Posted in Fantasy, Preschool Reads

Funk’s Fine Fractured Fairy Tale: It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk!

It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk, by Josh Funk/Illustrated by Edwardian Taylor, (Sept. 2017, Two Lions), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1542045650

Recommended for readers 4-10

Happy Book Birthday to It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk! I love fractured fairy tales: they let me get as silly as I want to be (need to be?) in a storytime, which lets the kids know they can be as silly as they want or need to be, too. After all, storytime is supposed to be fun, isn’t it?

The story starts out as usual: the fancy fairy tale font, the “Once upon a time” opening line… but wait. Jack is sleeping! The narrator nudges him, and demands that he put on pants (this is the part where every kid in the room is on board with Jack) and get into the story. That’s when we get the idea that this narrator is a little pushy, and that maybe Jack has different ideas about how this fairy tale is going to go. Poor Jack is badgered into trading his pet cow for beans that make him toot, climb a giant beanstalk, and face off against a giant that he really has no quarrel with. Jack takes the story into his own hands, and brings things to a more satisfying conclusion.

Loaded with fairytale references – keep a sharp eye and ask your readers to point them out as they see them – and fun, cartoony digital art, It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk! is an essential to fractured fairy tale collections. It’s not just for the little readers, either – you can get a heck of a reader’s theatre going on here, thanks to all the side conversations and the power struggle between the Narrator and Jack. Wanna see it in action? Check out Josh Funk’s website, where teachers and librarians stage their own reading. It’s also a nice way to talk to kids about believing everything they read: the Narrator likes to embellish a few areas, but Jack is quick to call out alternative facts where he finds them.

If you haven’t enjoyed Josh Funk’s books yet, you have got to start. I love Pirasaurs – because there are pirate dinosaurs – and Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast make me laugh out loud. He’s got a load of great stuff available on his website, including downloadable coloring books and activity sheets, character cards, and book songs.

Want a shot at winning your own copy of It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk? You know you do. Enter a Rafflecopter giveaway for your chance!

 

Josh Funk writes silly stories and somehow tricks people into publishing them as books – such as the Nerdy Book Club Award-winning DEAR DRAGON and LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST along with IT’S NOT JACK AND THE BEANSTALK, and the upcoming ALBIE NEWTON, HOW TO CODE A SANDCASTLE (in partnership with Girls Who Code), and more.

Josh is a board member of The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, MA. was the co-coordinator of the 2016 and 2017 New England Regional SCBWI Conferences, and has written a free 12-Step Guide to Writing Picture Books. Josh grew up in New England and studied Computer Science in school. Today, he still lives in New England and when not writing Java code or Python scripts, he drinks Java coffee and writes manuscripts.

Find out more about Josh at www.joshfunkbooks.com and on Twitter @joshfunkbooks.

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Posted in Animal Fiction, Early Reader, Fantasy, Fiction

A Nocturnals Easy Reader! The Moonlight Meeting

The Nocturnals: The Moonlight Meeting, by Tracey Hecht & Rumur Dowling/Illustrated by Waymond Singleton, (Sept. 2017, Fabled Films Press), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-944020-14-9

Recommended for ages 5-8

YAY! One of my favorite recent middle grade series is expanding to easy readers! The Nocturnals: The Moonlight Meeting introduces younger readers to my favorite Nocturnal group of friends: Tobin, the pangolin, Dawn, the fox, and last but never least, Bismark, the sugar glider (don’t dare call him a squirrel). An unlikely pomelo fruit brings the three new friends together, as Tobin – forever hungry – and Bismark disagree over ownership rights. Readers get a fun dose of fart humor thanks to sweet Tobin, who’s a bit nervous and has… well, a bit of a reaction. (Readers familiar with Tobin and the latest middle grade Nocturnals story, The Fallen Star, will enjoy the reference.)

Waymond Singleton’s artwork is perfect for an easy reader audience, giving the group more definition and providing an animated feel. Bismark is all wide eyes and open mouth; Tobin’s glance is shyly cast downward, and Dawn is ever gentle and ready to step in to help. As with the middle grade novels, The Moonlight Meeting emphasizes friendship, teamwork, and sharing. Fun Facts at the end of the book provide descriptions about the real-life Nocturnal counterparts. The brief sentences and easy dialogue make this a great step for readers who are ready to move on from Level 1 readers. A leveling guide on the back of the book, similar to the Step Into Reading series, explains each leveled step for parents and caregivers. This works well with a preschool or kindergarten read-aloud, too.

