Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Intermediate, Realistic Fiction

Series fiction gift ideas!

There are some nifty things about series fiction: there are usually a few published throughout a calendar year, and they’re usually reasonably inexpensive, so you can scoop up a few as a nice gift. Here are a few I’ve enjoyed lately.

Anna Hibiscus

Welcome Home, Anna Hibiscus!, by Atinuke/Illustrated by Lauren Tobia, (Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-61067-678-6
Go Well, Anna Hibiscus!, by Atinuke/Illustrated by Lauren Tobia, (Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-61067-679-3
Love From Anna Hibiscus!, by Atinuke/Illustrated by Lauren Tobia, (Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-61067-680-9
You’re Amazing, Anna Hibiscus!, by Atinuke/Illustrated by Lauren Tobia, (Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-61067-681-6
Good for readers 6-8

This series is wonderful. While it is a running series, you won’t be lost if you don’t read in numerical order. I came in on books 4-8 and have the first four on request from another library; I was captivated by this slice of life series about a young girl who lives with her paternal, extended family, in Africa. The book celebrates African culture and community, family, and empathy. In Welcome Home, Anna Hibiscus, Anna has returned to beautiful Africa after vacationing with her maternal grandmother in Canada. She’s thrilled to be home, gains a new pet, and eases back into daily life. Go Well, Anna Hibiscus! sees Anna and her family returning to her grandparents’ village, where life is slower; there’s no running water or electricity, and kids don’t go to school. Anna learns how to make new friends and learns from them even as she teaches. In Love from Anna Hibiscus!, Anna’s grandfather discovers that an old friend of his has passed away, leaving a young grandson, Sunny Belafonte, on his own. The boy is starving and steals in order to eat; Grandfather and Anna know they must intervene. You’re Amazing, Anna Hibiscus! is the strongest book in this very strong series: Grandfather is becoming more and more tired. Anna is left to work through the grief that that comes with a death in the family. The books paint a beautiful picture of everyday family life and the compassion Anna and her family have for others. Anna and her family are African but for her mother, who is Anglo-Canadian; something that is communicated through illustration. The black and white illustrations throughout show a loving family and scenes of African life: Anna teaching village children to write the alphabet using sticks and the ground; Grandmother weaves a basket; the kids ride an uncomfortably crowded bus to Grandfather’s village. Originally published between 2012-2016 by Walker Books, the series is now available from American publisher Kane Miller. Give this set to kids and broaden their horizons.

 

Animal Planet Adventures

Dolphin Rescue, by Catherine Nichols, (Feb. 2017, Liberty Street), $14.95, ISBN: 978-1-61893-169-6
Farm Friends Escape!, by Catherine Nichols, (Feb. 2017, Liberty Street), $14.95, ISBN: 978-1-61893-416-1
Puppy Rescue Riddle, by Catherine Nichols, (Sept. 2017, Liberty Street), $14.95, ISBN: 978-1-68330-008-3
Zoo Camp Puzzle, by Gail Herman, (Sept. 2017, Liberty Street), $14.95, ISBN: 978-1-68330-009-0
Good for readers 6-10

Simultaneously available in hardcover or $5.99 paperback, this Animal Planet fiction series debuted earlier this year and blends fiction and nonfiction. I enjoyed the first two books, Dolphin Rescue and Farm Friends Escape!, earlier this year; I just read the next two, Puppy Rescue Riddle and Zoo Camp Puzzle, and can honestly say I get a kick out of this series. It’s a true series in that each book is its own separate adventure; there’s no crossover with other characters or locations, so every book stands alone and makes it easy to dive in and enjoy whatever appeals to readers. Don’t like farm animals much? No worries, just read another book. There’s a major plot running through each book and a mystery subplot that the characters must work together to solve: with Puppy Rescue Riddle, a group of friends volunteer at an animal shelter and have to find a puppy who’s gotten lost in a house; Zoo Camp Puzzle stars twin siblings, temporarily living with and being homeschooled by their father at a zoo while he works on a book. The twins notice that animals are going into hiding, and work to get to the bottom of the mystery. Zoo Camp Puzzle has fun word searches and puzzles throughout (which will necessitate a “Do Not Write in This Book” label on my library copy). Each book also has a cute flip book feature – flip the pages, and see dolphins swim, ducks waddle, puppies run, and zoo animals shuffle along.  The illustrations are in color, and full-color nonfiction sections throughout each book provide information on veterinarians, how animals react to changes in weather patterns, and more. The set is available in both hardcover and paperback. Great set for young animal fans.

