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

Science Comics takes to the skies with Flying Machines

Science Comics: Flying Machines, by Alison Wilgus/Illustrated by Molly Brooks, (May 2017, :01First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781626721395

Recommended for readers 8-12

This latest installment of Science Comics introduces readers to Katharine Wright, sister to Wilbur and Orville Wright. When their mother died, Katharine stepped in to take over running the family household, which included corresponding with Wilbur and Orville as they traveled, both in the process of getting their first flight airborne and later, as they traveled through America and Europe. Here, she serves as the reader’s guide through the history of aviation. We learn about European aviation enthusiasts, and the race for funding and progress between the Wright Brothers – owners of a bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio – and the titled European men working toward the same cause.

Readers gets detailed names and statistics on the Wright brothers’ flyers, and a look at the frustrating mechanical failures and serious injuries, including one fatality, leading up to that first historic flight. Readers also meet historic aviators who came after the Wright Brothers, including Frank Whittle, inventor of the turbojet engine, and who came There’s an incredible amount of detail in this volume- aviation enthusiasts will love it.

An appendix with short biographies on other aviation pioneers, a biography on Katharine Wright, a glossary of aviation terms, and a list of further reading round out this volume. Providing readers with a look into history and aviation technology, Science Comics: Flying Machines is a solid add to STEM collections and reinforces the fact that comic books DO belong in the classroom.

 

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

Shannon Hale Talks Cool Kids, Crybabies, and Real Friends

Real Friends, by Shannon Hale/Illustrated by LeUyen Pham, (May 2017, :01 First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1-62672-785-4

Recommended for readers 8-13

How do I even start my gushing over Shannon Hale’s memoir about family, friendship, and growing pains? I’m a Shannon Hale fan and a LeUyen Pham fan; their collaborations – like on one of my favorite chapter book series, Princess in Black – work so well, visually and literally, it’s a treat for the eyes, the imagination, the whole reader is satisfied.

Here, we see young Shannon’s life from Kindergarten through fifth grade in terms of her relationships; with her mother, a series of friends, her troubled and sometimes abusive sister, and with God. Primarily, this is a story of how Shannon struggled with The Group. We all know The Group. Mean Girls was a story about The Group; just about every high school or middle school movie or TV show has a Group. It’s the in-crowd, the girls who make lives miserable for everyone that isn’t part of their group – and sometimes, even for the people in the group. Shannon desperately wants friends, but with friends comes the stress of being part of The Group and putting up with the mind games and backstabbing that is aimed at her by another jealous group member. At home, she tries to navigate relationships with her large family, trying to give her temperamental sister, Wendy, a wide berth.

We see the effects of stress on Shannon, who develops OCD-type behavior and manifests physical ailments often associated with anxiety. We also see how Shannon copes by creating her imaginary worlds – she’s a Wonder Woman, a Charlie’s Angel, a secret agent, and she brings her friends along for the ride. This book is powerful for a girl who, like Shannon, grew up in the ’70s, disappeared into my own imagination, and struggled for years with Groups and backstabbing. I’m an only child, but Shannon could have been writing about me – and that’s how readers will feel reading this book, just like readers do when they read literally anything by Raina Telgemeier.

Readers will know this is their story, whether they’re an 8 year old kid or a 46 year old librarian and book blogger; maybe there’s a boy out there who, like Shannon or Kayla, another character, hides in the bushes so no one will see them crying and make fun of them. Real Friends is painful, real, and beautiful.

Real Friends received a starred review from School Library Journal, and Kirkus offers an interview with Shannon and Dean Hale. Wander over to Shannon Hale’s author page for information on her other books, games and quizzes, and more; LeUyen Pham’s webpage is loaded with neat things to see, including a free, downloadable Love: Pass It On poster, and links to her illustration, Facebook, and book pages.

This one is a no-brainer for collections. Display with Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl, Raina Telgemeier’s Smile, and Sisters, and novels like Jennifer L. Holm’s Fourteenth Goldfish,  and Dana Alison Levy’s Family Fletcher books. If it’s a display or book talk on self-esteem and standing up to the crowd, make sure to include Kathryn Otoshi’s Zero, One, and Two.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade

The Gray Twins reunite in The Whispers in the Walls

Scarlet and Ivy: The Whispers in the Walls, by Sophie Cleverly, (May 2017, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $7.99, ISBN: 9781492634065

Recommended for readers 8-12

When we left Ivy Gray at the dismal Rookwood School, she had just found her lost twin, Scarlet; hidden away in an asylum by the tyrannical headmistress, who told her family that Scarlet was dead. Masquerading as Scarlet, Ivy attended Rookwood and discovered the truth about a great many secrets. The Whispers in the Walls picks up just as Ivy reunites with Scarlet and they go home, only to have their spineless father and cruel stepmother send the two girls back. Back to the school that hid one daughter in an asylum and lie about her death. Their father drops them off with a “But it’s different now, it’s still a very good school with a new headmaster”, and has the nerve to tell them he loves them after that, securing a Father of the Year award sometime in the future, I’m sure.

