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

An unexpected mystery and a group of Ghastlies: Death and Douglas

Death and Douglas, by J.W. Ocker, (Sept. 2017, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-5107-2457-0

Good for readers 8-12

Twelve year-old Douglas Mortimer gets Death. His family runs the local funeral home in a small New England town named Cowlmouth; he learned how to tie a tie by putting them on the corpses before viewing. There’s a morgue downstairs in his home. Dressed in his suits and impeccable ties, he’s ready to take over the family business one day. For Douglas, death is just part of life: he’s more comfortable with it than most adults are, let alone kids. Until the murders begin. Someone is killing people in Douglas’s sleepy little town, and carving letters into the victims’ faces. Douglas understands death, but murder is just unnatural. It’s wrong. And it scares him. He and his best friend, Lowell – the police chief’s son – and his new friend, Amber – an ambulance driver’s daughter, decide they need to get to the bottom of this mystery. Calling themselves the Ghastlies, they start their own investigation, which could put them right in the killer’s sights.

Death and Douglas is fascinating – not many middle grade novels are going to be this frank about death and its place in the natural order of things. It’s a relief; it addresses the routines and rituals involved in passing, as part of Douglas’s parents’ work, with no overwrought emotion. In fact, when a group of  self-nominated “guardian angels” try to suggest that Douglas’s upbringing is unwholesome, his father fires back, stating that his understanding allows him the strength to help others who have lost loved ones. His family may shelter him from some of the grimmer parts of the business – he is only 12 – but Douglas’s parents are very forward about death as a part of life. The characters are well-crafted; believable, and equal parts hilarious and conflicted – kind of like real kids. I’d love to see what the Ghastlies have in store for the future. Until then, I’ll just have to settle for foisting this book on the kids in my library. Give this one to your mystery fans for sure.

Author JW Ocker’s site, Odd Things I’ve Seen, is truly worth a look.

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

Choose Empathy. Choose Compassion. Read Mustaches for Maddie.

Mustaches for Maddie, by Chad Morris & Shelly Brown, (Oct. 2017, Shadow Mountain), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1629723303

Good for readers 9-12

Maddie’s a 12-year-old kid who loves to laugh and make people laugh, and there’s nothing better for that – at least according to Maddie – than a fake mustache. She carries them around with her, always ready to hand out and pop one on to make an uncomfortable situation better, to add some bravery when a situation calls for it, or just to make someone laugh. She’s also trying to secure her spot within the school queen bee’s clique; Cassie dictates who gets to hang out with her, and demands favors of her “friends” in order to stay in her favor. When she tells Maddie not to hang out with a perfectly nice classmate for no other reason than she said so, Maddie struggles with it, but ultimately – at first – sticks with Cassie. The thing is, Maddie’s noticing her body acting weird lately. Her arm isn’t acting right; it’s curling against her chest. She’s tripping over her own two feet quite often. But she tells her mom it’s just growing pains. It can’t be anything weird, right?

Wrong. When she finally goes to the doctor, she and her family learn that she has a brain tumor that will require surgery. And Maddie just landed the part of Juliet in the school production of Romeo and Juliet! Maddie learns to face her fears – including her fear of not being in Cassie’s orbit – and embraces real friendship with those around her. When Cassie turns into a bully, Maddie focuses on the bigger picture: surgery and recovery. Her friends and family rally around her, and there are plenty of mustache moments to look forward to.

This book is brilliant. Based on the true story of the authors’ daughter – who is okay now, thank goodness! – this story, told in the first person from Maddie’s POV, is engaging and heart-felt. Maddie has a great sense of humor and a big heart, and strives to see the good in everyone: even a bully. Despite wanting to be in Cassie’s orbit, she enjoys embracing her quirky sense of humor, making her a lovable heroine – even moreso, when you realize she’s an actual person. SLJ calls Mustaches for Maddie a good readalike for RJ Palacio’s Wonder and I have to agree. I’ve booktalked it exactly once, and that’s because the second I put it on the shelf and talked about the plot, it was gone and hasn’t stopped circulating yet. The book’s website offers a free, downloadable reading guide with Common Core Connections, activities for the classroom and beyond, and CIA (Compassion in Action) activities. There are also fantastic extras, including downloadable mustache posters and greeting cards. I’m considering a CIA program myself, where I provide the kids with mustache templates that they can decorate and we’ll display in the library, along with a list of CIA intentions. If I can get the kids to join in, I’ll make sure to blog it.

