Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Lost Boys chronicles the Iran-Iraq War through a boy soldier’s eyes

Lost Boys, by Darcey Rosenblatt, (Aug. 2017, Henry Holt & Co), $16.99, ISBN: 9781627797580

Recommended for readers 9-14

Twelve year-old Reza is a musical prodigy living in 1982 Iran. He lives with his widowed, fundamentalist mother, and craves visits from his Uncle Habib; a member of the resistance, he also encourages Reza’s love of music by slipping him cassettes of artists from Stevie Wonder to Thelonious Monk. His mother pushes him to join the war effort, telling him she would be proud to have her son die in service of Allah. Reza wants nothing to do with the conflict, but when his uncle is killed and his best friend, Ebi, signs up to serve, Reza feels he has nothing left without his best friend, and signs on. He and Ebi receive their “keys to heaven” – plastic keys that serve as symbols that they will achieve paradise when they die in service to Iran and the Ayatollah – and are sent into battle. War is not the glorious battle that Ebi dreamed about; it’s not full of exciting moments like he and Reza have seen in the movies. The boys are fodder for the minefields – tied together and sent into battle to clear the way for older troops. Reza is injured and sent to a prisoner of war camp, where he meets other boys his age and desperately tries to learn Ebi’s fate as he endures abuse at the hands of a sadistic prison guard.

I couldn’t put Lost Boys down, choosing instead to disregard my normal sleep schedule until I finished the last page. Reza is a heart-achingly real character based on far too many child soldiers. He and his classmates are promised glory and fed lies; in the end, all he lives for is the hope that he’ll be reunited with his best friend and live to enjoy music again. Set in 1982, the story is more relevant now than ever, as children are still pressed into service all over the world. Booktalk Lost Boys with Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis for tween and teen readers; booktalk with Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War, by Jessica Dee Humphreys and Michel Chikwanine to illustrate the worldwide epidemic of using children as combatants. This article from Global Citizen shines a light on seven countries that still use child soldiers, and what we can do to help stand against the practice.

Lost Boys is an important book that sparks outrage and empathy, and is a must-add for collections. I’d love to see this on next summer’s reading lists.

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Posted in Animal Fiction, Early Reader, Fantasy, Fiction

A Nocturnals Easy Reader! The Moonlight Meeting

The Nocturnals: The Moonlight Meeting, by Tracey Hecht & Rumur Dowling/Illustrated by Waymond Singleton, (Sept. 2017, Fabled Films Press), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-944020-14-9

Recommended for ages 5-8

YAY! One of my favorite recent middle grade series is expanding to easy readers! The Nocturnals: The Moonlight Meeting introduces younger readers to my favorite Nocturnal group of friends: Tobin, the pangolin, Dawn, the fox, and last but never least, Bismark, the sugar glider (don’t dare call him a squirrel). An unlikely pomelo fruit brings the three new friends together, as Tobin – forever hungry – and Bismark disagree over ownership rights. Readers get a fun dose of fart humor thanks to sweet Tobin, who’s a bit nervous and has… well, a bit of a reaction. (Readers familiar with Tobin and the latest middle grade Nocturnals story, The Fallen Star, will enjoy the reference.)

Waymond Singleton’s artwork is perfect for an easy reader audience, giving the group more definition and providing an animated feel. Bismark is all wide eyes and open mouth; Tobin’s glance is shyly cast downward, and Dawn is ever gentle and ready to step in to help. As with the middle grade novels, The Moonlight Meeting emphasizes friendship, teamwork, and sharing. Fun Facts at the end of the book provide descriptions about the real-life Nocturnal counterparts. The brief sentences and easy dialogue make this a great step for readers who are ready to move on from Level 1 readers. A leveling guide on the back of the book, similar to the Step Into Reading series, explains each leveled step for parents and caregivers. This works well with a preschool or kindergarten read-aloud, too.

I can’t wait to introduce The Nocturnals to my storytime group. The group’s website at Nocturnals World is a treasure trove of information for caregivers and educators, featuring curriculum guides, library resources, discussion guides, and activity kits. If you’ve got animal fiction fans, get them hooked early and add The Moonlight Meeting to your easy readers.

 

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

Momma, let your babies grow up to be feminists: A look at Jennifer Mathieu’s Moxie

Moxie, by Jennifer Mathieu, (Sept. 2017, Roaring Brook Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626726352

Recommended for readers 13+

This is one of the best books I will read this year. Vivian is a high schooler who is just DONE. She lives in a small Texan town that lets the football team run wild. They get away with chauvinist garbage all day long, from wearing explicit t-shirts, to telling girls to “make me a sandwich”, to groping in the hallways. The teachers – and the principal, whose son is the star player on the team – all dismiss the girls’ concerns. They have routine clothing checks to make sure the girls’ clothing doesn’t “tempt” the guys. This, my friends, happens every day in schools all over the U.S.

