Posted in Adventure, Fantasy, Young Adult/New Adult

New fantasy YA brings a together a group of Royal Bastards

Royal Bastards (Royal Bastards #1), by Andrew Shvarts, (Jun 2017, Hyperion), $18.99, ISBN: 9781484767658

Recommended for ages 14+

This new fantasy series follows a group of Royal Bastards – illegitimate children of royals – as they try to save a royal princess’ life and prevent a war. Sixteen year-old Tilla is the bastard daughter of Lord Kent of the Western Province; she lives in comfortable accommodations, but her father has held her at arm’s distance ever since his legitimate wife bore him two daughters. Tilla’s half brother, Jax, from a different father, lives on Kent’s lands as a stablehand. While Jax is happy with life as it is, Tilla longs for legitimacy and a better relationship with her father; two things he’s withheld from her thus far. She’s invited to her father’s banquet honoring the visiting royal princess Lyriana, and sits at the bastard table with Miles, a bastard from neighboring House Hampsted, and Zell, a trueborn son-turned-bastard from the warrior Zitochi clan of the North. Lyriana insists on sitting with them and getting to know them, and ends up tagging along on what was supposed to be an evening out between just Jax and Tilla. While out at the shore, the group stumbles upon a horrific and treasonous episode that puts every one of their lives in danger: in Miles’ and Tilla’s cases, even from their own parents.

The group of teens is on the run, hoping to make it back to Lyriana’s kingdom before the combined forces of Lord Kent, Lady Hampsted, and the Zitochi clan can catch them. The bastards have to stay alive, prevent a mage slaughter, and a civil war that will claim thousands of lives – can they get along long enough to survive the journey?

There’s a lot of story to unpack in this first book. The biggest stumbling block for me was the contemporary language used in the high fantasy setting. It’s off-putting and took me out of the flow of the novel. Vernacular aside, Royal Bastards is a fast-paced adventure, loaded with intrigue, betrayal, and teen romance. I like the world-building: a fantasy world where bastards are recognized and can gain legitimacy if their parents choose to bestow it upon them; a major coup in the works, and plenty of intrigue and betrayal to keep things interesting. There’s rich character development, particularly in the relationship between Jax and Tilla and Tilla’s growth throughout the novel. There’s some diversity in the characters, although some fantasy tropes pop up here; most notably, the clueless royal who wants to meet “the little people” and the brooding, fur-wearing savage.

YA fantasy fans will dig in and enjoy this one. I’d booktalk Erin Bow’s The Scorpion Rules as an interesting counterpart that looks at the relationship between royals and their children and war. Talk up the Game of Thrones books to readers that may be familiar with the HBO series. Give a copy of Joshua Khan’s Shadow Magic and Dream Magic books to younger siblings who aren’t ready for this one yet.

Posted in Fiction, Preschool Reads, Uncategorized

Size matters not: Just ask Little Captain Jack!

Little Captain Jack, by Alicia Acosta/Illustrated by Monica Carretero, (Apr. 2017, nubeOCHO), $15.95, ISBN: 978-84-945415-0-6

Recommended for readers 4-8

Once upon a time, there was a tiny pirate named Captain Jack. He was so tiny that he had to weigh himself down with a heavy sword in his belt, an iron telescope around his neck, and some rocks in his pockets, so he wouldn’t be blown away! Everyone called him Little Captain Jack. He was so little that his crew didn’t hear him when he yelled to them, and he was constantly in danger of being stepped on! One day, during a battle between Captain Jack’s crew and the bad pirate Badlock’s crew, Jack was taken prisoner and locked in a dark cellar. Although he was scared, he accepted an offer of help from a mouse… who got some help from a seagull… and Captain Jack learned, from that day forward, that “great things could come in all shapes and sizes, big or small!”

Captain Jack is fun reading and kids will appreciate the message that size doesn’t matter, especially when you work as a team! The tiny pirate still manages to command his own ship and crew (even if they don’t really hear him… or see him that often), and when he’s in trouble, his crew is frantic. He means a lot to his crew, whether he’s big or small – just like a family. Teamwork helps bring Jack back to his crew, sending a positive message about working together.

The cartoony art will appeal to readers, and the endpapers – drawn to look like a map of Penny Island, where we assume Captain Jack is spending time these days, has fun, eyecatching details like a giant squid, a whale, and a lake monster. A nicely detailed compass rose adds the opportunity to talk about directions. Plus, pirates are a home run with little ones: you can pick from any number of pirate adventure stories for little ones! You could pair these with any number of pirate books for little ones! Add a pirate hat craft to use up some old newspaper and you have a nice, environmentally friendly storytime activity.

Little Captain Jack was originally released in Spanish (Pequeño Pirata Serafin, ISBN: 978-4-945415-1-3), and is available in both Spanish and English.

