Posted in Adventure, Animal Fiction, Early Reader, Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Nocturnals for every reader!

My favorite group of nighttime dwellers, The Nocturnals, have two adventures to enjoy! Let’s see what mouthy Bismark, thoughtful Dawn, and sweet Tobin have been up to since we last met.

The Nocturnals: The Hidden Kingdom, by Tracey Hecht and Sarah Fieber/Illustrated by Kate Liebman,
(Feb. 2018, Fabled Films Press), $15.99, ISBN: 978-1944020118
Recommended for readers 8-12

The Nocturnals assemble in their fourth adventure to locate the source of a drought that’s ravaging their forest. The water is disappearing, animals are sick and possibly dying, and animals are convinced there’s an evil spell at work: tumbleweeds attack, sticks seemingly run away, and there’s no water to be found! Dawn, the fox, doesn’t believe in magic and knows there’s something afoot, and Tobin is desperate to save his friend, Cora, a sick wombat who needs water… FAST. What the friends discover is a hidden kingdom – right in front of their very eyes! Can they save the day, and the lives of their forest friends, once again?

This latest Nocturnals adventure has even more illustrations throughout, adding great resting points and visual interest for readers. I love the little touch of insect art throughout the book, directly tying into the storyline. Tobin, my favorite pangolin, gets some nice character development, and yes, fear not: there are fart jokes to be had, making for a laugh out loud reading selection. The theme of friendship continues to be the uniting thread in this series, and Hidden Kingdom also explores the frustration of being ignored and overlooked. There are minor consequences for acts that could have resulted in serious harm to others, but there is a concerted effort to emphasize positive solutions versus punitive measures; I think that’s an important discussion to have with kids. Were they happy with the outcome? What could have been done before the drought, to address the hurt feelings? Animal adventure fans will dig in and enjoy this latest chapter in the Nocturnals saga, and, as always, there are many opportunities for discussion here. Good characters, great humor, and a nonstop sense of adventure will keep kids coming back for more.

The Nocturnals: The Slithery Shakedown, by Tracey Hecht/Illustrated by Josie Yee,
(April 2018, Fabled Films Press), Paperback, $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-944020-16-3 OR Hardcover, $12.99, ISBN: 978-1-944020-17-0
Recommended for readers 5-7

The next Nocturnals Easy Reader is coming in April! I was so happy to see The Moonlight Meeting debut last year, because I always felt like younger audiences would get a kick out of these characters; particularly Bismark, the sugar glider with the larger-than-life personality! In The Slithery Shakedown, Bismark is menaced by a snake, who wants to snack on him! Thank goodness Dawn and Tobin are there to show the bully that no one messes with their friend. The Slithery Shakedown opens up the chance to talk about bullies, the importance of taking a stand, and the strength found in numbers. I’d even pair this with a reading of Kathryn Otoshi’s brilliant book, One, as part of a respect for all/anti-bullying storytime and discussion.

Josie Yee’s art makes the trio of friends adorable and soft for younger readers, and with deep colors and strong outlines to define her characters. A section about nocturnal animals and nighttime fun facts adds some nonfiction to this Level 2 reader (for grades 1 and 2). Having these books available in easy reader and novel formats also introduce the chance to have older readers and younger readers enjoy different Nocturnals stories and workshops together.

So… when do we get Nocturnals board books? Just sayin’…

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

Black History Month: Heroes of Black History – Spotlight on Barack Obama

Heroes of Black History: Biographies of Four Great Americans, (Dec. 2017, Time for Kids), $9.99, ISBN: 978-1-68330-776-1

Recommended for readers 8-12

This Time for Kids collection highlights the life stories of four great African-Americans: Harriet Tubman, who led slaves to freedom; Jackie Robinson, the groundbreaking athlete and first African-American baseball player to play for the major leagues; Rosa Parks, the civil rights pioneer who refused to give up her seat on the bus; and Barack Obama, the first African-American President of the United States.

