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 Preschool Reads

Pepper’s perfect pattern

A Pattern for Pepper, by Julie Kraulis, (Aug. 2017, Tundra Books), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1101917565

Recommended for ages 4-8

A young girl needs a dress for a very special occasion; her mom takes her to a dressmaker to have one specially made, and together, Pepper and the dressmaker search through patterns until they find the perfect one for Pepper’s dress.

This fun story about the search for a perfect fabric pattern also provides some background on patterns both popular and exotic; from Houndstooth to Ikat, Seersucker to Argyle, Pepper relates each pattern’s history to her own life: Seersucker, for instances, comes from the Persian words for milk and sugar, to describe the bumpy textures; Pepper prefers her tea strong, without milk or sugar, so she passes. When she finally finds her perfect pattern, the dressmaker allows her to help out, and we get a glimpse at the pattern-making process; pieces pinned onto fabric to be cut out and sewn together. Pepper’s dress is done, and we learn the special occasion: tea with her grandmother, who is wearing a dress made from her own perfect pattern.

The oil and graphite art, rendered on board, gives a textured feel to the story. Subdued colors make this a relaxing read, and visuals related to each pattern’s history – a bagpiper for Tartan, a hound and his Houndstooth-wearing master, a photograph of Pepper’s grandmother in her Dotted Swiss wedding dress – are superimposed over each fabric, provide further meaning and connection to each pattern’s history.

This is a sweet, beautifully rendered book about fashion and history, and a loving multigenerational tale, woven through the main story.  Extend a storytime by adding a textile component; bring in different fabrics to have kids look at, touch, and identify, like cotton t-shirts, fake fur, wool, and denim; if you have any patterned fabric, bring them in to let the kids get an up-close look at them, too, and ask them what patterns are familiar to them.

 

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Middle School, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Summer of STEAM: Girls Who Code Two-Fer!

I love coding and playing around with computer science-y type stuff. In my mind, I look like this:

When I create this.  (This is actually mine! I created it using Scratch.)

I do my best to get science in front of my own kids, and my library kids, at every opportunity. The kids here at my library are Minecrafters, so I feel like I’ve got an in and am working on building a nice, tech-friendly nonfiction section; the next additions on my list are from the organization, Girls Who Code.  If you aren’t familiar with Girls Who Code, they are a New York-based organization on a mission to close the gender gap in the tech industry and the classroom. They teach girls to embrace tech and to code, to create, and most importantly, not to fear science and math. Andrea Gonzalez and Sophie Hauser, two GWC grads, wrote Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral, and Getting It Done, where they talk about their GWC experience.

Now, Reshma Saujani, Girls Who Code founder, is releasing her own book, Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World (Aug. 2017, Viking, $17.99, ISBN: 978-0425287538). It’s a coding beginner’s guide, a spotlight on women in the computer science industry, an empowering career guide, and introduction to STEM for girls, all rolled up into one volume. It’s fun and easy to read, with Reshma speaking to readers in a comfortable, friendly voice; she gets some help from a group of illustrated, diverse girls: Lucy, Erin, Sophia, Leila, and Maya. The illustrated group of friends (more on them later) explain concepts and act as a step-by-step example of different stages of coding and creating.

What sets Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World apart from all the other coding books out there? Glad you asked. The tone, for starters, is fun, light, and personal. Reshma and her group of illustrated friends are talking straight to readers. The two-color illustrations are fun, like those you’d find in a middle grade novel, and feature characters from different ethnicities; Leila rocks a hijab, Maya is an Asian fashionista with a sleek bob; Lucy is African-American, Sophia is Latina, and Erin is a blonde. The group of friends come together to create apps and problem solve their coding; we’re invited along for the ride. Not sure you want to go into computer science? That’s no problem, either: GWC points out how many careers and hobbies incorporate coding these days, from baking, to politics, to social justice, sports, and art.  You’ll learn new terms, like pseudocode – that’s when you write out the steps of your program in plain language, to brainstorm and go over your program before starting to code. There are further Web resources and a glossary to complete this trusty guide to STEM life. Trust me, you’ll never look at the mere making of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich again after you read this.

Also arriving the same day as Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World is the first in a new GWC series of fiction chapter books, starring the Girls Who Code we met in the previous book: Lucy, Erin, Sophia, and Maya (Leila’s arriving in the next book) come together thanks to a coding club in the new adventure, The Friendship Code, by Stacia Deutsch.

