Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction, picture books, Preschool Reads

Last minute gift shopping? Books are easy to wrap!

Okay, the big days are coming, and you still need a gift or two – maybe your kid’s got a last-minute gift to get, or you don’t want to show up to a party empty-handed for any kids in the house. Check out some more of these gifts books for some guaranteed entertainment!

Where’s the Architect? From Pyramids to Skyscrapers: An Architecture Look and Find Book, by Susanne Rebscher/Illustrations by Annabelle von Sperber, (Oct. 2018, Prestel Publishing), $19.95, ISBN: 978-3-7913-7301-0

Ages 4-10

This one is like I Spy, but with architecture. Readers can join two kids – Ben and Mia – and two little monkey escorts on an adventure around the world! View 12 beautiful works of architecture, learn a little bit about each, and find some cool objects and people along the way. Count ravens at London’s The Tower of London; see an exhibition at the Moscow Metro, and take in a concert at Sydney’s Opera House. Artwork is full-color and there’s always something to see. Back matter offers more information on each of the structures, a timeline of construction, and a glossary of terms. Endpapers add to the fun with a world map sporting numbers for each structure’s location, and beautiful artwork featuring Ben and Mia riding a Chinese dragon. This one’s a fun gift for your seek and find fans and can pair with some Legos – let kids build their own structures!

Star Wars: Millennium Falcon Book and Mega Model, (Oct. 2018, Fun Studio International), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0794442071

Ages 8-12

Okay, this is just too much fun. Build your own Millennium Falcon model with this book-model combo! Punch out the laminated stock pieces, and assemble using the attached book, which includes instructions and some Falcon history: stats on previous Falcon pilots, ports of call, and key movie moments where the ship played a big part. Activities abound here: starship Sudoku, Hoth escape maze, and draw your own spaceship. The model assembly is a little fiddly, so younger fingers will need some help from older readers. The accompanying volume is slim, but loaded with facts and fun, making this a gift Star Wars fans will love.


I Am a Wonder Woman: Inspiring Activities to Try, Incredible Women to Discover, by Ellen Bailey, (Sept. 2018, Portable Press), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1684125487

Ages 8-12

Activity books are a great go-to gift, and I Am a Wonder Woman is right up there, mixing a bit of nonfiction with thought-provoking, fun activities. There are profiles of 60 women who’ve made their mark on history, all with accompanying activities. Make a diary entry like Anne Frank; work on your suffragist buttons and newspaper articles with Emmaline Pankhurst and Kate Sheppard; plant a tree like Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai. There are familiar names here: Anne Frank, Jane Goodall, and Helen Keller; and new names, including artist Artemisia Gentileschi, whose story was recently told in the award-winning YA novel, Blood Water Paint. Two-color illustrations throughout make this a fun, smart bet for a gift book.


Another Monster at the End of This Book: An Interactive Adventure, by Jon Stone, (Sept. 2018, Fun Studio International), $14.99, ISBN: 978-0794441746

Ages 3-5

My favorite book of all time has been, and always will be, The Monster at the End of This Book, Starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover. I have the best memories of my mom reading this to my 4- and 5-year old self, and of the two of us giggling together as Grover’s nervous breakdown increased with each turn of the (barricaded) page, bringing us closer to the Monster at the End of the Book – which was, as you may have guessed, Grover himself. I’ve read this book to my own  kids, and added another monster to the mix, when Elmo joined Grover in 1999 for Another Monster at the End of This Book. Now, we’ve got an interactive update to Another Monster, complete with magnetic book locks, flaps to explore, and pop-ups to surprise. It’s an adorable update to a classic kids’ book, and a perfect gift for the holidays.


Happy Shopping, and Happy Holidays!

