Must Read Monday (66): Titles from Kiran Millwood Hargrave, Sara Crowe, Caroline Carlson & more!

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

This feature is where I spotlight older, recent, or upcoming releases I am looking forward to. The lists will include all genres I like to read, everything from picture books to comics, children’s lit to adult fiction!

This week: children’s fiction! The titles featured this week are incredible-sounding and looking titles with a wide-range of genre- everything from magical realism, mystery, fantasy and more. Some favourite authors are here, including forthcoming titles from Laurel Snyder and Julie Berry. The other three authors featured here are new-to-me, and all with very well-received titles. There is Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s award-winning and fascinatingly described The Girl of Ink and Stars; Sara Crowe‘s dark and magical Bone Jack; and Caroline Carlson‘s delightfully described mystery, The World’s Greatest Detective.

 

The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Publication: May 5, 2016 by Chicken House
Book Description:

Forbidden to leave her island, Isabella Riosse dreams of the faraway lands her father once mapped.When her closest friend disappears into the island’s Forgotten Territories, she volunteers to guide the search. As a cartographer’s daughter, she’s equipped with elaborate ink maps and knowledge of the stars, and is eager to navigate the island’s forgotten heart.

But the world beyond the walls is a monster-filled wasteland – and beneath the dry rivers and smoking mountains, a legendary fire demon is stirring from its sleep. Soon, following her map, her heart and an ancient myth, Isabella discovers the true end of her journey: to save the island itself.

 

Bone Jack by Sara Crowe
Publication: February 7, 2017 by Philomel Books
Book Description:

Times have been tough for Ash lately, and all he wants is for everything to go back to the way it used to be. Back before drought ruined the land and disease killed off the livestock. Before Ash’s father went off to war and returned carrying psychological scars. Before his best friend, Mark, started acting strangely. As Ash trains for his town’s annual Stag Chase–a race rooted in violent, ancient lore–he’s certain that if he can win and make his father proud, life will return to normal. But the line between reality and illusion is rapidly blurring, and the past has a way of threatening the present.

When a run in the mountains brings Ash face-to-face with Bone Jack–a figure that guards the boundary between the living world and the dead–everything changes once more. As dark energies take root and the world as he knows it is upended, it’s up to Ash to restore things to their proper order and literally run for his life.

 


The World’s Greatest Detective by Caroline Carlson
Expected publication: May 16, 2017 by HarperCollins
Book Description:

Detectives’ Row is full of talented investigators, but Toby Montrose isn’t one of them. He’s only an assistant at his uncle’s detective agency, and he’s not sure he’s even very good at that. Toby’s friend Ivy is the best sleuth around—or at least she thinks so. They both see their chance to prove themselves when the famed Hugh Abernathy announces a contest to choose the World’s Greatest Detective. But when what was supposed to be a game turns into a real-life murder mystery, can Toby and Ivy crack the case?

 

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder
Expected publication: May 30, 2017 by Walden Pond Press
Book Description:

On the island, everything is perfect. The sun rises in a sky filled with dancing shapes; the wind, water, and trees shelter and protect those who live there; when the nine children go to sleep in their cabins, it is with full stomachs and joy in their hearts. And only one thing ever changes: on that day, each year, when a boat appears from the mist upon the ocean carrying one young child to join them—and taking the eldest one away, never to be seen again.

Today’s Changing is no different. The boat arrives, taking away Jinny’s best friend, Deen, replacing him with a new little girl named Ess, and leaving Jinny as the new Elder. Jinny knows her responsibility now—to teach Ess everything she needs to know about the island, to keep things as they’ve always been. But will she be ready for the inevitable day when the boat will come back—and take her away forever from the only home she’s known?

 

The Emperor’s Ostrich by Julie Berry
Expected publication: July 18, 2017 by Roaring Brook Press
Book Description:

Young dairymaid Begonia has lost her cow, Alfalfa. So she has set off on a search across the countryside even though she has nothing but a magical map to guide her. Along the way she meets a mother and baby, a woodcutter, a very dirty young man, and an eight-foot ostrich.

Meanwhile, the Emperor has gone missing from the royal palace in a most mysterious manner. Was it murder? Was it magic? It will take all of Begonia’s wits to save the empire and get Alfalfa home safely.

 

Review: The Goat by Anne Fleming

Review: The Goat by Anne Fleming
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Groundwood Books/House of Anansi. Thank you!
Publication: March 1, 2017 by Groundwood Books
Book Description:

When Kid accompanies her parents to New York City for a six-month stint of dog-sitting and home-schooling, she sees what looks like a tiny white cloud on the top of their apartment building. Rumor says there’s a goat living on the roof, but how can that be?