Vivian has had enough. The daughter of a 90’s Riot Grrl, she takes action by anonymously starting up a ‘zine called Moxie; initially, the ‘zine is her way of blowing off steam, but girls at school start responding. They answer Moxie’s call, whether it’s to identify one another by doodling stars on their hands, or showing up to protest dress code checks by wearing bathrobes and fuzzy slippers. Vivian isn’t the only one sick of the old guard. The girls’ soccer team has been wearing uniforms older than dirt, so Moxie Girls – as the girls name themselves – hold a bake sales and craft fairs to raise money for new uniforms. The girls at school unite thanks to Moxie, and before she realizes what’s happened, Vivian finds herself leading a movement from within.

I ADORE this book. It’s as empowering for women as it is for teens, who must read this book. I loved Viv’s mom as much as I did Viv, because I get that mom. She keeps her Riot Grrl stuff in a box labeled, “My Misspent Youth”; she’s working to pay the bills, relies on her parents probably a little more than she’d like, and she’s just damned tired. Riot Grrls don’t die; we’re still here, we just have a lot of stuff to do, man. But look to our kids. Viv may be the “good girl” at school, but once she’s fed up, she falls back on some solid third-wave feminism and makes a ‘zine while listening to Bikini Kill. It’s a call to action for every single person who picks up this book, and we’re not leaving the boys out this time: Viv’s boyfriend shows up for her, always supports her. But it’s Viv who is the strong character here, making him understand that the “not all guys” thinking is a cop-out, or even holding her relationship at arm’s length to figure things out.

Moxie is everything good and important about feminism and YA fiction, and if you haven’t added it to your TBR yet, you need to go do that right now. Go make a ‘zine while you wait; here’s a link to my meager Pinterest board so far. And if you can’t wait until Moxie hits shelves in a week, read an excerpt from feminist YA novel ‘Moxie’ from EW magazine.  Amy Poehler’s production company already has the film rights, so that should tell you volumes about the excitement behind this book.

 

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Mari’s Hope brings Odin’s Promise to a beautiful close

Mari’s Hope, by Sandy Brehl (Sept. 2017, Crispin Books), $14.95, ISBN: 978-1-883953-89-8

Recommended for readers 9-12

The conclusion of Sandy Brehl’s Odin’s Promise trilogy is finally here! Mari’s Hope continues the story of Mari, a Norwegian girl living under the German occupation during World War II. Mari, who was 11 when the story began, is approaching age 14 when the latest book begins. Her family is active in the resistance, and Mari’s involvement increases as she is older now, willing and able to take greater risks. She works with the local doctor to care for the sick and elderly in her village, Ytres Arna; travels to the city of Bergen to procure more medicine – and information – for her village, and tries to stay out of the way of the Nazi officers who live in her home; particularly the one she calls Goatman, who is a drunk and a thief.

Written in third-person narrative with first-person journal entries from Mari to her brother, Bjorn, Mari’s Hope is written with the same gentle strength as the previous two entries in the series. We see Mari grow over the three books from girl to young woman – a change that has come too quickly under the occupation – and deal not only with being a member of the Norwegian resistance, but with the stress of worrying about her brother; grieving her dog, Odin, killed by Nazi soldiers in the first book; struggling with a former friend who threw in his lot with the NS – Nasjonal Samling – Norway’s version of Hitler Youth. The family and neighbors stick together, sharing what little they have to provide for one another, whether it’s to have a birthday party for Mari or a holiday dinner for Jul. There are tense moments that kept me turning pages, sometimes biting my lip with concern, and there are moments where I just needed a moment to process my relief. Sandy Brehl never whitewashes the German’s devastation; rather, she states it quietly, eloquently, and leaves it there for Mari – and us – to process and move on.

The Odin’s Promise trilogy is a gorgeously written series of books that take us into a part of World War II history we don’t often hear about. Hitler invaded Norway with the lie that he was sending soliders to “protect” his “Viking brothers”, but proceeded to strip all freedoms from them and tried to supersede his vision of Aryan superiority over their rich culture. Odin’s Promise, Bjorn’s Gift, and Mari’s Hope tell this story through the experiences of one village, one family, one girl, who pushed back. I love spending time with Mari and her family; while I’m sad to see this story end, the beauty of books lies in knowing I can meet them again whenever I want to.