Things aren’t wonderful back at Rookwood. Penny, Scarlet and Ivy’s tormenting nemesis, is still there, and she’s worse than ever. Violet, Penny’s best friend, and bullying accomplice, the girl who was also hidden away at the same asylum, is sent back to Rookwood, but is quiet, withdrawn, and now rooming with Ariadne. Scarlet is insufferable to such a degree, Ivy finds herself distancing from her twin. The headmaster, the sinister Mr. Bartholomew, is a fanatical disciplinarian whose punishments go beyond reason.

The girls are thrown back into this maelstrom, with most of the student body none the wiser. But there are new secrets discovered at Rookwood; secrets about Mr. Bartholomew himself; a secret group of students from the past that may include Scarlet and Ivy’s mother, and another girl rescued from the asylum, hiding in the school.

The Whispers in the Walls is a good follow-up to The Lost Twin, but Scarlet is nearly insufferable. She’s difficult for the mere sake of being difficult, and may put off readers as much as she does her twin sister. Ivy remains a strong character who continues developing through the story; I hope she rubs off on Scarlet for future adventures. The new headmaster, Mr. Bartholomew, continues the tradition of awful school management – Rookwood seems set to go through headmasters and headmistresses like Hogwarts goes through Defense of the Dark Arts professors. There are several story threads presented in The Whispers in the Walls, only a couple of which are resolved; I’m looking forward to seeing where the third book takes us.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade

Happy #Nocturnals Day!

It’s the Nocturnals, Book 3: The Fallen Star‘s book birthday today, and I’d like to shine a (soft) spotlight on my favorite Nocturnal, Tobin! Fabled Films put together a little writeup about pangolins that I thought I’d share with you. Enjoy!

In The Fallen Star, the third installment of the non-episodic middle grade series, The Nocturnals, all of the forest’s pomelos have been inexplicably poisoned. Iris, a mysterious aye-aye, claims that monsters from the moon are to blame. When Tobin the pangolin falls ill, the Nocturnal Brigade must race to find answers, and the cure, before this possibly unearthly predicament threatens to harm them all.

Tobin is one of the main characters of The Nocturnals series, and many of our readers write to us saying that they have never heard of the critically endangered pangolin before reading our books. Here are some interesting facts about pangolins that help inform and develop Tobin’s character.

Pangolins are funny-looking creatures, but everything about them is designed to help them survive and protect themselves. All of their physical features perform a specific job.

Pangolins look like they wear an armor, and that’s because they are covered in scales made of keratin, which is the same thing that our human fingernails are made of. Just like our fingernails, the keratin on a pangolin is hard and forms a protective shell. Whenever Tobin is scared, he curls up as a way of protecting himself.

Not only does Tobin curl himself up for protection with his scales when he’s scared, but he also sprays something smelly to ward off predators. This smell comes from the scent glands on his tail end. Remember when Bismark complained how stinky Tobin was when they first met? That was because Tobin sprayed something because Bismark had startled him. When Tobin is afraid, he sprays an unpleasant smell from his scent glands. This reaction also helps deter the thing that he’s afraid of. Tobin is sometimes embarrassed by this bad smell, but he shouldn’t be, because spraying that smell helps him survive (especially if the smell has been enhanced by a poisoned pomelo, like in The Fallen Star!).

Pangolins have very poor eyesight. When Tobin first meets the bats in The Mysterious Abductions, he thinks that they’re the same creatures as Bismark because he can’t see very well. But Tobin has other senses like smell and hearing that compensate for his poor eyesight. His very long snout makes his nose very sensitive. Instead of seeing something, he can detect its presence by smelling it.

To read more about pangolins and their special features, check out these resources:

“Mammals.” Animal Encyclopedia: 2,500 Animals with Photos, Maps, and More! Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2012. 47. Print.

(http://www.iucnredlist.org/ ;

(http://animaldiversity.org/)

(Macdonald, David W. “Pangolins.” The Princeton Encyclopedia of Mammals. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2009. 476-77. Print.)