 

Ella and Owen

Ella and Owen: The Cave of AAAAAH! Doom!, by Jaden Kent/Illustrated by Iryna Bodnaruk, (March 2017, little bee books), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-4998-0368-6
Ella and Owen: Attack of the Stinky Fish Monster!, by Jaden Kent/Illustrated by Iryna Bodnaruk, (March 2017, little bee books), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-4998-0369-3
Ella and Owen: Attack of the Knights vs. Dragons, by Jaden Kent/Illustrated by Iryna Bodnaruk, (May 2017, little bee books), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-4998-0372-3

Dragon siblings Ella and Owen are forever bickering. Owen is bookish and likes staying home, reading; Ella is adventurous and always ready to push the envelope. In The Cave of AAAAAH! Doom!, the two search for a cure for Owen’s cold, only to go up against an ogre and evil vegetable wizard. In Attack of the Stinky Fish Monster!, the siblings want to surprise their mom with a cake made of delicious stinky fish, so off they go. They end up turned into newts by a wizard named Ken, bargain with a pixie, and find a stinky fish monster: a very large, very grumpy, stinky fish monster. Knights vs. Dragons goes a little deeper as the dragons find a group of knights who hate dragons because they’ve followed a culture of hating dragons for years: fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers have always hated dragons; that’s just the way it is, right? When the knights encounter a group of trolls who hate knights for the same reason – and are a lot bigger, stronger, and scarier than the knights are – Ella and Owen have a chance to teach the knights a valuable lesson about acceptance. This is a fun series – there are four in print at the moment – that kids who love dragons and silly fantasy will enjoy. There are black and white illustrations throughout, but, sadly, no recipe for stinky fish cake.

Unicorn Princesses

Unicorn Princesses: Sunbeam’s Shine, by Emily Bliss/Illustrated by Sydney Hanson, (Aug. 2017, Bloomsbury USA), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1681193267
Unicorn Princesses: Flash’s Dash, by Emily Bliss/Illustrated by Sydney Hanson, (Aug. 2017, Bloomsbury USA), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1681193304
Unicorn Princesses: Bloom’s Ball, by Emily Bliss/Illustrated by Sydney Hanson, (Dec. 2017, Bloomsbury USA), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1681193342
Unicorn Princesses: Prism’s Paint, by Emily Bliss/Illustrated by Sydney Hanson, (Dec. 2017, Bloomsbury USA), $5.99, ISBN: 978-168119338

This series is a no-brainer for fantasy fans who love their unicorns and My Little Pony books. A human girl named Cressida is convinced that unicorns are real, happens upon the Rainbow Realm where unicorns live, and befriends them, receiving a magical key to re-enter their realm whenever she wants to visit. She helps the unicorns out with each visit. In Sunbeam’s Shine, a wizard’s mistake costs Princess Sunbeam her magic yellow sapphire, which causes her to lose her powers. The key to regaining them is to enlist the help of a human who believes in unicorns! In Flash’s Dash, the big Thunder Dash race is coming up, and Princess Flash lets non-unicorns compete for the first time. Cressida’s invited to take part, but the bumbling wizard (who’s also a lizard) casts a spell that covers the track in sticky goo. Bloom’s Ball has Princess Bloom trusting the wizard-lizard with a spell to deliver her special birthday ball invitation by mail, but an errant word brings on an army of quails who wreck the party, leaving Cressida to help salvage the day. In Prism’s Paint, that wizard – seriously, why is he even allowed to practice magic at this point? – changes Princess Prism’s power from turning objects different colors to removing color altogether. Cressida’s got to help find the rainbow to restore Prism’s power. The series is adorable, wacky, and full of good-hearted dilemmas, with black and white illustrations throughout. Bloom’s Ball and Prism’s Paint are due out on 12/26, making them good Kwanzaa gifts, or hold onto them for Little Christmas in January. There are two more books forthcoming in 2018. Trust me, someone you know loves unicorns. I have one little girl at my library waiting desperately for these next two books to come out. Want to mix it up a little? Consider some My Little Pony books, or anything in the Rainbow Fairies series by Daisy Meadows.

Happy reading and happy holiday shopping!

