Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

How many words will stay on The List?

The List, by Patricia Forde, (Aug. 2017, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $16.99, ISBN: 9781492647966

Recommended for readers 10-13

A post-cataclysmic society called Ark is led by a fanatic who believes words are at the heart of the problem. After all, words can stretch the truth, can bend, can lie, just like the politicians did before The Great Melting. Letta is apprenticed to Ark’s wordsmith, Benjamin; the community is allowed only 500 words, which Benjamin and Letta curate. Benjamin saves words for a time when man will be able to handle more – or so Letta believes. When Benjamin disappears on a word-finding mission, and Letta meets a boy from a neighboring community of free-thinkers and artists, she discovers that their leader, the leader she put her trust in, is working on a way to rob the people of Ark of language forever.

The List is similar on many levels to The Giver: an enclosed, guarded society, quiet removals of dissidents, and hidden truths waiting to be revealed. As an apprentice wordsmith, Letta sees more than the average Ark citizen; saving the life of a Desecrator – a member of a neighboring group of artists and musicians – opens her eyes to even more goings-on within Ark and its surroundings. It’s up to her to act on the information she receives, and she struggles with the burden of responsibility. There are strong themes for discussion here: the power of words, free thought and speech, and art as resistance. This is a great book to give readers who are ready for something beyond The Giver, but not yet ready for Fahrenheit 451. This novel can easily stand on its own, but readers may want to see what lies in Ark’s future.

Posted in Fiction, Humor, Middle Grade

A rogue 3-D printer and a young artist unleash monsters at school!

Monsters Unleashed, by Jon Kloepfer/Illustrated by  Mark Oliver, (July 2017, HarperCollins), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062290304

Recommended for ages 8-10

Freddie Liddle is anything but. He’s a big guy, bigger than the average fifth grader, and that makes him stand out: right where the bullies can see him. His best friend, Manny, always has his back. In fact, the two buddies were about to create a monster movie based on the bullies; Freddie drew monster versions of each bully, and they used the 3-D printer at school to make models for filming. Holy maker meltdown, though: this printer makes REAL MONSTERS. They’re alive, they’re mean, and they’re GROWING. It looks like Freddie and Manny may need to team up with the very bullies that inspired their monsters in order to take them down and save their town!

Jon Kloepfer’s already got a huge fan following with his Zombie Chasers series; this new series, Monsters Unleashed, is a fun romp that brings a little maker fun into the mix. Freddie’s monster sketches turn into real-life terrible monsters that grow when they get wet, and are even meaner than the bullies they’re modeled after. Bullies get a second chance at redemption when they join Freddie and Manny in the fight, proving that some bullies take a little nudging, but may not be all bad (monster invasion notwithstanding). There’s lots of humor and action here, with fun black and white illustrations to keep kids interested.

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, Realistic Fiction, Uncategorized

Chow Mein and Potstickers brings global friends together

Chow Mein and Potstickers, by Liselotte Schippers/Illustrated by Monique van den Hout, (June 2017, Clavis Publishing), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1605373287

Recommended for readers 5-10

Chan is new to the neighborhood and wants to make some friends. The best way to go about it? Go door by door, of course! Told in the first person, we follow Chan along and meet the neighbor kids, who are from Bosnia, Indonesia, Poland, Afghanistan, Turkey, the Netherlands, Suriname, the U.K., South Africa, and Italy. Each new friend introduces Chan, and the reader, to a fun activity, food, and greetings in each language. The kids all gather together at the end for a celebration, where they share food and friendship.

Originally published in Belgium and Holland in 2015, Chow Mein and Potstickers is an initiative by Inclusive Works, a Dutch organization that promotes diversity and inclusiveness – and what better way to accomplish that than by having children serve as our example? Chan is our guide, as the new kid who wants to make friends. By playing together, Chan – and readers – learn about the ways kids all over the world have fun; we learn how to greet one another in global languages, and finally, we share food together. All great ways of promoting peace and togetherness. My son’s pre-k class had an international day where we did something similar; they sang “It’s a Small World” in 15 different languages and ate food that parents contributed from their native countries. This is a great story to read for a similar occasion; it’s a great story to read to our preschoolers and beyond to promote the global village we call our world.