Girls Who Code: The Friendship Code, by Stacia Deutsch, (Aug. 2017, $12.99, ISBN: 9780399542510)

 

We get some background on each character: there’s been some past drama between Lucy and Sophia; Erin is an army brat who’s new in town; Maya is the fashionista who has a fashion column in the school newspaper; Sophia’s an athlete, and Lucy is fixated on learning to code so she can create an app to help her sick uncle remember to take his medicine. Thanks to the Coding Club, the girls learn that coding is more than just banging out numbers on computers (sometimes, to Lucy’s chagrin). With a fun mystery thrown in, the GWC series is like a Babysitter’s Club for a new group of tech-savvy kids. The series is great for intermediate-level readers; black and white illustrations and a quick pace make this novel a fun read that introduces younger middle graders to beginning coding terms and STEM. The mystery is even written in pseudocode – maybe a fun thing to introduce to your kids! Slip a pseudocode note into a lunchbox here, introduce a pseudocode scavenger hunt there… the possibilities stretch far and wide. Where Girls Who Code: Learn to Code, Change the World is best for your middle schoolers and upper middle graders, Girls Who Code: The Friendship Code is a great way to get younger middle graders familiar with the characters, the language of coding, and the fun of STEM.

In October, we’re getting another nonfiction/fiction GWC combo, when Code It! Create It! and Team BFF: Race to the Rescue! hit shelves. I’ll be waiting!

 

Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Book Tour: The Tower, by Nicole Campbell

The Tower, by Nicole Campbell, (June 2017, CreateSpace), $13.50, ISBN: 978-1545411278

Recommended for readers 13+

Three lifelong friends get ready to start their junior year of high school. They live in Elizabethtown, Illinois, and tend to stand out because they’re witches. Not the Harry Potter type, and not the White Witch of Narnia, either: they’re pagans, in touch with nature and the energy around them, and they have no idea how things are going to change for them this year. There’s Rowyn, whose sharp tongue is rivaled only by her skill in reading tarot cards and auras; Reed, forever in love with Rowyn, who channels energy and practices reiki, and Rose, who puts love and little touches of her magic into her baked goods. There’s also Jared, a jock from school who’s dating Rose and seems to be the one person from school that’s willing to take the time to understand his new group of friends. When tragedy strikes, their worlds are upended, and each has to find his or her own way back to some form of balance.

Each chapter is told in the first person from one of our four main characters. This is not a paranormal novel; it’s not an urban fantasy novel. It’s a beautiful story of love and loss, addiction and depression, and a look into a group of friends that grew up on the outside, looking in. Diversity takes many forms, and the pagan belief system, stuck in the middle of Christian conservatism, serves as a powerful setting. Nicole Campbell writes characters that are fragile and strong; they’re dealing with things so many teens find themselves faced with today: divorced parents, bullying, and navigating relationships among them. The Tower is a strong piece of YA realistic fiction that will resonate with teens and young adults.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Humor, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Meet two new middle grade heroines with big imaginations

Ruby Starr, by Deborah Lytton, (Aug. 2017, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $7.99, ISBN: 9781492645771

Recommended for readers 8-12

Ruby Starr loves getting lost in a good book. She even has a lunchtime book group with her BFFs at school: The Unicorns! Things change when Charlotte, the new girl in school, shows up and starts making big changes: she scoffs at reading and wants to make The Unicorns a drama club, and she’s spending more and more time with Ruby’s best friend, Siri. Ruby needs to dig deep into her imagination to help bring things back to normal again.

Part Secret Life of Walter Mitty, part Dork Diaries, Ruby Starr is a lovable new protagonist for middle grade readers. She daydreams scenarios to help her cope with the everyday frustrations – or imagine exciting outcomes for upcoming events – and zones out while she’s doing it, making for some giggleworthy moments throughout the story. The imagination sequences are illustrated, letting readers in on the joke. The stress of friendship – and losing it – will resonate with middle graders, as will the fear of being the outsider in the group; Ruby handles these challenges with humor and style, even reaching out to her frenemy and offering a helping hand. I loved seeing a nice librarian-student relationship, too; maybe the author can give us a Ruby Starr/Unicorns reading list to promote to our kids!

Ruby Starr is a fun entry into the humorous journal fiction sub-genre. Give this to your Dork Diaries, My Dumb Diary, and Frazzled (by Booki Vivat) readers. Ask them to draw an imaginary scenario for themselves! There’s a reader’s guide on Deborah Lytton’s author webpage, along with an author Q&A and link to her blog.