 

 

 

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Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

A Dash of Dragon introduces readers to monster cuisine

A Dash of Dragon, by Heidi Lang, Kati Bartkowski, (July 2017, Aladdin), $17.99, ISBN: 9781481477932

Recommended for readers 9-13

Lailu Loganberry is a 13 year-old master chef, newly graduated from the Academy. Her mentor, Sullivan Slipshod, used to be one of the greats, and Lailu won’t listen to anyone who has a bad thing to say about him – including her best friend, Hannah. But Master Slipshod has accepted a loan from Mr. Boss, an unscrupulous loan shark, whose terms are dire: if they don’t pay back the loan in time, they not only forfeit the restaurant, but they are stuck working for Mr. Boss for the rest of their lives. Lailu’s determined to beat the odds, cook the perfect monster cuisine – which she has to hunt AND prepare – for her customers, protect Hannah from the Elven mafia that’s out to get her, AND navigate the delicate balance she’s found herself walking between Mr. Boss and Elister, the king’s assassin. She also has to join forces with Greg, her obnoxious fellow Academy graduate and rival restaurateur.

A Dash of Dragon is a fun, fantasy middle grade read. Lailu is a strong, smart heroine who keeps her wits about her when everyone else seems to be losing theirs. There’s some mystery, some humor, lots of adventure, and there’s monster cuisine. I love that the Academy trains chefs to hunt their exotic prey – krakens, dragons, and batyrdactyls all make an appearance in the novel – in addition to preparing the cuisine; it adds a nice touch of adventure to the fantasy and fun. Hannah is Lailu’s foil; she’s flighty and seemingly skin-deep compared to Lailu’s determination and focus, but the two have a strong bond that keeps them there for one another. There’s intrigue, double-dealing, and the age-old magic vs. science conflict is alive and well thanks to a rivalry between elves and scientists. The characters are well thought-out and the pace of the book will keep readers turning pages. There’s a somewhat Asian influence in the overall storyline, with references to cookery gods, altars, and dragon cuisine, but Lailu and her friends are not specifically described as such.

 

A fun and different fantasy selection to add to your collections.

Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Teen

Gork the Teenage Dragon serves up scaly green goodness

Gork the Teenage Dragon, by Gabe Hudson, (July 2017, Knopf), $24.95, ISBN: 9780375413964

Recommended for readers 14+

Gork’s a dragon, but don’t even think about mentioning Smaug to him. He’s not happy at all with the way dragons are portrayed in Earth fiction, and he’s here to set the record straight. So begins the story of Gork: teenage dragon, student at WarWings Academy, orphaned on Earth during his parents’ mating mission and raised by his scientist grandfather, Dr. Terrible.

Starting off on Crown Day – the day dragon and dragonette cadets at the Academy agree to be mating partners – Gork has one goal in mind: to get the luscious Runcita Floop to wear his crown and agree to be his queen. The problem? His nickname is Weak Sauce, his Will to Power ranking is Snacklicious (if you’re a gamer, think of Will to Power as a CON/DEX/overall attractiveness level) and he’s got a bad habit of fainting when he’s scared. If Runcita says yes, she and Gork will go off in his spaceship and find a planet to conquer together. If Gork can’t sea the deal, he’s doomed to be a slave.

Gork has a heck of a day ahead of him: Dean Floop – his intended’s father – hates him; his sadistic grandfather is on the run from the Dean, he’s being hunted down by a group of WarWings cadets that have murder on their minds, and the Trenx, a fellow cadet who had similarly low ratings, has seemingly blossomed overnight. Before the day is out, Gork will have to survive and learn some hard truths about his family. He’d better keep his best friend – a robot dragon named Fribby – by his side.

Gork is an out-there novel. It’s a page-turner, and Gork is an endearing first-person narrator, if a bit single-minded in focus. He’s obsessed with mating, but he is a teenager, after all. He refers a lot to his “scaly green ass” a lot, which gets tedious. Gork’s story uses fantasy to tackle some very real points: bullying, friendship, self-esteem, and falling in love. It’s a much deeper novel than the title “teenage dragon”encompasses; it’s a fantasy, a YA romance, and a coming of age story.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Humor, Intermediate

Ella and Owen: Dragon sibling adventures

Ella and Owen: The Cave of AAAAAH! DOOM! (Ella and Owen #1), by Jaden Kent, (March 2017, little bee books), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1499803938

Recommended for ages 6-9

The first book in a fun intermediate series, dragon siblings Ella and Owen have two very different personalities. In their first adventure, bookish Owen is perfectly happy to be home in bed with a book, nursing a cold. More adventurous Ella has different plans: cave exploring! She lures Owen by promising him that there’s a chance to get ogre toenails for his collection. They explore some caves, tangle with an ogre and an evil vegetable wizard, and quite possibly, find a cure for Owen’s cold.

