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 Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Black History Month: Heroes of Black History – Spotlight on Barack Obama

Heroes of Black History: Biographies of Four Great Americans, (Dec. 2017, Time for Kids), $9.99, ISBN: 978-1-68330-776-1

Recommended for readers 8-12

This Time for Kids collection highlights the life stories of four great African-Americans: Harriet Tubman, who led slaves to freedom; Jackie Robinson, the groundbreaking athlete and first African-American baseball player to play for the major leagues; Rosa Parks, the civil rights pioneer who refused to give up her seat on the bus; and Barack Obama, the first African-American President of the United States.

With photos and artwork, fast facts and timelines throughout the book, this is a great book to have on hand in homes, classrooms and libraries for help with homework and reports and is essential reading for everyone. Civil Rights activist and NPR correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault’s introduction discusses how Black history provided her with the “invisible armor”  she needed to meet life’s challenges.

Spotlight On: Barack Obama

As part of the Heroes of Black History Book Tour, I’m spotlighting Barack Obama’s biography. The 40-page spotlight on our 44th President’s life is loaded with photos and a timeline, and covers his life from his birth in Hawaii to his 2017 farewell speech as he left office. The profile covers his relationship with his mother and grandmother; his mother’s remarriage and their subsequent move to Jakarta, Indonesia, and his return to Hawaii to live with his parents at the age of 10. We read about his marriage to Michelle Obama and births of his daughters, Malia and Sasha, and the story of his political rise from Senator to the White House. I was happy to read about the 2004 Democratic National Convention; the convention where Obama’s moving speech made Americans sit up and take notice – I still remember a coworker at the time coming to work the next day and telling me, “That man is going to be our next President.”

An appendix includes 19 additional Heroes profiles, from W.E.B. DuBois to John Lewis, a glossary and full index to round out this great reference. You can find a free curriculum guide and downloadable Fast Facts sheets on each icon.

 

Posted in Middle School, picture books, Preschool Reads

Just Like Brothers teaches valuable lessons

Just Like Brothers, by Elizabeth Baguley/Illustrated by Aurélie Blanz, (March 2018, Barefoot Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9781782853459

Recommended for ages 3-7

A young boy and a young wolf cub are each warned by their mothers. The boy’s mother warns of the wolves; the wolf’s mother, of men. The children listen, then go off and play, as children do. When each gets lost in the forest and come upon the other, their first reaction is fear; eventually, though, they discover that their similarities far outweigh their differences. And their mothers discover that they have a lot to learn from their children.

Told like a modern-day fable, Just Like Brothers teaches readers about the problems formed by prejudice and baseless judgement; it also teaches the value of empathy and trust. The innocence of children, both here and in real life, has no place for prejudice; it’s passed on at an early age. It’s a call to us as caregivers to be careful not to let our own fears make us irrational in what we teach our kids. It’s the start of a conversation, with lyrical descriptions like, “rough-hand and sharp stick” to describe humans, and “wag-tail and scamper-paw” to describe the playful cub. This makes for a good read-aloud and discussion about friendship and trust.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Books for your Spring radar!

Spring always brings some good books to read. In April and May, there’s a little something for everyone – come and see!

April Books

Dr. Coo and the Pigeon Protest, by Sarah Hampson/Illustrated by Kass Reich,
(Apr. 2018, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771383615
Recommended for readers 4-8
Dr. Archibald Coo is a sophisticated pigeon who’s tired of the way he and his fellow pigeons are treated by humans. They’re shooed at, swatted, and treated like a general menace. Dr. Coo remembers when pigeons enjoyed a higher profile in history: in ancient Greece, they delivered news about the Olympic Games; during World War I, they carried messages across battlefields. Now? pfft. So Dr. Coo and his pigeon friends organize and decide to strike: they disappear from every public space, leaving a confused public wondering what happened. Dr. Coo heads over to the mayor’s office a history of the pigeon and a note, asking for tolerance, opening the door to a new era of pigeon-human relations. It’s a cute urban story with a wink to New York and other urban spaces, and has a nice thread about inclusivity and diversity running through the book. Gouache paint and colored pencil art makes for a soft illustration, with attention to the different types of pigeons – there are! – in the cityscape. This would be cute to booktalk with James Sage’s Stop Feedin’ Da Boids!

