Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Victoria Jamieson’s Back! All’s Faire in Middle School

All’s Faire in Middle School, by Victoria Jamieson, (Sept. 2017, Dial Books), $12.99, ISBN: 978-0525429999

Recommended for ages 9-13

Newbery Honor winner Victoria Jamieson’s newest graphic novel, All’s Faire in Middle School, introduces readers to Imogene (Impy), an 11 year-old who’s about to start middle school after being homeschooled. She’s also a knight-in-training at the Renaissance Faire that her parents and extended family – the other RenFest players – run. She’s got a different lifestyle, but never really thought anything of it; it’s all she’s known. Once she gets to public school, though, she finds herself embarrassed by her family and RenFest friends, her thrift store clothing, and her small apartment. But will she be a noble knight and rise above her challenges?

Victoria Jamieson’s got a gift for telling middle grade stories about quirky heroines who buck tradition. Roller Girl introduced us to Astrid, a girl who found herself in the roller derby arena; with All’s Faire, she gives us Imogene, who finds herself in the RenFaire. She’s got a different upbringing, which she’s embraced up until now – she meets kids who think she’s weird because she’s different; for a moment, she falls prey to the self-doubt and fear of standing out that plagues tweens. She meets the Mean Girls, and she has to draw on her internal strength and the love of the RenFest family around her to be her authentic self. There’s great storytelling here, with memorable characters and fun moments at the Faire.

This will appeal to everyone who loves realistic fiction, and all the Raina Telgemeier fans who love authors who get them. A must-add to bookshelves everywhere. Check out an excerpt from All’s Faire in Middle School at Entertainment Weekly.

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Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Book Tour: The Tower, by Nicole Campbell

The Tower, by Nicole Campbell, (June 2017, CreateSpace), $13.50, ISBN: 978-1545411278

Recommended for readers 13+

Three lifelong friends get ready to start their junior year of high school. They live in Elizabethtown, Illinois, and tend to stand out because they’re witches. Not the Harry Potter type, and not the White Witch of Narnia, either: they’re pagans, in touch with nature and the energy around them, and they have no idea how things are going to change for them this year. There’s Rowyn, whose sharp tongue is rivaled only by her skill in reading tarot cards and auras; Reed, forever in love with Rowyn, who channels energy and practices reiki, and Rose, who puts love and little touches of her magic into her baked goods. There’s also Jared, a jock from school who’s dating Rose and seems to be the one person from school that’s willing to take the time to understand his new group of friends. When tragedy strikes, their worlds are upended, and each has to find his or her own way back to some form of balance.

Each chapter is told in the first person from one of our four main characters. This is not a paranormal novel; it’s not an urban fantasy novel. It’s a beautiful story of love and loss, addiction and depression, and a look into a group of friends that grew up on the outside, looking in. Diversity takes many forms, and the pagan belief system, stuck in the middle of Christian conservatism, serves as a powerful setting. Nicole Campbell writes characters that are fragile and strong; they’re dealing with things so many teens find themselves faced with today: divorced parents, bullying, and navigating relationships among them. The Tower is a strong piece of YA realistic fiction that will resonate with teens and young adults.

Posted in Fantasy, Tween Reads

Adoption Themes in Aleks Mikelson and Zaria Fierce by author Keira Gillett

Today’s guest post from author Keira Gillett takes a look at adoption themes that run through her fantasy novels, the Zaria Fierce trilogy and Aleks Mikelson and the Twice-Lost Fairy Well. I love the fact that her two main series characters are not only adopted, but come from loving homes where they consider their adoptive families their families, period. And don’t miss the super-awesome giveaway at the end of this post! Thanks again for Keira for her loving, sensitive look at adoptive families.

Adoption Themes in the Zaria Fierce Series

There are many references in literature in which guardians for kids are these terrible people. I feel very strongly that there are ways for kids to have adventures in books without mean, cruel, negligent, or abusive adults. Enter the stargazer – a device I invented that freezes time so Aleks, Zaria and the gang can go on adventures around Norway, saving their friends and the world, and not panic their parents.