As Kid soon discovers, a goat on the roof may be the least strange thing about her new home, whose residents are both strange and fascinating.In the penthouse lives Joff Vanderlinden, the famous skateboarding fantasy writer, who happens to be blind. On the ninth floor are Doris and Jonathan, a retired couple trying to adapt to a new lifestyle after Jonathan’s stroke. Kenneth P. Gill, on the tenth, loves opera and tends to burble on nervously about his two hamsters — or are they guinea pigs? Then there’s Kid’s own high-maintenance mother, Lisa, who is rehearsing for an Off Broadway play and is sure it will be the world’s biggest flop.

Kid is painfully shy and too afraid to talk to new people at first, but she is happy to explore Manhattan, especially the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Central Park, where she meets Will, who is also home-schooled and under the constant watchful eye of his grandmother. As Kid and Will become friends, she learns that Will’s parents died in the Twin Towers. Will can’t look out windows, he is a practitioner of Spoonerism, and he is obsessed with the Ancient Egyptian Tomb of Perneb.

When Kid learns that the goat will bring good luck to whoever sees it, suddenly it becomes very important to know whether the goat on the roof is real. So Kid and Will set out to learn the truth, even if it means confronting their own fears.

“Once there was a mountain goat who lived in New York City.”

Last year, I was immediately taken in with two titles from independent Canadian publisher Groundwood Books: A Boy Named Queen and Kabungo. Both of those short novels were entirely their own being, unusual and great, stayed with me through the course of the year, and ended up my on best of 2016 lists. Now in 2017 and almost halfway through the year, I think I might be able to say that Groundwood Books has done it again with Anne Fleming’s The Goat: one of the most wondrous, curious, heartbreaking and funny books I have had the pleasure of reading this year.

The book description provides an ample- and concise- outline of the story, so I won’t get into that much here. I would like to stress though that if you think the plot sounds too peculiar, or with too many characters, or too much quirk, just let Fleming’s leveled and focused writing take you along for this unforgettable journey. A multitude of singular characters- circling around young protagonist Kid and her newly-made friend Will- knit together in lucky and tremendous ways as their focus becomes one and the same: find the elusive goat supposedly hiding somewhere in a New York City twelve-story apartment building. Before the big build-up to Kid and Will’s final search for the goat, readers gain insight to multiple storylines involving Kid’s new apartment neighbours. Some of the storylines include: a senior couple struggling to re-connect and communicate after the husband’s stroke; a young skateboarding bestselling-author who can’t quite fathom why pigeons are making such bizarre hoofing noises on his apartment ledge; and a man fighting with a life-changing decision made while spreading his father’s ashes on a hike in the woods. Covering a plethora of subject matters, from the darker, heartache-inducing to the joyful and wacky, The Goat packs such amazing depths of richness and surprise in its 155 pages.

Imagine, if you will, mixing the writing of Louise Fitzhugh, A.S. King, E.L. Konigsburg and Rebecca Stead, with generous dose of Norton Juster, and you might get something along the lines of The Goat. If that sounds like a dream to you, then I implore to track down this title and savour it. If you are looking to try something outside of your comfort zone with a children’s fiction title that reads as eloquent and capable as any adult title I have read lately, then look no further than this title. Truly unique, gorgeous and unexpected, The Goat is an excellent read.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Groundwood Books/House of Anansi in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Must Read Monday (65): Children’s titles from Lisa Thompson, Rachel Vail, Mike Lawrence & more!

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

This feature is where I spotlight older, recent, or upcoming releases I am looking forward to. The lists will include all genres I like to read, everything from picture books to comics, children’s lit to adult fiction!

This week: children’s fiction and graphic novels! First up, a unique-sounding middle grade mystery novel called The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson. I have been reading very strong reviews for this one and cannot wait to read it. Next up is Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail; another contemporary middle grade title which sounds great- and two reviewer friends have recently rated this title very highly. The next four titles on the docket this week are wonderful looking and sounding graphic novels: Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence; Drew Brockington‘s beyond adorable-looking CatStronauts; a new Pets on the Loose graphic novel by Roller Girl author-illustrator Victoria Jamieson; and last but not least, the incredibly unusual and delightful looking Lint Boy by Aileen Leijten.

 

The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson
Publication: February 28, 2017 by Scholastic Press

Matthew Corbin suffers from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. He hasn’t been to school in weeks. His hands are cracked and bleeding from cleaning. He refuses to leave his bedroom. To pass the time, he observes his neighbors from his bedroom window, making mundane notes about their habits as they bustle about the cul-de-sac.

When a toddler staying next door goes missing, it becomes apparent that Matthew was the last person to see him alive. Suddenly, Matthew finds himself at the center of a high-stakes mystery, and every one of his neighbors is a suspect. Matthew is the key to figuring out what happened and potentially saving a child’s life… but is he able to do so if it means exposing his own secrets, and stepping out from the safety of his home?

 

Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail
Publication: February 28, 2017 by Viking Books for Young Readers

Gracie has never felt like this before. One day, she suddenly can’t breathe, can’t walk, can’t anything and the reason is standing right there in front of her, all tall and weirdly good-looking: A.J. It turns out A.J. likes not Gracie but Gracie’s beautiful best friend, Sienna. Obviously Gracie is happy for Sienna. Super happy! She helps Sienna compose the best texts, responding to A.J. s surprisingly funny and appealing texts, just as if she were Sienna. Because Gracie is fine. Always! She’s had lots of practice being the sidekick, second-best. Its all good. Well, almost all. She’s trying.

