Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, Realistic Fiction

Celebrate holidays with Ellie May!

Ellie May on President’s Day, by Hillary Homzie/Illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler, (Nov. 2018, Charlesbridge), $14.99, ISBN: 9781580898195

Ages 6-10

Second grader Ellie May loves learning about the US Presidents and is desperate to show her patriotism during Presidents’ Week at school. She just has to be flag leader during the Pledge of Allegiance during this week! She is on a mission to be presidential and to make sure her teacher, Ms. Silva, knows it; this way, she’ll be sure to get picked. But Ellie can’t seem to catch a break, whether she’s chopping the class plant (a cactus!) while trying to relive George Washington and the cherry tree, or taking apart the pencil sharpener and making a big mess, while attempting to tinker like Abraham Lincoln. Don’t even ask about how she tried to make her little sister, Midge, a flag, so she could teach her the Pledge at home. Ellie’s got a good heart and means well – she just has to learn to let that shine through, and most importantly, to be patient.

This is a brand new chapter book series that celebrates popular classroom holidays, and stars a dynamic, funny child of color named Ellie May. Second graders will love her, and they’re sure to see themselves reflected in her and her quest to be noticed. Patience? Who needs patience, when you’re eager? Ellie discovers she has a lot to learn as each of her attempts to show off for her teacher end in near catastrophe, but she’s surrounded by supportive friends, family, and teachers who are there to slow Ellie down and put her on the right path. Written in the first person from Ellie’s point of view, and illustrated with black and white sketches throughout, kids will enjoy this one – and it’s a great series to feature in classrooms and libraries. back matter includes the history of the Pledge of Allegiance, and of the Presidents’ Day holiday.

 

 

Ellie May on April Fools’ Day, by Hillary Homzie/Illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler, (Dec. 2018, Charlesbridge), $14.99, ISBN: 9781580898201

Ages 6-10

Ellie May is back, and is ready for April Fools’ Day! Her class is allowed to celebrate, as long as the pranks are made in good fun. Ellie decides she’s going to prank her friend, Ava, whose birthday celebration is taking place on the same day! After a few attempts at pranks fall flat at home and at school, she’s ready for the big day: but this is Ellie May, after all, and her attempt at a silly goof goes awry when she gets carried away in the classroom. After sitting it out and thinking it over, Ellie May starts understanding the true meaning of a good-natured prank, apologizes to her friend, Mo, and to Ava, and celebrates April Fool’s Day with her whole class as her teacher takes them outside for a rare bird sighting!

This second Ellie May story is every bit as fun as the first one. Ellie is trying so hard to make a name for herself that she gets a little carried away, but it’s never mean-spirited, and she’s always got someone there to point her in the right direction. Kids will see themselves and their classmates in this one, and the story lends itself to a good discussion about how getting carried away can lead to hurt feelings or hurt body parts. The teacher’s April Fools’ Day activity is a fun one – I may have to try that one in the library. Back matter includes an explanation on April Fools’ Day’s history and traditions. Black and white illustrations throughout add to the fun and promote reader interest.

This series is going on my to-buy list. Chapter books do really well here at my library, and books about classroom holidays – holidays, in general, for my growing readers – are always in high demand. I’ll have to mention this series to a few visiting teachers, too!

 

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

More Moomins! The Moomins and the Great Flood

The Moomins and the Great Flood, by Tove Jansson, (July 2018, Drawn and Quarterly), $16.95, ISBN: 9781770463288

Ages 7-12

This Moomin tale is an illustated novel, rather than a picture book or graphic novel, and gives us a bit of a Moomin origin story. Moominmama and little Moomintroll are in search of a winter home, and in search of Moominpapa, whose restless nature led him to wander off with the Hattifatteners. As they wander through a precariously dark forest, they meet a small creature who joins their journey, despite being a bit cranky; they also meet a beautiful, blue-haired girl who lives in a tulip. Throughout the arduous journey, Moominmama and Moomintroll face each adventure with courage and kindness, helping every creature they meet, always hoping that maybe… just maybe… their journey will reunite them with Moominpapa.

Originally written during the 1939-1940 Finnish-Soviet Union conflict, The Moomins and the Great Flood was author Tove Jansson’s escape from the horrors of war. She uses a catastrophic flood to unite her characters, who could even be seen as refugees, all experiencing some kind of loss, displacement, or danger from the flood. The sepia and white artwork lends an old-world feel to the artwork, and the prose reads like adventure stories I read growing up. The book is relentlessly optimistic, with moments of near despair; it illustrates perseverance and the strength of family units when facing adversity. I’ll booktalk this with picture books like Nicola Davies’ The Day War Came and the Children in Our World book series.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Humor, Intermediate

The Goblin Princess: Dust that house, and untrain your dragon!

