Posted in Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Shannon Hale Talks Cool Kids, Crybabies, and Real Friends

Real Friends, by Shannon Hale/Illustrated by LeUyen Pham, (May 2017, :01 First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1-62672-785-4

Recommended for readers 8-13

How do I even start my gushing over Shannon Hale’s memoir about family, friendship, and growing pains? I’m a Shannon Hale fan and a LeUyen Pham fan; their collaborations – like on one of my favorite chapter book series, Princess in Black – work so well, visually and literally, it’s a treat for the eyes, the imagination, the whole reader is satisfied.

Here, we see young Shannon’s life from Kindergarten through fifth grade in terms of her relationships; with her mother, a series of friends, her troubled and sometimes abusive sister, and with God. Primarily, this is a story of how Shannon struggled with The Group. We all know The Group. Mean Girls was a story about The Group; just about every high school or middle school movie or TV show has a Group. It’s the in-crowd, the girls who make lives miserable for everyone that isn’t part of their group – and sometimes, even for the people in the group. Shannon desperately wants friends, but with friends comes the stress of being part of The Group and putting up with the mind games and backstabbing that is aimed at her by another jealous group member. At home, she tries to navigate relationships with her large family, trying to give her temperamental sister, Wendy, a wide berth.

We see the effects of stress on Shannon, who develops OCD-type behavior and manifests physical ailments often associated with anxiety. We also see how Shannon copes by creating her imaginary worlds – she’s a Wonder Woman, a Charlie’s Angel, a secret agent, and she brings her friends along for the ride. This book is powerful for a girl who, like Shannon, grew up in the ’70s, disappeared into my own imagination, and struggled for years with Groups and backstabbing. I’m an only child, but Shannon could have been writing about me – and that’s how readers will feel reading this book, just like readers do when they read literally anything by Raina Telgemeier.

Readers will know this is their story, whether they’re an 8 year old kid or a 46 year old librarian and book blogger; maybe there’s a boy out there who, like Shannon or Kayla, another character, hides in the bushes so no one will see them crying and make fun of them. Real Friends is painful, real, and beautiful.

Real Friends received a starred review from School Library Journal, and Kirkus offers an interview with Shannon and Dean Hale. Wander over to Shannon Hale’s author page for information on her other books, games and quizzes, and more; LeUyen Pham’s webpage is loaded with neat things to see, including a free, downloadable Love: Pass It On poster, and links to her illustration, Facebook, and book pages.

This one is a no-brainer for collections. Display with Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl, Raina Telgemeier’s Smile, and Sisters, and novels like Jennifer L. Holm’s Fourteenth Goldfish,  and Dana Alison Levy’s Family Fletcher books. If it’s a display or book talk on self-esteem and standing up to the crowd, make sure to include Kathryn Otoshi’s Zero, One, and Two.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

The Blue Songbird discovers her song

The Blue Songbird, by Vern Kousky, (Apr. 2017, Running Press Kids), $22.49, ISBN: 9780762460663

Recommended for readers 4-8

A young blue songbird wishes that she could sing like her sisters. She wants to sing along with them, but she can’t seem to sing like they do. Her mother encourages her to go and find a special song that only she can sing, and the little bird sets off in search of her special song. She meets other birds and experiences the world, only to discover that, upon reaching home again, her song was inside of her all along.

The sweet story of self-awareness also shows readers that your experiences help make you who you are. The songbird’s song is influenced by her travels and who she met; the music was inside of her all along, but venturing out – and returning home – helped shape the music into a song.

The watercolor artwork is beautiful to look at. The colors are soft and the depiction of the music, as a spray of notes and color, is lovely and stirring. The text encourages kids to explore their world, even if, at a young age, that world is their backyards, their playgrounds, their friends’ homes. At the same time, it reassures kids that they can always return home.

There are so many ways to enjoy and extend the lessons put forth in this story. The little birds can be recreated with thumbprint art. Have little readers make their own songbird families by using watercolor paint, dipping their thumbs into a color, and giving their own songbirds adventures in finding their songs. Encourage kids to go on scavenger hunts – I love this idea for scavenger hunt bags and plan to go on an adventure with my little guy once this crazy NYC weather lets up – to explore the world around them.

Good readalikes for this book include A Song for Papa Crow, by Marit Menzin, and the classic Over in the Meadow. Over the Meadow also makes a good singalong and flannel play.

Vern Kousky is an adjunct professor of English for Touro College and the author of the award-winning book, Otto the Owl Who Loved Poetry. You can see more of his artwork, including some interior art from The Blue Songbird, at his website.