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Tween Reads

The Dragon Pearl takes Korean mythology to the stars

Dragon Pearl, by Yoon Ha Lee, (Jan. 2019, Disney-Hyperion), $16.99, ISBN: 9781368013352

Ages 8-12

The latest from Disney’s Rick Riordan Presents line gives readers a space opera, Korean mythology, ghosts, nonbinary characters, and moral quandaries! Min is a 13-year-old shapeshifting female fox spirit who lives with her widowed mother and extended family on the planet Jinu. Her older brother, Jun, is part of the Space Force – where Min intends to follow him in a few years, when she hits age 16 – but things change when an investigator shows up at Min’s home, with news that Jun has deserted his post and is rumored to be searching for the Dragon Pearl, a mythical object that could help turn planets into paradises… or destroy them. Determined to find her brother and clear his name, Min runs away from home and finds her way onto a starship; when the ship falls under mercenary attack, she wakes up on the very ship her brother served on: the Pale Lightning. Assuming the form of Jang, a cadet who died during the mercenary attack and subsequent rescue attempt, Min tries to unravel the mystery of Jun’s disappearance, and stumbles onto a plot much bigger than she could have imagined. She joins forces with Jang’s friends: Hanuel, a female dragon spirit, and Sujin, a nonbinary goblin spirit and continues her detective work.

Dragon Pearl is a space opera, complete with space battles, intrigue and shifting loyalties, and a mythos, based on Korean mythology, all of which come together to build an epic adventure that middle grade readers will devour. Min faces racism/species-ism as a fox spirit; she and her family present as humans, because foxes have a bad reputation for trickery being untrustworthy. She has to lie to Jang’s friends to keep her secret; that guilt is with her day in and day out, especially as her own friendship with them grows. She has to break rules for the greater good: to find her brother, who’s also considered a deserter. She’ll deal with the fallout as it comes; Min’s family is her priority. Is she a hero? Is she a traitor? It depends on whose point of view you’re viewing from. The same can be said of the Dragon Pearl, which can create a lush homeworld or destroy a planet. Is it a valuable treasure or a cursed trinket?

Let’s talk about the rich characters Yoon Ha Lee creates. Min and her fellow cadets inhabit a universe where rank and personal pronouns are part of the uniform. Sujin, the goblin cadet, uses “they/their” pronouns and no one has an issue with it. Sujin is a funny, creative character whose gender identity fits seamlessly into the Dragon Pearl universe. They wield a magical spork, for heaven’s sake. That’s the exciting news! Haneul is a dragon spirit who can communicate with the weather; the Pale Lightning’s captain is a tiger spirit who exudes charisma and a more than a wee bit of menace. Min, a fox spirit, exudes Charm to head off potential problems at the pass and is clever, constantly thinking of her next moves to get her to her goal. An exciting adventure, moral conflict, and rich character diversity make this one a nice addition to your fantasy middle grade collections, and yet another hit from Rick Riordan’s Disney imprint.

Dragon Pearl has a starred review from Kirkus.

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

Bah! Humbug! is Michael Rosen’s modern-day take on Scrooge

Bah! Humbug!, by Michael Rosen/Illustrated by Tony Ross, (Sept. 2018, Walker Books), $15.99, ISBN: 9781536204797

Ages 8-12

A Christmas Carol enters a new century with Michael Rosen’s middle grade update, Bah! Humbug! Harry Gruber is so excited to be Scrooge in his school’s production of A Christmas Carol, but he wishes his father, workaholic Ray, would muster even a little bit of interest. Ray sees Harry’s event as one more thing keeping him from work, which keeps everyone in Ray’s family fed and living comfortably, and he never misses a chance to let everyone know it. The family – Harry, his sister, Eva, mom Lisa, and Ray – pile into the car and drive to school, with Ray grumbling all the way. While Harry shines on stage as Scrooge, Ray sneaks off to work – and gets some Christmas visits of his own.

Bah! Humbug! uses the school performance as a parallel to Ray’s own Christmas Carol, where he experiences some ghostly visits – after a fashion – of his own. A Christmas Carol is more relevant than ever in this 24-hour society, where we can all work nonstop and chase after the next big thing: a new PlayStation; a new car; a new vacation. The story moves between the play, letting readers relive Dickens’ holiday classic, and the present, as Harry’s heart breaks time and again over his dad’s seeming ignorance and Ray wrestles with his own demons, past and present. Kids may recognize their own families in this one, but remember: Dickens wrote the story to show readers that there’s always time to change the future.