 

Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence
Publication: March 21, 2017 by First Second

Avani is the new kid in town, and she’s not happy about it. Everyone in school thinks she’s weird, especially the girls in her Flower Scouts troop. Is it so weird to think scouting should be about fun and adventure, not about makeovers and boys, boys, boys? But everything changes when Avani is “accidentally” abducted by a spunky alien named Mabel. Mabel is a scout too—a Star Scout. Collecting alien specimens (like Avani) goes with the territory, along with teleportation and jetpack racing. Avani might be weird, but in the Star Scouts she fits right in. If she can just survive Camp Andromeda, and keep her dad from discovering that she’s left planet Earth, she’s in for the adventure of a lifetime.

 

CatStronauts: Mission Moon (CatStronauts #1) by Drew Brockington
Publication: April 18, 2017 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

When the world is thrust into darkness due to a global energy shortage, the Worlds Best Scientist comes up with a bold plan to set up a solar power plant on the moon. But someone has to go up there to set it up, and that adventure falls to the CatStronauts, the best space cats on the planet! Meet the fearless commander Major Meowser, brave-but-hungry pilot Waffles, genius technician and inventor Blanket, and quick thinking science officer Pom Pom on their most important mission yet! In this graphic novel, debut author and illustrator Drew Brockington breathes life into a world populated entirely by cats, brimming with jokes, charm, science, and enough big boxes and tuna sandwiches for everyone!

 

The Great Art Caper (Pets on the Loose #2) by Victoria Jamieson
Expected publication: June 13, 2017 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

Things at Daisy P. Flugelhorn Elementary School have been quiet―too quiet. Cuddly yet calculating class hamster GW spends his days in second grade and his nights poetry slamming and jigsaw puzzling with his friends, Sunflower and Barry. GW has even started warming up to the second-grade students. Could he be making human friends? When the school art show is announced, GW learns of a dastardly plot―Harriet and her many minions are planning to ruin it! Once again, it’s up to GW, Sunflower, and Barry to stop to Harriet’s mousey madness.

 

Lint Boy by Aileen Leijten
Expected publication: June 27, 2017 by Clarion Books

Lint Boy and Lint Bear live in their cozy dryer home, carefree and happy—until the day Lint Bear is snatched away by a cruel woman with a vendetta against dolls! Can Lint Boy unite a group of lost dolls to vanquish the villain and save his brother?This magical story is showcased in the stunning full-color art of this young graphic novel. A gently gothic, age-appropriate blend of Roald Dahl and Tim Burton, Lint Boy is a compelling tale of good vs. evil that will leave readers spellbound.

 

Recently Read: Great Children’s Titles from Elise Gravel, Dana Simpson, Ben Hatke & more!

Admittedly, there are indeed a number of book genres that I love- but children’s graphic novels hold a special spot in my reader’s and librarian’s heart. I cannot even count the number of times I’ve had a caregiver or self-described reluctant reader come ask me for reader’s advisory help and graphic novels (or comics) have been a huge (HUGE) ray of hope for both kid and adult. It breaks my heart if I hear an adult- or heaven forbid, a teacher- say they don’t ‘count’ graphic novels as reading. NOOOOO!!! I want to scream. In a roundabout way, I guess what I’m trying to say is: graphic novels for children (and all-ages) rock and definitely count as reading. These are ones I’ve recently read, enjoyed tremendously and would recommend:

 

Olga and the Smelly Thing From Nowhere by Elise Gravel
Publication: March 14, 2017 by HarperCollins

I have spoken/written about my love of Elise Gravel‘s work a few times before. The Montreal-based author/illustrator is the force behind the wonderful non-fiction Disgusting Creatures series, as well as the terrifically fun picture books I Want a Monster! and The Cranky Ballerina. Gravel’s foray into longer format graphic novels starts off wonderfully with Olga and the Smelly Thing for Nowhere. Bringing together her signature style of bold, bright illustrations and kooky characters and a love of science/creatures, this graphic novel tells the story of what happens when aspiring zoologist Olga finds a supremely cute and stinky creature (possibly from another planet?) she names Meh. Funny and a little subversive, with the promise of MORE Olga and Meh to come in future entries! Animal enthusiasts, or fans of Ashley Spires’ Binky series or Fluffy Strikes Back, or Victoria Jamieson’s Pets on the Loose might especially LOVE this graphic novel.

