Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Ellie, Engineer: a little MacGyver, a little Rosie Revere, for intermediate/middle graders

Ellie, Engineer, by Jackson Pearce, (Jan. 2018, Bloomsbury USA), $15.99, ISBN: 9781681195193

Recommended for readers 7-10

Ellie is a 9 year-old engineer: she can take darn near anything apart and make it something even cooler. Most of the time. When she sets out to make an amazing birthday gift for her best friend, Kit, she finds herself in the middle of a friendship mess: the girls normally don’t like the “jerk boys”, but Ellie’s discovered that they’re not so bad after all. So she works with each group in secret, hoping to avoid drama. Oops. Ellie has to get both groups talking to her again, and to each other, to finish Kit’s birthday present on time!

This is such a fun story about a positive female character who wears what she wants and does what she wants: she rocks a tool belt over her skirts and matches outfits with her best friend. She draws up her own blueprints and can make anything, from a water balloon launcher to a security system that will keep annoying little brother’s out of her friend’s room. Her best friend, Kit, is a pageant girl and ballet dancer who works right alongside Ellie, and the boys in the neighborhood enjoy a good tea party as much as they do a soccer game. Get it? They’re kids. They like to play. This whole story is about bringing boys and girls together under common interests, and it does so nicely. Girls will see themselves in Ellie, especially those who find themselves confused about whether or not girls *can* be friends with boys, or wonder if it’s okay to still like pretty dresses if they can rock a screwdriver. There are some laughs: Ellie’s got a few backfires, and a few successes that will make kids laugh, and the heart of the story – cooperation and friendship – is a gratifying message. Black and white illustrations showcase Ellie’s sketches for different projects, and a section at the end provides illustrations and a guide to basic tools for burgeoning builders and engineers. Give this to the kids who have grown out of Andrea Beaty’s Rosie Revere, Engineer; Iggy Peck, Architect; and Ada Twist, Scientist. Display and booktalk with the Girls Who Code and the Lucy’s Lab chapter books. Put out paper and ask kids to come up with their own plans – what do they want to make? Leave straws, pipe cleaners, cardboard, toothpicks, glue, marshmallows – anything the kids can build with – out and let the room have at it.

Advertisements
Posted in Graphic Novels, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Secret Coders and Science Comics – Comics that help kids love learning!

There are two more Science Comics coming your way from First Second, along with another Secret Coders volume. Let’s jump in and see what’s good!

 

Science Comics: Robots & Drones – Past, Present, & Future, by Mairghread Scott/Illustrated by Jacob Chabot, (March 2018, First Second), $19.99, ISBN: 9781626727939
Recommended for readers 9-13

The latest volume of Science Comics takes a deeper look at robots. With Poulli, a birdlike robot that’s also the first machine to ever fly through the sky (back in 350 BCE!), as our guide, readers get a guided tour through the history of robotics, and learn what is versus what isn’t a robot. New, programmable coffeemakers? Robots! Remote-controlled cars – not really. Kids get a refresher on simple machines (levels and pulleys) and how those simple concepts formed the building blocks for more complex machines, eventually leading to modern technology, robots, and drones. There’s a focus on the good robots and drones can accomplish (for those techno-phobes who see The Terminator as our eventual future) and the human component of computer programming. Isaac Asimov, legendary scientist and science fiction writer who gave us the Three Laws of Robotics, gets some recognition here, too.

There’s a nice shout-out to libraries and after-school programs as places to go to learn more about getting into programming and robotics, and some cool pop culture nods that parents will recognize (Star Trek and KITT from Knight Rider, to name a couple). The artwork features diverse characters putting their learning into practice, and the history of robotics covers diverse areas of the world. Poulli is a friendly, cute guide that will appeal to readers, and the language – as with all Science Comics – is easy to understand but never dumbs down information.

There’s a Hall of Awesome Robots, spotlighting 25 robots from history; a closer look at how drones work, and a glossary of new terms to finish up the volume.

Me? I immediately add the newest Science Comics to my shopping cart ; they’re a great add for my “True Story” nonfiction section, where I put books that may get lost on the actual nonfiction shelves, but will grab attention on their own. Plus, my True Story section is next to my Graphic Novels shelf, so it’s a win all around.

