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

Arthur Yorinks’ Making Scents: A New Family Structure

Making Scents, by Arthur Yorinks/Illustrated by Braden Lamb and Shelli Paroline, (June 2017, :01 First Second), $15.99, ISBN: 9781596434523

Recommended for readers 8-12

Mickey is a boy who’s been raised a little differently. His parents raised bloodhounds before he was born, and raised Mickey just like his “brothers and sisters”. Mickey doesn’t see anything different with his upbringing, even if other kids treat him like he’s weird. He wants to make his parents proud of him, so he’s working on developing his sense of smell, constantly sniffing and honing his senses. A tragedy strikes, and Mickey’s sent to live with his elderly aunt and uncle, who don’t like kids or dogs – but maybe Mickey can show them that he and his sniffer are more helpful than they realize.

This one was a wacky read. Making Scents reads like realistic fiction – it deals with grief and loss, extended families, and nontraditional families – but it does work on your suspension of disbelief. The opening scene, with baby Mickey being left in the woods for the dogs to find as a test/publicity gimmick sets the tone for the story: two dog-crazy grownups find themselves with a baby that they have no idea how to raise, but they do the best with what they’ve got. They love their human son as much as they do their canine sons and daughters, but I have to wonder what kind of parent-child relationship you can have if you see your child as equal to a pet that you “master”.

Regardless, Making Scents progresses to become a touching story of intergenerational relationships and family. Mickey, his mother’s older sister, and her husband have to create their own new family structure when an accident leaves Mickey orphaned. Once again, Mickey is thrust into a family that doesn’t know what to do with him, but this time around, he doesn’t have anyone or anything to take a social cue from; his aunt and uncle, like his parents, do their best with what they have and stumble along until Mickey’s abilities help reveal a potential health crisis.

Unexpected and sensitive, Making Scents is good for graphic novel collections that provide different perspectives.

Posted in Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads

Take a peek inside Elise Gravel’s Journal…

If Found Please Return to Elise Gravel, by Elise Gravel, (June 2017, Drawn & Quarterly), $17.95, ISBN: 9781770462786

Recommended for ages 7+

Ever wonder what an artist’s journal looks like? What thoughts, doodles, and ideas wait within the pages? Wonder no longer: If Found Please Return to Elise Gravel lets you peek inside the Canadian artist and author’s (The Great Antonio) journal. There’s wonderful advice for budding authors and artists, combined with drawings and doodles, themed pages and spreads, and notes about little characters she creates.

Most authors advise aspiring writers to write – no matter what, just write  to get into the habit of writing. Similarly, Ms. Gravel notes that she draws every night; she draws for fun as often as she draws for work, letting readers know that joy is a really important part of being a working artist and author; and she never critiques the drawings in her black notebook. If they’re ugly, they’re ugly! She gives herself permission to mess things up; in fact, she shares her artwork with daughters, from whom she also draws inspiration.

Gravel’s drawings are bright – even the blacks are vibrant and fun. I loved the pages and pages of silly, fun, adorable monsters; grumps, and creatures. I love her sense of humor, and I love her sense of fun. How can you not enjoy the work of someone who loves what they do? She embraces the silly: something we all need to do a bit more in our own lives.

 

 

I love that I can put this book in my children’s room at the library as easily as I can hand it to my tweens and teens. It’s a fun commentary on the creative process, with helpful advice for older kids who may be interested in pursuing art as a career or more serious hobby. Ms. Gravel turns the tables on the reader at the end, providing readers with starting prompts for their own notebooks, and telling them that it’s their turn. But look at how much fun it is!

 

You know me – I love my programs in a book, and If Found, Please Return to Elise Gravel is another great program in a book. I’ve got a writer’s workshop this summer, where I’ll be working with my Queensboro Kids every week to tell their stories using a different style, from journaling to poetry to comics. I’m also working with my teens on a ‘zine workshop, and a book like If Found is a great addition to my collection, to show kids yet another fun way to express themselves. A must-add!