In the meantime, this is a great book for discussion, for gift-giving, for just about everything. It addresses the need for compassion that our society needs some help with these days, and take on a special importance during the holiday season and as we prepare for a new year.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, mythology, Tween Reads

Hermes: The next Olympian graphic novel!

Hermes (Olympians, Volume 10), by George O’Connor, (Jan. 2018, First Second), $10.99, ISBN: 9781626725256

Recommended for readers 9-12

The 10th volume of George O’Connor’s Olympians series brings out the trickster. No, not Loki; the other trickster. Hermes – the winged feet guy? – is the god of tricksters and thieves, animal husbandry, trade and merchants, sleep, contests and athletes, astronomy, language, and he happens to also be a guide for the dead. From his humble beginnings as an infant who had a penchant for cattle rustling (he’s the god of that, too) to his adventures with his son, Pan, O’Connor provides a nice overview of Hermes, framed as a series of stories told by a character who is not exactly what he seems. There are additional mythological figure biographies, a bibliography, footnotes, and discussion questions. The Olympians collection is a good graphic novel go-to series for kids’ collections; they’re a good additional resource for research reports, and kids enjoy reading about the Olympians. I display my set with my Percy Jackson books, and it generates a lot of interest, especially when you booktalk the series as the basis for Percy Jackson. (Nothing about Mount Olympus being at the top of the Empire State Building in O’Connor, but who knows, right?)

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Holiday Gift Guide: Books Kids Like!

I’m one of those people that believes there’s a book for every person, every occasion. I’m a firm believer in the five laws of library science, after all, and three of those are: “Books are for use”; “Every book its reader”; “Every reader his or her book”. This is very serious business.  So here’s a humble little gift guide for those of you who may want to give a book (or three), but not sure what to give to whom.

For the graphic novel reader who’s a little quirky and fun…

Anna & Froga: Completely Bubu, by Anouk Ricard,
(Sept. 2017, Drawn & Quarterly), $19.95, ISBN: 978-1-77046-292-2
Good for readers 10-13

This collection of comics from French author, artist, and animator Anouk Ricard stars a little girl named Anna, and her group of animal friends: Froga, the frog; Christopher, the worm; Ron, the cat, and Bubu, the dog. The book collects five previously published comics and one new story; each vignette running about 6 pages. Some vignettes end with a two-page final spread to deliver one last laugh, some run the whole 6 pages as a strip, but every little episode in Completely Bubu is loaded with kooky, smart humor. Upper middle graders and middle schoolers will get some good laughs out of this group, and so will you. “Bubu’s Vacation” will make you laugh out loud if you’ve ever considered (or maybe have) lying about going on vacation just to get some peace and quiet, and “The Garage Sale” will crack you up… and maybe, eye some pen caps.

For the kid who needs to know EVERYTHING. Right now.

Time for Kids: The Big Book of How, by James Buckley, Jr.,
(Oct. 2017, Liberty Street), $19.99, ISBN: 9781683300106
Good for readers 8-12

If you know a kid that has the Wikipedia app loaded and ready to go; takes things apart to figure out how they work, or just wants to know why, The Big Book of How is the gift to give. With 11 sections, covering Animals, Technology, Space, Science, Sports, and more, this book carries over 1,000 facts (see the cover?) that kids wants to know. Each section hands readers the reins by offering a How To just for them: learn how to make a paper airplane or a camera obscura; find out how to launch a rocket or grow salad on a windowsill. There are amazing photos and fast facts, Did You Know? boxes and infographics, making this a desk reference that will get read and loved.

For the sports fan who already knows all the stats…

Sports Illustrated Kids All-Star Activity Book, by James Buckley Jr.,
(Nov. 2017, Liberty Street), $9.99, ISBN: 978-1-68330-773-0
Good for readers 8-13

Your sports fan knows all the box scores and stats, but has she or he ever done a Williams Sisters connect-the-dot? Or created his or her own James Harden beard? You can do that and more with this activity book – covering all the major sports, with additional sections for the Olympics and All-Stars, kids can match soccer team jerseys to their players, create their own Olympic logo, and zip through an NHL word search. There’s even a NASCAR coin flip game in here for Race Day fans. Fun facts and great photos make this a great stocking stuffer.

For the time-traveler and history buff…


The BlastBack! series, by Nancy Ohlin/Illustrated by Adam Larkum and Roger Simó, (little bee)
Good for readers 7-10

The BlastBack! series is nonfiction that kids devour. It’s like the Time Warp Trio wrote books after each of their adventures. Each book covers a period in time, giving readers the full scoop: religion and mythology, history, aftermath, all written with respect for the younger reader – parenthetical explanations of terms and facts; callout boxes that look deeper into key people and moments; selected bibliographies at the end of each book. Black and white illustrations and maps throughout keep readers turning pages. There are 10 BlastBack! books now, and I hope we get some more to fill up my series nonfiction section. They’re just good reading.