My Teacher’s Not Here!, by Lana Button/Illustrated by Christine Battuz,
(Apr. 2018, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771383561
Recommended for readers 4-6
Kitty gets to school and knows something’s up when her teacher, Miss Seabrooke, isn’t there to meet her. What’s going on? There’s another teacher there today! How does school even work when your teacher is absent? This sweet rhyming tale about a student’s first substitute teacher is great for younger kids who are just getting into the swing of school routines and provides some fun advice for coping with and adjusting to unexpected change. Kitty teaches readers some coping strategies, including helping out her friends and the teacher by contributing to class and modeling good behavior using cues she learned from her teacher, that the substitute may not be aware of. This is an animal story, so kids will enjoy seeing the “ginormously tall” teacher, a giraffe named Mr. Omar; pigs, elephants, bears, a whole menagerie of students. Hand-drawn artwork and digital collage come together to create colorful, textured, cartoony fun. This one’s a good addition to preschool and primary collections.

Tinkle, Tinkle Little Star, by Chris Tougas,
(Apr. 2018, Kids Can Press), $9.99, ISBN: 9781771388399
Recommended for readers 1-3
One of my favorite books coming out this season is this adorable board book! Set to the tune of everybody’s favorite classic song, this sweet and funny version is all about where not to go: not in a plane, not on Grandpa’s knee, not at a puppet show. Luckily, the poor Little Star gets relief by the story’s end, and sits on a potty to… “Tinkle, Tinkle, Little Star”. It’s adorable with the cutest digital art. Little Star is beyond cute, and gender neutral! Sing along at storytime – I know I’ll be throwing plenty of voice inflection (“Did you just pee on this page?”) and leg-crossing as I read this one. Absolutely adorable, must-add, must-give for collections and toddlers everywhere.

May Books

Polly Diamond and the Magic Book, by Alice Kuipers/Illustrated by Diana Toledano,
(May 2018, Chronicle), $16.99, ISBN: 9781452152325
Recommended for readers 7-9
Polly Diamond is an aspiring, biracial young writer who discovers a magic book on her doorstep one day. Not only does the book write back to her when she writes in it, Everything she writes in the book happens in real life! At first, Polly is psyched: who wouldn’t be, right? But you know how it goes… for every magic journal action, there’s a pretty wild reaction! Written in the first person, with excerpts from Polly’s book, including a pretty great intermediate-level book list for awesome display purposes (“Read Polly Diamond’s favorite books HERE!”). Chapter book readers who love books like Juana and Lucas (on Polly’s favorites list), Jasmine Toguchi, and Katie Woo will thoroughly enjoy Polly’s adventures. There are short, descriptive sentences and a nice amount of new words – Polly is an aspiring writer, after all! Lots of fun for chapter book readers; I’d have kids create their own aquariums as a related craft.

Old Misery, by James Sage/Illustrated by Russell Ayto,
(May 2018, Kids Can Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781771388238
Recommended for readers 5-10
Readers with a darker sense of humor (and parents who are Gorey fans) will get a chuckle out of Old Misery, the story of a cranky old woman named – you got it – Old Misery, and her old cat, Rutterkin. She’s broke, and the apples keep disappearing from her apple tree! Lucky for Old Misery, she’s not completely heartless and feeds a wandering visitor, who grants her one wish: she wants all the apple thieves to be caught in the tree until she lets them go! Old Misery decides to play a little risky game when Death himself shows up at her door – and she sends him to the apple tree. Be careful what you wish for! The black and white, pen and ink artwork has a creepy, quirky feel to it, which will appeal to kids who like Lemony Snicket’s work, but may go over some kids’ heads. Old Misery narrates the story, offering an opportunity for a fun read-aloud.

Binky fans, Gordon’s got his own adventure! For readers who love Ashley Spires’ Binky the Space Cat graphic novels will love Gordon, fellow member of PURST (Pets of the Universe Ready for Space Travel) and Binky’s house-mate, as he finds himself traveling through time to stop an alien invasion. But Gordon travels back too far – before PURST even exists! He’s got to get back to his normal time and set things right! This is fun reading for graphic novel fans, and a nice addition to a popular series. There’s time-travel, problem-solving, aliens, and humor, along with fun art.

See How We Move!: A First Book of Health and Well-Being, by Scot Ritchie,
(May 2018, Kids Can Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781771389679

Recommended for readers 5-8
Author Scot Ritchie’s multicultural group of friends are back together again. Last time we save them, they visited a farm to learn how to grow grains and vegetables in See How We Eat!; this time, Pedro, Yulee, Nick, Sally, and Martin are training as their swim team, The Flying Sharks, prepares to compete. They learn about using proper equipment for different activities, warming up before beginning your activity, teamwork and encouragement, goal-setting, nutrition, the mind-body connection, and more. There are suggestions for fun activities and words to know, all coming together to give kids a fun story about a group of friends staying strong and having fun together while encouraging kids to create lifelong habits of health, nutrition, and physical fitness. I like this See How! series; it offers a wealth of information on healthy living, made accessible to younger readers. I can easily read this in a storytime and get the kids talking about the different ways they play, how they eat, and good habits to get into.

The Bagel King, by Andrew Larsen/Illustrated by Sandy Nichols,
(May 2018, Kids Can Press), $16.99, ISBN; 978-1-77138-574-9
Recommended for readers 4-8

Zaida, Eli’s grandfather, gets bagels from Merv’s Bakery every Sunday morning. One morning, when no bagels show up, Eli gets a phone call: Zaida’s fallen on his tuchus and can’t get the bagels! Eli and his family aren’t the only ones waiting on bagels, either – Eli visits Zaida, only to discover that Zaida’s friends are verklempt, too. No bagels! What a shanda, as my stepdad would say! Eli helps care for his zaida and keep him company, but he knows the best way to cheer Zaida up, and heads to the bagel store on his own the very next Sunday. This story is the most charming book about grandparents and grandchildren, loaded with compassion, a wink and nudge type of humor, and loads of fun, new Yiddish terminology. If you’re an urban dweller, like me, these words are kind of a second language: Zaida is grandfather, and tuchus is your bottom; there’s a little glossary of other Yiddish words that show up in the story, too. (Verklempt is overwhelmed with emotion, and shanda is a shame – you won’t find them in the story, but all I could hear was my stepdad when I read this, so there you go.) I loved the sweet storytelling, the compassion and the decision to act on Eli’s part, and Zaida and his group of friends were wonderful. It’s got an urban flavor that everyone will enjoy, and is good storytelling. Use this story as an opportunity to get your kids talking about relationships with their grandparents: what do you call your grandparents? Do they cook, bake, or shop for food? Do you go with them? (I’d love to get some bagels to hand out with my group… hmmm…) The acrylic artwork has a soft, almost retro feel, but really emphasizes the relationship story with colors, gentle expressions, and soft lines.

The Golden Glow, by Benjamin Flouw,
(May 2018, Tundra/Penguin Random House), $17.99, ISBN: 9780735264120

Recommended for readers 4-8
A fox who loves nature and botany goes on a quest for a rare plant to add to his collection. The Golden Glow is a plant from the Wellhidden family, and only grows high in the mountains. There’s not even a picture of it; it’s never been described. Fox packs his supplies and heads off to the mountains, meeting different animals and noting different plants and trees along the way. When Fox finally reaches the mountaintop, he waits… and discovers the Golden Glow! It’s stunning! It’s breathtaking! And Fox realizes that “the golden glow is more beautiful here on the mountaintop than it ever would be in a vase in his living room”. Part story and part nature journal, The Golden Glow is just gorgeous and teaches a respect for nature. The angular art draws the eye in; there’s so much to see on every page, every spread. Flouw creates detailed lists of Fox’s hiking pack, plus trees and flowers that he encounters on his way, and a map of different zones on the way up to the mountain, from the foothill to snow zones, all in beautiful detail for younger readers to enjoy. Fox’s decision to leave the flower where it is presents a love of and respect for nature that can lead to a great discussion on conservation. Bright red endpapers with angular design could be a topographic map of the area – talk about how different areas look from above! I know it’s way early, but I’ll quietly whisper this one now: Caldecott contender.
Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, picture books, Realistic Fiction

Black History Month: As Fast as Words Could Fly

As Fast As Words Could Fly, by Pamela M. Tuck/Illustrated by Eric Velasquez, (Apr. 2013, Lee and Low), $18.95, ISBN: 9781600603488

Recommended for readers 6-10

I had to start my Black History Month reviews off with this gorgeous book by Pamela M. Tuck. As Fast As Words Could Fly is inspired by Ms. Tuck’s father, who – along with his brothers – integrated a North Carolina school, and by her grandfather, who was active in the Civil Rights movement. Mason Steele is a 14 year-old who helps his father’s civil rights group by writing letters for them, shining light on injustices. Mason’s father brings home a manual typewriter, transforming Mason’s life and letting his words fly across the pages. At the same time as Mason receives his typewriter, his father tells him and his brothers that they will integrate the local high school rather than continue busing to one twelve miles away. Integration is tough on Mason and his brothers: buses drive right by them and teachers and students alike make it known that the boys aren’t welcome there, but Mason endures and uses his typewriter to increase his skill and earn some money. He also uses his typewriter to make a change: he defies racism to keep his job at the local library and to represent his school in a typing contest. For Mason, the words on the paper speak loud and clear.

This was Pam Tuck’s first published story, which won the Lee & Low New Voices Winner. I was lucky enough to see her speak about her experience, and her family’s experience, at KidLitCon back in November, and I got my own copy of As Fast As Words Could Fly signed for my kiddo. Pam’s voice comes through so clearly in her story; I can hear her, even now, telling me about her grandfather and father’s story. I mentioned that I was a fan of her illustrator, Eric Velasquez, and she sat with me; as we went through the book together, she pointed out her favorite pieces of artwork. I mentioned that I loved Mr. Velasquez’s books, Grandma’s Records and Grandma’s Gift, and his talent for creating warm, loving family artwork, and she told me that the spread where Mason’s father tells his boys that they are going to a new school was perfectly recreated: she pointed out areas of her grandparents’ kitchen that she remembered, and said that Pa’s posture and hands were spot-on; the artist had given life to her grandfather.

As Fast As Words Could Fly is a strong story about a family during the Civil Rights movement, and it’s the story of a young man who was determined to make a change on his own terms. I love this story, and would love to see it on more bookshelves. Find a teacher’s guide and interviews on the Lee & Low website, and learn more about Pamela Tuck here. See more of award-winning illustrator Eric Velasquez’s artwork at his website.

Posted in Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Kids can discover their Superpowers with this fun activity book

Superpowers! A Great Big Collection of Awesome Activities, Quirky Questions, and Wonderful Ways to See Just How Super You Really Are, by M.H. Clark, (Feb. 2018, Compendium), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1-943200-75-7

Recommended for readers 7+

It’s no secret that I love my superhero programs. I’ve turned my libraries into Gotham City and put the kids on the hunt for Bat-signals, celebrated birthdays for the Bat and Captain America, and run the kids through a superhero camp over the summer. Compendium sent me a book that will make for some more introspective superhero programming, too.

Super Powers! is a workbook/journal where kids (and us grownups, too) get a chance to be our own superheroes. Led by thoughtful prompts, readers are invited to think about words that describe themselves, think about what they feel happy doing and what they  love, and what makes each reader fantastically, wonderfully, them. They’re invited to connect with the grownups that they can turn to – hey, every Batman has an Alfred, right? – and maybe even the famous people they would like to talk to (and that can totally include Iron Man, in my humble opinion). Finally, the proud moment arrives, and kids can fill out their own Official Announcement of Superpowers, choose their superhero name, fill up a superpower tool kit, and fill out their anti-superpowers – their Kryptonite, if you will – in the form of things they just don’t like. Finish up by creating your own origin story, and Superhero You #1 is ready!

This is a great way to get kids thinking – and creating! – about their strengths and what makes them special. Each spread is bright, with science fiction-like illustrations, and lots of journaling space for kids to create. It makes a great gift. It’s not a book I’d put into circulation – it’s just too tempting to write in, because it’s so cool! – but I plan to use this book in my summer reading programming (hello, Infinity War releases in May) to get the kids writing, drawing, and thinking about themselves as a little group of Avengers or Justice League of their own.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Early Reader, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate

Ginger Green, Playdate Queen, meets The Crazy Friend!

The Crazy Friend (Ginger Green), by Kim Kane/Illustrated by Jon Davis, (Apr. 2018, Capstone), $5.95, ISBN: 9781515819479

Recommended for readers 6-8

Ginger Green is the 7 year-old playdate queen! But when she invites Maisy over to play, she may have taken on more than she (or her mother) have bargained for. Maisy is out of control, and she takes Ginger’s little sister, Penny, with her! Maisy needs to figure out how to turn this playdate around, super-fast!

Every caregiver has had at least one playdate like this. Maybe it’s even your little one that strips down to his or her underwear and takes off through a friend’s house. Parents – and kids! – will sympathize with Ginger and her mom, who are taken by surprise by a playdate that is anything but expected. For parents and caregivers, The Crazy Friend provides an interesting look at kids’ behavior without knowing what’s behind it: is Maisy just a badly behaving child, or is there something more to the situation that neither Ginger nor her mom are aware of? There are some cues in the text that could lead readers to believe Maisy has some impulse control/ADHD-type behaviors. Ginger and her mom are frustrated (and I’m a little mortified that Maisy’s mom was all too quick to leave her daughter for someone else to contend with), but each decides to embrace the situation and work toward a solution that will save the playdate for everyone.

The Crazy Friend provides teachable moments and the chance for discussion. There are three short chapters, illustrated in two-color purple and white, and can easily fit in either an Easy Reader or intermediate section. There are currently four Ginger Green books available through Capstone in the US; in the author’s native Australia, there are 11.