In real life and in fiction, there are many reasons why kids are available for adoption, because there are many family backgrounds for both birth families and adopted families, which lead them to the decision to choose adoption. My younger sisters are adopted, and my parents, especially my mom, has always been very open with them and with my older brother and myself.

Knowing all this, I wanted a better reflection of adoption to be portrayed for my sisters, and maybe other adoptees like them, because it was very important to me to show that an adoptive family can be nice, and yet a decision to reunite or a desire to reunite can still be part of the equation. That’s why both Aleks and Zaria have nice parents. They love their parents and can’t see living with their birth families.

As for the birth families being different, as important as it was to show that adoptive families can be nice, it was also important to show a balance in the portrayal of them in as sensitive a manner as possible, as I know adopted children may superimpose a pleasant scenario over a harsher reality, if they knew and remembered their birth parents, or similarly spinning pleasant stories about why they were available for adoption, if they didn’t. Or the pleasant fantasy of what it might mean to be reunited. While these pleasant scenarios may pan out for some adoptees, others may be disillusioned, if they seek out and meet their birth parents.

It was easy to create these two scenarios, because my characters have different motivations and backgrounds. For instance, Zaria’s birth mother gave her up for adoption in order to protect her from cruel and manipulative dragons who, if they knew of her magical ability, would seek to kill her. Zaria can understand it and forgive her birth mother. That said, she feels closer to the woman who raised her and doesn’t want to hurt Merry’s feelings by letting her know she reconnected with Helena, which as a side note, is another feeling adoptees may face and internalize, because they do love their adoptive family. Zaria’s in the happy position that she could tell Merry, and Merry would understand, but Zaria herself isn’t ready. It’s new for her, and she’s still working out her feelings on the matter.

For Aleks, he grew up in a family with another adopted family member, Ava, his Grams. It gets even more complicated, when one considers that Ava and he both come from the same place and the same fey family, a few generations apart. Fey lore has had the idea of changelings for a long time, and it was easy to build upon this, especially taking into consideration the rest of the lore surrounding fairies as being cold and cruel, which holds true in the Zaria Fierce Series. Ava warns Aleks about the terrible dangers he’d face if he ever returned to Niffleheim, where changelings are killed on sight. The fey are very power hungry, and it’d be a bad idea to altruistic behavior. He got very lucky in Zaria Fierce and the Enchanted Drakeland Sword, because Zaria’s wish on the well granted him protection, and in the end the children won – with Hector’s help – their freedom and a personal escort out of Niffleheim.

To add to all that is the overarching theme of magic. Zaria learns she has magical talent, and as she embraces it, her magic becomes part of her identity. Aleks has always known he had it and that it made him different. To him, being and feeling normal, as well as fitting in, is extremely important, which coincides with another potential desire for adoptees, who may look around at all their friends in traditional family units and feel the same desire to be normal. As revealed in Aleks Mickelsen and the Twice-Lost Fairy Well, Aleks has the chance to become human (his idea of normal) on his sixteenth birthday if he stays and celebrates it at home with his adoptive family. It’s a very appealing prospect, but in doing so he will lose his magical fey gifts. It’s not something that concerns him, because he doesn’t feel like he needs them, and he thinks that this is an easy decision for him to make.

And it might be, except for unlike Zaria, Aleks doesn’t have the luxury to choose when and how he interacts with his birth family. Appearing at his window one day is his fey sister Nori, and she’s telling him he has to return to a place filled with unimaginable danger to stop a dragon nobody can remember except her. It takes a huge amount of bravery to go back, and coupled with that decision to return is a choice and opportunity to become human that may be taken out of his control. He risks not only his life, but his identity in going back. His road ahead is filled with many pitfalls, and with his fairy powers on the fritz, it’s going to be harder to navigate than he first thought.

 

Giveaway: To celebrate the release of Aleks Mickelsen and the Twice-Lost Fairy Well, I’m hosting a giveaway for interested readers. The winner will receive a dragon scale necklace, that I made, and a Dropcard containing a digital copy of Zaria Fierce and the Secret of Gloomwood Forest and other goodies. Open internationally. Ends 8/13/2017.

