Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

The Night Garden puts a little spark of magic into WWII-era Canada

The Night Garden, by Polly Horvath, (Sept. 2017, Farrar, Straus & Giroux), $16.99, ISBN: 9780374304522

Recommended for readers 9-13

Franny Whitekraft lives with her adoptive parents, Sina and Old Tom, on Vancouver Island while World War II rages overseas. They live a pretty quiet life until their neighbor, Crying Alice, shows up – crying – and asks to leave her three children with them while she goes to stop her mechanic husband, Fixing Bob – stationed at a military base – from doing something dumb. Zebediah, one of the children, knows what it is, but he’s not talking, and he’s not sharing the letters he gets from their father with his brother and sister, Wilfred and Winifred. Things take a sharp turn when Fixing Bob puts his plan into action, and The Night Garden seems to be everyone’s only hope in making things right. Can a garden really grant wishes? Franny and her friends are about to find out.

The Night Garden didn’t really come together for me. There are several plotlines that kind of wander in and out of the book, like Sina’s witnessing a UFO. Narrated in the first person by Franny, there’s humor throughout the novel, but overall, the story took a little too long to get there and meandering plots may keep some readers from fully committing to the book. I enjoyed the sense of humor that kept the book moving, and the characters, on their own, were a fun bunch that I enjoyed my time with. An additional purchase for collections where you have devoted magical realism readers.

Polly Horvath is the Newbery Honor and National Book Award winning-author of Everything on a Waffle. Her author website offers more information about her books, awards, and news.

 

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

Graphic Novel Rundown: Memoir, Coders, and Fantasy

There are a bunch of good graphic novels out, so let’s jump right in – there’s something for everyone!

 

Taproot A Story About a Gardener and a Ghost, by Keezy Young, (Sept. 2017, Lion Forge), $10.99, ISBN: 9781941302460
Recommended for readers 13+

Lighter Than My Shadow, by Katie Green, (Oct. 2017, Lion Forge), $19.99, ISBN: 9781941302415
Recommended for readers 13+
Katie Green’s graphic memoir details her years of abusing disorders, abuse at the hands of the therapist who was supposed to help her, and her recovery and reclamation of self. It’s devastating and inspirational; a life that we can all see in ourselves: cruel teasing, parental threats at the dinner table, a career you’re shoehorned into. Lighter Than My Shadow is a memoir of anxiety and depression, told in shades of grey, black and white. We see the physical manifestation of Green’s hunger and depression: a growing mouth in her stomach, a black scribble over her head, threatening to split her open. It’s an incredible story, and one that must be shared and discussed.
Secret Coders: Robots and Repeats, by Gene Luen Yang & Mike Holmes, (Oct. 2017, First Second), $10.99, ISBN: 9781626726062
Recommended for readers 8-12
The Coders are back! Dr. One-Zero is a bane to their existence, especially with his new “Advanced Chemistry” class, where he only teaches them to make Green Pop. Hopper’s paired up with an obnoxious classmate who knows nothing about chemistry; Josh is fostering a kinda, sorta crush, and Eni’s sisters are following him around the school, reporting his every move to his overprotective parents, who want him to cut all ties with his fellow Coders. The Coders are still working together, though, and make a new discovery: The Turtle of Light. They also discover someone they’ve been looking for: Hopper’s dad, who’s under the influence of the evil Green Pop! This fourth installment is still good fun and has more coding challenges for readers; most notably, working out pattern repeats. The fifth book, Potions and Parameters, is coming in March.
The Tea Dragon Society, by Katie O’Neill, (Oct. 2017, Oni Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781620104415
Recommended for readers 9-13
If you loved Princess Princess Ever After as much as I did, you are in for a treat with Katie O’Neill’s newest graphic novel, The Tea Dragon Society. Greta is a blacksmith’s apprentice who wonders whether her mother’s craft is even relevant anymore. She learns about another art form when she rescues a young tea dragon in a marketplace: the care of tea dragons; they’re dragons, who grow tea leaves out of their horns and antlers. The cast is beautifully illustrated and diverse; we’ve got a plethora of relationships depicted, and a storyline every fairy tale and fantasy reader will love. The backgrounds, the characters, every single piece of this graphic novel is just incredible artwork. Buy two copies for your shelves, and a copy or two for readers you love. Do. Not. Miss.

 

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

Cucumber Quest: Bunny Siblings Save the World!

Cucumber Quest, Vol. 1: The Doughnut Kingdom, by Gigi DG, (Oct. 2017, :01FirstSecond), $14.99, ISBN: 9781626728325

Recommended for ages 8-12

If you’ve never read the webcomic Cucumber Quest, now’s your chance to dive in. The seven kingdoms of Dreamside are in trouble when the evil queen Cordelia plans to unleash some serious havoc. Cucumber – who’s all packed and ready to start his studies at Puffington’s Academy for the Magically Gifted – gets a letter from his dad, telling him that it’s up to him to save the kingdoms. His brave and way-more-heroic sister, Almond, offers to go in his place, but their mother and father seem to have some pretty outdated ideas about gender, and tells her it’s too dangerous for her. Almond joins Cucumber’s Quest, regardless, and the two head out in search of the Dream Sword: the only weapon powerful enough to defeat Cordelia’s supernatural thug, the Nightmare Knight. On the way, Cucumber and Almond meet a batty Dream Oracle, a trio of hare-brained guards, and a host of other wacky characters.

Beginning life as a webcomic (that you can still read online), Cucumber Quest: The Doughnut Kingdom collects the first 137 pages of Cucumber Quest (the Prologue and chapter 0); Cucumber Quest 2: The Ripple Kingdom will continue collecting stories from the online archive. Forty pages of additional comics, including Reader Q&A for various characters, and short bios for each character, complete with ability ratings in trading card format, concept art, and a tour of the world of Dreamside, home to the seven kingdoms.

The story is light and fun; the artwork is cute and Chibi-inspired. Manga fans will love it, as will adventure fans. Give this to your Adventure Time and Steven Universe readers; for your fantasy fans that want some lighter summer reading (or aren’t really passionate readers… YET), this will be a welcome addition to shelves.

Want to learn more? Check out the Cucumber Quest wiki and Cucumber Quest page, where you can access the complete comic archive and learn more about the characters.

Posted in Middle Grade, programs, Tween Reads

Annabelle Fisher visited me and brought some fairy tale magic with her!

I meant to get this post up earlier, so apologies for that. When I reviewed the first Pixie Piper adventure last year, Annabelle Fisher, the series author, sent me a lovely email thanking me for my review, and offering to visit my library. I wanted to jump all over it, but for various reasons, I held off. I’ve finally settling in here, at my new library, and thought this would be a great opportunity to ask Annabelle if her offer still stood. Not only did she say yes, she offered to make no-bake snickerdoodle cupcakes with my Queensboro Kids after her author talk! She came in, we set up the room, and a gathering of kids formed outside our meeting room. Because, food. And because there was a new person in the library, too, but seriously, food. With everything set up, Annabelle donned her Mother Goose hat and we let the masses in.

I couldn’t believe how many kids crammed in for this program. We had about 23 kids in the room, and a couple of parents that wanted to see what was going on, too. First, Annabelle gave a great author talk where she engaged the kids about writing stories and even shared some photos of one of her first stories as a child – it was supposed to be a science report, but where’s the fun in that, right? She talked about the Pixie books, took the kids through a slide presentation, and then it was snickerdoodle time.

Can I just say how excited I am that I can put stickers on photos now, so I can post pictures from my programs and protect the kids’ identities?

The snickerdoodle cupcakes were so easy and quick to make, and Annabelle engaged the kids right off the bat. They were thrilled, and we ended up banging out three batches of batter and frosting. It was all worth, it, though: everyone was thrilled, and left satisfied. And then, it was picture with the author time!

Did I get my books signed? You betcha I did! And will I finally review the second book, Pixie Piper and the Matter of the Batter? Yes, I will! Promise.

    

And whose library has no Pixie Piper books in at the moment, because they both went out immediately after the author visit? This gal’s! I promoted the visit with a flyer I put together, and a Pixie book display at my desk. Here’s a copy of the Pixie Piper author visit flyer, if you’re interested.

Thank you SO MUCH to Annabelle Fisher for her fantastic (and tasty) author visit!

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

A new sleuth: Super Max and the Mystery of Thornwood’s Revenge

Super Max and the Mystery of Thornwood’s Revenge, by Susan Vaught, (Aug. 2017, Simon & Schuster/Pamela Wiseman), $16.99, ISBN: 9781481486835

Recommended for readers 9-12

Max is a 12 year-old girl living with her grandfather, Toppy, who also happens to be the chief of police in their town of Blue Creek. Her mother, an artist, lives in California, which is just fine with Max – ever since she and her mother were in the car accident that left Max wheelchair-bound at 4 years old, her mother has had trouble fitting Max into her life. She and Toppy lead a pretty happy life together; that is, if she’d stop getting in trouble for tinkering with her wheelchair to give it more power! When a cyber-bully starts a Facebook page and Twitter account slandering her grandfather and the town mayor, Max and Toppy try to blow it off, but things ramp up quickly, and the bully starts causing trouble for local businesses, too, all under the guise of an old town legend, Thornwood’s Revenge. Thornwood Manor is an abandoned mansion right next door to Toppy’s house, and it carries a lot of history with it, not all of it good. Is the bully really the ghost of Hargrove Thornwood, come to take his revenge, or is it someone with a grudge against an entire town? Max is going to get to the bottom of it.

I’m a Susan Vaught fan, so I was thrilled to read one of her middle grade books (I’ve only read her YA to date) and I’ve only read her heavier subject matter. This was good mystery reading all around. She’s got a very likable group of characters; I loved Toppy, gruff but lovable, whose disciplinary methods are creative and hilarious. Max is willful, complicated, and strong, like a middle grade heroine should be. She may be in a wheelchair, but she’s no victim: she’s an engineering whiz who loves to tinker in her eternal search for more power. Her relationship with her mother is complicated, and I liked Vaught’s exploration of that relationship. Max is driven by her desire to appear strong, not weak, not dependent; often to the point of frustrating her friends and family. She deals with her anger issues by reciting the names of Marvel and DC superheroes in alphabetical order, adding a nice geek check to the mix. I’d like to see another book or two starring Max and friends, and I think mystery fans will like this new supersleuth.

 

Susan Vaught is the Edgar Award-winning author of Footer Davis Probably Is Crazy (2016), and Trigger, which received three starred reviews and was an ALA Best Books for Young Adults. She is also a neuropsychologist at a state psychiatric facility, specializing in helping people with severe and persistent mental illness, intellectual disability, and traumatic brain injury. Her author website has more information about her books, essays, and links to her blog.

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

Fairy House Cooking, for fairies and pixies and fun

Fairy House Cooking: Simple, Scrumptious Recipes & Fairy Party Fun!, by Liza Gardner Walsh, (June 2017, Down East Books), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1-60893-641-0

Recommended for readers 4-12

If there’s one magical creature whose popularity is eternal, it’s fairies. Fairy House Cooking is perfect for fairy-themed parties, playdates, or… you guessed it… library programming.

This is a beautifully constructed and photographed cookbook. It’s spiral-bound, so it may take some licks in circulation if you’re putting this in a library; it does help keep the book turned to your recipe while you’re cooking, though, so that’s a big plus, especially for developing chefs. Recipes are rated by difficulty: one fairy wing for, “you got this”, which I love. And which helps make this book perfect for younger creators (and perfect for my no-bake library programs). Two wings is a little more of a challenge – have a grownup in the room. Three wings, you definitely need a grownup and some teamwork to get the job done. Pleasantly, there’s equal time given to recipes of each difficulty level, so little ones can really make some fun recipes, like pretzel and fruit wands and nut-free bird’s nest cookies. There’s sections on safety, allergies, and cleaning up, and author Liza Gardner Walsh uses empowering words to boost kids’ confidence as they read; the words are bolded through the text and Walsh includes a special note on making mistakes, and how it’s okay. It happens. (Don’t ask me about the time I used baking soda to coat the table and roll out my holiday cookies, when I ran out of flour. Just don’t.)

Recipes are collected under five different chapter umbrellas: Fairy Mornings (breakfast foods); Foods Inspired by Fairies and Fairy Homes (featuring some of the most adorable food photography ever); Fairy Foraging (working with fruits… and flowers!); Fairy Parties (finger foods, party foods and drinks); and Recipes for the Fairies and their Friends, a section that encourages your kiddos to get out in there in the backyard and play; create something that the fairies and their friends would like to nibble on – from bird popsicles and birdseed cookies to mudpies of all types. There are recipes for fairy face paint and fairy dust, and everything here is good for the planet: the fairies wouldn’t have it any other way.

There are fun sidebars and callouts with tips to make your projects extra fun, and the photography is vibrant and colorful, with kids working together to make their recipes come together. Boys feature here, too, so make sure to make your party equal opportunity fun. A list of resources and websites links readers to more cookbooks for kids. Make a full-blown fairy day by letting kids make fairy doors, fairy wings, and any number of fairy crafts you can find. Pinterest has OODLES of ideas.

Definitely time for a fairy program at my library.

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

Good for historical fiction readers: Great Escapes

Underground Railroad 1854: Perilous Journey: Inspiring Tales of Courage and Friendship (Great Escapes), by Gare Thompson, (Oct. 2017, Barron’s Educational Series), $7.99, ISBN: 9781438009735

Recommended for readers 8-12

George is a plantation slave who dreams of being free. He’s singled out for abuse by the cruel overseer and threatened with being put on the auction block, like his father was. He can’t bear the thought of being separated from his sister, Ruth, and his mother, so he formulates a plan for the family to escape and seek out Moses, a mysterious woman who helps slaves to freedom. Moses – Harriet Tubman puts them in case of a white teenager, Nathan, who will take them from the deep South to New York, where they hope to find passage to Canada, but it’s not going to be easy. George doesn’t trust Nathan – he doesn’t trust anyone – and the bounty hunters are everywhere, tracking down escaped slaves. The four will have to work together and rely on the kindness of Underground Railroad stations to succeed.

Great Escapes is a fairly new historical fiction series by Barron’s Educational Series. Readers who enjoy the thrill of Lauren Tarshis’ I Survived books will dig into these readalikes, which are a little longer in page length (over 200 pages) and allow for more plot and character development. Stories emphasize working together for change while acknowledging that it’s not always an easy thing to do. Historical figures Harriet Tubman, William Still, and Frederick Douglass make appearances, and interesting facts about the Underground Railroad pop up within the narrative. My favorite? The coded messages communicated through song: songs like “Wade in the Water” told freedom seekers to get off the trail and into the water, so their scent wouldn’t be picked up by dogs. Sections on key terms, phrases used, songs sung, Underground Railroad profiles, and further resources make this a great next step for readers who are ready to take on longer books.

Underground Railroad is the second book in the Great Escapes series, the first being Mount St. Helens 1980: Fiery Eruption! I’ve been plumping up my library’s series fiction collection, and since the kids devoured my I Survived books the second they arrived, I think this will be a smart add to the collection. Like I Survived, readers can pick either Great Escapes book up never having read the other(s); they’re all separate moments in history starring different characters.