Originally published in the UK, The Goblin Princess is a sweet chapter book series perfect for kids who are ready to branch out from easy readers. Let’s meet The Goblin Princess and her family.

The Goblin Princess: Smoky the Dragon Baby, by Jenny O’Connor/Illustrated by Kate Willis-Crowley, (Oct. 2018, Faber & Faber), $8.95, ISBN: 9780571316588

Ages 7-10

Matty is a goblin princess, but she’s also the odd goblin out in her family. She’s always being told to untidy her room, and eat up her slug porridge; her family – like most goblins – is also terrified of pretty things, like kittens and butterflies, and reading fairy tales are sure to give them nightmares, but Matty just doesn’t fit in. When the family dragon, Sparks, lays an egg and a sweet little blue dragon emerges, Matty falls in love. But little Smoky is polite and sweet, and the untraining her father, the Goblin King, calls for doesn’t quite take. Luckily for Matty, little Smoky finds some talent in burning the toast (a goblin delicacy)! When Matty and her family go on a goblin family picnic at the Dragon Lagoon, Matty and Smoky have a little side adventure of their own, meeting nasty hobgoblins and kind Forest Fairies (who aren’t at all terrifying) – and maybe Matty can convince her family that she and Smoky are just naughty enough after all!

The Goblin Princess: The Grand Goblin Ball, by Jenny O’Connor/Illustrated by Kate Willis-Crowley, (Oct. 2018, Faber & Faber), $8.95, ISBN: 9780571316601

Ages 7-10

The next book in the Goblin Princess series picks up fresh off the heels of Smoky the Dragon Baby. The royal Goblin Family is preparing for the Grand Goblin Ball, but there’s trouble afoot: the hobgoblins are planning to crash the party and CLEAN! And PAINT! And worst of all, they’re planning to capture Smoky! Luckily, some of the Forest Fairies overheard the plot and warned Matty in time. Matty and Smoky join forces with their new friend, Dave – a Frog of Mystery and Magic – to beat the hobgoblins and save the party! Recipes for Scary Potato Faces, Ghoulish Goblin Drinks, and Peppermint Cream Bugs let readers plan a Goblin Ball of their very own!

The Goblin Princess books are sweet, entertaining, and upbeat. Kids are going to get a kick out of the backwards world that the goblins live in: messing up your room? Eating sloppily and having food fights? Untraining your dragon and being an irresponsible pet owner? It sounds awesome, right? Which makes poor Matty and Smoky outsiders in their worlds, and sets the stage for some hilarious happenings. Kate Willis-Crowley’s watercolor artwork adds an incredible cute factor to the storytelling, with adorable characters like Smoky the Dragon and Matty the Goblin, and great visuals for events like the Goblin buffet, complete with Key Slime Pie and Mice Cakes.

Pictures all come from Kate Willis-Crowley’s blog.

I enjoyed the first two Goblin Princess stories, and look forward to the third one, The Snow Fairy (it looks like it was just published in the UK… can we get a copy stateside soon?) Readers who love enjoy fantasy will enjoy the close friendship between Smoky and Matty, and get a kick out of Smoky’s baby talk. The bad guys aren’t terribly bad. The hobgoblins, for instance, really just want Smoky around to warm up their food; nothing truly nefarious (unless you count cleaning and painting the Goblin castle: that’s just horrible). Give this to your Unicorn Princesses/Hamster Princess/Princess in Black fans.

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

Webcomics on Wednesday: Dylan Campbell’s Scared by the Bell

I’ve been meaning to do something like this for a while, now: create a list of webcomics that I could post by the computers at my library, so the kids could check them out and maybe discover a comic to follow. They’re huge graphic novel fans, and this would give them something new to read while they’re waiting for the next volume of Amulet/Pokemon/anything by Raina Telgemeier to publish.

I started going through my inbox, and lo and behold (and with much embarrassment), I found an email from Dylan Campbell, a creator who let me know about his new webcomic, Scared by the Bell, back in January 2017. It is insane, how one thinks, “Oh, I’ll get to that in a second”, and a year later, it’s still in the inbox. But the good news is, there are three issues online now! But I’ll get to that. First, Scared by the Bell.