 

Secret Coders: Potions and Parameters, by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes,
(March 2018, First Second), $10.99, ISBN: 9781626726079
Recommended for readers 8-12

While we’re talking about robots and programming, there’s a new volume of Secret Coders coming at you. The fifth installment of the series sees Hopper, Eni, and Josh going up against Professor One-Zero and his evil Green Pop. The stakes are high, especially now that Hopper’s dad’s fate lies in the balance! We get a lot more of Professor Bee’s origin, and the fight for the mystical Turtle of Light will keep you turning pages. Yang and Holmes challenge readers with more logic puzzles and codes to work through, and provide detailed explanation through their characters.

Science Comics: Sharks – Nature’s Perfect Hunter, by Joe Flood,
(Apr. 2018, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781626727885
Recommended for readers 8-13

Science Comics has a one-two punch in March and April, first with Robots & Drones, next with Sharks. Kids LOVE sharks. The introduction nails it with its opening line: “Lots of kids, including many of you who are reading this book, go through an ‘I love sharks’ phase.” Shark books move off my shelves faster than just about any animal, tied only by dinosaurs (and we’ve already got a Science Comic on them), so this book should be going in your cart, sight unseen. But since that’s not what I do – and because I still do love sharks – here’s a bit more to whet your shark appetites.

 

The nonfiction narrative is tied together with a story about a fictional group of shark seekers, which leads into a discussion about the bad rap sharks have gotten over the years. The classic movie Jaws kicked off shark paranoia back in the mid-1970s, and that’s explored here, as is the fact that Jaws author Peter Benchley became a passionate shark conservationist in the aftermath of his book and subsequent movie.

Readers get a history of sharks from the prehistoric era until the present, with a look at shark physiology. migration patterns, variety, and eating habits. Spoiler alert: we don’t taste very good to them, and any biting is purely accidental.  We also get a peek at the one sea animal that can take down even a great white… and it ain’t man. A shark family tree, glossary of terms, and a more accurate clarification of how to phrase shark incidents (the section’s called “Don’t Say ‘Shark Attack'”).

As I was writing this review up, one of my library kids peeked over my shoulder and saw the page scans. When I told him Sharks was coming out in April, he yelped, “Are you kidding me?!” which just goes to show you, Science Comics: Sharks is going to be a hit. I may have to order two copies.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Holiday Gift Guide: Books Kids Like!

I’m one of those people that believes there’s a book for every person, every occasion. I’m a firm believer in the five laws of library science, after all, and three of those are: “Books are for use”; “Every book its reader”; “Every reader his or her book”. This is very serious business.  So here’s a humble little gift guide for those of you who may want to give a book (or three), but not sure what to give to whom.

For the graphic novel reader who’s a little quirky and fun…

Anna & Froga: Completely Bubu, by Anouk Ricard,
(Sept. 2017, Drawn & Quarterly), $19.95, ISBN: 978-1-77046-292-2
Good for readers 10-13

This collection of comics from French author, artist, and animator Anouk Ricard stars a little girl named Anna, and her group of animal friends: Froga, the frog; Christopher, the worm; Ron, the cat, and Bubu, the dog. The book collects five previously published comics and one new story; each vignette running about 6 pages. Some vignettes end with a two-page final spread to deliver one last laugh, some run the whole 6 pages as a strip, but every little episode in Completely Bubu is loaded with kooky, smart humor. Upper middle graders and middle schoolers will get some good laughs out of this group, and so will you. “Bubu’s Vacation” will make you laugh out loud if you’ve ever considered (or maybe have) lying about going on vacation just to get some peace and quiet, and “The Garage Sale” will crack you up… and maybe, eye some pen caps.

For the kid who needs to know EVERYTHING. Right now.

Time for Kids: The Big Book of How, by James Buckley, Jr.,
(Oct. 2017, Liberty Street), $19.99, ISBN: 9781683300106
Good for readers 8-12

If you know a kid that has the Wikipedia app loaded and ready to go; takes things apart to figure out how they work, or just wants to know why, The Big Book of How is the gift to give. With 11 sections, covering Animals, Technology, Space, Science, Sports, and more, this book carries over 1,000 facts (see the cover?) that kids wants to know. Each section hands readers the reins by offering a How To just for them: learn how to make a paper airplane or a camera obscura; find out how to launch a rocket or grow salad on a windowsill. There are amazing photos and fast facts, Did You Know? boxes and infographics, making this a desk reference that will get read and loved.

