Mom Read It

If the kids are reading it, chances are I have, too.

Historical middle-grade fiction: Snakes and Stones March 20, 2017

Snakes and Stones, by Lisa Fowler, (Nov. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $15.99, ISBN: 978-1-5107-1031-3

Recommended for readers 9-12

The year is 1921, and Chestnut Hill, a 12 year old girl, travels with her father and 7 year-old triplet siblings (also named after nuts) across the American south, putting on medicine shows so her daddy can sell his elixir. Daddy’s a snake oil merchant, and Chestnut is sick and tired of living in a cramped wagon, wearing clothes to rags, and going to bed with a rumbling stomach. She’s mad at Daddy from stealing her and her siblings away from their Mama, who must be out of her mind with grief right now. Even when the Hill family meets up with Abraham, a friend of her father’s, who tells her that there’s a lot Chestnut doesn’t know about her Daddy, she refuses to believe it and decides to take matters into her own hands, setting off a chain of events that will change her and her family.

I was happy to see a middle grade historical fiction piece take place in the early ’20s – it’s an interesting time that hasn’t seen a lot of middle grade storytelling just yet. Lisa Fowler has several strong characters here, most notably, Chestnut, who narrates the story. Her father is a seeming ne’er do well, a con man with a heart of gold, who just doesn’t know how to take care of his family; Abraham, an African-American character, allows for a look at the everyday racism and segregation in the South. Readers may get tired of Chestnut’s firm belief that her father’s the bad guy, especially when there’s clearly more to the story that Abraham knows but won’t discuss. While Abraham is a potentially strong character to highlight the racial issues in the Southern U.S., readers may be put off by the way his speech is written, which can be construed as negative stereotyping rather than striving for historical accuracy.

Overall, it’s a story that means well but gets caught up in melodrama and possibly troubling characterization.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dance like your life depends on it: Spin the Sky March 17, 2017

Spin the Sky, by Jill MacKenzie, (Nov. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1510706866

Recommended for readers 14+

Eighteen year-old Magnolia Woodson and her older sister, Rose, have to live with the sins of their drug addict mother, who abandoned them after a tragedy a year before. Living in a small clamming town in Oregon, everyone knows who they are and what happened; the only folks who seem to think differently are Magnolia’s childhood best friend, George, and his mother, who’s taken care of the girls whenever their mother fell short. To change the way the town sees Magnolia and her sister, she decides she need to win the reality dance show, Live to Dance. She and George head to Portland to audition, but they make it! Now the real work begins: will the competition be too much for Mags? Will her friendship with George survive the stress of the show, and will she be able to live in the fishbowl that is reality television, especially with a secret she doesn’t want made public?

Spin the Sky has a strong premise that isn’t afraid to tackle some hot-button topics like drug addiction, sexuality, abortion, and miscarriage. Some of your more conservative readers may shy away from this one; steer them toward books like Sophie Flack’s Bunheads, Lorri Hewett’s Dancer, or Sarah Rubin’s Someday Dancer. Magnolia is a tough character to crack: she’s consumed with what other people think of her, and obsesses over winning the competition, seemingly just so that the town will accept her and her sister. She has a complicated love-hate relationship with her mother (understandably), and she has an unrequited crush on George, who she thinks is gay – and is really upset when it seems that isn’t the case. The other contestants all have their own issues that the author briefly touches on throughout the novel.

If you have readers who love reading about dance and are interested in reality television, Spin the Sky is a good backup for your shelves.

 

The Tale of the Mighty Brobarians! March 13, 2017

Brobarians, by Lindsay Ward, (March 2017, Two Lions/Amazon Publishing), $17.99, ISBN: 978-15039-6167-0

Recommended for readers 3-7

“Two barbarians, once at peace – Uh-Oh! – were now at odds.” Otto and Iggy are brothers and barbarians, but when Iggy stages a takeover of the land, Otto fights back and the two go to war. Told as an epic tale, Brobarians is the adorably fun story of two brothers and their disagreement, resolved only when a higher power interferes.

