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

Blog Tour and Giveaway: The Turnaway Girls, by Hayley Chewins

Raised in a shelter cloister with other young women, Delphernia Undersea is a 12-year-old Turnaway Girl: girls raised to be silent, invisible; to weave male Masters’ music into gold they call “shimmmer”. Delphina is well aware of her place in society – Mother Nine beats it into her regularly enough – but still has a rebellious streak in her. While she can’t make shimmer, she can sing; a forbidden action in this world. Girls are told that the sea waits to swallow girls with musical throats, but Delphernia must sing, so she does so in secret until the day a young Master named Bly comes to claim her. Once out of the cloister, Delphernia’s world opens up, befriending a trans girl named Linna, who calls herself a Master and wears a dress covered in bells. Delphernia spends time with Bly, discovering more about him and his sister, the Childer-Queen, and in so doing, discovers more about herself and the society she moves through. It’s time for rebellion, and Delphernia holds the key.

Wow. This book is high literary fantasy that has the gift of empowering readers. Delphernia is a strong, intelligent heroine who motivates those around her. This is a male-driven society that doesn’t want music, free thought, or questions. They twist the truth to suit their means, but this next generation of children is about to bring it all down. Hayley Chewins’ weaves gold – shimmer – with words that nearly brought me to tears as I read. I was Facebooking and texting passages from this book to my friends, family, and coworkers over the last two days, because I could not keep these words inside me.

 

This is how you talk to middle graders. This is how you write middle grade fantasy that makes a statement, always respecting your readers. This is fantasy that holds our society up to a mirror and lets readers see for themselves how change is theirs to make. Diverse and gender fluid characters, discussions about gender roles and corrupt leaders, and a tale of self-discovery, magic, and music put this firmly on my must-read, must-have list, and my Newbery and Hugo watch lists.

The Turnaway Girls has a starred review from Kirkus. Author Hayley Chewins has a playlist for the book available on her blog.

Want your own copy of The Turnaway Girls? Enter this Rafflecopter giveaway!

 

Blog Tour Roll Call! Visit these book bloggers for their The Turnaway Girl thoughts.

October 8 – Purple Readers

October 9 – YA Books Central

October 10 – Cheyenne Reads

October 11 – Mom Read It

October 12 – Wizard Library

 

The Turnaway Girls, by Hayley Chewins, (Sept. 2018, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763697921
Ages 10+

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Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

It’s all in how you see it… Do You Believe in Unicorns?

Do You Believe in Unicorns?, by Bethanie Deeney Murguia, (Sept. 2018, Candlewick), $14.99, ISBN: 9780763694685

Ages 3-7

Do You Believe in Unicorns is fun and absolutely magical. It’s a visual wink that starts out with the horse on the cover: a white horse in a top hat. The story that follows is a conversation between the narrator and the reader, who we think must be a unicorn. But that’s crazy, right? It’s just a horse in a hat! Or is it? The narrator comes up with excuses as to why the horse can’t be a unicorn – his hair is a mess; he’s trying to keep dry in the rain – while our cartoony friend, sporting a knowing smile, prances through the book, eventually joined by other unicorns – HORSES! – wearing hats. But wait! The horses left their hats behind! And here’s where the joke is just perfect: the horses appear in front of spires, mountain peaks, and blades of grass. So, are those unicorns, or just expertly placed visual puns? Like the story says: “Maybe you can only see unicorns if you believe in them.”

What a way to bring magic into someone’s day. The cartoony art makes the unicorn/horse instantly kid-friendly, and its knowing smirk lets on that there may be more than meets the eye at play here. The facial expressions are an outright hoot, as our horse side-eyes other hat-wearing horses and admires himself in a mirror. It’s a lovely way to let kids know that there may be magical moments all around them, and a wonderful way to remind adults of the days when we believed in unicorns, too (and may still). And keep your eye on the lizard at the end of the story: he may be more than he appears, too. An absolute must-add to collections and great gift choice.

Do You Believe in Unicorns has starred reviews from Kirkus and the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, and is a Junior Library Guild selection. I think I’m adding this to my Caldecott longlist.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Begone the Raggedy Witches: mystical, magical, Irish fantasy

Begone the Raggedy Witches (Wild Magic #1), by Celine Kiernan, (Sept. 2018, Candlewick), $15.99, ISBN: 9780763699963

Ages 9+

Mup is a biracial girl living in Ireland with her family. On the night her Aunty dies, though, things change. The raggedy witches come for her mother; they’ve come to bring her back to their world, the Glittering Land, where an awful queen reigns: and who just happens to be Mup’s grandmother. When Mup’s mother holds them off the first time, the witches take more drastic measures, kidnapping Mup’s father. Mup, her mother, baby brother, and dog set off to the Glittering Land to save Dad, but will her Mam want to come back again, if she gets a taste for power – or survives her own mother?

