Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

ER for the weird: Saint Philomene’s Infirmary for Magical Creatures

Saint Philomene’s Infirmary for Magical Creatures, by W. Stone Cotter, (Jan. 2018, Henry Holt & Co), $16.99, ISBN: 9781627792578

Recommended for readers 9-13

Twelve-year-old Chance Jeopard digs a giant hole, cracks a pipe, and discovers a mysterious letter with an urgent message. He never knew that there was a hospital for magical creatures right underneath him until that moment, but St. Philomene’s Infirmary for Magical Creatures – a 955-year-old underground infirmary with over 6,000 levels and 1.8 million patients – is in grave danger if he doesn’t get this letter delivered. There’s a human down there, ready to unleash a deadly virus, and this letter details the cure. The only problem? No. Humans. Allowed. Chance and his science-minded sister, Pauline, along with her best friend, goth girl Mersey, are on a mission to save the day, as long as they avoid getting sniffed out by the current inhabitants. They’ll encounter ghouls, vampires, Deviklopts, Geckasofts, and more as they race against time to save the Infirmary.

Saint Philomene’s is madcap, crazy fun. Chance is an earnest, likable character who finds himself tossed into the middle of a crazy mission, when he really just wanted to be the messenger. Pauline is a pragmatic realist, and her friendship with goth Mersey make them wonderful foils for one another, especially once they find themselves pulled into the madness of Saint Philomene’s. While the frenetic pacing may overwhelm some readers, fantasy fans will get a kick out of this one.

 

 

first chapter https://www.saintphilomenes.com/

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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 Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Vivian French creates fun fairy tales!

The Cherry Pie Princess, by Vivian French/Illustrated by Marta Kissi, (March 2018, Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 9781610677332

Recommended for readers 7-11

Peony is the youngest of her princess sisters. She’s also the one with manners, and who loves to read. When a baby brother is born, her parents are thrilled and demand a huge celebration, but Peony’s father – who may be a tyrant – only wants people who will give good gifts and who are the “right” kind of people at the party, which leaves out The Hag, a powerful witch who doesn’t take kindly to being ignored. It’s up to Peony to use her brains to save the town librarian and an aspiring court jester that her father locked in the dungeon, her baby brother, and the entire kingdom. No pressure!

Vivian French’s fairy tales are so much fun to read. They’ve got wonderful heroines and heroes, and a dramatis personae of dramatic foils that are generally (comically) awful people. In this case, Peony, who loves the library, borrows a cookbook and learns how to bake while her father has the librarian thrown in the dungeon for daring to speak directly to Peony. Who discovers this years later, when her own father locks her up for daring to talk back to him. It’s Peony’s book smarts and sense of decency that combine to help her take charge of the situation when The Hag shows up to cause trouble, and save the day. There’s humor, fun and diverse characters – the three good fairy godmothers appear to be African-American – and Marta Kissi’s entertaining black and white artwork make this a fun read for fantasy fans, princess fans, and readers who love a book with a message. Plus, there’s a talking cat and a librarian. So, bonus.

Props to Marta Kissi for nailing a picture of me at the end of a day at the library, without even knowing me:

 

The Adventures of Alfie Onion, by Vivian French/Illustrated by Marta Kissi, (March 2018, Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 9781610677325

Recommended for readers 7-11

Alfie Onion could really have had a chip on his shoulder, and no one would blame him. He’s the eighth son of a seventh son, an inconvenience to his mother, who lavishes all her attentions on her seventh son of a seventh son, Magnifico. You see, his mother grew up obsessed with fairy tales, and was convinced that the seventh son of a seventh son was destined for greatness; Magnifico is his mother’s long-tail get-rich scheme. The thing is, Magnifico is a spoiled brat who pretty much knows how to eat. And that’s that. So when his mother pushes him off to start his great adventures, Magnifico takes Alfie (and his dog, Bowser) along to carry his luggage. Guess who the real hero is going to be?

I am so happy to read that these two books are the beginning of a new stand-alone series; they are so much fun to read and address modern-day problems in a fairy tale setting. Like The Cherry Pie Princess, Alfie Onion has a positive hero with overwrought, melodramatic antagonist foils. Alfie is always respectful and kind, where Magnifico is selfish and rude; when danger lurks, Magnifico expects Alfie to protect him: some hero! The humor is light and fun, with all the fantasy dressing: forests, trolls, talking birds and mice, a lovelorn ogress, a faithful dog, and a hero’s quest. Marta Kissi’s illustrations just add to the fun here, especially when the adventure takes a turn into an ogrish rubbish pit.