 

Unicorn Crossing (Heavenly Nostrils #5) by Dana Simpson
Publication: March 28, 2017 by Andrews McMeel Publishing

I have also written about my love of the Heavenly Nostrils series from Dana Simpson before! This series is a go-to suggestion I give to kids (or parents searching on behalf of their children) looking for a funny graphic novel series that won’t intimidate but rather inspire major fun and enjoyment with their reading. Already five (!) books into this great series, Simpson continues to mix her magic blend of humour, heart, and unicorn sparkle. I have previously mentioned that when I first picked up Heavenly Nostrils, I could see a definite kinship to Calvin & Hobbes. The more I read of Simpson’s series the more it wonderfully seems to grow Marigold and Phoebe’s bond (yes, akin to Calvin & Hobbes) in addition to cultivating its own, distinctively beautiful and funny world of magical realism. A must-read for graphic novel and comic strip enthusiasts who enjoy the work of Raina Telgemeier, Victoria Jamieson, Frank Cammuso, Ben Katke, Andy Runton, Sara Varon, James Burks and other similar authors.

 

Mighty Jack (Volume 1) by Ben Hatke*
Publication: September 6, 2016 by First Second

Well, this post is clearly leaning towards authors and series I adore and have mentioned before! Third on the list here we have Ben Hatke’s Mighty Jack, the first volume in the Mighty Jack series. Hatke, author-illustrator of the awesome Zita the Spacegirl series, Nobody Likes a Goblin and Little Robot, returns with another fantastical and magical series. A retelling (and wholly unique) take on the fairytale Jack and the Beanstalk, Hatke- fascinatingly and thoughtfully- incorporates a modern setting, a neuroatypical co-heroine, and mythical elements into his version. I have been sitting on this review for a little while now- why, I am not entirely sure, but thoughts about Mighty Jack have been marinating for a bit. As always, Hatke knocks it out of the park with his gorgeous artwork, female lead characters, and his approach to animating inanimate objects. My initial reaction upon finishing was that I would have liked a bit more text/back story to Jack, Molly and family (the story is so good and I was clamoring for more!), and a few ends were left a bit looser than I would have liked (even with the knowledge that this was just book one!)…and while some points stand upon reread, I enjoyed it more upon reread and consider Mighty Jack to be a highly recommended read- another great addition to Hatke’s roster. The promise of Mighty Jack and the Goblin King has me excited to read even more about Jack, Molly, and Lilly!

 

Bird & Squirrel on Fire (Bird & Squirrel #4) by James Burks
Publication: January 31, 2017 by GRAPHIX

Tom and Jerry. Garfield and Odie. Gerald and Piggie. Pinky and the Brain. Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner. A lot of characters in shows and books that we tend to love and think of fondly are in pairs. In the children’s graphic novel genre, there is an entry in the prestige pairs group with James Burks’ Bird & Squirrel. Now four books into this funny and adventure-filled series, Bird is, as ever, our stalwart optimist and cheerleader; Squirrel, while having his courage mightily tested a few times over, remains trepidatious and safety-focuses. In this latest entry, Bird and Squirrel come up against a dyspeptic, slightly bonkers giant beaver who wants to keep ALL the water in the forest for himself- all the while planning a party (Bird’s idea), investigating animal disappearances, and Squirrel meeting a new character named Red (who could be the love of his life). As with his previous work in Gabby & Gator (which I love!) and the other Bird & Squirrel titles, Burks combines goofy, wacky characters with hair-raising moments and/or scary creatures- but all toward good endings. I adore Burks’ style of artwork and the storytelling in Bird & Squirrel; I hope we get at least a handful more adventures about this duo!

 

Big Nate: What’s a Little Noogie Between Friends? (Big Nate) by Lincoln Peirce
Publication: February 28, 2017 by Andrews McMeel Publishing

There is a lot of love in the bookish world of the Big Nate series of books by Lincoln Peirce. It is one of those series of books that, like anything Garfield or Raina Telgemeier, is barely in the library before WHOOSH back out it goes! I do not remember reading the Big Nate series when it first came out, but have, over the last number of years, become a big reader (and suggester!) of the books. Nate is one of those middle school protagonists that we love to root for- he’s imperfect, gets into trouble, gets in fights with his friends, has unrequited crushes, has a core of two best friends who tease him and call him out when he’s being ridiculous– I could go on. There is something totally appealing (dare I say, comforting?) about this series and Nate’s world. While I have definitely preferred certain graphic novel entries more than others in the Big Nate series, What’s a Little Noogie Between Friends? has a good share of the silly (more Spitsy and baseball craziness) and somewhat serious (with Nate having to say goodbye to a classmate who is moving).

*I received a copy of Might Jack courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Must Read Monday (63): Children’s Lit from Linda Williams Jackson, Caela Carter & more!

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

This feature is where I spotlight older, recent, or upcoming releases I am looking forward to. The lists will include all genres I like to read, everything from picture books to comics, children’s lit to adult fiction!

This week: children’s fiction! I am featuring a slew of wonderful sounding (and looking!) titles; genres from historical fiction to realistic fiction and humour from first-time novelists and seasoned authors including: Linda Williams Jackson, Caela Carter, Steve Moore, Stephan Pastis, and Darcy Miller.

