Posted in Adventure, Fantasy, Fiction, Humor, Middle Grade

Magic, madness, and a cow-ostrich romance!

The Emperor’s Ostrich, by Julie Berry, (June 2017, Roaring Brook Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781596439580

Recommended for readers 8-12

A zany fantasy romp with a dairy maid in search of her lost cow puts readers on the path to an adventure that will introduce them to a self-described romantic hero, a spoiled emperor on the run, and his ostrich, who forms a bond with the runaway cow. Begonia, the dairy maid, is a responsible young woman who helps her mother care for the family farm and her younger sister; when her cow, Alfalfa, meanders away, Begonia sets out to find her and ends up on a magical quest that will put the responsibility for saving the emperor and the kingdom squarely on her shoulders. Thank goodness she has help from Key, a wandering young man who describes himself as a romantic hero; and two magical beings, who oversee the adventure from a distance.

The story is a fun fantasy adventure with nods to magic, corruption, feminism, and commentary on overindulged wealth. Readers will enjoy the lovestruck cow and ostrich, the banter between Key and Begonia, and the host of characters they encounter on their adventure. Booktalk this with Lloyd Alexander’s fantasy novels: author Julie Berry calls The Emperor’s Ostrich her love letter to his books.

Julie Berry’s book, The Passion of Dolssa, is a 2017 Printz Honor title. The Emperor’s Ostrich received starred reviews from Booklist and School Library Journal.

Posted in Middle Grade

Mashup Mania! Monsterville meets the Accidental Pirates!

Who doesn’t love a good mashup? It can be Darth Vader riding an AT-AT a la Napoleon (it exists, and I have it on a shirt) or Sherlock Holmes meeting The Doctor, or it can be Loki sitting on an Iron Throne made of everything he took from the Avengers; mashups are just fun ways of bringing some of your favorite characters and fandoms, that may otherwise never meet, together.

Ript Apparel, supplier of many of my geeky tees, offered this shirt in 2012.

So tonight, when I was going through old e-mails, imagine my surprise when I came across an email from Sarah Reida, author of Monsterville, telling me that she co-authored a middle grade mashup with Claire Fayers, author of Voyage to Magical North. (And then imagine my mortification when I saw that the email was 2 months old. I have got to go back to my old “keep your inbox as to-do list” mentality; filing emails is just not working for me.)

Image courtesy of The Children’s Book Review

How cool is this? It’s a mashup of two great middle grade novels that I read and enjoyed this year, and it’s something I can share with my library kiddos! Follow That Island! is available on the Children’s Book Review website and is a fun little side adventure, conveniently available as a downloadable PDF; at 16 pages, it’s a perfect quick read, a tease for kids who are waiting for a sequel to Monsterville, or who have just finished Voyage to Magical North and Journey to Magical Island, and aren’t ready to let the adventure end. I’ll be introducing this to my group for Summer Reading in the next couple of weeks – I’m trying out a writer’s workshop, where I’ll illustrate different types of storytelling, and the mashup will fit perfectly into one of my sessions. Hope you and yours enjoy it as much as I do.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Preschool Reads

Bow-Wow-Meow takes a sensitive look at identity

Bow-Wow-Meow, by Blanca Lacasa/Illustrated by Gómez, (May 2017, nubeOCHO), $16.95, ISBN: 978-84-94515-7-5

Recommended for readers 4-8

Fabio’s a dog that really isn’t into doggish things. He doesn’t play fetch, he doesn’t roll over to have his belly tickled, he doesn’t wag his tail, and he doesn’t bark. His family tries to teach him how to act like a dog: they throw sticks, they roll around on the floor, and they bark at him. Fabio is uninterested. One night, Max, a little boy in the family, discovers that Fabio is going out at night, and follows him: right into a group of cats engaging in very catlike behavior, from coughing up hairballs to playing cards (hey, are you with your cat 24/7?). Max can’t believe how happy Fabio is as he sharpens his claws, climbs drainpipes, chases mice, and bow-wow-meows along with his feline friends. The next morning, when Max’s parents try to get Fabio to act like a dog, Max quietly acknowledges Fabio, making him the happiest member of his family.

Recognition and visibility are important. When Max acknowledges Fabio, when he sees Fabio for who he really is, Fabio’s whole world changes; Max’s world widens that much more. Bow-Wow-Meow sensitively handles identity and diversity for young readers. By telling Fabio’s story using dogs and cats, kids are entertained and enlightened in a sweet, fun way that leaves the pathways open for discussion again and again. Gómez’s bold artwork is fun and expressive and will appeal to storytime audiences. Younger readers may struggle with some pages, where the black text is superimposed over a dark background.