Posted in Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Shannon Hale Talks Cool Kids, Crybabies, and Real Friends

Real Friends, by Shannon Hale/Illustrated by LeUyen Pham, (May 2017, :01 First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1-62672-785-4

Recommended for readers 8-13

How do I even start my gushing over Shannon Hale’s memoir about family, friendship, and growing pains? I’m a Shannon Hale fan and a LeUyen Pham fan; their collaborations – like on one of my favorite chapter book series, Princess in Black – work so well, visually and literally, it’s a treat for the eyes, the imagination, the whole reader is satisfied.

Here, we see young Shannon’s life from Kindergarten through fifth grade in terms of her relationships; with her mother, a series of friends, her troubled and sometimes abusive sister, and with God. Primarily, this is a story of how Shannon struggled with The Group. We all know The Group. Mean Girls was a story about The Group; just about every high school or middle school movie or TV show has a Group. It’s the in-crowd, the girls who make lives miserable for everyone that isn’t part of their group – and sometimes, even for the people in the group. Shannon desperately wants friends, but with friends comes the stress of being part of The Group and putting up with the mind games and backstabbing that is aimed at her by another jealous group member. At home, she tries to navigate relationships with her large family, trying to give her temperamental sister, Wendy, a wide berth.

We see the effects of stress on Shannon, who develops OCD-type behavior and manifests physical ailments often associated with anxiety. We also see how Shannon copes by creating her imaginary worlds – she’s a Wonder Woman, a Charlie’s Angel, a secret agent, and she brings her friends along for the ride. This book is powerful for a girl who, like Shannon, grew up in the ’70s, disappeared into my own imagination, and struggled for years with Groups and backstabbing. I’m an only child, but Shannon could have been writing about me – and that’s how readers will feel reading this book, just like readers do when they read literally anything by Raina Telgemeier.

Readers will know this is their story, whether they’re an 8 year old kid or a 46 year old librarian and book blogger; maybe there’s a boy out there who, like Shannon or Kayla, another character, hides in the bushes so no one will see them crying and make fun of them. Real Friends is painful, real, and beautiful.

Real Friends received a starred review from School Library Journal, and Kirkus offers an interview with Shannon and Dean Hale. Wander over to Shannon Hale’s author page for information on her other books, games and quizzes, and more; LeUyen Pham’s webpage is loaded with neat things to see, including a free, downloadable Love: Pass It On poster, and links to her illustration, Facebook, and book pages.

This one is a no-brainer for collections. Display with Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl, Raina Telgemeier’s Smile, and Sisters, and novels like Jennifer L. Holm’s Fourteenth Goldfish,  and Dana Alison Levy’s Family Fletcher books. If it’s a display or book talk on self-esteem and standing up to the crowd, make sure to include Kathryn Otoshi’s Zero, One, and Two.

 

 

 

 

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

The Nocturnals Return in The Fallen Star

The Nocturnals (Book 3): The Fallen Star, by Tracey Hecht/Illustrated by Kate Liebman, (May 2017, Fabled Films Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781944020057

Recommended for readers 8-12

The lovable group of Nocturnal sleuths is back in their third adventure, this time with high stakes: the forest’s pomelos have been poisoned, and the flowers that cure the sickness are disappearing! As the group watches a star fall one evening, they meet a mysterious aye-aye, Iris, who declares that the forest is being invaded and monsters from space have poisoned the pomelos! Dawn, ever the thoughtful and skeptical fox, is suspicious, and seeks a more down-to-earth reason, but things become more tense when they discover that animals in the forest are getting sick, including poor Tobin, who’ve all eaten pomelos. The blue flowers that help cure the sickness are disappearing, and a strange blue glow shows up right before the flowers start disappearing. This sounds like a job for the Nocturnals!

This third book in the animal friends series takes no prisoners: things are tense, with the friends racing against time to help their sick friends and find out the truth behind the poisoned fruit and disappearing cure. Bismark is in full narcissist with a heart of gold mode, proclaiming he speaks alien (and then slipping and admitting it was gibberish) and wooing Dawn every chance he gets. Dawn is still the most focused and perceptive member of the group, and sweet, gentle Tobin is the source of possibly the greatest fart joke in the history of children’s literature, giving readers much-needed comic relief throughout the white knuckle moments The Fallen Star is filled with.

We also meet some more animals in this book; most notably, an Aye-aye named Iris, and the woylies, a group of small marsupials who pitch in to help the Nocturnals. You can find more information about Aye-ayes at Zooborns.com, and Whiteman Park, a conservation center in Australia, has a downloadable fact sheet available on the endangered woylie.

This Aye-aye has its eyes on you! (source: Zooborns.com)
Woylie: Now say it with an Australian accent! (Source: whitemanpart.com.au)

Teamwork, friendship, and determination sees the friends through this latest adventure, and there’s a lovely message about tolerance that is especially important reading.

