Posted in Adventure, Espionage, Middle School, Tween Reads

Chris Bradford’s Bodyguard series: a good series for Alex Rider fans

As pop culture phenomenons get younger, the need for these teens can only increase. From pop stars and young stars and starlets to trust fund kids and scions of political powerhouses, everyone is a potential target. Now, imagine if there were an elite team of teens that receive Special Forces training to be that next line in defense. They’re trained to blend in with the crowd, to be a member of an entourage; they’re trained to protect. The teens of Guardian are a private, elite force, and Connor Reeves is their newest member.

Bodyguard is an interesting series. Part Alex Rider, part Jack Bauer from 24, it’s the story of 14 year-old Connor Reeves, a new recruit to the Guardian organization. Most of the first book chronicles Connor’s recruitment and training, with an interesting subplot that frames the series on a larger level. There’s a big terror plot afoot, and a Yemeni group is behind it, creating havoc on each of Connor’s missions as they progress toward their as-yet unknown greater goal. The first four books chronicle Connor’s first two missions; each mission spans two novels. In the first two books, Recruit and Hostage, Connor is sent to protect the US President’s headstrong, rebellious daughter; in Hijack and Ransom, he and a fellow Guardian protect an Aussie media mogul’s daughters as they vacation on their luxury yacht.

   

The writing is fast-paced and action-packed, with interesting characters and the potential for an exciting conclusion to this building subplot. I had some issues with the author’s initial descriptions of the terrorists, though: it’s a bit discomfiting, especially for someone like me, who works in one of the most diverse library systems in the country. Happily, Bradford puts more emphasis on plot development as the novels progress. Connor tends to come across as a white knight, and Bradford needs to let his female characters breathe a little more, but overall, this is a good middle school-level series for kids who wants to read a series similar to Alex Rider.

Chris Bradford’s Bodyguard series was originally released in the UK; the first four books are available in the States now, with three more to come. The Bodyguard series webpage offers a rundown on the books, plus audio excerpts; bodyguard training tips, and a teacher’s guide for the series.

Want a shot at winning your own BODYGUARD set? Enter my raffle by filling out this Google Form! Good luck!

Bodyguard: Recruit, by Chris Bradford, (May 2017, Philomel), $8.99, ISBN: 9781524736972
Bodyguard: Hostage, by Chris Bradford, (May 2017, Philomel), $8.99, ISBN: 9781524736996
Bodyguard: Hijack, by Chris Bradford, (May 2017, Philomel), $8.99, ISBN: 9781524737016
Bodyguard: Ransom, by Chris Bradford, (May 2017, Philomel), $8.99, ISBN: 9781524737030

Posted in Conferences & Events

Book Expo ’17: The Rundown

The past couple of weeks have been a bit of a blur: I started at my new library (still in the same library system, new community), went to BookExpo, spent four days getting our library, which had been closed for renovations, ready for reopening, and sadly, dealing with the loss of a friend. The next week and a half brings three graduations and the start of Summer Reading. I will be drinking a lot of coffee.

It’s about two weeks in the past, but this year’s BookExpo America deserves some love. Here are some highlights:

  • The children’s author dinner at the Princeton Club was wonderful. The author lineup was fantastic: Byron Pitts (Be the One: Six True Stories of Teens Overcoming Hardship with Hope); Tochi Onyebuchi (Beasts Made of Night); Mitali Perkins (You Bring the Distant Near); author and illustrator husband and wife powerhouse Lesa Cline-Ransome and James E. Ransome (Before She Was Harriet), Dusti Bowling (Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus), and Mo Willems (Welcome). Each author (and illustrator) spoke about their books, and the publishers were kind enough to provide tote bags and copies of each book, which the authors graciously signed after their panel.

Every author and illustrator spoke with such passion about their book; I wanted to go home and read them all in one night. They’re currently waiting for me to get to them – more to come. Mo Willems taught us how to draw Piggie, from Elephant and Piggie, and I even found the power of speech to speak with him about the power of using the Pigeon when running a storytime workshop for parents a couple of years ago. What an evening.

  • Getting to sit in on Holly Black and Ryan Graudin’s talk about their upcoming books, The Cruel Prince (Holly Black) and Invictus (Ryan Graudin). Ryan Graudin talked about the influence of her Doctor Who fandom in writing this new novel, which shot it immediately up on my TBR. Holly Black could write the ingredients on a box of toothpaste, and I’d wait in line to read it. Both ladies were funny – Holly Black discussing her deadlines was laugh-out-loud hilarious – and engaging, and I’m thrilled that I got to see them.

