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

An unexpected mystery and a group of Ghastlies: Death and Douglas

Death and Douglas, by J.W. Ocker, (Sept. 2017, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-5107-2457-0

Good for readers 8-12

Twelve year-old Douglas Mortimer gets Death. His family runs the local funeral home in a small New England town named Cowlmouth; he learned how to tie a tie by putting them on the corpses before viewing. There’s a morgue downstairs in his home. Dressed in his suits and impeccable ties, he’s ready to take over the family business one day. For Douglas, death is just part of life: he’s more comfortable with it than most adults are, let alone kids. Until the murders begin. Someone is killing people in Douglas’s sleepy little town, and carving letters into the victims’ faces. Douglas understands death, but murder is just unnatural. It’s wrong. And it scares him. He and his best friend, Lowell – the police chief’s son – and his new friend, Amber – an ambulance driver’s daughter, decide they need to get to the bottom of this mystery. Calling themselves the Ghastlies, they start their own investigation, which could put them right in the killer’s sights.

Death and Douglas is fascinating – not many middle grade novels are going to be this frank about death and its place in the natural order of things. It’s a relief; it addresses the routines and rituals involved in passing, as part of Douglas’s parents’ work, with no overwrought emotion. In fact, when a group of  self-nominated “guardian angels” try to suggest that Douglas’s upbringing is unwholesome, his father fires back, stating that his understanding allows him the strength to help others who have lost loved ones. His family may shelter him from some of the grimmer parts of the business – he is only 12 – but Douglas’s parents are very forward about death as a part of life. The characters are well-crafted; believable, and equal parts hilarious and conflicted – kind of like real kids. I’d love to see what the Ghastlies have in store for the future. Until then, I’ll just have to settle for foisting this book on the kids in my library. Give this one to your mystery fans for sure.

Author JW Ocker’s site, Odd Things I’ve Seen, is truly worth a look.

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

Choose Empathy. Choose Compassion. Read Mustaches for Maddie.

Mustaches for Maddie, by Chad Morris & Shelly Brown, (Oct. 2017, Shadow Mountain), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1629723303

Good for readers 9-12

Maddie’s a 12-year-old kid who loves to laugh and make people laugh, and there’s nothing better for that – at least according to Maddie – than a fake mustache. She carries them around with her, always ready to hand out and pop one on to make an uncomfortable situation better, to add some bravery when a situation calls for it, or just to make someone laugh. She’s also trying to secure her spot within the school queen bee’s clique; Cassie dictates who gets to hang out with her, and demands favors of her “friends” in order to stay in her favor. When she tells Maddie not to hang out with a perfectly nice classmate for no other reason than she said so, Maddie struggles with it, but ultimately – at first – sticks with Cassie. The thing is, Maddie’s noticing her body acting weird lately. Her arm isn’t acting right; it’s curling against her chest. She’s tripping over her own two feet quite often. But she tells her mom it’s just growing pains. It can’t be anything weird, right?

Wrong. When she finally goes to the doctor, she and her family learn that she has a brain tumor that will require surgery. And Maddie just landed the part of Juliet in the school production of Romeo and Juliet! Maddie learns to face her fears – including her fear of not being in Cassie’s orbit – and embraces real friendship with those around her. When Cassie turns into a bully, Maddie focuses on the bigger picture: surgery and recovery. Her friends and family rally around her, and there are plenty of mustache moments to look forward to.

This book is brilliant. Based on the true story of the authors’ daughter – who is okay now, thank goodness! – this story, told in the first person from Maddie’s POV, is engaging and heart-felt. Maddie has a great sense of humor and a big heart, and strives to see the good in everyone: even a bully. Despite wanting to be in Cassie’s orbit, she enjoys embracing her quirky sense of humor, making her a lovable heroine – even moreso, when you realize she’s an actual person. SLJ calls Mustaches for Maddie a good readalike for RJ Palacio’s Wonder and I have to agree. I’ve booktalked it exactly once, and that’s because the second I put it on the shelf and talked about the plot, it was gone and hasn’t stopped circulating yet. The book’s website offers a free, downloadable reading guide with Common Core Connections, activities for the classroom and beyond, and CIA (Compassion in Action) activities. There are also fantastic extras, including downloadable mustache posters and greeting cards. I’m considering a CIA program myself, where I provide the kids with mustache templates that they can decorate and we’ll display in the library, along with a list of CIA intentions. If I can get the kids to join in, I’ll make sure to blog it.

In the meantime, this is a great book for discussion, for gift-giving, for just about everything. It addresses the need for compassion that our society needs some help with these days, and take on a special importance during the holiday season and as we prepare for a new year.

