Posted in Adventure, Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

The World’s Greatest Adventure Machine will take you on the ride of your life

The World’s Greatest Adventure Machine, by Frank L. Cole, (Aug. 20017, Delacorte Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780399552823

Recommended for readers 9-13

Take a little bit of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, toss in elements of Jurassic Park and The Matrix, and add a dose of Inception, and you have Frank L. Cole’s newest book, The World’s Greatest Adventure Machine. Four kids with varying physiological complexities – Trevor, the daredevil; Cameron, the genius; Devin, the video game master/burgeoning Internet sensation; and Nika, shy and sheltered by her overprotective grandfather – are chosen to test out The Adventure Machine, a ground-breaking new adventure ride from CastleCorp. They set out for the ride of their lives while their guardians watch, but no one expects what happens when the ride breaks down, and they discover that they’re stuck in the middle of a plot that threatens them and their families – or are they?

The World’s Greatest Adventure Machine is a big adventure for middle graders who love twisting plots, action, and a smidgen of conflict. As the kids’ adventure progresses, they grow as individuals and as a team; Trevor and Cameron learn to be aware of the impact their actions have on others, and they all learn the importance of self-advocacy.  It’s a fun read with characters that grow on you, with lots of thrills to keep pages turning.

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Posted in Animal Fiction, Early Reader, Fantasy, Fiction

A Nocturnals Easy Reader! The Moonlight Meeting

The Nocturnals: The Moonlight Meeting, by Tracey Hecht & Rumur Dowling/Illustrated by Waymond Singleton, (Sept. 2017, Fabled Films Press), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-944020-14-9

Recommended for ages 5-8

YAY! One of my favorite recent middle grade series is expanding to easy readers! The Nocturnals: The Moonlight Meeting introduces younger readers to my favorite Nocturnal group of friends: Tobin, the pangolin, Dawn, the fox, and last but never least, Bismark, the sugar glider (don’t dare call him a squirrel). An unlikely pomelo fruit brings the three new friends together, as Tobin – forever hungry – and Bismark disagree over ownership rights. Readers get a fun dose of fart humor thanks to sweet Tobin, who’s a bit nervous and has… well, a bit of a reaction. (Readers familiar with Tobin and the latest middle grade Nocturnals story, The Fallen Star, will enjoy the reference.)

Waymond Singleton’s artwork is perfect for an easy reader audience, giving the group more definition and providing an animated feel. Bismark is all wide eyes and open mouth; Tobin’s glance is shyly cast downward, and Dawn is ever gentle and ready to step in to help. As with the middle grade novels, The Moonlight Meeting emphasizes friendship, teamwork, and sharing. Fun Facts at the end of the book provide descriptions about the real-life Nocturnal counterparts. The brief sentences and easy dialogue make this a great step for readers who are ready to move on from Level 1 readers. A leveling guide on the back of the book, similar to the Step Into Reading series, explains each leveled step for parents and caregivers. This works well with a preschool or kindergarten read-aloud, too.

I can’t wait to introduce The Nocturnals to my storytime group. The group’s website at Nocturnals World is a treasure trove of information for caregivers and educators, featuring curriculum guides, library resources, discussion guides, and activity kits. If you’ve got animal fiction fans, get them hooked early and add The Moonlight Meeting to your easy readers.

 

Posted in Fiction, Preschool Reads, Uncategorized

Size matters not: Just ask Little Captain Jack!

Little Captain Jack, by Alicia Acosta/Illustrated by Monica Carretero, (Apr. 2017, nubeOCHO), $15.95, ISBN: 978-84-945415-0-6

Recommended for readers 4-8

Once upon a time, there was a tiny pirate named Captain Jack. He was so tiny that he had to weigh himself down with a heavy sword in his belt, an iron telescope around his neck, and some rocks in his pockets, so he wouldn’t be blown away! Everyone called him Little Captain Jack. He was so little that his crew didn’t hear him when he yelled to them, and he was constantly in danger of being stepped on! One day, during a battle between Captain Jack’s crew and the bad pirate Badlock’s crew, Jack was taken prisoner and locked in a dark cellar. Although he was scared, he accepted an offer of help from a mouse… who got some help from a seagull… and Captain Jack learned, from that day forward, that “great things could come in all shapes and sizes, big or small!”

Captain Jack is fun reading and kids will appreciate the message that size doesn’t matter, especially when you work as a team! The tiny pirate still manages to command his own ship and crew (even if they don’t really hear him… or see him that often), and when he’s in trouble, his crew is frantic. He means a lot to his crew, whether he’s big or small – just like a family. Teamwork helps bring Jack back to his crew, sending a positive message about working together.