A section called “Party Like a Fezziwig” has tasty recipes, games, jokes, and Christmas carols. There’s a note about the tradition of Victorian holiday storytelling, and a biographical note about Dickens and A Christmas Carol. Tony Ross’s black and white illustrations throughout the story keep readers engaged in the story and the school play. A nice add to your middle grade holiday collection. Read a sample chapter at Candlewick’s website.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Mangoes, Mischief, and Tales of Friendship bring folktales from India to the States

Mangoes, Mischief, and Tales of Friendship: Stories from India, by Chitra Soundar/Illustrated by Uma Krishnaswamy, (Dec. 2018, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536200676

Ages 7-10

Originally published in the UK as two separate books: A Dollop of Ghee and a Pot of Wisdom, and A Jar of Pickles and a Pinch of Justice, this collected volume of eight Indian folktales introduces readers to Prince Veera and his best friend, Suku, who stand in for Veera’s father, King Bheema, and preside over cases brought to the king’s court. Suku is a farmer’s son who studies with the prince as a scholarship student, and Prince Veera is a clear-headed tween who respects his family and seeks his friend’s opinion on matters. These “trickster tales” are inspired by traditional Indian folktales and have a wry sense of humor that kids will love. Together, the two will unmask a greedy man who leases a well to his neighbor – but charges him for the water; humble a merchant who attempts to charge people for enjoying the delicious smells coming from his sweets shop, and prove to the populace – including Veera’s own father, the king – that bad luck is not contagious, nor can a man’s bad luck rub off on anyone.

The book is illustrated throughout by award-winning author Uma Krishnaswamy, who creates beautiful, eye-catching artwork. Chitra Soundar’s stories are small morality plays, with strong messages to deliver, delivered with humor and warmth. I love this book and can’t wait to get it on my shelves. I’m looking forward to more Indian mythology, folk, and fairy tales in the coming year or two, especially with the success of mythology-based fantasy by Sayantani Dasgupta (The Serpent’s Secret) and Roshani Chokshi (Aru Shah and the End of Time), Read a sample chapter courtesy of Candlewick Press here.

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

A hero’s journey of a different sort… The Book of Boy

The Book of Boy, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock/Illustrated by Ian Schoenherr, (Feb. 2018, Greenwillow Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062686206

Ages 9-14

Set in France in 1350, Boy is a young man, thought to be a simpleton and hunchback, who works as a servant and goatherd. Secundus, a pilgrim on his way to Rome, drafts Boy for his mission and is sent along on Secundus’ quest to collect seven relics of Saint Peter – Rib, Tooth, Thumb, Toe, Dust, Skull, and Tomb – so he can gain passage to Heaven. When Boy questions Secundus’ methods – they sure look a lot like thievery – he is told that they are protecting the relics from others. Boy is so much more than everyone around him realizes – more than he realizes. He puts his faith in Secundus’ mission, hoping that Saint Peter will heal him and make him “a boy” at the end of his mission, but Secundus starts figuring out that there’s more to Boy than meets the eye: he can communicate with animals, for starters.

A dash of Canterbury Tales with a story of how true good can blossom in a seemingly lost society makes this a consuming read. Boy is kind, gentle, and naive, but he’s anything but simple. He’s truly special; paired with Secundus, a deceiving pilgrim with a personal agenda, makes Boy’s goodness stand out even more. The grittiness of Europe in the post-Black Death Middle Ages comes alive with Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s descriptions of the sights, smells, even textures of the age; reading about the religious relics is all at once fascinating and cringe-worthy (descending into a tomb to scoop up some of Saint Peter’s ashes has quite possibly given me goosebumps that will stay with me forever), because it really happened. An author’s note gives some more insight into the Holy Year of 1350, the relics market in Europe, and the burial site of Saint Paul, a plot point in the book.

