Posted in Humor, Preschool Reads

Fun with Food: The Great Pasta Escape

The Great Pasta Escape, by Miranda Paul/Illustrated by Javier Joaquin, (Aug. 2017, Little Bee/Bonnier), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-4998-0480-5

Recommended for readers 3-7

Different types of pasta learn the ugly truth about where they really go once they leave in those cute little packages, and take action in this hilarious story.  Pasta followed the rules: they stuck to their own kind; they stayed still in their packaging, and they NEVER spoke to humans. They thought they were bound for a better place; a happy, carefree existence, until the fettuccine overhears some factory workers talking about how hungry they are… *needle scratch* and what they plan to eat. Fettucine panics, and the rest of the pasta gets ready for action: Bow Tie tries to stay logical; Ramen is ready to rumble; elbow-shaped Mac just wants everyone to chill. Together, the different pasta types come together to carry out the greatest escape in pasta history.

This book is a current favorite at home because it’s so funny. The pastas have their own personalities, some of which tie into their shapes, like the professorial Bow Tie. My favorite is Mac, the elbow pasta who has a total New Age look on life and envisions himself by the water, doing some yoga. It’s a fun adventure story; pure escapism and laughs, with a Menu – sorry! I mean, Guide to Pasta Shapes – at the end. The art is vibrant and bright, and the endpapers sports different types of pasta in the front, and a boxed spaghetti-look at the back.

I pair this one with an oldie but goodie, Food Fight! by Carol Diggory Shields/Illustrated by Doreen Gay-Kassel, for a fun food storytime. You can read Tomie dePaola’s Strega Nona for a story about pasta that gets out of control, and pasta necklaces are perfect for a craft pairing. Ask your kiddos what types of pasta they recognize in the book, and see what you’ve got in the house to identify.

Miranda Paul is an award-winning author who has a great author website where you can find resources, including downloadable teacher guides to her books (and a blobfish coloring sheet!!!) and videos. She’s also the chair of the We Need Diverse Books Mentorship Committee. You can find more of illustrator Javier Joaquin’s illustrations at his website, including a section of his children’s book work, where you can filter by subject or style to see everything from nonfiction to board books to classics and more.

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Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Cucumber Quest: Bunny Siblings Save the World!

Cucumber Quest, Vol. 1: The Doughnut Kingdom, by Gigi DG, (Oct. 2017, :01FirstSecond), $14.99, ISBN: 9781626728325

Recommended for ages 8-12

If you’ve never read the webcomic Cucumber Quest, now’s your chance to dive in. The seven kingdoms of Dreamside are in trouble when the evil queen Cordelia plans to unleash some serious havoc. Cucumber – who’s all packed and ready to start his studies at Puffington’s Academy for the Magically Gifted – gets a letter from his dad, telling him that it’s up to him to save the kingdoms. His brave and way-more-heroic sister, Almond, offers to go in his place, but their mother and father seem to have some pretty outdated ideas about gender, and tells her it’s too dangerous for her. Almond joins Cucumber’s Quest, regardless, and the two head out in search of the Dream Sword: the only weapon powerful enough to defeat Cordelia’s supernatural thug, the Nightmare Knight. On the way, Cucumber and Almond meet a batty Dream Oracle, a trio of hare-brained guards, and a host of other wacky characters.

Beginning life as a webcomic (that you can still read online), Cucumber Quest: The Doughnut Kingdom collects the first 137 pages of Cucumber Quest (the Prologue and chapter 0); Cucumber Quest 2: The Ripple Kingdom will continue collecting stories from the online archive. Forty pages of additional comics, including Reader Q&A for various characters, and short bios for each character, complete with ability ratings in trading card format, concept art, and a tour of the world of Dreamside, home to the seven kingdoms.

The story is light and fun; the artwork is cute and Chibi-inspired. Manga fans will love it, as will adventure fans. Give this to your Adventure Time and Steven Universe readers; for your fantasy fans that want some lighter summer reading (or aren’t really passionate readers… YET), this will be a welcome addition to shelves.