Fantasy readers are going to be drawn right into Celine Kiernan’s mystical, magical tale. There are talking animals, shapeshifting kids, golden forests, and an evil queen to be reckoned with. Celine Kiernan creates a magical world beyond our imaginations, bringing to mind Narnia and Wonderland. The enchanted worldbuilding will keep your fantasy readers thrilled, and Mup’s heroine’s quest is thoughtful and intriguing. This is the first of a planned trilogy, so get your readers hooked now.

Begone the Raggedy Witches has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads

Graphic Novels coming your way in July

Yeah, you’ve got the summer reading lists (which, thank you teachers, have been getting better!), but you have to make time for pleasure reading, too! Check out some of the cool graphic novels coming out in July – perfect for sitting in the shade (or the sun, just wear your SPF) and enjoying the day.

Cottons: The Secret of the Wind, by Jim Pascoe/Illustrated by Heidi Arnhold, (July 2018, First Second), $19.99, ISBN: 9781250157447

Recommended for readers 10-14

Watership Down was one of those novels that changed my life when I was a kid. I first read it at about 9, after seeing the animated movie a year before, and it just blew my mind with its beautiful, yet brutal, story. I’ve returned to the book and movie several times throughout the years, and it remains one of my favorite books. Reading this first story in Jim Pascoe and Heidi Arnhold’s new graphic novel series, Cottons: The Secret of the Wind, reminds me of Watership Down, taking place in a more magical world.

We meet Bridgebelle, a rabbit working in the carrot factory by day, caring for her sick aunt by night. She’s always on the watch for the cruel foxes who prey on the rabbits

To her neighbors in the Vale of Industry, Bridgebelle is an ordinary rabbit. All day long, she toils at the carrot factory. After a hard day, she returns home to care for her ailing auntie. Bridgebelle also has a secret talent: she uses cha, the fuel that powers the rabbits’ world, to create magical artwork called thokchas. Bridgebelle must keep her magic secret, lest other rabbits in power try to use her and her power to create weapons; she also has to beware of the cruel foxes who hunt her kind.

There is a lot of storytelling here that makes the story hard to follow at times, but stick with it: it’s worth the journey. Heidi Arnhold’s beautiful artwork blends realistic animal art with fantasy and magic. Jim Pascoe sets a firm foundation to his universe here, and introduces several plots that will power readers through this new series. There is some violence – the foxes aren’t known for their mercy – so I’d recommend this one for middle grade and up. This is a nice companion to the Longburrow novels by Kieran Larwood and David Wyatt (the second book is due out in August!), for fans of animal fantasy, particularly starring rabbits.

Pop!, by Jason Carter Eaton/Illustrated by Matt Rockefeller, (July 2018, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626725034

Recommended for readers 4-8

A young boy sits, relaxed, blowing bubbles on a sunny day. His favorite part about blowing bubbles is popping them – naturally! – but one bubble has other plans! The bubble takes Dewey – yes, that’s his name – on a quest that will take him to new (literal) heights via trampoline, jungle gym, even a moon shuttle. Because, like the cover says, “Every last bubble must… POP!”

This is perfect fun for a summer read. If you’re outside, break out the bubbles and let the kiddos pop them! If you’re inside, maybe just hand some out (I worry about slippery floors, but if it’s not an issue for you, go for it). The semi-realistic art gives way to shiny flights of fancy; the bubble’s sheen seems to shine right off the page. The text is simple, easy to read, and great for newly confident readers. Kids and grownups alike will enjoy the simple joy of a little boy and his quest to pop the bubble.

Geeky F@b 5: It’s Not Rocket Science! (Geeky F@b 5 #1), by Lucy & Liz Lareau/Illustrated by Ryan Jampole, (July 2018, Papercutz), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1545801222

Recommended for readers 7-11

Papercutz has another fun, original graphic novel for intermediate readers; this time, they’re going STEM with the Geeky F@b 5: 5 girls who love science and are using their skills to make Amelia Earhart Elementary School better. Lucy, a fourth grader, and her older sister, Marina, a sixth grader, have just moved to the area and are ready to start school. Lucy, who loves the environment and animals, gels with her classmates right away: AJ, who wants to be an engineer like her dad; Sofia, a glitter girl who loves coding and making apps; and Zara, forever on her headphones, and a math whiz. Lucy gets hurt in the school’s outdated playground that first day, and the principal and nurse shut the playground down: but the girls have plans! Together with their teacher, they come up with a great idea: put together a series of fundraisers to get the money to rebuild the playground! Every one of the girls has a job to do; now, if they could just get the bullying older kids on their side, things would be perfect.