For the kid you hand your phone to when you can’t figure out an app…

Coding iPhone Apps for Kids: A Playful Introduction to Swift, by Gloria Winquist and Matt McCarthy/Illustrated by Keiko Sato,
(May 2017, No Starch Press), $29.95, ISBN: 978-1-59327-756-7
Good for readers 10+

I love No Starch Press and their tech books for kids. Coding iPhone Apps for Kids is a detailed, but highly readable, introduction to Swift, the language used mobile apps that run on Apple devices. The book walks readers through every step of the process, from the basics of learning how to code, installing Xcode (the code editor), storyboarding, adding art and sound effects, testing, and finally, running the app. (I’m leaving a lot of steps out of the process, but that’s why I don’t write books on creating apps.) There are full-color illustrations, screen shots, and lines of code to guide readers and important troubleshooting tips and tweaks along the way. An appendix and index round out this insanely helpful book that would make a lovely gift wrapped up with a copy of Girls Who Code. Just sayin’.

For the kid who loves infographics… or really likes Seek and Finds…

The Big History Timeline Wallbook, by Christopher Lloyd and Patrick Skipworth/Illustrated by Andy Forshaw,
(Sept. 2017, What On Earth Books), $19.95, ISBN: 978-0-9932847-2-4
Good for readers 6-14

What did we do before infographics? So much info communicated in little bites of space, fully illustrated and eyecatching; it’s a wonderful thing. The Big History Timeline Wallbook isn’t quite an infographic, but it does come with a 6-foot timeline of the universe – from the Big Bang to our Present Day – that you can detach and hang on your wall. There’s even a cute little pocket, holding a magnifier, that you can use to read the itty bitty text on the poster. Hey, there’s a lot of history to chronicle; sometimes, font size has to be sacrificed.

The Wallbook Chronicle is an 18-page “glorious gallop through fourteen billion years of big history”: printed to look like a newspaper, articles include major world events with bylines and dates, like the “Solar System origins clouded in swirls of gas” article by the astronomy editor from Paris, 1796 and the geography correspondent’s 1806 article on Lewis and Clark completing their transcontinental trek. A letters section from “would-be readers down the ages” has commentary on events including the sacking of King Tut’s tomb and the fire-bombing of Tokyo in 1945; a quiz tests readers’ mettle. There are three Timeline Wallbooks available: Big History, Science, and Nature; all developed in conjunction with the American Museum of Natural History. Definitely a fun gift choice.

 

More gift ideas to come! I hope this helped fill in a few check boxes on your holiday lists.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Tween Reads

Fantastic Fairy Tale: The Prince and The Dressmaker

The Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang, (Feb. 2018, First Second), $16.99, ISBN: 9781626723634

Recommended for readers 10+

In a Parisian town, during what looks like a Renaissance period, Frances is a brilliant dressmaker who slaves away in drudgery until she’s hired to work for the crown prince, Sebastian. It’s only when Frances arrives at the palace does she realize that Sebastian has a secret: he loves to wear extravagant, lavish dresses and go out on the town! Together, he and Frances craft a persona, Lady Crystallia, and hit the streets of Paris together; Lady Crystallia makes a splash on the Paris fashion scene, and Frances finds her talents in demand. But to go public with her talents puts Sebastian’s secret at risk.

This is a great modern fairy tale. It challenges gender identity, it’s got great characters, the art is soft realistic with a touch of the fantastic, and a touch of sweet romance that will make you just sigh, “Aww!” Frances is a lovable character who I felt for, and Sebastian put my emotions through the ringer as he went through his own stress. Each chapter is set off with a dress pattern, keeping readers in the overall story. Give this one to your readers who loved Princess Princess Ever After, your Lumberjanes fans, and anyone who appreciates a good, modern fairy tale.

The Prince and the Dressmaker won’t be out until February, but you can pre-order now (and check out more amazing art).

 

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Diversity Reading Challenge 2017 – Checking In

This year, I accepted The Unconventional Librarian’s Diversity Reading Challenge, and I’ve been… okay. Let’s take a look:

(The center Diversity Reading Challenge 2017 graphic is from An Unconventional Librarian’s website.)