I can’t wait to introduce The Nocturnals to my storytime group. The group’s website at Nocturnals World is a treasure trove of information for caregivers and educators, featuring curriculum guides, library resources, discussion guides, and activity kits. If you’ve got animal fiction fans, get them hooked early and add The Moonlight Meeting to your easy readers.

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Steampunk, Tween Reads

Castle in the Stars – a steampunk space race!

Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869, by Alex Alice, (Sept. 2017, :01FirstSecond), $19.99, ISBN: 9781626724938

Recommended for readers 10-14

Seraphin is a young boy who loses his brilliant scientist mother, Claire Dulac, on her aether-seeking expedition. He’s being raised by his genius engineer father, Archibald, when the summons comes from the Bavarian king: he’s building a ship and he wants it powered by aether. Seraphin and his father narrowly duck a kidnapping attempt at the train station, arriving in Bavaria to discover a king who secludes himself from his people, consumed by his obsession, and betrayal within the castle walls.

This first volume of Castle in the Stars spends time setting up the story and developing characters. It’s nice to see both parental figures involved, with a female character every bit as intelligent and accomplished as the male character. The art has a touch of manga inspiration, particularly with the character, Hans, who’s drawn to communicate his mischievous side.  There’s a Jules Verne feel to the story; intrigue mixes with the race to explore the unknown, and with Seraphin’s heartfelt belief that his mother is still alive, we have a bit of mystery thrown in.

Beautifully illustrated, and a fun book for steampunk and aviation fans. Castle in the Stars was first published in French in 2016.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade

Mighty Jack and The Goblin King: An incredible re-imagining of a classic tale!

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King, by Ben Hatke, (Sept. 2017, :01First Second), $14.99, ISBN: v

Recommended for readers 8-12

It’s here! The sequel to Mighty Jack (2016) is here! And the best part? It’s AMAZING.

Mighty Jack introduced us to Jack, his autistic sister, Maddy, and neighbor, Lilly. The trio discovered a magical garden that got a little out of control; Maddy was kidnapped, and Jack and Lilly set off through a portal, determined to bring her back. Mighty Jack and the Goblin King picks up with Jack and Lilly arriving in a way station of sorts; a crossroads between worlds. Lilly is injured, forcing Jack to continue alone, where he discovers the giants’ plan for his sister: to feed her to a mechanical “beast” that will grind her bones into dust, and eat her, securing their ability to rule until the next time the beast needs to be fed! Lilly, meanwhile, has been rescued and is being cared for by goblins, who plan to marry her to their goblin king.

Spoiler alert: It’s not David Bowie.

 

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

Gamer Squad takes on video game monsters in the real world!

Gamer Squad: Attack of the Not-So Virtual Monsters, by Kim Harrington, (Aug. 2017, Sterling), $6.95, ISBN: 9781454926122

Recommended for readers 8-12

Bex is a gamer, and her game of choice is Monsters Unleashed: an augmented reality game where you hunt and capture monsters using your smartphone and the game app. (Pokemon Go players, you got this.) She and her best friend, Charlie, love playing the game until a mishap with a strange machine at Charlie’s grandfather’s place causes a WiFi gitch and empties Bex’s monster catalog… into the real world! Now, it’s up to Bex, Charlie, and a frenemy Willa to track them all down and get them back before the monsters overrun their town.

Gamer Squad is one of those series you just know the kids are going to swarm when you get them on the shelves. It brings handheld gaming to middle grade fiction with fun and adventure, and author Kim Harrington manages to give us a strong female protagonist, a story about friendship, and addresses bullying all at once. It’s a fast-moving story with likable characters, excitement, and leaves you ready for the sequel, which in this case, released on the same day.

Gamer Squad: Close Encounters of the Nerd Kind, by Kim Harrington,
(Aug. 2017, Sterling), $6.95, ISBN: 9781454926139

A no-brainer for your gamer kids and a nice fiction-y wink to add to your STEM program displays. I’ve just ordered both for my library; the third book hits shelves this Fall.

Posted in Fantasy, Tween Reads

Adoption Themes in Aleks Mikelson and Zaria Fierce by author Keira Gillett

Today’s guest post from author Keira Gillett takes a look at adoption themes that run through her fantasy novels, the Zaria Fierce trilogy and Aleks Mikelson and the Twice-Lost Fairy Well. I love the fact that her two main series characters are not only adopted, but come from loving homes where they consider their adoptive families their families, period. And don’t miss the super-awesome giveaway at the end of this post! Thanks again for Keira for her loving, sensitive look at adoptive families.