Do you have readers who love Whatever After? Grimmtastic Girls? Hand them these, and tell them to enjoy. Have boys who think fairy tales are for girls? First, tell them they’re clearly not reading the right fairy tales, and hand them these, too.

 

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, picture books, Preschool Reads

June Picture Book Roundup

There are so many good books for Summer Reading hitting shelves in June! Let younger readers explore new worlds and meet new friends with some of these picture books.

Seven Pablos, by Jorge Luján/Illustrated by Chiara Carrer, Translated by Mara Lethem, (June 2018, Enchanted Lion Books), $17.95, ISBN: 9781592702534

Seven boys share the same name. Seven short vignettes share the stories of seven lives, taking readers from the copper mines in Chile to a refugee family living in Mexico, from a garbage dump in Peru to a streets of the Bronx, New York. Seven Pablos sheds light on the living conditions of children around the world in sparse, quietly powerful text. Graphite pencil art creates a dreamlike atmosphere for this lyrical story by Poet Jorge Luján.

Seven Pablos is deeply moving and continues to call attention to the plight of migrant and refugee families around the world. One scene expresses the rage these kids hold within them, as one Pablo tells a visiting poet that he wants to be a “big guy in a uniform” so he can “beat people up and get away with it”. A refugee Pablo recites a poem – in actuality, written by a 9-year-old Argentine child – where he imagines soldiers crushing roofs with their boots. Luján ends his story with the beautiful reminder that there are many Pablos in the world, and each one has a heart that beats with the rhythm of our world.

The Turtle Ship, by Helena Ku Rhee/Illustrated by Colleen Kong-Savage, (June 2018, Lee and Low Books), $17.95, ISBN: 9781885008909
Recommended for readers 6-12
This folk tale is based on Korean history. A boy named Sun-sin dreams of seeing the world with his pet turtle, Gobugi, and discovers his chance when the king announces a contest: design the best battleship to defend the land. The winner will receive ten bags of copper coins and the chance to travel with the royal navy. After a few failed attempts at a design, Sun-sin notices that his turtle is strong, slow, and steady, and decides that the best design will be based on Gobugi. At first, he’s laughed at in the king’s court, but when a cat tries to attack the turtle, the king and his court all see that there is something to the boy’s idea. Thus, the Korean Turtle Ships were created, and the boy grew to be famed Admiral Yi Sun-sin.
The story is best served by the incredible paper collage artwork, created using paper from all over the world. The art gives the story drama, color, and texture, and the story itself is as good for read-alouds as it is for independent reading. This is a nice addition to historical collections and cultural folktales. An author note on the Korean Turtle Ships provides some background on the legend of Yi Sun-sin and the Turtle Ship design.

Johnny, by Guido van Genechten, (June 2018, Clavis Publishing), $17.95, ISBN: 9781605373775

Recommended for readers 3-5

Johnny is an adorable spider with a secret to share, but everyone’s afraid of him! Wanna know his secret? It’s his birthday, and he wants to share his cake! This adorable book by Guido van Genechten is a good story to read when talking to kids about judging others based solely on appearances.

I have to admit, I needed to read this one a couple of times because I felt so bad for Johnny! It’s his birthday, and he’s all alone because everyone’s afraid of him! And then I figured it out: that’s the point. I mean, I know it was the point to begin with, but having Johnny celebrate with only the reader by the story’s end leaves a reader feeling badly – and that’s the time to talk about empathy. Ask kids how they would feel if people didn’t want to be near them because someone didn’t like the way they looked. Ask how they would feel if they had a birthday party and no one came! And then, for heaven’s sake, throw Johnny a birthday party: have some cupcakes and fruit punch, and sing Happy Birthday to the poor guy. He deserves it. Guido van Genechten’s cute, expressive, boldly outlined artwork is instantly recognizable and appealing to younger readers.

