Posted in Adventure, Animal Fiction, Early Reader, Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Nocturnals for every reader!

My favorite group of nighttime dwellers, The Nocturnals, have two adventures to enjoy! Let’s see what mouthy Bismark, thoughtful Dawn, and sweet Tobin have been up to since we last met.

The Nocturnals: The Hidden Kingdom, by Tracey Hecht and Sarah Fieber/Illustrated by Kate Liebman,
(Feb. 2018, Fabled Films Press), $15.99, ISBN: 978-1944020118
Recommended for readers 8-12

The Nocturnals assemble in their fourth adventure to locate the source of a drought that’s ravaging their forest. The water is disappearing, animals are sick and possibly dying, and animals are convinced there’s an evil spell at work: tumbleweeds attack, sticks seemingly run away, and there’s no water to be found! Dawn, the fox, doesn’t believe in magic and knows there’s something afoot, and Tobin is desperate to save his friend, Cora, a sick wombat who needs water… FAST. What the friends discover is a hidden kingdom – right in front of their very eyes! Can they save the day, and the lives of their forest friends, once again?

This latest Nocturnals adventure has even more illustrations throughout, adding great resting points and visual interest for readers. I love the little touch of insect art throughout the book, directly tying into the storyline. Tobin, my favorite pangolin, gets some nice character development, and yes, fear not: there are fart jokes to be had, making for a laugh out loud reading selection. The theme of friendship continues to be the uniting thread in this series, and Hidden Kingdom also explores the frustration of being ignored and overlooked. There are minor consequences for acts that could have resulted in serious harm to others, but there is a concerted effort to emphasize positive solutions versus punitive measures; I think that’s an important discussion to have with kids. Were they happy with the outcome? What could have been done before the drought, to address the hurt feelings? Animal adventure fans will dig in and enjoy this latest chapter in the Nocturnals saga, and, as always, there are many opportunities for discussion here. Good characters, great humor, and a nonstop sense of adventure will keep kids coming back for more.

The Nocturnals: The Slithery Shakedown, by Tracey Hecht/Illustrated by Josie Yee,
(April 2018, Fabled Films Press), Paperback, $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-944020-16-3 OR Hardcover, $12.99, ISBN: 978-1-944020-17-0
Recommended for readers 5-7

The next Nocturnals Easy Reader is coming in April! I was so happy to see The Moonlight Meeting debut last year, because I always felt like younger audiences would get a kick out of these characters; particularly Bismark, the sugar glider with the larger-than-life personality! In The Slithery Shakedown, Bismark is menaced by a snake, who wants to snack on him! Thank goodness Dawn and Tobin are there to show the bully that no one messes with their friend. The Slithery Shakedown opens up the chance to talk about bullies, the importance of taking a stand, and the strength found in numbers. I’d even pair this with a reading of Kathryn Otoshi’s brilliant book, One, as part of a respect for all/anti-bullying storytime and discussion.

Josie Yee’s art makes the trio of friends adorable and soft for younger readers, and with deep colors and strong outlines to define her characters. A section about nocturnal animals and nighttime fun facts adds some nonfiction to this Level 2 reader (for grades 1 and 2). Having these books available in easy reader and novel formats also introduce the chance to have older readers and younger readers enjoy different Nocturnals stories and workshops together.

So… when do we get Nocturnals board books? Just sayin’…

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Posted in Middle School, picture books, Preschool Reads

Just Like Brothers teaches valuable lessons

Just Like Brothers, by Elizabeth Baguley/Illustrated by Aurélie Blanz, (March 2018, Barefoot Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9781782853459

Recommended for ages 3-7

A young boy and a young wolf cub are each warned by their mothers. The boy’s mother warns of the wolves; the wolf’s mother, of men. The children listen, then go off and play, as children do. When each gets lost in the forest and come upon the other, their first reaction is fear; eventually, though, they discover that their similarities far outweigh their differences. And their mothers discover that they have a lot to learn from their children.

Told like a modern-day fable, Just Like Brothers teaches readers about the problems formed by prejudice and baseless judgement; it also teaches the value of empathy and trust. The innocence of children, both here and in real life, has no place for prejudice; it’s passed on at an early age. It’s a call to us as caregivers to be careful not to let our own fears make us irrational in what we teach our kids. It’s the start of a conversation, with lyrical descriptions like, “rough-hand and sharp stick” to describe humans, and “wag-tail and scamper-paw” to describe the playful cub. This makes for a good read-aloud and discussion about friendship and trust.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Early Reader, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate

Ginger Green, Playdate Queen, meets The Crazy Friend!