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

She’s full of glitter, she’s wielding a glue gun… She’s The Amazing Crafty Cat!

crafty-cat_1The Amazing Crafty Cat, by Charise Mericle Harper, (Apr. 2016, First Second), $13.99, ISBN: 9781626724860

Recommended for ages 7-10

Bridie is a little girl who loves, loves, LOVES to craft: so much, that she has an alter ego: the Amazing Crafty Cat! Crafty Cat can craft anything, anytime! Crafty Cat becomes Bridie again so she can go to school; she’s excited because it’s her birthday and she’s got special panda cupcakes for everyone during birthday break – even Anya, the class bully. She just knows these cupcakes will make her the school star… and then, Bridie falls, sending the cupcakes flying. She gets stains on her dress trying to pick up the cupcakes. Grandpa is supposed to come to the rescue, bringing something to hand out snack time, but that’s just a disaster. Things aren’t supposed to go wrong on her birthday! What is Bridie going to do? She’s got hungry classmates! Looks like a job for… THE AMAZING CRAFTY CAT.

The first book in the Fashion Kitty/Just Grace author’s new trilogy is just too much fun. There’s a great message about teaching kids resiliency and how to fall back on Plan B… and Plan C, if necessary. Plus, there are craft ideas and template at the end of the book! You know what I’m going to say… it’s a program in a book! Make Crafty Cat your next book talk/activity; do your scanning and photocopying ahead of time, and let your kids work on the crafts as you talk about things that went wrong for them (and you), and how you all bounced back from them. Such a fun addition to graphic novel and intermediate collections, you’ll never keep them on the shelf.  Now, we just need a Crafty Cat website with some videos…

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Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

A Horse Named Steve is exceptional!

steveA Horse Named Steve, by Kelly Collier, (April 2017, Kids Can Press), $16.95, ISBN: 9781771387361

Recommended for readers 4-8

Steve is a horse that’s just fine as he is, but he thinks he can be better. He wants to be exceptional. He finds a beautiful gold horn lying on the ground in the forest, and that’s it: he’s found the pass to being exceptional! He ties the horn on his head and showboats to all of his woodland friends, who are so taken, they find items to tie on their own heads: sticks, rocks, anything they can find. But Steve accidentally loses his horn – oh no! What’s an exceptional horse to do when he loses his exceptional horn?

A Horse Named Steve is hilarious in its side commentary (notes throughout the book explain words like devastated: “that means really, really bummed”, or refer to his moods: “Mr. Mopeypants”) and its execution of an image-obsessed horse, but kids will get it: it’s not what you wear, or how you look. The commentary adds a little wink, wink, nudge, nudge humor to kids, bringing them in on the joke, and the raccoon that isn’t quite as enamored of Steve gives kids an entry point to a discussion: why doesn’t he think Steve’s so great? Do you think Steve is treating his friends with respect? What really makes our friends special?

Kelly Collier’s two-color ink and watercolor art, finished in Photoshop, is adorable and fun. Steve’s physicality plays up his ego for laughs, and there are visual jokes aplenty, especially when his golden horn slips from on top of his head to under his chin. Playing with fonts brings more humor to the page by emphasizing different words and making Steve’s very name a standout with curlicues and bolding.

You can have a lot of storytime fun with this book: make horns with your readers! For older readers, pair this one with Dr. Seuss’ The Sneetches for a good discussion on the value we place on appearances.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Early Reader, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate

Narwhal & Jelly: Besties under the sea!

narwhalNarwhal: Unicorn of the Sea, by Ben Clanton, (Dec. 2016, Tundra Books), $7.99, ISBN: 9781101918715

Recommended for ages 5-8

Narwhal is a happy-go-lucky narwhal is a wild imagination. Jelly is… not. That’s okay by Narwhal, they both bond over a mutual love of waffles, parties, and having adventures! Together, the two friends recruit other sea friends into their own little group and read the best book ever – so what if it doesn’t have words or pictures? They have imagination!

This hybrid intermediate novel/graphic novel is perfect for beginning readers (psst… and grown-ups) who love silly jokes, adorable art, and fun. Kids will enjoy this Odd Couple under the sea, and learn that friends don’t have to enjoy all of the same things to get along. The art is squeal-worthy adorable, and the dialogue between the two friends is light and fun. Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea has hit it big with readers, too: the book has received multiple awards and praise, including a starred Kirkus review, designation as the Best of the Year in 2016 by both Amazon and Kirkus, and was put on the Texas 2×2 Reading List.