 

Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson
Publication: January 3, 2017 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

Rose Lee Carter, a 13-year-old African-American girl, dreams of life beyond the Mississippi cotton fields during the summer of 1955. Her world is rocked when a 14-year-old African-American boy, Emmett Till, is killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. A powerful middle-grade debut perfect for readers who enjoyed The Watsons Go to Birmingham and Brown Girl Dreaming.

 

Forever, or a Long, Long Time by Caela Carter
Publication: March 7, 2017 by HarperCollins
Book Description:

An achingly beautiful story in the vein of Rebecca Stead and R. J. Palacio about two foster children who want desperately to believe that they’ve found their forever home.

Flora and her brother, Julian, don’t believe they were born. They’ve lived in so many foster homes, they can’t remember where they came from. And even now that they’ve been adopted, Flora still struggles to believe in forever. So along with their new mother, Flora and Julian begin a journey to go back and discover their past—for only then can they really begin to build their future.

 

No Fear! (King of the Bench #1) by Steve Moore
Expected publication: March 28, 2017 by HarperCollins
Book Description:

From the nationally syndicated cartoonist of “In the Bleachers” comes a new, highly illustrated middle grade series about Steve, who plays the same position in every sport: bench-warmer. Perfect for fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Timmy Failure, King of the Bench is an ode to teammates, underdogs, and bench-warmers everywhere.

Steve is King of the Bench. No brag. It’s just a fact. But this year, Steve and his friends are excited to try out for the Spiro T. Agnew Middle School baseball team. The only problem is, after watching another player get beaned by a fastball, Steve has developed a serious case of bean-o-phobia—the fear of getting hit by a pitch. If Steve ever wants to get off the bench and get in the game, he’s going to have to muster up some courage, and fast.

Oh, and if you’re wondering why Steve would write a book and tell total strangers all about the humiliating phobia that almost ruined his first year on the baseball team? Duh. It’s pretty much a rule that you spill your guts when you write a book about yourself.

 

The Cat Stole My Pants (Timmy Failure #6) by Stephan Pastis
Expected publication: April 25, 2017 by Candlewick Press
Book Description:

In the sixth book in Stephan Pastis’s hilarious series, Timmy is being threatened and must rely on his new partner to solve the mystery and possibly save his life!

Timmy is in Key West, Florida, ostensibly for the honeymoon of his mother and Doorman Dave if they even got married, which Timmy doubts. Unfortunately for Timmy, crime doesn’t take a vacation. And because Total has fled to Cuba seeking political asylum, Timmy must rely on a new partner for help: Doorman Dave’s nephew Emilio. Meanwhile, a surprise newcomer shows up in Timmy’s life and, as if things couldn’t get more hectic, Timmy’s pants have been stolen by a six-toed cat.

 

Roll by Darcy Miller
Expected publication: May 23, 2017 by HarperCollins
Book Description:

A hilariously funny and poignant debut novel, perfect for fans of Jerry Spinelli, Kat Yeh, Gary Schmidt, and Rebecca Stead.

When Lauren (but call him “Ren,” pretty please) Hall sees birds falling from the sky, he knows something is wrong. But just as he’s starting to worry, he realizes that the birds are plummeting toward the ground on purpose. Turns out they’re Birmingham Roller Pigeons, and his new neighbor Sutton is training them for a competition. Sure, it’s strange, but Ren’s best and only friend Aiden has picked this summer to start hanging with the popular kids. So Ren starts training pigeons with Sutton—what’s the worst that could happen? A bird falls on his head? You’ll have to read Roll to find out.

Review: Armstrong & Charlie by Steven B. Frank

28107411Review: Armstrong & Charlie by Steven B. Frank
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Expected publication: March 7, 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Book Description:

Charlie isn’t looking forward to sixth grade. If he starts sixth grade, chances are he’ll finish it. And when he does, he’ll grow older than the brother he recently lost. Armstrong isn’t looking forward to sixth grade, either. When his parents sign him up for Opportunity Busing to a white school in the Hollywood Hills, all he wants to know is “What time in the morning will my alarm clock have the opportunity to ring?”

When these two land at the same desk, it’s the Rules Boy next to the Rebel, a boy who lost a brother elbow-to-elbow with a boy who longs for one.

From September to June, arms will wrestle, fists will fly, and bottles will spin. There’ll be Ho Hos spiked with hot sauce, sleepovers, boy talk about girls, and a little guidance from the stars. Set in Los Angeles in the 1970s, Armstrong and Charlie is the hilarious, heartwarming tale of two boys from opposite worlds. Different, yet the same.

Armstrong & Charlie, the middle grade debut of Steven B. Frank has already received high praise with a starred review from Kirkus. A fantastic historical novel with two protagonists you’ll not forget, Armstrong & Charlie seamlessly combines serious heartache and humour to tell the story of two young boys who meet during school desegregation in 1970s California.