To enter, leave a comment on this blog asking me a question, or sharing with me your favorite Zaria Fierce character, or sharing your favorite book featuring an adopted character. To get a bonus entry share this post on Twitter with the hashtag #zfgiveaway1. For another share your favorite Zaria Fierce book cover on Instagram using the same hashtag #zfgiveaway1. Good luck!

 

Aleks Mickelsen and the Twice-Lost Fairy Well (Book 4 in the Zaria Fierce Series)

“It’s time for you to come home.”

First Aleks’ mom loses the car keys, which he finds in the fridge, and then Christoffer forgets how to get to Aleks’ house. On the surface it doesn’t seem so bad, but events become more disturbing as the day progresses. Something strange is happening in Norway, and Aleks Mickelsen is the only one who can stop it. Too bad for us, the last thing he wants is another adventure.

 

 

About the Author: Keira Gillett

When she’s not working or writing, Keira Gillett loves to play tabletop games. Nearly every week Keira gets together with her friends to play. It’s no wonder she invented a game of her own for her Zaria Fierce Series. You can find the rules to this game within the second book and make your own version of it through a tutorial on her website. She’d love to hear from you! Why not send her a picture of you and a friend playing the game?

Find her at http://keiragillett.com/

 

Posted in Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Picture Book Party! Potties, Pirates, Grandmas, and more!

It’s a picture book roundup of Spring and early Summer!

I’ve Got to Go, by Guido van Genechhten, (May 2017, Clavis Books), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1605373379
Recommended for readers 2-5

Doggy has to go. It’s urgent! But his sister is sitting on his potty, because Mouse is on her potty… and so goes this sweet, cumulative tale. As Doggy runs by each animal friend taking up potty real estate, Doggy’s situation is becoming dire – until he reaches the big toilet! Endpapers introduce kids to synonyms for “being used”: “full”, “taken”, “busy”, “occupied”, “in use”, and engaged”, all of which show up throughout the book as Doggy makes his run to the big boy toilet. There’s an array of animal potties on the final endpapers, so kids can point out whose potty belonged to whom. The art is fun and tongue in cheek; kids will squeal with delight at Zebra “doing his business” and Giraffe sitting on the potty while reading a book. It’s a fun book that shows the transition from potty to big kid toilet that toddlers and preschoolers will love.

Sarah at the Wedding, by Pauline Oud, (May 2017, Clavis Books), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1605373317
Recommended for ages 3-6

The latest in Pauline Oud’s Sarah and Ian series has the two friends playing a big part in Sarah’s Aunt Olivia’s wedding! The flower girl and ring bearer get dressed in their party clothes, watch Aunt Olivia marry William, and enjoy the celebration; blowing bubbles, posing for photos, and making their own veil and top hat at an arts and crafts table. This would make a great gift for any bride or groom to give to their flower girls or ring bearers, and is a nice addition to collections on friendship and special events. William, the groom, is a person of color, as is the celebrant and a handful of wedding guests. The bridal veil looks like photographed lace incorporated into Oud’s artwork for a nice, textured feel. Front endpapers feature illustrations of different clothes and activities for a wedding, along with some comprehension questions about the story for older audiences. Back endpapers include fun make your own veil and top hat crafts. Sarah at the Wedding was originally published in Dutch in 2015 and is a sweet addition to Pauline Oud’s collection; I love her art and her short sentences are great for younger readers gaining more confidence in reading independently.

The Only Way I Can, by Bonnie Grubman/Illustrated by Carolien Westermann, (May 2017, Clavis Books), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1605373393
Recommended for readers 4-7

A Rabbit sees Bird flying; he wants to fly, too, and asks Bird for help. Despite Bird’s misgivings, he tries to help Rabbit; from making wings of feathers and string, to training exercises, to running into the wind, but nothing works. Rabbit decides to soar in his own way – the only way he can – and uses his imagination. The Only Way I Can is a story of self-acceptance and imagination, with beautiful backgrounds and warm colors. The illustrated endpaper spreads bring readers into the story setting and gently let them leave when the book ends. A good storytime book about accepting oneself and one’s limits while celebrating the bravery of taking chances.

