Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Workin’ the Mama- and Papa-razzi: I Am Famous!

I Am Famous, by Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie/Illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, (March 2018, Albert Whitman), $16.99, ISBN: 9780807534403

Recommended for readers 3-7

Kiely, a fabulous little girl, knows how to work her fame in this adorable picture book. She’s a true diva with her own sense of style and drama; her movies all go viral, and she gets tons of mail from adoring fans. Sure, the paparazzi are relentless, chasing her when she’s driving, photographing her while she’s eating, and barging in to catch a picture of her in the bathtub, but what do you expect? She’s famous! She’s got a performance at Grandpa’s birthday party, so she has to look and sound her best, but what happens when the grand finale has drama of its own? Pfft, no worries: the fans are loyal.

I Am Famous is just about every kid’s story; they’re little celebrities, as we see here; our world-weary, fierce, brown-skinned beauty tells us, her devoted readers, about the price of fame. I’ve long referred to myself as the Mamarazzi, and have more than a few pictures of each of my kids at the exact moment they’re sick of me and my camera. This light-hearted look at modern childhood comes with easy comparisons to modern celebrity: the viral movies via family Instagrams; the special treatment being a kid gets from just about anyone they meet (so many lollipops); the nonstop love from the fan club via letters and birthday cards from grandparents. Even when Kiely’s performance hits a snag, she gets the star treatment: unconditional love and adoration.

I Am Famous is fun storytime reading, with short, easily readable sentences and wonderfully expressive artwork that sweeps across the pages. This one’s a very cute add to storytime collections and a fun gift for the diva in your family.

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Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, picture books, Realistic Fiction

Baseball is the great uniter in The Hometown All Stars series

A New Kid in School: Amira Can Catch! (The Hometown All Stars #4), by Kevin Christofora/Illustrated by Dale Tangeman, (March 2018, Clarens), $12.99, ISBN: 9780986349331

Recommended for readers 5-8

Amira is a new student in a Woodstock, New York classroom. She and her family are Syrian refugees, looking to start a new life in the States, and she’s a little shy and nervous. Luckily, Nick, the narrator of the story and the student Amira’s seated next to, is on it. He asks her if she needs help, and the two become fast friends. As the school day progresses, Nick learns about Amira’s life in the refugee camp; she tells him that three kids at the camp would have to share what amounts to one student’s lunch serving in the States, and that a refugee camp is where “families who have lost their homes and have nowhere else to go” live. At the end of the school day, Nick invites Amira to baseball practice and draws her a map, showing her how to get to the field, and Amira arrives to find even more friendly faces waiting for her. From here, the narrative shifts into a teamwork and baseball-focused story, with the Coach a positive, encouraging figure who keeps the kids motivated and learning. A floating baseball with game tips and thought-provoking questions appears throughout the book, and realistic but cartoony provide helpful illustrations for kids looking to improve their ballgame. A note at the end about what it means to be American emphasizes the diversity of American culture and there’s a list of new words learned in the book; mostly baseball-related. With detailed, yet easy-to-read text and appealing illustrations, this is a positive look at friendship, diversity, and teamwork, all connected by the love of baseball.

This is the fourth book in the Hometown All Stars series, and I think I’ll look into the others for my collection here at the library. It’s nice to see an upbeat, positive book where kids are open to meeting new people and learning about different cultures. The Hometown All Stars books are available in 13 languages, and you can check out other books in the series at the Hometown All Stars webpage.

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books

The Midnight Teacher’s bravery

Midnight Teacher: Lilly Ann Granderson and Her Secret School, by Janet Halfmann/Illustrated by London Ladd, (Feb. 2018, Lee and Low), $18.95, ISBN: 9781620141632

Recommended for readers 7-11

Lilly Ann Granderson was born a slave, taught to read by her master’s children, who played school with her. As she grew up, she practiced her spelling and reading in secret – in some areas, it was against the law to teach slaves to read – and eventually began teaching other slaves. She was determined to teach as many of her people as she could, to give them the chance at freedom made possible through education, and began a midnight school where slaves would gather after dark to learn, risking cruel punishment if they were discovered. Eventually, Lilly Ann won the right to start a school and a Sabbath church school, where she could teach her students with no fear of repercussion.

This picture book biography looks at the life of an overlooked champion for literacy and social justice and makes an excellent addition to biography collections. Lilly Ann Granderson’s determination and perseverance; her desire to to learn and promote learning among others is an important and, sadly, relevant topic today. Talk about how education leads to freedom, and mention that education is not always a right, even today. Malala Yousafzai’s picture book biography, For the Right to Learn, illustrates this and is a good companion to Midnight Teacher.

