first time I read the book, and on subsequent readings, I realized how brilliant illustrator Susan L. Roth is. It’s a subtle, but jarring change that lets readers experience just a fraction of the discomfort, the fear, that these figures brought with them. Incredible artwork by an award-winning illustrator, and it supports and gives life to Karen Leggett Abouraya’s informative reporting. Add this to your picture book biographies.

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

Dinosaurs books for the arts and sciences!

The 50 State Fossils: A Guidebook for Aspiring Paleontologists, by Yinan Wang/Illustrations by Jane Levy, (Sept. 2018, Schiffer Publishing), $18.99, ISBN: 9780764355578

Ages 7-12

You know that states have their own flags. You probably even knew that states have their own trees, foods, and animals, but did you know that most states have their own fossils? It’s true! 50 State Fossils give readers a state-by-state look at each one. Maryland’s state fossil, for instance, is a Sea Snail, while Michigan’s is a Mastodon – a mammal similar to elephants and mammoths. Some state fossils are plants: Oregon’s is a Dawn Redwood, while North Dakota’s is Shipworm-Bored Petrified Wood. Each entry includes a photo and illustration of the fossil (or proposed fossil, for those states that don’t have a state fossil); a state map with a designated area where fossils can be found in that state; and a brief notation on the fossil: when the fossil dates from, when it was designated a state fossil, scientific names, and a paragraph or two about the fossil.

The State Fossils are the meat of the book, but this slim volume is packed with information for budding paleontologists: there are sections on how fossils form, how a state fossil is designated, dating fossils and the geologic time scale, and taxonomic rank.  There’s a glossary, a state-by-state breakdown of where to see fossils, and further reading. Endpapers are a colorful mix of various flora and fauna that can be found in the book.

50 State Fossils is one of those books a kid will carry to the museum to refer to while wandering through exhibits (I know I used to) and makes for a great book to give dino fans. It’s a nice add to nonfiction collections and a good gift idea.

 

If da Vinci Painted a Dinosaur, by Amy Newbold/Illustrated by Greg Newbold, (Oct. 2018, Tilbury House), $17.95, ISBN: 9780884486671

Ages 4-8

This follow up to 2017’s If Picasso Painted a Snowman is an enjoyable look at dinosaurs and art history. The hamster guide is back, escorting readers through an art gallery of different artists’ takes on dinosaurs, from a da Vinci-esque Virtruvian Dino, through Katusushika Hokusai’s giant wave (with dinosaurs wave surfing), and itty bitty dinosaurs hiding in Diego Rivera’s lilies. Who would da Vinci really paint, though, if he were painting dinosaurs? Why, Dino Lisa, of course! Readers are encouraged to copy a page sporting a blank easel and make their own dinosaur artwork, and featured artists get capsule biographies at the end, along with the dinosaur species designated to their paintings. A word from artist Greg Newbold encourages readers to draw, explore, and have fun on their own artist journeys. Endpapers inspired by Henri Matisse’s paper cutouts lead the reader in and usher them out, hopefully with a head full of ideas.

This book is just too much fun! It’s a great way to introduce art and science to kids, and begs for a program where kids can learn about artists and create their own dinosaurs. I’d have used this in my art storytime, for sure. (So maybe I need to dust that storytime off and revisit it.) Booktalk and feature in an art storytime with Lucy Volpin’s Crocdali; David Wiesner’s Art & Max; My Museum by Joanne Liu, and Henri’s Scissors by Jeanette Winter. This one’s an absolute add to collections.

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

Last minute gift shopping? Books are easy to wrap!

Okay, the big days are coming, and you still need a gift or two – maybe your kid’s got a last-minute gift to get, or you don’t want to show up to a party empty-handed for any kids in the house. Check out some more of these gifts books for some guaranteed entertainment!

Where’s the Architect? From Pyramids to Skyscrapers: An Architecture Look and Find Book, by Susanne Rebscher/Illustrations by Annabelle von Sperber, (Oct. 2018, Prestel Publishing), $19.95, ISBN: 978-3-7913-7301-0

Ages 4-10

This one is like I Spy, but with architecture. Readers can join two kids – Ben and Mia – and two little monkey escorts on an adventure around the world! View 12 beautiful works of architecture, learn a little bit about each, and find some cool objects and people along the way. Count ravens at London’s The Tower of London; see an exhibition at the Moscow Metro, and take in a concert at Sydney’s Opera House. Artwork is full-color and there’s always something to see. Back matter offers more information on each of the structures, a timeline of construction, and a glossary of terms. Endpapers add to the fun with a world map sporting numbers for each structure’s location, and beautiful artwork featuring Ben and Mia riding a Chinese dragon. This one’s a fun gift for your seek and find fans and can pair with some Legos – let kids build their own structures!