My Good Morning!, by Kim Crockett Corson/Illustrated by Jelena Brezovec, (May 2017, Clavis Books), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1605373423
Recommended for readers 3-6

A little girl wakes up, ready to start her day; can her Mommy and Daddy keep up with her as she gets ready for school? This is a fun, rhyming tale about getting ready for school in the morning, with a little girl that’s raring to go, and her parents, who are… a little less energetic, at first. We follow the girl through her morning ritual: going to the bathroom, washing up and brushing teeth, getting dressed, and out the door. Mom and Dad are there to help, but our girl wants to do things by herself, making for fun moments with mismatched socks, uneven buttons, and more milk for the cat than the little girl. When she gets to school, there are no tears: there’s too much fun to be had! Dad is a person of color, and the little girl is biracial; classmates form a diverse group. The rhyming text is fun, with short sentences that allow for interactivity by asking kids about what they see in each spread. Ask kids about their morning rituals and notice how different each person’s morning routine is. Pink argyle endpapers match the wallpaper in the family’s home. This is a fun read for storytime, be it a back-to-school storytime, a family storytime, or a storytime about being brave. My Good Morning! was originally published in Dutch in 2016 and is a nice addition to collections.

Pirate John-Wolf, by Natalie Quintart/Illustrated by Philippe Goossens, (July 2017, Clavis Books), $18.95, ISBN: 978-1605373300
Recommended for readers 4-7

John-Wolf feels weak and afraid most of the time. The only time he feels brave is when he’s alone in his room, singing songs about pirates like Blackbeard and Captain Hook. But one night, pirates kidnap John-Wolf and take him to their ship! Captain Drake demands that he sing some heroic deeds about him; and when John-Wolf finds his voice, he breaks into a loud and funny song about how weak and boring the pirates are. As he sings, he finds his bravery and impresses Captain Drake, who invites him to stay on board as John-Wolf the Pirate Singer. When John-Wolf returns to school, after his adventure, he has a different outlook and his classmates notice it. He’s more self-assured, more comfortable in his own skin. Pirate John-Wolf is a fun pirate story about finding your voice and self-confidence. The book says that John-Wolf’s adventure is a dream, but it’s not communicated as clearly in the story itself – not that it’s a big deal, just worth mentioning. The story has fun, with emphasized words and fonts throughout, and the art is cute and cartoony, with pirate animals and skull and crossbones endpapers. Originally published in Dutch in 2015, Pirate John-Wolf is a cute add to collections where pirate stories are popular.

What Can Your Grandma Do?, by Anna Sawan/Illustrated by Sernur Isik, (May 2017, Clavis Books), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1605373324
Recommended for readers 4-7

There’s a grandparents’ talent show coming up at Jeremy’s school! All of his friends talk about their grandparents’ special talents: there are doctors and artists, bakers and dancers; Jeremy starts to worry, because his grandmother doesn’t have any special talents like that. He and Grandma decide to go shoot some hoops while they think about a special talent, and then Jeremy realizes that his Grandma has a special talent of her own after all! What Can Your Grandma Do? takes a fun look at breaking the mold – Grandma can slam dunk in her coiffed hair and pearls. Grandparents are doing fun, exciting things in this story, which fits nicely with a more active generation of Baby Boomer grandparents, who will get a kick out of this story. Cartoony artwork and fun fonts, plus little details that enrich each spread, make this a good storytime choice and a great classroom choice when grandparents are in attendance. Talk to kids about their own grandparents’ special talents, and use the book as an opportunity to talk about how we all have our own special abilities. Pair with Rock Away Granny for a Grandparents Day storytime.

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, Realistic Fiction

Jasmine Toguchi is determined to make mochi!