The artwork is realistic and subdued, made with acrylic paint and colored pencil; London Ladd gives character and expression to his characters, particularly Lilly Ann Granderson, whose determination and inner strength shine through. An afterword provides an overview of Granderson’s life and those of her descendants, who went on to become activists, had life in public service, and found professional success. A nice bibliography has more resources for interested readers, caregivers, and educators. Midnight Teacher has a starred review from Kirkus and is a must-add to collections where picture book biographies are available.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Rusty the Squeaky Robot wants to be your friend!

Rusty the Squeaky Robot, by Neil Clark, (Apr. 2018, words & pictures), $17.95, ISBN: 9781910277522

Recommended for readers 3-6

Rusty is a friendly robot who’s uncomfortable with the way he sounds. He squeaks, and he really doesn’t like it: “If he couldn’t like his squeak/Then he couldn’t like himself”; he’s really letting this squeak get him down. Luckily, the other robots on on Planet Robotone are there to show him that everyone’s got something to make them different, whether they Squeak!, Boom!, Twang!, or Hoot!, and when differences come together, they can create some great music!

This is such a positive story about owning one’s own individuality and embracing diversity. It’s a positive story about friendship, sending a message to kids about empathy and acceptance. The rhyming text is light and fun, inviting kids to move with the words, and the retro artwork is bright and fun, with basic black fonts setting the story apart from the big, colorful sounds each robot makes. Robot fans will love this upbeat story!

Posted in Fantasy, Young Adult/New Adult

Reign of the Dead – YA fantasy with an LGBT twist

Reign of the Fallen, by Sarah Glenn Marsh, (Feb. 2018, Penguin), $17.99, ISBN: 9780448494395

Recommended for readers 13+

In the land of Karthia, death isn’t always final. Necromancers cater to the Dead, bringing their souls back from the Deadlands and allowing them to move among society, even rule their lands. They must, however, remain shrouded; if their shrouds should fall off, they will become Shades – essentially, ravening zombies – and have to be put down before they can cause harm. Odessa is a master necromancer, as is her lover, Evander; they work together to discover the death of their mentor at the hands of a Shade until another Shade attacks leaves Evander dead and Odessa grieving. In the midst of her grief, Odessa and one of Evander’s sisters stumble onto a plot to overthrow the kingdom of the Dead; it’s a conspiracy that will leave her home in chaos. As Odessa works with Evander’s sister to untangle the mystery, she finds herself drawn to this young woman – as she was to Evander.

There’s a lot going on in Reign of the Fallen, and Sarah Glenn Marsh puts some nice worldbuilding into her story. She’s created a society where the dead can still be as productive as they were in life, but this causes strife among those who feel that it’s time for the dead to step aside and let the living rule. She’s created a world where sexuality and gender are fluid; it’s a part of the fabric of their society. To refer to this an LGBT novel is, however, a bit premature, at least to me; the main character spends a good part of the storyline in love with or mourning her lost, cis-male, love, and only just starts to notice and act on her attraction for another female fairly late in the book. Other same-sex relationships are referred to, but this is a society where love is love, and neither gender nor sexuality changes the rules. There are sex-positive LGBT themes; I’m just not sure that having a bisexual character who only seems to discover her bisexuality 2/3 through the novel qualifies it as an LGBT book, rather than a well-written, immersive fantasy.

Overall, Reign of the Fallen is a nice add to fantasy collections and will satisfy fantasy readers that enjoy intrigue and worldbuilding. The book has a starred review from School Library Journal.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Books for your Spring radar!

Spring always brings some good books to read. In April and May, there’s a little something for everyone – come and see!

April Books

Dr. Coo and the Pigeon Protest, by Sarah Hampson/Illustrated by Kass Reich,
(Apr. 2018, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771383615
Recommended for readers 4-8
Dr. Archibald Coo is a sophisticated pigeon who’s tired of the way he and his fellow pigeons are treated by humans. They’re shooed at, swatted, and treated like a general menace. Dr. Coo remembers when pigeons enjoyed a higher profile in history: in ancient Greece, they delivered news about the Olympic Games; during World War I, they carried messages across battlefields. Now? pfft. So Dr. Coo and his pigeon friends organize and decide to strike: they disappear from every public space, leaving a confused public wondering what happened. Dr. Coo heads over to the mayor’s office a history of the pigeon and a note, asking for tolerance, opening the door to a new era of pigeon-human relations. It’s a cute urban story with a wink to New York and other urban spaces, and has a nice thread about inclusivity and diversity running through the book. Gouache paint and colored pencil art makes for a soft illustration, with attention to the different types of pigeons – there are! – in the cityscape. This would be cute to booktalk with James Sage’s Stop Feedin’ Da Boids!