Star Wars: Millennium Falcon Book and Mega Model, (Oct. 2018, Fun Studio International), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0794442071

Ages 8-12

Okay, this is just too much fun. Build your own Millennium Falcon model with this book-model combo! Punch out the laminated stock pieces, and assemble using the attached book, which includes instructions and some Falcon history: stats on previous Falcon pilots, ports of call, and key movie moments where the ship played a big part. Activities abound here: starship Sudoku, Hoth escape maze, and draw your own spaceship. The model assembly is a little fiddly, so younger fingers will need some help from older readers. The accompanying volume is slim, but loaded with facts and fun, making this a gift Star Wars fans will love.

 

I Am a Wonder Woman: Inspiring Activities to Try, Incredible Women to Discover, by Ellen Bailey, (Sept. 2018, Portable Press), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1684125487

Ages 8-12

Activity books are a great go-to gift, and I Am a Wonder Woman is right up there, mixing a bit of nonfiction with thought-provoking, fun activities. There are profiles of 60 women who’ve made their mark on history, all with accompanying activities. Make a diary entry like Anne Frank; work on your suffragist buttons and newspaper articles with Emmaline Pankhurst and Kate Sheppard; plant a tree like Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai. There are familiar names here: Anne Frank, Jane Goodall, and Helen Keller; and new names, including artist Artemisia Gentileschi, whose story was recently told in the award-winning YA novel, Blood Water Paint. Two-color illustrations throughout make this a fun, smart bet for a gift book.

 

Another Monster at the End of This Book: An Interactive Adventure, by Jon Stone, (Sept. 2018, Fun Studio International), $14.99, ISBN: 978-0794441746

Ages 3-5

My favorite book of all time has been, and always will be, The Monster at the End of This Book, Starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover. I have the best memories of my mom reading this to my 4- and 5-year old self, and of the two of us giggling together as Grover’s nervous breakdown increased with each turn of the (barricaded) page, bringing us closer to the Monster at the End of the Book – which was, as you may have guessed, Grover himself. I’ve read this book to my own  kids, and added another monster to the mix, when Elmo joined Grover in 1999 for Another Monster at the End of This Book. Now, we’ve got an interactive update to Another Monster, complete with magnetic book locks, flaps to explore, and pop-ups to surprise. It’s an adorable update to a classic kids’ book, and a perfect gift for the holidays.

 

Happy Shopping, and Happy Holidays!

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Tween Reads

The Dragon Pearl takes Korean mythology to the stars

Dragon Pearl, by Yoon Ha Lee, (Jan. 2019, Disney-Hyperion), $16.99, ISBN: 9781368013352

Ages 8-12

The latest from Disney’s Rick Riordan Presents line gives readers a space opera, Korean mythology, ghosts, nonbinary characters, and moral quandaries! Min is a 13-year-old shapeshifting female fox spirit who lives with her widowed mother and extended family on the planet Jinu. Her older brother, Jun, is part of the Space Force – where Min intends to follow him in a few years, when she hits age 16 – but things change when an investigator shows up at Min’s home, with news that Jun has deserted his post and is rumored to be searching for the Dragon Pearl, a mythical object that could help turn planets into paradises… or destroy them. Determined to find her brother and clear his name, Min runs away from home and finds her way onto a starship; when the ship falls under mercenary attack, she wakes up on the very ship her brother served on: the Pale Lightning. Assuming the form of Jang, a cadet who died during the mercenary attack and subsequent rescue attempt, Min tries to unravel the mystery of Jun’s disappearance, and stumbles onto a plot much bigger than she could have imagined. She joins forces with Jang’s friends: Hanuel, a female dragon spirit, and Sujin, a nonbinary goblin spirit and continues her detective work.

Dragon Pearl is a space opera, complete with space battles, intrigue and shifting loyalties, and a mythos, based on Korean mythology, all of which come together to build an epic adventure that middle grade readers will devour. Min faces racism/species-ism as a fox spirit; she and her family present as humans, because foxes have a bad reputation for trickery being untrustworthy. She has to lie to Jang’s friends to keep her secret; that guilt is with her day in and day out, especially as her own friendship with them grows. She has to break rules for the greater good: to find her brother, who’s also considered a deserter. She’ll deal with the fallout as it comes; Min’s family is her priority. Is she a hero? Is she a traitor? It depends on whose point of view you’re viewing from. The same can be said of the Dragon Pearl, which can create a lush homeworld or destroy a planet. Is it a valuable treasure or a cursed trinket?