With photos and artwork, fast facts and timelines throughout the book, this is a great book to have on hand in homes, classrooms and libraries for help with homework and reports and is essential reading for everyone. Civil Rights activist and NPR correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault’s introduction discusses how Black history provided her with the “invisible armor”  she needed to meet life’s challenges.

Spotlight On: Barack Obama

As part of the Heroes of Black History Book Tour, I’m spotlighting Barack Obama’s biography. The 40-page spotlight on our 44th President’s life is loaded with photos and a timeline, and covers his life from his birth in Hawaii to his 2017 farewell speech as he left office. The profile covers his relationship with his mother and grandmother; his mother’s remarriage and their subsequent move to Jakarta, Indonesia, and his return to Hawaii to live with his parents at the age of 10. We read about his marriage to Michelle Obama and births of his daughters, Malia and Sasha, and the story of his political rise from Senator to the White House. I was happy to read about the 2004 Democratic National Convention; the convention where Obama’s moving speech made Americans sit up and take notice – I still remember a coworker at the time coming to work the next day and telling me, “That man is going to be our next President.”

An appendix includes 19 additional Heroes profiles, from W.E.B. DuBois to John Lewis, a glossary and full index to round out this great reference. You can find a free curriculum guide and downloadable Fast Facts sheets on each icon.

 

Posted in Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Kids can discover their Superpowers with this fun activity book

Superpowers! A Great Big Collection of Awesome Activities, Quirky Questions, and Wonderful Ways to See Just How Super You Really Are, by M.H. Clark, (Feb. 2018, Compendium), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1-943200-75-7

Recommended for readers 7+

It’s no secret that I love my superhero programs. I’ve turned my libraries into Gotham City and put the kids on the hunt for Bat-signals, celebrated birthdays for the Bat and Captain America, and run the kids through a superhero camp over the summer. Compendium sent me a book that will make for some more introspective superhero programming, too.

Super Powers! is a workbook/journal where kids (and us grownups, too) get a chance to be our own superheroes. Led by thoughtful prompts, readers are invited to think about words that describe themselves, think about what they feel happy doing and what they  love, and what makes each reader fantastically, wonderfully, them. They’re invited to connect with the grownups that they can turn to – hey, every Batman has an Alfred, right? – and maybe even the famous people they would like to talk to (and that can totally include Iron Man, in my humble opinion). Finally, the proud moment arrives, and kids can fill out their own Official Announcement of Superpowers, choose their superhero name, fill up a superpower tool kit, and fill out their anti-superpowers – their Kryptonite, if you will – in the form of things they just don’t like. Finish up by creating your own origin story, and Superhero You #1 is ready!

This is a great way to get kids thinking – and creating! – about their strengths and what makes them special. Each spread is bright, with science fiction-like illustrations, and lots of journaling space for kids to create. It makes a great gift. It’s not a book I’d put into circulation – it’s just too tempting to write in, because it’s so cool! – but I plan to use this book in my summer reading programming (hello, Infinity War releases in May) to get the kids writing, drawing, and thinking about themselves as a little group of Avengers or Justice League of their own.

Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade

Fish-Boy spins an Inuit tale

Fish-Boy, by Vanita Oelschlager/Illustrated by Mike Blanc, (May 2018, Vanita Books), $15.95, ISBN: 9781938164200

Recommended for readers 7-10

A wise old Inuit relates the tale of Fish-Boy, a magical folk tale that explains why so many sea parrots (also known as puffins) nest on Ignaluk, a great rock in the Arctic region of North America. When the hunter Kitmesuk went out to fish one day, he discovered Fish-Boy instead: an armless boy with a fish body, lonely, and looking for a father. When the two travel to another village on a chief’s invitation, the villagers’ behavior toward them is awful – rude and combative. Fish-Boy uses magic to turn men that would harm them into sea-parrots, thus providing a strong message about being a good host.

