The Problim Children, by Natalie Lloyd/Illustrated by Julia Sarda, (Jan. 2018, Katherine Tegen Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062428202
Recommended for readers 8-12
The Problim Children is the first in a new middle grade series about seven… different siblings, each born on a different day of the week, and their adventures. We have Mona, Monday’s child, who may be fair of face, but she’s a bit macabre… Toot, Tuesday’s toddler, who has a catalog of farts for all occasions; Wendell and Thea, twins born on Wednesday and Thursday, who spend all of their time together; Friday’s child, Frida, speaks in rhyme; Sal, Saturday’s child, loves to work in his garden; and Sundae is the eternal optimist. Their parents are away, and the Problims manage to blow up their bungalow in the Swampy Woods, necessitating a move to their Grandpa Problim’s abandoned mansion in Lost Cove. The only problem? The Problims have a history with Lost Cove, and neighborhood busybody Desdemona O’pinion is determined to keep them out at all costs.
Are the Problims magic? Maybe. Are they a family with secrets? Definitely! There’s a history between the O’pinions and the Problims, and the kids get caught up in the shenanigans – while planning plenty of their own. The Problim Children is funny enough – Toot’s ability to communicate solely by fart will make this a home-run with some readers – and readers will love the idea of being left to their own devices as their parents travel the world for work. There are circus spiders, a pet pig, an intriguing mystery, and a villainess who’s right up there with the best of the mustache-twirlers. It’s a little over the top at times, but it’s fun and silly and readers who like a lighter Lemony Snicket will like this one. The Problim Children received a starred review from Booklist.
The Lost Rainforest: Mez’s Magic, by Eliot Schrefer/Illustrated by Emilia Dziubak, (Feb. 2018, HarperCollins), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062491077
Recommended for readers 8-13
Mez is an orphaned young panther living with her sister, under the care of their aunt in the rainforest of Caldera. Panthers are nightwalkers – primarily nocturnal, they prowl in the evenings and sleep during the day. Except for Mez. Born during the eclipse, she can cross the Veil – the sleep that overcomes the animals during the day hours – and explore the daytime world. She meets a snake who tells her that she and he are gifted, eclipse-born, and they must discover other animals like them in order to save the world. Banished by her aunt after discovering Mez’s secret, she joins the search for other shadowwalkers in their quest to defeat the Ant Queen. But the Queen isn’t the only one they have to defend themselves against. They’ll encounter animals that mistrust the shadowwalkers, and cope with betrayal and mistrust even among one another.
Mez’s Magic is the first book in what looks like an exciting new animal adventure. There’s plenty for readers to love here: intrigue, adventure, and ancient magic are just a few of the ingredients. It’s a satisfying standalone, yet leaves readers waiting for more answers. There’s an animal friend for everyone here; Mez, the star of the show, is burdened with responsibility and largely naïve to the rainforest at large; Rumi is a lovable, nerdy tree frog and Lima is a talkative, sweet bat; Gogi is a capuchin monkey with an inferiority complex; Auriel is a wily snake who seems to have all the answers. The book weaves a story that addresses racism, intolerance and ignorance through the individual animal species and the concept of the shadowwalker. Black and white chapter illustrations give the reader an idea of what’s coming up, and an author’s note at the end discusses the beauty and importance of the rainforest.
Mez’s Magic received a starred review from Kirkus.
Spirit Hunters, by Ellen Oh, (July 2017, HarperCollins), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062430083
Recommended for readers 9-13
Harper Raine is not happy about her parents’ decision to move them from New York to Washington, D.C. She can’t stand the creepy house they’ve moved into, especially when she hears the rumors about it being haunted. When her younger brother, Michael, starts talking about an imaginary friend and undergoes a radical personality change, Harper knows she has to act, even if no one else believes her. The thing is, some of Michael’s behaviors ring familiar bells for Harper, but she can’t put her finger on why. She’s missing chunks of memory from a previous accident – can things be connected?
Ellen Oh’s the founder of the We Need Diverse Books movement, and Spirit Hunters gives readers a wonderfully spooky story, rich in diversity. Harper and her siblings are half Korean; as the story progresses, subplots reveal themselves and provide a fascinating look at Korean culture, and the conflicts that can arise between generations. Harper’s new friend, Dayo, and a helpful spirit named Mrs. Devereux are African-American; Mrs. Devereux in particular provides a chance for discussion on race relations, and how racism doesn’t necessarily end with one’s life. Told in the third person, we also hear Harper’s voice through her “stupid DC journals”; journal entries suggested by her therapist, to help bridge her memory gaps, that show up between chapters. The characters are brilliant, with strong backstories, and two mystery subplots emerge that come together, with the main story, to give readers an unputdownable story that will dare them to turn the lights off at night.