Kids in my library are warming up to this series. If you have Dragonbreath fans, introduce them to Ella and Owen. It’s silly, boogery fun, with black and white illustrations throughout. the second book in the series, Attack of the Stinky Fish Monster, is already available; the third (Knights vs Dragons) is out in May, and the fourth (Evil Pumpkin Pie Fight) is out in July.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade

Henry and the Chalk Dragon unleashes imagination!

Henry and the Chalk Dragon, by Jennifer Trafton/Illustrated by Benjamin Schipper, (Apr. 2017, Rabbit Room Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9780986381881

Recommended for readers 8-12

Henry Penwhistle is a young boy with an active imagination. He’s an artist and a dreamer who draws his quests in secret, afraid to share his art with anyone – even his best friend, Oscar. His mother used blackboard paint to transform Henry’s door into a canvas; a canvas on which he’s drawn a dragon. A dragon that has managed to escape and wreaks havoc all over Henry’s school! Henry, Oscar, and their classmate Jade – who chronicles the boys’ heroism in epic poetry – try to save their classmates and teachers and bring an end to the dragon’s mischief. What Henry discovers is something far deeper.

This book is so many things. It recognizes the dreamers, the artists, those of us who look at life a little differently. It’s a gentle squeeze, a hug, a reminder to us grownups that we don’t really have to give up our robots and superhero personas, just because we’ve gotten older. And it’s a call to action to readers – grownups and kids alike – to rethink ways of tackling problems. Henry has his own hero’s quest through Henry and the Chalk Dragon, as do – to a slightly lesser degree – his teacher, lunch lady, and principal, and he emerges as a very different boy at the book’s close.

Henry and his friends are stuck in dreary school life, but so are the grownups in that school. His principal, beaten down by the School Bored, tells Henry, “the world doesn’t care about your art… the world only cares about facts and numbers and budgets. I’m sorry, but it is my job to prepare you for the world you’re going to have to live in, Henry: the real world.” His lunch lady is an artist who wails that “everyone wants pizza, and meatloaf, and macaroni and cheese made from a box. A box! How can anything beautiful come from a box?” They’re artists and dreamers who’ve been worn down by the world around them, but Henry is here to show everyone, with a child’s innocence and imagination, that things are so much better than that. Finally, Henry and the Chalk Dragon is about the enduring power of friendship: Henry and Oscar spend the better part of the book working out an argument that took place before the events of the book, and Jade makes sure that Henry and Oscar know that the old boys’ club isn’t a formula that works for her; she’s going to be part of this adventure.

Give this book to your dreamers, artists, and adventurers. Give it to your teachers and your parents that used to be superheroes, and should be again.

Henry and the Chalk Dragon received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist.

Would you like a chance to win your own copy of Henry and the Chalk Dragon? Enter this Rafflecopter giveaway!

About the Author

Jennifer Trafton is the author of The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic (Dial, 2010) which received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal and was a nominee for Tennessee’s Volunteer State Book Award and the National Homeschool Book Award. Henry and the Chalk Dragon arose from her lifelong love of drawing and her personal quest for the courage to be an artist. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where, in addition to pursuing her love of art and illustration, she teaches writing classes, workshops, and summer camps in a variety of schools, libraries, and homeschool groups in the Nashville area, as well as online classes to kids around the world. To learn more, and to download free materials, visit jennifertrafton.com.

Praise for HENRY AND THE CHALK DRAGON:

★“A delicious face-off between forces of conformity and creativity run amok, spiced with offbeat names as well as insights expressed with eloquent simplicity.” —Booklist (starred review)

★“A perfect title to hand to young readers looking for laughs along with a wild and crazy adventure.”

—School Library Journal (starred review)

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Join the Dragonwatch!

