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.

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 Fantasy, Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Sleeping Beauty, reimagined: Spindle Fire

Spindle Fire (Spindle Fire #1), by Lexa Hillyer, (Apr. 2017, HarperTeen), $17.99, ISBN: 9780062440877

Recommended for ages 14+

This Sleeping Beauty reimagining gives us parallel narratives of two sisters: Aurora and Isabella, the princess and her bastard sister, and Belcoeur and Malfleur, fairies whose longstanding feud may bring down the kingdom. It starts like the familiar tale of Sleeping Beauty, with a twist: in this world, fairies may bestow gifts upon you, but it’s a tithe – ain’t nothing for free. Aurora’s parents, the king and queen, give up Aurora’s sense of touch and ability to speak in order to receive her gifts. Malfleur, like the fabulous Maleficent, storms in and puts the spinning needle curse on Aurora, but this time around, a fairy offers to mitigate the curse not out of the goodness and kindness of her heart, but for another tithe: sight. The queen offers up Isabella – called Isbe – bastard daughter of the king, as tithe. So we’ve got one sister who can’t speak or feel, another who can’t see, but they communicate with a language all their own.

There is a lot of story here: there’s turmoil in the kingdom; Isbe runs off while the Aurora falls victim to the spindle. Malfleur is getting an army ready to march and take over the kingdom as Isbe tries to wake her sister; Aurora wakes up in an enchanted world, meeting a woodsman that she eventually falls in love with. There are moments where Spindle Fire is really good storytelling, but there are moments where there’s almost too many threads; too much going on to get the proper gist of the story. I liked the interactions between Aurora and Isbe, and I really loved reading the backstory between the two faerie queens: more of that, please! The ending leaves readers with no question: there will be a sequel (and GoodReads has this listed as Book One).

If you have reimagined fairy tale readers, this is a good add; romance readers will enjoy the chemistry between each of the sisters and their paramours.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

Do Fairies Bring the Spring? Let’s find out!

Do Fairies Bring the Spring?, by Liza Gardner Walsh/Illustrated by Hazel Mitchell, (Feb. 2017, Down East Books), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1-60893-633-5

Recommended for readers 3-7

Do fairies bring the spring? This adorable picture book poses the question while infusing nature with a little bit of magic, as Liza Gardner Walsh’s rhyming text suggests that fairies are behind the scenes, working to bring spring to the world. Suggestions for attracting fairies to your own gardens in the spring, at the end of the book, encourage you to dig into nature with your little ones and take care of your little corner of the world.

Hazel Mitchell’s illustrations of diverse, adorable little fairies and their woodland friends infuse this Spring story with all the charm and wonder that makes a preschool/Kindergartner story a success.

Invite some magic into your life this spring with this sweet springtime story! Little ones will love the soothing rhyme and the adorable pictures. Encourage parents to get outside with their little ones and enjoy nature while respecting it –  no littering, please! This is a great story to read and follow up with a planting activity, whether it’s going out in the yard with your little one, or planting some seeds in recyclable egg cartons and bringing them home to start a container garden. Hand out fairy coloring sheets, or print small fairy pictures out on card stock, let the kids color them in, and mount them on popsicle sticks to give your new  plants extra fairy protection!

Liza Gardner Walsh is a former librarian (whoo hoo!) and has a companion book, Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows? (2015). Her website, Moss & Grove, encourages parents and kids to get outside and embrace nature. See more of illustrator Hazel Mitchell’s work at her website.