I’d love to read this with Jules Feiffer’s Bark, George, for a good storytime on diversity and animals. You can also display and pair this with books like Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress, by Christine Baldacchino, or Jacob’s New Dress, by Sarah and Ian Hoffman. Mothering.com has a good article with recommendations for kids’ books that defy gender.

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 Fantasy, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Get #DeckedOutforDragonwatch!

Okay, Fablehaven fans, the next series is coming: Dragonwatch, by Brandon Mull, is coming in March – but the team at Shadow Mountain Publishing is sharing a book trailer TODAY, and I’ve got it right here. Enjoy.

Do you have a Google Cardboard, Oculus Rift, or other VR device? Then make sure to check this out, too:

Finally, Shadow Mountain has a fun contest for my fellow dragon fans: Decked out for Dragonwatch! Here are the details:

Pay tribute to your favorite dragons! Send us a photo on social media and Brandon Mull may pick YOU as the fan most “Decked Out for Dragonwatch”!

If you love dragons, gather together your best dragon gear and unleash your imagination by creating a space in your home, classroom, library, or local bookstore that pays tribute to all your favorite dragons from Fablehaven and anywhere else in the universe.

Take a picture of your “Decked Out for Dragonwatch” space and send it to us via social media. Brandon Mull will choose the best, most creative spaces from submitted entries, and we’ll send those lucky fans and autographed copy of Dragonwatch plus a copy of The Caretaker’s Guide to Fablehaven and Fablehaven Book of Imagination.

See the website for the five ways to enter and the official rules: http://brandonmull.com/decked/, and follow https://www.instagram.com/deckedoutfordragonwatch/.

Good luck, and watch this space for a Dragonwatch review soon!

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Two kids discover an uncommon society below modern-day London

uncommonThe Uncommoners #1: The Crooked Sixpence, by Jennifer Bell, (Jan. 2017, Crown Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 9780553498431

Recommended for ages 9-12

Ivy Sparrow and her big brother, Seb, are worried about their grandmother Sylvie when she has a fall. Their parents are away on business, and it’s just the two of them, so when they discover that Grandma Sylvie’s home has been ransacked, and a strange, toilet brush-wielding policeman tries to arrest them, they have the feeling that strange things are afoot. They manage to escape, via suitcase – no, not carrying one, IN one – to a secret, underground city called Lundinor, where seemingly everyday objects can hold fantastic powers. They’re uncommon, and so are the people with a gift for wielding them. Healing buttons, weaponized drumsticks and yo-yos, almost anything can be uncommon in Lundinor. But Ivy and Seb don’t have the luxury of time; an evil force wants something that Grandma Sylvie has, and they’re willing to do anything to get it back from them. In trying to figure out what they want, Ivy and Seb will meet new friends and discover things about Grandma Sylvie’s past that they never could have imagined.

The Uncommoners is the first in a new middle grade fantasy series by debut author Jennifer Bell. In parts, reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, The Crooked Sixpence is a good beginning with worldbuilding and character creation, but was missing the spark that made this book – for me – truly unputdownable. Ms. Bell is at her best when she brings us her Lundinors: Ethel, the proprieter of a bell shop and Scratch, the bell; Violet, who trades in magical buttons, and Erebus and Cerebus, hellhounds who can be summoned with a specific bell and by yelling, “WALKIES!”, stole my heart and made me fall in love with Lundinor, much as I adore Gaiman’s London Below. The horrific selkies made for delightfully skin-crawling reading.

This is a promising start to a new fantasy series. Give this to your middle grade fans who enjoy some British wit (Roald Dahl, David Walliams) and fans who enjoy a little magic in their reality.

 

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Enter a dream world with Nightlights

nightlights_1Nightlights, by Lorena Alvarez, (March 2017, Nobrow), $18.95, ISBN: 9781910620137

Recommended for ages 9+

Sandy loves the stars that appear out of the darkness in her bedroom each night. She plays with them, catches them, creates wonderful dreams with them, and in the morning, creates drawings that cover her room. A new girl named Morfie shows up at Sandy’s strict Catholic school and befriends her, but she also starts showing up in Sandy’s dreams, demanding Sandy’s time and drawings. Sandy’s exhausted, but Morfie is always there, always asking her to draw for her.

Nightlights is an unexpected, beautiful graphic novel that looks at fear, insecurity, and creativity. The colorwork is stunning and the dream sequences are breathtaking. Lorena Alvarez’s imagination runs free on the pages of her novel, and she invites readers to join her for the ride.

Nightlights is a very good addition to graphic novel collections and has received a starred review from Kirkus. See more of Lorena Alvarez Gomez’s beautiful and colorful illustration at her website.