Dragonwatch, by Brandon Mull, (March 2017, Shadow Mountain), $18.99, ISBN: 978-1-62972-256-6

Recommended for readers 9-12

After a seven-year wait, the sequel to the Fablehaven series is here! Dragonwatch starts a new chapter in the Fablehaven saga. The dragons are sick of their sanctuaries. They feel like prisons, and they want their freedom. Celebrant, a dragon resident and co-caretaker of the Wyrmroost Sanctuary, is testing his boundaries a little too much for anyone’s comfort. The wizard Agad, tells Kendra, Seth, and Grandpa Sorenson about an ancient group, the Dragonwatch, charged with keeping the dragons confined to their sanctuaries. Agad is resurrecting the Dragonwatch, and he also needs new caretakers at Wyrmroost: Seth and Kendra. As long as they work and together, they are the next hope for Wyrmroost, but Celebrant isn’t going to take having children as his new co-caretakers that willingly. Seth and Kendra must work with the supernatural residents around them to secure a magical artifact before the dragons can overthrow Wyrmroost.

I picked up my first copy of Fablehaven years ago, and fell in love with the story: the characters, the worldbuilding, the action, and the story of a family living under some pretty wild circumstances. Imagine finding out that your grandparents were caretakers of a preserve for magical creatures? Dragonwatch is every single thing I love about Fablehaven and more. There’s new worldbuilding and mythology that builds on everything we know so far; there’s a new conflict on the rise that will test our favorite characters and introduce us to new ones, and there’s an enduring commitment to the heart of the series: the family at the center of the story. We meet two possibly recurring characters from that family: cousins Knox and Tess, who bring a little of the outside world back to the novel while getting their feet wet in the world of Fablehaven. We meet a host of new magical friends, including Celebrant, the powerful dragon at the heart of the new conflict.

You don’t need to be well-read on Fablehaven to dive into Dragonwatch. It’s a new series, so Mull touches on the main points that newcomers need to be aware of, while giving readers an entirely new story to fall in love with. Kids will want to read Fablehaven once they start Dragonwatch – they’ll need something to read while waiting for the next installment – but they won’t be left out if they haven’t read the previous books just yet.

Courtesy of Brandon Mull’s Dragonwatch pageBrandon Mull’s Dragonwatch webpage has an excerpt, readers’ guide, and the VR experience that I linked to back when we were getting Decked Out for Dragonwatch back in January. There’s also a downloadable event kit and a sneak peek at some of Brandon Dorman’s amazing black and white artwork that you’ll see in Dragonwatch. Fablehaven fans and newbies can enjoy getting caught up at the Fablehaven page.Fantasy fans, especially dragon fans, are going to love this series. Booktalk it, display it, print out goodies from the website and share them!

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate

Dragons pop off the page – for real! – in Dragon Hunters!

31409133The Dragon Hunters (The Dragon Brothers Trilogy, #1), by James Russell/Illustrated by Link Choi, (Apr. 2017, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-4926-4861-1

Recommended for readers 5-10

Brothers Flynn and Paddy are on a rescue mission: their dog has been kidnapped by a dragon! Mom thinks it’s all part of their goofing around, but the boys are determined and set off to rescue poor Coco from the dragon’s clutches – hope they can get out unsinged!

The Dragon Hunters – originally published in New Zealand in 2012 – is a fun, rhyming fantasy tale for grade school level kids, but preschoolers will also appreciate the rhyming tale and the cartoony art. The dragon is bold, red, and mean, gorgeous in its sinister ferocity. Pages alternate with full color art and sketches (I’ve got an ARC – this may not be the case with the finished version), and the longer length of the tale gives it an old-school, epic poem feeling.

The best part of this book? The augmented reality! Download a free app for your tablet or smartphone, hold it over the map endpapers of the book, and see the map come to life! There’s a little bit of sound, but the real thrill is seeing the landscape come to life, complete with little dragon flying over the mountains and the steaming Putrid Plains. My little guy went nuts for it, and so did my coworker’s tween daughter. I tried to capture it using my phone camera, but the Dragon Hunters site does this far better justice than my overworked Samsung. Take a look:

The site also offers free coloring sheets, which makes my passive programmer’s heart SING.

The Dragon Hunters is the first in a trilogy, all of which are publishing this year. The Dragon Tamers hits shelves in June, and The Dragon Riders arrives in August. James Russell has a chapter book series called The Dragon Defenders coming out this year – let’s hope it reaches American shores, so middle graders can enjoy Paddy, Flynn, and Coco.

Artist Link Choi’s work on The Dragon Hunters was a finalist for New Zealand’s Russell Clark Medal for Illustration. See more of his illustration at his website.