Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Black Panther: The Young Prince: Middle Grade superhero fiction!

Black Panther: The Young Prince, by Ronald L. Smith, (Jan. 2018, Disney Book Group), $16.99, ISBN: 9781484787649

Recommended for readers 10-13

YES. A middle grade novel about an African superhero, written by a Coretta Scott King Award-winning author? ALL THE YES, PLEASE. Ronald L. Smith brings T’Challa to life with this first novel, where we meet the not-quite-yet Black Panther and his best friend, M’Baku, in their homeland, Wakanda. Ulysses Klaue (Marvel fans, heads up for continuity!) has shown up in Wakanda, and T’Chaka, current King of Wakanda and Black Panther, knows that’s never a good sign. He sends his son and M’Baku off to Chicago and safety while Wakanda braces for an invasion. T’Challa wants to keep his head down and blend in, but M’Baku couldn’t want anything less. The opportunity presents itself in the form of local middle school tough guy Gemini Jones and his gang, the Skulls. Kids whisper that Gemini’s a warlock, but that doesn’t stop M’Baku from falling in with Gemini and turning a cold shoulder to T’Challa. If middle school squabbling were the only problem, right? But nope, things are about to go south in a big wayl; luckily for T’Challa, his father packed a Black Panther suit for his son… just in case of emergencies.

This novel is SO GOOD. It’s unputdownable, whether you’re a superhero/Marvel fan or not. Ronald L. Smith brings his talent for creating interesting characters and conflict, plus his gift for writing about magic, and gives life to one of Marvel’s most exciting characters.

Yes, I’m a Black Panther fan. Yes, I’m thrilled about the movie coming out. And yes, this book is fantastic and deserves its spot on every middle grade/middle schooler’s library shelf. Representation counts, and by giving an African superhero his own novel, written by an award-winning African American novelist, Disney has shown readers their commitment to diversity and #ownvoices. I’m thrilled with The Young Prince, and want to read more. Maybe next, we can get a story about the Dora Milaje? How about a Shuri mention? (She’s Black Panther’s sister, in the comics.) Indulge me!

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

Click’d: Coding, apps and friendship drama!

Click’d (Code Girls #1), by Tamara Ireland Stone, (Sept. 2017, Disney-Hyperion), $16.99, ISBN: 9781484784976

Recommended for readers 8-12

Sixth grader Allie Navarro is SO excited about the friendship app she built at CodeGirls summer camp. Click’d collects data about user interests and sends users on a scavenger hunt to find other users with similar interests. It went over big at camp, and now Allie is going to show it to her BFFs at school. She’s also presenting her game at the big Games for Good competition, but she’s going up against her nemesis: Nathan Frederickson, who wins EVERY science fair and drives her crazy.

The app goes over in a big way, but it’s not as great as Allie thought it would be. People are upset about their standings on friendship leaderboards, and a technical glitch ends up embarrassing one of her best friends. Things start spiraling out of Allie’s control; even with Nathan’s help, she’s not sure if she can make things right in time for the competition.

I’m excited about the new coding fiction trend that’s emerging in light of Girls Who Code’s nonfiction/fiction releases! Click’d is great to hand to readers who may be ready to move on from the Girls Who Code series fiction, or readers who may not be ready for Lauren Myracle’s TTYL books just yet. There’s friendship drama for sure, as well as positive messages about resilience and friendship. Each chapter contains screenshots of the Click’d app, adding to the fun; readers can watch Allie’s user count change, and monitor different leaderboards to better envision how the app works (and maybe get some ideas of their own). Tamara Ireland Stone gives us realistic characters and an interesting storyline and builds an extended universe of CodeGirls – girls who all met through a Girls Who Code-type camp – that will work for future novels.

Make sure to check out the Click’d teacher’s guide on the author’s website!

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 Adventure, Fantasy, Young Adult/New Adult

New fantasy YA brings a together a group of Royal Bastards

Royal Bastards (Royal Bastards #1), by Andrew Shvarts, (Jun 2017, Hyperion), $18.99, ISBN: 9781484767658

Recommended for ages 14+

This new fantasy series follows a group of Royal Bastards – illegitimate children of royals – as they try to save a royal princess’ life and prevent a war. Sixteen year-old Tilla is the bastard daughter of Lord Kent of the Western Province; she lives in comfortable accommodations, but her father has held her at arm’s distance ever since his legitimate wife bore him two daughters. Tilla’s half brother, Jax, from a different father, lives on Kent’s lands as a stablehand. While Jax is happy with life as it is, Tilla longs for legitimacy and a better relationship with her father; two things he’s withheld from her thus far. She’s invited to her father’s banquet honoring the visiting royal princess Lyriana, and sits at the bastard table with Miles, a bastard from neighboring House Hampsted, and Zell, a trueborn son-turned-bastard from the warrior Zitochi clan of the North. Lyriana insists on sitting with them and getting to know them, and ends up tagging along on what was supposed to be an evening out between just Jax and Tilla. While out at the shore, the group stumbles upon a horrific and treasonous episode that puts every one of their lives in danger: in Miles’ and Tilla’s cases, even from their own parents.