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen, by Debbi Michiko Florence/Illustrated by Elizabet Vukovic, (July 2017, Farrar, Straus and Giroux), $15.99, ISBN: 9780374304102

Recommended for readers 6-9

Jasmine Toguchi is an 8 year-old dynamo. She’s funny, smart, and loves her family, especially during the holidays, when Obaachan, her grandmother,  flies in from Japan and the family begins their mochi-tsuki ritual: mochi making!  – a Japanese rice cake, made from pounded rice. The whole family gets involved in the process – except, that is, for Jasmine, who’s still too young to help out. Her older sister, Sophie, helps the women by hand-rolling the mocha balls. Her mean, older cousin, Eddie, helps the men pound the mochi with the super cool mochi hammer. But Jasmine is not yet 10, so she has to wait. In the meantime, Sophie and her mother order her around, and Eddie mercilessly teases her. So Jasmine comes up with a plan: it’s time to break tradition! She’s going to convince her family to let her pound the mochi this year! But first, she’s got to build up her arm strength — that mochi hammer is heavy!

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen is a fun early chapter book for readers who are moving up from Easy Readers. We meet Jasmine, a spunky, Japanese-American girl who loves her family tradition of making mochi, but feels like it’s time for a change. She’s tired of her older sister getting to be the first to do everything, and she’s tired of her obnoxious cousin. She wants to make her own statement, her own mark in the family, and when she sets her mind to it, there’s no stopping her. Kids will enjoy learning about Japanese traditions and relate to the frustration that comes with being told “you’re too young”, when they feel perfectly ready and able to pitch in. An author’s note explains mochi-tsuki, and provides a microwave mochi recipe for kids and their adults to try together. Black and white illustrations bring Jasmine and her world closer to readers. There’s a second book coming in July, with  more activities at the end of the story.

Jasmine Toguchi is a good, new series to add to your intermediate collections – there’s some lovely diversity available for readalikes, including the Ruby Lu and Alvin Ho series, by Lenore Look; the Clara Lee series by Jenny Han; the Katie Woo and Pedro books by Fran Manushkin, and Ellray Jakes, by Sally Warner.

Get an early peek at the next Jasmine Toguchi titles (and covers) by navigating over to author Debbi Michiko Florence’s site, where you can also find info about author visits, with programs she conducts for each grade.

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 Animal Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Arthur Yorinks’ Making Scents: A New Family Structure

Making Scents, by Arthur Yorinks/Illustrated by Braden Lamb and Shelli Paroline, (June 2017, :01 First Second), $15.99, ISBN: 9781596434523

Recommended for readers 8-12

Mickey is a boy who’s been raised a little differently. His parents raised bloodhounds before he was born, and raised Mickey just like his “brothers and sisters”. Mickey doesn’t see anything different with his upbringing, even if other kids treat him like he’s weird. He wants to make his parents proud of him, so he’s working on developing his sense of smell, constantly sniffing and honing his senses. A tragedy strikes, and Mickey’s sent to live with his elderly aunt and uncle, who don’t like kids or dogs – but maybe Mickey can show them that he and his sniffer are more helpful than they realize.

This one was a wacky read. Making Scents reads like realistic fiction – it deals with grief and loss, extended families, and nontraditional families – but it does work on your suspension of disbelief. The opening scene, with baby Mickey being left in the woods for the dogs to find as a test/publicity gimmick sets the tone for the story: two dog-crazy grownups find themselves with a baby that they have no idea how to raise, but they do the best with what they’ve got. They love their human son as much as they do their canine sons and daughters, but I have to wonder what kind of parent-child relationship you can have if you see your child as equal to a pet that you “master”.

Regardless, Making Scents progresses to become a touching story of intergenerational relationships and family. Mickey, his mother’s older sister, and her husband have to create their own new family structure when an accident leaves Mickey orphaned. Once again, Mickey is thrust into a family that doesn’t know what to do with him, but this time around, he doesn’t have anyone or anything to take a social cue from; his aunt and uncle, like his parents, do their best with what they have and stumble along until Mickey’s abilities help reveal a potential health crisis.

Unexpected and sensitive, Making Scents is good for graphic novel collections that provide different perspectives.