Adoption Themes in the Zaria Fierce Series

There are many references in literature in which guardians for kids are these terrible people. I feel very strongly that there are ways for kids to have adventures in books without mean, cruel, negligent, or abusive adults. Enter the stargazer – a device I invented that freezes time so Aleks, Zaria and the gang can go on adventures around Norway, saving their friends and the world, and not panic their parents.

In real life and in fiction, there are many reasons why kids are available for adoption, because there are many family backgrounds for both birth families and adopted families, which lead them to the decision to choose adoption. My younger sisters are adopted, and my parents, especially my mom, has always been very open with them and with my older brother and myself.

Knowing all this, I wanted a better reflection of adoption to be portrayed for my sisters, and maybe other adoptees like them, because it was very important to me to show that an adoptive family can be nice, and yet a decision to reunite or a desire to reunite can still be part of the equation. That’s why both Aleks and Zaria have nice parents. They love their parents and can’t see living with their birth families.

As for the birth families being different, as important as it was to show that adoptive families can be nice, it was also important to show a balance in the portrayal of them in as sensitive a manner as possible, as I know adopted children may superimpose a pleasant scenario over a harsher reality, if they knew and remembered their birth parents, or similarly spinning pleasant stories about why they were available for adoption, if they didn’t. Or the pleasant fantasy of what it might mean to be reunited. While these pleasant scenarios may pan out for some adoptees, others may be disillusioned, if they seek out and meet their birth parents.

It was easy to create these two scenarios, because my characters have different motivations and backgrounds. For instance, Zaria’s birth mother gave her up for adoption in order to protect her from cruel and manipulative dragons who, if they knew of her magical ability, would seek to kill her. Zaria can understand it and forgive her birth mother. That said, she feels closer to the woman who raised her and doesn’t want to hurt Merry’s feelings by letting her know she reconnected with Helena, which as a side note, is another feeling adoptees may face and internalize, because they do love their adoptive family. Zaria’s in the happy position that she could tell Merry, and Merry would understand, but Zaria herself isn’t ready. It’s new for her, and she’s still working out her feelings on the matter.

For Aleks, he grew up in a family with another adopted family member, Ava, his Grams. It gets even more complicated, when one considers that Ava and he both come from the same place and the same fey family, a few generations apart. Fey lore has had the idea of changelings for a long time, and it was easy to build upon this, especially taking into consideration the rest of the lore surrounding fairies as being cold and cruel, which holds true in the Zaria Fierce Series. Ava warns Aleks about the terrible dangers he’d face if he ever returned to Niffleheim, where changelings are killed on sight. The fey are very power hungry, and it’d be a bad idea to altruistic behavior. He got very lucky in Zaria Fierce and the Enchanted Drakeland Sword, because Zaria’s wish on the well granted him protection, and in the end the children won – with Hector’s help – their freedom and a personal escort out of Niffleheim.

To add to all that is the overarching theme of magic. Zaria learns she has magical talent, and as she embraces it, her magic becomes part of her identity. Aleks has always known he had it and that it made him different. To him, being and feeling normal, as well as fitting in, is extremely important, which coincides with another potential desire for adoptees, who may look around at all their friends in traditional family units and feel the same desire to be normal. As revealed in Aleks Mickelsen and the Twice-Lost Fairy Well, Aleks has the chance to become human (his idea of normal) on his sixteenth birthday if he stays and celebrates it at home with his adoptive family. It’s a very appealing prospect, but in doing so he will lose his magical fey gifts. It’s not something that concerns him, because he doesn’t feel like he needs them, and he thinks that this is an easy decision for him to make.

And it might be, except for unlike Zaria, Aleks doesn’t have the luxury to choose when and how he interacts with his birth family. Appearing at his window one day is his fey sister Nori, and she’s telling him he has to return to a place filled with unimaginable danger to stop a dragon nobody can remember except her. It takes a huge amount of bravery to go back, and coupled with that decision to return is a choice and opportunity to become human that may be taken out of his control. He risks not only his life, but his identity in going back. His road ahead is filled with many pitfalls, and with his fairy powers on the fritz, it’s going to be harder to navigate than he first thought.

 

Giveaway: To celebrate the release of Aleks Mickelsen and the Twice-Lost Fairy Well, I’m hosting a giveaway for interested readers. The winner will receive a dragon scale necklace, that I made, and a Dropcard containing a digital copy of Zaria Fierce and the Secret of Gloomwood Forest and other goodies. Open internationally. Ends 8/13/2017.

