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.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Can you escape Monsterville?

monstervilleMonsterville: A Lissa Black Production, by Sarah S. Reida, (Sept. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781510707337

Recommended for readers 9-13

Jumanji meets Goosebumps in this fun and unexpectedly touching novel. Lissa Black is not happy with her family’s decision to move out of their Manhattan apartment to a house in Freeburg, Pennsylvania, inherited when her great-aunt passes away. She’s away from her friends, her school, and the conveniences of living in New York City; she’s only got the neighbor kid, Adam, who’s set on making her appreciate life outside of the city, and this weird game, Monsterville, that she found in her aunt’s basement. Just as Lissa is set on languishing in the wilds of PA, she discovers a sad, shape-shifting goblin she calls Blue, who’s escaped from Down Under. Blue’s so sad that Lissa and Adam feed him and check in on him, but when Lissa discovers he can shape-shift, she decides to make a documentary starring Blue. But an interview with the goblin uncovers secrets that put Lissa’s family at risk. When her little sister is kidnapped and taken Down Under on Halloween, Lissa and Adam have to go in after her, and the Monsterville game is their only hope of making it back.

Lissa is hard to like at first: she’s a great older sister, but largely self-centered and snobbish at the novel’s outset. As the story progresses, and the urgency not only of Blue’s situation, but her sister’s, hits home, though, Lissa rises to the occasion and grows into a strong female character that I was rooting for. I liked her supportive, loving family and I really liked the glimpse we got of her mysterious aunt. I think a Monsterville prequel is in order, to tell her story! There was great world-building Up Above and Down Below, with Adam acting as Lissa’s – and the reader’s – guide to rural life, and the Monsterville game laying out Down Below for us before we even get there. I ended up loving this book and can’t wait to booktalk this. A film glossary at the end introduces readers to film terms, most of which show up in Monsterville – Lissa is a filmmaker, after all.

Challenge your readers to make up their own version of Monsterville! What monsters would inhabit their Down Under? What would counteract the monsters and help humans escape? This could be a great summer reading group program, just saying…

Monsterville is Sarah S. Reida’s debut novel. Find teacher resources at LissaBlackProductions.com, which also links to Sarah’s author blog and appearances.

 

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

Blog Tour Stop: The Blood Guard concludes at The Blazing Bridge

blazing-bridgeThe Blazing Bridge (The Blood Guard, Book 3), by Carter Roy, (Feb. 2017, Two Lions), $17.99, ISBN: 9781477827178

Recommended for ages 9-13

In the third book in Carter Roy’s Blood Guard series, Ronan Truelove is doing his best to protect his best friend, Greta, from his evil father and the awful Bend Sinister thugs. Greta is a Pure – one of 36 pure souls on the planet – and the Bend Sinister have their own horrible plans in store for her, and for the rest of the Pure, if they get their hands on her. With the unkillable Blood Guard agent Jack Dawkins, their hacker friend, Sammy, and a taxi driver named Diz, the group races around New York to foil the Bend Sinister and keep the world safe, but Ronan’s father is closing in.

This is the first Blood Guard book I’ve read, and I’ll be picking up the first two books – The Blood Guard and The Glass Gauntlet – to catch up on this series. Told as a first person narrative, Ronan is a likable kid who’s trying to reconcile the fact that his father is an evil creep who tried to kill him and his mother by burning the family house down, comprehend the fact that his mom (and, because of circumstances, he) is Blood Guard, and his best friend is one of a handful of Pure souls in the world. He’s funny and wry, determined, and brave. Jack Dawkins is James Bond meets Captain Jack Harkness (where are my Doctor Who and Torchwood bretheren?); a secret agent that can fight with any weapon and who can’t die. The story is fast-paced and action packed, with a fight on the New York City subway system that readers will love.