We meet Armstrong Le Rois and Charlie Ross as they set out to start sixth grade at a Los Angeles school called Wonderland. Both boys are beginning their new school year under stressful, difficult circumstances, and in alternating first-person narratives, we experience and follow their often turbulent connection as their paths cross over and over again in and out of school. For Armstrong, he, as well as a few other students from South Central LA, will be integrated into a white school in the Hollywood Hills as part of an Opportunity Busing program. For Charlie, the start of the sixth grade means starting a school year at Wonderland without his brother and with the terrifying realization that he’s soon going to have lived longer and get to experience more than his beloved older brother ever had the chance to. A story replete with substance, era and significant historical movements, Frank has more than capably interwoven the unforgettable voices and personal heartbreak of Charlie and Armstrong as they experience and navigate their new surroundings. Through the main characters’ incredible, engrossing voices, Armstrong & Charlie explores everything from grief, death, trauma, racism, bullying, as well as family, loyalty, and adolescent matters of the heart. Frank navigates through Charlie and Armstrong’s experiences of ugliness and happiness, moments of soaring and moments of dishonour with grace, insight, and some unexpected and satisfying humour.

Overall, Armstrong & Charlie is a standout read. Well-written, focused, rich with exceptional characters and a terrifically done dual-narrative, Steven B. Frank has done a super job with his children’s debut. Readers who enjoy the excellent offerings of children’s authors such as Firoozeh Dumas, Rebecca Stead, Karen Harrington, Kwame Alexander, Erin Entrada Kelly, or Sarah Weeks, or readers who enjoy historical or hard-hitting, significant middle grade lit might especially love this wonderful story.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Must Read Monday (58): Children’s Fiction from Casey Lyall, Mike Grosso, Jennifer Torres & more!

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

This feature is where I spotlight older, recent, or upcoming releases I am looking forward to. The lists will include all genres I like to read, everything from picture books to comics, children’s lit to adult fiction!

This week is all about middle grade fiction! I am consistently impressed and wowed by how phenomenal children’s lit is; the following five titles below look incredible and I cannot wait to read them. Save for the book two in the Pumpkin Falls series by Heather Vogel Frederick, the other four authors- Casey Lyall, Mike Grosso, Jennifer Torres, and Ali Standish- are new-to-me authors…and believe it or not, out of those four, three of these works are author debuts! Here is a rundown of the wonderful-sounding (and looking) titles:

 

28256492

Howard Wallace, P.I. by Casey Lyall
Publication: September 6, 2016 by Sterling Children’s Books
Book Description:

“What’s with the get-up? Is that the company uniform or something?”
“This? All P.I.s wear a trench coat.”
“Dude, that’s a brown bathrobe.”
I shrugged and straightened out my sleeves. “First rule of private investigation, Ivy: work with what you’ve got.”
Twelve-year-old Howard Wallace lives by his list of rules of private investigation. He knows more than anyone how to work with what he’s got: a bathrobe for a trench coat, a makeshift office behind the school equipment shed, and not much else—least of all, friends. So when a hot case of blackmail lands on his desk, he’s ready to take it on himself . . . until the new kid, Ivy Mason, convinces him to take her on as a junior partner. As they banter through stakeouts and narrow down their list of suspects, Howard starts to wonder if having Ivy as a sidekick—and a friend—is such a bad thing after all.

 

28114562I Am Drums by Mike Grosso
Publication: September 6, 2016 by Clarion Books
Book Description:

Sam knows she wants to be a drummer. But she doesn’t know how to afford a drum kit, or why budget cuts end her school’s music program, or why her parents argue so much, or even how to explain her dream to other people.

But drums sound all the time in Sam’s head, and she’d do just about anything to play them out loud—even lie to her family if she has to. Will the cost of chasing her dream be too high?

 

 

25150366Stef Soto, Taco Queen by Jennifer Torres
Publication: January 17, 2017 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

Estefania “Stef” Soto is itching to shake off the onion-and-cilantro embrace of Tia Perla, her family’s taco truck. She wants nothing more than for her dad to get a normal job and for Tia Perla to be put out to pasture. It’s no fun being known as the “Taco Queen” at school. But just when it looks like Stef is going to get exactly what she wants, and her family’s livelihood is threatened, she will have to become the truck’s unlikely champion.

 

 

30037871The Ethan I Was Before by Ali Standish
Publication: January 24, 2017 by HarperCollins
Book Description:

Ethan had been many things. He was always ready for adventure and always willing to accept a dare, especially from his best friend, Kacey. But that was before. Before the accident that took Kacey from him. Before his family moved from Boston to the small town of Palm Knot, Georgia.

Palm Knot may be tiny, but it’s the home of possibility and second chances. It’s also home to Coralee, a girl with a big personality and even bigger stories. Coralee may be just the friend Ethan needs, except Ethan isn’t the only one with secrets. Coralee’s are catching up with her, and what she’s hiding might be putting both their lives at risk.

