Posted in Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Podkin One-Ear is perfect for fantasy fans!

Podkin One-Ear (Longburrow #1), by Kieran Larwood/Illustrated by David Wyatt, (Sept. 2017, Clarion Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9781328695826

Recommended for readers 10-12

An old bard weaves a tale of the legendary warrior, Podkin One-Ear, for an audience gathered for the winter holiday, Bramblemas. In rabbit society, Podkin was the pampered son of a chieftain, lazy and shiftless, while his older sister, Paz, trains hard, knowing she won’t be chieftain because she’s female. When a savage warrior tribe of rabbits – red-eyed, iron-clad, iron-infused – called the Gorm attack Podkin’s burrow, Podkin, Paz, and their baby brother, Pook, run for their lives, the Gorm always one step behind them. Podkin has a magical sword that the Gorm want, and they’ll stop at nothing to get it.

Told in the third person in the bard’s voice, with occasional interludes to provide dialogue between the bard and some curious young rabbits, Podkin One-Ear makes the reader feel like he or she is sitting in a dining hall, listening to an epic tale unfold. David Wyatt’s black and white illustrations add to the epic feel of the story, and inject emotion into the tale; the action scenes and the emotion in his character’s faces evoke strong emotion. It’s a wonderful story about the rise of a hero, and I can’t wait to read more. There are big battles, arms and armor, magic weapons and witches – something for every fantasy fan!

Give this one to your Redwall fans, for sure. If you’ve got Mouse Guard graphic novels (and if you don’t, and have fantasy fans, you really need to), get those ready for readalikes. Lisa Fiedler’s Mouseheart series, plus Erin Hunter’s Warriors (and Seekers, and Survivors) are also great read-alikes, and if you’ve got readers that devour those, this is a good book to introduce them to.

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Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

The Night Garden puts a little spark of magic into WWII-era Canada

The Night Garden, by Polly Horvath, (Sept. 2017, Farrar, Straus & Giroux), $16.99, ISBN: 9780374304522

Recommended for readers 9-13

Franny Whitekraft lives with her adoptive parents, Sina and Old Tom, on Vancouver Island while World War II rages overseas. They live a pretty quiet life until their neighbor, Crying Alice, shows up – crying – and asks to leave her three children with them while she goes to stop her mechanic husband, Fixing Bob – stationed at a military base – from doing something dumb. Zebediah, one of the children, knows what it is, but he’s not talking, and he’s not sharing the letters he gets from their father with his brother and sister, Wilfred and Winifred. Things take a sharp turn when Fixing Bob puts his plan into action, and The Night Garden seems to be everyone’s only hope in making things right. Can a garden really grant wishes? Franny and her friends are about to find out.

The Night Garden didn’t really come together for me. There are several plotlines that kind of wander in and out of the book, like Sina’s witnessing a UFO. Narrated in the first person by Franny, there’s humor throughout the novel, but overall, the story took a little too long to get there and meandering plots may keep some readers from fully committing to the book. I enjoyed the sense of humor that kept the book moving, and the characters, on their own, were a fun bunch that I enjoyed my time with. An additional purchase for collections where you have devoted magical realism readers.

Polly Horvath is the Newbery Honor and National Book Award winning-author of Everything on a Waffle. Her author website offers more information about her books, awards, and news.

 

Posted in Preschool Reads

Hispanic Heritage Month: nubeOcho picture books

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I love nubeOCHO picture books. I discovered the publisher when I was at the PLA conference last year; I was a children’s librarian in a largely monolingual Spanish-speaking community, with outdated books on the shelves in their language. I was buying books in Spanish that I knew how to search for: Goosebumps, Harry Potter, Percy¬† Jackson – but I needed to find new books that spoke to the kids and their cultures. I found that publisher in nubeOCHO, who simultaneously publishes Spanish and English language copies of their books that are perfect for my kiddos. I could read a storytime book in English, interjecting some Spanish words where I knew how, and the parents could borrow the Spanish copy to take home and read with their kids. I am forever grateful.

This season, nubeOCHO has a couple of adorable books out – available in English and Spanish – for beginning readers and cuddlers. Enjoy.