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

Holiday Gift Guide: Books Kids Like!

I’m one of those people that believes there’s a book for every person, every occasion. I’m a firm believer in the five laws of library science, after all, and three of those are: “Books are for use”; “Every book its reader”; “Every reader his or her book”. This is very serious business.  So here’s a humble little gift guide for those of you who may want to give a book (or three), but not sure what to give to whom.

For the graphic novel reader who’s a little quirky and fun…

Anna & Froga: Completely Bubu, by Anouk Ricard,
(Sept. 2017, Drawn & Quarterly), $19.95, ISBN: 978-1-77046-292-2
Good for readers 10-13

This collection of comics from French author, artist, and animator Anouk Ricard stars a little girl named Anna, and her group of animal friends: Froga, the frog; Christopher, the worm; Ron, the cat, and Bubu, the dog. The book collects five previously published comics and one new story; each vignette running about 6 pages. Some vignettes end with a two-page final spread to deliver one last laugh, some run the whole 6 pages as a strip, but every little episode in Completely Bubu is loaded with kooky, smart humor. Upper middle graders and middle schoolers will get some good laughs out of this group, and so will you. “Bubu’s Vacation” will make you laugh out loud if you’ve ever considered (or maybe have) lying about going on vacation just to get some peace and quiet, and “The Garage Sale” will crack you up… and maybe, eye some pen caps.

For the kid who needs to know EVERYTHING. Right now.

Time for Kids: The Big Book of How, by James Buckley, Jr.,
(Oct. 2017, Liberty Street), $19.99, ISBN: 9781683300106
Good for readers 8-12

If you know a kid that has the Wikipedia app loaded and ready to go; takes things apart to figure out how they work, or just wants to know why, The Big Book of How is the gift to give. With 11 sections, covering Animals, Technology, Space, Science, Sports, and more, this book carries over 1,000 facts (see the cover?) that kids wants to know. Each section hands readers the reins by offering a How To just for them: learn how to make a paper airplane or a camera obscura; find out how to launch a rocket or grow salad on a windowsill. There are amazing photos and fast facts, Did You Know? boxes and infographics, making this a desk reference that will get read and loved.

For the sports fan who already knows all the stats…

Sports Illustrated Kids All-Star Activity Book, by James Buckley Jr.,
(Nov. 2017, Liberty Street), $9.99, ISBN: 978-1-68330-773-0
Good for readers 8-13

Your sports fan knows all the box scores and stats, but has she or he ever done a Williams Sisters connect-the-dot? Or created his or her own James Harden beard? You can do that and more with this activity book – covering all the major sports, with additional sections for the Olympics and All-Stars, kids can match soccer team jerseys to their players, create their own Olympic logo, and zip through an NHL word search. There’s even a NASCAR coin flip game in here for Race Day fans. Fun facts and great photos make this a great stocking stuffer.

For the time-traveler and history buff…


The BlastBack! series, by Nancy Ohlin/Illustrated by Adam Larkum and Roger Simó, (little bee)
Good for readers 7-10

The BlastBack! series is nonfiction that kids devour. It’s like the Time Warp Trio wrote books after each of their adventures. Each book covers a period in time, giving readers the full scoop: religion and mythology, history, aftermath, all written with respect for the younger reader – parenthetical explanations of terms and facts; callout boxes that look deeper into key people and moments; selected bibliographies at the end of each book. Black and white illustrations and maps throughout keep readers turning pages. There are 10 BlastBack! books now, and I hope we get some more to fill up my series nonfiction section. They’re just good reading.

For the kid you hand your phone to when you can’t figure out an app…

Coding iPhone Apps for Kids: A Playful Introduction to Swift, by Gloria Winquist and Matt McCarthy/Illustrated by Keiko Sato,
(May 2017, No Starch Press), $29.95, ISBN: 978-1-59327-756-7
Good for readers 10+

I love No Starch Press and their tech books for kids. Coding iPhone Apps for Kids is a detailed, but highly readable, introduction to Swift, the language used mobile apps that run on Apple devices. The book walks readers through every step of the process, from the basics of learning how to code, installing Xcode (the code editor), storyboarding, adding art and sound effects, testing, and finally, running the app. (I’m leaving a lot of steps out of the process, but that’s why I don’t write books on creating apps.) There are full-color illustrations, screen shots, and lines of code to guide readers and important troubleshooting tips and tweaks along the way. An appendix and index round out this insanely helpful book that would make a lovely gift wrapped up with a copy of Girls Who Code. Just sayin’.