For the sports fan who already knows all the stats…

Sports Illustrated Kids All-Star Activity Book, by James Buckley Jr.,
(Nov. 2017, Liberty Street), $9.99, ISBN: 978-1-68330-773-0
Good for readers 8-13

Your sports fan knows all the box scores and stats, but has she or he ever done a Williams Sisters connect-the-dot? Or created his or her own James Harden beard? You can do that and more with this activity book – covering all the major sports, with additional sections for the Olympics and All-Stars, kids can match soccer team jerseys to their players, create their own Olympic logo, and zip through an NHL word search. There’s even a NASCAR coin flip game in here for Race Day fans. Fun facts and great photos make this a great stocking stuffer.

For the time-traveler and history buff…


The BlastBack! series, by Nancy Ohlin/Illustrated by Adam Larkum and Roger Simó, (little bee)
Good for readers 7-10

The BlastBack! series is nonfiction that kids devour. It’s like the Time Warp Trio wrote books after each of their adventures. Each book covers a period in time, giving readers the full scoop: religion and mythology, history, aftermath, all written with respect for the younger reader – parenthetical explanations of terms and facts; callout boxes that look deeper into key people and moments; selected bibliographies at the end of each book. Black and white illustrations and maps throughout keep readers turning pages. There are 10 BlastBack! books now, and I hope we get some more to fill up my series nonfiction section. They’re just good reading.

For the kid you hand your phone to when you can’t figure out an app…

Coding iPhone Apps for Kids: A Playful Introduction to Swift, by Gloria Winquist and Matt McCarthy/Illustrated by Keiko Sato,
(May 2017, No Starch Press), $29.95, ISBN: 978-1-59327-756-7
Good for readers 10+

I love No Starch Press and their tech books for kids. Coding iPhone Apps for Kids is a detailed, but highly readable, introduction to Swift, the language used mobile apps that run on Apple devices. The book walks readers through every step of the process, from the basics of learning how to code, installing Xcode (the code editor), storyboarding, adding art and sound effects, testing, and finally, running the app. (I’m leaving a lot of steps out of the process, but that’s why I don’t write books on creating apps.) There are full-color illustrations, screen shots, and lines of code to guide readers and important troubleshooting tips and tweaks along the way. An appendix and index round out this insanely helpful book that would make a lovely gift wrapped up with a copy of Girls Who Code. Just sayin’.

For the kid who loves infographics… or really likes Seek and Finds…

The Big History Timeline Wallbook, by Christopher Lloyd and Patrick Skipworth/Illustrated by Andy Forshaw,
(Sept. 2017, What On Earth Books), $19.95, ISBN: 978-0-9932847-2-4
Good for readers 6-14

What did we do before infographics? So much info communicated in little bites of space, fully illustrated and eyecatching; it’s a wonderful thing. The Big History Timeline Wallbook isn’t quite an infographic, but it does come with a 6-foot timeline of the universe – from the Big Bang to our Present Day – that you can detach and hang on your wall. There’s even a cute little pocket, holding a magnifier, that you can use to read the itty bitty text on the poster. Hey, there’s a lot of history to chronicle; sometimes, font size has to be sacrificed.

The Wallbook Chronicle is an 18-page “glorious gallop through fourteen billion years of big history”: printed to look like a newspaper, articles include major world events with bylines and dates, like the “Solar System origins clouded in swirls of gas” article by the astronomy editor from Paris, 1796 and the geography correspondent’s 1806 article on Lewis and Clark completing their transcontinental trek. A letters section from “would-be readers down the ages” has commentary on events including the sacking of King Tut’s tomb and the fire-bombing of Tokyo in 1945; a quiz tests readers’ mettle. There are three Timeline Wallbooks available: Big History, Science, and Nature; all developed in conjunction with the American Museum of Natural History. Definitely a fun gift choice.

 

More gift ideas to come! I hope this helped fill in a few check boxes on your holiday lists.

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, Realistic Fiction

In Lucy’s Lab, science is everywhere!

Sky Pony has a new series for intermediate readers that incorporates a fun science component into each tale. Lucy’s Lab is a series about a second grader named Lucy, and she loves science! Her cousin and best friend, Cora, is in class with her, and is more of the purple and pink princess type, but she’s always up for a stint in Lucy’s Lab. Now, if only she could get that annoying classmate Stewart Swinefest, to behave himself…

Lucy’s Lab: Nuts About Science, by Michelle Houts/Illustrated by Elizabeth Zechel,
(Sept. 2017, Sky Pony Press), $13.99, ISBN: 978-1510710641
Recommended for readers 7-10

In Lucy’s first science adventure, Nuts About Science, we meet the science-loving second grader at the beginning of her school year. She likes her new teacher, Miss Flippo, and she really likes that there’s a science lab in her classroom! Miss Flippo even has lab coats and goggles for the students to wear in the lab! One thing doesn’t sit so well with Lucy this school year, though: the big oak tree outside her classroom is gone, and Lucy’s worried that the squirrels that lived there will have nowhere to go! She and her friends manage to find out what happened, and lobby the principal and the PTA for a new tree. In the meantime, Lucy turns an old playhouse her father built in the backyard into her very own lab!