 

Swim Bark Run, by Brian & Pamela Boyle/Illustrated by Beth Hughes, (June 2018, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781510726963

Recommended for readers 3-7

Daisy the Bulldog is so proud of her humans, Brian and Pam, when they compete in triathlons. She wonders if she could train and compete like they do, and decides to enlist the help of her fellow doggie buddies, Rascal, Atticus, and Hobie, to hold their own Dog-Athlon! Daisy is full of energy at first, but when she starts getting tired, a familiar face at the finish line gives her the boost she needs!

Swim Bark Run is a cute book about physical activity, competition and cooperation, and determination. The digital artwork is bright and cute, giving the dogs happy, friendly faces and includes a nice amount of action as the pups train for their big day. There are positive messages about working together and encouraging one another. This is a cute additional add for readers who like animal books and books about physical fitness.

Seven Bad Cats, by Moe Bonneau, (June 2018, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $17.99, ISBN: 9781492657101

Recommended for readers 4-7

A child gets ready to go out on a fishing boat, but seven bad cats make progress very difficult. I love this rhyming, counting tale of seven cats who do what cats do best: get in the way! They eat from the traps, take naps on the oars and steal the child’s gloves, and generally make themselves a nuisance until the boat flips over, and the cats band together to save the day. The book counts up from one to seven until the boat flips everything over, including the story, and the countdown from seven back to one ends the fun. The watercolor artwork adds a nice, watery feel to this seafaring tale, and the cats are hilarious, using their whole bodies to get up to all sorts of no good; even appearing in mug shots on one page. They sprawl, they curl, they stretch, and they swim – they may not like it, but a cat’s gotta do what a cat’s gotta do! This one is a thoroughly enjoyable add to storytime and concept collections. Give this to your cat loving kids! (Also good for a readaloud with flannels or beanie babies.)

 

Finn’s Feather, by Rachel Noble/Illustrated by Zoey Abbot, (June 2018, Enchanted Lion), $17.95, ISBN: 9781592702398

Recommended for readers 4-8

In this touching story about grief, loss, and remembrance, a young boy named Finn finds a feather at his doorstep. It’s white, amazing, perfect. It has to be from his brother, Hamish, and Finn tells his mother and his teacher, who take a deep breath and smile; Finn doesn’t understand why they aren’t as excited as he is. His friend Lucas is, though: it’s got to be an angel’s feather, it’s so perfect, and the two friends take Hamish with them on the playground, running with the feather as if it were an additional friend. Finn uses the feather as a quill to write a note to Hamish that evening, and sets the envelope holding the letter in a tree, so the wind will carry it to Hamish.

Inspired by author Rachel Noble’s loss, this moving story about a sibling grieving and remembering is gentle, understanding, and an excellent book to have available for children moving through grief. The soft pencil artwork and gentle colors provide a calming, soothing feel to the story.

 

Ready to Ride, by Sébastien Pelon, (June 2018, words & pictures), $17.95, ISBN: 9781910277737

Recommended for readers 3-7

A young boy finds himself bored on a day home, until his mother sends him out to play. An imaginary friend joins him, and together, they learn to ride a bike! This is a fun, light story about imagination and getting outdoors to play. The imaginary friend is a big, white, two-legged figure – think yeti without the shag – wearing a pointy pink hat and protectively towers over the boy, helping him learn to ride the bike. When the boy heads home after a day of play, his new friend disappears, which is a bit of a letdown. Maybe he’ll show up again. There’s a “Certificate for a Super Cyclist” at the end of the book; a cute prize for kids who learn to ride. This one is an additional add if you’ve got kids who like bike-riding.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

A grand expedition awaits in your backyard

The Grand Expedition, by Emma Adbåge/Illustrated by Anne Prime, (Apr. 2018, Enchanted Lion), $16.95, ISBN: 9781592702459

Recommended for readers 3-7

Two siblings head to their backyard for an adventure! They take the time to prepare food (coffee and pickles) and provisions (blankets, tent, jump rope). They head out, set up camp, and… eat all the pickles. And sit. And then the mosquitoes come out. And then one sibling has to poop, which seals the deal: they’re heading back inside. They end the evening cozy, with their dad, indoors.