 

 

30227919Yours Truly (Pumpkin Falls Mystery #2) by Heather Vogel Frederick
Publication: January 31, 2017 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

Another wild mystery needs to be solved and it’s up to the Pumpkin Falls Private Eyes to solve it in this hilarious follow up to the heartwarming middle grade mystery, Absolutely Truly.

Even Truly Lovejoy has to admit that teeny-tiny Pumpkin Falls, New Hampshire, has its charms—like the annual maple festival, where tourists flock from all over to sample the local maple syrup, maple candy, maple coffee, and even maple soap! But when someone tries to sabotage the maple trees on her friend Franklin’s family farm, Truly has to rally the Pumpkin Falls Private Eyes to investigate. Meanwhile, she uncovers another, more personal mystery under the floorboards of her very own home—a diary written centuries ago by her namesake, the original Truly Lovejoy…and it might just prove her family’s ties to Pumpkin Falls run deeper than anyone ever could have imagined.

 

Blog Tour Stop: The Playbook by Kwame Alexander!

Welcome to one of the stops on the Raincoast Books blog tour for Kwame Alexander‘s latest, The Playbook!

Read on for my thoughts on the book as well as a special excerpt from the book!

the-playbook-coverThe Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life by Kwame Alexander, photos by Thai Neave
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Expected publication: February 14, 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Book Description:

You gotta know the rules to play the game. Ball is life . Take it to the hoop. Soar. What can we imagine for our lives? What if we were the star players, moving and grooving through the game of life? What if we had our own rules of the game to help us get what we want, what we aspire to, what will enrich our lives?

Illustrated with photographs by Thai Neave, The Playbook is intended to provide inspiration on the court of life. Each rule contains wisdom from inspiring athletes and role models such as Nelson Mandela, Serena Williams, LeBron James, Carli Lloyd, Steph Curry and Michelle Obama. Kwame Alexander also provides his own poetic and uplifting words, as he shares stories of overcoming obstacles and winning games in this motivational and inspirational book just right for graduates of any age and anyone needing a little encouragement.

kwame-alexander-pix-1

Author, poet, and educator Kwame Alexander is a Newbery Medal winning recipient- for The Crossover– and highly regarded author with such titles as the stellar Booked and picture book Surf’s Up to his name. With The Playbook, Alexander approaches the non-fiction children’s/teen genre with his genuinely inspiring and impassioned voice.

Starting with a section called ‘Warm up’, and moving on through four quarters and into ‘Overtime’, The Playbook is divided up into manageable chapters with accompanying and relevant rules, quotes (from accomplished professionals in and out of sports) and personal stories, poems and/or notes from Alexander himself. I think it can be tricky navigating and creating a non-fiction title for children and teens that aims for inspiring; the audience/readers are a tough and discerning crowd who can easily suss out insincerity or try-hard. In Alexander’s hands though, The Playbook only ever reads as genuine: from an author who himself comes from an authentic place of meaning what he says, who has lived through what they are talking about and sharing, and who practices what they advocate.

I personally found The Playbook to be candid and encouraging as well as grounded; a book of terrific application for a huge children’s and teen audience. The use of quotations from highly respected athletes as well as leaders (in literature and beyond) are wonderfully effective and meaningful here; readers who might not be into sports and worried about connecting with ‘sports’ content need not worry as everything in The Playbook is all analogous to life. One component of The Playbook I especially adore (as I am a huge fan of Alexander’s work) is the sections which include Alexander’s personal stories- talking about his own struggles in sports, trying to measure up to his incredibly athletic and celebrated father, and how he made it through wins and losses and major struggles.

playbook4

Overall, The Playbook is a great non-fiction title that makes for a wonderful addition to any children’s/teen collection. An uplifting read with spirit and heart, The Playbook is an inspiring read that sings with authenticity through Alexander’s electrifying and effortless way with words. Readers who appreciate and enjoy reading non-fiction, or reading more true-to-life stories, or personal stories from authors might especially want to check out The Playbook. Those who have already read and loved Kwame Alexander’s previous work might also be interested in checking this one out as well!

Interested in reading more reviews and excerpts from this awesome book? You can check out the other great blogs participating in the tour:

the-playbook-blog-evite

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review and for the purposes of this blog tour. All opinions and comments are my own.

Must Read Monday (55): Children’s Fiction from Kara LaReau, Sage Blackwood & more

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

This feature is where I spotlight older, recent, or upcoming releases I am looking forward to. The lists will include all genres I like to read, everything from picture books to comics, children’s lit to adult fiction!

This week: children’s fiction! New and upcoming titles from Kara LaReau, Sage Blackwood, Cary Fagan and Elise Gravel. These titles have come to my attention through a few different means- publisher’s journals, Goodreads browsing, and via the Twitterverse- and all have very unusual and intriguing-sounding descriptions (and awesome covers…). Read on for a bit more on each of the picks!