The Perfect Animal (El animal perfecto), by Raquel Diaz Reguera, (Sept. 2017, nubeOCHO), $15.95, ISBN: 978-8494633393
Recommended for readers 4-8

The kids at school have to dress up as an animal; Valentina wants to be “the perfect animal”. But what does that mean? Valentina considers several animals: elephants, bears, bats, birds, and more. She notes their strengths and their “curiosities” – noted throughout the book as fun facts, paper-clipped to the pages, written on note paper. So which one is the perfect animal? Why pick just one? There’s vibrant art throughout the book, plus fun facts kids will love (elephant are the only mammals that can’t jump, which makes really good sense). The Perfect Animal is part of nube’s Egalite imprint; publishing stories that emphasize equality and that illustrate the richness of diversity.

A Surprise for Mrs. Tortoise (Una sopresa para tortuga), by Paula Merlan/Illustrated by Sonja Wimmer, (Oct. 2017, nubeOCHO), $16.95, ISBN: 978-84-946333-4-8
Recommended for readers 4-8

Mrs. Tortoise sees her reflection one morning, and it really brings her down. Her shell looks old and worn out, and it’s really making her feel old and sad. Luckily for her, Birdie, her best friend, is there to cheer her up! He bops around to the sky, the flowers, the wind, and clouds to help decorate her¬† shell and cheer her up, but it seems like everything just makes Mrs. Tortoise feel worse; she loses her temper and snaps at Birdie, but even that doesn’t stop him. When Mrs. Tortoise goes to apologize to Birdie, she discovers that forgiveness and friendship are all that matter (and a little help from the rainbow doesn’t hurt). Washed-out watercolor art splashed across each page spread creates beautiful artwork that readers will gravitate to – especially when Mrs. Tortoise’s shell is covered in flowers! (I see art project at storytime here!) This is a sweet story about friendship and going the extra mile for a friend. A Surprise for Mrs. Tortoise is part of nube’s Somos8 imprint, exploring first sensations and challenges kids meet.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

When Pigs Fly…

Pigs Might Fly, by Nick Abadzis/Illustrated by Jerel Dye, (July 2017, :01First Second), $9.99, ISBN: 9781250176943

Recommended for readers 9-13

Lily Leanchops is the daughter of famous inventor Hercules Fatchops, and she’s certainly inherited her father’s pioneering spirit. While the rest of the folks in Pigdom Plains scoff at the very notion of pigs flying, Lily’s been working on her own flying machine in secret. She’s seen her father’s flying machines fail, and she’s taking everything he’s doing into account as works to create her own flyer. Like her father, she embraces science, not magic (mostly), but when the dangerous Warthogs threaten to invade – flying their own machines, powered by magic, and led by someone very familiar with Lily and her dad – it’s up to Lily to save her home and her town. Even if that means pushing her experimental craft and herself to their limits.

The science versus magic dilemma takes center stage in this graphic novel, which will appeal to kids and, on a deeper level, to older readers who are aware of the science versus faith arguments that frequently occur splashed across social media. Although pigs are the main characters in the story, they are illustrated and given very humanlike qualities and dress – Lily could be another Amelia Earhart or Bessie Coleman in her pilot gear. An interesting parable for current events, with a plot that embraces diversity and working together. A good addition to middle school reading lists and libraries; invite readers to make comparisons between the story and what they see in the world around them and on the news.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Magical Realism meets middle grade: The Unicorn in the Barn

The Unicorn in the Barn, by Jacqueline Ogburn/Illustrated by Rebecca Green, (July 2017, HMH Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 9780544761124

Recommended for ages 10-12

Eric Harper lives with his dad and his brother on a farm near Chinaberry Creek. His grandmother lived in the house near theirs, too, but she’s gone into a rest home and now, a veterinarian and her brusque daughter, Allegra, live there. When Eric spots a unicorn in the woods one night, he and Allegra become partners in caring for Moonpearl – the name they give the unicorn – and the twins she’s carrying. Dr. B is no ordinary vet – she takes care of everyone’s pets, sure, but she also has a gift for magical creatures, and they seem to know how to find her. Eric adores Moonpearl and tries to spend every moment he can with her, but he is also too aware of the magical healing properties that unicorns possess; the temptation to use Moonpearl’s magic to make things better for his friends and family is strong.