Each 2-page spread features a new child Chan encounters; backgrounds are light, washed out, to bring the realistic artwork of the children to the forefront, with bright faces and clothing, surrounded by colorful toys. The vocabulary is set off with smiling icons for hello and good-bye, and a colorful sketch of each food the kids eat together.

This is a solid addition to diversity collections. It’s similar to How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea, in that it stars a character who travels the world (well, in this case, the world in a diverse neighborhood), meeting different people from different cultures, and sharing food together. Get some recipe cards together and hand them out with coloring sheets for a multicultural storytime!

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, Realistic Fiction

Jasmine Toguchi is determined to make mochi!

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen, by Debbi Michiko Florence/Illustrated by Elizabet Vukovic, (July 2017, Farrar, Straus and Giroux), $15.99, ISBN: 9780374304102

Recommended for readers 6-9

Jasmine Toguchi is an 8 year-old dynamo. She’s funny, smart, and loves her family, especially during the holidays, when Obaachan, her grandmother,  flies in from Japan and the family begins their mochi-tsuki ritual: mochi making!  – a Japanese rice cake, made from pounded rice. The whole family gets involved in the process – except, that is, for Jasmine, who’s still too young to help out. Her older sister, Sophie, helps the women by hand-rolling the mocha balls. Her mean, older cousin, Eddie, helps the men pound the mochi with the super cool mochi hammer. But Jasmine is not yet 10, so she has to wait. In the meantime, Sophie and her mother order her around, and Eddie mercilessly teases her. So Jasmine comes up with a plan: it’s time to break tradition! She’s going to convince her family to let her pound the mochi this year! But first, she’s got to build up her arm strength — that mochi hammer is heavy!

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen is a fun early chapter book for readers who are moving up from Easy Readers. We meet Jasmine, a spunky, Japanese-American girl who loves her family tradition of making mochi, but feels like it’s time for a change. She’s tired of her older sister getting to be the first to do everything, and she’s tired of her obnoxious cousin. She wants to make her own statement, her own mark in the family, and when she sets her mind to it, there’s no stopping her. Kids will enjoy learning about Japanese traditions and relate to the frustration that comes with being told “you’re too young”, when they feel perfectly ready and able to pitch in. An author’s note explains mochi-tsuki, and provides a microwave mochi recipe for kids and their adults to try together. Black and white illustrations bring Jasmine and her world closer to readers. There’s a second book coming in July, with  more activities at the end of the story.

Jasmine Toguchi is a good, new series to add to your intermediate collections – there’s some lovely diversity available for readalikes, including the Ruby Lu and Alvin Ho series, by Lenore Look; the Clara Lee series by Jenny Han; the Katie Woo and Pedro books by Fran Manushkin, and Ellray Jakes, by Sally Warner.

Get an early peek at the next Jasmine Toguchi titles (and covers) by navigating over to author Debbi Michiko Florence’s site, where you can also find info about author visits, with programs she conducts for each grade.

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

One for Sorrow mixes ghost stories with historical fiction

One for Sorrow, by Mary Downing Hahn, (July 2017, Clarion Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780544818095

Recommended for ages 10-14

Annie is the new girl at her school. Desperate to make new friends, she’s thwarted when the school pariah, Ellie, latches onto her on the first day. Annie quickly discovers that there’s a reason the other girls don’t like Ellie: she’s a liar, a tattletale, and a thief who bullies her way into Annie’s life. When Ellie is out sick for a few days, Annie manages to befriend the other girls at school and becomes one of Ellie’s tormentors. When the 1918 flu epidemic reaches Annie’s town, it claims Ellie as one of its victims, but Ellie’s spirit won’t rest. She returns as a vengeful ghost, punishing all the girls who bullied her through Annie, thus ensuring that Annie will be as hated as Ellie was in her lifetime.

Mary Downing Hahn is one of the reigning queens of middle grade horror. I still can’t look at a doll in the same way after reading Took (2015), and she’s the first author I go to when my library kids ask me for a good, scary story. One for Sorrow, inspired by the 19th century nursery rhyme, seamlessly blends elements of an intense ghost story with historical fiction. Hahn addresses World War I and anti-German sentiment and the 1918 flu epidemic in a small American town while drawing on her own mother’s childhood for inspiration, having her characters visit various homes with funereal wreaths on the door in order to eat their fill of sweets and pastries put out for the wakes. Ellie’s vicious haunting will keep readers turning pages late into the night, feeling Annie’s helpless frustration as Ellie systematically destroys her reputation and her life.

 

Mary Downing Hahn has won many awards for her writing. You can find out more about her (like the fact that she’s a former children’s librarian!), her books, and her awards, through her publisher’s website.

Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Teen

Gork the Teenage Dragon serves up scaly green goodness

Gork the Teenage Dragon, by Gabe Hudson, (July 2017, Knopf), $24.95, ISBN: 9780375413964

Recommended for readers 14+

Gork’s a dragon, but don’t even think about mentioning Smaug to him. He’s not happy at all with the way dragons are portrayed in Earth fiction, and he’s here to set the record straight. So begins the story of Gork: teenage dragon, student at WarWings Academy, orphaned on Earth during his parents’ mating mission and raised by his scientist grandfather, Dr. Terrible.

Starting off on Crown Day – the day dragon and dragonette cadets at the Academy agree to be mating partners – Gork has one goal in mind: to get the luscious Runcita Floop to wear his crown and agree to be his queen. The problem? His nickname is Weak Sauce, his Will to Power ranking is Snacklicious (if you’re a gamer, think of Will to Power as a CON/DEX/overall attractiveness level) and he’s got a bad habit of fainting when he’s scared. If Runcita says yes, she and Gork will go off in his spaceship and find a planet to conquer together. If Gork can’t sea the deal, he’s doomed to be a slave.

Gork has a heck of a day ahead of him: Dean Floop – his intended’s father – hates him; his sadistic grandfather is on the run from the Dean, he’s being hunted down by a group of WarWings cadets that have murder on their minds, and the Trenx, a fellow cadet who had similarly low ratings, has seemingly blossomed overnight. Before the day is out, Gork will have to survive and learn some hard truths about his family. He’d better keep his best friend – a robot dragon named Fribby – by his side.

Gork is an out-there novel. It’s a page-turner, and Gork is an endearing first-person narrator, if a bit single-minded in focus. He’s obsessed with mating, but he is a teenager, after all. He refers a lot to his “scaly green ass” a lot, which gets tedious. Gork’s story uses fantasy to tackle some very real points: bullying, friendship, self-esteem, and falling in love. It’s a much deeper novel than the title “teenage dragon”encompasses; it’s a fantasy, a YA romance, and a coming of age story.

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

When Pigs Fly…

Pigs Might Fly, by Nick Abadzis/Illustrated by Jerel Dye, (July 2017, :01First Second), $9.99, ISBN: 9781250176943

Recommended for readers 9-13

Lily Leanchops is the daughter of famous inventor Hercules Fatchops, and she’s certainly inherited her father’s pioneering spirit. While the rest of the folks in Pigdom Plains scoff at the very notion of pigs flying, Lily’s been working on her own flying machine in secret. She’s seen her father’s flying machines fail, and she’s taking everything he’s doing into account as works to create her own flyer. Like her father, she embraces science, not magic (mostly), but when the dangerous Warthogs threaten to invade – flying their own machines, powered by magic, and led by someone very familiar with Lily and her dad – it’s up to Lily to save her home and her town. Even if that means pushing her experimental craft and herself to their limits.

The science versus magic dilemma takes center stage in this graphic novel, which will appeal to kids and, on a deeper level, to older readers who are aware of the science versus faith arguments that frequently occur splashed across social media. Although pigs are the main characters in the story, they are illustrated and given very humanlike qualities and dress – Lily could be another Amelia Earhart or Bessie Coleman in her pilot gear. An interesting parable for current events, with a plot that embraces diversity and working together. A good addition to middle school reading lists and libraries; invite readers to make comparisons between the story and what they see in the world around them and on the news.