The group of teens is on the run, hoping to make it back to Lyriana’s kingdom before the combined forces of Lord Kent, Lady Hampsted, and the Zitochi clan can catch them. The bastards have to stay alive, prevent a mage slaughter, and a civil war that will claim thousands of lives – can they get along long enough to survive the journey?

There’s a lot of story to unpack in this first book. The biggest stumbling block for me was the contemporary language used in the high fantasy setting. It’s off-putting and took me out of the flow of the novel. Vernacular aside, Royal Bastards is a fast-paced adventure, loaded with intrigue, betrayal, and teen romance. I like the world-building: a fantasy world where bastards are recognized and can gain legitimacy if their parents choose to bestow it upon them; a major coup in the works, and plenty of intrigue and betrayal to keep things interesting. There’s rich character development, particularly in the relationship between Jax and Tilla and Tilla’s growth throughout the novel. There’s some diversity in the characters, although some fantasy tropes pop up here; most notably, the clueless royal who wants to meet “the little people” and the brooding, fur-wearing savage.

YA fantasy fans will dig in and enjoy this one. I’d booktalk Erin Bow’s The Scorpion Rules as an interesting counterpart that looks at the relationship between royals and their children and war. Talk up the Game of Thrones books to readers that may be familiar with the HBO series. Give a copy of Joshua Khan’s Shadow Magic and Dream Magic books to younger siblings who aren’t ready for this one yet.

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

Monstertown gets Mutant Mantis Lunch Ladies!

9781484713242Monstertown Mysteries (#2): Mutant Mantis Lunch Ladies!, by Bruce Hale, (Mar. 2017, Disney/Hyperion), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1-4847-1324-2

Recommended for readers 8-12

When we last saw Carlos and his friend Benny, they’d just saved their social studies teacher from a miserable life as a were-hyena. Just when they think it’s safe to relax, they’re… bored. Seriously, where do you go from were-animals, right? They shouldn’t have worried – the lunch ladies are acting weird. I mean, weird. They start feeding the boys junk food, and the girls… well, the boys catch a glimpse of what the girls are eating, and it looks like “greenish glop, scrambled eggs, fish sticks, and a sloppy joe thing with maybe-grasshoppers inside it”. Over the next few days, kids start disappearing – all boys – and the girls start getting very aggressive. They’re talking back, bullying kids, acting kind of like the boys do! They sneer at their male classmates and threaten to bite off their heads and suck out their insides! Carlos and Benny start investigating, and they’re pretty sure that the lunch ladies are giant preying mantises that have plans for both the girls and boys in their neighborhood, but who’s going to believe them?

The second Monstertown Mystery is just as much fun as the first one, with more laughs and a lot more gross humor. (Seriously, put down that snack or that sandwich while you read this. You’re welcome.) There’s some nice social commentary about sexism, even if it comes with the whole female-biting-a-male’s-head-off sort of thing; a particularly strong statement by Carlos’ friend Tina toward the book’s conclusion. Put this out with your Goosebumps books, your Lovecraft Middle School books, and your Haunted Mansion novel (when are we getting another volume of that?) and watch the kids swarm. Mutant Mantis Lunch Ladies! comes with a lenticular cover, just like The Curse of the Were-Hyena did, for transformation fun.

Come on, this is a no-brainer add to collections.

Posted in Adventure, Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade

A new heroine rises: Gum Girl!

gumgirl_2Gum Girl: Chews Your Destiny (The Gumazing Gum Girl #1), by Rhode Montijo, (Aug. 2013, Disney-Hyperion), $14.99, ISBN: 9781423157403

Recommended for ages 6-10

Gabby Gomez LOVES bubble gum. She will chew it any time, anywhere, much to her mother (and dentist father!)’s chagrin. Gabby also gets her gum all over everything, which makes a huge mess! Gabby’s mom lays down the law and tells her NO MORE GUM, which really doesn’t work for Gabby, who sneaks a little piece on the way to school one day. What’s one little piece, right? She blows a bubble – the biggest bubble EVER – and it pops all over her! How is she supposed to go to school, looking like this? But wait! Someone needs help! Gabby answers the call, and discovers that she’s been transformed into The Gumazing Gum Girl, a superheroine with super sticky, super stretchy, bubble gum powers! Now, she just needs to keep enough peanut butter on hand to help her get all the gum off and transform back into Gabby, before her family finds out!