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

Magic, madness, and a cow-ostrich romance!

The Emperor’s Ostrich, by Julie Berry, (June 2017, Roaring Brook Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781596439580

Recommended for readers 8-12

A zany fantasy romp with a dairy maid in search of her lost cow puts readers on the path to an adventure that will introduce them to a self-described romantic hero, a spoiled emperor on the run, and his ostrich, who forms a bond with the runaway cow. Begonia, the dairy maid, is a responsible young woman who helps her mother care for the family farm and her younger sister; when her cow, Alfalfa, meanders away, Begonia sets out to find her and ends up on a magical quest that will put the responsibility for saving the emperor and the kingdom squarely on her shoulders. Thank goodness she has help from Key, a wandering young man who describes himself as a romantic hero; and two magical beings, who oversee the adventure from a distance.

The story is a fun fantasy adventure with nods to magic, corruption, feminism, and commentary on overindulged wealth. Readers will enjoy the lovestruck cow and ostrich, the banter between Key and Begonia, and the host of characters they encounter on their adventure. Booktalk this with Lloyd Alexander’s fantasy novels: author Julie Berry calls The Emperor’s Ostrich her love letter to his books.

Julie Berry’s book, The Passion of Dolssa, is a 2017 Printz Honor title. The Emperor’s Ostrich received starred reviews from Booklist and School Library Journal.

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

Parenting ain’t easy for The Big Bad Fox

big-bad-foxThe Big Bad Fox, by Benjamin Renner, (June 2016, First Second), $15.99, ISBN: 9781626723313

Recommended for ages 7-12

The Fox really isn’t that big or that bad… at least, no one at the barnyard seems to think so. The chickens beat up on him every time he shows his face, and he’s really getting hungry! Together with the Wolf, the two predators hatch a plan: steal some eggs, wait for them to hatch, then eat the chicks while they’re still young and defenseless! Failproof, right? Sure: for the Wolf, anyway; he goads Fox into doing all the work.

The Fox manages to steal some eggs, and sits on them until they hatch, but the unexpected happens when the chicks think he’s their Mommy – and he ends up falling in love with the little ones! Meanwhile, back at the barnyard, Momma Hen is sick and tired of the lazy barnyard dog who’s supposed to be protecting them, so she gathers a group of hens and forms a Fox Extermination Club!

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This is a laugh-out loud, adorable story for intermediate and middle grade readers. Parents will get a kick out of this one, too – Fox learns some real lessons in parenting here: he doesn’t get much sleep, and they’re all over him all the time. We see Fox grow as a parent and a character – he never really had it in him to be a bad guy, after all. This book is straight out of Foghorn Leghorn-era Looney Tunes, and I loved every second of reading it. Benjamin Renner’s watercolors are adorable, giving the characters a soft, cartoony look, with giant google eyes. The wolf is dour and narrrow-eyed, but never too harsh for little ones.

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This one’s great for your humor loving readers, your animal fiction fans, and your graphic novel fans. A definite add to the shelves.

Posted in Middle Grade

Mashup Mania! Monsterville meets the Accidental Pirates!

Who doesn’t love a good mashup? It can be Darth Vader riding an AT-AT a la Napoleon (it exists, and I have it on a shirt) or Sherlock Holmes meeting The Doctor, or it can be Loki sitting on an Iron Throne made of everything he took from the Avengers; mashups are just fun ways of bringing some of your favorite characters and fandoms, that may otherwise never meet, together.

Ript Apparel, supplier of many of my geeky tees, offered this shirt in 2012.

So tonight, when I was going through old e-mails, imagine my surprise when I came across an email from Sarah Reida, author of Monsterville, telling me that she co-authored a middle grade mashup with Claire Fayers, author of Voyage to Magical North. (And then imagine my mortification when I saw that the email was 2 months old. I have got to go back to my old “keep your inbox as to-do list” mentality; filing emails is just not working for me.)