I can’t say enough good things about Spirit Hunters, and neither can other reviewers: the book has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist.
Monsters Unleashed, by Jon Kloepfer/Illustrated by Mark Oliver, (July 2017, HarperCollins), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062290304
Recommended for ages 8-10
Freddie Liddle is anything but. He’s a big guy, bigger than the average fifth grader, and that makes him stand out: right where the bullies can see him. His best friend, Manny, always has his back. In fact, the two buddies were about to create a monster movie based on the bullies; Freddie drew monster versions of each bully, and they used the 3-D printer at school to make models for filming. Holy maker meltdown, though: this printer makes REAL MONSTERS. They’re alive, they’re mean, and they’re GROWING. It looks like Freddie and Manny may need to team up with the very bullies that inspired their monsters in order to take them down and save their town!
Jon Kloepfer’s already got a huge fan following with his Zombie Chasers series; this new series, Monsters Unleashed, is a fun romp that brings a little maker fun into the mix. Freddie’s monster sketches turn into real-life terrible monsters that grow when they get wet, and are even meaner than the bullies they’re modeled after. Bullies get a second chance at redemption when they join Freddie and Manny in the fight, proving that some bullies take a little nudging, but may not be all bad (monster invasion notwithstanding). There’s lots of humor and action here, with fun black and white illustrations to keep kids interested.
Joey and Johnny, The Ninjas: Epic Fail, by Kevin Serwacki/Illustrated by Chris Pallace, (Apr. 2016, Balzer+Bray), $12.99, ISBN: 9780062299352
Recommended for ages 8-12
Things are finally getting back to what passes for normal at the Kick Foot ninja academy: Joey and Johnny’s shoddy reconstruction of the school is saved by a dragon attack (of sorts), leading to a proper rebuilding, and classes are back underway. Joey and Johnny learn, however, that their friend and fellow student, Peoni, is planning a secret tea ceremony – one of the most dangerous things a ninja can attend, let alone plan – to appease the spirits of ninjas who didn’t survive previous tea ceremonies. Joey and Johnny have found their new mission: help Peoni assemble a flawless ceremony while keeping it a secret from the headmaster – the only survivor of a tea party in recent memory – who has forbidden so much as a mention of the event.
This is the second book in The Ninjas series; the first, Joey & Johnny, The Ninjas: Get Mooned, hit stores last year. The series is great for readers who love a frenetically-paced, humorous story. There’s a lot of storytelling thrown in here: pirates vs. ninjas; sentient forests; a fellow student on his own quest, and the determined messenger bird who keeps following him; and a tea ceremony. There are a lot of subplots to keep in the air, but younger readers who like action-packed stories with lots of laughs will gravitate to this series. Black and white drawings throughout will keep them interested.
The best part of the book for me was the actual tea ceremony: who doesn’t love a tea ceremony, with ghosts, that’s begging to break out in chaos?
A good additional purchase for summer reading, especially; display this with your Big Nate, Bad Kitty, and Timmy Failure books.
It’s About Love, by Steven Camden (Aug. 2015, HarperCollins Children’s Books), $8.99, ISBN: 9780007511242
Recommended for ages 12+
He’s Luke. She’s Leia. They meet in a film class, and the Star Wars connection pops up right away. That’s where the similarities end. They’re from different ends of town, and different social classes. He’s from the wrong side of the tracks, a kid trying to get out of the poor British town and lifestyle he feels trapped in. His brother is just home from prison after spending two years behind bars on an assault charge, and he’s trying to make sense of his life, too. Home life is rough on Luke, but he doesn’t know where to go with his feelings for Leia.
Leia pursues Luke, but their relationship is anything but smooth. She’s got her own baggage, and there’s bound to be conflict with Luke’s past.
The story deals with a lot of topics affecting teens these days. Luke wants out of the circumstances he’s been dealt, and he has the presence of mind to know that more education presents a way out – but at the same time he’s plagued with the fear that he’s got anger management issues – like his brother – that could be tragic if they spin out of control. He’s not sure how to act around Leia, not sure of himself at home, and not at all sure how to feel about or act around his brother. Luke’s parents throw wrenches into the works of his psyche with their relationship, and he discovers that his teacher is an uncomfortable mirror for him, creating a rich and complicated connection.
The story is a solid read, with likable and relatable characters from working-class backgrounds. It’s a smart romance, with the characters working through their feelings in typically teen fashion – lots of angst and analyzing. The Star Wars references are a bonus.
Teens looking for a different kind of read will enjoy It’s About Love for its casual, first-person narration; its introspective storytelling, and its solid character development.