For the kid who loves infographics… or really likes Seek and Finds…

The Big History Timeline Wallbook, by Christopher Lloyd and Patrick Skipworth/Illustrated by Andy Forshaw,
(Sept. 2017, What On Earth Books), $19.95, ISBN: 978-0-9932847-2-4
Good for readers 6-14

What did we do before infographics? So much info communicated in little bites of space, fully illustrated and eyecatching; it’s a wonderful thing. The Big History Timeline Wallbook isn’t quite an infographic, but it does come with a 6-foot timeline of the universe – from the Big Bang to our Present Day – that you can detach and hang on your wall. There’s even a cute little pocket, holding a magnifier, that you can use to read the itty bitty text on the poster. Hey, there’s a lot of history to chronicle; sometimes, font size has to be sacrificed.

The Wallbook Chronicle is an 18-page “glorious gallop through fourteen billion years of big history”: printed to look like a newspaper, articles include major world events with bylines and dates, like the “Solar System origins clouded in swirls of gas” article by the astronomy editor from Paris, 1796 and the geography correspondent’s 1806 article on Lewis and Clark completing their transcontinental trek. A letters section from “would-be readers down the ages” has commentary on events including the sacking of King Tut’s tomb and the fire-bombing of Tokyo in 1945; a quiz tests readers’ mettle. There are three Timeline Wallbooks available: Big History, Science, and Nature; all developed in conjunction with the American Museum of Natural History. Definitely a fun gift choice.

 

More gift ideas to come! I hope this helped fill in a few check boxes on your holiday lists.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

The Legend of Jack Riddle begins!

The Legend of Jack Riddle, by H. Easson, (January 2018, Stone Arch Books), $26.65, ISBN: 9781496554086/(March. 2018, Capstone), $12.95, ISBN: 9781623709075

Recommended for ages 9-13

Twelve year-old Jack has to go visit his creepy great-great-great-whatever-aunt. She wears Doc Martens, a black ballgown, and wears a creepy top hat, calls him Jackie-poo, and sneaks out to play bingo. In the forest. Jack follows her, and discovers that Aunt Gee Gee may have some secrets. When the cookie jar she sends him back home brings forth a goblin that attacks the principal for a candy bar, Jack definitely gets the feeling that something’s up. The thing is, Jack’s in the middle of a very dangerous fairy tale: he’s the descendant of Gretel, and she’s nothing like the lost little girl in the fairy tale. She’s an awful witch that has Jack and his absent-minded teacher, Professor Ambrosius Footnote, racing to find a way to stop Gretel before there are very, very bad consequences for Jack and for future kids!

This is a fun take on fairy tale history, with cameos from some old favorites and a new point of view. Narrated from Jack’s point of view, there’s an interesting subplot about communication breakdown between parents and kids, and he tackles some fairy tale tropes (why can’t anyone just give a straight answer? What’s with all the riddles?) with laughs. The ending leaves the possibility of a sequel open. If you have fractured fairy tale readers, this is a good bet for their shelves and yours.

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

Nightvale for tweens: Welcome to Oddity

Oddity, by Sarah Cannon, (Nov. 2017, Macmillan), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250123282

Recommended for readers 10-13

A desert town where zombie rabbits roam freely, and a vague, yet menacing, government agency holds sway over the populace… Welcome to Oddity (said in Cecil’s Welcome to Nightvale voice). Okay, here’s the scoop: Ada is an 11 year-old rebel who loves to push the boundaries in her New Mexico hometown, Oddity. She’s flanked by her best friend, Raymond, and the new kid in town, Cayden; Cayden, who comes from Chicago and just wants to go back to normalcy, which Ada finds incredibly boring. After all, does Chicago come with a Blurmonster? Or zombie rabbits who fiend on marshmallows and play Punkball games with the aliens hanging around town? But see, Ada’s got some issues. Pearl, her twin sister, won the town’s annual Sweepstakes last year, and hasn’t been heard from since. Her mother’s all but withdrawn from life and her father buries himself in work, which leaves her aunt – who puts up with no foolishness – in charge. Ada and her friends are Nopesers (think Snopes, but with more danger) and go on the sneak to solve Oddity’s various mysteries, but when one sneak goes haywire, Ada finds something off about the Sweepstakes… one thing leads to another, and just like that, Ada’s leading a resistance and demanding to find out the truth about Pearl and about Oddity.

I LOVED this book. I love the Welcome to Nightvale podcast, and this book could be an episode on its own. Ada is a brilliant role model: smart, spunky, and willing to stand up for what’s right. She’s a child of color who takes pride in her braids, leading to a giggle-worthy moment when she crosses her aunt. Raymond is a Latinx character with two moms, one of whom he refers to as “jefa” – The Boss. I love the world Sarah Cannon’s created with Oddity: even seemingly peripheral characters leap off the page, coming to life as sentient mannequins and misunderstood monsters. There are countless great moments in this book, giving you endless amounts of talking points for a discussion (or writing exercises, for the English teachers in my life).