This book is adorable. The endpaper maps that depict Otto’s (he’s the bigger brother, so I assume he created them) layout of his and Iggy’s territory, the illuminated manuscript-like exposition that leads into the tale and the epic storytelling style are wonderful. If you’re a fan of sword and sorcery movies like I am, then you’ll hear the Conan the Barbarian-like narration in your head and squeal with joy.

The art – cut paper, pencil, and crayon on chipboard – escalates, dipping into the brobarians’ imaginations to render them as fierce (but still really cute) brothers on wild steeds. The fonts are exaggerated, colorful, providing readers with a wholly fun storytime experience. You can’t read this in a monotone, you just can’t. I read it to my little guy and immediately slipped into epic narrator mode, with mock gravity and urgency at different points of the story. I was rewarded with belly laughs, which are wonderfully contagious.

You need this book for the kids you love. Heck, you need this book for yourself. Let’s try and see my kid get this off my bookshelf, where it lives next to my Red Sonja comics!

About the Author
Lindsay Ward would never have written this book if she hadn’t stayed up late one night watching Conan the Barbarian. She finds the idea of baby barbarians to be very funny . . . and hopes you do too. Lindsay’s recent books include Rosco vs. the Baby and The Importance of Being 3. Most days you can find her writing and sketching at home in Ohio with her family. Learn more about her at www.lindsaymward.com or on Twitter: @lindsaymward. She’s got Brobarians activities coming soon, too – keep an eye on the website!

Praise for BROBARIANS:

“Highly cinematic, both in imagery and narrative soundtrack…Good and campy and a fine opportunity for vocabulary building.”—Kirkus Reviews

“As readalouds go, it’s pretty epic.” – Publishers Weekly

 

Giveaway!

One lucky winner will receive a copy of BROBARIANS courtesy of Two Lions (U.S. addresses). Enter a Rafflecopter giveaway here!

 

Dragons pop off the page – for real! – in Dragon Hunters! March 5, 2017

31409133The Dragon Hunters (The Dragon Brothers Trilogy, #1), by James Russell/Illustrated by Link Choi, (Apr. 2017, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-4926-4861-1

Recommended for readers 5-10

Brothers Flynn and Paddy are on a rescue mission: their dog has been kidnapped by a dragon! Mom thinks it’s all part of their goofing around, but the boys are determined and set off to rescue poor Coco from the dragon’s clutches – hope they can get out unsinged!

The Dragon Hunters – originally published in New Zealand in 2012 – is a fun, rhyming fantasy tale for grade school level kids, but preschoolers will also appreciate the rhyming tale and the cartoony art. The dragon is bold, red, and mean, gorgeous in its sinister ferocity. Pages alternate with full color art and sketches (I’ve got an ARC – this may not be the case with the finished version), and the longer length of the tale gives it an old-school, epic poem feeling.

The best part of this book? The augmented reality! Download a free app for your tablet or smartphone, hold it over the map endpapers of the book, and see the map come to life! There’s a little bit of sound, but the real thrill is seeing the landscape come to life, complete with little dragon flying over the mountains and the steaming Putrid Plains. My little guy went nuts for it, and so did my coworker’s tween daughter. I tried to capture it using my phone camera, but the Dragon Hunters site does this far better justice than my overworked Samsung. Take a look:

The site also offers free coloring sheets, which makes my passive programmer’s heart SING.

The Dragon Hunters is the first in a trilogy, all of which are publishing this year. The Dragon Tamers hits shelves in June, and The Dragon Riders arrives in August. James Russell has a chapter book series called The Dragon Defenders coming out this year – let’s hope it reaches American shores, so middle graders can enjoy Paddy, Flynn, and Coco.

Artist Link Choi’s work on The Dragon Hunters was a finalist for New Zealand’s Russell Clark Medal for Illustration. See more of his illustration at his website.