The Crazy Friend (Ginger Green), by Kim Kane/Illustrated by Jon Davis, (Apr. 2018, Capstone), $5.95, ISBN: 9781515819479

Recommended for readers 6-8

Ginger Green is the 7 year-old playdate queen! But when she invites Maisy over to play, she may have taken on more than she (or her mother) have bargained for. Maisy is out of control, and she takes Ginger’s little sister, Penny, with her! Maisy needs to figure out how to turn this playdate around, super-fast!

Every caregiver has had at least one playdate like this. Maybe it’s even your little one that strips down to his or her underwear and takes off through a friend’s house. Parents – and kids! – will sympathize with Ginger and her mom, who are taken by surprise by a playdate that is anything but expected. For parents and caregivers, The Crazy Friend provides an interesting look at kids’ behavior without knowing what’s behind it: is Maisy just a badly behaving child, or is there something more to the situation that neither Ginger nor her mom are aware of? There are some cues in the text that could lead readers to believe Maisy has some impulse control/ADHD-type behaviors. Ginger and her mom are frustrated (and I’m a little mortified that Maisy’s mom was all too quick to leave her daughter for someone else to contend with), but each decides to embrace the situation and work toward a solution that will save the playdate for everyone.

The Crazy Friend provides teachable moments and the chance for discussion. There are three short chapters, illustrated in two-color purple and white, and can easily fit in either an Easy Reader or intermediate section. There are currently four Ginger Green books available through Capstone in the US; in the author’s native Australia, there are 11.

Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade

Fish-Boy spins an Inuit tale

Fish-Boy, by Vanita Oelschlager/Illustrated by Mike Blanc, (May 2018, Vanita Books), $15.95, ISBN: 9781938164200

Recommended for readers 7-10

A wise old Inuit relates the tale of Fish-Boy, a magical folk tale that explains why so many sea parrots (also known as puffins) nest on Ignaluk, a great rock in the Arctic region of North America. When the hunter Kitmesuk went out to fish one day, he discovered Fish-Boy instead: an armless boy with a fish body, lonely, and looking for a father. When the two travel to another village on a chief’s invitation, the villagers’ behavior toward them is awful – rude and combative. Fish-Boy uses magic to turn men that would harm them into sea-parrots, thus providing a strong message about being a good host.

The art allows for readers to interact with the story; the narration, plus point of view artwork, makes the reader feel like he or she is sitting around the fire, listening to the wise man tell his tale. There are bright colors, strong faces, and images that blend together, almost dreamlike, lending an imaginative feel to the story. There is a section with new words for readers, teaching points, and biographies on the author and illustrator. The endpapers provide maps of the Arctic region, helping place readers in the course of events.

I love a good folktale, and I want to get more First Nations books in my collection. This one is a definite add to my shelves. It’s good for an older reader storytime, and it’s great to display and booktalk when kids have to do projects on Native Americans – show the diversity of stories within the Nations, and introduce them to fiction as well as non-fiction so we foster discovery.

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

What would you do if you could write your own story?

The Altered History of Willow Sparks, by Tara O’Connor, (March 2018, Oni Press), $19.99, ISBN: 9781620104507

Recommended for readers 12-16

High schooler Willow Sparks is tired of being bullied by her school’s “in crowd”. Staying out of their way doesn’t seem to do anything – they find a way to go after her and tease her about her clothes, her skin, her everything. When she stumbles on a hidden library while at her public library job one night, she finds books with people’s names on them – including hers – that record every moment of their lives. She discovers that she can write her own story, and instantly, her skin clears up, her fashion gets an upgrade, and she’s getting attention – good attention – from one of the guys in the in crowd. As life improves for Willow, she grows farther away from Georgia and Gary, her best friends who’ve stuck by her. What Willow doesn’t realize is that for every give, there’s a take, and the future, whether or not Willow’s writing it, has a way of defending itself.