Do yourself a favor and pick up Oddity, and (for grownups and teens) check out the Welcome to Nightvale podcast. You know Tamika Flynn and Ada would be best friends.

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

Click’d: Coding, apps and friendship drama!

Click’d (Code Girls #1), by Tamara Ireland Stone, (Sept. 2017, Disney-Hyperion), $16.99, ISBN: 9781484784976

Recommended for readers 8-12

Sixth grader Allie Navarro is SO excited about the friendship app she built at CodeGirls summer camp. Click’d collects data about user interests and sends users on a scavenger hunt to find other users with similar interests. It went over big at camp, and now Allie is going to show it to her BFFs at school. She’s also presenting her game at the big Games for Good competition, but she’s going up against her nemesis: Nathan Frederickson, who wins EVERY science fair and drives her crazy.

The app goes over in a big way, but it’s not as great as Allie thought it would be. People are upset about their standings on friendship leaderboards, and a technical glitch ends up embarrassing one of her best friends. Things start spiraling out of Allie’s control; even with Nathan’s help, she’s not sure if she can make things right in time for the competition.

I’m excited about the new coding fiction trend that’s emerging in light of Girls Who Code’s nonfiction/fiction releases! Click’d is great to hand to readers who may be ready to move on from the Girls Who Code series fiction, or readers who may not be ready for Lauren Myracle’s TTYL books just yet. There’s friendship drama for sure, as well as positive messages about resilience and friendship. Each chapter contains screenshots of the Click’d app, adding to the fun; readers can watch Allie’s user count change, and monitor different leaderboards to better envision how the app works (and maybe get some ideas of their own). Tamara Ireland Stone gives us realistic characters and an interesting storyline and builds an extended universe of CodeGirls – girls who all met through a Girls Who Code-type camp – that will work for future novels.

Make sure to check out the Click’d teacher’s guide on the author’s website!

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Diversity Reading Challenge 2017 – Checking In

This year, I accepted The Unconventional Librarian’s Diversity Reading Challenge, and I’ve been… okay. Let’s take a look:

(The center Diversity Reading Challenge 2017 graphic is from An Unconventional Librarian’s website.)

Book featuring a Hispanic character – Wild Beauty, by Anna Marie McLemore

Book featuring an LGBTQ character – Spinning, by Tillie Walden

Graphic Novel – Pashmina, by Nidhi Chanani

Book featuring a character with mental illness – Lighter Than My Shadow, by Katie Green

Book featuring an Asian character – Warcross, by Marie Lu

Book by an illustrator of color – Nina: Jazz Legend and Civil Rights Activist Nina Simone, illustrated by Bruno Liance

Book with an African-American young male character – Goodnight, Boy, by Nikki Sheehan

Book with an African-American female character – An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon

Book with a Muslim character – Lost Boys, by Darcey Rosenblatt

Book with a character on the Autism spectrum – Mighty Jack and the Goblin King, by Ben Hatke

Book featuring a character with a physical disability – Super Max and the Mystery of Thornwood’s Revenge, by Susan Vaught

 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with my reading, but it could be better. I see little spots where I need to read more deeply. Goodnight, Boy is amazing; brilliantly written, but I should also be reading African-American characters written by African-American characters. I need to finally get Ghost, by Jason Reynolds, off the TBR and on my nightstand, you know? Ditto for my Muslim character choice. I love Lost Boys; it’s a heart-wrenching novel that darn near brings me to tears, but I need to stop saying I want to read Amina’s Voice and just read it. (If you’re struggling to find Muslim authors, by the way, I found a list on GoodReads that may help.)

I am happy that there’s some crossover on the list. I have several graphic novels on the list; while reading graphic novels is never an issue for me, I’m happy to see that the medium is a great place to explore different cultures and identities. Spinning, Lighter Than My Shadow, Pashmina, and Mighty Jack and the Goblin King are all graphic novels; each is its own journey of exploration. Wild Beauty and An Unkindness of Ghosts have female, main characters of color that explore their sexuality.

In sum, I need to read one more book (a Holocaust victim) to complete my challenge. Pragmatic Mom has a list that I think I’ll use as my guide here. Milkweed, by Jerry Spinelli, sounds compelling; it may also be time to to finally pick up Jane Yolen’s Devil’s Arithmetic.  I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, thanks to Pam at Unconventional Librarian for keeping me honest.