This is the stuff of childhood. Originally published in Sweden, this is the kind of story that appeals to kids of all kinds: the campout. I grew up in an apartment, and my kids spent their early years in one, so living room campouts were the answer (who doesn’t love a sturdy blanket and pillow fort?) The kids pack like kids – minus the snacks, because they’ve only got pickles, but you get the point – and head out to an adventure that is greater in the imagination than in actuality. Once they get out there, there’s not a whole lot to do, and the lack of indoor plumbing is a dilemma. The adventure continues into the home, where the boys end the evening still on an adventure, this time, in the comfort of home. This is a fun story for a pajama readaloud – can you build blanket forts in your library, classroom, or living room? Bring the stuffed animals, sit in your PJs, and enjoy a comfy campout. The illustrations lend to the imaginary feel, with muted watercolor and line drawings giving a hazy, dreamlike feel to the story.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Mama’s Belly has a sister growing in it!

Mama’s Belly, by Kate Hosford/Illustrated by Abigail Halpin, (Apr. 2018, Abrams), $16.99, ISBN: 9781419728419

Recommended for readers 3-7

A young girl feels excitement and trepidation at the upcoming arrival of her new baby sister. The text’s language is just beautiful, beginning with the sentence, “Mama has a belly rising up, like a wave. Inside is my sister, waiting to meet me.” The girl talks to Mama’s belly, sings to it, hugs it; she dreams of holding and caring for her baby sister, but she’s also nervous: does she have to share her blanket? Will Mommy ever have a lap again, and will she still have space for her? Will Mama have enough love for both siblings? With gentle text and soft, illustrations, Mama’s Belly is an empathetic, loving story that assuages children’s concerns and warmly welcomes a new family addition.

I love that Mama gets some storytime here, too: as her pregnancy progresses, we learn that it’s not easy carrying a baby! “Mama’s belly is making her grumpy. I haven’t seen my toes in weeks!” Mama’s also tired and achy, laying down on the couch with a tender back while the girl draws for her. It helps explain why pregnant moms and caregivers may not always be able to play as baby gets closer to being born, and it models wonderful behavior: when Mama can’t see her toes, the girl counts them for her, letting her know that she still has 10. When tired Mama asks for a picture, the girl draws a multi-page “magic energy machine” to invigorate her. Papa and Mama love their little girl, and let her know that she’s an important part of their family, and that’s the most important part of getting a new sibling-to-be ready for baby. This is a nice addition to new baby collections, and a great baby shower/big sibling gift idea.

 

Want to see a little more? Enjoy the book trailer.


Kate Hosford is the author of several picture books, including Infinity and Me, which was a New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book award winner and named an ALA Notable Children’s Book. Her books have been translated into Chinese, Korean, French, and Romanian. Kate lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York. You can visit her author website and follow her on Instagram @katelhosford.

Abigail Halpin is the illustrator of many children’s books, including Finding Wild. She lives in Southern Maine. Visit her on the web or on Instagram @abigailhalpin.

 

Want a chance to win your own copy of Mama’s Belly? Enter this Rafflecopter giveaway! (U.S. addresses only, please!)

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Little Brothers and Little Sisters just want to play!

Little Brothers & Little Sisters, by Monica Arnaldo, (Apr. 2018, OwlKids Books), $16.95, ISBN: 9781771472951

Recommended for readers 3-7

Little brothers and sisters all want the same things: a turn at the wheel, the secret password, a place on the team… they also want a bodyguard, a partner in crime, and a best friend. Monica Arnaldo’s picture book looks at the ups and downs of being a younger sibling, through the eyes of a diverse group of children living in and around an apartment building.

The first half of the book illustrates a group of younger siblings waiting for their older siblings to make space for them as they hog the TV, monopolize play time, or keep them out of the fun; the second half looks at the upsides of having a loving sibling who will be a protector, a teacher, a friend. Four pairs of siblings from varying cultural backgrounds will appeal to kids with older (or younger) siblings, sure, but it’s also great to read to kids in a classroom setting, comparing what it’s like to be in lower grades versus upper grades. It’s a lesson in empathy for older children, and a gently encouraging story for younger kids who may feel like the older kids get to do everything. Invite kids to talk about the great parts about being older versus younger; invite them to talk about the ups and downs in their own lives. Many older siblings are responsible for watching over their younger siblings; this story gives kids a chance to talk about their experiences and may help frustrated readers see the benefits of being a positive role model.

Muted but colorful artwork and expressively illustrated characters, paired with simple text make this a nice choice for storytime and individual reading. Definitely a great big brother/big sister gift. Little Brothers & Little Sisters received a starred review from Kirkus.