The cartoony art will appeal to readers, and the endpapers – drawn to look like a map of Penny Island, where we assume Captain Jack is spending time these days, has fun, eyecatching details like a giant squid, a whale, and a lake monster. A nicely detailed compass rose adds the opportunity to talk about directions. Plus, pirates are a home run with little ones: you can pick from any number of pirate adventure stories for little ones! You could pair these with any number of pirate books for little ones! Add a pirate hat craft to use up some old newspaper and you have a nice, environmentally friendly storytime activity.

Little Captain Jack was originally released in Spanish (Pequeño Pirata Serafin, ISBN: 978-4-945415-1-3), and is available in both Spanish and English.

Posted in Adventure, Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade

The Nocturnals Return in The Fallen Star

The Nocturnals (Book 3): The Fallen Star, by Tracey Hecht/Illustrated by Kate Liebman, (May 2017, Fabled Films Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781944020057

Recommended for readers 8-12

The lovable group of Nocturnal sleuths is back in their third adventure, this time with high stakes: the forest’s pomelos have been poisoned, and the flowers that cure the sickness are disappearing! As the group watches a star fall one evening, they meet a mysterious aye-aye, Iris, who declares that the forest is being invaded and monsters from space have poisoned the pomelos! Dawn, ever the thoughtful and skeptical fox, is suspicious, and seeks a more down-to-earth reason, but things become more tense when they discover that animals in the forest are getting sick, including poor Tobin, who’ve all eaten pomelos. The blue flowers that help cure the sickness are disappearing, and a strange blue glow shows up right before the flowers start disappearing. This sounds like a job for the Nocturnals!

This third book in the animal friends series takes no prisoners: things are tense, with the friends racing against time to help their sick friends and find out the truth behind the poisoned fruit and disappearing cure. Bismark is in full narcissist with a heart of gold mode, proclaiming he speaks alien (and then slipping and admitting it was gibberish) and wooing Dawn every chance he gets. Dawn is still the most focused and perceptive member of the group, and sweet, gentle Tobin is the source of possibly the greatest fart joke in the history of children’s literature, giving readers much-needed comic relief throughout the white knuckle moments The Fallen Star is filled with.

We also meet some more animals in this book; most notably, an Aye-aye named Iris, and the woylies, a group of small marsupials who pitch in to help the Nocturnals. You can find more information about Aye-ayes at Zooborns.com, and Whiteman Park, a conservation center in Australia, has a downloadable fact sheet available on the endangered woylie.

This Aye-aye has its eyes on you! (source: Zooborns.com)
Woylie: Now say it with an Australian accent! (Source: whitemanpart.com.au)

Teamwork, friendship, and determination sees the friends through this latest adventure, and there’s a lovely message about tolerance that is especially important reading.

Things have started taking off for Nocturnals since the first book published last year!  The Nocturnals World website offers Boredom Busters, face painting tips, and a wealth of educational resources for classrooms and libraries, and the New York Public Library, in conjunction with Fabled Films, launched a read-aloud writing program in New York City public schools.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate

Detective Gordon and Buffy the Mouse are on the case

detgordon_acaseinanycase_cover_lrDetective Gordon: A Case in Any Case, by Ulf Nilsson/Illustrated by Gitte Spee, (Mar. 2017, Gecko Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781776571086

Recommended for readers 6-8

Swedish author Ulf Nilsson’s third Detective Gordon series pairs the toad detective with his mouse sidekick for a very important case and a little bit of a misunderstanding. Detective Gordon has taken a break – he may have retired – and Buffy is holding down the fort in his absence, until she has to call him out of retirement when two schoolchildren go missing. Buffy has her own way of doing things, and Detective Gordon has his own way of doing things; the friends have a misunderstanding, but put aside their differences to work on what’s important. After the case is solved, they resolve their own differences.

This was my first Detective Gordon book. You don’t need to have read the previous books; readers can jump right in and follow the Detective and Buffy’s adventure. It’s a great next step for Frog and Toad readers, with a similarly tender pace and narration. Nilsson creates an adventurous subplot for the two missing kindergarten children, who want to create the steps that bring one of their favorite storybooks to life; he also explores themes of friendship, conflict resolution, teamwork, and talking things over. Gitte Spee’s soft colors and gentle characters will attract readers who love a good animal tale. This makes a good read-aloud selection, too, with many discussion topics to introduce to the kids in your classroom, library, and home.