To enter, leave a comment on this blog asking me a question, or sharing with me your favorite Zaria Fierce character, or sharing your favorite book featuring an adopted character. To get a bonus entry share this post on Twitter with the hashtag #zfgiveaway1. For another share your favorite Zaria Fierce book cover on Instagram using the same hashtag #zfgiveaway1. Good luck!

 

Aleks Mickelsen and the Twice-Lost Fairy Well (Book 4 in the Zaria Fierce Series)

“It’s time for you to come home.”

First Aleks’ mom loses the car keys, which he finds in the fridge, and then Christoffer forgets how to get to Aleks’ house. On the surface it doesn’t seem so bad, but events become more disturbing as the day progresses. Something strange is happening in Norway, and Aleks Mickelsen is the only one who can stop it. Too bad for us, the last thing he wants is another adventure.

 

 

About the Author: Keira Gillett

When she’s not working or writing, Keira Gillett loves to play tabletop games. Nearly every week Keira gets together with her friends to play. It’s no wonder she invented a game of her own for her Zaria Fierce Series. You can find the rules to this game within the second book and make your own version of it through a tutorial on her website. She’d love to hear from you! Why not send her a picture of you and a friend playing the game?

Find her at http://keiragillett.com/

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Aleks Mickelson and the Twice-Lost Fairy Well reunites Zaria Fierce and friends!

Aleks Mikelson and the Twice-Lost Fairy Well, by Keira Gillett/Illustrated by Eoghan Kerrigan, (July 2017), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1942750086

Recommended for readers 9-13

Keira Gillett couldn’t leave us hanging after Zaria Fierce’s last adventure, Zaria Fierce and the Dragon Keeper’s Golden Slippers. And thank goodness! The friends have reunited for a new adventure, but this time, Aleks, a changeling approaching his 16th birthday – and the deadline to decide whether to embrace his human family or retain his fey abilities – is the star of the show. It all starts on a crazy morning: Aleks’ mom loses her car keys, which he finds in the fridge. It’s only the first in a series of increasingly chaotic events that culminates in his unpleasant fey sister, Nori, making an appearance; she tells him that Fritjof, a chaos dragon, is trying to escape and wreak havoc on the world and that he and his friends must help stop him. Aleks finds himself pulled into an adventure that he really didn’t want to be on, dealing with a sister he really doesn’t want to know in this latest installment.

I have wanted to know more about Aleks since I first read that he was a changeling – and that his grandmother is, too! Readers won’t be disappointed; we learn more about Aleks’ origin here, and I love the inner conflict raging with Aleks as he realizes that there is no black and white situation: he initially thinks it’s not a big deal at all to give up his fey gifts, but learns that not only can his ability to find things be a huge help, he learns that his fey side is very much a part of him. Don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone? Aleks may just have to learn that lesson that hard way. I loved seeing how the group of friends has matured – crushes are a big part of the story now! – and how new friends from the previous series are now part of the group, like Hector, the Hart of the Forest. Big plus: my favorite wyvern, Norwick, is back, as is my favorite curmudgeon, Mr. Brown(ie). Take a look at this graphic, from illustrator Eoghan Kerrigan’s DeviantArt page:

A fellow blogger, Brenda at Log Cabin Library, put it perfectly when she said, “There’s just something so comforting about returning to Zaria and the gang”. I couldn’t agree more. Keira Gillet’ts writing gently draws you into a fantasy world via modern-day Norway; the group of friends are as familiar to me as they are to one another. I enjoy reading their back and forth teasing, and catching up with what they’ve been up to since I last spent time with them. When the action starts, I’m ready to join the group on their new adventure. Eoghan Kerrigan has outdone himself with his beautiful fantasy illustrations, and fantasy cartographer Kaitlin Statz provides a map that really helps make this world more real; there’s a lovely Narnian/Tolkienesque feel to a book that starts off with a good map.

You don’t need to have read Zaria’s trilogy in order to jump in with Aleks Mikelson and the Twice-Lost Fairy Well – there’s enough exposition throughout the book to update you – but if you want to feel more a part of things, I’d highly recommend it. A nice addition to middle grade fantasy shelves. Ms. Gillett had a midnight release party for her latest book that I, sadly, had to miss (I was so close, too… darn need to sleep); if you missed it, too, you can watch it right here, thanks to the magic of YouTube. Sign up for Keira Gillett’s author newsletter and get 10 free downloads of Eoghan Kerrigan’s work, too!