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

Sanity & Tallulah are a STEAM Dream Team!

Sanity & Tallulah, by Molly Brooks, (Oct. 2018, Disney-Hyperion), $21.99, ISBN: 9781368008440

Ages 8-12

Life aboard a space station is never boring, especially when you have to cobble things together to keep things running. Sanity Jones, and her best friend, Tallulah Vega-Davisson, certainly know how to keep things interesting aboard Wilnick Station: their latest experiment is Sanity’s project; a three-headed kitten named Princess Sparkle Destroyer of Worlds (one name for each head, naturally!). Princess Sparkle is discovered, but the kitten escapes into the duct system. As the girls go on the search for their pet, before she can get hurt or caught, Dr. Vega, the station’s senior scientist and Tallulah’s mom, has bigger problems on her hands: Wilnick Station is experiencing some big-time glitches that could put the station at risk. While some of the crew point their fingers at Princess Sparkle Destroyer of Worlds, Sanity and Tallulah find evidence of something else in those ducts. They’ve got to solve the mystery and save their kitten, and they may just have to rescue the whole space station!

This is such a positive, fun read. The cast is diverse, with our two heroines coming from African-American and biracial (Latinx-white) families of prominence: Sanity’s dad is Wilnick’s station director, Tallulah is the daughter of the senior scientist. Her white dad rocks a man bun, prosthetic leg, and context clues allude to his being a celebrity heartthrob at some point in the past. There’s humor and technospeak that kids will love. The three-color white, purple, and pink artwork has bold lines and gives a real feel for the sheer size and scope of a space station.  Molly Brooks gives readers a vision of a diverse future where strong female characters are valued. A must-add to graphic novel collections – put this with your Zita the Spacegirl and Star Scouts books!

Sanity & Tallulah has starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly.

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Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Zora and Carrie have more adventures in Zora and Me: The Cursed Ground

Zora and Me: The Cursed Ground, by T.R. Simon (Sept. 2018, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763643010

Ages 10-14

Is it any more perfect that the latest installment in a series starring a young Zora Neale Hurston is out right before Banned Book Month? Zora Neale Hurston’s brilliant classic, Their Eyes Were Watching God, is both a staple on high school reading lists AND a book that’s landed on Banned and Challenged lists since 1997.

Zora & Me is the story of young Zora Neale Hurston and her best friend, Carrie. The year is 1903, and the two live with their families in Eatonville, Florida, in the first African-American city to be incorporated in the state. Even as a child, Zora is every bit the storyteller, the grand designer of adventures; Carrie likes to play it safer, but always follows Zora into an escapade – or a mystery. In this second novel, author T.R. Simon examines hate, white privilege, and history. It begins when Mr. Polk, their mute neighbor, is attacked and his horses set loose. When the girls go investigate and help Mr. Polk, they discover he can speak – he speaks to Old Lady Bronson, a woman rumored to be a conjure woman. When Mr. Polk breaks his silence, it sets other pieces to a long-unsolved puzzle into motion. The narrative shifts between the events in 1903 and the story of a Lucia, a young woman sold into slavery in 1855. In 1903, Zora and Carrie discover an abandoned plantation mansion on Mr. Polk’s property; at the same time, white men come to Eatonville and demand more of Mr. Polk’s land, claiming a right to it. Tensions rise, and the people of Eatonville prepare to stand up for themselves and their home. As the narratives move back and forth, the puzzle comes together and everything becomes heartbreakingly clear.

Zora & Me: The Cursed Ground is intense and raw, with brutal honesty about slavery and its aftermath. T.R. Smith writes about the roots of racial violence and the “enduring wounds of slavery” that persist to this day. Zora Neale Hurston is an intelligent, headstrong 12-year-old, and Carrie finds her strength and voice. They’re strong protagonists, strong African-American young women, and fully aware of the danger that whites present to them, even if slavery is now something they’re only hearing about: many parents were born into slavery, and freed as very young children. This generation knows that they weren’t “given” their freedom. They weren’t given anything: they will fight for everything that is theirs. Lucia, the third main character in The Cursed Ground, tells a sharp, painful story about family lost and found; about freedom taken; about people who would diminish a whole race’s humanity, and about discovering and defending one’s sense of self. It’s an incredible story. A biography of Zora Neale Hurston and a timeline of her life conclude this story. I hope to read more of Zora’s and Carrie’s adventures. This is definitely on my Newbery shortlist, and I hope it’s on a Coretta Scott King Award shortlist, too. It’s a must-add to historical fiction collections and would make a stellar African-American History Month reading assignment for classes.

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

Guest YA Review: Picture Us in the Light, by Kelly Loy Gilbert

My colleague, Amber, is back with another YA review! Enjoy as she talks about Kelly Loy Gilbert’s Picture Us in the Light.