Want to learn more? Check out the Cucumber Quest wiki and Cucumber Quest page, where you can access the complete comic archive and learn more about the characters.

Posted in Adventure, Fantasy, Fiction, Humor, Middle Grade

Magic, madness, and a cow-ostrich romance!

The Emperor’s Ostrich, by Julie Berry, (June 2017, Roaring Brook Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781596439580

Recommended for readers 8-12

A zany fantasy romp with a dairy maid in search of her lost cow puts readers on the path to an adventure that will introduce them to a self-described romantic hero, a spoiled emperor on the run, and his ostrich, who forms a bond with the runaway cow. Begonia, the dairy maid, is a responsible young woman who helps her mother care for the family farm and her younger sister; when her cow, Alfalfa, meanders away, Begonia sets out to find her and ends up on a magical quest that will put the responsibility for saving the emperor and the kingdom squarely on her shoulders. Thank goodness she has help from Key, a wandering young man who describes himself as a romantic hero; and two magical beings, who oversee the adventure from a distance.

The story is a fun fantasy adventure with nods to magic, corruption, feminism, and commentary on overindulged wealth. Readers will enjoy the lovestruck cow and ostrich, the banter between Key and Begonia, and the host of characters they encounter on their adventure. Booktalk this with Lloyd Alexander’s fantasy novels: author Julie Berry calls The Emperor’s Ostrich her love letter to his books.

Julie Berry’s book, The Passion of Dolssa, is a 2017 Printz Honor title. The Emperor’s Ostrich received starred reviews from Booklist and School Library Journal.

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 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 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.

Posted in Preschool Reads

Sam Usher’s Rain explores patience and celebrates imagination

Rain, Sam Usher, (March 2017, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0-7636-9296-4

Recommended for readers 3-7

It’s raining out – and the young boy sitting inside can’t wait to go outside and have an adventure! Grandpa suggests they wait for the rain to stop, and putters around the home while the boy fidgets and waits for the weather to let up. When the rain finally lets up, Grandpa and grandson go out to mail a letter, and have their own adventure together.

I adore the quiet adventure of Rain: it’s got a soothing repetition while pulsing with the excited impatience a child knows all too well when waiting for an adult to give him or her the go-ahead to do something fun. The boy tries to talk his grandfather into heading outside by talking about things one can do in the rain (catch raindrops splash in puddles) and expressing a desire to go on adventures, like voyaging with sea monsters or visit a floating city. Grandpa, unruffled, continues to tell the boy to wait for the rain to stop. We feel the boy’s impatience when he repeats, “But did the rain stop? NO!” When it’s finally time to venture out, the excursion is every bit as exhilarating as the boy expected. When they return home, grandfather and grandson sit together, with warm socks and hot chocolate, sharing a perfect moment together, complete with the dispensing of grandfatherly wisdom: “…the very best things are always worth waiting for”.

Sam Usher’s art reminds me of some of my favorite British illustrators, Tony Ross and Quentin Blake. His use of watercolor makes grandfather’s home warm and cozy, and the rain outside looks almost dewy and real as seen from the boy’s window. His rainy scene spreads are properly gray and stormy, with sparks of imagination wandering into the picture to prepare readers for what’s coming: a prow of a boat here, an upturned umbrella there. The endpapers extend the story, with puddles and birds, and a cameo by the penguin from Usher’s previous book, Snow.

This is the second in a four-part celebration of the seasons. Snow (2015) saw the boy trying to get Grandpa out of bed to adventure in the snow. I can’t wait to see what Mr. Usher has in store for the next two seasons.

This is a great read-aloud for toddlers and preschoolers alike, and a wonderful companion to nonfiction books about weather and the seasons. Ask the kids what their adventure in the rain would look like; talk about what to wear in the rain (raincoats, boots), and let them decorate their own umbrellas. I really like this one from MamaJenn that incorporates glue raindrops.