The art allows for readers to interact with the story; the narration, plus point of view artwork, makes the reader feel like he or she is sitting around the fire, listening to the wise man tell his tale. There are bright colors, strong faces, and images that blend together, almost dreamlike, lending an imaginative feel to the story. There is a section with new words for readers, teaching points, and biographies on the author and illustrator. The endpapers provide maps of the Arctic region, helping place readers in the course of events.

I love a good folktale, and I want to get more First Nations books in my collection. This one is a definite add to my shelves. It’s good for an older reader storytime, and it’s great to display and booktalk when kids have to do projects on Native Americans – show the diversity of stories within the Nations, and introduce them to fiction as well as non-fiction so we foster discovery.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Frog and Toad fans, meet Peter & Ernesto!

Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths, by Graham Annable, (Apr. 2018, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626725614

Recommended for readers 7-10

Peter and Ernesto are best friends. They’re sloths, who live in a tree and spend their days munching hibiscus and watching the clouds, naming the shapes they see in them as they go by. But Ernesto isn’t satisfied. He loves the sky, but their tree only offers one piece of it. There’s so much more sky to see! Peter is content to stay in his tree, but Ernesto needs to take a trip and see the sky from all over. Ernesto revels in his adventure, making new friends and having exciting new experiences, while Peter stays at home, worried sick over Ernesto. Despite his fear, Peter sets off in search of Ernesto, making some new friends of his own. The two friends reunite, having both learned valuable lessons: Ernesto, the value of home; Peter, the importance of expanding one’s horizons.

The friendship between Peter and Ernesto is the sweetest part of this book. Graham Annable’s one-two punch of adorable, cartoony artwork with giant, expressive eyes, and fun dialogue will be a winner with intermediate and middle grade readers. The characters’ friendship is reminiscent of Frog and Toad; two characters, each a foil for the other, and their unabashed friendship. Their reunion will make you sigh and smile; it’s that sweet. The art is adorable, and at times – like a panel where Ernesto gazes at The Northern Lights, and we see how small he is in relation to the sky – is breathtaking.

Thank goodness, Peter and Ernesto will return. I can’t wait.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Socially smart storytelling: Sara Varon’s New Shoes

New Shoes, by Sara Varon, (March 2018, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781596439207

Recommended for readers 8-12

Francis the Donkey is the best shoemaker in his village, using the finest materials to handcraft beautiful shoes. One day, he gets the most exciting news: his favorite calypso singer, Miss Manatee, is coming to sing in his village, and she wants him to create a special pair of new shoes just for her! He’s so excited, but he’s out of the special tiger grass that’s integral to his shoe designs. He asks his friend and supplier, Nigel the Squirrel Monkey, to go into the jungle and get some more tiger grass, but when Monkey doesn’t come back as expected, Francis has to go find him… will he get back to his village AND be able to make Miss Manatee’s shoes on time?

I am a Sara Varon fan. I loved Sweater Weather, and my library kids adore Robot Dreams. I love her cartoony illustration, her bright colors, and in the case of New Shoes, the deeper messages found in her story. Francis is a genuinely kind character who is mortified when he discovers that his shoe materials have been acquired via shady means, and immediately sets to putting things right. When Francis realizes he has to make special accommodations for his newest client, he does the work, researching how to make the best footwear for Miss Manatee. Nigel is big enough to admit his mistakes, apologizes, and helps Francis grow his own materials responsibly.  There are strong messages about fair trade and honesty, good business practices, sustainability, and consideration of others’ differences to be found here, all told in a story that kids can understand without dumbing down the message. It’s smart storytelling with a social conscience that respects the reader. What more can you ask from your books?

I can’t wait to put New Shoes on my graphic novel shelves. It’s got a little nonfiction snuck in, as Francis travels, with his guide book, through the South American jungle and encounters such inhabitants as the capybara, jaguar, and three-toed sloth; it’s got a moral compass, a main character who loves calypso music, and it’s just fun reading.