Must Read Monday (68): Children’s Fiction from Paul Mosier, Adrienne Kress & 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 titles! The following six titles are a mixture of ones from debut authors and ones that are totally new-to-me-authors. There is Canadian author Adrienne Kress’s The Door in the Alley, which looks and sounds like the start of terrifically fun adventure/mystery series; Melissa Savage’s Lemons, a Bigfoot-centred adventure/mystery; and Paul Mosier’s contemporary and contemplative-sounding Train I Ride. Then there is the wonderfully creepy and dark-sounding The Gravedigger’s Son by Patrick Moody; Kristi Wientge’s contemporary middle grade debut Karma Khullar’s Mustache; and a beautiful and unusual-sounding fantasy called The Unicorn in the Barn written by Jacqueline K. Ogburn.

 

Train I Ride by Paul Mosier
Publication: January 24, 2017 by HarperCollins
Book Description:

Rydr is on a train heading east, leaving California, where her gramma can’t take care of her anymore, and traveling to Chicago to live with an unknown relative. She brings with her a suitcase, memories both happy and sad, and a box containing something very important.

As Rydr meets her fellow passengers and learns their stories, her own past begins to emerge. And as much as Rydr may want to forget about her life in California, on the train she finds that maybe her past can help her deal with her present. And maybe hope and forgiveness are all around her and, most important, within her, if she’s willing to look for it.

 

The Door in the Alley (The Explorers #1) by Adrienne Kress
Publication: April 25, 2017 by Delacorte Press
Book Description:

Featuring a mysterious society, a secretive past, and a pig in a teeny hat, “The Explorers: The Door in the Alley” is the first book in a new series for fans of “The Name of This Book Is a Secret” and “The Mysterious Benedict Society. “Knock once if you can find it but only members are allowed inside.

This is one of those stories that start with a pig in a teeny hat. It s not the one you re thinking about. (This story is way better than that one.) This pig-in-a-teeny-hat story starts when a very uninquisitive boy stumbles upon a very mysterious society. After that, there is danger and adventure; there are missing persons, hired thugs, a hidden box, a lost map, and famous explorers; and there is a girl looking for help that only uninquisitive boys can offer.

 

Lemons by Melissa Savage
Publication: May 2, 2017 by Crown Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

What do you do when you lose everything that means anything?

Nine-year old Lemonade Liberty Witt doesn’t know the answer to that question, except what her mom taught her. When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. But what if those lemons are so big that you forget how? How do you make lemonade out of having to leave everything you know in San Francisco to move to the small town of Willow Creek, California and live with a grandfather you’ve never even met? In a town that smells like grass and mud and bugs. With tall pines instead of skyscrapers and dirt instead of sidewalks. Not to mention one woolly beast lurking in the woods.

That’s right, Bigfoot. A ginormous wooden statue of the ugly thing stands right at the center of town like he’s someone real important, like the mayor or something. And the people here actually believe he’s real and hiding somewhere out in the pine filled forests. How can anyone possibly be expected to make lemonade out those rotten lemons?

 

The Unicorn in the Barn by Jacqueline K. Ogburn, illus. Rebecca Green
Expected publication: July 4, 2017 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

For years people have claimed to see a mysterious white deer in the woods around Chinaberry Creek. It always gets away.One evening, Eric Harper thinks he spots it. But a deer doesn’t have a coat that shimmers like a pearl. And a deer certainly isn’t born with an ivory horn curling from its forehead.

When Eric discovers the unicorn is hurt and being taken care of by the vet next door and her daughter, Allegra, his life is transformed. A tender tale of love, loss, and the connections we make, The Unicorn in the Barn shows us that sometimes ordinary life takes extraordinary turns.

 

The Gravedigger’s Son by Patrick Moody
Expected publication: August 1, 2017 by Sky Pony Press

Book Description:

Ian Fossor is last in a long line of Gravediggers. It’s his family’s job to bury the dead and then, when Called by the dearly departed, to help settle the worries that linger beyond the grave so spirits can find peace in the Beyond.

But Ian doesn’t want to help the dead—he wants to be a Healer and help the living. Such a wish is, of course, selfish and impossible. Fossors are Gravediggers. So he reluctantly continues his training under the careful watch of his undead mentor, hoping every day that he’s never Called and carefully avoiding the path that leads into the forbidden woods bordering the cemetery.

Just as Ian’s friend, Fiona, convinces him to talk to his father, they’re lured into the woods by a risen corpse that doesn’t want to play by the rules. There, the two are captured by a coven of Weavers, dark magic witches who want only two thing—to escape the murky woods where they’ve been banished, and to raise the dead and shift the balance of power back to themselves.

Only Ian can stop them. With a little help from his friends. And his long-dead ancestors.