 

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

The Nocturnals Return in The Fallen Star

The Nocturnals (Book 3): The Fallen Star, by Tracey Hecht/Illustrated by Kate Liebman, (May 2017, Fabled Films Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781944020057

Recommended for readers 8-12

The lovable group of Nocturnal sleuths is back in their third adventure, this time with high stakes: the forest’s pomelos have been poisoned, and the flowers that cure the sickness are disappearing! As the group watches a star fall one evening, they meet a mysterious aye-aye, Iris, who declares that the forest is being invaded and monsters from space have poisoned the pomelos! Dawn, ever the thoughtful and skeptical fox, is suspicious, and seeks a more down-to-earth reason, but things become more tense when they discover that animals in the forest are getting sick, including poor Tobin, who’ve all eaten pomelos. The blue flowers that help cure the sickness are disappearing, and a strange blue glow shows up right before the flowers start disappearing. This sounds like a job for the Nocturnals!

This third book in the animal friends series takes no prisoners: things are tense, with the friends racing against time to help their sick friends and find out the truth behind the poisoned fruit and disappearing cure. Bismark is in full narcissist with a heart of gold mode, proclaiming he speaks alien (and then slipping and admitting it was gibberish) and wooing Dawn every chance he gets. Dawn is still the most focused and perceptive member of the group, and sweet, gentle Tobin is the source of possibly the greatest fart joke in the history of children’s literature, giving readers much-needed comic relief throughout the white knuckle moments The Fallen Star is filled with.

We also meet some more animals in this book; most notably, an Aye-aye named Iris, and the woylies, a group of small marsupials who pitch in to help the Nocturnals. You can find more information about Aye-ayes at Zooborns.com, and Whiteman Park, a conservation center in Australia, has a downloadable fact sheet available on the endangered woylie.

This Aye-aye has its eyes on you! (source: Zooborns.com)
Woylie: Now say it with an Australian accent! (Source: whitemanpart.com.au)

Teamwork, friendship, and determination sees the friends through this latest adventure, and there’s a lovely message about tolerance that is especially important reading.

Things have started taking off for Nocturnals since the first book published last year!  The Nocturnals World website offers Boredom Busters, face painting tips, and a wealth of educational resources for classrooms and libraries, and the New York Public Library, in conjunction with Fabled Films, launched a read-aloud writing program in New York City public schools.

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

A young girl finds One Good Thing About America every day

One Good Thing About America, by Ruth Freeman, (March 2017, Holiday House), $16.95, ISBN: 9780823436958

Recommended for readers 8-12

At home in the Congo, nine year-old Anaïs is the best English student in her class. She loves spending time at her grandmother’s home. She loves her family: her father, her older brother, Olivier, and younger brother, Jean-Claude, and her mother. But now, her father is in hiding, her older brother, stayed in Africa with their grandmother, and Anaïs, Jean-Claude, and their mother are living in a shelter in Crazy America. Nothing about the people or the language makes sense to her – why would anyone eat chicken fingers? Why do vowels change sounds with every word? – and she misses her home, her life before.

Written in the form of letters from Anaïs to her grandmother, One Good Thing About America, by Ruth Freeman, a teacher who works with English Language Learners. Motivated by her students’ determination and their stories, this is her tribute to them as much as it is a chance to create an understanding of the immigrant experience in America. Anaïs, her family, and her classmates and neighbors develop through the course of the story; experiencing sleepovers, mac and cheese dinners, Halloween, and even a frightening emergency room trip. We never get the full story behind Anaïs’ father’s trouble with the mining company, but readers understand the urgency of the situation: her father is in hiding, on the run, and no one that associates with him is safe. While Anaïs longs for her family to be whole again, she has the added challenge of learning a new language and making a new life in a strange country where nothing makes sense. She has good days and bad days; goes from hopeful to frustrated, and every reader will appreciate and understand where she’s coming from. Little doodles throughout the book illustrate new things Anaïs encounters, from the crunchy fall leaves that “make the sound of eating toast” to ice cream and pizza.

A list of English words Anaïs struggles with – what she hears, as opposed to what she learns – also helps readers understand the challenges our language and colloquialisms present to English language learners. Words in French, Anaïs’ native tongue, introduce readers to some new vocabulary.

One Good Thing About America is a good book for all communities. In our current socio-political climate, I daresay it should be a summer reading selection for middle graders (and their families). I suggest booktalking with Andrea Davis Pinkney’s The Red Pencil and Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out & Back Again for excellent discussions about the differences within the refugee experience.