Peter is a kid on his first day at Lighthouse Middle School, but this is no ordinary, run of the mill school. Peter’s classmates include Maggie (a Medusa), Vlad (a vampire), Frank (Frankenstein), and Marv (a werewolf), for starters. Principal Merlin takes Peter under his wing to explain a little bit about Lighthouse, but Peter’s still baffled: how did he get here, and how is he going to make it through middle school when his classmates want to snack on him?

Scared by the Bell has three complete issues under its belt, and Dylan Campbell had a successful Kickstarter earlier this year, all great signs. The art is cartoony and fun, and the classmates are familiar and inspired; there’s a Cthulhu-faced kid (and you know how I love my Lovecraftian monsters); a mummy, a skeleton, even a scary looking teddy bear. Now that the infamous Goldilocks has also joined the crew, I’m looking forward to even more adventures. Scared by the Bell updates on Fridays – a great way to end the week! For Spanish speakers, Dylan offers “Asustado por la Compana” (http://asustadoporlacampana.smackjeeves.com/), and translates it himself, which is pretty fantastic. He welcomes comments and suggestions!

Also – I have a Spanish version of “Scared by the Bell” called “Asustado por la Compana” that updates every Friday as well.  You can find the link to the Spanish version over here at: http://asustadoporlacampana.smackjeeves.com/  

 

 

Dylan, I am so sorry that it’s taken almost a year to get on board with your comic, but Scared by the Bell is going on my list of webcomics. I like the writing, I like the character interaction, and I enjoy the artwork.

If you’ve got graphic novel readers, let me know if webcomics are working for your readers!

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

Reckless Club “remixes The Breakfast Club for the Instagram generation”

The Reckless Club, by Beth Vrabel, (Oct. 2018, Running Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780762490400

Ages 9-13

I had to use Kirkus’ line in that opening, because how more perfect can one describe a book? Beth Vrabel, one of my favorite middle grade authors, reaches back into one of the movies that defined my generation and brought it back, with a few nips and tucks, to inspire a new generation. We take one group: a Nobody (Jason), a Drama Queen (Lilith), a Flirt (Wes), an Athlete (Ally, also known as “Sports Barbie”), and a rebel (Rex) all come together at a retirement home one day in the late summer. Each has done something so wrong in their last year of middle school that they’ve got to spend the last Saturday before high school here, helping elderly patients and their principal’s sister, who oversees the home. Each teen is paired with an elder, and their personalities quickly emerge, as does a mystery: is one of the nurse’s stealing from the patients?

The book has wonderful callouts to The Breakfast Club, meaning I’ll get to booktalk this to some of my parents, too. We Gen Xers never get tired of ’80s nostalgia! But the story is so much more than that. Beth Vrabel has the dual gifts of dialogue and character development, giving readers a voraciously readable story that delves into LGBTQ+, self-esteem and acceptance, and race matters.

I love Beth Vrabel’s books. I feel good at the end of a Beth Vrabel story, and I feel like people can and still want to make a difference when I read a Beth Vrabel story. She tells realistic stories about kids we could see in our classrooms, our libraries, and at our dinner tables every day, and provides insights that we may not even realize we’re overlooking. That handsome class president with the dimples may not have it as easy as you think. The drama queen that throws a hissy fit may have hit her last straw with an awful teacher. That star athlete may have something really unhealthy pushing her to excel. It reminds us, as adults, as well as middle graders and tweens, that everyone has something going on under the surface. A final note, a la the Breakfast Club, sums up the group’s experiences of the day, and we can only hope that The Reckless Club has another adventure in store for us soon.

Visit Beth Vrabel’s website for study guides, news about her other books, and info about school visits.

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

Comic Quests: Choose your own comic book adventure!

Quirk has such fun books, don’t they? Who else would find authors and illustrators that give us The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer pictures books, Star Wars as the Shakespearean masterpieces we all know they are, and now… Choose Your Own Adventure graphic novels in their Comic Quests series?

Released in September, there are two Comic Quests adventures: Knights Club and Hocus & Pocus. The rules are closer to role-playing games than merely choose your own adventure comics; readers will collect supplies, solve puzzles, and keep track of food and supplies for themselves and any familiars and pets they’re traveling with on their own handy dandy Quest Tracker – tabletop gamers will recognize the similarity to character sheets for roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons. Don’t worry about destroying your book, though – there are free, downloadable PDFs online. Librarians, consider putting a note on the covers of your copies to let your readers know this.