The Unicorn in the Barn is magical. It’s a beautifully told story of love and loss; of friendship and new life, of beginnings and endings. The black and white illustrations throughout are soft and add an extra dimension to the story. Eric is so earnest, so passionate about making life better for everyone and so in love with Moonpearl, that he often finds himself at odds with the somewhat bossy and bullish Allegra, who would rather keep her mother and Moonpearl to herself. The story is as much about the evolution of their friendship as it is about Eric’s journey through a critical point in his life. A beautiful middle grade work of magical realism. Booktalk with Me and Marvin Gardens to add some magic into your audience’s reading.

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

Magic, madness, and a cow-ostrich romance!

The Emperor’s Ostrich, by Julie Berry, (June 2017, Roaring Brook Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781596439580

Recommended for readers 8-12

A zany fantasy romp with a dairy maid in search of her lost cow puts readers on the path to an adventure that will introduce them to a self-described romantic hero, a spoiled emperor on the run, and his ostrich, who forms a bond with the runaway cow. Begonia, the dairy maid, is a responsible young woman who helps her mother care for the family farm and her younger sister; when her cow, Alfalfa, meanders away, Begonia sets out to find her and ends up on a magical quest that will put the responsibility for saving the emperor and the kingdom squarely on her shoulders. Thank goodness she has help from Key, a wandering young man who describes himself as a romantic hero; and two magical beings, who oversee the adventure from a distance.

The story is a fun fantasy adventure with nods to magic, corruption, feminism, and commentary on overindulged wealth. Readers will enjoy the lovestruck cow and ostrich, the banter between Key and Begonia, and the host of characters they encounter on their adventure. Booktalk this with Lloyd Alexander’s fantasy novels: author Julie Berry calls The Emperor’s Ostrich her love letter to his books.

Julie Berry’s book, The Passion of Dolssa, is a 2017 Printz Honor title. The Emperor’s Ostrich received starred reviews from Booklist and School Library Journal.

Posted in Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

What’s hiding under The Suffering Tree?

The Suffering Tree, by Elle Cosimano, (June 2017, Disney-Hyperion), $17.99, ISBN: 9781484726594

Recommended for ages 14+

After her father’s death and her family’s eviction, Tori Burns, her mother, and younger brother, Kyle, move from Washington DC to Chaptico, Maryland; a small town with a lot of history. She’s received an inheritance of a house and land from a man named the patriarch of the Slaughter family, one of the oldest families in the area – she’s never met him, never heard of him – and his family are none too happy with it. Tori is miserable in the new house and with the Slaughter family, who seize every opportunity to be spiteful to Tori and her mother. Tori learns more about the Slaughter family’s dark history – and the history of the mythical Chaptico witch – when Nathaniel Bishop claws his way out of a grave under the oak tree in her backyard. It’s no zombie movie: Bishop was an abused, indentured servant for the Slaughter family in the 18th century, and he’s been brought back for a purpose that hasn’t yet revealed itself. Tori shelters him in the shed on her property as she struggles to make sense of the weird dreams she’s having. As she and Nathaniel unravel their histories, Tori uncovers the Slaughters’ secrets, finding herself a part of the mystery.

The Suffering Tree is a paranormal mystery that hinges on self-harm. There’s blood magic throughout the book, and the entire plot is set into motion once Tori – who self-harms – spills her own blood on the property. With references to rape, abuse, racism, and slavery, this is a novel that tackles some very big issues. Tori emerges as a strong character who struggles with cutting as a way to deal with the pain of her father’s loss and more recent stresses as the novel unfolds. Her mother isn’t a strong character at all, preferring to handle her daughter’s psychological issues by asking her if she’s okay and suggesting therapy throughout the book.

Teens are going to love this one. There’s suspense and the pace is intense. Booktalk with historical YA mysteries, like the Jackaby series from William Ritter; Stefan Petrucha’s Ripper, and Stephanie Morrill’s The Lost Girl of Astor Street.