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 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 Preschool Reads, Realistic Fiction

It takes love to Build a Better Tree Fort

The Better Tree Fort, by Jessica Scott Kerrin/Illustrated by Qin Leng, (March 2018, Groundwood Books), $17.95, ISBN: 9781554988631

Recommended for readers 4-8

A boy named Russell and and his dad move into their new home. Russell sees the giant maple tree in their yard as a perfect spot for a tree fort, so he and his dad set to work designing it, and – after multiple trips to the lumber store – build it together. It may not look like the tree fort in Russell’s imagination, but it is perfect. He and dad eat peanut butter and jam sandwiches in the fort, unfurl their sleeping bags for a tree fort sleepover, and enjoy each other’s company in the tree fort. When Russell sees construction workers in the yard three houses over, he realizes there’s another tree fort going up, so he heads over to meet his neighbor, a boy named Warren. Warren’s tree fort has it all: a balcony, escape slide, even electricity. After all, his dad bought the plans and paid for the builders to come build it. But all Warren can focus on is what it doesn’t have (a kitchen sink). Russell heads back home to his perfect tree fort, made with his father, for some quality time.

This is a sweet story about appreciation that makes for great reading and discussion. It’s nice to see a story about the relationship between father and son – a single dad, it would appear, from the text. They create this tree fort together, building it with their own two hands, sharing the time together. Warren and his dad – who isn’t present in the story – present a foil for readers: the dad with money but no time, and the child who doesn’t appreciate what he’s got. Russell goes home to his dad, who wants to hang out with his son, in the tree fort that they made together. The experience is what counts, not the gewgaws that make it fancy. It’s a great message to communicate to kids and parents alike: spend time together. Create together.

 

The ink, watercolor, and pencil crayon art uses subdued colors and perspective to tell the story: the giant, overwhelming shelves at the lumber store; the chaos of materials surrounding Russell and his dad as they try to figure out how to bring the tree fort to life; the colors of the sunset as they sit in the fort, eating sandwiches and sitting on sleeping bags. It’s a great story for a storytime and one-on-one cuddle time. Talk to your readers about appreciation, and about things they do with their grownups that they enjoy: do they cook with family? Play board games, or solve puzzles? Which tree fort did they like more, and why?

Jessica Scott Kerrin is an award-winning Canadian author who writes picture and middle grade books. You can learn more at her website. Find more of Canadian illustrator Qin Leng’s beautiful artwork (including artwork from another book I adore, Shelter) at her website.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Ellie, Engineer: a little MacGyver, a little Rosie Revere, for intermediate/middle graders

Ellie, Engineer, by Jackson Pearce, (Jan. 2018, Bloomsbury USA), $15.99, ISBN: 9781681195193

Recommended for readers 7-10

Ellie is a 9 year-old engineer: she can take darn near anything apart and make it something even cooler. Most of the time. When she sets out to make an amazing birthday gift for her best friend, Kit, she finds herself in the middle of a friendship mess: the girls normally don’t like the “jerk boys”, but Ellie’s discovered that they’re not so bad after all. So she works with each group in secret, hoping to avoid drama. Oops. Ellie has to get both groups talking to her again, and to each other, to finish Kit’s birthday present on time!

This is such a fun story about a positive female character who wears what she wants and does what she wants: she rocks a tool belt over her skirts and matches outfits with her best friend. She draws up her own blueprints and can make anything, from a water balloon launcher to a security system that will keep annoying little brother’s out of her friend’s room. Her best friend, Kit, is a pageant girl and ballet dancer who works right alongside Ellie, and the boys in the neighborhood enjoy a good tea party as much as they do a soccer game. Get it? They’re kids. They like to play. This whole story is about bringing boys and girls together under common interests, and it does so nicely. Girls will see themselves in Ellie, especially those who find themselves confused about whether or not girls *can* be friends with boys, or wonder if it’s okay to still like pretty dresses if they can rock a screwdriver. There are some laughs: Ellie’s got a few backfires, and a few successes that will make kids laugh, and the heart of the story – cooperation and friendship – is a gratifying message. Black and white illustrations showcase Ellie’s sketches for different projects, and a section at the end provides illustrations and a guide to basic tools for burgeoning builders and engineers. Give this to the kids who have grown out of Andrea Beaty’s Rosie Revere, Engineer; Iggy Peck, Architect; and Ada Twist, Scientist. Display and booktalk with the Girls Who Code and the Lucy’s Lab chapter books. Put out paper and ask kids to come up with their own plans – what do they want to make? Leave straws, pipe cleaners, cardboard, toothpicks, glue, marshmallows – anything the kids can build with – out and let the room have at it.