While you don’t need to have read the first two Blood Guard books to enjoy The Blazing Bridge, readers will really get the full background and enjoy the series more if they do. Booktalk and display this series with other adventure novels, including the Nick and Tesla series by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hocksmith, The League of Unexceptional Children by Gitty Daneshvari, and Michael Grant’s Magnificent 12 series.

carter-roy-photo-bw_credit-jdz-photographyCarter Roy has painted houses and worked on construction sites, waited tables and driven delivery trucks, been a stagehand for rock bands and a videographer on a cruise ship, and worked as a line cook in a kitchen, a projectionist in a movie theater, and a rhetoric teacher at a university. He has been a reference librarian and a bookseller, edited hundreds of books for major publishers, and written award-winning short stories that have appeared in a half-dozen journals and anthologies. His first two books were The Blood Guard and The Glass Gauntlet. He lives with his wife and daughter in New York City and can be found at www.carterroybooks.com or on Twitter @CarterRoyBooks.

 

 

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

The Stone Heart takes a deeper look at The Nameless City’s turmoil

stone-heart_1The Stone Heart, by Faith Erin Hicks, (Apr. 2017, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781626721586

Recommended f0r ages 10+

Picking up shortly after the events in The Nameless City, The Stone Heart throws readers right back into the turmoil within the Dao as the General of All Blades seeks to form a Council of Nations that will bring peace to the City. The general’s son is furious at being denied his perceived birthright to rule. Kaidu, meanwhile, believes he’s discovered a text that describes how to create a devastating weapon used by the City’s founders. Kept in the archives by the Stone Heart monks – where his friend Rat lives – Kaidu is torn between betraying his friend and bringing the solution to his father’s attention, should war break out.

The Stone Heart is one of those sequels that shines just as brightly as the original story. We get more character development, deeper story progression, and an ending that left me with clenched fists, waiting for the next chapter in this series. Kaidu’s father and the General of All Blades are tired warriors who just want peace in their time, and both struggle with their relationships to their sons. Where Kaidu’s frustration lies with an absentee father, Erzi, the general’s son, has been raised in a foreign land, with entitled expectations, and finds his father stripping away everything he’s ever known. Rat and Mura are two street urchins, both cared for by the Stone Heart monks at some point in their lives, but have become two very different people. These character parallels add so much more to the overall story and really invest readers. Even seemingly peripheral characters, like Rat’s friends from the City, enrich the overall story and illustrate how different Kaidu’s life has been thus far.

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The Stone Heart is one of the first must-read books of 2017. Add it to your graphic novel collections and booktalk this series hard. Get your copies of Amulet, Avatar, and Legend of Korra back out on display shelves for this one. An author note provides background on the author’s influences, and a lovely shout-out to libraries. There’s also a great sketchbook at the end.

Check out Faith Erin Hicks’ author webpage for info, including interviews, webcomics, and art.

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Posted in Adventure, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor, Middle Grade, Middle School, Tween Reads

Back to Stately Academy for Secret Coders: Secrets and Sequences

secret-coders_1Secret Coders: Secrets and Sequences, by Gene Luen Yang/Illustrated by Mike Holmes, (March 2017, First Second), $10.99, ISBN: 9781626720770

Recommended for ages 8-12

The third installment of the Secret Coders series picks up right where Paths and Portals leaves off: our heroes, Hopper, Eni, and Josh have to code their way out of trouble with Principal Dean, who’s not only a creep, but a creep who’s thrown in with a super-bad guy, Professor One-Zero, who was also one of Professor Bee’s best students way back when. There are more codes to program, more turtles to run, and an evil plot to foil.

This has been a fun STEM series; explaining coding through the graphic novel format is a great idea, allowing kids to help reason out how things work and run. Readers are invited to download activities to expand their learning. This series makes for a great computer club activity and a great comic book club discussion group topic. Put this one with your Scratch and Ruby programming books, and if you have the chance to get the kids in your life, library, or classroom coding, do it! You will be happy you did.