 

 

Things aren’t right in The Spill Zone… March 3, 2017

spillzone_1Spill Zone, by Scott Westerfeld/Alex Puvilland, (May 2017, First Second), $22.99, ISBN: 9781596439368

Recommended for ages 12+

Something happened three years ago in the upstate New York city of Poughkeepsie. Now known as The Spill Zone, it’s forbidden to enter – things are different there now. There’s danger in the Spill Zone; things that just shouldn’t be. Addison and Lexa are sisters who lost their parents that night. Lexa, the younger sister, hasn’t spoken since, preferring instead to quietly communicate with her doll. Is that conversation in her head? Who knows? Addison provides for herself and her sister by sneaking into the Spill Zone at night to take photos of the bizarre images in the Zone, often risking personal safety to get the most disturbing shots. Collectors offer big money for these shots, but one collector in particular gets in touch with Addison and offers her a deal she can’t possibly turn down: a million dollars, but she has to go into the Zone hospital where her parents died.

 

Can you escape Monsterville? March 1, 2017

monstervilleMonsterville: A Lissa Black Production, by Sarah S. Reida, (Sept. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781510707337

Recommended for readers 9-13

Jumanji meets Goosebumps in this fun and unexpectedly touching novel. Lissa Black is not happy with her family’s decision to move out of their Manhattan apartment to a house in Freeburg, Pennsylvania, inherited when her great-aunt passes away. She’s away from her friends, her school, and the conveniences of living in New York City; she’s only got the neighbor kid, Adam, who’s set on making her appreciate life outside of the city, and this weird game, Monsterville, that she found in her aunt’s basement. Just as Lissa is set on languishing in the wilds of PA, she discovers a sad, shape-shifting goblin she calls Blue, who’s escaped from Down Under. Blue’s so sad that Lissa and Adam feed him and check in on him, but when Lissa discovers he can shape-shift, she decides to make a documentary starring Blue. But an interview with the goblin uncovers secrets that put Lissa’s family at risk. When her little sister is kidnapped and taken Down Under on Halloween, Lissa and Adam have to go in after her, and the Monsterville game is their only hope of making it back.

Lissa is hard to like at first: she’s a great older sister, but largely self-centered and snobbish at the novel’s outset. As the story progresses, and the urgency not only of Blue’s situation, but her sister’s, hits home, though, Lissa rises to the occasion and grows into a strong female character that I was rooting for. I liked her supportive, loving family and I really liked the glimpse we got of her mysterious aunt. I think a Monsterville prequel is in order, to tell her story! There was great world-building Up Above and Down Below, with Adam acting as Lissa’s – and the reader’s – guide to rural life, and the Monsterville game laying out Down Below for us before we even get there. I ended up loving this book and can’t wait to booktalk this. A film glossary at the end introduces readers to film terms, most of which show up in Monsterville – Lissa is a filmmaker, after all.

Challenge your readers to make up their own version of Monsterville! What monsters would inhabit their Down Under? What would counteract the monsters and help humans escape? This could be a great summer reading group program, just saying…

Monsterville is Sarah S. Reida’s debut novel. Find teacher resources at LissaBlackProductions.com, which also links to Sarah’s author blog and appearances.

 

 

Waiting for Sophie is great older sibling reading! February 25, 2017

sophieWaiting for Sophie, by Sarah Ellis/Illustrated by Carmen Mok, (April 2017, Pajama Press), $10.95, ISBN: 9781772780208

Recommended for ages 5-8

Liam can’t wait for his little sister, Sophie, to be born; once she arrives, though, he’s disappointed when she can’t do very much just yet. She can’t talk, she can’t play, and she makes quite a bit of noise. How long is it going to take before she grows up, already? Together, Liam and Nana-Downstairs, his grandmother who lives… well, downstairs, build a Get Older Faster Machine that Liam hopes will help move things along.

Waiting for Sophie is a great older sibling book for younger school-age kids. Sarah Ellis not only captures the excitement of waiting for a new baby brother or sister, but also gives voice to the little frustrations kids can experience when dealing with a new baby in the house, and the desire to have a playmate their age. Sarah Ellis shows readers the fun side of being an older brother, like being the one to make the baby giggle. The gently colored illustrations make this a cozy reading choice for parents and kids, or educators discussing caregiving, to gather together and enjoy. This is a good book for any expectant sibling – you can easily equate the excitement of waiting for an adopted sibling to arrive with Liam’s waiting for Mom to bring Sophie home.