Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Someone New shows students welcoming new friends

Someone New, by Anne Sibley O’Brien, (July 2018, Charlesbridge), $16.99, ISBN: 9781580898317

Recommended for readers 4+

I’m New Here (2015) explored immigration from the points of view of three young newcomers: Maria, Jin, and Fatima. Someone New now flips the dialogue and shows us how new classmates perceive – and eventually befriend – these new kids in town. At first, Maria, Jin, and Fatima are shy, a bit withdrawn, and their classmates don’t know how to work with that. Understandable; these are kids we’re dealing with. Strong and honest statements like, “I feel uncomfortable”; “I don’t know what to do”; and “I can’t figure out to help” give kids words to put to the new feelings they may experience when meeting kids they don’t know.

Since kids are so much smarter than we are, though, they figure it out quickly: Jesse, a blonde white boy, invites Maria to play soccer with his group and discovers that she’s really good! Jason, a dark-skinned boy, can’t read what Jin writes, but smiles, prompting Jin to smile back; eventually, Jin teaches Jason how to write his name in Korean – it’s like a secret code! – and they draw comics together. Emma, a blonde white girl, draws a picture of her classmate, Fatima, and her together, giving Fatima the comfort and safety she needs to open up to Emma about her family. Each of these new children have things to share; they just needed the safety of that first effort. As Jason learns, when Jin smiles at him, “Maybe a smile is like a superpower.” The watercolor and digital illustrations stand out against the plain white space to make these characters stand out.

Someone New tells its story in brief, eloquent sentences with word balloons that allow characters to communicate in their own words. It is a book that needs to be on every shelf in every library and school. You’ll notice I recommend this book for ages 4+; I think it’s a book that all adults should be reading right now. Pick up the award-winning I’m New Here and make sure you tell these stories to anyone within earshot. Someone New has a starred review from Kirkus.

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Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade

The Tale of Angelino Brown will make you happy cry.

The Tale of Angelino Brown, by David Almond/Illustrated by Alex T. Smith, (Feb. 2108, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763695637

Recommended for readers 8-12

Bert Brown is a tired school bus driver who’s burned out on his job. When he starts feeling chest pains behind the wheel one day, he’s sure he’s having a heart attack – but no! – there’s a little angel in his pocket! The sweet little angel shows a liking for gumdrops, offered by one of the kids on the school bus who notices the little visitor, and Bert brings the angel home to his wife, Betty, who’s thrilled. They name the angel Angelino and Betty sets to work finding foods that he likes, and making clothes for him. Betty decides that Angelino needs to be in school, and since she’s the school cook, he tags along with her for a school day, where he enchants (most of) the teachers and students around him, particularly the expressive art teacher, Ms. Monteverdi. Everyone is just happier, better, when Angelino is around, but two shadowy figures are keeping an eye on Angelino. When the time is right, they kidnap him, hoping to sell him off; what even they don’t realize is Basher, a lifetime bully, is coming for Angelino, too. Can Bert, Betty, and Angelino’s schoolmates save the day?

This story just made me feel happy inside, and not in a goofy, syrupy way. Angelino appears into the lives of a married couple who’ve been going through the motions for a long time, bringing joy to them after a tragedy of their own seems to have had a hand in closing them off. Everything he touches is filled with good and happiness – he’s an angel, complete with little wings, and happy little farts (my kids do love a good fart joke) that will give readers the giggles. The baddies here aren’t completely bad – there’s some interesting character study here for all involved – and the humor takes some amusing pot-shots at the Seriousness of the Education System, which is always good for getting a laugh out of me. Angelino has no memory of who he is and indeed, must learn how to speak, read, and write, but he’s up to the challenge and even advocates for himself when the chips are down. Black and white illustrations throughout add to the fun.

This one is a win for summer reading kids who “don’t know what to reeeeaaaaaad”.  A gentle, sweet fantasy with just a hint of flatulence. The Tale of Angelino Brown has starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade

Bad Mermaids Make Waves!

Bad Mermaids Make Waves, by Sibéal Pounder/Illustrated by Jason Cockcroft, (May 2018, Bloomsbury USA), $13.99, ISBN: 9781681197920

Recommended for readers 8-12

What happens when you’re a mermaid, spending a summer on land with your temporary legs and feet, and you have to go back under the sea early because someone fishnapped the Mermaid Queen? That’s what besties Beattie, and twin sisters Zelda and Mimi have to do in this first middle grade mermaid adventure by Witch Wars author Sibéal Pounder. The mermaids arrive back under the sea to discover everyone acting… strange. A new queen who hides her face and calls herself The Swan is making everyone go back to wearing shell tops, and piranhas patrols are keeping things in check. The threesome steal a clamshell car and investigate who could be behind this fishy plot!