My Teacher’s Not Here!, by Lana Button/Illustrated by Christine Battuz,
(Apr. 2018, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771383561
Recommended for readers 4-6
Kitty gets to school and knows something’s up when her teacher, Miss Seabrooke, isn’t there to meet her. What’s going on? There’s another teacher there today! How does school even work when your teacher is absent? This sweet rhyming tale about a student’s first substitute teacher is great for younger kids who are just getting into the swing of school routines and provides some fun advice for coping with and adjusting to unexpected change. Kitty teaches readers some coping strategies, including helping out her friends and the teacher by contributing to class and modeling good behavior using cues she learned from her teacher, that the substitute may not be aware of. This is an animal story, so kids will enjoy seeing the “ginormously tall” teacher, a giraffe named Mr. Omar; pigs, elephants, bears, a whole menagerie of students. Hand-drawn artwork and digital collage come together to create colorful, textured, cartoony fun. This one’s a good addition to preschool and primary collections.

Tinkle, Tinkle Little Star, by Chris Tougas,
(Apr. 2018, Kids Can Press), $9.99, ISBN: 9781771388399
Recommended for readers 1-3
One of my favorite books coming out this season is this adorable board book! Set to the tune of everybody’s favorite classic song, this sweet and funny version is all about where not to go: not in a plane, not on Grandpa’s knee, not at a puppet show. Luckily, the poor Little Star gets relief by the story’s end, and sits on a potty to… “Tinkle, Tinkle, Little Star”. It’s adorable with the cutest digital art. Little Star is beyond cute, and gender neutral! Sing along at storytime – I know I’ll be throwing plenty of voice inflection (“Did you just pee on this page?”) and leg-crossing as I read this one. Absolutely adorable, must-add, must-give for collections and toddlers everywhere.

May Books

Polly Diamond and the Magic Book, by Alice Kuipers/Illustrated by Diana Toledano,
(May 2018, Chronicle), $16.99, ISBN: 9781452152325
Recommended for readers 7-9
Polly Diamond is an aspiring, biracial young writer who discovers a magic book on her doorstep one day. Not only does the book write back to her when she writes in it, Everything she writes in the book happens in real life! At first, Polly is psyched: who wouldn’t be, right? But you know how it goes… for every magic journal action, there’s a pretty wild reaction! Written in the first person, with excerpts from Polly’s book, including a pretty great intermediate-level book list for awesome display purposes (“Read Polly Diamond’s favorite books HERE!”). Chapter book readers who love books like Juana and Lucas (on Polly’s favorites list), Jasmine Toguchi, and Katie Woo will thoroughly enjoy Polly’s adventures. There are short, descriptive sentences and a nice amount of new words – Polly is an aspiring writer, after all! Lots of fun for chapter book readers; I’d have kids create their own aquariums as a related craft.

Old Misery, by James Sage/Illustrated by Russell Ayto,
(May 2018, Kids Can Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781771388238
Recommended for readers 5-10
Readers with a darker sense of humor (and parents who are Gorey fans) will get a chuckle out of Old Misery, the story of a cranky old woman named – you got it – Old Misery, and her old cat, Rutterkin. She’s broke, and the apples keep disappearing from her apple tree! Lucky for Old Misery, she’s not completely heartless and feeds a wandering visitor, who grants her one wish: she wants all the apple thieves to be caught in the tree until she lets them go! Old Misery decides to play a little risky game when Death himself shows up at her door – and she sends him to the apple tree. Be careful what you wish for! The black and white, pen and ink artwork has a creepy, quirky feel to it, which will appeal to kids who like Lemony Snicket’s work, but may go over some kids’ heads. Old Misery narrates the story, offering an opportunity for a fun read-aloud.

Binky fans, Gordon’s got his own adventure! For readers who love Ashley Spires’ Binky the Space Cat graphic novels will love Gordon, fellow member of PURST (Pets of the Universe Ready for Space Travel) and Binky’s house-mate, as he finds himself traveling through time to stop an alien invasion. But Gordon travels back too far – before PURST even exists! He’s got to get back to his normal time and set things right! This is fun reading for graphic novel fans, and a nice addition to a popular series. There’s time-travel, problem-solving, aliens, and humor, along with fun art.

See How We Move!: A First Book of Health and Well-Being, by Scot Ritchie,
(May 2018, Kids Can Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781771389679

Recommended for readers 5-8
Author Scot Ritchie’s multicultural group of friends are back together again. Last time we save them, they visited a farm to learn how to grow grains and vegetables in See How We Eat!; this time, Pedro, Yulee, Nick, Sally, and Martin are training as their swim team, The Flying Sharks, prepares to compete. They learn about using proper equipment for different activities, warming up before beginning your activity, teamwork and encouragement, goal-setting, nutrition, the mind-body connection, and more. There are suggestions for fun activities and words to know, all coming together to give kids a fun story about a group of friends staying strong and having fun together while encouraging kids to create lifelong habits of health, nutrition, and physical fitness. I like this See How! series; it offers a wealth of information on healthy living, made accessible to younger readers. I can easily read this in a storytime and get the kids talking about the different ways they play, how they eat, and good habits to get into.