Picture Us in the Light, by Kelly Loy Gilbert,
(April 2018, Disney-Hyperion), $17.99, ISBN: 9781484726020
Ages 13+
I picked up “Picture Us in the Light” as an ARC at PLA last March. The cover popped, and I grabbed. I’m so glad I did. To my delight, just as I finished reading it, the finished copy showed up from central purchasing, all laminated and ready for my teen shelves!
 
The plot: Danny Cheng is the son of immigrant Chinese parents. His best friends, Harry and Regina, are dating. It’s a tad awkward because Danny has a secret crush on Harry. His parents are thrilled because Danny got into a prestigious art school, but Danny hasn’t been able to draw in a year. He’s harboring major guilt over his role in a tragedy that affected his whole friend group.  When Regina asks Danny to draw a portrait for the school paper related to the tragedy, Danny worries that his inability to do so will be seen as insult to those affected most. Then Danny finds a mysterious box of papers in his father’s things and his parents clam up when he asks about it.
It’s Danny’s senior year. He might not see his friends again because his college is across the country. Will he tell Harry he likes him? What about hurting Regina? Can he break his dry spell? What’s with that secret box of his dad’s? Why won’t his parents tell him anything? 
 
Review: This book made me feel so many ways. Kelly Loy Gilbert gets right to the heart of the teen experience. Her bio says she “believes deeply in the power of stories to illuminate a shared humanity and give voice to a complex, broken people.” That is certainly what happens here. While Danny is the center of the story, his parents are the heart. If anything, Danny’s position emphasizes how important he is to them and makes their sacrifices for him hit harder as they are uncovered.  Did they make the right decisions? Did their decisions hurt Danny? You decide. There are plenty of opportunities for debate in this book, which would make it a great choice for book club.  Here is a boy who deeply needs his parents’ open love and support, but because of secrets they are forced to keep from him, their relationship  with him, while loving and devoted, is not supportive in the way he needs.  Danny reflects that closed nature, keeping his own secrets from his parents and his friends. No one has any idea he hasn’t drawn in a year or why.
 
The best thing about “Picture Us in the Light”, in addition to the wonderful characters and how they are all real and recognizable, is the unfolding story. Mystery upon mystery come to light (yes, I did that, omg I just realized that ‘in the light’ here probably refers to the characters’ dawning awareness—look, I never claimed to be sharp about this kind of thing). OK, sorry. Had a moment there. I’m not going to name the mysteries because part of the joy is discovering them. If  you savor mysteries stemming from secrets so deep they can tear a family apart if they’re kept and might do the same if they’re discovered, you’re in for a treat. 
 
Recommended for teens 12 and up. Good for readers who enjoy: Mystery. Coming of age. LGBT. Personal relationships. Teen friendship issues.  Parent/child issues.  Chinese-American and Chinese immigrant experiences. Family secrets.
 
Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade

Bad Mermaids Make Waves!

Bad Mermaids Make Waves, by Sibéal Pounder/Illustrated by Jason Cockcroft, (May 2018, Bloomsbury USA), $13.99, ISBN: 9781681197920

Recommended for readers 8-12

What happens when you’re a mermaid, spending a summer on land with your temporary legs and feet, and you have to go back under the sea early because someone fishnapped the Mermaid Queen? That’s what besties Beattie, and twin sisters Zelda and Mimi have to do in this first middle grade mermaid adventure by Witch Wars author Sibéal Pounder. The mermaids arrive back under the sea to discover everyone acting… strange. A new queen who hides her face and calls herself The Swan is making everyone go back to wearing shell tops, and piranhas patrols are keeping things in check. The threesome steal a clamshell car and investigate who could be behind this fishy plot!

Mermaid stories are HUGE here. Heck, they’ve been huge at every library I’ve been at, from picture books, through YA. You’ve got three best friends who work really well together, a mystery to solve, and humorous villains and mean mermaids (all genders are referred to as mermaids), a café set inside an actual whale, plus black and white illustrations throughout. There are loads of in-jokes poking fun at mermaid tropes, like the clamshell tops and hair-combing, and the characters’ speech is full of fishy references like the exclamation, “Oh cod!”

This is an automatic add to my shelves. Give this to your Mermaid Tales and Mermaid S.O.S. fans who are ready for higher leveled books, and your Emily Windsnap fans.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Teen

Three new graphic novels coming your way in May!

There are some good graphic novels coming out in May. There’s manga-influenced work, an animal tale that brings Watership Down to mind, and a gripping story about being an undocumented immigrant. Let’s see what’s up!