  • The signings! So many book signings! I tried to make as  many as I could. There were tons of in-booth signings as well as the ticketed signings, making authors really accessible to everyone.
  • Discovering new books by smaller presses. I love to discover what the smaller and indie presses are putting out there.
  • Getting a shout-out from Gabrielle Union when she made an obscure DC Comics character reference and I whooped. Come on, when someone makes a Mr. Mxyzptlk reference, you acknowledge that. She appeared on a grown-up book panel (I know! I even got big girl books!) along with Kate Moore (Radium Girls), Zoe Quinn, who tackles GamerGate and cyberstalking and cyberbullying in Crash Override, librarian extraordinaire Nancy Pearl, who’s written her first novel, George and Lizzie, Gabrielle Zevin (Young Jane Young), and Robin Sloan (Sourdough).

All in all, it was a good Expo.

 

Posted in Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

What’s hiding under The Suffering Tree?

The Suffering Tree, by Elle Cosimano, (June 2017, Disney-Hyperion), $17.99, ISBN: 9781484726594

Recommended for ages 14+

After her father’s death and her family’s eviction, Tori Burns, her mother, and younger brother, Kyle, move from Washington DC to Chaptico, Maryland; a small town with a lot of history. She’s received an inheritance of a house and land from a man named the patriarch of the Slaughter family, one of the oldest families in the area – she’s never met him, never heard of him – and his family are none too happy with it. Tori is miserable in the new house and with the Slaughter family, who seize every opportunity to be spiteful to Tori and her mother. Tori learns more about the Slaughter family’s dark history – and the history of the mythical Chaptico witch – when Nathaniel Bishop claws his way out of a grave under the oak tree in her backyard. It’s no zombie movie: Bishop was an abused, indentured servant for the Slaughter family in the 18th century, and he’s been brought back for a purpose that hasn’t yet revealed itself. Tori shelters him in the shed on her property as she struggles to make sense of the weird dreams she’s having. As she and Nathaniel unravel their histories, Tori uncovers the Slaughters’ secrets, finding herself a part of the mystery.

The Suffering Tree is a paranormal mystery that hinges on self-harm. There’s blood magic throughout the book, and the entire plot is set into motion once Tori – who self-harms – spills her own blood on the property. With references to rape, abuse, racism, and slavery, this is a novel that tackles some very big issues. Tori emerges as a strong character who struggles with cutting as a way to deal with the pain of her father’s loss and more recent stresses as the novel unfolds. Her mother isn’t a strong character at all, preferring to handle her daughter’s psychological issues by asking her if she’s okay and suggesting therapy throughout the book.

Teens are going to love this one. There’s suspense and the pace is intense. Booktalk with historical YA mysteries, like the Jackaby series from William Ritter; Stefan Petrucha’s Ripper, and Stephanie Morrill’s The Lost Girl of Astor Street.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

Ozzy the Ostrich teaches kids to stand up to bullies

Ozzy the Ostrich, by José Carlos Andrés/Illustrated by Bea Enríquez, (June 2017, NubeOCHO), $15.95, ISBN: 978-8494541599

Recommended for readers 3-6

Ozzy Ostrich and two friends trot across the plain, munching on flowers, until three lions threaten to eat them! Ozzy – who also has an egg to defend – stands up to the bullies, scaring the so badly that one loses his teeth, one loses all of his fur, and one turns completely white. The former bullies befriend the ostriches, but what happens when another pride of lions shows up to menace the group?

Ozzy the Ostrich is a good introduction to the concepts of bullying and standing up for oneself and others. When the first group of lions bullies Ozzy, she stands up for herself and the bullies back down. When the next group comes along, Ozzy sees that her actions resonate. The art is bright, vibrant, and bold; both lions and ostriches have exaggerated facial expressions that readers will enjoy and laugh at (especially when the chastised lions react).

Originally published in Spanish under the title Un avestruz con much luz (2016), Ozzy the Ostrich makes a good social issues read-aloud for storytime. Pair with Kathryn Otoshi’s One for an anti-bullying storytime message.

Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction

Animal Planet chapter books: Nonfiction Nibbles for intermediate readers

Animal Planet Chapter Books: Bugs (Book #3), by James Buckley Jr. (June 2017, Liberty Street), $5.95, ISBN: 978-1-68330-756-3

Recommended for readers 6-10

A step up from early/easy reader animal facts books, Animal Planet chapter books (not the Animal Planet Adventures fiction/nonfiction series) are full-color, fully illustrated chapter books for intermediate readers. The first two in the series, Sharks and Dinosaurs, published in late 2016; Bugs and Snakes arrive this month.