 

Lucy’s Lab: Nuts About Science, by Michelle Houts/Illustrated by Elizabeth Zechel,
(Sept. 2017, Sky Pony Press), $13.99, ISBN: 978-1510710672
Recommended for readers 7-10

Lucy and her classmates learn about the states of matter in Solids, Liquids, Guess Who’s Got Gas, which may be the best Intermediate book title ever. Miss Flippo believes in science being fun, and teaches them about solids, liquids, and gases by using balloons, frozen water, and a school trip to the apple orchard! Kudos to author Michelle Houts for slipping the fourth state of matter – plasma – into the story, as well as its recent inclusion into science textbooks. Lucy discovers a new science hero in this story, and Stewart Swinefest gets some payback for being obnoxious.

The Lucy’s Lab series is easy reading, with bite-sized information slipped into the narrative. Lucy has her own lab time in each book, and we return to Room 2-C for adventures in the science lab during school hours; we also get interesting tidbits throughout each story, whether it’s about the origin of some last names, tree diseases, or the scientist who studied plasma. There’s always something interesting happening in Lucy’s world, and we’re invited to come along. Black and white illustrations keep the reader’s interest and keep the pace moving for readers transitioning from beginner chapter books to intermediate novels.

This is a nice series to give to your readers who like exploring the world around them. I’d display this with the Girls Who Code chapter books and Jon Scieszka’s Frank Einstein books to give kids a nice introduction to STEM fiction.

 

Posted in Preschool Reads

Wanda’s Better Way – good STEM reading!

Wanda’s Better Way, by Laura Pedersen/Illustrated by Penny Weber, (July 2017, Fulcrum Publishing), $17.95, ISBN: 978-1-68275-014-8

Recommended for readers 4-8

A young girl finds a better way to do things as she goes through her day. The grownups around her think she’s not interested in the task at hand, but she’s really at work observing problems and creating workarounds – and then goes on to engineer them. When Wanda’s dance teacher suggests she consider gymnastics because she doesn’t appear interested in dance, we discover that she’s engineering a solution to the cluttered and messy dressing room. When she offers to help her landscape designer mother, she finds a solution that will keep squirrels out of a bird feeder. When she helps her chef father in the kitchen, she finds an easier way to separate eggs – and makes that her science fair project!

With short, easy to read and understand sentences and realistic illustrations, Wanda’s Better Way is a nice way to introduce STEM concepts and the scientific method to younger budding scientists and readers. Wanda’s ideas come to her in step-by-step thought bubbles and she’s illustrated with a light bulb going off over her head when solutions to come her. It’s a time-honored and effective way to communicate ideas! Kids will see how Wanda works out the problem and can discuss how she implements her solutions. Wanda tries on different career ideas while talking to her mother and father; something many kids will be familiar with. We’re often our kids’ first exposure to careers, so why wouldn’t they consider doing what we do? Wanda ultimately decides that she wants to be a scientist, which offers a nice topic for discussion: Wanda wants to be a scientist because she realizes her strength in figuring out problems. What are you really good at, and what can you do with your talent?

Wanda and her brother are biracial, with an African-American mother and white father. It sends a positive message about girls of color taking an interest in STEM! There is a two-page, age-appropriate explanation of the scientific method.

I’d put this with my Andrea Beaty books – Ada Twist, Scientist, Rosie Revere, Engineer, and Iggy Peck, Architect – and my other STEM picture books, like Ashley Spires’ The Most Magnificent Thing and Kobi Yamada’s What Do You Do With a Problem? and What Do You Do With an Idea? Great for STEM storytimes, and if you have blocks or other maker goodies handy, you can let the kiddos play for a little while and work up their own engineering challenges.

Laura Pedersen is an author, humorist, and playwright. Her website offers more information about her books and theater projects. Illustrator Penny Weber’s website has a gallery of her artwork.

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

Click’d: Coding, apps and friendship drama!

