Mom Read It

If the kids are reading it, chances are I have, too.

An overscheduled princess takes a day off: Princess Cora and the Crocodile March 27, 2017

Princess Cora and the Crocodile, by Laura Amy Schlitz/Illustrated by Brian Floca, (March 2017, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0-7636-4822-0

Recommended for readers 4-8

A king and queen have a baby that they coo and marvel over – until they realize that she’s clearly not ready to run an entire kingdom. From that moment on, Princess Cora’s life is a nonstop schedule of lessons, physical training, and nonstop bathing (seriously, her nanny’s got a bit of a complex). Cora writes to her fairy godmother in desperation, and the response, while not necessarily what Cora expected, is exactly what she needs. A crocodile shows up to take Cora’s place for a day; while Cora takes a day off to enjoy being a kid, the crocodile sets to teaching the king, queen, and nanny a thing or two.

Newbery Medalist Laura Amy Schlitz and Caldecott Medalist Brian Floca have joined their considerable forces to create a book that parents need to read (cough, cough, and education administrators, cough, cough) as much as their children do. Princess Cora and the Crocodile is all about the stresses our kids face today: the lack of time to enjoy being a kid, doing kid things. The king and queen are so stressed out about what Cora’s not ready for, they strip the joy not only from Cora’s childhood, but rob themselves of the chance to enjoy watching Cora grow up; of playing on the floor with her as an infant, climbing trees and running around their considerable lands with her, of reveling in the carefree fun that parents should embrace.

When Cora’s fairy godmother sends a crocodile to her family, the croc immediately – if a bit roughly – sets to whipping Cora’s family into shape, with hilarious results. While the croc wreaks havoc at home, Cora spends the day picking strawberries, climbing trees, even stepping in a cow pie, and enjoying every moment of it. Every. Unscheduled. Moment. Brian Floca’s ink, watercoor, and gouache artwork is fun, hilarious, and every bit as free and joyful as the story’s text.

Image courtesy of Brian Floca

Parents, read this one. Please. It’s as much for us as it is for our kids. Schlitz and Floca created this fairy tale to let kids know that it’s okay to be a kid, but the message here is for us adults, because we’re the ones who can make the changes kids need to be happy – to be kids – again.

Princess Cora and the Crocodile received starred reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, and Publisher’s Weekly.

Illustrator Brian Floca has a fantastic webpage, with lots of online extras, information about school visits, and upcoming events.

 

Regency, betrayal, superpowers: These Ruthless Deeds March 17, 2017

These Ruthless Deeds (These Vicious Masks #2), by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, (March 2017, Macmillan), $10.00, ISBN: 9781250127952

Recommended for readers 12+

The sequel to These Vicious Masks (2016) picks up shortly after the first novel leaves off. Evelyn is grieving the loss of her sister and finds herself working with a secret society that promises her they are devoted to protecting and working with Evelyn and her friends: friends with special abilities. She’s reunited with Mr. Kent, and even manages to locate Mr. Braddock. Her reputation is intact, even if she does have to be around the awful Mrs. Atherton, who is somehow involved with the society’s work. Still, Evelyn has a bad feeling about things. She’s going to have to take a deeper look into the society, and what she finds may not sit so well with her, after all.

I loved These Vicious Masks, and was excited for the sequel. While it did take a little bit of reading to get as into the second book as I did the first, it was worth it. If you haven’t picked up These Vicious Masks, I suggest you read it before diving into These Ruthless Deeds – you’ll be at a disadvantage in terms of key characters and situations otherwise. Everything that made book one such a strong read is here: secret organizations, heroes and villains (and you may not always know who is who), intrigue, betrayal, witty banter, and a strong heroine.

Display and booktalk with Alison Goodman’s Lady Helen series (Dark Days Club and Dark Days Pact), and Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series, for readers with a craving for more steampunk.