Things have started taking off for Nocturnals since the first book published last year!  The Nocturnals World website offers Boredom Busters, face painting tips, and a wealth of educational resources for classrooms and libraries, and the New York Public Library, in conjunction with Fabled Films, launched a read-aloud writing program in New York City public schools.

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

Everything can change in One Moment

One Moment, by Kristina McBride, (Jan. 2017, Sky Pony Press), $9.99, ISBN: 9781510714557

Recommended for ages 14-18

Maggie is looking at the best summer of her life. She and her group of best friends are heading into their senior year of high school, and she’s made a big decision about her relationship with her boyfriend of almost two years, Joey. But things change in an instant when the friends head out to the gorge to kick off their summer; Joey, the charismatic daredevil of the group, dives off a cliff, and the next thing Maggie remembers is her friend Adam coming to get her and seeing Joey, unmoving, on the ground. As Maggie and her friends mourn Joey’s death, she also discovers that Joey kept so man secrets – secrets that Adam and her friend, Shannon, seem to be privy to. As Maggie struggles to regain her memory of that fateful day, she learns that Joey may not have been everything she thought he was.

Part mystery, part coming of age heartbreaker, One Moment looks at the hole left when a loved one dies, and the confusion and anger that step in when they leave behind secrets. Maggie is at times sympathetic and at times frustrating; the author leads readers to figure things out long before Maggie does, and more often than not, she falls into a classic victim role. She finds her strength by ultimately letting Joey go in her own way, but getting there can be a battle. The story does speak to the

Teen romance and realistic fiction fans will enjoy this one. Booktalk this with Julie Anne Peters’ Lies My Girlfriend Told Me; it’s a strong readalike from an LGBTQ perspective.

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Humor, Intermediate

Hazy Bloom and the Tomorrow Power – what will she see next?

Hazy Bloom and the Tomorrow Power, by Jennifer Hamburg/Illustrated by Jenn Harney, (Feb. 2017, Farrar Straus Giroux), $15.99, ISBN: 978-0-374-30494-2

Recommended for readers 7-10

Third grader Hazel Bloom (call her Hazy, please) is having visions – peas flying in the air, eggs crashing to the ground – that come true in the craziest of ways, the day after she gets her visions. Her best friend calls it her “tomorrow power”. Hazy tries to head off any catastrophes at the pass, but she always manages to make the wrong move, causing chaos instead of preventing it. If she can find her focus, maybe she can use her “tomorrow power” to save the day when she’s needed most!

The Tomorrow Power is the first in a new intermediate chapter book series about a girl who finds herself with a touch of precognition, with humorous results. Most of the fun comes from Hazel trying to figure out where the vision will take place, and trying to prevent it, while trying to function like a normal kid. There are black and while illustrations throughout, outrageous situations, and a likable group of characters. Pair with the Heidi Heckelbeck series by Wanda Coven for some fun intermediate magical reading.

Posted in Fiction, Humor, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads, Uncategorized

The Principal’s Underwear is Missing!

The Principal’s Underwear is Missing, by Holly Kowitt, (May 2017, Macmillan), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250091321

Recommended for ages 8-12

Ordinary sixth grader Becca Birnbaum accidentally power slams a volleyball right into eighth grade It Girl Sloan “Selfie: St. Clair, setting off a chain of events that end up with the principal’s new, very large bra missing – and with the girls being the last ones to have it in their possession

The Principal’s Underwear is Missing (originally titled The Principal’s Bra is Missing) is one of those middle school tragi-comedy of errors that middle graders love. Ordinary Girl ends up with the In Crowd, but for how long, and is everyone happy with the arrangement?

I wasn’t in love with the two main characters. Becca is the run of the mill Nerd Girl who doesn’t stand out preferring to blend in with her small group of fellow nerd friends. Sloan, called “Selfie”, thanks to her habit of shooting selfies at all the lavish parties and locales she attends, is self-absorbed to the point of mania. When Becca, desperate to make up for the volleyball accident that left Selfie in a cast, tries to retrieve a confiscated shopping bag from the principal’s office, she grabs the wrong bag and sets the story in motion. From there, Becca takes the responsibility for the whole incident, while Selfie just meanders through the novel, alternately shooting selfies and crying about being in trouble while letting Becca do all the work. Becca never makes Selfie take responsibility for her own actions, preferring to drag Selfie along on their adventure.

Look, I’m reading this as a 40-something year old Mom who worries about my kids standing up for themselves. Are middle graders going to get a kick out of this book? Yes. It’s funny, it’s got underwear humor, and a kinda-sorta unlikely friendship between two school social classes. It’s a quick read, and perfect for a beach bag take-along. But if you’re book-talking this one, talk about Selfie, taking personal responsibility, and stereotyping in middle grade books. Please.