Chapters are loaded with facts and photos of… well, bugs. There are three “Bug Bites” sections that take closer looks at bug bodies; extreme insects examines some of the crazy stats of the biggest, heaviest, longest bugs around, and we get a deeper look at the roles of an ant farm’s inhabitants. There are callout facts throughout the chapters, and an “In Your Newsfeed” section updates readers on breaking news in the field. For instance, did you know that researchers are looking into sticky caddis flies to develop new bandages for humans? You do now! Fact Files go further in-depth on insect biology; topics include how insects walk using three legs at a time, with the other three balancing, and special modifications some insects have for survival.

I’m always on the lookout for good, intermediate-level nonfiction and series nonfiction. This fits the bill nicely.

 

 

 

 

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

Call Me Sunflower explores alternative families

Call Me Sunflower, by Miriam Spitzer Franklin, (May 2017, Sky Pony Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781510711792

Recommended for ages 9-13

Sunflower Beringer can’t stand her first name, so she has everyone call her Sunny. And she really can’t stand that her mother uprooted her and her sister, and left their dad, Scott, back in New Jersey to run his bookstore while she attends grad school in North Carolina. Now they’re living with a grandmother they barely know, and she’s the new kid in school. Ugh. Sunny has to do something, so she creates Sunny Beringer’s Totally Awesome Plan for Romance”: a can’t-miss list of ways to bring her mom and Scott back together, including making playlists of Scott’s favorite songs and getting her mother a makeover. While she works on a family album that will remind Scott and Mom of when they were in love all over again, though, she discovers a picture that changes everything. A strong subplot involving animal rights activism and Sunny’s relationship with her grandmother really gives Call Me Sunflower depth.

I’m becoming a Miriam Spitzer Franklin fangirl. I loved Extraordinary (2015); in Sunny, I found many similiaries to Pansy, Extraordinary‘s protagonist. Both stories are realistic fiction, told in the first person, about girls dealing with big life changes. They have complicated friendships and they have both There are humorous moments, and each has a unique voice, a unique point of view; Ms. Franklin captures the frustrations, the fears, and the unique experience of being a tween in a relatable voice that readers will gravitate to. I love that she created an alternative family structure with an adoptive family outside the traditional husband-wife setting and gave us a family unit that is working it all out. I admit to being a little confused with Sunny’s birth story – she is adopted, but has pictures of her mother holding her at the hospital – but that’s likely because my own adoption experience happened differently. All in all, a bittersweet, tender look at families. Pair with realistic fiction like Death by Toilet Paper by Donna Gephart, Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm, and Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand.

 

Posted in Early Reader, Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Preschool Reads

Surreal graphic novel fun for little ones: Adele in Sandland

Adele in Sandland, by Claude Ponti, (June 2017, TOON Books), $12.95, ISBN: 978-1-943145-16-4

Recommended for readers 3-7

Little Adele’s mother takes her to the park. While Mama chats with a friend, Adele begins to dig and sets off on an adventure with her doll, Stuffy, and Sandy – a creature from her sand pail – where they’re eaten by a sand dragon, she meets a tree of hot dogs, a king who likes to walk, barefoot, on his subjects’ heads, and ventures forth to a tasty dessert island.

Adele in Sand Land is surreal fun for readers who’ve become more comfortable with slightly longer sentences than those introduced in early readers. The book is TOON Level 1, which is about a Kindergarten reading level and corresponds to Guided Reading Levels E-J. TOON includes all of this information in the back of each book, and on their website, which is a great resources for parents and educators alike. The story is a fun storytime selection for younger audiences, too: kids will easily envision themselves on a magical adventure while playing at the park.

The surreal art makes this a great choice when introducing young readers to graphic novels, too. While the overall story is sequential, the dreamlike quality of the art allows kids to let their imaginations run wild. Let your kids draw their own surreal adventure for a fun accompanying activity, or introduce stories like Alice in Wonderland or Harold and the Purple Crayon for more adventures with a touch of the surrealistic. Teacher’s Resources are forthcoming for this title.

Adele in Sand Land received a starred review from Kirkus. An early Adele story, Adele’s Album (1988), is out of print but can be found for varying prices through third party sellers online.