 

The Myth of the Minotaur? That’s BULL. March 7, 2017

Bull, by David Elliott, (March 2017, HMH Books for Young Readers), $17.99, ISBN: 9780544610606

Recommended for ages 13+

You may know the myth of Theseus, the Minotaur, and the Labryinth, but I guarantee you’ve never read it like this. Told in verse, with each character’s voice using its own poetric form, from sonnets and stanzas to split couplets.  Poseidon acts as a kind of narrator, boastful and smug, laying out the lay of the land for readers: how Minos wouldn’t sacrifice a bull to him, so he decided to take it out on his wife and son. We have Minos, who’s not winning any father of the year awards; poor, insane Queen Pasiphae, who loves her baby boy and loses her mind when he’s taken from her; Ariadne, Minos’ daughter who just wants to take her brother, Asterion – the Minotaur – away from the hell he’s living, Daedalus, the engineer of the labyrinth, and last but never least, Asterion, the voice of the Minotaur himself.

There are inevitable Hamilton comparisons to be made, and this is a good thing: it’s a modern, compulsively readable, update of the classic myth, full of dark humor, angst, and betrayal. Elliott fleshes out the story by giving his take on the characters’ internal dialogue; most notably, Asterion’s growing despair and rage, also depicted by the progressively darker pages on which his dialogue runs. I’d love to see this staged, and I’m sure many, many high school and college students will, too.

Bull received (well-deserved) starred reviews from Booklist and Kirkus. Language and situations may give some more conservative readers pause, but it is a Greek myth, after all.

Author David Elliott’s webpage has more information about the author and his books, plus information about author visits. There is also a link to Mr. Elliott’s Pinterest page, where readers can find more links to information about the players in Bull and their mythology.

 

Fairy Tale Reform School’s seeing some changes in Tricked March 6, 2017

Tricked, by Jen Calonita, (March 2017, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $15.99, ISBN: 9781492637950

Recommended for ages 8-13

Gilly and friends return in Tricked, the third installment of Fairy Tale Reform School, but things are very, very different now. Gilly’s in school to be a cobbler, like her dad, but she really isn’t into it. Her sister, Anna, is falling in with a bad crowd: Hansel and Gretel are jerks, causing trouble all over town. They go too far with one prank that lands the three of them in – you guessed it – Fairy Tale Reform School, but the school has been through some big changes: Flora, Cinderella’s formerly wicked stepmother, is no longer headmistress; instead, the master dealmaker, Rumpelstiltskin, is in charge now, and the classes seem to encourage the kids to be more villain than hero. Gilly, Jax, and Maxine need to get back on the inside to find out what’s going on in those hallowed halls, get to the bottom of Rump’s treachery, and save Anna while Gilly’s at it: if Anna even wants to be saved.

I’ve been a Fairy Tale Reform School fan from the beginning, and Tricked is every bit as good as the first two. I love the way Jen also manages to address some of the very real things going on in the news today through FTRS, with a trickster who excels in the art of the deal (ahem) pulling the strings and making everyone in that school either blindly follow him or disappear. When things came together for me as I read, I realized how brilliant Tricked is in every respect, and I admire Jen Calonita for taking such a timely message on and communicating it to the kids who need to understand that when something doesn’t seem normal, it really isn’t.

There are strong subplots, addressing the frustration of being in a sibling’s shadow, making your own dreams happen versus living up to others’ expectations.

Tricked is all-around fun reading with big messages for young readers.

 

Map of Days is a fable woven into a boy’s story March 4, 2017

map-of-days_1Map of Days, by Robert Hunter, (March 2017  Nobrow), $18.95, ISBN: 9781910620298

Recommended for ages 10+

Originally published in 2013, Map of Days follows a clock-obsessed boy, who wonders where his grandfather goes when he disappears into a door on his grandfather clock. One night, the boy steps into the clock and discovers a fantastic world, where the face of Earth, the Sun, and the love story that joins the two. It’s a fable contained within a narrative, beautifully illustrated for readers of all ages. Children under the age of 10 will enjoy the colorful art, but may be lost by the story, which isn’t always linear and can be confusing.

The artwork is beautiful, and the fable of the Earth and the Sun is bittersweet. Art fans will want this book on their shelves for the sheer beauty within; fantasy fans will happily follow the boy on his journey.

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Robert Hunter is a graphic novelist and illustrator who also wrote The New Ghost (2011). Find more of his illustration work at his website.