 

jollyregina28818338The Jolly Regina (The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters #1) by Kara LaReau, illus. Jen Hill
Publication: January 10, 2017 by Amulet Books
Book Description:

In the spirit of A Series of Unfortunate Events and the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series, The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters will captivate middle-grade readers looking for humor, hijinks, and a swashbuckling good time. Meet Jaundice and Kale Bland, two sisters who avoid excitement at any cost. Together, they patiently await the return of their parents, who left on an errand years ago and have never returned.

One day, the Bland sisters are kidnapped by an all-female band of pirates. They’re unwillingly swept into a high-seas romp that might just lead to solving the mystery of what happened to their parents. With whimsical illustrations and Roald Dahl–esque wit, The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters is the visually stunning, laugh-out-loud funny start to a new series for readers who are looking for an anything-but-bland adventure.

 

missellicotts30653902Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded by Sage Blackwood
Expected publication: March 21, 2017 by Katherine Tegen Books
Book Description:

Chantel would much rather focus on her magic than on curtsying, which is why she often finds herself in trouble at Miss Ellicott’s School for Magical Maidens. But when Miss Ellicott mysteriously disappears along with all the other sorceresses in the city, Chantel’s behavior becomes the least of her problems.

Without any magic protecting the city, it is up to Chantel and her friends to save the Kingdom. On a dangerous mission, Chantel will discover a crossbow-wielding boy, a dragon, and a new, fiery magic that burns inside her—but can she find the sorceresses and transform Lightning Pass into the city it was meant to be?

 

wolfiefly30011006Wolfie and Fly by Cary Fagan, illus. Zoe Si
Publication: January 10, 2017 by Tundra Books
Book Description:

A classic story of imagination, friendship, adventure and speeding through the ocean in a cardboard box. For fans of Ivy & Bean, Judy Moody or Nate the Great. Wolfie and Fly is an early chapter book at its simplest and best. Our heroine, Renata Wolfman (Wolfie) does everything by herself. Friends just get in the way, and she only has time for facts and reading. But friendship finds her in the form of Livingston Flott (Fly), the slightly weird and wordy boy from next door. Before she knows it, Wolfie is motoring through deep water with Fly as her second in command in a submarine made from a cardboard box.
Out on a solo swim to retrieve a baseball vital to the mission, Wolfie is finally by herself again, but for the first time, she finds it a little lonely. Maybe there is something to this friend thing…”

 

olga30653691Olga and the Smelly Thing from Nowhere by Elise Gravel
Expected publication: March 14, 2017 by HarperCollins
Book Description:

Olga and the Smelly Thing from Nowhere is jam-packed with fun: vibrant illustrations, word bubbles, quirky humor, olgamus facts, and plenty of excitement for readers who love making discoveries and meeting new friends. Olga is a charming combination of independent, curious, and smart—making her the coolest girl scientist around—perfect for fans of Dork Diaries and Captain Underpants.

When Olga crosses paths with a weird creature and becomes the first kid to discover the species olgamus ridiculus, she is ecstatic! What does an olgamus eat? How does it poop? Why does its burp sound like the word rubber? With her trusty observation notebook and the help of a librarian, a shopkeeper, and some friends, Olga sets out to do science—learning the facts about her smelly, almost-furry pal and searching for him when he goes missing. The scientific method is the best way to discover anything!

Best of 2016: Children’s Fiction

Another tremendous year of reading! A year in which middle grade fiction, with its incredible and nuanced tales and characters, really floored me. Bravo! Thank you to all of the authors for bringing such wonderful stories to us readers.

In no particular order, I present my picks for best of children’s fiction- including middle grade lit and graphic novels- of 2016:

A Boy Named Queen by Sara Cassidy
Once Was a Time by Leila Sales
Kabungo by Rolli
It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas
A Blind Guide to Stinkville by Beth Vrabel

Booked by Kwame Alexander
The Best Man by Richard Peck
The Summer We Saved the Bees by Robin Stevenson
Mayday by Karen Harrington
Avenging the Owl by Melissa Hart

The Book You’re Not Supposed to Have (Timmy Failure #5) by Stephan Pastis
Double Down (Diary of A Wimpy Kid #11) by Jeff Kinney
Royal Wedding Disaster (From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess #2) by Meg Cabot
The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn Golden & Everton Miles Is Stranger Than Me (Night Flyers series) by Philippa Dowding

Gertie’s Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley
Where You’ll Find Me by Natasha Friend
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall
Completely Cassidy series by Tamsyn Murray

The Ministry of Ghosts by Alex Shearer
Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly
Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan
An Island of Our Own by Sally Nichols

 

Children’s graphic novels and early fiction formats:

 

Bera the One-Headed Troll by Eric Orchard
Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea by Ben Clanton
Fluffy Strikes Back by Ashley Spires
Lucy by Randy Cecil

 

Note: Some titles appearing on this list may have been published in previous years; titles on this list are ones that I read in 2016. Some titles appearing on this list may also have been provided by publishers in exchange for honest reviews; this has no bearing on making this list. These are my personal selections.