Book featuring a Hispanic character – Wild Beauty, by Anna Marie McLemore

Book featuring an LGBTQ character – Spinning, by Tillie Walden

Graphic Novel – Pashmina, by Nidhi Chanani

Book featuring a character with mental illness – Lighter Than My Shadow, by Katie Green

Book featuring an Asian character – Warcross, by Marie Lu

Book by an illustrator of color – Nina: Jazz Legend and Civil Rights Activist Nina Simone, illustrated by Bruno Liance

Book with an African-American young male character – Goodnight, Boy, by Nikki Sheehan

Book with an African-American female character – An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon

Book with a Muslim character – Lost Boys, by Darcey Rosenblatt

Book with a character on the Autism spectrum – Mighty Jack and the Goblin King, by Ben Hatke

Book featuring a character with a physical disability – Super Max and the Mystery of Thornwood’s Revenge, by Susan Vaught

 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with my reading, but it could be better. I see little spots where I need to read more deeply. Goodnight, Boy is amazing; brilliantly written, but I should also be reading African-American characters written by African-American characters. I need to finally get Ghost, by Jason Reynolds, off the TBR and on my nightstand, you know? Ditto for my Muslim character choice. I love Lost Boys; it’s a heart-wrenching novel that darn near brings me to tears, but I need to stop saying I want to read Amina’s Voice and just read it. (If you’re struggling to find Muslim authors, by the way, I found a list on GoodReads that may help.)

I am happy that there’s some crossover on the list. I have several graphic novels on the list; while reading graphic novels is never an issue for me, I’m happy to see that the medium is a great place to explore different cultures and identities. Spinning, Lighter Than My Shadow, Pashmina, and Mighty Jack and the Goblin King are all graphic novels; each is its own journey of exploration. Wild Beauty and An Unkindness of Ghosts have female, main characters of color that explore their sexuality.

In sum, I need to read one more book (a Holocaust victim) to complete my challenge. Pragmatic Mom has a list that I think I’ll use as my guide here. Milkweed, by Jerry Spinelli, sounds compelling; it may also be time to to finally pick up Jane Yolen’s Devil’s Arithmetic.  I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, thanks to Pam at Unconventional Librarian for keeping me honest.

Posted in Fiction, Horror, Media, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Realistic Fiction, TV Shows, Tween Reads, Uncategorized

Part Lois Lane, Part Nancy Drew… Introducing Cici!

Cici’s Journal: The Adventures of a Writer in Training, by Joris Chamblain/Illustrated by Aurelie Neyret, Translated by Carol Burrell, (Nov. 2017, :01FirstSecond), $16.99, ISBN: 9781626722484

Recommended for readers 8-12

Cici’s dream is to become a novelist. She journals her thoughts and ideas, and constantly people watches, much to the chagrin of her mother and friends. Cici doesn’t see it as being nosy; she figures that you need to understand what’s inside of people in order to write about them. But when she starts digging further into people’s lives and expecting her friends to lie to her mother to cover up her “investigations”, they let her know that they’ve had enough. Can Cici learn to be a good friend and an attentive writer?

Originally published in France under the French title Les carnets de Cerise (2012), this is Cici’s first English translation and includes two stories. In the first story (title), Cici discovers an older man walking through the forest every Sunday, covered in paint and lugging cans of paint back and forth. In Hector’s Journal, she tries to get to the bottom of a mystery involving an older woman who takes the same library book out every week. Both times, Cici goes after her subject with gusto, but is often insensitive to her friends and mother. It isn’t until her mentor, a local author, steps in to have a heart to heart with Cici that she finally understands that she’s been using people, and starts taking others into consideration. Kids will recognize themselves and their friends in Cici, especially as she goes through the frustration of disagreeing with Mom and falling out with friends.

The graphic novel is a mix of graphic storytelling and journaling, with doodles, scrapbook pieces, comments, and notes throughout the book. The art is realistic with a soft touch, and Cici has a very fun and eclectic style that will appeal to middle graders. She complains about her friends throughout the book, and with seeming good reason: one girl is in a perpetually bad mood, and Cici herself can be exasperating (mind you, I say this as a 46 year -old mother of three, not a tween). In short, kids will identify with or see their friends in these characters, and dive into Cici’s adventures – and maybe start journaling on their own.

In my neverending quest to create programs that I can booktalk with, Cici’s Journal is a nice fit with a writer’s program I want to test out. Put this one with your Dork Diaries, Amelia’s Notebooks, Wimpy Kid books, My Dumb Diaries, Kate the Great, Origami Yodas, and Popularity Papers.