There’s a lot going on in this graphic novel: Willow and her transformation is the main plot, but there are subplots that get a short shrift: I’d love to have learned more about why these books exist and where they came from – it’s alluded to that other libraries have these hidden libraries; I’d love to see a book about them. (I do love the idea of a librarian being the keeper of this secret, valuable information.) Willow’s friend Georgia is moving, and George is starting the process of coming out; both of these stories are glanced over, and have the potential to be really interesting, especially when combined with the hidden histories. That said, the story is relatable, especially to teens: who wouldn’t want to be the author of their own life? Write out those potentially embarrassing moments, the bad skin, the crush(es) that didn’t work out. Start a booktalk with that idea, and watch the teens perk up.

The Altered History of Willow Sparks is a quick, enjoyable read. It starts a good discussion about the downsides of wish fulfillment, and illustrates that everything comes with a price. The realistic artwork is largely rendered in gray and white and is reminiscent of Faith Erin Hicks’ work. Booktalk with other creepy fantasy graphic novels like Hicks’ Friends With Boys, Vera Brosgol’s Anya’s Ghost, and Doug TenNapel’s Ghostopolis (the latter two skew younger in age). The book is a Spring 2018 Junior Library Guild Selection.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Frog and Toad fans, meet Peter & Ernesto!

Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths, by Graham Annable, (Apr. 2018, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626725614

Recommended for readers 7-10

Peter and Ernesto are best friends. They’re sloths, who live in a tree and spend their days munching hibiscus and watching the clouds, naming the shapes they see in them as they go by. But Ernesto isn’t satisfied. He loves the sky, but their tree only offers one piece of it. There’s so much more sky to see! Peter is content to stay in his tree, but Ernesto needs to take a trip and see the sky from all over. Ernesto revels in his adventure, making new friends and having exciting new experiences, while Peter stays at home, worried sick over Ernesto. Despite his fear, Peter sets off in search of Ernesto, making some new friends of his own. The two friends reunite, having both learned valuable lessons: Ernesto, the value of home; Peter, the importance of expanding one’s horizons.

The friendship between Peter and Ernesto is the sweetest part of this book. Graham Annable’s one-two punch of adorable, cartoony artwork with giant, expressive eyes, and fun dialogue will be a winner with intermediate and middle grade readers. The characters’ friendship is reminiscent of Frog and Toad; two characters, each a foil for the other, and their unabashed friendship. Their reunion will make you sigh and smile; it’s that sweet. The art is adorable, and at times – like a panel where Ernesto gazes at The Northern Lights, and we see how small he is in relation to the sky – is breathtaking.

Thank goodness, Peter and Ernesto will return. I can’t wait.

Posted in picture books

Welcome to Seed School!

Seed School: Growing Up Amazing, by Joan Holub/Illustrated by Sakshi Mangal, (Feb. 2018, Seagrass Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781633223745

Recommended for readers 5-8

An acorn gets blown from his tree and lands in the middle of Seed School, meeting seeds that will grow up to be sunflowers, vegetables, even weeds. The acorn is a kind of cool new kid with a funny cap, and doesn’t know what it’ll be when it grows up, but has some ideas as the seeds all learn what goes into growing from seed to plant: what to do during the different seasons (love those long winter naps), the important stuff they’ll need to grow (soil, sun, water, and air), and visit the Leaf Librarian to learn about photosynthesis. They even learn a cute song about growing. When it’s graduation time, the seeds all travel – by bird, squirrel, or wind – to get ready to grow. It may take the lost little seed with the cool hat to figure out what he’s going to be, but it’ll be worth the wait.

I love just about everything Joan Holub writes, from her board books to her middle grade novels, and my library kids do, too. Her Mini-Myths series (with Leslie Patricelli) is aces with my toddlers (and was with my own toddler), and I can’t keep her series novels, like the Grimm-tastic Girls, Goddess Girls, and Heroes in Training on my shelves. A picture book about seeds growing into flowers, that’s kind of like Science Comics for early readers is going to fly! Putting nonfiction text into a cute, storytelling format guarantees that kids will learn and enjoy. Sakshi Mangal’s illustrations are just too adorable, with bold, black outlines, adorable little faces, and brightly colored nature against a stark white page. I would hang art from this book all over my nonfiction area, and I’m incorporating this book into a Science Storytime on seeds and gardens in the spring.

Seed School is a fun add to picture book collections, and can be a fun read-aloud or a one-on-one. Pair it with Eric Carle’s The Tiny Seed or Eve Bunting’s Flower Garden, or Lois Ehlert’s Planting a Rainbow and Growing Vegetable Soup. Get out some flower coloring sheets, and you’re set!