The Bagel King, by Andrew Larsen/Illustrated by Sandy Nichols,
(May 2018, Kids Can Press), $16.99, ISBN; 978-1-77138-574-9
Recommended for readers 4-8

Zaida, Eli’s grandfather, gets bagels from Merv’s Bakery every Sunday morning. One morning, when no bagels show up, Eli gets a phone call: Zaida’s fallen on his tuchus and can’t get the bagels! Eli and his family aren’t the only ones waiting on bagels, either – Eli visits Zaida, only to discover that Zaida’s friends are verklempt, too. No bagels! What a shanda, as my stepdad would say! Eli helps care for his zaida and keep him company, but he knows the best way to cheer Zaida up, and heads to the bagel store on his own the very next Sunday. This story is the most charming book about grandparents and grandchildren, loaded with compassion, a wink and nudge type of humor, and loads of fun, new Yiddish terminology. If you’re an urban dweller, like me, these words are kind of a second language: Zaida is grandfather, and tuchus is your bottom; there’s a little glossary of other Yiddish words that show up in the story, too. (Verklempt is overwhelmed with emotion, and shanda is a shame – you won’t find them in the story, but all I could hear was my stepdad when I read this, so there you go.) I loved the sweet storytelling, the compassion and the decision to act on Eli’s part, and Zaida and his group of friends were wonderful. It’s got an urban flavor that everyone will enjoy, and is good storytelling. Use this story as an opportunity to get your kids talking about relationships with their grandparents: what do you call your grandparents? Do they cook, bake, or shop for food? Do you go with them? (I’d love to get some bagels to hand out with my group… hmmm…) The acrylic artwork has a soft, almost retro feel, but really emphasizes the relationship story with colors, gentle expressions, and soft lines.

The Golden Glow, by Benjamin Flouw,
(May 2018, Tundra/Penguin Random House), $17.99, ISBN: 9780735264120

Recommended for readers 4-8
A fox who loves nature and botany goes on a quest for a rare plant to add to his collection. The Golden Glow is a plant from the Wellhidden family, and only grows high in the mountains. There’s not even a picture of it; it’s never been described. Fox packs his supplies and heads off to the mountains, meeting different animals and noting different plants and trees along the way. When Fox finally reaches the mountaintop, he waits… and discovers the Golden Glow! It’s stunning! It’s breathtaking! And Fox realizes that “the golden glow is more beautiful here on the mountaintop than it ever would be in a vase in his living room”. Part story and part nature journal, The Golden Glow is just gorgeous and teaches a respect for nature. The angular art draws the eye in; there’s so much to see on every page, every spread. Flouw creates detailed lists of Fox’s hiking pack, plus trees and flowers that he encounters on his way, and a map of different zones on the way up to the mountain, from the foothill to snow zones, all in beautiful detail for younger readers to enjoy. Fox’s decision to leave the flower where it is presents a love of and respect for nature that can lead to a great discussion on conservation. Bright red endpapers with angular design could be a topographic map of the area – talk about how different areas look from above! I know it’s way early, but I’ll quietly whisper this one now: Caldecott contender.
Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, Realistic Fiction

Shai and Emmie dance their way into a new adventure!

Shai and Emmie Star in Dancy Pants!, by Quvenzhané Wallis with Nancy Ohlin/Illustrated by Sharee Miller, (Jan. 2018, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), $15.99, ISBN: 9781481458856

Recommended for readers 6-9

This is Academy Award-nominated actress Quvenzhan√© Wallis’ second outing in her Shai & Emmie series. This time, the two third graders and their friend Rio are getting ready to strut their stuff for a dance competition – but Shai’s frenemy, Gabby, decides to make things more competitive by challenging Shai to a bet: whoever’s team “wins” will bring the other a cupcake every day for a whole month. Shai’s determined to win, but Emmie and Rio don’t even know they’ve been sucked into this bet, so when Shai becomes a taskmaster about practice, things get a little interesting. Can the friends work it all out?

This is an enjoyable series for kids ready to graduate from simple chapter books and easy readers – Jasmine Toguchi readers, the Ivy and Bean audience, and Whoopi Goldberg’s Sugar Plum Fairies fans will dive right in. Shai has supportive, loving parents and a big family, with siblings and pets aplenty; there’s always something going on in Shai’s bustling world. Her group of friends are diverse, as illustrated in the black and white illustrations throughout. This is a highly readable series for newly confident chapter book readers.