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.

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

Magical Realism meets middle grade: The Unicorn in the Barn

The Unicorn in the Barn, by Jacqueline Ogburn/Illustrated by Rebecca Green, (July 2017, HMH Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 9780544761124

Recommended for ages 10-12

Eric Harper lives with his dad and his brother on a farm near Chinaberry Creek. His grandmother lived in the house near theirs, too, but she’s gone into a rest home and now, a veterinarian and her brusque daughter, Allegra, live there. When Eric spots a unicorn in the woods one night, he and Allegra become partners in caring for Moonpearl – the name they give the unicorn – and the twins she’s carrying. Dr. B is no ordinary vet – she takes care of everyone’s pets, sure, but she also has a gift for magical creatures, and they seem to know how to find her. Eric adores Moonpearl and tries to spend every moment he can with her, but he is also too aware of the magical healing properties that unicorns possess; the temptation to use Moonpearl’s magic to make things better for his friends and family is strong.

The Unicorn in the Barn is magical. It’s a beautifully told story of love and loss; of friendship and new life, of beginnings and endings. The black and white illustrations throughout are soft and add an extra dimension to the story. Eric is so earnest, so passionate about making life better for everyone and so in love with Moonpearl, that he often finds himself at odds with the somewhat bossy and bullish Allegra, who would rather keep her mother and Moonpearl to herself. The story is as much about the evolution of their friendship as it is about Eric’s journey through a critical point in his life. A beautiful middle grade work of magical realism. Booktalk with Me and Marvin Gardens to add some magic into your audience’s reading.

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

Arthur Yorinks’ Making Scents: A New Family Structure

Making Scents, by Arthur Yorinks/Illustrated by Braden Lamb and Shelli Paroline, (June 2017, :01 First Second), $15.99, ISBN: 9781596434523

Recommended for readers 8-12

Mickey is a boy who’s been raised a little differently. His parents raised bloodhounds before he was born, and raised Mickey just like his “brothers and sisters”. Mickey doesn’t see anything different with his upbringing, even if other kids treat him like he’s weird. He wants to make his parents proud of him, so he’s working on developing his sense of smell, constantly sniffing and honing his senses. A tragedy strikes, and Mickey’s sent to live with his elderly aunt and uncle, who don’t like kids or dogs – but maybe Mickey can show them that he and his sniffer are more helpful than they realize.

This one was a wacky read. Making Scents reads like realistic fiction – it deals with grief and loss, extended families, and nontraditional families – but it does work on your suspension of disbelief. The opening scene, with baby Mickey being left in the woods for the dogs to find as a test/publicity gimmick sets the tone for the story: two dog-crazy grownups find themselves with a baby that they have no idea how to raise, but they do the best with what they’ve got. They love their human son as much as they do their canine sons and daughters, but I have to wonder what kind of parent-child relationship you can have if you see your child as equal to a pet that you “master”.

Regardless, Making Scents progresses to become a touching story of intergenerational relationships and family. Mickey, his mother’s older sister, and her husband have to create their own new family structure when an accident leaves Mickey orphaned. Once again, Mickey is thrust into a family that doesn’t know what to do with him, but this time around, he doesn’t have anyone or anything to take a social cue from; his aunt and uncle, like his parents, do their best with what they have and stumble along until Mickey’s abilities help reveal a potential health crisis.

Unexpected and sensitive, Making Scents is good for graphic novel collections that provide different perspectives.

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

Parenting ain’t easy for The Big Bad Fox

big-bad-foxThe Big Bad Fox, by Benjamin Renner, (June 2016, First Second), $15.99, ISBN: 9781626723313

Recommended for ages 7-12

The Fox really isn’t that big or that bad… at least, no one at the barnyard seems to think so. The chickens beat up on him every time he shows his face, and he’s really getting hungry! Together with the Wolf, the two predators hatch a plan: steal some eggs, wait for them to hatch, then eat the chicks while they’re still young and defenseless! Failproof, right? Sure: for the Wolf, anyway; he goads Fox into doing all the work.

The Fox manages to steal some eggs, and sits on them until they hatch, but the unexpected happens when the chicks think he’s their Mommy – and he ends up falling in love with the little ones! Meanwhile, back at the barnyard, Momma Hen is sick and tired of the lazy barnyard dog who’s supposed to be protecting them, so she gathers a group of hens and forms a Fox Extermination Club!

big-bad-fox_1big-bad-fox_2

This is a laugh-out loud, adorable story for intermediate and middle grade readers. Parents will get a kick out of this one, too – Fox learns some real lessons in parenting here: he doesn’t get much sleep, and they’re all over him all the time. We see Fox grow as a parent and a character – he never really had it in him to be a bad guy, after all. This book is straight out of Foghorn Leghorn-era Looney Tunes, and I loved every second of reading it. Benjamin Renner’s watercolors are adorable, giving the characters a soft, cartoony look, with giant google eyes. The wolf is dour and narrrow-eyed, but never too harsh for little ones.

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This one’s great for your humor loving readers, your animal fiction fans, and your graphic novel fans. A definite add to the shelves.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Preschool Reads

On Duck Pond, there is chaos… and then peace.

On Duck Pond, by Jane Yolen/Illustrated by Bob Marstall, (Apr. 2017, Cornell Lab Publishing Group), $15.95, ISBN: 978-1-943645-22-0

Recommended for readers 3-7

A boy and his dog walk by a duck pond in the morning, when nature is at peace; when a quack of ducks appear, they splash, they chitter and chatter, and the pond’s inhabitants scramble in the momentary chaos. The boy notes that even his reflection looks different in the disturbed water. When the ducks move on, the pond returns to its peaceful setting, the pond life resumes, and the boy, contemplative, heads home.

This rhyming tale is a sequel to On Bird Hill, but it’s not necessary to have read it to enjoy this quiet nature tale. Award-winning author Jane Yolen gives readers a wonderful rhyming tale of quiet and chaos, coming up with fun, descriptive terms like “a quack of ducks”, and evocative phrases like, “Old Duck Pond, once still and quiet/Now seemed battered by the riot”, and, of the boy’s reflection, “Every part of me was changed/I looked like I’d been re-arranged”. She captures the riot of noise and blunder of movement that disturbs the quiet  morning, and the gradual pace with which nature recovers when the ducks move on, all witnessed by the boy and his dog. We meet some of the pond’s inhabitants – turtles, herons, frogs, and tadpoles – during the course of the story; the realistic illustrations introduce us to even more wildlife. There are lovely, detailed drawing of the pond from various angles, from close-ups of lily pads to sweeping vistas. The ducks’ descent is beautifully rendered, with wings spread, water splashing, beaks open, communicating the movement and noise they bring to the scene. A section on pond habitats and birds, and information about the ducks and other birds and animals featured in the story, adds a nice non-fiction section to the book.

This is a great read-aloud for storytimes – the rhyming text provides a nice cadence for readers to listen to – and for introductions to habitats for younger readers. Kirkus captures the spirit of the narration by referring to it as a “sense of wonder” book.

Pair this with some of Jane Yolen’s  more nature-oriented books, like On Bird Hill or Owl Moon for an author study, or display with books like Denise Fleming’s In the Small, Small Pond and Henry Cole’s I Took a Walk.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade

Happy #Nocturnals Day!

It’s the Nocturnals, Book 3: The Fallen Star‘s book birthday today, and I’d like to shine a (soft) spotlight on my favorite Nocturnal, Tobin! Fabled Films put together a little writeup about pangolins that I thought I’d share with you. Enjoy!

In The Fallen Star, the third installment of the non-episodic middle grade series, The Nocturnals, all of the forest’s pomelos have been inexplicably poisoned. Iris, a mysterious aye-aye, claims that monsters from the moon are to blame. When Tobin the pangolin falls ill, the Nocturnal Brigade must race to find answers, and the cure, before this possibly unearthly predicament threatens to harm them all.

Tobin is one of the main characters of The Nocturnals series, and many of our readers write to us saying that they have never heard of the critically endangered pangolin before reading our books. Here are some interesting facts about pangolins that help inform and develop Tobin’s character.

Pangolins are funny-looking creatures, but everything about them is designed to help them survive and protect themselves. All of their physical features perform a specific job.

Pangolins look like they wear an armor, and that’s because they are covered in scales made of keratin, which is the same thing that our human fingernails are made of. Just like our fingernails, the keratin on a pangolin is hard and forms a protective shell. Whenever Tobin is scared, he curls up as a way of protecting himself.

Not only does Tobin curl himself up for protection with his scales when he’s scared, but he also sprays something smelly to ward off predators. This smell comes from the scent glands on his tail end. Remember when Bismark complained how stinky Tobin was when they first met? That was because Tobin sprayed something because Bismark had startled him. When Tobin is afraid, he sprays an unpleasant smell from his scent glands. This reaction also helps deter the thing that he’s afraid of. Tobin is sometimes embarrassed by this bad smell, but he shouldn’t be, because spraying that smell helps him survive (especially if the smell has been enhanced by a poisoned pomelo, like in The Fallen Star!).

Pangolins have very poor eyesight. When Tobin first meets the bats in The Mysterious Abductions, he thinks that they’re the same creatures as Bismark because he can’t see very well. But Tobin has other senses like smell and hearing that compensate for his poor eyesight. His very long snout makes his nose very sensitive. Instead of seeing something, he can detect its presence by smelling it.

To read more about pangolins and their special features, check out these resources:

“Mammals.” Animal Encyclopedia: 2,500 Animals with Photos, Maps, and More! Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2012. 47. Print.

(http://www.iucnredlist.org/ ;

(http://animaldiversity.org/)

(Macdonald, David W. “Pangolins.” The Princeton Encyclopedia of Mammals. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2009. 476-77. Print.)

 

Posted in Adventure, Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade

The Nocturnals Return in The Fallen Star

The Nocturnals (Book 3): The Fallen Star, by Tracey Hecht/Illustrated by Kate Liebman, (May 2017, Fabled Films Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781944020057

Recommended for readers 8-12

The lovable group of Nocturnal sleuths is back in their third adventure, this time with high stakes: the forest’s pomelos have been poisoned, and the flowers that cure the sickness are disappearing! As the group watches a star fall one evening, they meet a mysterious aye-aye, Iris, who declares that the forest is being invaded and monsters from space have poisoned the pomelos! Dawn, ever the thoughtful and skeptical fox, is suspicious, and seeks a more down-to-earth reason, but things become more tense when they discover that animals in the forest are getting sick, including poor Tobin, who’ve all eaten pomelos. The blue flowers that help cure the sickness are disappearing, and a strange blue glow shows up right before the flowers start disappearing. This sounds like a job for the Nocturnals!

This third book in the animal friends series takes no prisoners: things are tense, with the friends racing against time to help their sick friends and find out the truth behind the poisoned fruit and disappearing cure. Bismark is in full narcissist with a heart of gold mode, proclaiming he speaks alien (and then slipping and admitting it was gibberish) and wooing Dawn every chance he gets. Dawn is still the most focused and perceptive member of the group, and sweet, gentle Tobin is the source of possibly the greatest fart joke in the history of children’s literature, giving readers much-needed comic relief throughout the white knuckle moments The Fallen Star is filled with.

We also meet some more animals in this book; most notably, an Aye-aye named Iris, and the woylies, a group of small marsupials who pitch in to help the Nocturnals. You can find more information about Aye-ayes at Zooborns.com, and Whiteman Park, a conservation center in Australia, has a downloadable fact sheet available on the endangered woylie.

This Aye-aye has its eyes on you! (source: Zooborns.com)
Woylie: Now say it with an Australian accent! (Source: whitemanpart.com.au)

Teamwork, friendship, and determination sees the friends through this latest adventure, and there’s a lovely message about tolerance that is especially important reading.

Things have started taking off for Nocturnals since the first book published last year!  The Nocturnals World website offers Boredom Busters, face painting tips, and a wealth of educational resources for classrooms and libraries, and the New York Public Library, in conjunction with Fabled Films, launched a read-aloud writing program in New York City public schools.