Let’s talk about the rich characters Yoon Ha Lee creates. Min and her fellow cadets inhabit a universe where rank and personal pronouns are part of the uniform. Sujin, the goblin cadet, uses “they/their” pronouns and no one has an issue with it. Sujin is a funny, creative character whose gender identity fits seamlessly into the Dragon Pearl universe. They wield a magical spork, for heaven’s sake. That’s the exciting news! Haneul is a dragon spirit who can communicate with the weather; the Pale Lightning’s captain is a tiger spirit who exudes charisma and a more than a wee bit of menace. Min, a fox spirit, exudes Charm to head off potential problems at the pass and is clever, constantly thinking of her next moves to get her to her goal. An exciting adventure, moral conflict, and rich character diversity make this one a nice addition to your fantasy middle grade collections, and yet another hit from Rick Riordan’s Disney imprint.

Dragon Pearl has a starred review from Kirkus.

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

Bah! Humbug! is Michael Rosen’s modern-day take on Scrooge

Bah! Humbug!, by Michael Rosen/Illustrated by Tony Ross, (Sept. 2018, Walker Books), $15.99, ISBN: 9781536204797

Ages 8-12

A Christmas Carol enters a new century with Michael Rosen’s middle grade update, Bah! Humbug! Harry Gruber is so excited to be Scrooge in his school’s production of A Christmas Carol, but he wishes his father, workaholic Ray, would muster even a little bit of interest. Ray sees Harry’s event as one more thing keeping him from work, which keeps everyone in Ray’s family fed and living comfortably, and he never misses a chance to let everyone know it. The family – Harry, his sister, Eva, mom Lisa, and Ray – pile into the car and drive to school, with Ray grumbling all the way. While Harry shines on stage as Scrooge, Ray sneaks off to work – and gets some Christmas visits of his own.

Bah! Humbug! uses the school performance as a parallel to Ray’s own Christmas Carol, where he experiences some ghostly visits – after a fashion – of his own. A Christmas Carol is more relevant than ever in this 24-hour society, where we can all work nonstop and chase after the next big thing: a new PlayStation; a new car; a new vacation. The story moves between the play, letting readers relive Dickens’ holiday classic, and the present, as Harry’s heart breaks time and again over his dad’s seeming ignorance and Ray wrestles with his own demons, past and present. Kids may recognize their own families in this one, but remember: Dickens wrote the story to show readers that there’s always time to change the future.

A section called “Party Like a Fezziwig” has tasty recipes, games, jokes, and Christmas carols. There’s a note about the tradition of Victorian holiday storytelling, and a biographical note about Dickens and A Christmas Carol. Tony Ross’s black and white illustrations throughout the story keep readers engaged in the story and the school play. A nice add to your middle grade holiday collection. Read a sample chapter at Candlewick’s website.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Mangoes, Mischief, and Tales of Friendship bring folktales from India to the States

Mangoes, Mischief, and Tales of Friendship: Stories from India, by Chitra Soundar/Illustrated by Uma Krishnaswamy, (Dec. 2018, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536200676

Ages 7-10

Originally published in the UK as two separate books: A Dollop of Ghee and a Pot of Wisdom, and A Jar of Pickles and a Pinch of Justice, this collected volume of eight Indian folktales introduces readers to Prince Veera and his best friend, Suku, who stand in for Veera’s father, King Bheema, and preside over cases brought to the king’s court. Suku is a farmer’s son who studies with the prince as a scholarship student, and Prince Veera is a clear-headed tween who respects his family and seeks his friend’s opinion on matters. These “trickster tales” are inspired by traditional Indian folktales and have a wry sense of humor that kids will love. Together, the two will unmask a greedy man who leases a well to his neighbor – but charges him for the water; humble a merchant who attempts to charge people for enjoying the delicious smells coming from his sweets shop, and prove to the populace – including Veera’s own father, the king – that bad luck is not contagious, nor can a man’s bad luck rub off on anyone.

The book is illustrated throughout by award-winning author Uma Krishnaswamy, who creates beautiful, eye-catching artwork. Chitra Soundar’s stories are small morality plays, with strong messages to deliver, delivered with humor and warmth. I love this book and can’t wait to get it on my shelves. I’m looking forward to more Indian mythology, folk, and fairy tales in the coming year or two, especially with the success of mythology-based fantasy by Sayantani Dasgupta (The Serpent’s Secret) and Roshani Chokshi (Aru Shah and the End of Time), Read a sample chapter courtesy of Candlewick Press here.