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Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Two kids discover an uncommon society below modern-day London

uncommonThe Uncommoners #1: The Crooked Sixpence, by Jennifer Bell, (Jan. 2017, Crown Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 9780553498431

Recommended for ages 9-12

Ivy Sparrow and her big brother, Seb, are worried about their grandmother Sylvie when she has a fall. Their parents are away on business, and it’s just the two of them, so when they discover that Grandma Sylvie’s home has been ransacked, and a strange, toilet brush-wielding policeman tries to arrest them, they have the feeling that strange things are afoot. They manage to escape, via suitcase – no, not carrying one, IN one – to a secret, underground city called Lundinor, where seemingly everyday objects can hold fantastic powers. They’re uncommon, and so are the people with a gift for wielding them. Healing buttons, weaponized drumsticks and yo-yos, almost anything can be uncommon in Lundinor. But Ivy and Seb don’t have the luxury of time; an evil force wants something that Grandma Sylvie has, and they’re willing to do anything to get it back from them. In trying to figure out what they want, Ivy and Seb will meet new friends and discover things about Grandma Sylvie’s past that they never could have imagined.

The Uncommoners is the first in a new middle grade fantasy series by debut author Jennifer Bell. In parts, reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, The Crooked Sixpence is a good beginning with worldbuilding and character creation, but was missing the spark that made this book – for me – truly unputdownable. Ms. Bell is at her best when she brings us her Lundinors: Ethel, the proprieter of a bell shop and Scratch, the bell; Violet, who trades in magical buttons, and Erebus and Cerebus, hellhounds who can be summoned with a specific bell and by yelling, “WALKIES!”, stole my heart and made me fall in love with Lundinor, much as I adore Gaiman’s London Below. The horrific selkies made for delightfully skin-crawling reading.

This is a promising start to a new fantasy series. Give this to your middle grade fans who enjoy some British wit (Roald Dahl, David Walliams) and fans who enjoy a little magic in their reality.

 

 

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

Explore The Matchstick Castle

matchstickThe Matchstick Castle, by Keir Graff, (Jan. 2017, GP Putnam & Sons), $16.99, ISBN: 9781101996225

Recommended for ages 9-13

Brian is on track to having the worst summer EVER. His widowed dad has the chance of a lifetime, doing research at the South Pole. His brother is staying with a friend while his dad’s away. Brian’s being shipped off to Boring, Illinois, to stay with his Uncle Gary, Aunt Jenny, and know-it-all cousin, Nora. To add insult to injury, Uncle Gary’s developed a summer school computer program, Summer’s Cool, and is making Brian and Nora keep actual school hours to prevent the dreaded “summer slide”. Just when Brian wants to tear his hair out from boredom, he and Nora discover a house in the woods beyond Uncle Gary’s property. Cosmo van Dash, the boy who lives there, calls the house The Matchstick Castle, and he lives there with his eccentric family – explorers, writers, thinkers, dreamers – and invites Brian and Nora on adventures where they’ll explore the house to recover a lost uncle, run from wild boars and trap giant Amazon bees. A fanatically boring bureaucrat wants to tear the Matchstick Castle to put up another – well, boring – housing development, but Brian, Nora, and the van Dash family will fight to secure their castle.

This story is way too much fun. Told in the first person from Brian’s point of view, we get a narrator who is having the worst summer ever. He’s a sympathetic character: we get only enough information about his family to know that his mother has died, his father is a very permissive parent, and he’s put into a situation that threatens to squash all the fun and creativity out of his life in favor of being safe and predictable. Boring, just like the Illinois town where he’s enduring the summer. The Matchstick Castle and the family that lives there helps bring color and life back to Brian’s world and, in doing so, brings him closer to his cousin, Nora, while also giving Nora permission to let loose and have fun. Tweens will love the van Dashes. It’s a good opportunity to share fun and crazy family stories as a writing or collage exercise, too. I hope this one shows up on summer reading lists; it’s a perfect summertime read.