 

Karma Khullar’s Mustache by Kristi Wientge
Expected publication: August 15, 2017 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

Debut author Kristi Wientge tackles the uncomfortable—but all too relatable—subject of female body hair and self-esteem with this sweet and charming novel in the tradition of Judy Blume.

Karma Khullar is about to start middle school, and she is super nervous. Not just because it seems like her best friend has found a newer, blonder best friend. Or the fact that her home life is shaken up by the death of her dadima. Or even that her dad is the new stay-at-home parent, leading her mother to spend most of her time at work. But because she’s realized that she has seventeen hairs that have formed a mustache on her upper lip.

With everyone around her focused on other things, Karma is left to figure out what to make of her terrifyingly hairy surprise all on her own.

Review: Mary Anning’s Curiosity by Monica Kulling

Review: Mary Anning’s Curiosity by Monica Kulling, with illus. by Melissa Castrillon
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Groundwood Books. Thank you!
Publication: May 1, 2017 by Groundwood Books
Book Description:

Mary Anning, considered the world’s greatest fossilist, discovered her first big find at the age of twelve. This novel is an imaginative re-creation of her childhood in early nineteenth-century Lyme Regis.

Mary was born in 1799 in Lyme Regis, England, to a poor family. She and her older brother were the only two of ten children to survive. Her father, a carpenter and part-time fossil hunter, taught his children to look for fossils. When her father injured himself and was unable to work, Mary quit school and took up fossil hunting full-time to help support her family, a task that became even more important when her father died, leaving the Annings in debt.At the age of twelve, Mary, with her older brother Joe, found what they believed to be the skeleton of a gigantic crocodile, the Great Croc of the legends. Between dodging her rival fossil hunter, the Curiman, and the sheer work of carefully digging out the fossil, Mary took almost a year to excavate what would later be termed the Ichthyosaurus.

Mary Anning may have been uneducated, poor and a woman, but her life’s work of fossil hunting led her to make many discoveries that influenced our understanding of prehistoric creatures and the age of the Earth. In 2010, Mary was named among the ten British women who have most influenced the history of science. Charles Darwin even cited Mary’s fossilized creatures as evidence in his book On the Origin of Species.

In this triumphant novel about scientific discovery, Monica Kulling brings Mary Anning and her world to life for young readers.

 

To think, a mere lass, with little schooling, did what those great scientists do all the time- and all of them big men, mind. It boggles my mind, it does. I can’t help but wonder what else you are destined to do.

An out of the ordinary, gorgeous treasure of a book, Mary Anning’s Curiosity is one of the few books I’ve read so far this year in one sitting. Written by Canadian author Monica Kulling, with marvelous illustrations by Melissa Castrillon, Mary Anning’s Curiosity gives readers a look into the earlier life of groundbreaking, celebrated fossilist Mary Anning and her earlier fossil discoveries in and around her place of birth of Lyme Regis, England.

Mary Anning’s Curiosity mostly focuses upon Mary and the year in which she, and her brother Joe, discover, dig and excavate an incredible fossil that was later named the Ichthyosaurus. Before we dive into that time, though, readers are taken into a bit of introduction to Mary and the Anning household. Kulling concisely and candidly describes the serious hardships faced by Mary’s Ma and Pa and their constant struggle with making enough to survive. We learn that Mary’s Ma wants more for her daughter than this life- the life of following in her father’s footsteps as an eccentric fossil hunter, forever in danger by the cliffs. And while Mary does indeed like school and learning “new words, fancy words”- the things that make her Ma happy- her life is the shoreline, the cliffs and beaches, carefully digging for curiosities- just like her Pa and brother. When Mary and Joe’s dad becomes incapacitated after a fall, though, Mary’s drive to hunt fossils, to make money and help her family, completely becomes her life from the age of eleven. In 1811, Mary and Joe’s dig that would lead to the finding of the Ichthyosaurus, begins. Kulling fascinatingly describes Mary’s intensity, focus, fervor and patience in her excavation; her tremendous and natural skills as a fossil hunter; as well as her and Joe’s attempts to thwart the attention of a seemingly greedy, fossil-hungry Captain.

Overall, an excellent, unusual read, providing readers of all ages tremendous insight into the life of an incredible woman of science and discovery. The growing number of books in children’s fiction and non-fiction titles that are delving into the lives of lesser-known trailblazers, staggering minds and discoveries is a joy to see and experience. With Mary Anning’s Curiosity, Monica Kulling has provided a stellar entry into children’s literature: one that not only excels as a fascinating shorter novel on its own accord, but also one that stands as a successful and awe-inspiring fictionalized biography. I do hope readers both young and old get a chance to pick this gem up!

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

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:

 

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.