Detective Gordon: A Case in Any Case received a starred review from School Library Journal.

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

The Time Museum has something for everyone – no matter what time you’re from!

time-museum_1The Time Museum, by Matthew Loux, (Feb. 2017, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781596438491

Recommended for ages 8-12

Delia’s the class bookworm, the class nerd… you get the idea. When school’s out for the summer, all her brother wants to do is go swimming, but Delia has found something much more exciting: the possibility of an internship at The Time Museum, courtesy of her Uncle Lyndon! The Time Museum is kind of like the Natural History Museum, but on an Earth-wide basis. All time eras are welcome, as Delia learns when she meets some of the kids she’s competing against for the internship: Michiko, a Japanese girl from 2217; Titus Valerius Marianus, from Ancient Rome; Dex, who’s a Neanderthal, thank you very much, not a caveman; Reggie, a 51st century Canadian boy genius, and Greer, a prickly Scottish girl who’s already been time traveling. As they train for the internship, they must also go through time trials – going back – or forward – in time to find and collect anachronisms. They’ll also learn that working as a team is much harder, but more beneficial, than going it alone.

The Time Museum is a fun middle grade romp for every kid that wants to live Night at the Museum or catches every episode of The Librarians. Whether Delia and her friends are running away from dinosaurs or discovering a robot playing strip poker, there’s something here for everyone to laugh at. There’s a positive message about healthy competition and teamwork going hand in hand, there’s a giant, talking brain, and a super-cool android librarian that uses android cats to fetch books. If I had a library like that, I’d never leave; I’d just hang out at my reference desk, covered in robot kittens.

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The Time Museum is a lot of fun, and maybe it’ll turn even reluctant readers into readers who see the fun in history. Add to your graphic novel shelves, and talk this one up with some good, tried and true Geronimo Stilton, our favorite time-traveling journalist mouse. Get out your Time Warp Trio series to create a fun display for everyone.

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Posted in Adventure, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Middle School, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Assassin’s Creed goes YA with Last Descendants

assassinLast Descendants: An Assassin’s Creed Novel, by Matthew J. Kirby, (Aug. 2016, Scholastic), $9.99, ISBN: 9780545855518

Recommended for ages 12+

Owen is going through some rough stuff. He and his mother live with his grandparents; they were forced to after his father was arrested for robbing a bank and died in prison. Owen believes he was innocent, but that doesn’t stop his grandparents from badmouthing his dad whenever they get a chance. His best friend, Javier, has been more distant lately, so he really feels alone until the school IT guy, Monroe, invites him to use his device called the Animus, which will help him explore memories buried in his DNA. He convinces Javier to come along and make sure things sound on the level, and Javier ends up having a shared genetic memory in the Animus with Owen. Use of the Animus sets off some kind of alarm, though, and Monroe brings the two teens to a hideout he’s established, where they meet four other teens who have used the Animus. Monroe explains that the group all have roots in one (or both) of two ancient orders: the Brotherhood of Assassins or the Templar Order. There’s a precious relic that needs to be found, and their group is the only group that can do it through a shared genetic experience. The teens find themselves in the bodies of their ancestors, transported into the 1863 New York City, on the even of the infamous Draft Riots.

This is the first book in a YA Assassin’s Creed series, based on the insanely popular video game. I’ve never played Assassin’s Creed – I think I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m fairly inept beyond a joystick and firing button – but I love the mythology behind the game, which my eldest has played for years. Having a YA series that follows teens descended from the Assassins and Templars, going through different eras in history? I loved it! We get a look at the Gangs of New York-era Lower East Side through an interesting fantasy perspective, with some nice groundwork about the two dueling factions in place for newbies to Assassin’s Creed (I double-checked some info with my son as I read). Being a Gangs of New York fan and a student of Lower East Side history, I was thrilled to see how Kirby worked the gangs into the main storyline. The story flows through multiple perspectives, yet he keeps everything together so readers shouldn’t be confused by whose voice they’re reading, especially appreciated when characters are in the Animus and living through their ancestors. There’s great character development, action, and he doesn’t flinch from the racism that fueled the riots. The ending leaves no doubt that there will be a sequel, and I can’t wait to read it.

I’ve liked Matthew Kirby’s writing since I devoured Icefall four years ago. He creates great characters and skilfully weaves historical fiction and fantasy. With an Assassin’s Creed movie hitting theatres in a little more than two weeks, this is a book you need front and center on your displays (and on your holiday lists – we all know someone who loves this franchise). Put this one on your purchase lists.