Posted in Preschool Reads

Stocking stuffers, snuggle time stories: Christmas picture books!

Happy Black Friday! While you’re deep into your holiday shopping, here are a few picture book suggestions for stocking stuffers or Christmastime snuggling. I’ll have Hanukkah and Kwanzaa book rundowns shortly; I just need to read a few and get a better idea of the good stuff out there.

And away we go!

Captain Bling’s Christmas Plunder, by Rebecca Colby/Illustrated by Rob McClurkan,
(Nov. 2017, Albert Whitman & Company), $16.95, ISBN: 978-0-8075-1063-6
Recommended for readers 4-8

Captain Bling and his crew are planning a big plundering trip, but their ship gets blown off course, landing them by the North Pole! Well, when they get a look at Santa’s elves loading all those toys and goodies up, they decide to steal everything for themselves – until Santa shows those buccaneers a little Christmas spirit! Rhyming text, cartoony art, and a sweet message about giving, plus a heck of a trip on Santa’s sleigh, make this a cute Christmas tale for pirate fans and Santa fans alike.

 

A Christmas for Bear, Bonny Becker/Illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton,
(Sept. 2017, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763649234
Recommended for readers 5-10

Bear doesn’t have much interest in Christmas – pickles are far better. But Mouse does, and when he shows up at Bear’s house for a Christmas party, he discovers that his surly friend Bear may have a little Christmas spirit after all. I love Bonny Becker’s Bear series; he and Mouse are wonderful foils for one another, and Bear always comes around to embrace the fun side of life (and pickles. Always pickles). Bear deliciously keeps Mouse in suspense, feigning total disinterest in the very idea of the holiday; when he thinks Mouse has had enough, he starts “a long and difficult poem” – The Night Before Christmas – and drops hints for Mouse that the ruse is up and it’s time for presents. The watercolor, ink, and gouache art creates a soft, cuddly feel for a winter’s evening storytime. It’s a great add to holiday picture book collections. A Christmas for Bear received a starred review from Kirkus.

 

The Christmas Fairy, by Anne Booth/Illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw,
(Sept. 2017, Nosy Crow/Candlewick), $15.99, ISBN: 978-0-7636-9629-0
Recommended for ages 3-7

Clara is a lively little fairy with dreams of being a “proper Christmas fairy on a sparkly Christmas tree”, but her teacher seems to think she isn’t Christmas fairylike at all: she’s always singing, dancing, or laughing! Luckily, Santa sees things differently when the Christmas Show is in trouble; he tells Clara that he needs a “special fairy who is full of life and fun”; who cheers people up, and is contagiously happy. Clara steps in to save the day, and her teacher – and the reader – learn that not every fairy has to be perfect to be wonderful. The Christmas fairy is all about embracing who you are and not accepting someone else’s idea of perfect. The mixed media illustrations are absolutely adorable; there are towering flowers, little bugs, and a diverse little group of fairy friends. The rhyming text provides a nice rhythm to a sweet Christmas story. Add this one to collections where you have fairy fans (I’ve got a bunch here), and maybe toss in a showing of the Rankin-Bass Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer animated show, with a a similar “Santa asks for help” moment.

 

Elf in the House, by Ammi-Joan Paquette/Illustrated by Adam Record,
(Sept. 2017, Candlewick), $15.99, ISBN: 9780-7636-8132-6
Recommended for readers 3-7

Jingle Jingle! A young girl hears a noise in her house on a snowy Christmas Eve, and creeps down to investigate. The cumulative, rhyming story leaves readers in suspense as she discovers who else is in her home with each turn of the page. Each reveal leads to another noise, another search, another reveal; the lyrical storytelling and the use of suspense ratchets up the excitement for readers, and the digital artwork is cute, with big-eyed characters and goofy expressions that will make younger readers giggle. A fun addition to Christmas storytimes, for sure.

 

Pick a Pine Tree, by Patricia Toht/Illustrated by Jarvis,
(Sept. 2017, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0-7636-9571-2
Recommended for readers 3-7

The perfect way to kick off the Christmas holiday season: pick a tree! Pick a Pine Tree chronicles a tree’s journey from lot to dazzling. The rhyming tale shows a family choosing a tree, bringing it home, and decorating it to get it ready for Christmas. The pencil, chalk, paint, digitally colored illustrations have a vintage feel to them and have fun visual references that we associate with the holiday: a cat in the tree, boxes of decorations coming out of storage, a tree-trimming party, with kids wearing garland boas. It’s all about the ritual of the season, and the greatest moment: when the tree isn’t a pine tree anymore, but a Christmas Tree, dazzling and bright, with awestruck observers peeking out from the page margins. Pick a Pine Tree may very well be a new Christmas classic. The book has a starred review from Kirkus.