Ian Schoenherr’s black and white woodcut illustrations add to the the feeling of perusing a medieval text. The Book of Boy has starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, and the Horn Book and is a must-add to your collections. Give this to your historical fiction readers and your adventure readers.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade

More fairy tale fun from Vivian French! (say that 3x fast)

Tom and Tallulah and the Witches’ Feast, by Vivian French/Illustrated by Marta Kissi, (Sept. 2018, Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 9781610677349

Ages 7-11

The latest fairy tale outing from Vivian French and Marta Kissi has a brother and sister duo working against time to save their poor grandmother from becoming a chicken after falling under an evil spell. Tallulah Tickle wants to be a witch, but her apprenticeship has not been going well. She’s always late, her food is terrible, and – unbeknownst to her – Gertrude Higgins is secretly plotting against all the witches in her coven, starting with Talluah’s grandmother! Tallulah has one more chance to complete her apprenticeship, and it’s a toughie: she has to guess each witch’s favorite food, and make it. Flawlessly. In three days. Lucky for Tallulah, her brother Tom has a gift in the kitchen, but she’s going to need some help figuring out what everyone likes to eat, too. They’ll have to think fast, though – they need to save poor Grandmother from an awful spell that’s turning her into a chicken! Add a wily cat (or two) and crow to the mix, and you have a heck of an adventure!

Earlier this year, I read The Cherry Pie Princess and The Adventures of Alfie Onion, also by Vivian French and Marta Kissi, and enjoyed this new generation of fairy tale characters. Tom and Tallulah are a smart sibling team that work together to get the job done. Tallulah stubbornly tries to do it all on her own, but she has to grow up enough to understand reason and admit her weaknesses. We’ve got villains with ulterior motives, talking animals, and a loving grandmother that needs saving; all good story elements that come together to give readers a magical adventure. Black and white illustrations throughout bring the text to life and create a relationship between readers and characters.

The Cherry Pie Princess and Adventures of Alfie Onion are already popular with my library kids. I can’t wait to introduce them to Tom and Tallulah! Give these to your fairy tale readers and your fantasy fans.

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

Bully on the Bus – a novel in verse

Bully on the Bus, by Kathryn Apel, (Sept. 2018, Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 9781610677707

Ages 7-10

Elementary schooler Leroy loves his teacher, Mrs. Wilson. He loves being one of her “Superkids”. But he hates taking the bus to school every day, because there’s a bully on the bus: a high schooler named DJ has it out for him every single day, and no one can stop her. Not the bus driver, and not his older sister, Ruby. Every day, DJ pinches, pokes, insults, and steals from Leroy, threatening him if he tells. When he brings a special cupcake to school, one he made just for Mrs. Wilson, DJ takes it and eats it, ruining his schoolwork in the process. From there, Leroy begins to withdraw until he can hold it in no longer. With Ruby’s encouragement, he tells his parents, who meet with the Mrs. Wilson; together, they come up with a plan to deal with the bully on the bus.

Told in verse from Leroy’s point of view, Bully on the Bus is sensitive, often heartbreaking, and ultimately, hopeful. Leroy’s employs self-confidence, bolstered by his family’s and teacher’s support, and a ‘secret weapon’ that holds messages – strategies – to distract him from DJ’s bullying. There’s strong advice for kids enduring their own bullies: “Show the bully you don’t care. Tell an adult.” The story ends on an optimistic note, and while Leroy’s “secret weapon” and support system may not apply to every reader’s situation, it is a story that lets kids know they are seen; their stories heard. It’s a story that encourages kids to seek help and assures them that someone out there wants to listen and wants to help. The story is set in Australia, but can easily take place anywhere.

My library system just kicked off a Time for Kind program, starting on World Kindness Day (Nov. 13). This book is going to be a strong booktalker for me.

Author Kathryn Apel has some wonderful resources to accompany Bully on the Bus, including downloadable wolf masks and bus shape templates to create shape poetry.