 

Snails are Just My Speed!, by Kevin McCloskey, (May 2018, TOON Books), $12.95, ISBN: 9781943145270

Recommended for readers 3-7

The latest in Kevin McCloskey’s Giggle and Learn series of graphic novels takes a look at snails! They live in their shells! They like to eat together! They make a LOT of mucus! (So. Much. Mucus.) This latest easy reading, nonfiction graphic novel is perfect for pre-k and Kindergarten science groups and animal lovers. It’s loaded with fun facts, much of it mucus-related, which will make this a guaranteed hit with kids who love to squeal and shriek at “gooey” stuff. I love the infographic, built into the story, of all the animals that are faster – and slower! – than a snail, and the different types of snails that exist, including a hairy snail and a “glass” snail with a see-through shell. There’s a quick drawing lesson at the end – great way to end a storytime or science group session! – and the TOON website always has great teacher’s resources available for download. Kevin McCloskey is aces in my book!

 

Animus, by Antoine Revoy, (May 2018, First Second), $16.99, ISBN: 9781626721838

Recommended for readers 12+

This is a creepy ghost tale/mystery surrounding a ghost destined to haunt a playground. Schoolmates Hisao and Sayrui meet Toothless, a ghost who tells them that the playground is magic: the swings let you look into people’s dreams; the sandbox brings your worst fears to life, and the slide has the power to give or take years from your life, depending on the direction you go. When another friend goes down the slide, rapidly ages, and develops dementia, the two friends must save him – and to do that, they must discover who Toothless really is, and how he came to haunt the playground.

Heavily influenced by Japanese and French comics, this black-and-white graphic novel is eerie and unsettling; a strong noir story with ghostly elements woven throughout to create a story that will stay with readers.

 

Chasma Knights, by Boya Sun & Kate Reed Petty, (May 218, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626726048

Recommended for readers 8-12

Beryl is a Neon Knight in the fantasy land of Chasma, where toys “catalyze” with a touch and come to life, merging with their owners and imbued with special abilities. But the thing is, in Chasma, being a Neon Knight isn’t that great – it’s kind of a joke. Neon Knights can’t catalyze; Oxygen Knights do. But Beryl has a talent all her own: she’s an inventor that can repurpose broken toys into new creations. Coro, an Oxygen Knight, meets Beryl at the Toy Market, and the two strike up an initially cautious friendship.

I’ll be honest, this one left me scratching my head – I didn’t always quite get what was going on, but I did appreciate the kid-friendly artwork and storyline: who wouldn’t want to read about toys coming to life? I booktalked this to a few of my library kids – all big manga fans – and they seemed to have a better grasp on the concept than I did, so go them! My best advice? It’s a fun, bright, kid-friendly graphic novel. Let your audience be your guide.

And two that are already out, but that I just read…

Chloe, Vol. 1: The New Girl, by Greg Tessier and Amandine, (May 2017, Papercutz), $9.99, ISABN: 9781629917634

Recommended for readers 10-12

Originally published in French, the Chloe graphic novels are fun stories about a fashion-fabulous teen named Chloe as she navigates high school, friendships, and relationships. Her family mortifies her, and the mean girl fashionistas at school are mean to her – in other words, she’s totally relatable. In this first issue, Chloe starts high school and tries to get in with the in crowd. The artwork is fun and the subject matter is light.

Chloe, Vol. 2: The Queen of High School, by Greg Tessier and Amandine, (October 2017, Papercutz), $9.99, ISBN: 9781629917634

Recommended for readers 10-12

In this second volume, Chloe is back for her second year of high school and taking things by storm. She’s got a cute new boyfriend, a fashion blog, and a group of friends to call her own. She’s still got embarrassing parents and mean girls at school, but she’s taking it all in stride.
There are four Chloe volumes in total available. These would be good for Summer Reading groups, maybe even in conjunction with a blog project for tweens!
Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Humor, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

The Problim Children: Seven kids, seven days of the week, and an age-old mystery

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.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Alien abduction, or something… more? Losing the Girl has questions.

Losing the Girl (#1), by MariNaomi, (May 2018, Lerner Publishing Group/Graphic Universe), $29.32, ISBN: 9781512449105

Recommended for readers 13+

A 14 year-old girl disappears, leaving questions and rumors in her wake. She’s the topic of conversation at her school, Blithedale High, but a group of teens have their own daily drama to work through, too. Nigel is desperate for a girlfriend who will laugh at his jokes, but Emily, the object of his affections, decides to pursue a relationship with heartthrob Brett, who doesn’t really seem to emotionally invest himself in anything. Emily undergoes a major life shake-up, which gives her friend – or frenemy – Paula a chance to steal what she perceives to be Emily’s spotlight.

Losing the Girl is about lives intersecting, with the main focus – the “lost” girl – being the common thread. She’s the character the conversation drifts back to, the reader’s focal point as we glimpse into the lives of four teens. This first installment didn’t quite grab me, but I think teens who want real-life storytelling will give this one a shot.

MariNaomi is an award-winning writer and illustrator; she’s an Eisner award nominee, and a podcaster. You can find out more by visiting her website.