 

The Gumazing Gum Girl is too much fun! She’s a superhero for intermediate and middle grade readers, adorably written and drawn by Rhode Montijo, who creates a graphic novel/chapter book hybrid that kids love. Kids will love her Latinx family, who lovingly speak Spanglish to one another, and they’ll love how the seemingly ordinary power of bubble gum transforms a girl into a superheroine. Plus, they’ll see that Gabby is a good kid, who struggles with keeping a secret from her parents: her superpowers come from her breaking the rules and chewing gum. There are fun villains and the art is super kid-friendly; combinations of pink, black and white, with bold lines and expressive fonts will catch and hold any reader’s attention.

When I was at ALA Midwinter last month, I found myself lucky enough to get hold of the NEXT Gum Girl Adventure: Gum Luck! A colleague shrieked when she saw me with it (and she does collection development for my library system, so, whoo hoo!), and another colleague read it the day I got back to the library after Midwinter. To say this is an anticipated sequel is putting it mildly.

gumgirl_1The Gumazing Gum Girl: Gum Luck (The Gumazing Gum Girl #2, by Rhode Montijo, June 2017, Disney-Hyperion, $14.99, ISBN: 9781423161172) introduces readers to a new villain, and readers will see Gabby continue struggling with her big secret. She’s torn between doing the right thing by telling her parents the truth about her alter ego and her gum-chewing habit and between… well, doing the right thing with her superhero activities.

If readers love Chews Your Destiny, they’ll love Gum Luck. Start booktalking Gum Girl now, and get them ready: Gum Luck hits shelves in June, just in time for summer reading! (Hmm… the theme for CSLP’s Summer Reading is Build a Better World… can we use gum for that? Wait, no… not in the library. Please.)

Visit Rhode Montijo’s author webpage for more info about his books, a peek at his portfolio, and his web store.

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

I’m a CYBILS Judge!

cybils

I can finally talk about it! I’m thrilled to be a CYBILS judge again, returning to the Middle Grade Speculative Fiction category. There have been SO many great books published, and I’ll be diving into the finalists this time around, as a second round judge. Wanna see who’s up for the award? Take a look, and adjust your TBRs accordingly.

grace-lin

When the Sea Turned to Silver, by Grace Lin, (Oct. 2016, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), $18.99, ISBN: 978-0316125925

Inspired by Chinese folklore, this companion to the Newbery Honor Winner, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, is the story of a girl on a mission to save her kidnapped grandmother.

voyage-to-magical-north

The Voyage to Magical North, by Claire Fayers, (July 2016, Henry Holt & Co.), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1627794206

An orphan keeps house for an irritable magician and his equally obnoxious apprentice, and ends up accidentally becoming a pirate.

smallbone

The Evil Wizard Smallbone, by Delia Sherman, (Sept. 2016, Candlewick), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0763688059

A boy runs away from his uncle’s home, discovers a bookstore run by a self-proclaimed Evil Wizard who won’t let him leave, but calls him his apprentice.

shadow-magic

Shadow Magic, by Joshua Khan, (April 2016, Disney-Hyperion), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1484732724

An outlaw’s son is sold into slavery. A girl is the last surviving member of her family, a line of dark sorcerers. Together, they’ll break the rules.

memory-thief

The Memory Thief, by Bryce Moore, (Sept. 2016, Adaptive Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9781945293030

This was published as a Barnes & Noble exclusive in 2016, but is being published in wide release this March.

Twins wander off at a county fair; Benji, the brother, wanders into a tent where he meets an old man who collects memories. He asks to train as a Memory Thief and ends up on an adventure.

goblin-puzzle

The Goblin’s Puzzle: Being the Adventures of a Boy with No Name and Two Girls Called Alice, by Andrew Chilton, (Jan. 2016, Knopf Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0553520705

A fantasy adventure filled with dragons, goblins, and puzzles.

firefly-code

The Firefly Code, by Megan Frazer Blakemore, (May 2016, Bloomsbury USA), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1619636361

When a new girl moves to Firefly Lane, a girl and her friends start questioning everything they’ve known.

 

I’ll recap after we select a winner!