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

Different Days looks at German internment during World War II

Different Days, by Vicki Berger Erwin, (Oct. 2017, Sky Pony Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781510724587

Recommended for readers 9-13

Eleven year-old Rosie lives with her mother, father, and younger brother, Freddie, in Honolulu, Hawaii. They love their home, their family, their lives, until December 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor is attacked and everything changes, seemingly overnight. Rosie’s parents are of German descent, but are American citizens who have lived in Hawaii for most of their lives. It doesn’t matter. They’re rounded up by the military, along with Rosie’s Aunt Etta; they’re detained as German spies, their possessions confiscated. Rosie and Freddie are left alone, and suddenly, their schoolmates and neighbors don’t seem as friendly as they used to be. They’re sent to live with their emotionally distant Aunt Yvonne, who tells her neighbors they are refugee children and never admits to her own German ancestry. Luckily, Aunt Etta is released and takes the children, but this is just the beginning of the struggle: her family’s home has been sold; their possessions and properties now “in storage” or gone, and the children at the new school they attend are quick to call them Nazis. Rosie longs for her family to reunite and for things to stabilize, but these are very different days.

Different Days is based on the true story of 11-year-old Doris Berg, who watched the attack on Pearl Harbor from her home in Honolulu. The next day, her parents and aunt were taken into custody and sent to internment camps. Like Rosie and Freddie, Doris and her sister were sent to an aunt that refused to acknowledge their familial link, and lost her home and possessions. Rosie is a strong, resilient character who wishes she were like her heroine, teen sleuth Nancy Drew, so she could solve the mysteries facing her: who was responsible for informing on her parents and having them detained, and who is this shady Mr. Smith who allegedly “manages” her family’s disappearing property and possessions? She endures the prejudice of those around her, and focuses on small victories, whether it’s having something to eat that day or knowing she’ll visit her mother soon. The novel takes readers into the story of one family affected by the internment of German “persons of interest”; a moment in history not often discussed. The book includes information about Doris Berg and her family’s ordeal, and further information. Different Days is a good addition to historical fiction collections and is as relevant today, when we seek to label others and blame an entire nationality/ethnicity/religion for the actions of a few.

Vicki Berger Erwin writes for both children and adults. You can find out more by visiting her website.

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, Realistic Fiction

Shai and Emmie dance their way into a new adventure!

Shai and Emmie Star in Dancy Pants!, by Quvenzhané Wallis with Nancy Ohlin/Illustrated by Sharee Miller, (Jan. 2018, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), $15.99, ISBN: 9781481458856

Recommended for readers 6-9

This is Academy Award-nominated actress Quvenzhané Wallis’ second outing in her Shai & Emmie series. This time, the two third graders and their friend Rio are getting ready to strut their stuff for a dance competition – but Shai’s frenemy, Gabby, decides to make things more competitive by challenging Shai to a bet: whoever’s team “wins” will bring the other a cupcake every day for a whole month. Shai’s determined to win, but Emmie and Rio don’t even know they’ve been sucked into this bet, so when Shai becomes a taskmaster about practice, things get a little interesting. Can the friends work it all out?

This is an enjoyable series for kids ready to graduate from simple chapter books and easy readers – Jasmine Toguchi readers, the Ivy and Bean audience, and Whoopi Goldberg’s Sugar Plum Fairies fans will dive right in. Shai has supportive, loving parents and a big family, with siblings and pets aplenty; there’s always something going on in Shai’s bustling world. Her group of friends are diverse, as illustrated in the black and white illustrations throughout. This is a highly readable series for newly confident chapter book readers.

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

Mush! A baker and a sled dog racer work together in Cookie Cutters & Sled Runners

Cookie Cutters and Sled Runners, by Natalie Rompella, (Nov. 2017, Sky Pony Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781510717718

Recommended for readers 9-13

Ana and Lily are best friends, getting ready to start middle school together. They’re also burgeoning chefs, creating their own recipes with the goal of writing and selling their own cookbook one day. Things go awry when Ana and Lily discover that they’re not in one single class together, though; you see, Lily is the only person who understands Ana. The only person Ana wants as a friend. Lily understands Ana’s need to wash her hands and keep her cooking surfaces and food flawlessly clean; she knows that Ana can’t handle red food. She is Ana’s shield against the world. Ana ends up with the meanest teacher in sixth grade, too: Mr. Creed has a list of rules a mile long (“never use contractions in my class”) and decides that the big Exploration Project – the project Ana and Lily planned working on together – will be done in partnership with another person from class. Ana’s assigned Dasher, the new girl from Alaska, who dresses weird and wants to do a project on her favorite sport and hobby: sled dog racing!

I adore this book! I love the characters, and I love that in Ana, we get a positive portrayal of a character struggling with OCD. Cookie Cutters & Sled Runners gives us a central character that lives with a disorder, and incorporates that challenge into her daily living. Yes, we see Ana washing her hands and spraying down her surfaces; we read her internal struggle when she has to choose between cleaning and a critical moment in the story, but we also see her meeting with a therapist, being supported by her parents and friends, and working through her challenge through daily exercises and taking on new, exciting challenges. She’s not cured by the end of the story, but that’s not the point of the story: she’s growing, and she makes major gains here. Dasher is great fun to read, and I loved learning a little bit more about snow dog racing. Finally, I appreciated a middle grade novel that turns the “new friends” dilemma on its head by having the “rival friends” befriend one another and form a supportive group together.

A positive, upbeat story that introduces readers to characters with obsessive-compulsive behaviors and provides some insight on the challenges of daily life for those characters. have Wesley King’s OCDaniel on hand for readers who want to read and learn more.