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.

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.

 

 

blood-guard-series_credit-jdz-photographyGiveaway!

One lucky winner will receive a complete set of all three Blood Guard books (THE BLOOD GUARD, THE GLASS GAUNTLET, and THE BLAZING BRIDGE). (U.S. addresses only.) Just enter this One lucky winner will receive a complete set of all three Blood Guard books (THE BLOOD GUARD, THE GLASS GAUNTLET, and THE BLAZING BRIDGE). (U.S. addresses only.) Just enter this Rafflecopter giveaway for your chance!
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