Image courtesy of The Children’s Book Review

How cool is this? It’s a mashup of two great middle grade novels that I read and enjoyed this year, and it’s something I can share with my library kiddos! Follow That Island! is available on the Children’s Book Review website and is a fun little side adventure, conveniently available as a downloadable PDF; at 16 pages, it’s a perfect quick read, a tease for kids who are waiting for a sequel to Monsterville, or who have just finished Voyage to Magical North and Journey to Magical Island, and aren’t ready to let the adventure end. I’ll be introducing this to my group for Summer Reading in the next couple of weeks – I’m trying out a writer’s workshop, where I’ll illustrate different types of storytelling, and the mashup will fit perfectly into one of my sessions. Hope you and yours enjoy it as much as I do.

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

Animal Planet chapter books: Nonfiction Nibbles for intermediate readers

Animal Planet Chapter Books: Bugs (Book #3), by James Buckley Jr. (June 2017, Liberty Street), $5.95, ISBN: 978-1-68330-756-3

Recommended for readers 6-10

A step up from early/easy reader animal facts books, Animal Planet chapter books (not the Animal Planet Adventures fiction/nonfiction series) are full-color, fully illustrated chapter books for intermediate readers. The first two in the series, Sharks and Dinosaurs, published in late 2016; Bugs and Snakes arrive this month.

Chapters are loaded with facts and photos of… well, bugs. There are three “Bug Bites” sections that take closer looks at bug bodies; extreme insects examines some of the crazy stats of the biggest, heaviest, longest bugs around, and we get a deeper look at the roles of an ant farm’s inhabitants. There are callout facts throughout the chapters, and an “In Your Newsfeed” section updates readers on breaking news in the field. For instance, did you know that researchers are looking into sticky caddis flies to develop new bandages for humans? You do now! Fact Files go further in-depth on insect biology; topics include how insects walk using three legs at a time, with the other three balancing, and special modifications some insects have for survival.

I’m always on the lookout for good, intermediate-level nonfiction and series nonfiction. This fits the bill nicely.

 

 

 

 

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

Call Me Sunflower explores alternative families

Call Me Sunflower, by Miriam Spitzer Franklin, (May 2017, Sky Pony Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781510711792

Recommended for ages 9-13

Sunflower Beringer can’t stand her first name, so she has everyone call her Sunny. And she really can’t stand that her mother uprooted her and her sister, and left their dad, Scott, back in New Jersey to run his bookstore while she attends grad school in North Carolina. Now they’re living with a grandmother they barely know, and she’s the new kid in school. Ugh. Sunny has to do something, so she creates Sunny Beringer’s Totally Awesome Plan for Romance”: a can’t-miss list of ways to bring her mom and Scott back together, including making playlists of Scott’s favorite songs and getting her mother a makeover. While she works on a family album that will remind Scott and Mom of when they were in love all over again, though, she discovers a picture that changes everything. A strong subplot involving animal rights activism and Sunny’s relationship with her grandmother really gives Call Me Sunflower depth.

I’m becoming a Miriam Spitzer Franklin fangirl. I loved Extraordinary (2015); in Sunny, I found many similiaries to Pansy, Extraordinary‘s protagonist. Both stories are realistic fiction, told in the first person, about girls dealing with big life changes. They have complicated friendships and they have both There are humorous moments, and each has a unique voice, a unique point of view; Ms. Franklin captures the frustrations, the fears, and the unique experience of being a tween in a relatable voice that readers will gravitate to. I love that she created an alternative family structure with an adoptive family outside the traditional husband-wife setting and gave us a family unit that is working it all out. I admit to being a little confused with Sunny’s birth story – she is adopted, but has pictures of her mother holding her at the hospital – but that’s likely because my own adoption experience happened differently. All in all, a bittersweet, tender look at families. Pair with realistic fiction like Death by Toilet Paper by Donna Gephart, Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm, and Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand.