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 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.

 

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Ellie, Engineer: a little MacGyver, a little Rosie Revere, for intermediate/middle graders

Ellie, Engineer, by Jackson Pearce, (Jan. 2018, Bloomsbury USA), $15.99, ISBN: 9781681195193

Recommended for readers 7-10

Ellie is a 9 year-old engineer: she can take darn near anything apart and make it something even cooler. Most of the time. When she sets out to make an amazing birthday gift for her best friend, Kit, she finds herself in the middle of a friendship mess: the girls normally don’t like the “jerk boys”, but Ellie’s discovered that they’re not so bad after all. So she works with each group in secret, hoping to avoid drama. Oops. Ellie has to get both groups talking to her again, and to each other, to finish Kit’s birthday present on time!

This is such a fun story about a positive female character who wears what she wants and does what she wants: she rocks a tool belt over her skirts and matches outfits with her best friend. She draws up her own blueprints and can make anything, from a water balloon launcher to a security system that will keep annoying little brother’s out of her friend’s room. Her best friend, Kit, is a pageant girl and ballet dancer who works right alongside Ellie, and the boys in the neighborhood enjoy a good tea party as much as they do a soccer game. Get it? They’re kids. They like to play. This whole story is about bringing boys and girls together under common interests, and it does so nicely. Girls will see themselves in Ellie, especially those who find themselves confused about whether or not girls *can* be friends with boys, or wonder if it’s okay to still like pretty dresses if they can rock a screwdriver. There are some laughs: Ellie’s got a few backfires, and a few successes that will make kids laugh, and the heart of the story – cooperation and friendship – is a gratifying message. Black and white illustrations showcase Ellie’s sketches for different projects, and a section at the end provides illustrations and a guide to basic tools for burgeoning builders and engineers. Give this to the kids who have grown out of Andrea Beaty’s Rosie Revere, Engineer; Iggy Peck, Architect; and Ada Twist, Scientist. Display and booktalk with the Girls Who Code and the Lucy’s Lab chapter books. Put out paper and ask kids to come up with their own plans – what do they want to make? Leave straws, pipe cleaners, cardboard, toothpicks, glue, marshmallows – anything the kids can build with – out and let the room have at it.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Black Panther: The Young Prince: Middle Grade superhero fiction!

Black Panther: The Young Prince, by Ronald L. Smith, (Jan. 2018, Disney Book Group), $16.99, ISBN: 9781484787649

Recommended for readers 10-13

YES. A middle grade novel about an African superhero, written by a Coretta Scott King Award-winning author? ALL THE YES, PLEASE. Ronald L. Smith brings T’Challa to life with this first novel, where we meet the not-quite-yet Black Panther and his best friend, M’Baku, in their homeland, Wakanda. Ulysses Klaue (Marvel fans, heads up for continuity!) has shown up in Wakanda, and T’Chaka, current King of Wakanda and Black Panther, knows that’s never a good sign. He sends his son and M’Baku off to Chicago and safety while Wakanda braces for an invasion. T’Challa wants to keep his head down and blend in, but M’Baku couldn’t want anything less. The opportunity presents itself in the form of local middle school tough guy Gemini Jones and his gang, the Skulls. Kids whisper that Gemini’s a warlock, but that doesn’t stop M’Baku from falling in with Gemini and turning a cold shoulder to T’Challa. If middle school squabbling were the only problem, right? But nope, things are about to go south in a big wayl; luckily for T’Challa, his father packed a Black Panther suit for his son… just in case of emergencies.

This novel is SO GOOD. It’s unputdownable, whether you’re a superhero/Marvel fan or not. Ronald L. Smith brings his talent for creating interesting characters and conflict, plus his gift for writing about magic, and gives life to one of Marvel’s most exciting characters.

Yes, I’m a Black Panther fan. Yes, I’m thrilled about the movie coming out. And yes, this book is fantastic and deserves its spot on every middle grade/middle schooler’s library shelf. Representation counts, and by giving an African superhero his own novel, written by an award-winning African American novelist, Disney has shown readers their commitment to diversity and #ownvoices. I’m thrilled with The Young Prince, and want to read more. Maybe next, we can get a story about the Dora Milaje? How about a Shuri mention? (She’s Black Panther’s sister, in the comics.) Indulge me!

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

Read some US History in verse with Siege

Siege: How General Washington Kicked the British Out of Boston and Launched a Revolution, by Roxanne Orgill, (March 2018, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9780763688516

Recommended for readers 10-13

The summer of 1775 was rough. The British occupied Boston, and kept a stranglehold on the city, cutting the residents off from food and medical supplies, which really didn’t help the smallpox situation, either. George Washington was chosen to lead the American armed forces, and expected to work miracles with almost no money and troops with no training. Author Roxanne Orgill uses verse to tell the story of how General George Washington turned the tables on the British. Beginning in the Summer of 1775 and going through to Spring 1776, she gives voice not only to Washington, but his generals, soldiers, and aides; his servant-slave, William Lee; and his wife, Martha. We also get to read The News from Boston, newspaper-like reports on the state of the city; and Orders, daily instructions from Washington to his officers. Source notes, a glossary, and a bibliography complete the book.

If you’ve got Hamilton fans in your readership, this is an easy booktalk. The fast-paced verse moves the book along and takes readers into the minds of historic figures that we don’t normally hear much from. Siege is a good additional read for tweens interested in US history, especially those kids interested in the American Revolution.

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

Different Days looks at German internment during World War II

Different Days, by Vicki Berger Erwin, (Oct. 2017, Sky Pony Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781510724587

Recommended for readers 9-13

Eleven year-old Rosie lives with her mother, father, and younger brother, Freddie, in Honolulu, Hawaii. They love their home, their family, their lives, until December 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor is attacked and everything changes, seemingly overnight. Rosie’s parents are of German descent, but are American citizens who have lived in Hawaii for most of their lives. It doesn’t matter. They’re rounded up by the military, along with Rosie’s Aunt Etta; they’re detained as German spies, their possessions confiscated. Rosie and Freddie are left alone, and suddenly, their schoolmates and neighbors don’t seem as friendly as they used to be. They’re sent to live with their emotionally distant Aunt Yvonne, who tells her neighbors they are refugee children and never admits to her own German ancestry. Luckily, Aunt Etta is released and takes the children, but this is just the beginning of the struggle: her family’s home has been sold; their possessions and properties now “in storage” or gone, and the children at the new school they attend are quick to call them Nazis. Rosie longs for her family to reunite and for things to stabilize, but these are very different days.

Different Days is based on the true story of 11-year-old Doris Berg, who watched the attack on Pearl Harbor from her home in Honolulu. The next day, her parents and aunt were taken into custody and sent to internment camps. Like Rosie and Freddie, Doris and her sister were sent to an aunt that refused to acknowledge their familial link, and lost her home and possessions. Rosie is a strong, resilient character who wishes she were like her heroine, teen sleuth Nancy Drew, so she could solve the mysteries facing her: who was responsible for informing on her parents and having them detained, and who is this shady Mr. Smith who allegedly “manages” her family’s disappearing property and possessions? She endures the prejudice of those around her, and focuses on small victories, whether it’s having something to eat that day or knowing she’ll visit her mother soon. The novel takes readers into the story of one family affected by the internment of German “persons of interest”; a moment in history not often discussed. The book includes information about Doris Berg and her family’s ordeal, and further information. Different Days is a good addition to historical fiction collections and is as relevant today, when we seek to label others and blame an entire nationality/ethnicity/religion for the actions of a few.

Vicki Berger Erwin writes for both children and adults. You can find out more by visiting her website.