Mermaid stories are HUGE here. Heck, they’ve been huge at every library I’ve been at, from picture books, through YA. You’ve got three best friends who work really well together, a mystery to solve, and humorous villains and mean mermaids (all genders are referred to as mermaids), a café set inside an actual whale, plus black and white illustrations throughout. There are loads of in-jokes poking fun at mermaid tropes, like the clamshell tops and hair-combing, and the characters’ speech is full of fishy references like the exclamation, “Oh cod!”

This is an automatic add to my shelves. Give this to your Mermaid Tales and Mermaid S.O.S. fans who are ready for higher leveled books, and your Emily Windsnap fans.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Bear and Wolf: A tale of two friends

Bear and Wolf, by Daniel Salmieri, (Feb. 2018, Enchanted Lion), $17.95, ISBN: 9781592702381

Recommended for readers 4-8

Bear and Wolf discover one another walking through the snow one day; they wander together, enjoying the sights and sounds of the snowy forest, glancing at an owl flying overhead, and peering into a frozen lake to see the sleeping fish. They part so Bear can hibernate in his den, and Wolf can run with his pack. When Spring returns, the friends reunite across the green forest.

With cool color shades to welcome winter and warm earth colors to celebrate spring, Bear and Wolf is less a story about seasons than about renewal: of friendship and of nature. It also honors the joy of taking one’s time, noticing the details, enjoying the journey. The gouache, watercolor, and crushed colored pencil artwork provides texture and yet, is soft and comforting. Bear and Wolf is a serene story that is nicely paired with books like Tiny, Perfect Things or The Magic Garden. A must-add to storytime shelves.

Bear and Wolf has starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal, and is on my Caldecott shortlist.

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

When the World is Full of Friends, it’s a pretty great place

When the World is Full of Friends, by Gillian Shields/Illustrated by Anna Currey, (Feb. 2018, Bloomsbury USA), $16.99, ISBN: 9781681196268

Recommended for readers 3-6

The rabbit family from When the World Was Waiting for You and When the World is Ready for Bed returns in this sweet book about play and discovering new friends. Siblings Albert, Tom, Flossie, and Pipkin love to play, and wish they had more friends to play with. They see a squirrel family across the stream, and put their heads together to figure out how to cross the stream to play together, turning the experience into a fun game in itself. The takeaway? “Playing with friends was wonderful!”

This is a great bedtime, quiet time, or circle time story. It’s got a calm pace, with soft watercolor and ink art. The messages of friendship and working together to play together reinforce positive lessons, and the opening and closing rhyming verses beautifully bookend the story narrative. Add this one to your storytime collections.

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 Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl is wonderful!

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl, by Stacy McAnulty, (May 2018, Random House), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-5247-6757-0

Recommended for readers 8-12

I am so excited to talk up this book, because it is SO GOOD. I was lucky enough to be on author Stacy McAnulty’s “street team”, so I have evangelized this book to my library kiddos, bending the ear of everyone I talk to (including grownups) at the library and at home, and generally shoving this book at people to tell them that they need to read it immediately.

Lucy is a gifted tween, thanks to a lightning strike at age seven that left her with savant abilities in math. She loves math. She sees and smells the numbers and equations; they reveal themselves to her and tell them all their secrets, but social relationships have eluded her. She struggles with OCD behaviors and has been homeschooled by her grandmother, who finally decides that Lucy develop socially, and enrolls her in middle school, which doesn’t really go over so well with Lucy, who’s more ready for college applications. But Lucy promises her grandmother that she’ll make one friend, join one activity, and read one book that isn’t a math textbook. Lucy’s OCD automatically makes her a target to the local mean girl, but she persists, finding ways to use her talents in a class project, and making two pretty good friends, while she’s at it.

I can’t find enough great things to say about Lightning Girl. Stacy McAnulty gives us a strong, funny, sweet, and complex group of characters that reader will recognize bits of themselves in; supportive parental figures that are doing their best, and parents that need a bit more work. It’s a glimpse at everyday life with a touch of the extraordinary, and it’s a touching look at the power of caring about something bigger than oneself. Lucy goes through tremendous upheaval, but she rides it out, and grows through the course of the book. Before the events that form the narrative, she sees life as a series of problems that can be worked out, but learns that some of the toughest problems bring rewarding solutions. Even if the final answer isn’t correct, the work to get there makes a difference.

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl is compulsively readable, discussable, and perfect middle grade reading. Teachers, PLEASE put this on your Summer Reading lists, so I can hand this book to every middle grader I see this summer. Lightning Girl has starred reviews from School Library Journal, Kirkusand Publisher’s Weekly. Author Stacy McAnulty is on a book tour for Lightning Girl right now: head to her author webpage for a schedule!