Geeky F@b is the first in a new STEM-focused graphic novel series form Papercutz; Volume 2 is due in December. The book is easy and fun to read, with a reasonable plot and goal that can empower readers to be forces for positive change in their own communities. The characters are diverse and relatable; I enjoyed spending some time with them and am pretty sure they’ll be popular reading at my library. This would pair nicely with Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith‘s Nick and Tesla series (novels, not graphic) from Quirk, the Girls Who Code chapter book series, and the Howtoons graphic novels. Fun for summer!

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Blue Window opens onto a new world

Blue Window, by Adina Rishe Gewirtz, (April 2018, Candlewick Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9780763660369

Recommended for readers 10-14

Five siblings investigate a strange, blue window that appears in their home and fall through time and space to a strange world, landing in the middle of a power struggle between a power-crazed dictator and the scholars and exiled magic weavers who push back against him. Susan, Max, Nell, Kate, and Jean discover that they have powers of their own, which puts them right into The Genius’ sights. He wants their power, and he will stop at nothing to get at it. The siblings escape and find themselves among a group of scholars who reveal that the family is part of an ancient prophecy, and separate Max from his sisters, who find another group of exiles who works with them to use hone their magic gifts.

Narrated in the third person, the book is split into five parts, each from a main character’s perspective. There’s a lot of worldbuilding here, but it doesn’t always hold a reader’s interest. There’s a lot of time spent on the siblings’ wandering, with little to no action, and the characters just don’t do all that much. Subsequent books in the series will benefit from stronger, more fleshed-out characters and tighter action sequences. Devoted fantasy fans may give this one a shot if you booktalk it with readalikes: Narnia, Earthsea, and A Wrinkle in Time.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Make Way for the Thunder Girls!

Freya and the Magic Jewel (Thunder Girls, #1), by Joan Holub & Suzanne Williams, (May 2018, Aladdin), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-4814-964-07

Recommended for readers 8-12

I LOOOOVE Joan Holub’s books, from board books to middle grade novels; I read ’em as often as I can and I love every single one of them. When I saw that the Goddess Girls team of Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams were starting a new series on the ladies of Norse mythology, I needed a moment to collect myself. And when I received a review copy from the author herself, I needed a few more moments. Okay, I took another moment. Let’s begin.

Freya is the 11-year-old goddess of love and beauty, happily living on Vanaheim: one of the nine worlds in Norse myth. When she and her twin brother, Frey, are summoned, by Odin, to Asgard to attend Asgard Academy as part of a new initiative to open relations between the nine worlds, Freya is skeptical. Her people have been at war with Asgard, and besides, she has it made at Vanaheim Junior High! But Odin is the king of Asgard, and she’s got to go, so she and Frey head out. Things go wrong from the start when her beloved jewel, Brising, falls from the Bifrost bridge. That jewel is what helps her see the future, and that also happens to be what Odin wants her to help him with! She also runs afoul of Angerboda, a bullying frost giantess, right off the bat. Freya has her work cut out for her, but she’ll learn – with the help of some new friends – that magic can be found in the wildest places.

I love, love, LOVED this book. Not strong on Norse mythology? You don’t need to be; you learn exactly what you need to within the pages of this book. Readers will meet characters whose names are practically household at this point, like Thor, Loki, Odin, and Frigga (thanks, Marvel!). Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams know their mythology and make the Norse tales readable for middle graders (the story of how that wall around Asgard was built is refreshingly kid safe, for starters) and put the same sense of fun into Thunder Girls that they put into Goddess Girls. There’s adventure, friendship, and enough mischief to keep readers happily turning pages. Display and booktalk with (what else?) Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard books, KL Armstrong and MA Marr’s Blackwell Pages trilogy, and NatGeo’s Norse Mythology treasury. (Have some copies of Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology around for parents, too.)

Joan Holub has amazing printables on her author website, including Goddess Girls and its companion series, Heroes in Training, bookmarks. Suzanne Williams has a reader’s theatre script for one of the Goddess Girls stories, fun quizzes and downloadable stickers at her website. The next Thunder Girls book is out in October, featuring Sif, so I’ll be counting days until then.

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

Rainforest, magic, and mystery: The Lost Rainforest – Mez’s Magic

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.