Knights Club: The Bands of Bravery, by Novy, Shuky, and Waltch/Translated by Melanie Strang-Hardy, (Sept. 2018, Quirk Books), $13.99, ISBN: 978-1-68369-057-3

Ages 8-12

Originally published in France in 2012, this first Knights Club adventure takes place in the year 1012, in the kingdom of Louis the Little. The Royal Order of Knights help keep the peace in Louis’ kingdom, and three farming brothers dream of joining their ranks. They set off to join Knights School, and that’s where the fun begins. Readers get to select which brother they want to be, and the adventure unfolds, questing through snowy mountains, dark forests, and mysterious lakes. Readers get to solve riddles, seek out magical objects, and choose their own path by following numbered panels through to the end of each tale. Panels are in color, and the storytelling pace moves along, but some challenges can be a little daunting for readers who are expecting a simple choose your own adventure story. My suggestion? Make it into a roleplaying program, and invite kids to learn how to play as they read! You may be creating your next generation of Dungeons & Dragons players, after all.

Knights Club: The Message of Destiny is the second book in the series and will be available in January 2019.

Hocus & Focus: The Legend of Grimm’s Woods, by Gorobei and Manuro, (Sept. 2018, Quirk Books), $13.99, ISBN: 9781-168369-055-9

Ages 8-12

Originally published in France in 2016, Hocus & Focus takes place in a more fairy tale-inspired fantasy world where readers can choose to be either a male (Hocus) or female (Pocus) character, choose a pet and keep it fed, and go on an adventure where you can discover gingerbread houses, make your way through a brain-teasing forest, and find missing children. There are numbered paths and riddles to be solved in order to advance, and panels are in full-color, just like the Knights Club. Gameplay can be a bit of a challenge – there’s one riddle where I had to count spots on baby wolves in order to get the next panel number that confounded me time and again (“is that a spot, or an ink blot? My ARC is black and white!”), so you may want to mark up your own ARC, if you have one, or keep a handy document of answers for kids that approach you needing help.

Hocus & Pocus: The Search for the Missing Dwarves is the second book in the series and will be available in January 2019.

All in all? A fun series of brain teasers for kids, and a nice way to side-eye anyone who says comics and graphic novels aren’t real reading!

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

Saving Winslow is another hit for Sharon Creech

Saving Winslow, by Sharon Creech, (Sept. 2018, Harper Collins Children’s Books), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0-06-257073-4

Ages 7-12

Louie is a gentle 10-year-old boy with a horrible history of caring for animals: worms, lightning bugs, goldfish, and several bigger animals have all perished or escaped under his care, but when his father brings home a baby donkey, orphaned at birth, from Louie’s uncle’s farm – to care for it until, “you know – until it dies”, Louie accepts the mission. He’s going to save this donkey. You see, Louie was a preemie at birth, and his parents weren’t sure he’d make it, either. Love and determination kept Louie going, and he’s sure that it will keep Winslow – the name he gives the donkey – going. And it does. Winslow struggles, but thrives under Louie’s care, to everyone’s surprise. His new neighbor, Nora, a girl grieving the losses of both her premature baby brother and her dog, is amazed, but pessimistic, warning Louie that Winslow is going to die, and not to get too attached. Louie puts everything into saving Winslow, wishing he could speak to his older brother, Gus, who’s serving in the military, about Winslow, but letters from Gus come few and far between these days, and are always signed “remember me”. As Louie saves Winslow, Winslow may save everyone around him.

Full disclosure: this is my first Sharon Creech novel. Now I get it. I get why she’s a force in kidlit, a multiple award winner, and why her books are always on my library kids’ summer reading lists. She masters feeling and emotion through eloquent, brief prose. I was hers from the opening lines in the book, and I was with her until the last phrase closed the story. I told a friend of mine that Saving Winslow broke me apart and put me back together in the way that Charlotte’s Web did when I read it the first time as a child. Sharon Creech invests readers in every single character in this book, from the baby donkey, to the pessimistic neighbor kid, to the crabby next door neighbor, but we are always focused on Louie and his story. Saving Winslow is a story of hope and perseverance, and it’s a story about the need to believe in the positive. Every library needs a copy of this book – let’s get this one on the summer reading lists, please! – and kids with gentle hearts and sad souls alike will find comfort in it. An absolute must-have, must-read.

Saving Winslow has starred reviews from School Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, and Horn Book. Sharon Creech has a Newbery Medal for Walk Two Moons (1995), and received Newbery Honors for The Wanderer (2001). Her book, Ruby Holler (2002), is a Carnegie Medal winner. Her author website offers information and links to her social media, and downloadable reading guides for most of her books.