The Half-True Lies of Cricket Cohen, by Catherine Lloyd Burns, (Aug. 2017, Farrar, Straus & Giroux), $16.99, ISBN: 9780374300418

Recommended for ages 8-12

Cricket Cohen has a big imagination. Sometimes, it gets away from her – especially when she wants to impress someone, or just make a boring autobiography school assignment a little more exciting. After all, it’s fun when she and her grandmother pretend, right? Well… wrong, at least according to her schoolmates, who are tired of her making up stories, and her teacher, who wants her to redo her autobiography assignment with the truth this time. When her parents leave her alone with her grandmother, Dodo, while they go summer house-hunting in the Hamptons, Dodo convinces Cricket that they’re going to run away and have an adventure; Cricket’s all too happy to go. But Dodo starts becoming confused, and Cricket finds herself having to bail herself AND Dodo out of hot water when she’s the only one who knows what’s fact and what’s fantasy.

The Half-True Lies of Cricket Cohen is much more than a novel about a kid who likes to embellish the truth. It’s a story about grandparents and grandchildren, and it’s a story about what happens when children find themselves with the responsibility of caring for an adult: something that today’s kids sometimes find themselves managing.

Cricket finds herself disappearing into her imagination to deal with her boring classmates who prefer talking about clothes, shoes, and crushes to geology and stuffed animal brain surgery, but you can also argue that it’s an attention-seeking response to her parents, who are consumed with their nonprofit fundraising for the city’s public schools. They live above their means, and her mother – a control freak and perfectionist – treats her own mother like an inconvenience. Artsy free spirit Dodo pushes back against her daughter’s rules and regulations, and Cricket embraces her kindred spirit; but Cricket, previously unaware of her grandmother’s health struggles, finds herself in the position of being responsible for herself and her grandmother when her grandmother’s failing memory causes a problem in a department store.

The New York setting is fun – it’s got a touch of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler to it. The story handles big issues like family relationships, aging grandparents, and embellishing the truth with a shot of fun and adventure. At the same time, the Dodo is the one character that remains truly likable throughout the story. Cricket and her family may be living above their means, but they are still an upper middle class family, living on New York’s Upper West Side and renting summer homes in the Hamptons. Her parents border on neglectful, putting the welfare of New York City’s public school children ahead of their own daughter’s. Cricket’s actions are understandable in the bigger picture, and she becomes a more sympathetic character as the story progresses.

Have The Half-True Lies of Cricket Cohen available, along with Death by Toilet Paper by Donna Gephart, and There Will Be Bears, by Ryan Gebhart, for readers who may be coping with an aging grandparent. Booktalk it with Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Kay Thompson’s Eloise, Laura Marx Fitzgerald’s Under the Egg, and Nadja Spiegelman’s Lost in NYC graphic novel for a fun New York reading theme.

Posted in Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Catch up on U.S. History with NatGeo Kids

Weird But True! (Know-It-All) U.S. Presidents, by Brianna Dumont, (July 2017, National Geographic Kids), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1426327964

Recommended for readers 8-12

I love these NatGeo Kids’ facts-at-a-glance books. I learn something new every time, and I have a good time reading them. I’m pretty sure my library kids agree with me, because these books fly off the shelves. In this latest Weird But True, NatGeo gives readers a quick rundown of the U.S. Presidency: fun facts, a renovation timeline, an overview of the three branches of government and the powers of the Supreme Court, Congress, and the President; from there, we get a profile of each President, from Washington through to 45. Profiles run between 2 and 8 pages, outlining high points (Oval Awesome), low points (Oval Awful), and fun facts (Why He’s Weird!). It’s a fun read, loaded with caricature art and photos. Also a nice little supplement for reports and projects down the line.

 

Benjamin Franklin’s Wise Words: How to Work Smart, Play Well, and Make Real Friends, by K.M. Kostyal/Illustrated by Fred Harper, (Jan. 2017, National Geographic Kids), $16.99, ISBN: 978-4263-2699-8

Recommended for readers 8-12

Think of this as a “Life’s Little Instruction Book” for middle grade history fans. Ben Franklin’s sage advice is organized into quotes on tranqulity, industry, order, humility, resolution, sincerity, and moderation. Readers may be surprised at how many sayings they’re familiar with: “there are no pains without gains”, “haste makes waste”, and “honesty is the best policy”. There are 50 of Franklin’s quotes in this book, each with an accompanying caricature illustration with loads of physical comedy to appeal to middle graders. Quotes receive a more modern, accessible translation and a story about Franklin’s life, which may cause a disconnect to anyone who expects the story to illustrate the quote. It’s a fun look at one of U.S. history’s more fascinating characters, but unless you have a dedicated Franklin fan or two, it’s a supplemental or secondary add to your collection.

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/