 

Red and Lulu, by Matt Tavares, (Sept. 2017, Candlewick),
$17.99, ISBN: 978-0-7636-7733-6
Recommended for readers 5-10

Red and Lulu are a mated pair of cardinals living in a beautiful evergreen tree; one day, Red returns to the tree to discover it’s being taken away – with Lulu still inside! Red follows the truck carrying the tree as far as he can, but the truck is New York bound, and the city is too big for Red. Overwhelmed, he sweeps through the city, tired and hungry, desperate to find Lulu. One day, he hears the song he and Lulu shared so many times: “O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, thy leaves are so unchanging…” and follows the singing to Times Square, where, as he soars over the Rockefeller Center tree and toward their favorite branch. This book is absolutely going to tug at your heartstrings. The watercolor and gouache art is just beautiful, and Red’s bright red feathers stand out on every spread. Matt Tavares beautifully captures New York City at Christmastime: the wreaths around the New York Public Library lions; the bright lights and nonstop action of Times Square, the resplendence of the Rockefeller Center Tree. The spread where Red circles the Empire State Building spire is just breathtaking. The story of unconditional love will resonate with older readers, and younger readers will enjoy the story of a bird who refuses to give up on a lost friend. Another Christmas classic for shelves. Red & Lulu has a starred review from Publishers Weekly. You can visit the Red & Lulu page on Matt Tavares’ website and view the book trailer and more art.

That’s it for now – more holiday books and shopping lists on the way!

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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, Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Zaria Fierce brings Norse myth to modern adventure!

Take a timid girl, put her in a seemingly impossible situation, and you’ll find out what she’s really made of. Zaria Fierce, a 13 year-old living with her adoptive family in Norway, finds herself up against trolls and magical creatures of all sorts when she heads to school one morning and is confronted by Olaf, a troll – you got it – from under a bridge. She thinks she’s outsmarted the big creep, but he gets the last laugh when he kidnaps her best friend, Christoffer. Now, it’s up to Zaria and her friends to save Christoffer, but Zaria’s in for a wild ride with some big revelations along the way!

zaria fiere_1

Zaria Fierce and the Secret of Gloomwood Forest, by Keira Gillet/Illustrated by Eoghan Kerrigan, (2015, self-published), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1942750017

Zaria Fierce and the Secret of Gloomwood Forest lays the groundwork for a new series that brings elements of Norse myth to modern day. Neither Loki nor Odin are stirring up trouble here, though – we’ve got the trolls making trouble, some elves, and dwarves, enchanted forests, and magic items aplenty here. There are secrets revealed and some big decisions Zaria must make – and they’re not always the right ones. She’s a girl with a lot of heart and has friends who quibble with her and each other, but would do anything for her. 

zaria fiere_2

Zaria Fierce and the Enchanted Drakeland Swordby Keira Gillet/Illustrated by Eoghan Kerrigan, (2015, self-published), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1942750031

The story continues in Zaria Fierce and the Enchanted Drakeland Sword. Armed with a better understand of who she and what she needs to do, Zaria and her friends are back and trying to fix a major mistake she made while trying to free Christoffer. We’ve got pirate ships and giants in this story, and a very creepy doppleganger making some trouble for Zaria. Can she get hold of the enchanted Drakeland sword and foil Olaf’s plans?

The stories are written and illustrated in a manner that recalls fantasy and adventure stories I read as a kid. The black and white fantasy sketches are beautiful and creepy – I love the white stag and the deliciously creepy Olaf – and brings a lot of imagination to the page.

Self-published by the author, the books can be purchased via Amazon (I’ve linked each title to its Amazon page below the cover shots). You can find a book trailer and Zaria Fierce coloring sheets on Keira Gillett’s website, sign up for her newsletter, and get a countdown to the next book in the Zaria Fierce trilogy. Keep an eye out for an author interview with Keira Gillett, right here, very soon!

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade

LEGO Chapter Books are here! Join the LEGO Elves in the Quest for the Keys!

9780545852807_177e4Quest for the Keys (LEGO Elves Chapter Book #1), by Stacia Deutsch (Aug. 2015, Scholastic), $5.99, ISBN: 9780545852807

Recommended for ages 7-10

LEGO’s got chapter books now! This new series, tied in with the LEGO Elves toy line, introduces us to Emily Jones, a young girl mourning her grandmother’s passing. As she walks through her garden, where she and her grandmother spent many happy days, she crosses a secret portal into the world of Elvendale… and she can’t find a way out! Four elemental elves befriend her and undertake a quest to get Emily home, but there are riddles and magic to unravel along the way – and Emily will learn secrets about her grandmother that she could never have imagined!

This is a perfect book for burgeoning readers that are ready to make the move from Easy Reader to early chapter books. There’s just enough magic and mystery to introduce readers to fantasy, and cheerful teal illustrations, along with pages decorated with garden ivy, to give readers a fun, enchanted experience. I think this one will fly off my shelves. Quest for the Keys will be a great funtime reading to bring new fantasy fans into the fold, and keep them waiting for more.

Author Stacia Deutsch has written over 100 novels for kids and young adults, including the upcoming tie-in to Hotel Transylvania 2 and the Rotten Apples series book, Mean Ghouls. Find out more about her books at her author website.