 

If you lovsupernarwhaled Narwhal’s first book, get ready: Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt (May 2017, Tundra, $12.99, ISBN: 9781101919194) is coming in May! In their second outing, the two best friends become super heroes – now, if they could just figure out what their powers are… As with the first book, Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt features three short stories connected by the overall plot thread: in this case, being a superhero and a friend. Friendship, imagination, and self-esteem are enduring themes.

Ben Clanton has some fun extras available online. His website links to his Instagram, if you want to see even more of his art as he posts it; the site hosts his blog, which spotlights even more of his artwork, including this awesome “Jellin'” piece:

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There’s also a Narwhal and Jelly site, with comics, printables, jokes, and early art mock-ups. This is a super-fun set to add to your graphic novels and intermediate books, and you can display with the veritable plethora of narwhal-related books coming out, like Jessie Sima’s Not Quite Narwhal and Wendell the Narwhal by Emily Dove. Make a display and feature some non-fiction narwhal and jellyfish-related books, or get a whole sea life shelf up, featuring fiction and nonfiction for some related reads.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads, Realistic Fiction

What is it that Lou can’t do?

louThe Thing Lou Couldn’t Do, by Ashley Spires, (May 2017, Kids Can Press), $17.95, ISBN: 9781771387279

Recommended for ages 3-7

Lou and her friends are adventurers! They run faster than airplanes, build mighty fortresses, and rescue wild animals. One day, though, Lou’s friends decide to make a nearby tree the location of their pirate ship, and Lou balks. She’s never climbed a tree before. She likes her adventures to be down, on the ground. Her friends scurry up the tree, but Lou’s not going. What will it take for Lou to get up that tree?

Kids will recognize themselves in Lou, whose got a vibrant imagination, a great group of friends, and a healthy fear of a climbing a tree, which – let’s be honest – can be a pretty scary thing. Like most kids, Lou tries to divert her friends’ attention by suggesting “not-up-a-tree games” and stalling (changing her shoes, claiming an injury, spotting an asteroid heading right for them). With her friends’ encouragement, Lou does attempt that climb – and when she doesn’t make it, her friends are right there for her, heading for a playground to continue their game. Is Lou defeated? Nope. She’s going to try again, maybe even tomorrow. Showing a child overcome her fear and her self-reliance when she doesn’t succeed the first time sends a positive message to kids who may struggle with anxiety over new situations; surrounding her main character with supportive friends sends a message to all kids, to support one another and to compromise.

The digital art is fun and will appeal to all kids; the group of friends is diverse and no one is relegated to “girl” or “boy” roles here – they’re all pirates, race car drivers, or deep sea divers. They’re kids, playing together, like kids do.

I loved Ashley Spires’ award-winning book, The Most Magnificent Thing, and her Binky the Space Cat series has been a winner at any library I’ve worked at. I love her positive messages of self-reliance and the power of imagination, and I can’t wait to get this book on the shelves next to my other Spires books. A great book for elementary collections and kids who are learning that it’s okay to be scared sometimes.

Check out Ashley Spires’ website for more of her artwork and information about her books.

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

And they lived happily ever after…

princess-princessPrincess Princess Ever After, by Katie O’Neill, (Sept. 2016, Oni Press), $12.99, ISBN: 9781620103401

Recommended for ages 9-13

Princess Sadie is so over the princes and their lame rescue attempts that she quietly sabotages her own rescues – that is, until Princess Amira happens along. Mohawked and determined to strike out on her own, in no mood to settle down to standard princess life herself, Amira frees Sadie and gives her self-esteem a much-needed boost. Joining forces, the two princesses face a jealous sorceress who has a very personal grudge with Sadie, and discover that they can create their own happily ever after, no princes necessary.

I adore this story. It has so many empowering messages, I want to hand copies of them out to every kid I see, every classroom I visit. It’s a story of doing it yourself; of self-esteem and loving yourself; of the freedom to love. The cartoon art is bright, happy, and even includes the cutest little dragon to fall in love with, because at heart, this is a princess story. It’s soft and feminine while delivering a strong, gorgeous message. Display and booktalk this with the Princeless and Lumberjanes series of comics and trade paperbacks – and read them yourself! They’re fantastic!

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This book has received a lot of buzz, including a lovely Lambda Literary review and a 2016 Best Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novels nomination from the CYBILS. It was also awarded best book/graphic novel and shortlisted for best overall comic in the first annual Autostraddle Comic and Sequential Art Awards. Visit Katie O’Neill’s website to see and read more about her work.

This is an important book to have in your collections, and an adorable fantasy tale on top of it. Why wouldn’t you want a one-two winner like this?

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Art courtesy of StrangelyKatie.com