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Can you escape Monsterville? March 1, 2017

monstervilleMonsterville: A Lissa Black Production, by Sarah S. Reida, (Sept. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781510707337

Recommended for readers 9-13

Jumanji meets Goosebumps in this fun and unexpectedly touching novel. Lissa Black is not happy with her family’s decision to move out of their Manhattan apartment to a house in Freeburg, Pennsylvania, inherited when her great-aunt passes away. She’s away from her friends, her school, and the conveniences of living in New York City; she’s only got the neighbor kid, Adam, who’s set on making her appreciate life outside of the city, and this weird game, Monsterville, that she found in her aunt’s basement. Just as Lissa is set on languishing in the wilds of PA, she discovers a sad, shape-shifting goblin she calls Blue, who’s escaped from Down Under. Blue’s so sad that Lissa and Adam feed him and check in on him, but when Lissa discovers he can shape-shift, she decides to make a documentary starring Blue. But an interview with the goblin uncovers secrets that put Lissa’s family at risk. When her little sister is kidnapped and taken Down Under on Halloween, Lissa and Adam have to go in after her, and the Monsterville game is their only hope of making it back.

Lissa is hard to like at first: she’s a great older sister, but largely self-centered and snobbish at the novel’s outset. As the story progresses, and the urgency not only of Blue’s situation, but her sister’s, hits home, though, Lissa rises to the occasion and grows into a strong female character that I was rooting for. I liked her supportive, loving family and I really liked the glimpse we got of her mysterious aunt. I think a Monsterville prequel is in order, to tell her story! There was great world-building Up Above and Down Below, with Adam acting as Lissa’s – and the reader’s – guide to rural life, and the Monsterville game laying out Down Below for us before we even get there. I ended up loving this book and can’t wait to booktalk this. A film glossary at the end introduces readers to film terms, most of which show up in Monsterville – Lissa is a filmmaker, after all.

Challenge your readers to make up their own version of Monsterville! What monsters would inhabit their Down Under? What would counteract the monsters and help humans escape? This could be a great summer reading group program, just saying…

Monsterville is Sarah S. Reida’s debut novel. Find teacher resources at LissaBlackProductions.com, which also links to Sarah’s author blog and appearances.

 

 

Newsprints blends steampunk with Newsies February 26, 2017

newsprintsNewsprints, by Ru Xu, (Jan. 2017, Scholastic Graphix), $12.99, ISBN: 978-0-545-80312-2

Recommended for ages 8-12

In an alternate universe, a young orphan named Blue is a girl, disguised as a newboy. With seemingly constant war going on, girls are expected to help the struggling economy by baking cookies, but Blue has no interest in that. She loves She lives with her guardians, the father figure of whom happens to be the town Mayor, and she loves working as a newsie for The Bugle, the one newspaper that tells the truth in an environment of “fake news” (flashing light for extra relevancy alert, folks). It’s not always easy to keep her secret, but Blue lives in fear of being found out and losing everything she loves: her family, her job, her lifestyle. When she meets a strange kid named Crow, she brings him into the fold; Crow has secrets of his own, which Blue can respect. When government officials appear on the scene, in search of missing military technology, there are more questions than answers, and Blue’s determined to stick by her friend, no matter what his secrets may be.

Inspired by manga, Newsprints tells a relevant story on so many levels: we have truth in the media, gender identity, and the power of friendship. Blue is a girl who doesn’t wants to do what she wants to do, not what society is telling her that her gender should be doing. She enjoys the freedom afforded to newsies, and embraces the dangers that come with a life on the streets. She gets the Crow has secrets he wants to keep, motivated only by a desire to help a kindred spirit survive and be safe.

My biggest issue with Newsprint was what I saw as disjointed storytelling, but that is entirely my issue. I’m not a regular manga reader, and Newsprints seems to follow manga-type storytelling, which isn’t always linear. The kids in my library love this book – my two copies have been out since I put them out on the shelves – and the emerging themes in the story make this a strong selection for booktalking.

Scholastic has a 34-page excerpt available for free, if you want to take a look and decide whether Newsprints is for you. Ru Xu has a Tumblr with an author calendar and links to her webcomic, Saint for Rent, which updates three times weekly.