Odin’s Promise received the 2014 Midwest Book Award for Children’s Fiction. It was also noted as one of A Mighty Girl’s Best Girl-Empowering Books of 2014 and one of Foreword Magazine’s Ten Best Indie Middle Grade Novels of 2014.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade

Mighty Jack and The Goblin King: An incredible re-imagining of a classic tale!

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King, by Ben Hatke, (Sept. 2017, :01First Second), $14.99, ISBN: v

Recommended for readers 8-12

It’s here! The sequel to Mighty Jack (2016) is here! And the best part? It’s AMAZING.

Mighty Jack introduced us to Jack, his autistic sister, Maddy, and neighbor, Lilly. The trio discovered a magical garden that got a little out of control; Maddy was kidnapped, and Jack and Lilly set off through a portal, determined to bring her back. Mighty Jack and the Goblin King picks up with Jack and Lilly arriving in a way station of sorts; a crossroads between worlds. Lilly is injured, forcing Jack to continue alone, where he discovers the giants’ plan for his sister: to feed her to a mechanical “beast” that will grind her bones into dust, and eat her, securing their ability to rule until the next time the beast needs to be fed! Lilly, meanwhile, has been rescued and is being cared for by goblins, who plan to marry her to their goblin king.

Spoiler alert: It’s not David Bowie.

 

Posted in Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Max and Bird: A new friendship is born!

Max and Bird, by Ed Vere, (Sept. 2017, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $17.99, ISBN: 9781492635581

Recommended for readers 3-6

My favorite brave kitten is back! In Max’s third adventure, he learns that the rules of nature can conflict with being a good friend. You see, he befriends a bird, but, according to the rules of nature, birds get chased by kittens. But friends don’t eat each other up! The dynamic duo decide to work on their flying skills and head to the library, because “libraries know everything”, and he and Max learn that friendship means helping each other out.

The Max series is such a sweet, kind-hearted series loaded with humor. Max and Bird are a radiant black that stands boldly out against the full-color backgrounds, and they each have giant, trusting eyes that ups their cute factor. Exaggerated fonts and exertion lines show emotion and action. Kids will love learning – and contributing to a discussion – about what goes into being a good friend. Mention Max’s “pros and cons” worksheet and ask them for their ideas on the pros and cons of being a good friend.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Puberty, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Things That Surprise You is touching, funny… giggles and tissues needed!

Things That Surprise You, by Jennifer Maschari, (Aug. 2017, Balzer + Bray), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062438928

Recommended for readers 10-13

Best friends Emily and Hazel are about to start middle school. They’ve done just about everything together, and Emily just wants things to stay the same. You can’t blame Emily; she’s had too much change over the last year, with her parents’ divorce and her sister , Mina, being treated for an eating disorder. But Hazel is changing. She’s already in with a new crowd at school – a crowd that isn’t into Emily at all – and she wants to be different. While Emily is still into their fandom, The Unicorn Chronicles, and crafting, Hazel is into lip gloss, clothes, and getting boys at school to notice her.

Things That Surprise You is a compulsively readable novel about growing up and moving on; negotiating change; making new friends, and most importantly, discovering oneself. Emily is so likable, you just want to defend her and comfort her. Older sister Mina is on her own painful journey; she could easily have become a bitter antagonist, but is written with care and compassion that will encourage readers to root for her, too. Their mother is doing the best she can with what she has, and their father just can’t cope, so he doesn’t. Each parent’s actions illustrate to kids that adults may not have all the answers, and that we make lousy decisions, too. I enjoyed reading about every character in this book, including the mean girls, who are vapid and awful and make us want to see Emily succeed even more.

This is a great book for discussion groups, because the subplots that support the main plot are all worthy discussion topics on their own: going with or against the crowd, eating disorders, self-acceptance, and navigating family relationships are just some of the things that come up. I’d love to see this on summer reading lists for next year. Nudge, nudge, teachers!

Jennifer Maschari is a classroom teacher and the author of The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price and Things That Surprise You. She is hard at work on her next middle grade novel with Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. Jennifer lives in Ohio with her husband and stinky (yet noble) English bulldogs, Oliver and Hank. To learn more, and to download a free guide, visit Jennifer’s author website.

GIVEAWAY!

One lucky winner will receive a copy of Things That Surprise You… PLUS, one grand prize winner will receive their very own Crafty Unicorn Kit! The prize includes a fun craft kit, a copy of Things That Surprise You, unicorn stickers, and puzzle cards! Enter here – don’t miss out!