Click’d (Code Girls #1), by Tamara Ireland Stone, (Sept. 2017, Disney-Hyperion), $16.99, ISBN: 9781484784976

Recommended for readers 8-12

Sixth grader Allie Navarro is SO excited about the friendship app she built at CodeGirls summer camp. Click’d collects data about user interests and sends users on a scavenger hunt to find other users with similar interests. It went over big at camp, and now Allie is going to show it to her BFFs at school. She’s also presenting her game at the big Games for Good competition, but she’s going up against her nemesis: Nathan Frederickson, who wins EVERY science fair and drives her crazy.

The app goes over in a big way, but it’s not as great as Allie thought it would be. People are upset about their standings on friendship leaderboards, and a technical glitch ends up embarrassing one of her best friends. Things start spiraling out of Allie’s control; even with Nathan’s help, she’s not sure if she can make things right in time for the competition.

I’m excited about the new coding fiction trend that’s emerging in light of Girls Who Code’s nonfiction/fiction releases! Click’d is great to hand to readers who may be ready to move on from the Girls Who Code series fiction, or readers who may not be ready for Lauren Myracle’s TTYL books just yet. There’s friendship drama for sure, as well as positive messages about resilience and friendship. Each chapter contains screenshots of the Click’d app, adding to the fun; readers can watch Allie’s user count change, and monitor different leaderboards to better envision how the app works (and maybe get some ideas of their own). Tamara Ireland Stone gives us realistic characters and an interesting storyline and builds an extended universe of CodeGirls – girls who all met through a Girls Who Code-type camp – that will work for future novels.

Make sure to check out the Click’d teacher’s guide on the author’s website!

Posted in Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Graphic Novel Rundown: Memoir, Coders, and Fantasy

There are a bunch of good graphic novels out, so let’s jump right in – there’s something for everyone!

 

Taproot A Story About a Gardener and a Ghost, by Keezy Young, (Sept. 2017, Lion Forge), $10.99, ISBN: 9781941302460
Recommended for readers 13+

Lighter Than My Shadow, by Katie Green, (Oct. 2017, Lion Forge), $19.99, ISBN: 9781941302415
Recommended for readers 13+
Katie Green’s graphic memoir details her years of abusing disorders, abuse at the hands of the therapist who was supposed to help her, and her recovery and reclamation of self. It’s devastating and inspirational; a life that we can all see in ourselves: cruel teasing, parental threats at the dinner table, a career you’re shoehorned into. Lighter Than My Shadow is a memoir of anxiety and depression, told in shades of grey, black and white. We see the physical manifestation of Green’s hunger and depression: a growing mouth in her stomach, a black scribble over her head, threatening to split her open. It’s an incredible story, and one that must be shared and discussed.
Secret Coders: Robots and Repeats, by Gene Luen Yang & Mike Holmes, (Oct. 2017, First Second), $10.99, ISBN: 9781626726062
Recommended for readers 8-12
The Coders are back! Dr. One-Zero is a bane to their existence, especially with his new “Advanced Chemistry” class, where he only teaches them to make Green Pop. Hopper’s paired up with an obnoxious classmate who knows nothing about chemistry; Josh is fostering a kinda, sorta crush, and Eni’s sisters are following him around the school, reporting his every move to his overprotective parents, who want him to cut all ties with his fellow Coders. The Coders are still working together, though, and make a new discovery: The Turtle of Light. They also discover someone they’ve been looking for: Hopper’s dad, who’s under the influence of the evil Green Pop! This fourth installment is still good fun and has more coding challenges for readers; most notably, working out pattern repeats. The fifth book, Potions and Parameters, is coming in March.
The Tea Dragon Society, by Katie O’Neill, (Oct. 2017, Oni Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781620104415
Recommended for readers 9-13
If you loved Princess Princess Ever After as much as I did, you are in for a treat with Katie O’Neill’s newest graphic novel, The Tea Dragon Society. Greta is a blacksmith’s apprentice who wonders whether her mother’s craft is even relevant anymore. She learns about another art form when she rescues a young tea dragon in a marketplace: the care of tea dragons; they’re dragons, who grow tea leaves out of their horns and antlers. The cast is beautifully illustrated and diverse; we’ve got a plethora of relationships depicted, and a storyline every fairy tale and fantasy reader will love. The backgrounds, the characters, every single piece of this graphic novel is just incredible artwork. Buy two copies for your shelves, and a copy or two for readers you love. Do. Not. Miss.